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The rise of Cherie Berry

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

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This week’s award for Most Uplifting Politician goes to Cherie Berry, a Republican and the first female commissioner of labor in North Carolina, who put a photo of herself on the inspection certificate that must be displayed in all elevators in the state. (She even made a TV ad for her 2012 reelection campaign that depicted her speaking from within her elevator picture.) Political scientists found that she out-performed other Republican candidates in the 2012 election in areas with more elevators per capita, even controlling for population density, such that “if we could hold the election over again without this advertising, her margin of victory would vanish almost entirely.” She didn’t out-perform in her first elections (2000 and 2004), before the picture policy was rolled out.

Smith, J. & Weinberg, N., “The Elevator Effect: Advertising, Priming, and the Rise of Cherie Berry,” American Politics Research (forthcoming).

Great artists steal

Steve Jobs famously said that “good artists copy, great artists steal” — a saying he attributed to Picasso — and that “we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” It turns out that Jobs was right: Great artists are more likely to steal. In a series of experiments, researchers found that when people were made to think of themselves as creative, they felt more entitled and were more likely to behave unethically — but only if they perceived their creativity to be rare.

In fact, in one experiment with MBA students, those who were told they were creative, and that creativity is rare, were more than twice as likely to lie. A survey of subordinate-supervisor pairs from actual workplaces revealed the same pattern, with supervisors reporting more unethical behavior from subordinates who saw themselves as being uniquely creative within their work group. In general, being logical or practical didn’t have the same effect as being creative, as creativity was perceived to be rarer — and thus more valuable, inspiring a greater sense of entitlement — than intelligence.


Vincent, L. & Kouchaki, M., “Creative, Rare, Entitled, and Dishonest: How Commonality of Creativity in One’s Group Decreases an Individual’s Entitlement and Dishonesty,” Academy of Management Journal (forthcoming).

The paradox of school choice

School choice and accountability policies may help level the playing field between advantaged and disadvantaged student populations, but there are some caveats. A major one is whether disadvantaged populations will have access — in practice, not just in theory — to high-performing alternatives. Sociologists at New York University analyzed data on the Chicago Public Schools in the 1990s — before passage of the No Child Left Behind law — when that school system implemented a choice and accountability policy. Much like the situation later with No Child Left Behind, the theory ran into the hard reality of limited options, as most students in schools that were put on probation — mostly poor and black — could not or did not upgrade. Students from nonpoor families were more likely to leave the school or the system altogether, and most students who transferred within the system ended up at other low-performing schools.

Rich, P. & Jennings, J., “Choice, Information, and Constrained Options: School Transfers in a Stratified Educational System,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Searching on the bright side

If you want an unbiased overview of a politician, where do you go? Many voters turn to Wikipedia. But how good is its information? In 2014, political scientists at the University of California Berkeley and Yale University arranged for various pieces of factual information to be inserted into the Wikipedia pages of US senators. Unsurprisingly, changes that included citations were more likely to survive than those without citations, but more surprisingly, negative information — even with citations — was more likely to be removed than positive information. The fact that uncited information was removed even faster for senators up for reelection in 2014 and that there was no positivity bias for dead or retired senators suggests that politicians are more protected on Wikipedia when it counts.

Kalla, J. & Aronow, P., “Editorial Bias in Crowd-Sourced Political Information,” PLoS ONE (September 2015).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.


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