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Pay me to vote

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Shutterstock/Alexandru Nika

Turnout in elections, especially low-profile elections, is notoriously low. But don’t assume those nonvoters would be OK with losing their right to vote. Researchers offered money to students at a university in Germany to give up their right to vote in a student election. Even though turnout was only about 20 percent, a significantly larger fraction of students refused to sell their right to vote, or demanded a higher price compared to students who were offered money not to vote but didn’t have to give up their right. On the other hand, when students were offered money to vote, they didn’t just cast a throwaway ballot to get the money with as little effort as possible; they became more knowledgeable about the parties’ and candidates’ positions, consistent with not wanting to waste the vote.

Tontrup, S. & Morton, R., “The Value of the Right to Vote,” New York University (November 2015).

Compassionate compensation

It might seem strange for the United States to learn free-market lessons from countries like Iran, but in the realm of organ donations, we could learn a lot. A new analysis finds that, in addition to the obvious health benefits for kidney recipients, paying donors with $45,000 in taxpayer money would save the government hundreds of thousands of dollars per recipient, adding up to billions saved. The longstanding objection that such a scheme exploits the poor must also be weighed against the fact that the poor are over-represented on the waiting list — and may have more trouble getting their (poorer) relatives or friends to donate. And if you don’t think $45,000 is fair enough, then “donor compensation could be increased to $375,000 per kidney before taxpayers would no longer save money by paying for kidney transplantation instead of dialysis. And compensation could be increased all the way to $1,200,000 per kidney before society would no longer enjoy a net welfare gain.”

Held, P. et al., “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Government Compensation of Kidney Donors,” American Journal of Transplantation (forthcoming).


Conservatives are stereotyped as being more negative towards minorities and social change. But what if some of that is simply driven by a greater need for certainty, particularly when it comes to reliably categorizing people? This is indeed what researchers found in a series of experiments. When presented with pictures of white men, conservatives were actually more positive about depictions of feminine gay men than depictions of masculine gay men — since the latter go against type — whereas liberals didn’t have this reaction (and were actually less generous to feminine gay men). Likewise, when presented with pictures of white men and after being told that moles were more/less likely to be found on the faces of Jews/non-Jews or fictional groups Niffites/Luupites, conservatives were more negative when the face went against type (e.g., Jews/Niffites/Luupites without moles who were supposed to be more likely to have moles). This didn’t happen if participants didn’t expect to categorize the faces. Also, inducing feelings of uncertainty caused liberals to react like conservatives.

Stern, C. et al., “Conservatives Negatively Evaluate Counterstereotypical People to Maintain a Sense of Certainty,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

Deadly odds

A new analysis puts the scope of police shootings of unarmed black men into sharp relief. Data on police shootings during 2011-2014 reveal that the odds of an unarmed black person being shot by police are about three and a half times the odds of an unarmed white person being shot by police — and about as high as the odds of an armed white person being shot by police. These disparities were highest in Miami, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Houston, and Chicago and, in general, were higher in counties with a higher proportion of blacks, lower median income, and higher income inequality. Furthermore, “there is no evidence of an association between black-specific crime rates (neither in assault-related arrests nor in weapons-related arrests) and racial bias in police shootings.”

Ross, C., “A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014,” PLoS ONE (November 2015).

Freedom from want

Among non-obese college students who were allowed to eat as many cookies as they wanted, students who had grown up poor as children ate the same amount regardless of how hungry they were — or what their glucose levels were — even controlling for body weight and how much they liked the cookies. In contrast, consumption by students who had an affluent childhood was strongly tied to hunger. These findings suggest that people who grow up in poverty are more prone to eating even when they don’t need the caloric energy. Poverty outside of childhood didn’t have the same effect, and childhood poverty didn’t affect (low-calorie) pretzel consumption.

Hill, S. et al., “Low Childhood Socioeconomic Status Promotes Eating in the Absence of Energy Need,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).


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


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