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High-powered individuals undermine teamwork


No team of rivals

Bringing powerful people to the table supposedly helped Abraham Lincoln, but new research out of the University of California Berkeley finds more often the opposite to be true. In an experiment, participants were first randomly assigned to have power over a partner in a task; then they were put in groups with other participants who had occupied a similar — high or low power — position and asked to invent a new organization and its strategy. Groups of high-power individuals were less creative, as rated by independent judges, despite the fact that high-power individuals were more creative when working alone. This pattern was replicated in a similar experiment with medical executives, such that those with more organizational power were less likely to reach agreement on a hypothetical hiring decision, even though the high-power executives made better arguments for their preferred candidate.

Hildreth, A. & Anderson, C., “Failure at the Top: How Power Undermines Collaborative Performance,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (February 2016).

They can tough it out

Previous research has found that people assume that blacks feel less pain than whites. This may have something to do with that adage: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” In a new study, whether someone’s life was full of hardship — and not race per se — explained people’s assumptions about feeling pain. In other words, since people assume that blacks have experienced more hardship, people also assume that blacks feel less pain. Indeed, the racial disparity was reversed in the case of a black person who hadn’t experienced hardship and a white person who had experienced hardship. Likewise, there was no disparity in assumptions among people who didn’t strongly endorse the belief that hardship leads to toughness.

Hoffman, K. & Trawalter, S., “Assumptions about Life Hardship and Pain Perception,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations (forthcoming).

Peace dividends

Stock market investors crave stability — even in the Middle East. In an experiment around the time of the March 2015 Israeli elections, researchers endowed a sample of Jewish Israelis with financial assets for buying and selling Israeli and Palestinian stocks. Compared to a control group, these Israelis — especially those who weren’t already investors — shifted their voting to the left and were more willing to make concessions for peace.

Jha, S. & Shayo, M., “Valuing Peace: The Effects of Financial Market Exposure on Votes and Political Attitudes,” Stanford University (January 2016).

Too hot to handle

Heterosexual engaged or married women were asked to imagine seeing their partner socializing with another woman who happens to touch their partner’s arm. They were significantly more likely to give this ambiguously flirtatious woman the cold shoulder — and consider her untrustworthy — if she was an ovulating (and not unattractive) woman and their own partner was a good catch. This reaction didn’t depend on whether the participant considered herself a good catch or was worried about her relationship. The reaction was even provoked in a scenario where the ovulating woman was a co-worker and nowhere near the participant’s partner, as long as the fact that he was a good catch was on the participant’s mind. That there was no such effect for nonovulating or unattractive flirts, unattractive partners, or when partners weren’t on one’s mind, suggests that partnered women aren’t inclined to shun other women unless the risk of infidelity is acute.

Krems, J. et al., “Women Selectively Guard Their (Desirable) Mates from Ovulating Women,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Legacy of tolerance

In the 12th and 13th centuries, England had a significant Jewish population that had followed the Normans from France. The Jews were expelled at the end of the 13th century, and there was essentially no immigration to England for centuries after this. Recent decades have seen much more immigration. A new study found that towns where there were medieval Jewish communities also happen to be more tolerant of immigrants and less supportive of anti-immigration parties today, even controlling for current social and demographic characteristics.

Fielding, D., “Traditions of Tolerance: The Long-Run Persistence of Regional Variation in Attitudes towards English Immigrants,” British Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).


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