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Uncommon Knowledge

Anonymity hampers online dating


She’s interested

If you use a dating website, you may be able to browse other people’s profiles anonymously — without the profile owner knowing you visited. At first blush, this may seem wise, since you’re free to browse uninhibited. Yet research from a team of business-school professors reveals that this policy may be counterproductive. They arranged for a major dating website to give a random set of users the ability to browse anonymously and found that users — especially women — ended up engaging in fewer conversations, without any compensating increase in the quality (i.e., attractiveness ratings) of their conversation partners. Women were more affected because they tend not to make the first move, and non-anonymous browsing allows them to convey a modest level of interest.

Bapna, R. et al., “One-Way Mirrors in Online Dating: A Randomized Field Experiment,” Management Science (forthcoming).

Fuzzy gerrymandering

Legislative districts are notoriously misshapen, often for partisan gain. But perhaps this doesn’t matter as much as we assume. Political scientists at the University of Houston found that the ideology of congressional districts surrounding a congressman’s own district influences that congressman’s likelihood of toeing the party line, even controlling for the congressman’s prior loyalty and the ideology of his own district. The political scientists figure that politicians are responding to inter-district migration and the prospect of redistricting.

Kirkland, J. & Williams, L., “Representation, Neighboring Districts, and Party Loyalty in the U.S. Congress,” Public Choice (forthcoming).

The post office of the future

We mock the post office as a primitive bureaucracy (“snail mail”), but how many people — even liberals — appreciate its role in the development of the country? Not only was it explicitly authorized in the Constitution, but it subsidized newspaper circulation, and postmasters made up most of the federal civilian workforce during the 19th century. And a new study finds that the opening of local post offices during the 19th century was associated with patenting by local residents in subsequent years, even controlling for local demographics and economic development.

Acemoglu, D. et al., “State Capacity and American Technology: Evidence from the 19th Century,” National Bureau of Economic Research (January 2016).

Who’s right? Who’s left?

The left-versus-right labeling in our political discourse is so ingrained in our minds that our sense of political differences can be undermined by switching sides — literally. In October 2012, researchers asked people to rapidly identify whether a picture was of Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. One set of participants categorized the pictures by using the left hand to press the “Q” key for Obama and the right hand to press the “P” key for Romney; another set of participants categorized the pictures by using the left hand to press the “Q” key for Romney and the right hand to press the “P” key for Obama. The latter group, when subsequently asked about the candidates’ ideologies and positions, perceived smaller differences. A similar pattern was found in perceptions of the difference between Democrats and Republicans in general, as a result of flipping the scale used to indicate left and right on the keyboard. Participants who made these political categorizations in a counterintuitive direction also tended to categorize (nonpolitical) objects into broader categories, and this category-broadening effect partly explained the shrinking of political differences.

Kleiman, T. et al., “When the Spatial and Ideological Collide: Metaphorical Conflict Shapes Social Perception,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

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