Divide and not conquer
Will President Trump be able to thank Bernie Sanders for hounding Hillary Clinton? Trump seems to think so, as his (trolling) tweets suggest: “So interesting that Sanders beat Crooked Hillary. The dysfunctional system is totally rigged against him!”; “As Bernie Sanders says, she has bad judgement.”; “I don’t want to hit Crazy Bernie Sanders too hard yet because I love watching what he is doing to Crooked Hillary.” Nevertheless, pundits and political scientists haven’t come to a consensus on the general-election effect of divisive primaries. Indeed, it’s hard to estimate, given that preexisting conditions could be causing division, or the entry of many quality candidates. A new study tries to circumvent this problem by analyzing elections in states — in the South, given the region’s historical one-party dominance — that have a runoff primary when no candidate gets a majority. The study finds that such primaries have an increasingly negative spillover effect on the party’s general-election performance as the prominence of the election rises. The effect is small — even somewhat positive — in elections for the state Legislature, but becomes “noticeably negative” for elections to the US House of Representatives and “massively negative” in elections for the US Senate.
Fouirnaies, A. & Hall, A., “How Divisive Primaries Hurt Parties: Evidence from Near-Runoffs,” University of Oxford (May 2016).
One of the reasons the draft — the military draft, that is — was ended was that it disrupted the lives of people who didn’t want to be in the military. Take baseball, for instance. A new study finds that, among major league players born between 1950 and 1953 who were subject to the draft lottery during the Vietnam War, there were significantly fewer players with birthdays with lower (worse) draft numbers. And those with drafted birthdays who did make it to the majors had lower performance (as measured by Wins Above Replacement). This was especially true at the top: None of the six Hall of Fame players from this sample had drafted birthdays. Much of this disparity appears to be the result of incentives to pursue education, via deferments or GI Bill subsidies; there was no evidence of similar birthday under-representation in the National Football League, where nearly all players came from four-year colleges.
Mange, B. & Phillips, D., “Career Interruption and Productivity: Evidence from Major League Baseball during the Vietnam War Era,” Journal of Human Capital (Summer 2016).
In some situations, like emergencies, it really helps to have backup plans. But if the situation doesn’t require it, a backup plan can actually be detrimental, according to new research. In several experiments, people were given a mental task, with the prospect of a reward for high performance. Before starting the task, some of these people were asked to think about how, if they didn’t get the reward, they could obtain something comparable. These people subsequently performed worse on the mental task. The effect appears to be explained by lower motivation, not distraction.
Shin, J. & Milkman, K., “How Backup Plans Can Harm Goal Pursuit: The Unexpected Downside of Being Prepared for Failure,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (July 2016).
In foreigners we trust
Researchers asked native residents of China, Colombia, Germany, Portugal, and the United States to play a die-rolling game on an iPad. Participants were instructed to choose a side — but only inside their heads — before rolling the die; after the roll, participants reported whether their side came up and were paid money every time it did. In other words, they could lie/cheat/steal as much as they wanted. Although people in every country reported more favorable rolls on average relative to chance, there was no significant difference among the countries. In other words, all countries were similarly somewhat dishonest. A separate sample of people from the same countries was asked to predict what the results of the die-rolling experiment would be, and they predicted significantly higher levels of dishonesty in every country — especially their own country — than was actually observed.
Mann, H. et al., “Cut from the Same Cloth: Similarly Dishonest Individuals across Countries,” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology (forthcoming).Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.