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Peer pressure and debates

It’s not just their positions and rhetoric that polarize our view of politicians; it’s that we know others are watching too. Psychologists at the University of Tennessee created a fake version of the C-SPAN website and asked people to watch a speech by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, arguing in favor of reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, or a speech by Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma arguing that recent snowfalls cast doubt on climate change. Those who had watched the video while the website displayed a count of simultaneous co-viewers recalled more details from the speech and were either more persuaded by it (in the case of the DeLauro speech) or less persuaded by it (in the case of the Inhofe speech), compared to seeing a count of previous viewers, or no count at all. In other words, co-viewers make “persuasive speeches more persuasive, and unpersuasive speeches more unpersuasive.” The number of co-viewers didn’t matter, as long as it wasn’t zero. The effect appeared to be explained by greater attention to the speech, not consideration of the attitudes of other viewers.

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Shteynberg, G. et al., “The Broadcast of Shared Attention and Its Impact on Political Persuasion,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

I am her boss, hear me roar

If you’re a woman manager, the women you manage may not be so happy about it. Economists at the University of Wisconsin analyzed nationally representative survey data and found that women were less satisfied with their jobs if their boss was a woman, even controlling for wage, weekly hours, education, age, race, marital status, unionization, longevity with the employer, size of the employer, industry, occupation, and the possibility of advancement. Among women who were re-surveyed two years later, satisfaction went up when a female boss was replaced by a man, but went down when a male boss was replaced by a woman. The effect was “roughly equivalent to the negative well-being effects of not getting paid by performance or working in a big company versus a small company.” There was no such effect among men, and the effects did not differ for older or more traditional women, and did not appear to be explained by reported differences in supervisor quality.

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Artz, B. & Taengnoi , S., “Do Women Prefer Female Bosses?” Labour Economics (forthcoming).

Answering to God or Darwin

Previous research has found that the ability to answer math word problems is associated with endorsement of evolution. However, new research adds a caveat: only for the secular. A re-analysis of data from previous research and a new analysis of nationally representative survey data reveal that, among religious people, the ability to answer math word problems is not associated with endorsement of evolution. Thus, as in other issues, clever people are the most polarized, and their sophistication may simply allow them to more effectively defend their worldviews, rather than converge to the “correct” worldview.

Kahan, D. & Stanovich, K., “Rationality and Belief in Human Evolution,” Yale University (September 2016).

The price of a diverse neighborhood

In a sample of people recruited from the real-estate section of the San Francisco Bay Area Craigslist.org website, those who reviewed a house profile that included a picture of a middle-class black family judged the house and neighborhood to be worse, compared to a profile with a middle-class white family, even though the characteristics and pictures of the house (and the family’s last name, “Thomas”) were the same. The researchers found similar results in a similar experiment but with a different sample and, instead of family pictures, a data table indicating that blacks were the largest racial group in the neighborhood. In another experiment, a nationally representative sample of white people were less opposed to locating a chemical plant near a neighborhood where the largest racial group was black, compared to white, even controlling for anti-black racial attitudes, perceived and actual property values, and resident class.

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Bonam, C. et al., “Polluting Black Space,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (forthcoming).

Asking for directions

If stereotypes are to be believed, women are poor navigators, while men won’t ask for directions. But maybe that’s not the right perspective. Students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, were given “two timed pencil-and-paper tests of perspective-taking ability: the object-perspective/spatial-orientation test and the standardized road-map test of direction sense.” In both tests, one has to discern the appropriate direction to an object or path relative to an observer or traveler, as shown on the page from an overhead vantage point. Some students were told that these were tests of spatial ability and that males often score higher; other students were told that these were tests of empathetic ability and that females often score higher, and human figures were explicitly shown on the page as the observer/traveler would be seen from overhead. Males performed the same across the two conditions. Females performed significantly worse than the males in the first condition, but just about as well as the males in the second condition.

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Tarampi, M. et al., “A Tale of Two Types of Perspective Taking: Sex Differences in Spatial Ability,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).


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