Ideas

Uncommon Knowledge

How our brains process disorder

One and Two Story, Homes, Building

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Something’s not right

Broken windows theory — the notion that signs of disorder lead to more crime — has influenced criminology for decades. But what kind of disorder is necessary for this effect? According to psychologists at the University of Chicago, even basic spatial patterns are enough. People judged both regular scenery and electronically scrambled images to be more “disorderly” if they were asymmetric and had lots of nonstraight edges, but not so much if they had chaotic color features. And after viewing scrambled images that were relatively disorderly, people were more likely to cheat on a self-graded test.

Kotabe, H. et al., “The Order of Disorder: Deconstructing Visual Disorder and Its Effect on Rule-Breaking,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (forthcoming).

He’s a classy lawyer

Reports of the death of the old boys’ club may have been greatly exaggerated. In a new study, researchers undertook “the first field experimental investigation of employment discrimination on the basis of social class signals in an elite US labor market.” They sent fictitious resumes to hundreds of law offices. Resumes had identical qualifications (top 1 percent of the class at a selective but non-elite law school in the region, law review, legal intern at a US attorney’s office, etc.), but the applicant’s first name varied (James vs. Julia). To indicate class, so did the last name (Cabot vs. Clark) and extracurricular qualities (reliance on financial aid, status as first-generation college student, affinity for country music vs. sailing team, polo, classical music). Interview-request rates were about 16 percent for the higher-class man, but only about 4 percent for the higher-class woman, 6 percent for the lower-class woman, and a measly 1 percent for the lower-class man. These differences were roughly the same regardless of how large the law firm was, how well it paid lawyers, how many female associates or partners it had, or whether it had a designated diversity officer. Likewise, in surveys and interviews, lawyers expressed a preference for the higher-class man, because he would be more compatible with the culture and clients of the firm. (“Mark said of the higher-class man: ‘If you look at the interests, it’s classic cultural capital. It would help with being around people who [he pauses] work hard.’ ”) A woman, especially the higher-class woman who might not need the money, was seen as a greater attrition risk.

Rivera, L. & Tilcsik, A., “Class Advantage, Commitment Penalty: The Gendered Effect of Social Class Signals in an Elite Labor Market,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).

Divisive

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If you gave 40 cents to a Bernie Sanders supporter and asked how much he or she would share with a Hillary Clinton supporter, what would the answer be? How much would a Marco Rubio supporter share with a Donald Trump supporter? Researchers at Yale University wanted to track how each party unified over the summer. Each week, online participants were asked how much of their 40 cents they would share with a fellow supporter of their favored candidate or a supporter of a primary opponent. Up through the Democratic convention, Clinton supporters shared more generously with each other than with Sanders supporters, and vice versa; after the convention, there was no difference. For Republicans, the only period when there was no difference in sharing was during the middle of the summer around the conventions. Rhetoric aside, Republicans do seem to have had more trouble unifying.

Dunham, Y. et al., “Unity for Democrats But Not Republicans: The Temporal Dynamics of Intra-Party Bias in US Electoral Politics,” Yale University (October 2016).

Friends with rational benefits

If you know someone who sees too many conspiracies, reach out to him. In two experiments, psychologists at Princeton University found that people who were socially excluded — or just thought about being excluded — were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories. This is because exclusion increases one’s search for meaning and thus one’s tendency to see coordination even where there is none.

Graeupner, D. & Coman, A., “The Dark Side of Meaning-Making: How Social Exclusion Leads to Superstitious Thinking,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!

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Voice recordings of the opening statement required of lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court — “Mr. Chief Justice, (and) may it please the court” — were assessed and compared to case outcomes. Male lawyers whose voices sounded less masculine were more likely to win their cases, even controlling for the lawyer’s experience before the court. The effect was specific to petitioners (the lawyers who go first in oral arguments) and was comparable to the gender gap (the higher likelihood of winning for male lawyers compared to female lawyers).

Chen, D. et al., “Perceived Masculinity Predicts U.S. Supreme Court Outcomes,” PLoS ONE (October 2016).

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