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Uncommon Knowledge

Don’t hold back on your ambition

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Hidden ambitions

Even at a top MBA program, where only smart and ambitious people are admitted, single women still felt obliged to hold back, researchers found. Single women had lower class-participation grades than other women, even though their homework and exam grades were similar. When asked about their job preferences, single women reported less ambition, leadership, and interest in travel-intensive jobs if they thought their answers would be disclosed in class. Interest in travel-intensive jobs was particularly reduced when the single woman was placed in a small discussion group of men.

Bursztyn, L. et al., “ ‘Acting Wife’: Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments,” National Bureau of Economic Research (January 2017).

Seeing decline is believing

Participants in a study were shown a graph showing fluctuations in the fictional “economic volume index.” Some people were told the trend line meant things were getting worse; others were told the exact same trend line represented an improvement. People who thought the trend was negative, instead of positive, found it more believable. A similar bias was also seen in assessments of changes in health, athletic performance, academic performance, mood, luck, habits, friendship, and personality.

O’Brien, E. & Klein, N., “The Tipping Point of Perceived Change: Asymmetric Thresholds in Diagnosing Improvement versus Decline,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (February 2017).

Hypocrites, be honest

According to Yale University researchers, condemning someone else’s immoral behavior helps your own reputation, because when you condemn others, it’s a signal that you’re clean — more so than if you directly state that you’re clean. This is why hypocrisy is judged so harshly, because it violates the implicit assumption that you wouldn’t condemn unless you were really virtuous. As such, hypocrisy is judged even more harshly than lying about your behavior. However, honest hypocrisy — condemning others but also admitting your own misbehavior — is judged less harshly than lying.

Jordan, J. et al., “Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Hard knocks make hard-liners

If an acquaintance is becoming more politically opinionated, make sure he is OK. Data from a nationally representative sample reveal that one’s cumulative experience of adversity is associated with more extreme political attitudes, even about matters, such as national security policy, unrelated to one’s own past troubles. Recent experiences of adversity also tend to be associated with more conservative attitudes.

Randles, D. et al., “Experienced Adversity in Life Is Associated with Polarized and Affirmed Political Attitudes,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

A toast to information-sharing

In a study of the market for Champagne grapes, researchers found that female growers obtain higher prices for their grapes, even controlling for other factors. This is because the women socialize with, and trust, one another — allowing them to share price information — more than the men, given the norms of individualism and secrecy that exist among them.

Ody-Brasier, A. & Fernandez-Mateo, I., “When Being in the Minority Pays Off: Relationships among Sellers and Price Setting in the Champagne Industry,” American Sociological Review (forthcoming).


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