Uncommon Knowledge

Sensitive children, religious creativity, and more

Closeup of palette with mixed paints holded by hands of young woman artist
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Surprising insights from the social sciences:

Sensitive types, with nurturing parents

Your genes are important to who you are, but so is context. Comparing pairs of same-sex siblings, a sociologist at the University of Kansas found that the sibling who inherited genes that made him or her more sensitive to a nurturing environment grew up to be more affluent than the other sibling — but only if the siblings grew up with affluent parents. If they grew up in a poor family, the sibling with more sensitive genes grew up to be poorer.

Rauscher, E., “Plastic and Immobile: Unequal Intergenerational Mobility by Genetic Sensitivity Score Within Sibling Pairs,” Social Science Research (forthcoming).

Sects and creativity


Following up on previous research, a new study finds that the personality of creative individuals tends to be different for Catholics and Protestants. Compared with Protestant counterparts, famous Catholic (and Jewish) creative individuals “were more likely to manifest troubling impulses and break taboos (consistent with the stereotype of the emotionally volatile artist).” In research on university students, “Protestants who were chronic repressors [of their own impulses] showed the highest levels of creative interests. . . whereas Catholics who minimized troublesome affect and displaced it scored lower on creativity.”

Kim, E. & Cohen, D., “Roads More and Less Traveled: Different Emotional Routes to Creativity Among Protestants and Catholics,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Bad times at Ridgemont High

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Psychologists at Vassar College analyzed mass shootings committed by students at schools across the country from 1995 to 2014 and found that these schools had more students than the typical school in the state, while the schools that the shooters had previously attended were average in size and had smaller-than-average student-teacher ratios. In other words, “transitioning from a smaller, more supportive school to a larger, more anonymous school may exacerbate preexisting mental health issues among potential school shooters.”

Baird, A. et al., “Alone and Adrift: The Association Between Mass School Shootings, School Size, and Student Support,” Social Science Journal (forthcoming).

Hidden figures

To study how women integrate into male-dominated groups, psychologists at the University of Colorado created four-person groups — some with four females and some with only one. The groups had to solve math problems, which one (or the only) woman in the group had been pre-trained to solve. In the male-dominated groups, the female problem-solver was perceived by all group members, including herself, to be less accepted in the group and worse at math, and she contributed less to the solutions.

Grover, S. et al., “The Effects of Gender Composition on Women’s Experience in Math Work Groups,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Diversity by association

Diversity in one demographic category can make a group look more diverse in other ways, too. In a study out of Stanford, people who viewed a set of faces, worked with several others in a team, or read about company demographics, inferred more gender diversity — even when there was no actual difference in gender diversity— when the group was racially diverse or even just diverse in the sense of members being assigned to wear different shirts.

Daniels, D. et al., “Spillover Bias in Diversity Judgment,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (March 2017).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at