Uncommon Knowledge: Leaving money on the table

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Intellectual property

According to research out of Boston University, the shift to digital documents and imagery is leaving money on the table. For example, in one experiment, tourists visiting Old North Church were approached by a research assistant dressed as Paul Revere, who asked if they’d like a picture with him, for which they could pay with a donation to the Old North Foundation. Those who were randomly assigned to receive a photo from an instant camera donated more than those who were emailed a photo from a digital camera. A greater feeling of ownership for physical goods — but not greater perceived production costs — appeared to explain this.

Atasoy, O. & Morewedge, C., “Digital Goods Are Valued Less Than Physical Goods,” Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming).

Strike the pose

In several experiments, participants were shown either posed or non-posed photos as might be seen on Facebook or a dating website. Non-posed photos were judged to be more genuine, and as a result, participants were more interested in getting to know the individuals in the non-posed photos. This was true even for photos of the same individual with the same facial expression and background, but where the individual’s gaze did or didn’t suggest awareness of being photographed. Indeed, there was no effect when participants were told that the non-posed individual knew a photo was being taken.

Berger, J. & Barasch, A., “A Candid Advantage? The Social Benefits of Candid Photos,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

A harbinger of Trump

During President Obama’s first term, as Donald Trump was just entering the political scene, political scientists conducted a series of survey experiments with national samples of white people. In contrast to studies from a decade earlier that had found that racially explicit political rhetoric was broadly rejected, compared to implicit (i.e., “dog whistle” or “coded”) rhetoric, the later study found no such difference. For example, even though racially conservative individuals (those who don’t want to provide extra help to minorities) judged explicit rhetoric to be more racially insensitive than implicit rhetoric, they were not more bothered by it. The political scientists attribute this to the increasing concentration of racially conservative whites in only one political party, and the election of Obama.

Valentino, N. et al., “The Changing Norms of Racial Political Rhetoric and the End of Racial Priming,” Journal of Politics (forthcoming).

Family work


It’s widely assumed that workers who have families are less devoted to their jobs. New research suggests otherwise. Surveys found that unmarried workers without kids at home were actually less engrossed in their work, even controlling for age, gender, and job level. This was not explained by being a breadwinner, but instead: “Due to similarities between domestic responsibilities and work tasks — e.g., their obligatory and goal-directed nature — anticipating domestic responsibilities after work reinforces, rather than distracts from, the work mindset.”

Dumas, T. & Perry-Smith, J., “The Paradox of Family Structure and Plans after Work: Why Single Childless Employees May Be the Least Absorbed at Work,” Academy of Management Journal (forthcoming).

Breakthrough CEOs

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A study of corporate CEOs found that those who grew up in lower-income environments generated better corporate performance, even controlling for other CEO and corporate characteristics. This was especially true for first-time CEOs and high-growth companies, and was not explained by greater risk-taking, but was associated with fewer layoffs and more innovation.

Du, F., “From Playground to Boardroom: Endowed Social Status and Managerial Performance,” Arizona State University (September 2017).

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