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Uncommon Knowledge: No news is bad news

Maltese newspapers’ front pages read “The Pen Conquers Fear,” in English and Maltese, on October 22.MATTHEW MIRABELLI/AFP/Getty Images

No news is bad news

Political scientists analyzed news stories from the biggest newspaper in each congressional district before the 2010 and 2014 elections. Coverage of House races declined noticeably from 2010 to 2014, even controlling for how competitive each race was. Furthermore, survey respondents in these districts expressed less knowledge of the races, and less of an intention to vote in them, even controlling for changes in campaign spending and the respondent’s partisanship.

Hayes, D. & Lawless, J., “The Decline of Local News and Its Effects: New Evidence from Longitudinal Data,” Journal of Politics (forthcoming).

Hit me baby one more time

In several experiments, University of Chicago psychologists presented people with choices between gambles, where one gamble was objectively superior but not intuitively so. Participants were explicitly told which gamble was objectively superior. (For instance, when a blackjack dealer is showing a 4, a player with a 9 and a 4 has a higher chance of winning by standing than by hitting — even though a player might instinctively think 13 won’t be enough to win a hand.) Yet even after acknowledging the gamble that was objectively superior, a significant fraction of participants chose the objectively inferior gamble.

Walco, D. & Risen, J., “The Empirical Case for Acquiescing to Intuition,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).


Instant body-shaming

In experiments, young French women who were subliminally exposed (for only 20 milliseconds) to images of thin female models subsequently reported greater anxiety about their bodies. This effect was just as real for those who had initially reported being satisfied with their bodies.

Chatard, A. et al., “The Woman Who Wasn’t There: Converging Evidence That Subliminal Social Comparison Affects Self-Evaluation,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (November 2017).

Country before party

Partisan Americans who were asked to read or write about the strengths of America subsequently reported being more positive about the opposing party. Likewise, Americans were more positive about the opposing party’s presidential candidate when interviewed around July 4 or the Olympics.


Levendusky, M., “Americans, Not Partisans: Can Priming American National Identity Reduce Affective Polarization?” Journal of Politics (forthcoming).

Dangerous advertisers

Comparing the timing of car safety recalls with the timing of automotive ad spending in newspapers, economists found that a newspaper was less likely to cover a recall when the manufacturer had spent more on ads in that newspaper over the previous couple of years — especially when the recall was bigger, where there were fewer competing newspapers, and where Craigslist was siphoning classified ad revenue. This may have cost lives, as greater coverage of a recall was associated with fewer fatalities involving the manufacturer’s vehicles.

Beattie, G. et al., “Advertising Spending and Media Bias: Evidence from News Coverage of Car Safety Recalls,” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2017).

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