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Uncommon Knowledge: Grim reapers for Trump

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Grim Reaper for Trump

Experiments with students at the College of Staten Island — located in the only New York City borough that Trump carried — reveal that “support for charismatic leaders, including Mr. Trump, is driven (at least in part) by death anxiety.” Specifically, students across the political spectrum became significantly more supportive of Trump after writing about their own mortality, compared with writing about intense pain. Also, participants who were asked to write about immigrants moving into one’s neighborhood were as likely to have death on their minds — measured by how they completed word fragments like “COFF--” with “COFFIN” — as those who wrote about their own mortality.


Cohen, F. et al., “You’re Hired! Mortality Salience Increases Americans’ Support for Donald Trump,” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy (forthcoming).

From my cold dead hands

Was Barack Obama right that rural Americans “cling to guns or religion”? According to sociologists at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, survey data “support Obama’s idea that guns provide an emotional and moral source of meaning especially for white Americans experiencing economic distress.” In addition, the researchers say, “Obama’s use of the conjunction ‘or’ was prescient.” The more religious people were, the less empowered they felt by guns — an indication that spiritual communities offer symbols and identities that offset the appeal of guns. However, economic distress made nonwhite gun owners feel less empowered by their weapons.

Mencken, C. & Froese, P., “Gun Culture in Action,” Social Problems (forthcoming).

The face of pain

In several experiments, people assumed that white men whose faces had a large width-to-height ratio would feel less pain. This was not true for black men, who were assumed to feel less pain regardless.

Deska, J. & Hugenberg, K., “Targets’ Facial Width-to-Height Ratio Biases Pain Judgments,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (January 2018).


Tell it to the judge, if he’ll listen

A revolution is under way in how society deals with sexual harassment. Meanwhile, President Trump is appointing conservative, overwhelmingly male judges. The latter will be relevant to the former. An analysis of sex-discrimination cases filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals that female victims are significantly more likely to get a financial settlement when a female judge is assigned to the case. This is partly because female judges are significantly less likely to grant pretrial motions by the defendant.

Knepper, M., “When the Shadow Is the Substance: Judge Gender and the Outcomes of Workplace Sex Discrimination Cases,” Journal of Labor Economics (forthcoming).

Dirty jobs leave a mark

Researchers found that areas in the United States and United Kingdom where industries grew up around coal have residents with worse personalities and well-being today, ostensibly because these areas had “stressful work and living conditions, together with selective migration patterns and lasting economic hardship.”

Obschonka, M. et al., “In the Shadow of Coal: How Large-Scale Industries Contributed to Present-Day Regional Differences in Personality and Well-Being,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

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