Uncommon Knowledge: Bros, basketball, and business economics

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Bros don’t know

In experiments, individuals and groups of three were given general-knowledge and forecasting questions. All-male groups had worse discussion dynamics than groups with at least one woman. As a result, their judgments were more poorly calibrated than the other groups’ — and even compared to individual men or women.

Keck, S. & Tang, W., “Gender Composition and Group Confidence Judgment: The Perils of All-Male Groups,” Management Science (forthcoming).

Go for it

Your basketball team is down by two, with mere seconds left in the game. Do you attempt a two- or three-point shot? Suppose your football team is down by seven but then scores a touchdown, with seconds left. Do you attempt the extra point, to tie the game, or the two-point conversion? If your answer was “go for the win,” congratulations — maybe you should be coaching, since teams generally seem to get it wrong. A study by a team of judgment researchers from Cornell University and the University of Chicago (including Richard Thaler, the latest winner of the Nobel Prize in economics) found that NBA and NFL teams typically went for the tie at the end of regulation, even though the probability of winning was lower, given the remaining uncertainty of overtime. In an experiment, even when people were explicitly informed of the lower probability, half still chose to go for the tie. People also thought that a score attempt for the same number of points would be less likely to succeed if it would win the game compared to just tying the game.

Walker, J. et al., “Sudden-Death Aversion: Avoiding Superior Options Because They Feel Riskier,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Opportunity knocks

According to an analysis of employment-discrimination lawsuits involving publicly traded corporations, the resolution of a lawsuit typically resulted in greater middle-management diversity at the corporation only when accompanied by stock-price drops, national media attention, or both — but not when large monetary payouts were involved.

Hirsh, E. & Cha, Y., “For Law and Markets: Employment Discrimination Lawsuits, Market Performance, and Managerial Diversity,” American Journal of Sociology (January 2018).

Low-down prices


A graduate student in business economics at Harvard compared prices on appliances and electronics on Amazon before and after Target and Best Buy announced they would match online prices. Contrary to what one might assume, prices on Amazon were higher by 6 percentage points after price-matching, an effect that was greater for inexpensive products. The theory is that price-matching companies can raise listed prices without necessarily losing sophisticated customers, which then allows competitors to raise their prices, too.

Zhuo, R., “Do Low-Price Guarantees Guarantee Low Prices? Evidence from Competition between Amazon and Big-Box Stores,” Journal of Industrial Economics (December 2017).

Pay close attention

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In experiments, participants who worked on a task requiring extra concentration were subsequently more likely to solve problems requiring insight — that is, problems whose solutions come after a sudden epiphany rather than an extended thought process.

DeCaro, M. & Van Stockum, C., “Ego Depletion Improves Insight,” Thinking & Reasoning (forthcoming).

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