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Most likely to prosecute

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Metro morals

A study found that publicly traded companies were more likely to be prosecuted for financial misconduct if they were headquartered in certain metropolitan areas, such as Miami, St. Louis, and Dallas, even controlling for the number of companies and demographics in the area. These differences were not explained by differences in enforcement or company characteristics. Rather, they were strongly associated with the local prevalence of misconduct by financial advisers, corruption among public officials, drug-company influence on what doctors prescribe, and subscriptions to an infidelity website. In other words, local culture was corrupted and corrupting. Indianapolis and Minneapolis were among the least corrupted, while Boston was in the middle (though more subscribed to the infidelity website).


Parsons, C. et al., “The Geography of Financial Misconduct,” Journal of Finance (forthcoming).

Making a difference

In experiments, people who read a defense of multiculturalism (e.g., “Each group has its own talents, as well as its own problems, and by acknowledging both these strengths and weaknesses, we validate the identity of each group and we recognize its existence and its importance to the social fabric”) were subsequently more inclined to think that race is unchangeable and biologically determined, and less inclined to think that racial inequality is a problem, than after reading a defense of colorblindness (e.g., “We must look beyond skin color and understand the person within, to see each person as an individual who is part of the larger group”).

Wilton, L. et al., “Valuing Differences and Reinforcing Them: Multiculturalism Increases Race Essentialism,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Who gets blamed for the T?

An MIT-trained political scientist who is now at the Boston Area Research Initiative (“an interuniversity research partnership of Northeastern University and Harvard University in conjunction with the City of Boston”) surveyed MBTA riders and used their CharlieCard numbers to get data for the on-time performance of the trains they had ridden. Surprisingly, riders were no less satisfied with their local government when trains were delayed; delays only made riders more likely to disapprove of local government when they were specifically informed about the role of local government in the MBTA.


de Benedictis-Kessner, J., “How Attribution Inhibits Accountability: Evidence from Train Delays,” Journal of Politics (forthcoming).

The kids can wait

A legendary experiment in psychology is the so-called “marshmallow test,” in which preschool-aged children are tempted with a small treat to see how long they can hold out for a bigger treat. Performance in the test ostensibly predicts subsequent life outcomes. Given increasing distractions and temptations, one might also predict worse performance in successive generations. But a new analysis by many of the earlier marshmallow-test researchers finds instead that children have become more patient, and that younger and male preschoolers have even caught up with older and female preschoolers. One caveat is that the kids in these experiments were largely from educated, white families, so the results may not generalize to all kids. The researchers “speculate that increases in abstract thought. . . along with rising preschool enrollment, changes in parenting, and, somewhat paradoxically, cognitive skills associated with screen technologies, may have contributed.”

Carlson, S. et al., “Cohort Effects in Children’s Delay of Gratification,” Developmental Psychology (forthcoming).

It’s Bond, not James Bond

Psychologists at Cornell University analyzed student evaluations of professors and transcripts of radio talk shows and found that surnames by themselves were used significantly more often to refer to men than women, regardless of the writer or speaker’s own gender. This was true even when people were directly asked how they would refer to individuals of similar renown. The disparity may have consequences for gender equality: When people were presented with hypothetical research proposals, they judged the researcher referred to by a surname as more eminent than the researcher referred to by a full name (with a gender-neutral first name).


Atir, S. & Ferguson, M., “How Gender Determines the Way We Speak about Professionals,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

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