Uncommon Knowledge: Male committees, paintball, and ‘Shark Tank’

Senators Mike Lee, John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, and chairman Chuck Grassley all sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senators Mike Lee, John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, and chairman Chuck Grassley all sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.(Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)

Male committees don’t look good

In nationwide survey experiments, political scientists randomly assigned participants to read a mock newspaper article about a state legislative committee with photos of the legislators that depicted the committee as being either all men or a balanced number of men and women. The committee was also described as either increasing or decreasing penalties for sexual harassment. Gender balance improved the perception of the lower-penalty policy in being fair to women and improved the perception of either policy with regard to procedural legitimacy. This was true for both male and female, and Democratic and Republican, participants. Gender balance even improved perceptions of procedural legitimacy for a non-gender issue.


Clayton, A. et al., “All Male Panels? Representation and Democratic Legitimacy,” American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).

It’s a ‘Shark Tank’ out there

A study out of the University of Pennsylvania found that people who reported viewing competitive high-stakes game/reality shows also reported a greater belief that there was equal economic opportunity, even controlling for viewership of other types of shows, and individual and local socioeconomic characteristics. This was then verified experimentally: Participants online and in rural Pennsylvania who were assigned to view such shows for a few minutes subsequently reported a greater belief that there was equal economic opportunity. This was particularly true for Republicans. However, there was also a backfiring negative effect among the small minority of participants who were opportunity pessimists.

Kim, E., “Entertaining Beliefs in Economic Mobility,” University of Pennsylvania (September 2018).

Darwin helps

People in the United Kingdom and the United States who reported more charitable donations and volunteering as young adults subsequently had more children and earned more income. Nevertheless, when asked directly about this relationship, people only assumed that selfishness reduced offspring, whereas it was assumed to increase income.

Eriksson, K. et al., “Generosity Pays: Selfish People Have Fewer Children and Earn Less Money,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).


Justice PR

Law students at the University of Wisconsin who were surveyed after attending a speech by Justice Sonia Sotomayor reported liking her more and were more likely to believe that law rather than ideology determined Supreme Court decisions, compared to students surveyed before the speech. This was also true for the general public when assigned to read a news article about the speech, and when Justice Samuel Alito was portrayed as the one giving the speech. Indeed, the increase in liking was just as strong for conservatives reading about a Sotomayor speech and for liberals reading about an Alito speech.

Krewson, C., “Save This Honorable Court: Shaping Public Perceptions of the Supreme Court off the Bench,” Political Research Quarterly (forthcoming).

The force is with you

In an experiment, paintball players were randomly assigned to teams that engaged in a pre-game visualization exercise that either encouraged them to envision support from unseen powers (“God, or spirit, or the universe”) or that involved vividly imagining a tree. “Participants in the supernatural support condition reported greater confidence in their team’s prospects for victory prior to battle, retrospectively assessed their team’s performance during the battle as superior to that of the opposing team, and regarded their team as more likely to achieve victory in a future rematch.”

Pollack, J. et al., “May God Guide Our Guns: Visualizing Supernatural Aid Heightens Team Confidence in a Paintball Battle Simulation,” Human Nature (September 2018).


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