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Uncommon Knowledge: Language, values, and panhandling

Tortured language

In experiments, Americans were asked to read a short passage that described specific interrogation practices used by American forces and also described the Senate Intelligence Committee report on those practices. People had less negative attitudes about the exact same practices — and were less likely to sign a petition in opposition — when those practices were described as “enhanced interrogation” rather than “torture.”

Rios, K. & Mischkowski, D., “Shaping Responses to Torture: What You Call It Matters,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

Minority values

Comparing city council elections in California where a minority candidate barely won or lost to a white candidate, researchers found that the election of a minority candidate was associated with higher housing prices in minority neighborhoods and lower housing prices in white neighborhoods. This was particularly true when the council was not overwhelmingly white or minority. The effect appeared to be the result of greater business activity in minority neighborhoods and a shift in policing away from minorities and toward whites.

Beach, B. et al., “Minority Representation in Local Government,” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2018).


There’s gold in them thar streetcorners

In what they claim is the “first [study] to apply the tools of economic analysis, either theoretical or empirical, to the study of panhandling,” a team of researchers tracked the timing and location of panhandling in downtown Manhattan as the area became redeveloped. Although one might expect this redevelopment to attract many more panhandlers, “the increase in panhandling was small and possibly zero.” It’s not clear why. “We can rule out a number of alternative reasons why the influx of tourists did not cause an influx of panhandlers: Police anti-panhandling activity did not rise, single adult homelessness did not fall (in fact it rose), and the availability of good spots in which to panhandle was not a bottleneck that would have prevented expansion of panhandling activity. . . . We also find that the number of panhandlers who are active downtown at the average time that we observe is surprisingly low — about 8 to 10 — and that almost always a considerable number of very good panhandling locations are vacant.” Researchers suggest the issue may be supply: Apparently, there is no “reserve army of panhandlers” ready to take up a good opportunity.


Dordick, G. et al., “What Happens When You Give Money to Panhandlers? The Case of Downtown Manhattan,” Journal of Urban Economics (forthcoming).

Rioting won’t win over your congressman

Analyzing congressional voting records from the 1960s, an economist found that congressmen tended to become more progressive on civil rights votes if civil rights protests in their districts had been peaceful, while there was a strong regressive reaction on civil rights and welfare votes if civil rights protests had been violent. This was especially true in whiter districts.

Nyéki, G., “Does Hate Drive Out Hate? (Non-)Violence, Representation in Congress, and the US Civil Rights Movement,” Duke University (October 2018).

Good news

Taking advantage of the fact that adolescents become more religious if more of their demographically and denominationally similar school peers are more religious too, researchers found that such an exogenous increase in religiosity reduced the incidence of depression, especially for those with more serious depression. This was not explained by differences in friendship or activities or bad experiences, but appeared to be explained by greater resilience to stress.


Fruehwirth, J. et al., “Religion and Depression in Adolescence,” Journal of Political Economy (forthcoming).

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