Are Voters Just Rooting for Clothes?

Matthew Yglesias recently noted that the very rich are unhappy with President Obama because he would like to increase the taxes on the very rich.  Although this might be true, the number of people unhappy with Obama exceeds the number of people who comprise the very rich.  So why are many of the non-rich unhappy with Obama?  And why are so many other people quite happy with our current president? 

Perhaps the answer is similar to a story frequently told about sports fans.

Back in the early 1990s, a friend of mine declared his hatred of Charles Barkley.  At the time, Sir Charles was an All-Star for the Philadelphia 76ers.  Sometime after this declaration, though, Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns.  As a fan of the Suns, my friend changed his tune.  With Sir Charles in Phoenix, my friend was now a fan of Barkley.

More recently, LeBron James was an extremely popular athlete in Cleveland.  But when he changed his uniform to something from Miami, his popularity in Ohio plummeted.  

These stories are not uncommon among sports fans.  In fact, Jerry Seinfeld once observed that fans who behave like this are essentially “rooting for clothes.”

Hope and Poverty

Is there a role for hope in poverty alleviation programs?  According to a recent speech by economist Esther Duflo, there is. Duflo looked at a BRAC program in West Bengal; program participants were given a "small productive asset" (a cow, a goat, or some chickens) and a small stipend to encourage participants not to immediately eat the animal. The results were significant:

Well after the financial help and hand-holding had stopped, the families of those who had been randomly chosen for the BRAC programme were eating 15% more, earning 20% more each month and skipping fewer meals than people in a comparison group. They were also saving a lot. The effects were so large and persistent that they could not be attributed to the direct effects of the grants: people could not have sold enough milk, eggs or meat to explain the income gains. Nor were they simply selling the assets (although some did).

The Advantages of Looking "Trustworthy"

We've blogged before about the many advantages of being beautiful.  New research indicates that looking "trustworthy" carries some benefits as well:

In a paper recently published in the PLoS One journal, researchers from Warwick Business School, the University College London and Dartmouth College, USA, carried out a series of experiments to see if people made decisions to trust others based on their faces.

They found people are more likely to invest money in someone whose face is generally perceived as trustworthy, even when they are given negative information about this person's reputation.

"Trustworthiness is one of the most important traits for social and economic interactions and our study examines whether people take potentially costly actions in line with their face-based trustworthiness judgments," said Dr. Chris Olivola, one of the study's authors. "It seems we are still willing to go with our own instincts about whether we think someone looks like we can trust them."

Now the only trick is for people who aren't in fact trustworthy at all to appear as if they are. Or, as it's been said before: Once you can fake sincerity, you've got it made.

(HT: Naked Capitalism)

Education and Ambition

When it comes to educational attainment, good intentions aren't enough.  New research, led by Liz Todd of Newcastle University, looks at schemes to increase the educational attainment of low-income children by changing "aspirations and attitudes":

"For more than 10 years national and local policy has focused attention on raising aspirations. But there is no evidence that if you want to impact on the attainment of lower-income pupils that changing attitudes and aspirations is the way to go. There is an urgent need to change direction," says Todd.  "It’s not that aspirations aren’t important. It’s not about turning them on but keeping them on track. It’s highly unlikely that any child starts school wanting to be unemployed.”

The Appeal of the Middle

New research (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) from Paul RodwayAstrid Schepman, and Jordana Lambert demonstrates that people seem to prefer items located in the middle:

"In replication of the centre-stage effect, it was found that when participants were presented with a line of five pictures, they preferred pictures in the centre rather than at either end," the authors write. "This applies when the line of pictures was arranged horizontally or vertically and when participants selected from five pairs of identical socks arranged vertically."  

The authors also discuss the policy implications of their work:

"If item location influences preference during the millions of purchasing choices that occur every day, it will be exerting a substantial influence on consumer behaviour. Moreover, choices from a range of options are made in many other contexts (e.g. legal and occupational), and it remains to be investigated whether the central preference remains with other formats and whether it extends to other types of decision."

Messing With Memory

New research finds that it's alarmingly easy to create false memories for people, even when they know an event didn't happen.  Psychologists Andrew Clark, Robert A. Nash, Gabrielle Fincham, and Giuliana Mazzoni conducted a three-stage experiment: 

In Session 1 participants imitated simple actions, and in Session 2 they saw doctored video-recordings containing clips that falsely suggested they had performed additional (fake) actions. As in earlier studies, this procedure created powerful false memories. In Session 3, participants were debriefed and told that specific actions in the video were not truly performed. Beliefs and memories for all critical actions were tested before and after the debriefing.

Daylight Savings Time and "Cyberloafing"

New research suggests that people "cyberloaf" (i.e. websurf instead of working) more when they are tired. Some people may find this surprising. (We do not.) If nothing else, this is another argument against Daylight Savings Time. As the BPS Research Digest explains:

The investigators recognised an event that affects everyone's sleep: when the clocks go forward for Daylight Saving Time. Prior evidence suggests we lose on average 40 minutes of sleep per night following the switch, as our body rhythms struggle to adjust.

The Thinking Jacket: A New Trend

A new paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology finds that elementary school teachers worldwide might want to start encouraging students to put on their "thinking coats" instead of "thinking caps."  

Researchers Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky found that "wearing a white lab coat — a piece of clothing associated with care and attentiveness — improved performance on tests requiring close and sustained attention."

The Wealth Effect: It Ain't Pretty

A fascinating Boston Globe article by Britt Peterson reviews the research on the far-reaching psychological effects of wealth. "Rich people have a harder time connecting with others, showing less empathy to the extent of dehumanizing those who are different from them," writes Peterson. "They are less charitable and generous. They are less likely to help someone in trouble."  Even more depressing: These traits are "developed,"  not "inherited."

While money may not be the root of all evil, it can make people "insensitive" according to Kathleen Vohs, one of the researchers whose work was profiled in the article. “When people are reminded of money, they get better at pursing their personal goals,” she explains. “On the negative side, they become poor at interpersonal functioning. They’re not all that nice to be around. They’re not openly mean or disagreeable, but they can be insensitive.”  

Is Male Kindness Actually a "Peacock Tail?"

A new paper from psychology researchers Mark Van Vugt and Wendy Iredale finds that acts of male kindness may not always be quite what they seem. From Science Daily:

Two experiments were undertaken. For the first, 65 men and 65 women, all of an average age of 21, anonymously played a cooperation game where they could donate money via a computer program to a group fund. Donations were selfless acts, as all other players would benefit from the fund, whilst the donor wouldn't necessarily receive anything in return.

Players did not know who they were playing with. They were observed by either someone of the same sex or opposite sex -- two physically attractive volunteers, one man and one woman. Men were found to do significantly more good deeds when observed by the opposite sex. Whilst the number of good deeds made by women didn't change, regardless of who observed.

For the second experiment, groups of males were formed. Males were asked to make a number of public donations. These increased when observed by an attractive female, where they were found to actively compete with one another. When observed by another male, however, donations didn't increase.