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DUCKWORTH: Whipped cream and nuts on top. Somebody go grab a maraschino cherry. 

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Why should you exert yourself if you can get other people to do the work for you? 

DUCKWORTH: You’re a bad, bad person. 

DUBNER: I’m a terrible person.

Also: Stephen shares a special moment of appreciation.

DUBNER: I like team Duckner — Dubworth. 

*      *      *

DUBNER: Angela, I want to ask a question related to something we discussed not long ago on this very show. 


DUBNER: We were talking about meetings, how bad they often are, how so many meetings are dominated by noisy people. We talked about the, quote, “right size” of a given meeting, but one thing we didn’t get to is the idea that meetings can be good for what economists call “free riders” — meaning you go along for the ride while someone else is doing the work. So, let’s say you and I and six other people are in a brainstorming meeting. And I know that you, Angie, have a lot of great ideas. So I can just sit back and think about what I’m going to have for dinner that night. Now, I’ve since learned that psychologists have a phrase for this too. It’s called “social loafing.” I like that phrase even more than free-riding. If I can find a way to free ride and social loaf at the same time, that’s my perfect day. But I do want to ask you, what exactly is social loafing? Is it as wonderful as it sounds? And should I be doing even more of it?

DUCKWORTH: Social loafing is when you have a group task — more than one person trying to accomplish anything, really. Like tugging a rope in a tug of war, but also brainstorming ideas for the next product in a meeting — anything where there’s a task that needs to be accomplished by a group of people. The idea of social loafing is that, as an individual, I will work a little less hard — or sometimes a lot less hard — because I know other people are on task. And so, yeah, I can go and plan dinner. 

DUBNER: Now, you mentioned tugging a rope. Isn’t there a famous old experiment about social loafing that involves rope tugging? 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I was probably thinking about the very early work on this. If you are in management science, you might know that Ringelmann was a French — I don’t know if he was, like, a farmer, but he was studying the productivity of men and machines in agriculture. And the idea was that when you put people together in groups, they will, in theory, do better than an individual, because you have, like, more people — you know, more people pushing on a plow, et cetera. But actually, the addition of new members to the group yields not only a smaller gain than you would think — like, you add one person, you don’t get one person’s effort — but in some cases, it could even be the reverse. 

DUBNER: I can imagine — as with a lot of things we discuss on this show — that the domain really matters, because with a physical task like that, you can see how I might even consciously say, “Well, so many people are pulling, I don’t have to give it my all. I can give a moderate effort.” What about in more of a knowledge or intellectual domain, like the meeting I was describing? Do we see social loafing there as well?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. It really does play out whether it’s mental tasks or physical tasks. It’s part of, actually, a broader phenomenon of “diffusion of responsibility.” You’re like, “Oh, I don’t have to do my part.” Ringelmann, actually, was interpreting the same results in a different way. I think he thought there might be coordination — like, you have eight people. “Wow. Imagine how complicated it is to get everybody to be coordinated, doing the same thing.” But the thing is, it plays out in extremely simple tasks where you don’t really have to coordinate. So, I think the phenomenon is quite general, and it’s largely motivational and not an informational transaction cost. 

DUBNER: When you mentioned this phrase, “diffusion of responsibility,” I’m thinking about this board meeting in Succession

DUCKWORTH: Wait. Succession is a proper noun? 

DUBNER: Yeah. 

DUCKWORTH: Was it on Netflix or something? 

DUBNER: It’s an HBO show, and I think it’s amazing. The show is about a media-owning family. You could close your eyes and picture the Murdochs, or someone like them. The C.E.O. is a pretty old man, and he’s had some health issues. And so “succession” is on everybody’s mind all the time. There is a board meeting where there is a vote of no confidence in the C.E.O. And you can imagine that is unbelievably fraught with all kinds of potential recrimination and revenge, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, when you said this phrase, “diffusion of responsibility,” I thought immediately of that scene, where they’re going around the table to vote. Now, if you would have asked everybody to vote all at once — and especially anonymously — there might’ve been one outcome. If you go around the table, however, and A) it’s not anonymous and B) it’s sequential — totally different story, because you are going to be held accountable for “yay” or “nay.” And this made me think of another phrase that I’d come across called “moral disengagement.” And I wonder if you know anything about that?

DUCKWORTH: I refuse to answer this question until you tell me what happened at this board vote with no confidence? 

DUBNER: Okay. It’s a spoiler. So, if you want to watch Succession and haven’t yet watched season one — 

DUCKWORTH: Cover your ears. 

DUBNER: Cover your ears for 12 seconds. The C.E.O., Logan Roy, wins, even though he kind of cheats. But since he’s not booted out, he immediately takes revenge and fires everybody who voted against him.

DUCKWORTH: Ooh, kind of like Stalin or something. 

DUBNER: Many of the people who are about to vote, you can see on their faces, “If I say yes, what’s my punishment? If I say no, what’s my potential reward?” But this phrase that I’d come across called “moral disengagement,” I’m wondering if you can tell me anything about that, because I gather it’s the notion that if you don’t participate in something, then you can’t be blamed? And I wonder if some social loafing is connected to that as well?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I think of Al Bandura who died not long ago. Al Bandura really was a towering figure in psychology. And when he wrote about moral disengagement, I think he was talking about how we feel like the weight of moral responsibility is not there in certain circumstances. In other words, you are disengaging from the inherently moral elements of a decision. He was really, as a psychologist, very much motivated by the fact that we have causal agency, and he wanted to understand the circumstances under which we ignore the fact that we have agency, which of course implies responsibility. 

DUBNER: So, when I think back to the meeting scenario that I raised earlier and the social loafer — let’s just say it’s me, cause I’m very comfortable in that role. I could imagine a number of reasons for a given person to be loafing socially. I could think that, you know, “I’m lazy. I just didn’t feel like doing the work, or I don’t feel like participating in the moment because it requires effort.” So, that’s one. But another could be that I lack competence, my ideas are no good. And I know it, so I’m going to hold back. And that might appear like loafing, whereas, in fact, it’s the absence of talent. I could also think that it’s not so much that I’m either lazy or incompetent, but I’m just not comfortable in a group setting. So, those are just a few thoughts I had about what could cause it. There might be 20 more. But do we know anything empirically about what leads people to do this? 

DUCKWORTH: I think laziness is really inherent and maybe the through line across this, because the idea is that even though these other factors might play in, laziness has separately been shown to just be true of human nature. Sometimes it’s called the law of least effort. And before we all wag our moralistic Protestant-work-ethic finger at ourselves, all animals are lazy, and thank God they are, right? You don’t want to be aimlessly expending effort. You have to husband your energy. And you have to only do as much work as you need to do so that you can go do something else. We shouldn’t be profligate with our energy. 

DUBNER: That sounds a little bit like Donald Trump’s theory of exercise — that he said he didn’t like exercise too much because he felt like his molecular, physical system was something akin to a battery that you wear down. You just don’t have any more energy. 

DUCKWORTH: Did he really say that? 

DUBNER: I’m paraphrasing. But what are you talking about, Angie? Are you talking about more than the physical domain — like, if you and I are going out on a hunt to try to kill a saber-tooth tiger a few thousand years ago? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, even now though, right? Like, say, for example, I say to you, “Hey, I need you to put this plate up in the kitchen on the second floor.” I look over at the stairs. I’m like, “First climb to the eighth floor and then climb back down seven flights of stairs.”. You’re going to be like, “Oh, that’s dumb. I’m going to do one flight of stairs, cause that’s the minimum that I have to do. That makes sense.” I always think about this every time I’m walking in Philadelphia and there’s one block where there’s a diagonal. Nobody in their right mind is going to take the two legs of the triangle. If the diagonal is there, you take it because it’s faster. It’s dumb to take the longer route and expend unnecessary energy and time. So, if you just think about it, wouldn’t every animal expend the least amount of effort? And that’s true of us, too. I think it’s even when you don’t think that other people are going to know what your effort is. In fact, very often that’s the modal thing. Kind of privately you start shirking. So, all of this doesn’t really say, “Oh, you’re embarrassed, you’re uncomfortable.” It’s really just that you kind of think logically, “Why should I put myself out there? Other people are going to do it.” 

DUBNER: That makes sense. And again, every situation is different. I think of Wikipedia, for instance, which is volunteer-created. I’ve never created anything for Wikipedia. I consume it all the time. I don’t even give them any money. 

DUCKWORTH: You don’t? You should give them money. I give them money. 

DUBNER: I probably should give them money, but I don’t, because I’m a social loafer. 

DUCKWORTH: Maybe you’re morally disengaged. 

DUBNER: I’m all the bad things. 

DUCKWORTH: You’re a bad, bad person. 

DUBNER: I’m a terrible person. But, if the Wikipedia setup were different, if one couldn’t comfortably use it anonymously, if one couldn’t comfortably use it without contributing, I’m sure I would. I’d be happy to. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, here’s the thing about Wikipedia psychology — I also haven’t edited anything, partly because, as you know, you’re not supposed to edit anything where you are the Wikipedia entry. I think the motivation to correct a Wikipedia entry might be that you feel like maybe only you know, or at least that you’re in a very small group. And I think that’s exactly what you need as the antidote to social loafing. You know, I was thinking about — remember Smokey the Bear? Remember he would point his furry finger at you. 

DUBNER: A little preachy.

DUCKWORTH: “Only you can prevent forest fires.” 

DUBNER: What do you mean “only me”? I didn’t do it. 

DUCKWORTH: Exactly. 

DUBNER: I always talk back to him. “What are you talking about, Smokey?” Because I had good fire hygiene. 

DUCKWORTH: Stephen’s got his finger pointing at the person next to him. “Only that person.”

DUBNER: Can I say, Smokey pissed me off a little bit when I was a kid, because we set fires all the time, but we always put them out. 

DUCKWORTH: Wait, what? 

DUBNER: We camped a lot. I grew up in the boondocks. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, oh, oh. I was thinking arson. 

DUBNER: And we took it really seriously. Boy Scout training, all that stuff. So, when he would look at me and say “Only you,” I thought “Smokey, you don’t know me, but I know you, and I’m keeping my eye on you, Smokey Bear.”

DUCKWORTH: But look, let’s put ourselves in the place of Smokey. I don’t think Smokey the Bear was actually worried about Boy Scouts. I think Smokey the Bear is just worried about careless teenagers or families leaving their embers. And I’ll say this. That phrasing, “only you” — like, why did Smokey the Bear say “only you”? I think it’s because there’s social loafing and there’s diffusion of responsibility and moral disengagement. And basically, the antidote to that kind of plurality of people who collectively take responsibility is, like, “No, no, no. Only you.” It’s exactly anti-that.

DUBNER: It’s interesting, because, given what we know about behavior, and behavior change, and “social norming” — the idea that if I tell you that most people do X, then you’re a little bit more inclined to do that — I would think that the Smokey Bear message was exactly wrong. I would think what you’d want to say is, you’d have Smokey Bear come out and say, “Most people, like little Stevie here, are pretty good about watching for spare sparks and flames in the woods. And they put out their campfires really carefully. But once in a while, some idiot doesn’t. And if that idiot is you, I’m going to come through the TV and I’m going to bleep you up.” I think that would have been a better message.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Well, they didn’t go with that ad-campaign direction but, Stephen, I do think you’re pointing out a useful — I don’t know if it’s a paradox — but you’re saying, in some ways you want to communicate that everybody’s doing something and in some ways you want to communicate uniqueness. And actually, there is some research suggesting that one of the ways that you can get this all to work in a group situation is that you assign people distinct roles. So, “Only I can play this part.” And I thought about this: Did you ever read Boys in the Boat

DUBNER: No. Never heard of it. 

DUCKWORTH: It’s about the crew team at University of Washington. And this is the time in history when the Olympic team may have been the best college team. But anyway, The Boys in the Boat is about how this team of rowers and their coxswain triumph over adversity. And when I thought about performing at these elite levels, they don’t have social loafing. There has to be the psychology of, “I’m part of something larger than myself.” So, that’s the collective, but also, “Only I am in the seventh position. If I don’t do my job, the whole thing falls down.” So, did Smokey the Bear do it exactly right? I don’t know, but I do think there has to be a uniqueness to that feeling of responsibility to counter social loafing. 

DUBNER: I’m looking on Wikipedia here at that University of Washington crew team. It says Angela Duckworth was actually in the seventh position. 

DUCKWORTH: Yes. I would have been the coxswain. Just saying, if you want to make up fake news, let’s do it a little more realistically. I’m five-one.

DUBNER: Maybe I’m the one that actually inserted that edit as we were speaking. Now, we should say that a winning crew team has obviously been recruited, and groomed, and trained, and monitored for the lack of social loafing. But I could imagine the opposite of this effect. And I wonder if this has been observed as well. In other words, when the mere act of being in a group encourages more participation or accomplishment than you do on your own. Let’s pretend I go out for a walk one day. I’m walking in the countryside, let’s say, by myself, looking at birds, looking at trees, listening to music, just thinking. And if there’s a little trash by the side of the road there, I might think, “It’d be nice if I pick it up. But I don’t have a bag.” And so I walk home and I leave all the little trash that I see unpicked up. But the next day, if I decide to go out with a couple of friends and we see it, I think I would be more inclined to pick up the trash. Like, between the three of us, we’d figure out, you know, “Let’s find something to put it in. Let’s just do it. We’re walking anyway. Let’s just pick it up.” So, being in the group in that case would inspire prosocial behavior rather than diminish it. So, is there, in addition to social loafing, is there also social galvanizing, social arousal, anything like that?

DUCKWORTH: There is the opposite, and it’s less studied, but it’s called the Kohler effect. 

DUBNER: Is that a toilet? 

DUCKWORTH: It is not, so far as I know, named after the toilet. It’s named after a person named Kohler. But this idea of the Kohler effect is that, when you put people in teams, you actually increase motivation and performance — as opposed to social loafing, which is a decrease in motivation and performance. And then the question is: When do you get the Ringelmann effect and when do you get the Kohler effect? One speculation was that it only happened in groups where you have mixed ability. Like, some people are stronger, some people are weaker, and then it’s like, “Oh, I guess I have to compensate for this weaker person.” Or maybe the weaker person would look at the strong people and be like, “Oh, I guess I should pull as strong as they are.” It’s basically all through these social comparisons. But I think the place where this collective action ends up being better is when people look around and they’re like, “Oh, this is some coordinated team thing. I have this unique role. We all have to do our part or the whole thing is going to fail.” 

DUBNER: I will say this in defense of the social loafers in a meeting, let’s say — the social loafers are, if nothing else, a very nice audience for the people who do like to contribute. So that’s not nothing, wouldn’t you say? 

DUCKWORTH: Sure. Okay. That’s a stretch, but I’ll go with it. Is there anything else you can say about social loafers? Because I am super anti-social loafing. 

DUBNER: Well, here’s the thing — I’m actually convinced by now that all social loafing isn’t bad.  

DUCKWORTH: It’s understandable. 

DUBNER: It’s human nature. And I think, for some people, in some circumstances, it’s not the worst choice. I’d rather see somebody socially loaf than actively antagonize. 

DUCKWORTH: This is faint praise, but I will say this: There’s this quote by the Jewish sage Hillel, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” But I also think, “If not me, who?” Everybody else is going to be a social loafer.” So, you know, “Only you.” 

DUBNER: To answer that very deep and lovely question, “If not me, who?” I would answer it: “Angie. You.” 

DUCKWORTH: Smokey the Bear is like, “Only Angie can prevent forest fires. The rest of you go back to your matches.”

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela delve further into the intricacies of group psychology. 

DUCKWORTH: I mean, that is extraordinary. That is the opposite of what people’s intuitions would be. 

*      *      *

DUBNER: So, Angie, rather than ask another question today, I wanted to share with you an appreciation. This was something I came across recently. As you know, I like golf. 

DUCKWORH: Yes. A little bit. 

DUBNER: And I was recently watching an event called the Ryder Cup, which happens usually every two years. It’s been a little bit thrown askew by COVID, but they held it recently in Wisconsin at Whistling Straits. And the Ryder cup is a competition between an all-star European team and an all-star American team — 12 players on each team. It’s gone back and forth over the years. The U.S. used to dominate. Then, the Euros have really dominated. And now, the Americans are trying to claw their way back. And this year, the Americans killed the Euros. It wasn’t even close. It takes place over three days, and there are a variety of formats during the first couple of days. And then, on the final day, every player plays a singles match against somebody else on the other team. And on this day, the Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, who lives in the U.S. and is very, very popular and is very, very good — 

DUCKWORTH: Wait. The Irish golfer Rory, who lives in the U.S.? So which team was Rory on? 

DUBNER: He plays for the Euros. A lot of European golfers like to come to the U.S. to play the P.G.A. Tour here, because it’s more remunerative. And a lot of them like to live in Florida, or Arizona, or Texas, because the weather is good and they happen to be very low-tax places, which is not a coincidence. If you combine the good weather and low taxes of a Florida, you will attract a lot of professional golfers. So, Rory McIlroy, who’s a very winning golfer. He burst onto the scene when he was very young. He’s probably in his late twenties by now. He gave a live TV interview shortly after his singles match. He won his match this day, but by now it was obvious that the European team was going to lose. And I found it an unbelievable moment of live TV. I pulled the tape here and I’m really curious to know your response to it.

DUCKWORTH: All right. 

Jimmy ROBERTS: Here with Rory McIlroy, first point of the day on the board for the European team. Rory, I’m sure it’s a day of mixed emotions for you. Can you put into words your feelings about this week?

Rory MCILROY: Yeah. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this team. We’ve had a great time. It looks like it’s not going to pan out the way we want on the golf course. I’ve been extremely disappointed that I haven’t contributed more for the team. I’m glad I got a point on the board today for them. But it’s been a tough week. And the more and more I play on this event, I realize that it’s the best event in golf, bar none. And I love being a part of it. I can’t wait to be a part of many more. 

DUCKWORTH: Wow. He is upset. He’s crying, right? 

ROBERTS: Just a moment ago, you said that you hoped that little boys and girls who are watching, aspire to be members of a Ryder-Cup team or a Solheim-Cup team. Is that something that’s in your mind as you play this game? 

MCILROY: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any greater privilege to be a part of one of these teams. I’ve gotten to do this six times. They’ve always been my greatest experiences in my career. I have never really cried or got emotional over what I’ve done as an individual. I couldn’t give a bleep. But this team, and what it feels like to see Sergio break records, to see Jon Rahm come into his own this week, to see one of my best friends, Shane Lowry, make his Ryder Cup debut, I’m so, so happy to be a part of it. As I said, I’m disappointed that I didn’t contribute more this week. Two years time, we’ll give it another go again. Sorry for swearing back then, as well.

DUCKWORTH: Oh my God. I love him. That was so interesting. That was like the opposite of diffusion of responsibility, right? The opposite of like, “I’m just going to anonymously hold back while everybody else does the work, cause there’s a bunch of us here.” Wait, how many people did you say are on these teams? 

DUBNER: There are 12 on a team, and Rory is historically one of the best. As you could maybe hear in that interview, until this final day, when he won his singles match, he hadn’t won his matches, which is a little bit rare. I’ve liked him for a long time because he’s unusually thoughtful and well-spoken. He reads books. He talks about ideas, not just golf. So, I was wondering if maybe I was so attracted and moved by this interview because I’m attracted to him or whether it was on its own unusually compelling. 

DUCKWORTH: I mean, look, I’m attracted to him now. First of all, he’s crying about this. He talks about, like, he doesn’t really get emotional or really care as much about his own personal performance, but what the team is doing actually matters enormously to him. And now he is crying, right? Because he actually does care that much about it. That is extraordinary. That is the opposite of what people’s intuitions would be. Like, “Why do you care about this all-star team? You’re only 1/12th of it.” It’s not even like a real sports team where you compete over, and over, and over again. They assemble, and then they dissipate, and then it’s a totally different team. So, to me, this says a lot about the psychology of being part of a group. Again, I do think it’s the flip side of diffusion of responsibility or social loafing. Maybe it’s the Kohler effect. I mean, I have long believed this, Stephen, that nothing really beats the feeling of being part of a group that is accomplishing a task and that you’re doing your unique part. When you do your part really well, it’s not that you get the individual gold medal, it’s that your team wins the relay. Not all Olympic sports have it, but swimming and gymnastics, where there’s the team analog of individual. What is the psychology of doing that? It’s got to be, in some ways, sweeter than winning individually.

DUBNER: And it’s so interesting because, in this case, they lost, and yet his connection to the team seemed like it got even stronger. It made me think, along the lines of what you’ve been describing, golf happens to be an individual sport, primarily. And even when there are team events, it’s usually you and one other player. But to be a member of a larger team where you’re spending a week or two ahead of time bonding, getting excited, looking forward to victory, and then getting beaten like this — what was so interesting is, as you noted, he said he couldn’t give a bleep about the individual trophies, which is certainly an exaggeration—

DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, he’s being hyperbolic, but yes, relatively speaking. 

DUBNER: But he’s won three of the major championships. What’s so interesting is having done that, having achieved at a very high level, as an individual, and to see how gutted he is when it becomes a team sport — it just made me think about social connections and how powerful they are. I think, being American, a lot of us absorb this notion of rugged individualism. We’ve been really taught since we were kids that you do things for yourself, and you want to take pride in that and you want to take accountability. But, to me, this just showed a human side of relating to other people and being connected to other people — that, even in loss, there was this deep, deep, deep well of positive emotion of connection. And I found it extremely moving. 

DUCKWORTH: I think one of the reasons why people do love sports, including spectator sports, is that it seems to be this crucible of human emotion — it’s like everything that we generally experience, but without a lot of distraction, in concentrated form. I read the memoir of Arthur Ashe, the great tennis player, and I remember being struck by the part where he talks about being the first Black player for the U.S. Davis Cup. I don’t know much about golf, but it sounds like the Davis Cup has some analog here to the Ryder Cup because it’s, like, teams of all-stars in tennis assembled, and then you play other countries. But the Davis Cup to him was so important emotionally and in ways that superseded Wimbledon. And I remember thinking, “What’s going on here?” I mean, group psychology is extremely powerful. And I think we all have an instinct and intuition to be part of a tribe, part of a group, and to win as a group is even better than winning alone, and as you point out, even losing as a group can be a, in some ways, more meaningful experience than winning as an individual. 

DUBNER: The other thing I thought was so interesting is his crying. And he noted it. So, this was Jimmy Roberts interviewing him for N.B.C. 

DUCKWORTH: Who’s that, by the way?

DUBNER: Jimmy Roberts is just a really good human-scale reporter and commentator on sports. He’s got a relationship with the golfers. He knows a lot about golf. He plays golf. You can feel that there was some familiarity, if not chemistry, here. And I’m guessing that if it hadn’t been Jimmy Roberts, then Rory might not have done this interview, because he was very vulnerable. You know, we couldn’t see the video here, but he was just off the side, on the golf course, he had just finished playing, and he was already just about crying when they started the interview. 

DUCKWORTH: I could hear the crying during Jimmy Roberts’s first question here.

DUBNER: What was so interesting is when you win in sports and you weep tears of joy, that’s 100 percent kosher. When you cry when you lose, I think that is a willingness to be not just candid, but vulnerable in a way that we do not see. And what I really like about that — I mean, this may sound a little bit mushy, but I think in the 21st century, when we talk about modeling behavior, he’s making a pretty amazing demonstration that to be a male athlete or sports competitor, you don’t have to be macho to be strong. And I actually think that may be as valuable as the point he made about the connectivity of being part of that team.

DUCKWORTH: Stephen, the research on modeling completely affirms your intuition that, like, when a little girl sees a woman do something, they’re more strongly influenced than if they see a guy. And it’s partly because you’re trying to figure out what people like me do. By the way, this also holds for race and other group memberships. So, yeah, to be a big strong guy who’s really well-respected as an athlete and then to weep in disappointment, to weep for the loss of your team, to have these feelings, I think it’s great. I totally agree. 

DUBNER: And how cute was it that he apologized for swearing? 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, I was like, there you go. Whipped cream and nuts on top. Somebody go grab a maraschino cherry. 

DUBNER: You know, I love making Freakonomics Radio, and we have a team. We have producers, and we have engineers, and it is a collaborative effort. But when I’m talking on the microphone, whether recording narration, talking to the listener, or in an interview, it’s me. This show, one reason I love it is, it’s us. And first of all, I get to social loaf a lot, because you know a lot of stuff. I can just sit back when I need to. Filing your nails. But, I like team Duckner — Dubworth. I like being part of this team. And even when we lose, which, you know, we do now and again — we don’t hit a hole in one every time — I find it incredibly satisfying. So, thanks for letting me be on your team.

DUCKWORTH: The great thing about teams is that it works the other way too, right? Two for one, as it were. 

*      *      *

This episode of No Stupid Questions was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversations. 

Angela says that she thinks that the Ringelmann Effect is named after a farmer who studied the productivity of men and machines. In reality, he had a slightly more impressive title. Maximilien Ringelmann was a French professor of agricultural engineering. His seminal study of social loafing was published in 1913.

Later, Angela shares two possible ways to deliver a plate to the second floor of a building. She says you could go up one flight of stairs or, quote, “climb to the eighth floor and then climb back down seven flights of stairs.” Listeners may have noticed that this second method would simply return you to the first floor. You would need to travel down six flights of stairs to deliver a plate from the eighth floor to the second floor. Regardless, the first option is clearly the better one.

Next, Angela repeatedly refers to the U.S. Forest Service’s symbol for its wildfire prevention campaign as “Smokey the Bear.” However, the icon’s name is simply “Smokey Bear.” Stephen refers to him correctly. So, while he may have his issues with Smokey, Stephen was certainly paying attention to the bear’s messages. 

Also, Angela says that she believes that the Kohler effect is named for a person named Kohler — but not the namesake of Kohler toilets. This is correct. Kohler Co., the manufacturing company known for its plumbing products, was founded by industrialist John Michael Kohler in 1873. The Kohler effect was named after German researcher Otto Kohler in 1926.

Finally, Stephen says that he believes the Irish golfer Rory McIlroy is in his late twenties. McIlroy is actually 32 years old.

That’s it for the fact-check.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. This show is produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. Our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Eleanor Osborne, Tricia Bobeda, Emma Tyrell, Lyric Bowdich and Jacob Clemente. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can also follow us on Twitter at NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to And if you heard Stephen or Angela reference a study, an expert or a book that you’d like to learn more about, you can check out, where we link to all of the major references that you heard about here today. Thanks for listening! 

DUBNER: That needs a sound effect. The Riiiingelmann effect. 

Correction: Nov. 9, 2021
In this episode, professional golfer Rory McIlroy is identified as Irish. McIlroy is actually from Northern Ireland.

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