Uncommon knowledge

What makes people vote

Although an important role for the government is helping poor people, the poor themselves are less likely to vote than more affluent citizens. Some of this may be due to transportation or job constraints, but an experiment with public housing residents in Boston before the 2007 municipal elections confirms that motivation plays a big role. Residents were divided into three groups. The first group was not contacted. The second group was visited where they lived, and urged to vote. And the final group received visits, but also copies of their turnout history. While a simple face-to-face appeal improved the odds that someone would vote from around 10 percent to the 15-20 percent range, showing voters their turnout history boosted the voting odds to around 25 percent. 

Davenport, T., “Public Accountability and Political Participation: Effects of a Face-to-Face Feedback Intervention on Voter Turnout of Public Housing Residents,” Political Behavior (September 2010).  

The age advantage

Many parents delay their kids’ entry into kindergarten to make sure their kids are at the top of the class from a developmental standpoint. A recent study is sure to reinforce this strategy. Compared to kids born right after the age-eligibility cutoff date, kids born right before the cutoff date are 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As a result, kids born right before the cutoff date are more likely to be using drugs like Ritalin, and this disparity persists as they move into higher grades. The author of the study found that teachers were much more likely than parents to report concerns about ADHD — consistent with the theory that some teachers are misinterpreting normal age-related behavioral differences in the classroom. 

Elder, T., “The Importance of Relative Standards in ADHD Diagnoses: Evidence Based on Exact Birth Dates,” Journal of Health Economics (September 2010).  

Time is more than money

Contrary to the old saying, time is not always money. A researcher at a top business school has found that thinking about time causes people to behave differently than thinking about money. In one experiment, people who walked into a cafe were asked to fill out a questionnaire — laced with words related to either time or money — after which participants continued to go about their business in the cafe, while being surreptitiously watched. Those who had been exposed to words about money spent more time working; those who had been exposed to words about time spent more time socializing. When participants exited the cafe, those who had been exposed to words about time were happier, on account of their socializing. 

Mogilner, C., “The Pursuit of Happiness: Time, Money, and Social Connection,” Psychological Science (September 2010).  

When not to interrupt

You’re just about to complete that 20-page report. You’ve spent hours on it. All of a sudden, your boss walks up and asks you to work on something else. How frustrating! And new research suggests that your productivity on the next task will take a hit. In several experiments, people were asked to complete a task (e.g., sorting cards, finding hidden words) and were then interrupted early in the task, late in the task, or after completion. People who had been interrupted late in the previous task were significantly more impaired on the subsequent task. The authors attribute this to the extra self-control — and associated mental depletion — required to break away from a task just as you’re about to finish it. 

Freeman, N. & Muraven, M., “Don’t Interrupt Me! Task Interruption Depletes the Self’s Limited Resources,” Motivation and Emotion (September 2010).  

We misunderstand our friends

How well do you know your friends? Researchers at Yahoo conducted a survey via Facebook in early 2008 to gauge actual and perceived agreement among friends regarding politics. For example, “Does [your friend] sympathize with the Israelis more than the Palestinians in the Middle East situation?” or “Would [your friend] pay higher taxes for the government to provide universal health care?” Although friends agreed more than strangers, there was still plenty of disagreement. There was also more ignorance of each other’s positions than one might expect, even among friends who discussed politics, and especially in areas where positions differed. Instead of relying on issue-specific discussion, friends seem to be projecting their own views and stereotypes on each other. 

Goel, S. et al., “Real and Perceived Attitude Agreement in Social Networks,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).  

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. 

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Full article: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/10/03/what_makes_people_vote/

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