Uncommon knowledge

The seamy side of victory

Elections have consequences, as some politicians are known to say. Unfortunately, one of those consequences is not very politically correct. An analysis of Google searches around the time of the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections found that there were more queries for pornography right after the election in states that voted for the party that prevailed at the national level. In other words, residents of red states were more interested in pornography right after Bush won reelection in 2004, while residents of blue states were more interested in pornography right after the Democrats won in 2006 and 2008. The authors attribute this to testosterone, which has been shown to rise in people after they win a competition.

Markey, P. & Markey, C., ”Changes in Pornography-Seeking Behaviors following Political Elections: An Examination of the Challenge Hypothesis,” Evolution and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

Posing matters

The stereotype of a boss has him sitting at his desk in the corner office with his feet kicked up and arms stretched out, whereas the stereotype of a subordinate has him hunched over in his cubicle. This is no accident, and it’s not just symbolic. A new study has found that differences in the way one sits or stands induce different psychological and physiological effects. Experimental subjects were told they were part of a study on the placement of electrocardiography electrodes and were asked to hold their bodies in a couple of positions, one minute at a time. For half of the subjects, the two positions represented high-power poses, expansive with limbs stretched out. For the other subjects, the two positions represented low-power poses, contracted with limbs held inward. Subjects who had been positioned in a high-power pose subsequently felt more powerful, and were more willing to take a gamble.

Carney, D. et al., ”Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Half a conversation, fully annoying

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that using a cellphone makes it harder to pay attention to other things going on around you. Thus, many states now restrict cellphone use while driving. Now, with a new study, it looks like they may have to consider curbing conversations by passengers, too. When people could hear one side of a phone conversation in the background, they performed worse on tasks that demanded attention. This did not happen to people overhearing the full dialogue, a monologue, or when the audio of the conversation was filtered so that its content could not be understood. All of this suggests that unpredictable speech is an extra distraction and may also explain why overhearing a cellphone conversation at a party or a movie can be more annoying than overhearing other conversations.

Emberson, L. et al., ”Overheard Cell-Phone Conversations: When Less Speech Is More Distracting,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

The power of preoccupation

Whenever you’re trying to take it easy or just trying to fall asleep, do you find yourself preoccupied with something stressful, like a deadline or a presentation? Although it’s normal, it doesn’t really seem like a good use of time. Yet, according to a team of researchers, it may be just that. After people were told that they’d be taking a geography test–recalling the names of all 50 states–in the near future, they then had more trouble getting geographical thoughts out of their minds during an intervening task that was supposed to clear their minds instead. People who were told they wouldn’t have to take the test, or who were told they would simply be counting the letters in states’ names as fast as possible, had almost no thoughts about geography in the intervening task. This suggests that the brain is only forcing itself to prepare in the face of a challenge that could benefit from preparation.

Morsella, E. et al., ”The Spontaneous Thoughts of the Night: How Future Tasks Breed Intrusive Cognitions,” Social Cognition (October 2010).

The good-guy penalty

For fans of the TV show ”Survivor,” this study will come as no surprise, though it did surprise the researchers behind it. They expected–and found–that people have a dim view of someone in a group who takes a lot and contributes little. However, they also found that people have a dim view of someone who takes little and contributes a lot. It’s not that group members consider such a benevolent person to be clueless or unpredictable–in fact, a person who takes little and contributes little is fine–it’s just that the person’s benevolence raises the standards for everyone else, and that doesn’t seem to win many friends.

Parks, C. & Stone, A., ”The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (August 2010).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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

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