Uncommon knowledge

Love the one you’re with

Most of us probably assume that people who are trapped in repressive regimes like Cuba or North Korea really want to get out. A new study suggests instead that it’s the very fact of being trapped that helps people defend the system. When Canadians were led to believe that it would be harder to emigrate in the future, they became more willing to attribute social inequality to innate differences rather than systemic discrimination. Likewise, when university students were led to believe that it would be harder to transfer, they were less willing to support criticism of the university. So, just as people can go to great lengths to rationalize bad decisions and personal defects, they’ll stick up for the group they’re stuck with.

Laurin, K. et al., “Restricted Emigration, System Inescapability, and Defense of the Status Quo: System-Justifying Consequences of Restricted Exit Opportunities,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

What would it take to lose your vote?

Experience suggests that politicians can retain support even in the face of multiple flip-flops, disappointments, and scandals. But is there a limit to what they can get away with? A couple hundred people from Iowa were asked to learn about four fictitious presidential candidates competing in a party primary. Researchers polled people several times during the process of learning about the candidates. In general, when people first encounter negative information about a favored choice, they tend to react defensively by boosting support. (Thus, people can actually end up liking a less-than-ideal candidate more than their ideal candidate.) Eventually, though, a stream of negative information forces people to reconsider.

Redlawsk, D. et al., “The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever ‘Get It’?” Political Psychology (August 2010).

Fighting telemarketers

When that telemarketer calls your home just after you’ve finished a long day at work, it can be hard to summon the strength to resist. If only you had been warned! Indeed, according to a new study, people are much more able to resist persuasion in moments of weakness when warned ahead of time. To make people vulnerable, the researchers asked them to perform mentally exhausting tasks. Then they were given a sales pitch. Those who weren’t warned were much more likely to give in. A warning seems to give people the opportunity to prepare themselves to resist persuasion, by setting aside some of their limited mental energy, though this comes at some cost to their mental performance in the meantime.

Janssen, L. et al., “Forewarned Is Forearmed: Conserving Self-Control Strength to Resist Social Influence,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Family values

The term “family values” is typically associated with certain conservative political positions. Now a study in Britain finds that another kind of “family values” — close family ties — makes people more conservative in everyday social life. Researchers visited low-income households and asked people to play a game that measured trust. Researchers gave the subject money and told them they could keep it, or give it to a stranger, who, in turn, would have the opportunity to return twice as much money. Those with close family ties — those who were married or saw their family more frequently, for example — were less trusting. The authors theorize that this is because people with close family ties have less time and need to interact with strangers.

Ermisch, J. & Gambetta, D., “Do Strong Family Ties Inhibit Trust?” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (forthcoming).

The reckless toddler gender gap

In the nature vs. nurture debate, you can add another notch to the nurture side. Researchers asked parents of toddlers to react to imaginary scenarios of their child engaging in reckless behavior. Although there wasn’t much difference in how mothers and fathers reacted, there was a difference based on the sex of the child. With boys, parents reacted with anger and discipline, but with girls, the reaction was generally disappointment and a concern for safety. Underlying these differences was a belief that boys are inherently predisposed to reckless behavior, while girls can learn to follow rules, suggesting that parents are imposing gender norms from a very young age.

Morrongiello, B. et al., “Understanding Gender Differences in Children’s Risk Taking and Injury: A Comparison of Mothers’ and Fathers’ Reactions to Sons and Daughters Misbehaving in Ways that Lead to Injury,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (July-August 2010).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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Full article and photo: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/08/01/surprising_insights_from_the_social_sciences/