Uncommon knowledge

Have less, give more

ACCORDING TO a team of psychologists, the lower classes are a cut above. Given the opportunity to share money with an anonymous person, people who considered themselves lower in socioeconomic status shared more. When asked how much of one’s salary should be donated to charity, they designated a higher percentage. And, when confronted with a distressed person in need, they offered more help. These differences don’t seem to be innate. For example, after simply asking people to contemplate their socioeconomic status relative to those with higher socioeconomic status, people became more charitable. The authors theorize that people in the lower strata of society are particularly motivated by a greater dependence on — and, thus, concern for — social relationships, though affluent individuals may be more inclined to abstract charity (e.g., the environment).

Piff, P. et al., “Having Less, Giving More: The Influence of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

The Iraqi currency surge

THE DECADELONG debate over Iraq and Afghanistan has typically focused on the question of whether to surge or to pull out. While few doubt the surge played some role in the relative pacification of Iraq, a recent paper proposes another factor: the appreciation of the Iraqi currency, the dinar, between 2004 and 2008. Because many of the insurgents were paid mercenaries — not ideological extremists — fund-raising was a key driver of insurgent activity. However, by eroding the purchasing power of the foreign money that initially fueled the insurgency, the appreciation of the currency forced insurgent leaders to raise money inside Iraq — for example, by extortion — thereby undermining popular support. So what drove up the currency in the first place? Rising oil prices and the stimulus provided by Coalition spending.

Berck, P. & Lipow, J., “Did Monetary Forces Help Turn the Tide in Iraq?” Defense & Security Analysis (June 2010).

Big money

Researchers at Northwestern University asked people to think about being a boss or a subordinate, or to write about a powerful or powerless experience, and then asked them to draw the outline of a quarter from memory as accurately as possible. People who thought about being without power drew larger quarters. The same effect occurred for poker chips, with increasingly valuable chips (of the same size) being drawn increasingly larger for people without power. The effect disappeared when the objects to be drawn had no value and was reversed when smaller objects were more valuable, all suggesting that the brain is trying to compensate.

Dubois, D. et al., “The Accentuation Bias: Money Literally Looms Larger (and Sometimes Smaller) to the Powerless,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (July 2010).

Vote Hussein!

A BIG ISSUE in the 2008 presidential campaign was Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein. Some conservatives went out of their way to highlight the name — to remind voters of Obama’s foreign heritage — while liberals and the Obama campaign were correspondingly wary of its use. But was it actually a liability? No, according to a new study. In a sample of voters who were polled towards the end of the 2008 campaign, there were no major changes in favorability or voting intention as a result of being reminded of Obama’s full name. Unsurprisingly, conservatives became somewhat less favorable, while liberals became somewhat more favorable, after seeing the full name. More surprising was that moderates and independents became more favorable towards Obama — what the authors believe was a “dirty politics” backlash — though overall voting intentions didn’t change.

Block, R. & Onwunli, C., “Managing Monikers: The Role of Name Presentation in the 2008 Presidential Election,” Presidential Studies Quarterly (September 2010).

The marriage bubble

MANY PEOPLE assume that the decline of marriage in the last few decades is exceptional. An analysis by an economist at Clemson suggests instead that what we think of as the heyday of marriage — the middle of the 20th century — was actually pretty special. In fact, the 1890s were more like the 1990s than the 1950s. What changed, though, in the early 20th century were two things that greased the wheels of the marriage market. First, an improving labor market for men made them more desirable as husbands. Second, the wave of ethnically diverse immigrants who arrived around the turn of the century was gradually assimilated, which expanded the pool of acceptable mates.

Cvrcek, T., “America’s Settling Down: How Better Jobs and Falling Immigration Led to a Rise in Marriage, 1880-1930,” National Bureau of Economic Research (July 2010).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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