Uncommon knowledge

A surprise benefit of minimum wage

The minimum wage has been politically controversial for most of the last century, even though it affects a marginal share of the labor force and evidence of significant job loss is inconclusive. Now one economist would like us to consider another effect of the minimum wage: finishing high school. By curtailing low-wage/low-skill jobs, the minimum wage motivates young people to stay in school and become skilled. This effect then generates what the author calls an “educational cascade” by setting an example for the upcoming class of students. He estimates that the average male born in 1951 gained 0.2 years — and the average male born in 1986 gained 0.7 years — of high school due to the cumulative effect of the minimum wage.

Sutch, R., “The Unexpected Long-Run Impact of the Minimum Wage: An Educational Cascade,” National Bureau of Economic Research (September 2010).

Bearing false witness

False confessions and false eyewitness testimony are never-ending challenges for the judicial process. Although coercive interrogation is blamed in many of these situations, new research illustrates just how little coercion is needed. In an experiment, people played a quiz game for money. Later, they were told that the person who had sat next to them during the game was suspected of cheating. They were shown a 15-second video clip of the person sitting next to them cheating, even though the video clip was doctored and no cheating actually happened. They were asked to sign a witness statement against the cheater, but they were explicitly told not to sign if they hadn’t directly witnessed the cheating, aside from seeing it in the video. Nevertheless, almost half of those who saw the video signed the statement. Some of those who signed the statement even volunteered additional incriminating information.

Wade, K. et al., “Can Fabricated Evidence Induce False Eyewitness Testimony?” Applied Cognitive Psychology (October 2010).

The cure for sadness: pain

For most people, pain is not fun. However, a recent study finds that, when you’re not having fun, pain can help. Several hundred people were tested to see how much pain — in the form of increasing pressure or heat applied to their hands — they could tolerate. Not surprisingly, people reported being less happy after the experiment. But less happy is not necessarily the same as more unhappy. Indeed, negative emotions were also attenuated after the experiment, especially for women and people with more sensitive emotions. In other words, physical pain helped dull emotional pain.

Bresin, K. et al., “No Pain, No Change: Reductions in Prior Negative Affect following Physical Pain,” Motivation and Emotion (September 2010).

That reminds me of…me!

In a series of experiments, researchers have transformed Descartes’s famous phrase (“I think, therefore I am”) into something like this: “I am reminded of myself, therefore I will think.” People presented with a resume or product paid more attention to it if it happened to have a name similar to their own. As a result of this increased attention, a high-quality resume or product got a boost, while a low-quality resume or product was further handicapped. However, in a strange twist, people who sat in front of a mirror while evaluating a product exhibited the opposite effect: Quality didn’t matter for a product with a similar name but did matter otherwise. The authors speculate that too much self-referential thinking overloads one’s ability to think objectively.

Howard, D. & Kerin, R., “The Effects of Name Similarity on Message Processing and Persuasion,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Defensive sleeping

The odds that you’ll need to fend off an attacker entering your bedroom at night are pretty small. Yet, according to a recent study, our evolutionary heritage — formed when we had to survive sleeping outdoors — instills a strong preference for bedrooms designed less by the principles of Architectural Digest than by those of “Home Alone” or “Panic Room.” When shown a floor plan for a simple rectangular bedroom and asked to arrange the furniture, most people positioned the bed so that it faced the door. They also positioned the bed on the side of the room behind the door as it would be opening, and as far back from the door as possible, a position that would seem to give the occupant the most time to respond. If the floor plan included a window on the opposite side of the room from the door, people were inclined to move the bed away from the window, too.

Spörrle, M. & Stich, J., “Sleeping in Safe Places: An Experimental Investigation of Human Sleeping Place Preferences from an Evolutionary Perspective,” Evolutionary Psychology (August 2010).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.

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Full article and photo: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/09/26/a_surprise_benefit_of_minimum_wage/