The seduction of cloud cover
In a previous column, I wrote about a study which found that college admissions officers were tougher on applications that were reviewed on cloudier days. A new study by the same author finds another weather pattern in college admissions, only this time, it’s the students. Applicants who visited on cloudier days were significantly more likely to enroll, if they were accepted. The author attributes this to the positive association between sunny weather and outdoor activities, and their corresponding negative association with studying. Therefore – and contrary to what you might expect – a sunny day leaves a bad impression.
Simonsohn, U., “Weather to Go to College,” Economic Journal (forthcoming).
If you’re a lawyer, or you just watch a lot of “Law & Order,” you may want to deliberate on the following study. People who were subliminally or incidentally exposed to legal words were then significantly more inclined to think competitively, see others as less trustworthy, and pursue their own self-interest. The authors of the study blame the Anglo-American system, with its norms of adversarial, zero-sum confrontation. Moreover, the increasingly pervasive legal style of thinking – in government, business, and entertainment – has arguably caused a vicious cycle, where legal thinking leads to cynicism, which encourages people to resort to more legal thinking.
Callan, M. et al., “The Effects of Priming Legal Concepts on Perceived Trust and Competitiveness, Self-Interested Attitudes, and Competitive Behavior,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).
With women now making up a large share of the labor force, their persistent under-representation in technical fields has become a major issue. While the debate often gets bogged down in nature-vs.-nurture arguments, there may be some simple, practical steps that can be taken in the meantime. One possibility: decor. Across several experiments, students were placed in, or asked to imagine, rooms with either stereotypically geeky objects (e.g., Star Trek paraphernalia, junk food, computer stuff) or nongeeky objects (e.g., nature photos, coffee mugs, general-interest magazines). Women exhibited much less interest than men in pursuing a computer science major or job opportunity if the room contained geeky objects. However, women seemed to be more interested than men if the room contained nongeeky objects. This was true regardless of the gender ratio of their hypothetical peers. In other words, simply being in an environment with geeky objects turns many women off, when they might otherwise be just as, if not more, interested than men in a technical career.
Cheryan, S. et al., “Ambient Belonging: How Stereotypical Cues Impact Gender Participation in Computer Science,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (December 2009).
Legend has it that testosterone makes people aggressive. In a provocative twist on this story, new research suggests that testosterone is getting a bad rap. Sixty women were given a single dose of either testosterone or a placebo. Several hours later, they played a sharing game. Women who received the testosterone were actually more generous than women who received a placebo. However, women who believed they had received testosterone were much less generous than women who believed they had received a placebo. The authors conclude that, consistent with some prior research, testosterone promotes seeking social status, not being aggressive, but that the common assumption of a link between testosterone and aggression can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, giving people an excuse to be aggressive.
Eisenegger, C. et al., “Prejudice and Truth about the Effect of Testosterone on Human Bargaining Behaviour,” Nature (forthcoming).
Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist.