IN MOST SITUATIONS, the sound of someone swearing is quite a shock. And not just for bystanders, but for the person swearing, to the point that it can even distract from pain. Researchers in Britain asked college students to put their hands in very cold water while repeating a curse word or a plain descriptive word. Men and women kept their hands in the cold water significantly longer while repeating the curse word. The students perceived less pain and experienced faster heart rates while repeating the curse word, an effect that was particularly strong for women. The researchers speculate that swearing activates a fight-or-flight reaction.
Stephens, R. et al., “Swearing as a Response to Pain,” NeuroReport (5 August 2009).
Cars make the man manly
WE’VE ALL HEARD the stereotype about sports cars: sure, they’re fun to drive, but their main function is to help men show off to women. Researchers have now confirmed that men’s bodies seem to agree. More than 30 heterosexual men were asked to drive two cars: a 2006 Porsche
911 from an exotic car dealer, and a 1990 Toyota
Camry wagon with over 186,000 miles. Testosterone levels - as measured in saliva samples - rose significantly after men drove the former, but not the latter.
Saad, G. & Vongas, J., “The Effect of Conspicuous Consumption on Men’s Testosterone Levels,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (forthcoming).
A nation not so divided
TO MANY, IT seems as if American society has become increasingly fragmented. Pundits lament the divergence of our interests and values. But is the situation today really that bad, historically speaking? In a review of the scholarly literature, two sociologists say that, in many respects, we’re actually pretty close to the norm. Although our politics are polarized and the culture war is still raging, there is little reason not to expect such conflict in a free society like ours. One reason why the last few decades may seem more contentious is that we tend to use the middle of the 20th century as our reference point. That period was characterized by an extraordinary spirit of common cause, forged by the Great Depression and World War II. In fact, pundits complained of excessive conformity, immigration had been curtailed from the 1920s to the 1960s, and political scientists actually called for a clearer partisan ideological divide. If anything, after the 1960s, we returned to “normal.”
Fischer, C. & Mattson, G., “Is America Fragmenting?” Annual Review of Sociology (2009).
The sport vote
INSTEAD OF BREAKING into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate, maybe Nixon’s cronies should’ve rigged football games. A new study compares the number of votes that incumbents received in elections since the 1960s to the success of the local college football team in games before Election Day. Incumbents got around 1-2 more percentage points of the vote after victories by the local team, especially in the case of unexpected wins for teams with a large fan base. The authors of the study also looked at how political sentiment - as reflected in President Obama’s approval rating and whether people think the country is on the right track - changed during this year’s “March Madness” basketball tournament. Fans of teams who reached the Final Four were 5 percent more likely to approve of the president and 8 percent more likely to say the country is on the right track. Maybe that’s one reason why President Obama watches ESPN SportsCenter whenever he can.
Malhotra, N. et al., “Citizen Competence and Democratic Accountability: The Effect of Emotional Reactions on Voter Decision Making,” Stanford University (July 2009).
Poof, the sacred cow is gone
WHETHER YOU’RE TALKING business, politics, or family, everyone presumably has lines they won’t cross. However, a team of management researchers decided to test just how “sacred” these kinds of issues are in negotiations. A negotiation experiment with MBA students assigned each person to represent either a logging company or an Indian tribe trying to prevent logging on its land. As one would expect, negotiators who were primed to feel passionately about the issues involved were more likely to reach an impasse and walk away with a negative outcome, but this was only true if the negotiators had good outside options. In the case of poor outside options, “sacred” issues were no longer sacred and even somewhat improved the negotiation outcome. This was true even among people who were more personally sympathetic to the issues in the negotiation (e.g., environmentalists).
Tenbrunsel, A. et al., “The Reality and Myth of Sacred Issues in Negotiations,” Negotiation and Conflict Management Research (August 2009).
Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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