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Soccer/Fútbol Hooliganism Isn’t As Costly As it Used to Be

2014 June 12
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by Eric Horowitz

New research from R. Todd Jewell of the University of North Texas:

Football hooliganism, defined as episodes of crowd trouble inside and outside football stadiums on match days, is commonly perceived to have adverse effects on the sport. We are especially interested in the effects of football-related fan violence on a club’s potential for generating revenues. In this article, we measure hooliganism by arrests for football-related offenses. We analyze two distinct periods in the history of hooliganism in the English Football League: an early period, during which hooliganism was a fundamental social problem (seasons from 1984-1985 to 1994-1995), and a more recent period, in which hooliganism has been less prevalent (2001-2002 to 2009-2010). In the early period, we find evidence of an adverse effect of arrests on football club revenues for English League clubs. This effect disappears in the more recent period, showing that hooliganism, while still present but at lower levels, no longer has adverse effects on club finances. Our results support a hypothesis that recent “gentrification” has reduced hooliganism and thereby has had a positive influence on revenue generation.

Society Needs More Judges With Daughters

2014 May 12
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by Eric Horowitz

From a new study by Adam Glynn and Maya Sen:

In this article, we consider whether personal relationships can affect the way that judges decide cases. To do so, we leverage the natural experiment of a child’s gender to identify the effect of having daughters on the votes of judges. Using new data on the family lives of U.S. Courts of Appeals judges, we find that, conditional on the number of children a judge has, judges with daughters consistently vote in a more feminist fashion on gender issues than judges who have only sons. This result survives a number of robustness tests and appears to be driven primarily by Republican judges. More broadly, this result demonstrates that personal experiences influence how judges make decisions, and this is the first article to show that empathy may indeed be a component in how judges decide cases.

Why Every Racist Mentions Their Black Friend

2014 May 12
by Eric Horowitz

When something is thoroughly covered by both the New Republic and Urban Dictionary it has clearly reached a point of sufficient social saturation. So there’s no need to go into great detail about the trope of the accused racist who cites minority friends as proof that they don’t have a single racist bone in their body.

But what makes this defense so popular? Why is there such an urge to bring up something as nondescript as having a friend?

A new study by Daniel Effron of the London Business School provides an answer. Effron found that threats to moral identity increase the degree to which people believe past actions have proven their morality. In other words, the threat of appearing racist leads people to overestimate how much their past non-racist actions—like making friends with somebody of another race—are indicative of their non-racist attitudes.

In one set of experiments, participants had the opportunity to make a non-racist choice—for example, reading about a theft and correctly identifying a White rather than Black suspect as the thief. Participants who made the non-racist choice then had to either anticipate a threatening situation (having to defend a statement that compared Blacks unfavorably to Whites) or a non-threatening situation (defending a statement unrelated to race.) Participants then rated how much their initial selection of the White suspect was diagnostic of their non-racist attitudes.

Compared to participants who did not have to face a threatening situation, participants who felt threatened believed their decision to finger the White suspect was significantly more indicative of non-racist attitudes. Threatened participants still believed in the increased importance of their decision even when told that 98% of participants had also chosen the White suspect as the thief.

Might the threatened participants be justified in their beliefs? Do others actually see a previous non-racist decision as meaningful?

Probably not. In follow up experiments outside observers did not believe that selecting the white suspect was a sign of non-racist attitudes. Furthermore, Effron found that overestimating your non-racist “credentials” (e.g. believing you’re not racist because you have a Black friend) is more likely than underestimating your credentials to be seen as a sign of prejudice.

Taken together, the results illuminate the psychological mechanisms behind one of the most popular rationalization of racism. Somebody feels their image of being racially tolerant is under threat, so they overestimate how much previous behavior—having a beer with a Black guy, for example—is a sign of their tolerance. But highlighting this behavior has the opposite of the intended effect because people see the overestimation of the behavior’s importance as a sign of prejudice.

The conclusion is nothing that society hasn’t already figured out. If you’re accused of any kind of inappropriate -ism, don’t defend yourself by citing a particular action or relationship. It’s understandable that doing so seems like the best solution, but it’s probably better to keep your mouth shut. Or at least be prepared to cite 50+ data points rather than the vague existence of “some” friends.
Effron, D. (2014). Making Mountains of Morality From Molehills of Virtue: Threat Causes People to Overestimate Their Moral Credentials Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167214533131

Do Freedom of Information Act Laws Make a Difference?

2014 April 24
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by Eric Horowitz

Yes! From a study led by Winthrop’s Adriana Cordis:

We assess the effect of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws on public corruption in the United States. Specifically, we investigate the impact of switching from a weak to a strong state-level FOIA law on corruption convictions of state and local government officials. The evidence suggests that strengthening FOIA laws has two offsetting effects: reducing corruption and increasing the probability that corrupt acts are detected. The conflation of these two effects led prior work to find little impact of FOIA on corruption. We find that conviction rates approximately double after the switch, which suggests an increase in detection probabilities. However, conviction rates decline from this new elevated level as the time since the switch from weak tostrong FOIA increases. This decline is consistent with officials reducing the rate at which they commit corrupt acts by about twenty percent. These changes are more pronounced in states with more intense media coverage, for those that had more substantial changes in their FOIA laws , for FOIA laws which include strong liabilities for officials who contravene them, for local officials, and for more serious crimes. Conviction rates of federal officials, who are not subject to the policy, show no concomitant change.


Is Our Criminal Justice System Too Aggressive?

2014 April 24
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by Eric Horowitz

I have a new piece in Pacific Standard about research suggesting that fear of the criminal justice system can lead people to opt out of institutions that collect personal information. This could mean forgoing medical care at a hospital or deciding not to open a bank account.

While the study has all the standard caveats that come will correlational research, the results paint a bleak picture:

Even after controlling for demographics, income, health, and behaviors like drug use or carrying a weapon, respondents who had any type of contact with the criminal justice system were 31 percent more likely than those who had no contact to not obtain medical care when they needed it. Even people who were merely stopped by police were 33 percent more likely to not seek medical care. 


The findings tell a convincing story about how fear of the criminal justice system can lead to negative health, financial, and educational outcomes. And because contact with the system is more frequent in low-income and minority communities, these negative outcomes ought to hit them disproportionately hard. A perfect storm of data collection and aggressive criminal justice policies can help to create a society that’s toxic for social mobility.

Go read the whole thing!

Yes, the GOP is the Party of Big Business

2014 April 14
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by Eric Horowitz

Or at least big “economic sectors.” From a new study by the the University of Maryland’s James Gimpel, Frances Lee, and Michael Parrott:

We identify the economic interests in the United States that have a partisan alignment. We disaggregate corporate and trade association political action committees by economic sector, using the most fine-grained classifications available. We then analyze the campaign contributions to House incumbents from each sector, controlling for the majority party, economic geography, committee membership, and electoral competition. We find wide variation in how economic sectors relate to the parties. More than one third have a clear party tilt, with far more leaning toward Republicans than to Democrats. The remainder have no discernible partisan preference, either giving without reference to party or opportunistically to the majority. Republican-leaning sectors concentrate in particular enterprises, especially natural resources extraction, while most professional service sectors are nonpartisan. Business is not a monolith, to be contrasted with “labor” or “ideological interest groups,” but embedded in economic sectors that are more or less politicized in partisan terms.

Does Access to Birth Control Reduce Poverty?

2014 April 14
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by Eric Horowitz

In American politics the proliferation of birth control is important because of how it affects the eternal resting place of our immortal souls. But believe it or not, there are also non-metaphysical policy consequences to increasing access to birth control. A new study by a pair of economists — Stephanie Browne of J.P. Morgan and Sara LaLumia of Williams College — suggests that access to birth control led to a significant reduction in female poverty rates.

This paper examines the relationship between legal access to the birth control pill and female poverty. We rely on exogenous cross-state variation in the year in which oral contraception became legally available to young, single women. Using census data from 1960 to 1990, we find that having legal access to the birth control pill by age 20 significantly reduces the probability that a woman is subsequently in poverty. We estimate that early legal access to oral contraception reduces female poverty by 0.5 percentage points, even when controlling for completed education, employment status, and household composition.

A second analysis with less robust controls found that access to the pill reduced poverty rates by one full percentage point. Given that the mean poverty rate for women over the relevant time period was 10%-15%, the findings suggest that access to the pill led to a 3 to 10 percent reduction in the female poverty rate. According to Browne and LaLumia, the low end of their estimated impact is equivalent to about a 1 percentage point decrease a state’s unemployment rate.

But wait, there’s more! The results also supported previous findings that suggest access to birth control leads to a statistically significant reduction in the chances a woman will get divorced.

So there you have it. Poverty reduction and strong marriages. The pill is everything a social conservative could ever want.
Browne, S., & LaLumia, S. (2014). The Effects of Contraception on Female Poverty Journal of Policy Analysis and Management DOI: 10.1002/pam.21761

Look! A Morsel of Good Vaccination News

2014 April 6
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by Eric Horowitz

It’s been a bad few weeks for vaccination. Whooping cough continues to make a comeback; it was revealed that some New York City schools have third-world vaccination rates; and a study led by Brendan Nyhan found that four different interventions were unable to shift vaccination intentions.

So it may come as a surprise that a new study actually produced some good news. An intervention based on anticipated regret questions (ARQ) and graphical communication managed to successfully shift parental intentions on vaccination.

Our goal in conducting this research was to determine possible interventions that might help parents appreciate the risks of not vaccinating their daughters against HPV infection…We hypothesized that an intervention designed to help mothers visualize the risks of nonvaccination (a graphical depiction of how cervical cancer risk is affected by HPV vaccination) would moderate the effects of ARQ on behavioral intentions…We found that among mothers who saw the graphic message, asking ARQ had a significant positive effect on both message involvement and behavioral intention…the ARQ intervention had no significant effect on vaccination intentions in the text-only condition.

The “graphical” intervention showed filled stadium bleachers to illustrate the number of people who could be saved from cancer, whereas the text-only condition showed only the number. The ARQ procedure involved two questions: 1) If your daughter was not immunized against HPV and developed cervical cancer, how responsible would you feel, and 2) If your daughter was not immunized against HPV and developed cervical cancer, how much regret would you feel?

Additional analyses suggested that rather than changing parental beliefs about the benefits of vaccination, combining ARQ with a graphical message was effective because the ARQ increased emotional involvement with the information contained in the graphics. That is, instead of increasing the perceived downside of nonvaccination, the intervention appeared to have increased the salience of the existing perceived downside.

And now for the caveats. The study involved only 320 mothers, and unlike the Nyhan study, it used random assignment to parse out an effect rather than analyzing how the opinions of individual mothers shifted. Prior research on ARQ also suggests it’s most effective among parents who already have high vaccination-intention levels, so the intervention in the study may ultimately fail to convert stubborn opponents. Finally, the study focused on an HPV vaccine for girls aged 11-16, and not the MMR or whooping cough vaccines for young children that seem to be the basis for the most outlandish fictional side effects.

Clearly, it would be a mistake to rush into building ARQ into the vaccination decision process, but the strategy of targeting potential regret may be promising in ways that purely informational strategies are not (though it should be noted that some of the ineffective interventions in Nyhan’s study — such as presenting a mother’s account of her child’s measles hospitalization — may have featured inducing regret in a more indirect manner.) People on the fence about vaccination are probably already considering the regret they’ll feel if their child develops autism, so inducing them to think about the regret of disease may help level the playing field. Eliminating the small pockets of vaccination opposition is still an uphill climb, but it’s good to see that it’s at least possible for an intervention to have the desired positive effect.
Cox, D., Sturm, L., & Cox, A. (2014). Effectiveness of Asking Anticipated Regret in Increasing HPV Vaccination Intention in Mothers. Health Psychology DOI: 10.1037/hea0000071

The Connection Between Conspiracy Theories and Ambivalence

2014 April 2
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by Eric Horowitz

It’s a good time to be in the conspiracy theory business, and not just because the birthplace of the U.S. President has been verified only 72 times. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to track down potentially suspicious information and discuss it with like-minded gumshoes.

While certain people may be predisposed to believing in certain kinds of conspiracy theories, there are surely short-term contextual factors that influence whether somebody is likely clear out their living room in order to build a giant cork-board with pieces of yarn connecting various photos and documents. According to a new study by a group of researchers from the University of Amsterdam, one of these factors is the feeling of ambivalence. The reasoning is that feeling conflicted about something is unpleasant. We then attempt to compensate by seeking out order, and that can lead us to find meaning or purpose in ambiguity.

Ambivalence is a presumably unpleasant experience, and coming to terms with it is an intricate part of human existence. It is argued that ambivalent attitude holders cope with their ambivalence through compensatory perceptions of order. We first show that ambivalence leads to an increase in (visual) perceptions of order (Study 1). In Study 2 we conceptually replicate this finding by showing that ambivalence also increases belief in conspiracy theories, a cognitive form of order perception. Furthermore, this effect is mediated by the negative emotions that are elicited by ambivalence. In Study 3 we show that increased need for order is driving these effects: Affirmations of order cancel out the effect of as well as societal implications are discussed.

In the headline-grabbing 2nd experiment participants wrote about a subject they were either ambivalent or univalent about. They were then told to imagine themselves in two ambiguous scenarios. In the first, they hold a job that involves tracking office email use, and the day before unexpectedly getting turned down for a promotion they notice an increase in the number of emails between their boss and the co-worker who sits next to them. In the second scenario, they notice owners of rival businesses leaving a bed and breakfast together. Later, all the businesses increase their prices, leading to higher profits. Participants are told that they own stock in these businesses, and so unlike in the first scenario, the potential collusion benefits them.

The key finding is that participants who wrote about conflicted or ambivalent feelings were more likely to believe that other people’s actions (the co-worker emails and the B&B meeting) were connected to their personal outcomes (not getting a promotion and earning investment profits.) To say that ambivalence therefore increases beliefs in conspiracy theories as they are colloquially defined may overstate things a tad, but it’s fair to conclude that ambivalence at least increases our attribution of outcomes to specific actions and motivations.

More broadly, the study highlights an important point about the necessity of groups and polarization. Having such a nuanced understanding of something that you’re genuinely conflicted about it is great in the abstract. If all of our politicians understood both sides of a policy well enough to feel genuine discomfort we’d probably have much better public policy.

But in practice a nuanced understanding can feel terrible. You see the drawbacks to both sides of the issue. You become marginally more unsure of yourself and your beliefs, and you become driven to find order in places where it might not exist. And so it can feel better to convince yourself that the world exists in black and white. If taxes always hurt economic growth, you don’t have to worry about people without health insurance because raising taxes to expand healthcare has no chance of raising well-being.

The motivation to find order in ambiguity is one striking consequence of ambivalence. But if you examine human beliefs and behavior the need to avoid conflicting feelings may frequently come into play.
van Harreveld, F., Rutjens, B., Schneider, I., Nohlen, H., & Keskinis, K. (2014). In Doubt and Disorderly: Ambivalence Promotes Compensatory Perceptions of Order. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General DOI: 10.1037/a0036099

Are Color-Coded Nutrition Labels a Good Idea?

2014 March 17
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by Eric Horowitz

They seem to be, at least for people who normally lack self-control when it comes to food. From a new study led by Joerg Koenigstorfer:

This article investigates whether traffic light color-coded nutrition information helps low- (vs. high-) self-control consumers make more healthful food choices within a given product category. Two in-store lab studies assess the effects of traffic light colors. The colors indicate low (green), medium (amber), and high (red) levels of four negative food nutrients (sugar, fat, saturated fat, and salt). The color-coding was implemented on nutrition labeling schemes shown on the front of actual food packages (pasta meals in Study 1; cereal bars in Study 2). Consumers with low self-control to resist food temptations, but not those with high self-control, make more healthful food choices in response to the color-coded labeling. The behavior is congruent with their long-term goals of controlling their food choices and is evident when traffic light colors vary between both nutrients and products (Study 1) and when traffic light colors vary between nutrients but not products (Study 2). The authors derive theoretical implications and draw conclusions from the perspectives of public policy, retailing, and manufacturers.



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