Electoral Evidence That the Tide Has Turned on Gay Marriage

From a new study by Stony Brook’s Jeremiah Garretson:

Studies have shown that same-sex marriage (SSM) ballot measures affected voter turnout and primed voters in a manner that aided the Republican Party in 2004. However, if attitude strength plays a role in these spillover effects, then recent increases in the intensity of support for SSM on the left may have eroded—or even reversed—the pro-Republican electoral boost of these measures. Using individual- and county-level data, I demonstrate that more recent votes on SSM have mobilized more pro-Obama SSM supporters than pro-Republican social conservatives. These findings are important for understanding how ballot measures may potentially affect candidate elections.


Here’s Why Adults Think Teenagers Sleep Too Much

The teenage ability to sleep past noon is one of the great joys of adolescence. It’s also one of the great headaches of parenthood. On weekends parents are up bright and early, but try as they might, they can’t get their teenage children to make use of the morning hours.

A simple explanation for why adults don’t sleep in is that they have responsibilities. There are things to do that are more important than sleep. Teenagers, on the other hand, have nothing better to do.

But data from a new study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute suggests another important difference between sleep for teenagers and sleep for adults: An exceptionally long night’s sleep may make teenagers feel better but make adults feel worse.

The study was simple. A total of 397 participants ages 12 to 88 kept track of their sleep for a period of 9 days or more. In addition, six times each day, and at least two hours apart, they completed a phone-based questionnaire about their affect. As expected, people of all ages felt worse when they slept for a below average length of time. (“Average” in this context is a person’s average nightly sleep during the tracking period.)

But the researchers were not just interested in sleep deprivation. They wanted to investigate all deviations from an average night of sleep, and that meant examining how people felt when they slept an above-average amount of time.

The researchers found that for adolescents, there was a positive linear relationship between sleep and positive affect. Compared to an average night of sleep, adolescents felt better with one extra hour, even better with two extra hours, and even better with three extra hours. The more the merrier.

However, for the elderly and middle-aged adults, too much sleep led to less well-being. Instead of there being a linear relationship between sleep duration and positive affect, the relationship resembled an inverted U. A night of below-average sleep left adults feeling worse than average, but so did a night in which they slept three hours more than usual. If adults think it’s a bad idea for kids to sleep until noon, that’s because for adults it actually is a bad idea.

So parents, next time you want to scold your child for being late to a 2 pm lunch, remember that they’re doing it for their emotional well-being. And teenagers, next time you want to scold your parents for lamely doing the taxes at 8 am on a Sunday, remember that for them extra sleep is not a bottomless well of positive emotion.
Wrzus, C., Wagner, G.G., & Riediger, M. (2014). Feeling Good When Sleeping In? Day-To-Day Associations Between Sleep Duration and Affective Well-Being Differ From Youth to Old Ag Emotion DOI: 10.1037/a0035349

Are People Wired to Help the Needy?

Humans tend to be altruistic creatures. Don’t be fooled by what you see on Black Friday or days when Congress votes on food stamp funding — we like helping each other out.

A popular explanation for our behavior is that we have evolved to care for those in need and feel empathy when we come across people in distress. These “empathy” motives suggest we prefer to help people who appear the most troubled.

A less-discussed explanation is that we aim to help desirable social partners in order to improve our reputations. This “affiliation” motive suggests that we might prefer to help people we characterize in a positive rather than a negative manner.

Often these two motivations work together to drive helping behaviors. If your CEO’s car breaks down in a snowstorm there are a lot of reasons to go offer your help. But what would happen if these motives came into conflict?

Michigan’s David Hauser, Stephanie Preston, and R. Brent Stansfield tried to answer this question with a study that aimed to figure out which motivation — empathy or affiliation – would dominate. Specifically, in a series of four experiments they examined whether people expressed a preference for helping a happy or a sad person.

The first three experiments focused on the decision to hold a door open for somebody else. In each experiment a confederate waited near the door to a building, and when somebody walked by they pretended to have a phone conversation. In the “happy” condition confederates said, “It’s so great…I’m so happy…Ok…Yeah..I’ve gotta go”; in the sad condition they said, “It’s so terrible…I’m so sad…”; and in the neutral condition they said, “I know…Yeah…Ok… .” The confederates then hung up and followed the unknowing participant into the building. The first experiment was conducted outside nondescript university buildings, the second experiment was conducted at the entrance to a hospital, and the third experiment was conducted at the entrance to a university health services building. To emphasize that the confederate was somebody in need, in all three experiments he or she worse a facial bandage.

In the first two experiments, the data indicated that participants were more likely to hold the door for happy rather than sad confederates, and in third experiment there were no statistically significant differences between the conditions. Overall, when it came to simple daily assistance, none of the three experiments found evidence that people prefer to help those who appear distressed.

The fourth experiment presented participants with hypothetical scenarios involving hospital patients. One patient was positive and joked about his medical struggle, while the other patient was sad and burst into tears. Participants were then asked if they wanted to donate money to cover some of the patient’s co-pay, or sit and talk with the patient for 30 minutes while they waited for the doctor.

The researchers found that participants were more likely to donate money when the patient was sad, but more likely to have a conversation (i.e. make an emotional commitment) when the patient was happy. The results suggest that when there’s a demonstration of real need, and when personal interaction isn’t required, empathy motives for helping may be stronger than affiliation motives.

The study’s findings are far from conclusive, and it’s easy of to think of alternative explanations. Perhaps participants avoided holding the door for people saying “That’s so terrible…” because they saw the conversation as more private than a conversation about good news. Similarly, one could question how much the experiments replicated a real-life situation involving somebody in need.

But even the mixed findings are noteworthy. Humans like to believe they follow a general rule of prioritizing help for those in need, but Hauser’s study shows that unless people are severely distressed and no social interaction is required, that may not be the dominant motive. In many situations our preference appears to be to help “positive” people.

The strength of social affiliation motives may be one of the many reasons that good-hearted people don’t give all of their disposable income to the sick, poor, or starving people around the world (and instead choose to give $150 million to Harvard.) More broadly, it’s a reminder that acting selflessly is a complex process. People have many different motivations with different levels of moral purity. Perhaps someday policy architects can take advantage of this by using social affiliation motives to direct aid the most needy. We already do this to some extent by honoring big third-world philanthropists, but perhaps there are ways to do it on a wider and smaller scale so that assistance is directed away from wealthy cultural and religious institutions and toward the destitute.
Hauser, D.J., Preston, S.D., & Stansfield, R.D. (2014). Altruism in the Wild: When Affiliative Motives to Help Positive People Overtake Empathic Motives to Help the Distressed. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General DOI: 10.1037/a0035464

Sorry Russia, Olympic Hosts Don’t Get a Long-Term Medal Boost

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about the exorbitant cost of the Sochi Olympics. And with good reason! Purchasing everything necessary to build a lavish two-week global athletic competition is rarely a wise investment strategy.

One allure of hosting the Olympics is the prospect of home-field advantage. Research suggests that countries actually do benefit from hosting the summer or winter Olympics, particularly in sports that involve subjective judging.

There’s also the idea that hosting the Olympics can inspire new athletes, improve facilities, and be an all-around boon to a country’s Olympic program. If this were true, it would strengthen the rapidly weakening case for hosting an Olympics. So the question is, do host countries reap benefits in subsequent years?

According to two Chilean economists, Jose Contreras and Alejandro Corvalan, the answer is no. Contreras and Corvalan analyzed the 17 Summer Olympics between 1948 and 2012 to determine if there was an ex-host effect, which they defined as “the effect of hosting the Summer Olympic Games on the total number of medals in the subsequent games.” They examined the performance of countries four years prior to hosting, while hosting, and four years after hosting. Countries that made losing bids to host the Games were used as controls.

Contreras and Corvalan found no evidence that hosting the Olympics had a positive effect on performance four years later. In general, countries did about the same four years prior to hosting as they did four years after hosting.

That the advantage of hosting is short-lived lends support to the idea that it’s driven more by the crowd than by structural improvements to a country’s Olympic program. The findings also align with the broader social trend of people no longer blindly believing it’s always desirable to host a major sporting event. Even the Super Bowl can’t avoid scrutiny. The jig is up.

As for the Russians, the lesson is to get all they can out of Sochi. Don’t be surprised if in 2018 there’s a large drop-off in performance that can’t be blamed on failed score-fixing.
Contreras, J.L., & Corvalan, A. (2014). Olympic Games: No legacy for sports Economics Letters DOI: 10.1016/j.econlet.2013.12.006

Our Stereotypical Response to Counterstereotypes

A new paper from the University of Aberdeen’s Natasha Flannigan suggests we may not be as open-minded as we think:

Through a combination of social change and legislative initiatives, the workplace has been transformed from a rigidly stereotypical environment (i.e., with males and females occupying distinct roles) to an arena that offers equality and opportunity for all. Regrettably, however, individuals who perform traditionally counter-stereotypical roles (e.g., male nurses, female pilots) continue to experience significant disadvantage and dissatisfaction. Why then is this this case? The authors explore the possibility that this may be due, at least in part, to unexpected events that trigger implicit negative associations. The results of two experiments support this hypothesis. Individuals depicted in counter-stereotypical roles activated negative evaluative responses, an effect that was most pronounced for male targets. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are considered.