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Uncommon Knowledge
By Kevin Lewis
May 13, 2012
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Follow the guilty leader

If you’re tired of feeling guilty all the time, here’s one surprising piece of good news: This tendency might make you an excellent leader. Researchers at Stanford found that being more prone to feeling guilty leads people to think you have more leadership potential, and guilt-prone business students were judged by co-workers to be more effective leaders, controlling for other personality traits, sex, and test scores. Moreover, in an experiment where teams had to come up with a product pitch and then pretend they were lost in the desert, team members who were more guilt-prone were more likely to be seen as group leaders. Feeling shame, on the other hand, was not related to leadership. The authors conclude that guilty feelings promote leadership by promoting a sense of responsibility for others.

Schaumberg, R. & Flynn, F., “Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears the Crown: The Link between Guilt Proneness and Leadership,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Analysis, enemy of faith

The Enlightenment was, in part, a rejection of religious thought in favor of rational, analytic thinking, so it’s no surprise that religious institutions weren’t eager to embrace it. New research confirms they had—and have—reason to worry. Not only do more analytically inclined thinkers report more religious disbelief, but just putting people in an analytical frame of mind has a similar effect. People who saw a picture of the statue The Thinker subsequently reported more religious disbelief compared to people who saw a picture of the statue Discobolus. Likewise, religious disbelief was greater after people were incidentally exposed to analytic-thinking words in a word-puzzle task. Religious disbelief was also greater if people reported their beliefs on a questionnaire that was hard to read (hard-to-read text has been shown to promote analytic thinking).

Gervais, W. & Norenzayan, A., “Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief,” Science (April 27, 2012).

Insensitive? It’s just your testosterone

What makes some people so good at understanding others, while others are so bad at it? New research suggests that one advantage is simply to be a woman—or even a low-testosterone man. Among both men and women, people with higher levels of testosterone were less able to read someone else’s feelings and, as a result, had more trouble working with others.

Ronay, R. & Carney, D., “Testosterone’s Negative Relationship with Empathic Accuracy and Perceived Leadership Ability,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

The I’m-not-a-racist effect

Although conservatives tend not to be fans of affirmative action and political correctness, a new study suggests that politically correct conservatives are the most likely to change how they evaluate others based on race. When asked to evaluate essays supposedly written by high school students, white and Asian evaluators who didn’t identify with egalitarian values but didn’t want to appear prejudiced gave less negative feedback and higher grades to black and Native American students. That might seem helpful to those students, but the authors caution that this shortchanges minorities of constructive feedback.

Croft, A. & Schmader, T., “The Feedback Withholding Bias: Minority Students Do Not Receive Critical Feedback from Evaluators Concerned about Appearing Racist,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Do justices change their minds?

Unless you live under a rock, you know that the Supreme Court held extraordinary extended hearings on health care reform earlier this spring, and you probably also heard pundits fret over the tone of the justices’ questions and the performance of the lawyers arguing the case. But are these hearings just for show, or do they actually have the power to change the justices’ minds? A new study suggests that in fact, they can have an impact. Researchers analyzed the private notes of Justices Blackmun and Powell—who recorded their positions before oral arguments—and found that Blackmun switched his vote after oral arguments in about 10 percent of cases, while Powell switched his vote in about 7 percent of cases. The likelihood of switching went up if the attorney arguing against the justice’s initial position gave a better performance or if that attorney was asked fewer questions.

Ringsmuth, E. et al., “Voting Fluidity and Oral Argument on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Political Research Quarterly (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.

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