Is social status hardwired?

Imagine a conversation between two people: Preston Power, the CEO of a prestigious corporation, and Alan Awkward, the assistant to the assistant to the regional manager. It wouldn’t take very long to pick up on the difference in social status between these two individuals even if you had no information about who they were. Body language, the tendency to interrupt, volume of speech, and a host of other nonverbal behaviors automatically cue us in to who is the alpha dog in this scenario. While these behaviors are often viewed as personal choices that we can control, Fei Wang and colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences suggest that poor Mr. Awkward may not be at fault for his plight—his neurons may be to blame.  Continue reading



Hello Readers!

Thank you for an awesome year. We’ve had a great response and are hoping to expand to bigger and better things! Our new address is We will no longer be updating this site. Check out some posts on the new blog!

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Schoolyard Picks: How People Evaluate Friend Potential in Others

We all use a variety of clues to figure out whether a person we’re interacting with is going to like us. After all, being rejected hurts, and we typically would rather not pursue a friendship with someone who might reject us. To determine whether we’re likely to be rejected by a potential friend, we might notice whether we share the same hobbies, whether we dress similarly, or whether the person is acting in a friendly manner to us—making eye contact, that sort of thing.

Recent research by Dr. Jenessa Shapiro takes this process a step further, finding that we pay attention not only to what the potential friend does personally, but also to their own friendships. Shapiro and colleagues presented White college students with a Black potential friend, pictured either alone, with a White friend, or with a Black friend. The idea was that seeing a Black potential friend who has a Black friend might lead people to conclude that the potential friend is uninterested in White friends. Continue reading

How effective are political campaign advertisements?

While the media buzz surrounding the 2012 Presidential Election is just starting up, now is as good a time as any to think about how effective political advertisements really are at influencing our candidate choices.  Every election season, political candidates shell out thousands and even millions of dollars on televised campaign advertisements.  But how persuasive are these advertisements really?  Previous scientific research in this area has only been able to look at how well individual’s reports of their media viewing correspond with their voting preferences.  However, a recent study by Gerber, Gimpel, Green, and Shaw (2011) addressed this question in a ground-breaking field experiment.  In the first large scale field experiment of its kind, the researchers were able to manipulate the timing and volume of televised advertisements for the incumbent candidate in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial election.  Furthermore, they were able to continually assess voter’s candidate preferences during the campaign season.  It was important that this study be conducted in the field because it is often hard in a laboratory setting to gauge how long-lasting the effects of media exposure are in real world settings. Continue reading

The Power of Glasses: Evidence-Based Charitable Giving, Part 2

In the poor, rural Gansu province in China, 10-15% of young students need glasses but only 2% of those kids actually have glasses. To follow up on my previous post on the science of charitable giving, in this post I’ll briefly describe a recent study which found that simply giving these students glasses significantly increased their average test scores! Continue reading

Who Should Get Your Charity Money? Scientific Perspectives on Giving

In the past, my partner and I have mostly haphazardly divvied up our good intentions to whichever charities are most easily accessible to us because of advertisements or a person standing in a grocery store parking lot. Lately, we are rethinking that (lack of) strategy. As Yale economists Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel wrote in a recent issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, “We don’t pick stocks based on colorful stories in mailers; we shouldn’t pick charities that way, either.”

Certainly, this is good, solid advice no matter what the domain. Think before you act, make good use of your money, etc. However, the research of Karlan and and others indicates that if we don’t turn to science to guide our charitable giving, we may end up doing more harm than good.

Continue reading

Parental Internet Mediation strategies. What works?

A recent study tested how different parental mediating strategies affect children’s disclosure of private information while online (Lwin, Stanaland, & Miyazaki, 2008).  Privacy is a critical issue facing not just children, but also adults, but youth may not have the understanding that the Internet allows almost any digital use to leave a permanent footprint. The authors manipulated website safeguards and parental mediation strategies to measure how children, age 10-12 and age 13-17, would choose to share personal information.  One condition had a website safeguard present, while another did not.  Two primary kinds of parental mediation were chosen, regulated and active.  Parents who practice regulated mediation, also referred to as rule making, set limits on screen time as well as content.  Continue reading