Assorted links

There's a common thread -- lying, cheating, moral superiority.

1. Blame it on the boy:

Little is known about why some human beings make risky life-choices. This paper provides evidence that people's health decisions and addictive actions are influenced by the gender of their children. Having a daughter leads individuals -- in micro data from Great Britain and the United States -- to reduce their smoking, drinking, and drug-taking. The paper's results are consistent with the hypothesis that human beings "self-medicate‟ when under stress.

Source: "The Effects of Daughters on Health Choices and Risk Behaviour" from Department of Economics and Related Studies, University of York


2. Dishonesty comes more easily to those on top:
Across all measures, the high-power liars — the leaders —resembled truthtellers, showing no evidence of cortisol reactivity (which signals stress), cognitive impairment or feeling bad. In contrast, low-power liars — the subordinates — showed the usual signs of stress and slower reaction times. “Having power essentially buffered the powerful liars from feeling the bad effects of lying, from responding in any negative way or giving nonverbal cues that low-power liars tended to reveal.”

3. We like to cheat. We don’t like to think of ourselves as cheaters.
While a traditional model of cheating would say that people should be expected to cheat as much as is rational — assessing the chances of getting caught, multiplying them by the penalty for getting caught, and then weighing this against what can be gained by breaking the rules — the truth is that’s not how we work. Instead, research in psychology, neuroeconomics, and behavioral economics has shown that two factors other than fear of getting caught seem to restrain our behavior: our desire to adhere to social norms and our desire to see ourselves as good people.

4. The halo of green consumerism
According to a new study by Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, ethically conscious consumers are actually less likely to be kind to others and more likely to cheat and steal. Julian Baggini thinks it through:

The general truth lurking behind these findings is that the feeling of being pure is a moral contaminant. In ethical terms, the best never think that they are the best, and those that believe themselves to be on the side of the angels are often the worst devils.

Why should this be so? One reason is that complacency is as dangerous in ethics as it is in any other area of life where we strive for excellence. If we think we are "good people" we might think less about the possibility that we might actually be doing wrong.

This last item reminds me of one we ran in 2008:
Drivers of cars with bumper stickers, window decals, personalized license plates and other "territorial markers" not only get mad when someone cuts in their lane or is slow to respond to a changed traffic light, but they are far more likely than those who do not personalize their cars to use their vehicles to express rage -- by honking, tailgating and other aggressive behavior.

It does not seem to matter whether the messages on the stickers are about peace and love -- "Visualize World Peace," "My Kid Is an Honor Student" -- or angry and in your face -- "Don't Mess With Texas," "My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student."

Comments (2)

I heard a report on the Mazar paper on NPR last week and I immediately thought of it in terms of the clergy abuse scandal -- the idea that giving a great deal in one aspect of her life somehow grant you a license to fall down in others. Fascinating.

These items all seem like "Nothing new under the sun"-type stories. Nothing that sages, philosophers and prophets haven't been telling us for centuries (and yet somehow, we continue to ignore!)

JC Fisher

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