Local Knowledge

Kevin Lewis

November 16, 2021

Seeing meaning even when none may exist: Collectivism increases belief in empty claims
Ying Lin, Charles Zhang & Daphna Oyserman
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming 

People often find truth and meaning in claims that have no regard for truth or empirical evidence. We propose that one reason is that people value connecting and fitting in with others, motivating them to seek the common ground of communication and generate explanations for how claims might make sense. This increases the likelihood that people experience empty claims as truthful, meaningful, or even profound. Seven studies (N > 16,000 from the United States and China) support our prediction. People who score higher in collectivism (valuing connection and fitting in) are more likely to find fake news meaningful and believe in pseudoscience (Studies 1 to 3). China–U.S. cross-national comparisons show parallel effects. Relative to people from the United States, Chinese participants are more likely to see meaning in randomly generated vague claims (Study 4). People higher in collectivism are more likely to engage in meaning-making, generating explanations when faced with an empty claim, and having done so, are more likely to find meaning (Study 5). People who momentarily experience themselves as more collectivistic are more likely to see empty claims as meaningful (Study 6). People higher in collectivism are more likely to engage in meaning-making unless there is no common ground to seek (Study 7). We interpret our results as suggesting that conditions that trigger collectivism create fertile territory for the spread of empty claims, including fake news and misinformation.

Individualistic CEO and Corporate Innovation: Evidence from U.S. Frontier Culture
Lei Gao et al.
George Mason University Working Paper, November 2021 

This paper examines the relationship between CEOs’ individualistic cultural background and corporate innovation among firms in the United States. Using hand-collected data on birthplaces of US-born CEOs, we provide robust evidence that CEOs born in frontier counties with a higher level of individualistic culture promote innovation performance. Firms led by such CEOs increase both quantity and quality of innovation outputs, measured by the number of patents, citation-weighted patents, and the market value of patents, and focus more on breakthrough innovation. Our extended analysis suggests that CEOs with an individualistic background tend to build an innovation-oriented corporate culture and to accumulate human capital by increasing the inflow of inventors, thus promoting corporate innovation. 

The Gender Gap in Preferences: Evidence from 45,397 Facebook Interests
Ángel Cuevas et al.
NBER Working Paper, November 2021 

This paper uses information on the frequency of 45,397 Facebook interests to study how the difference in preferences between men and women changes with a country's degree of gender equality. For preference dimensions that are systematically biased toward the same gender across the globe, differences between men and women are larger in more gender-equal countries. In contrast, for preference dimensions with a gender bias that varies across countries, the opposite holds. This finding takes an important step toward reconciling evolutionary psychology and social role theory as they relate to gender. 

Global urbanicity is associated with brain and behaviour in young people
Jiayuan Xu et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming

Urbanicity is a growing environmental challenge for mental health. Here, we investigate correlations of urbanicity with brain structure and function, neuropsychology and mental illness symptoms in young people from China and Europe (total n = 3,867). We developed a remote-sensing satellite measure (UrbanSat) to quantify population density at any point on Earth. UrbanSat estimates of urbanicity were correlated with brain volume, cortical surface area and brain network connectivity in the medial prefrontal cortex and cerebellum. UrbanSat was also associated with perspective-taking and depression symptoms, and this was mediated by neural variables. Urbanicity effects were greatest when urban exposure occurred in childhood for the cerebellum, and from childhood to adolescence for the prefrontal cortex. As UrbanSat can be generalized to different geographies, it may enable assessments of correlations of urbanicity with mental illness and resilience globally. 

The moderating role of culture on the benefits of economic freedom: Cross-country analysis
Johan Graafland & Eelke de Jong
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming

The implementation of pro-market policies and institutions is often suggested for enhancing a country's development. However, implementing pro-market policies and institutions has a mixed track record. Some have ascribed the bad results to the neglect of people's predispositions, often described as culture. In this study, we argue that successful implementation of pro-market policies and institutions requires that large parts of the population know how to use the resulting freedom in a way that can bring long term benefits. A panel analysis on a sample of 67 countries from 1970 to 2019 confirms this theoretical argument. We find that Long Term Orientation increases the effect of economic freedom on income per capita, whereas Uncertainty Avoidance weakens the positive relationship between economic freedom and income per capita. The policy implication is that the introduction of free market policies and institutions will particularly foster economic development in long-term oriented societies and in societies with low Uncertainty Avoidance. 

Does Regional Variation in Pathogen Prevalence Predict the Moralization of Language in COVID-19 News?
Musa Malik et al.
Journal of Language and Social Psychology, forthcoming 

While there is substantial research on COVID-19’s general framing in the news, little is known about the antecedents and moderators of using moral language in communicating the disease to audiences. In this study, we rely on the Model of Intuitive Morality and Exemplars to explore how news media’s attention on COVID-19 and moralizing language in COVID-19 news vary with respect to ultimate (historical pathogen prevalence) and proximate (spread of COVID-19) socio-psychological factors. Specifically, we analyzed 1,024,800 news headlines from 28 countries published throughout 2020 and applied automated content analysis for moral language extraction. Our results provide support for increased media attention and higher levels of moralizing language in COVID-19 news for regions with high historical pathogen prevalence and COVID-19 spread. We discuss the theoretical impact of these findings in view of the socio-psychological relevance of moralizing language for disease-related news and point towards future research directions. 

The Impacts of Education on Domestic Violence: Evidence from China
Dong Zhou, Xue Li & Yaqin Su
Applied Economics, forthcoming

Exploiting the Compulsory Schooling Law reform in China, this paper investigates the causal impact of education on the likelihood of women experiencing domestic violence from their spouse. The local average treatment effects (LATE) obtained through the instrument variables approach indicate that one additional year of schooling lowers women’s likelihood of experiencing physical and sexual abuse from their spouse by 7.1 and 3.4 percentage points, respectively. Further, we find that the causal impacts of education are more pronounced in the subsample of women who are less educated, women in rural areas, and women in regions with relatively lower human capital endowment prior to the reform. Additionally, we explore various channels and find that change in attitudes towards gender roles may be an important channel explaining the impact of increased female education on lowering domestic violence. We also address the possible bias caused by migration of individuals, and our results remain robust. 

“Big” Sounds Bigger in More Widely Spoken Languages
Shiri Lev-Ari et al.
Cognitive Science, November 2021

Larger communities face more communication barriers. We propose that languages spoken by larger communities adapt and overcome these greater barriers by increasing their reliance on sound symbolism, as sound symbolism can facilitate communication. To test whether widely spoken languages are more sound symbolic, participants listened to recordings of the words big and small in widely spoken and less common languages and guessed their meanings. Accuracy was higher for words from widely spoken languages providing evidence that widely spoken languages harbor more sound symbolism. Preliminary results also suggest that widely spoken languages rely on different sound symbolic patterns than less common languages. Community size can thus shape linguistic forms and influence the tools that languages use to facilitate communication. 

Does It Pay to Play by the Rules? Respect for Rule of law, Control of Corruption, and National Success at the Summer Olympics
Todd Potts
Journal of Sports Economics, forthcoming 

Utilizing the set of World Governance Indicators published by the World Bank, this paper finds that scoring highly in an indicator measuring respect for rule of law and control of corruption is associated with fewer athletes disqualified and higher medal shares at the Summer Olympics from 1996–2016. Notable reductions in disqualifications and increases in medal shares occur at coincident percentile ranks in the aforementioned indicator, with nations at the 67th percentile rank and above having a 13.8% higher probability of medaling and a 12.11% lower probability of having an athlete disqualified. These results uncover a new link between governance and Olympic success and provide support for the existing anti-doping rules and enforcement as, ceteris paribus, it would seem that nations whose athletes respect and abide by the rules achieve higher medal shares than those whose athletes do not. 

When Appealing to Agency Backfires: Evidence from a Multinational Field Experiment and the Lab
Joseph Reiff et al.
University of California Working Paper, October 2021

Firms often use appeals like “Your voice matters” or “Have your say in our company’s direction” when attempting to increase customer engagement. We examine whether trying to motivate people by persuading them that their behavior is consequential – a tactic that we call an “agency appeal” – is effective in increasing customers’ willingness to offer feedback. In a field experiment across seven countries, we invited 430,666 customers of a large technology company to take a voluntary customer feedback survey and manipulated the subject line of the email invitations. Contrary to our initial prediction and expert forecasts, we found that agency appeals on average decreased feedback provision (compared to a straightforward control message). Importantly, agency appeals reduced feedback provision in countries with low trust in business (e.g., Japan), while producing positive effects in countries with high trust in business (e.g., China). We theorize and offer pre-registered lab evidence (N = 1,505) that agency appeals reduce compliance among customers with low trust in business because these customers perceive agency appeals as inauthentic. Altogether, this research advances the field’s understanding of when and why appealing to agency fails to motivate customers and even backfires. 

What constitutes a compassionate response? The important role of culture
Birgit Koopmann-Holm et al.
Emotion, forthcoming

American compassionate responses (i.e., sending sympathy cards) focus more on the positive (e.g., comforting memories) and less on the negative (e.g., the pain of someone’s death) than German compassionate responses, partly because of cultural differences in how much people want to avoid feeling negative (i.e., avoided negative affect [ANA]). However, are these culture-specific compassionate responses considered more comforting and compassionate within their respective cultural context? We predicted that Americans would find responses that focus on the negative less and those that focus on the positive more comforting and compassionate than Germans will and that ANA would mediate these differences. In Study 1, 152 Americans and 315 Germans reported their ANA and rated how comforting they considered receiving different sympathy cards. As predicted, Americans found sympathy cards that contained negative content less and cards that contained positive content more comforting than Germans did. In Studies 2a and 2b, to examine whether these culture-specific conceptualizations of a comforting response would generalize to how people conceptualize a compassionate face, 118 Americans and 80 Germans selected stimuli that most resembled a compassionate (or happy) face using a reverse correlation task. As predicted, people’s mental representation of a compassionate face contained more happiness/less sadness in an American than German context. Across studies, ANA partially mediated the cultural differences. This research demonstrates that responses that are intended to be compassionate might not be considered equally compassionate and comforting across cultures, which has implications for relief efforts, which are often organized internationally. 

The institutional foundations of surf break governance in Atlantic Europe
Martin Rode
Public Choice, forthcoming

The sport of surfing is best enjoyed with one rider on one wave, but crowding makes that optimal assignment increasingly hard to attain. This study examines the phenomenon of surf localism, whereby competitors are excluded from waves by intimidation and the threat of violence. An alternative way to accommodate crowds is contained in the surfer’s code, which sets informal rules and self-enforced regulations to avoid conflict in the water. Both regimes establish property rights over common pool resources with no state intervention, creating a setting wherein users face the question of cooperation or conflict. The disposition to cooperate and follow norms has been shown to vary substantially across different cultures, though. Employing data from over seven hundred surf spots on the European Atlantic coast, this study reports evidence that certain informal cultural norms significantly reduce the probability of violent exclusion, while formal state institutions mostly are irrelevant. The results also indicate that informal norms become more important with greater resource quality and, possibly, with increasing scarcity.


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