The Science and Politics of Sins

Kevin Lewis

November 12, 2009

"I read Playboy for the articles": Justifying and rationalizing questionable preferences

Zoë Chance & Michael Norton
Harvard Working Paper, September 2009

"We conducted an experiment to examine one means by which people engage in concurrent justification, by explaining decisions made on the basis of questionable criteria - for example, choosing to buy a magazine because it contains pictures of scantily clad ladies - in terms of other, more acceptable criteria - for example, the quality of the articles in that
publication. We asked 23 male participants (M(age) = 20.9) to complete this experiment as part of a class requirement. We told participants we were interested in the criteria they thought were important in choosing magazines, and introduced two sports magazines. Both had won the same number of Associated Press Journalism Awards, and had similar average issue lengths. We manipulated two attributes of the magazines, such that each magazine dominated on one attribute. One magazine had a higher number of sports covered per issue than the other (9 vs. 6), while also having a lower average number of feature articles per issue (12 vs. 19). In addition, each magazine was advertised as having one special issue: either a Swimsuit Issue (a questionable preference) or a "Year's Top 10 Athletes" special issue. Most importantly, we varied which magazine came with the Swimsuit Issue; for half of our participants, it accompanied the magazine with more sports, while for the other half, it accompanied the magazine with more feature articles...Overall, and as expected, participants overwhelmingly picked the magazine with the Swimsuit Issue (74%), χ2 (1) = 5.26, p < .03. While 92% of participants selected the magazine with more articles when that magazine was paired with the Swimsuit Issue, only 46% picked this magazine when it did not have the Swimsuit Issue paired with it, meaning that 54% of participants suddenly preferred the magazine with more sports covered, χ2 (1) = 5.79, p < .02, which just happened to include the Swimsuit Issue...Most important for our argument is that participants also subsequently inflated the value of the attribute that favored the magazine with the Swimsuit Issue, justifying their questionable preference on the basis of less suspect criteria...Mirroring the results above, while 83% of participants ranked number of articles higher when the magazine coupled with the Swimsuit Issue contained more articles, this number dropped to just 36% when this magazine covered more sports, meaning that 64% now reported that number of sports was more important, χ2 (1) = 5.32, p < .03"


Wastin' Away in Margaritaville? New Evidence on the Academic Effects of Teenage Binge Drinking

Joseph Sabia
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, this study examines the relationship between teenage binge drinking and three measures of academic performance: grade point average, out-of-school suspensions, and unexcused absences from school. While ordinary least square estimates show that binge drinking is associated with diminished academic performance, individual fixed-effects estimates suggest that much of this relationship can be explained by unmeasured heterogeneity. After controlling for individual fixed effects and for changes in drug use, psychological well-being, and time preference, binge drinking has a much smaller and often statistically insignificant effect on school performance.


Dead on Arrival: Zero Tolerance Laws Don't Work

Darren Grant
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

By 1998, all states had passed laws lowering the legal blood alcohol content for drivers under 21 to effectively zero. Theory shows these laws have ambiguous effects on overall fatalities and economic efficiency, and the data show they have little effect on driver behavior. A panel analysis of the 1988-2000 Fatality Analysis Reporting System indicates that zero tolerance laws have no material influence on the level of fatalities, while quantile regression reveals virtually no change in the distribution of blood alcohol content among drivers involved in fatal accidents.


Tobacco Use as Response to Economic Insecurity: Evidence from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth

Michael Barnes & Trenton Smith
B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 2009

Emerging evidence from neuroscience and clinical research suggests a novel hypothesis about tobacco use: consumers may choose to smoke, in part, as a "self-medicating" response to the presence of economic insecurity. To test this hypothesis, we examine the effect of economic insecurity (roughly, the risk of catastrophic income loss) on the smoking behavior of a sample of male working-age smokers from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79). Using instrumental variables to control for unobserved heterogeneity, we find that economic insecurity has a large and statistically significant positive effect on the decision to continue or resume smoking. Our results indicate, for example, that a 1 percent increase in the probability of becoming unemployed causes an individual to be 2.4 percent more likely to continue smoking. We find that the explanatory power of economic insecurity in predicting tobacco use is comparable to (but distinct from) household income, a more commonly used metric.


Maternal Licorice Consumption and Detrimental Cognitive and Psychiatric Outcomes in Children

Katri Räikkönen, Anu-Katriina Pesonen, Kati Heinonen, Jari Lahti, Niina Komsi, Johan Eriksson, Jonathan Seckl, Anna-Liisa Järvenpää & Timo Strandberg
American Journal of Epidemiology, November 2009, Pages 1137-1146

Overexposure to glucocorticoids may link prenatal adversity with detrimental outcomes in later life. Glycyrrhiza, a natural constituent of licorice, inhibits placental 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2, the feto-placental "barrier" to higher maternal levels of cortisol. The authors studied whether prenatal exposure to glycyrrhiza in licorice exerts detrimental effects on cognitive performance (subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children III as well as the Children's Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment and the Beery Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration) and psychiatric symptoms (Child Behavior Checklist) in 321 Finnish children 8.1 years of age born in 1998 as healthy singletons at 35-42 weeks of gestation. In comparison to the group with zero-low glycyrrhiza exposure (0-249 mg/week), those with high exposure (≥500 mg/week) had significant decrements in verbal and visuospatial abilities and in narrative memory (range of mean differences in standard deviation units, -0.31 to -0.41; P < 0.05) and significant increases in externalizing symptoms and in attention, rule-breaking, and aggression problems (range of odds ratios, 2.15 to 3.43; P < 0.05). The effects on cognitive performance appeared dose related. Data are compatible with adverse fetal "programming" by overexposure to glucocorticoids and caution against excessive intake of licorice-containing foodstuffs during pregnancy.


The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests: A Review of Scientific and Legal Issues

Steven Rubenzer
Law and Human Behavior, August 2008, Pages 293-313

This article details the history and development of the National Highway and Safety Administration's Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. They are reviewed in terms of relevant scientific, psychometric, and legal issues. It is concluded that the research that supports their use is limited, important confounding variables have not been thoroughly studied, reliability is mediocre, and that their developers and prosecution-oriented publications have oversold the tests. Further, case law since their development has severed the tests from their validation data, so that they are not admissible on the criterion for which they were validated (blood alcohol concentration), and admissible for a criterion for which they were not (mental, physical, or driving impairment). Directions for further research are presented.


Minimum drinking age laws and infant health outcomes

Angela Fertig & Tara Watson
Journal of Health Economics, May 2009, Pages 737-747

Alcohol policies have potentially far-reaching impacts on risky sexual behavior, pre-natal health behaviors, and subsequent outcomes for infants. After finding initial evidence in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) that changes in the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) are related to prenatal drinking, we examine whether the drinking age inuences birth outcomes. Using data from the National Vital Statistics (NVS) for the years 1978-88, we find that a drinking age of 18 is associated with adverse outcomes among births to young mothers - including higher incidences of low birth weight and premature birth, but not congenital anomalies. The effects are largest among black women. We also report evidence that the MLDA laws alter the composition of births that occur. In states with lenient drinking laws, young black mothers are less likely to report paternal information on the birth certificate, particularly in states with restrictive abortion policies. The evidence suggests that lenient drinking laws generate poor birth outcomes in part because they increase the number of unplanned pregnancies.


Long Term Effects of Minimum Legal Drinking Age Laws on Adult Alcohol Use and Driving Fatalities

Robert Kaestner & Benjamin Yarnoff
NBER Working Paper, October 2009

We examine whether adult alcohol consumption and traffic fatalities are associated with the legal drinking environment when a person was between the ages of 18 and 20. We find that moving from an environment in which a person was never allowed to drink legally to one in which a person could always drink legally was associated with a 20 to 30 percent increase in alcohol consumption and a ten percent increase in fatal accidents for adult males. There were no statistically significant or practically important associations between the legal drinking environment when young and adult female alcohol consumption and driving fatalities.


Did you see the unicycling clown? Inattentional blindness while walking and talking on a cell phone

Ira Hyman, Matthew Boss, Breanne Wise, Kira McKenzie & Jenna Caggiano
Applied Cognitive Psychology, forthcoming

We investigated the effects of divided attention during walking. Individuals were classified based on whether they were walking while talking on a cell phone, listening to an MP3 player, walking without any electronics or walking in a pair. In the first study, we found that cell phone users walked more slowly, changed directions more frequently, and were less likely to acknowledge other people than individuals in the other conditions. In the second study, we found that cell phone users were less likely to notice an unusual activity along their walking route (a unicycling clown). Cell phone usage may cause inattentional blindness even during a simple activity that should require few cognitive resources.


PKNOX2 gene is significantly associated with substance dependence in European-origin women

Xiang Chen, Kelly Cho, Burton Singer & Heping Zhang
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

Substance dependence is a complex environmental and genetic disorder that results in serious health and socioeconomic consequences. Many studies have reported and implicated genes associated with various substance dependence outcomes, including addiction to nicotine and addiction to alcohol. Using data from several genome-wide case-control studies, we conducted a genome-wide association study of a composite substance dependence phenotype derived from six individual diagnoses: addiction to nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, or other drugs as a whole. We identified a strong (odds ratio = 1.77) and significant (P value = 7E-8) association signal with the PBX/knotted 1 homeobox 2 (PKNOX2) gene on chromosome 11 in European-origin women with the composite phenotype. Our findings also indicate that the associations are not as significant when individual outcomes for addiction are considered, underscoring the importance of considering multiple addiction types.


The Fatal Toll of Driving to Drink: The Effect of Minimum Legal Drinking Age Evasion on Traffic Fatalities

Michael Lovenheim & Joel Slemrod
Journal of Health Economics, forthcoming

There is a sizeable literature on the effect of minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) restrictions on teenage drunk driving. This paper adds to the literature by examining the effect of MLDA evasion across states with different alcohol restrictions. Using state-of-the-art GIS software and micro-data on fatal vehicle accidents from 1977 to 2002, we find that in counties within 25 miles of a lower-MLDA jurisdiction, a legal restriction on drinking does not reduce youth involvement in fatal accidents and, for 18 and 19-year old drivers, fatal-accident involvement actually increases. Farther from such a border, we find results consistent with the previous literature that MLDA restrictions are effective in reducing accident fatalities. The estimates imply that, of the total reduction in teenager-involved fatalities due to the equalization of state MLDAs at 21 in the 1970 s and 1980 s, for 18-year olds between a quarter and a third and for 19-year olds over 15 percent was due to equalization. Furthermore, the effect of changes in the MLDA is quite heterogeneous with respect to the fraction of a state's population that need not travel far to cross a border to evade its MLDA. Our results imply the effect of lowering the MLDA in select states, such as has been proposed in Vermont, could lead to sizeable increases in teenage involvement in fatal accidents due to evasion of local alcohol restrictions.


Have Casinos Contributed to Rising Bankruptcy Rates?

Ernie Goss, Edward Morse & John Deskins
International Advances in Economic Research, November 2009, Pages 456-469

This paper examines the relationship between casino gambling and bankruptcy rates in U.S. counties using a panel of U.S. county-level data from 1990 through 2005. We contribute to the literature in several ways, perhaps most notably by examining the possibility that the effect of a casino on bankruptcy may differ over the casino's lifespan. Results confirm this possibility, indicating that the impact of casinos on bankruptcy follows a "U-shaped" curve over the life of the casino. More specifically, regression analysis indicates the existence of a casino in a county increases the bankruptcy rate by more than 9% in the first year of operation. The percentage of additional bankruptcies then decreases through the third year after the casino opens. Bankruptcy rates in casino counties then slightly fall below that of non-casino counties during the fourth through seventh years after opening, increasing once again in the eighth year and thereafter. This cycle corresponds closely to the 6 year statute of limitations period applicable to Chapter 7 bankruptcies.


Casinos, Hotels, and Crime

William Reece
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming

This paper examines the links among casinos, hotels, and crime using Indiana's counties for 1994-2004. In estimating casinos' impacts, I introduce a measure of casino activity in addition to variables related to the timing of casino opening. I test whether or not the number of hotel rooms affects crime rates. Increased casino activity reduces crime rates except for burglary, where crime rates rise after a lag. Leaving out a measure of casino activity appears to create a serious specification error. Finally, including problem crime data plagued by incomplete reporting affects the estimated impact of casinos on crime.


The relationship of gambling to intimate partner violence and child maltreatment in a nationally representative sample

Tracie Afifi, Douglas Brownridge, Harriet MacMillan & Jitender Sareen
Journal of Psychiatric Research, forthcoming

It has been suggested that family violence is associated with gambling problems. However, to date, this relationship has not been thoroughly investigated using representative data. The purpose of the current study was to analyze the relationship between gambling problems and the perpetration and victimization of intimate partner violence (including dating and marital violence) and child maltreatment (including minor child assault and severe child abuse) using nationally representative data. Data were drawn from the US National Comorbidity Survey Replication (n = 3334; 18 years and older). Multiple logistic and multinomial logistic regression models were used to examine the relationships between gambling and the perpetration and victimization of dating violence, marital violence, and child maltreatment. The results indicated that problem gambling was associated with increased odds of the perpetration of dating violence (Adjusted Odds Ratios (AORs) ranged from 2.2 to 4.2), while pathological gambling was associated with increased odds of the perpetration of dating violence (AORs ranged from 5.7 to 11.9), severe marital violence (AOR = 20.4), and severe child abuse (AOR = 13.2). Additionally, dating violence, marital violence, and severe child abuse victimization were associated with increased odds of gambling problems. The results were attenuated when adjusted for lifetime mental disorders. These findings can be used as evidence-based research to inform healthy public gambling polices and inform prevention and intervention efforts.


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