Top Underdog

Kevin Lewis

February 10, 2011

Middle class and marginal? Socioeconomic status, stigma, and self-regulation at an elite university

Sarah Johnson, Jennifer Richeson & Eli Finkel
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

In four studies, the authors investigated the proposal that in the context of an elite university, individuals from relatively lower socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds possess a stigmatized identity and, as such, experience (a) concerns regarding their academic fit and (b) self-regulatory depletion as a result of managing these concerns. Study 1, a correlational study, revealed the predicted associations between SES, concerns about academic fit, and self-regulatory strength. Results from Studies 2 and 3 suggested that self-presentation involving the academic domain is depleting for lower (but not higher) SES students: After a self-presentation task about academic achievement, lower SES students consumed more candy (Study 2) and exhibited poorer Stroop performance (Study 3) relative to their higher SES peers; in contrast, the groups did not differ after discussing a nonacademic topic (Study 3). Study 4 revealed the potential for eliminating the SES group difference in depletion via a social comparison manipulation. Taken together, these studies support the hypothesis that managing concerns about marginality can have deleterious consequences for self-regulatory resources.


Powerful Postures Versus Powerful Roles: Which Is the Proximate Correlate of Thought and Behavior?

Li Huang, Adam Galinsky, Deborah Gruenfeld & Lucia Guillory
Psychological Science, January 2011, Pages 95-102

Three experiments explored whether hierarchical role and body posture have independent or interactive effects on the main outcomes associated with power: action in behavior and abstraction in thought. Although past research has found that being in a powerful role and adopting an expansive body posture can each enhance a sense of power, two experiments showed that when individuals were placed in high- or low-power roles while adopting an expansive or constricted posture, only posture affected the implicit activation of power, the taking of action, and abstraction. However, even though role had a smaller effect on the downstream consequences of power, it had a stronger effect than posture on self-reported sense of power. A final experiment found that posture also had a larger effect on action than recalling an experience of high or low power. We discuss body postures as one of the most proximate correlates of the manifestations of power.


Cognitive Dissonance, Pessimism, and Behavioral Spillover Effects

David Dickinson & Robert Oxoby
Journal of Economic Psychology, forthcoming

A two-stage experiment was designed to examine spillover effects of a type of optimism/pessimism. We first exploit cognitive dissonance to induce optimism/pessimism by random assignment of high/low piece rates for performing a task. Subjects receiving the low piece rate are significantly more pessimistic with respect to performance. In stage 2 individuals participate in an ultimatum game. Pessimistic subjects have significantly lower minimum acceptable offers, though pessimism was randomly generated in an unrelated environment. These results reveal behaviorally and economically important spillover effects -- for example, pessimism regarding one's initial conditions (e.g., living in poverty) may have spillover effects on one's future labor market outcomes.


The influence of mortality and socioeconomic status on risk and delayed rewards: A life history theory approach

Vladas Griskevicius et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Why do some people take risks and live for the present, whereas others avoid risks and save for the future? The evolutionary framework of life history theory predicts that preferences for risk and delay in gratification should be influenced by mortality and resource scarcity. A series of experiments examined how mortality cues influenced decisions involving risk preference (e.g., $10 for sure vs. 50% chance of $20) and temporal discounting (e.g., $5 now vs. $10 later). The effect of mortality depended critically on whether people grew up in a relatively resource-scarce or resource-plentiful environment. For individuals who grew up relatively poor, mortality cues led them to value the present and gamble for big immediate rewards. Conversely, for individuals who grew up relatively wealthy, mortality cues led them to value the future and avoid risky gambles. Overall, mortality cues appear to propel individuals toward diverging life history strategies as a function of childhood socioeconomic status, suggesting important implications for how environmental factors influence economic decisions and risky behaviors.


Complex Social Consequences of Self-Knowledge

Elizabeth Tenney & Barbara Spellman
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Psychology theories disagree on the most effective self-presentation strategies - some claim possessing positive illusions is best, whereas others claim accuracy is best. The current experiments suggest that the role of perceivers and what perceivers believe has been underappreciated in this debate. Participants acted as recruiters for either a swim team (Experiment 1) or a company (Experiment 2) and evaluated hypothetical applicants who made claims about their own abilities and personalities. Overly positive statements about oneself were beneficial only when perceivers had no reason to believe they were unfounded. In addition, conveying self-knowledge was more beneficial than being modest. The results are consistent with the presumption of calibration hypothesis, which states that confidence is compelling because, barring evidence to the contrary, perceivers assume others have good self-insight. Therefore, to make the best impression, people should be as positive as is plausible to perceivers.


The Last Name Effect: How Last Name Influences Acquisition Timing

Kurt Carlson & Jacqueline Conard
Journal of Consumer Research, forthcoming

In addition to deciding whether to buy an item, consumers can often decide when they buy an item. This article links the speed with which adults acquire items to the first letter of their childhood surname. We find that the later in the alphabet the first letter of one's childhood surname, the faster the person acquires items as an adult. We dub this the last name effect, and we propose that it stems from childhood ordering structures that put children with different names in different positions in lines. For example, since those late in the alphabet are typically at the end of lines, they compensate by responding quickly to acquisition opportunities. In addition to responding quicker, we find that those with late alphabet names are more likely to acquire an item when response time is restricted and they find limited time offers more appealing than their early alphabet counterparts.


Narcissism and stock market investing: Correlates and consequences of cocksure investing

Joshua Foster et al.
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming

Two studies tested whether narcissists are prone to making risky stock market investments. In Study 1, narcissistic participants reported being more inclined to invest in stocks that exhibited high volatility (i.e., large price fluctuations). In study 2, participants created hypothetical investment portfolios using a selection of real stocks whose values were tracked for a five-week period. Narcissists selected more highly volatile stocks for their portfolios and this tendency was explained by narcissists' heightened approach motivation. Narcissists also lost significantly more money during the tracking period - the stock market as a whole declined by approximately 30% during the tracking period - and this was fully explained by the heightened volatility of their investments. Cumulatively, these results suggest that narcissistic personality is linked to risky stock market investing, which is especially maladaptive during periods of economic decline.


The Tradeoff Between Performance and Quitting in High Power Tournaments

Chaim Fershtman & Uri Gneezy
Journal of the European Economic Association, forthcoming

Tournaments may be characterized by the performance they induce as well as by the rate of quitting and dropouts of participants. Although most of the attention in the literature is on the performance induced by high power incentives, there are many daily situations in which dropouts and quitting are a major concern. Using a field experiment in schools and a model of dynamic tournament we examine the effect of different levels of rewards on the rate of quitting. Our experiment indicates that there is a possible tradeoff between performance and quitting. Strong incentives tournaments induced participants to exert more effort and exhibit a better performance but, at the same time, it induces a higher rate of quitting. We present a multi-stage tournament model that gives rise to a similar characterization.


Self-Esteem and Mastery Trajectories in High School by Social Class and Gender

Christina Falci
Social Science Research, March 2011, Pages 586-601

Using longitudinal data from 769 white adolescents in the Midwest, this research applies a social structure and personality perspective to examine variation in self-esteem and mastery trajectories by gender and SES across the high school years. Analyses reveal that high SES adolescents experience significantly steeper gains in self-esteem and mastery compared to low SES adolescents, resulting in the reversal of SES differences in self-esteem and the emergence of significant SES differences in mastery. Pre-existing gender differences in self-esteem narrow between the 9th and 12th grade because self-esteem increases at a faster rate among girls than boys during high school. These SES and gender differences in self-concept growth are explained by changes in parent-adolescent relationship quality and stress exposure. Specifically, boys and adolescents with lower SES backgrounds experienced steeper declines in parent-adolescent relationship quality and steeper gains in chronic work strain compared to girls and low SES adolescents, respectively.


Intergenerational Transmission of Adaptive Functioning: A Test of the Interactionist Model of SES and Human Development

Thomas Schofield et al.
Child Development, January/February 2011, Pages 33-47

The interactionist model (IM) of human development (R. D. Conger & M. B. Donellan, 2007) proposes that the association between socioeconomic status (SES) and human development involves a dynamic interplay that includes both social causation (SES influences human development) and social selection (individual characteristics affect SES). Using a multigenerational data set involving 271 families, the current study finds empirical support for the IM. Adolescent personality characteristics indicative of social competence, goal-setting, hard work, and emotional stability predicted later SES, parenting, and family characteristics that were related to the positive development of a third-generation child. Processes of both social selection and social causation appear to account for the association between SES and dimensions of human development indicative of healthy functioning across multiple generations.


A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety

Terrie Moffitt et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

Policy-makers are considering large-scale programs aimed at self-control to improve citizens' health and wealth and reduce crime. Experimental and economic studies suggest such programs could reap benefits. Yet, is self-control important for the health, wealth, and public safety of the population? Following a cohort of 1,000 children from birth to the age of 32 y, we show that childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and criminal offending outcomes, following a gradient of self-control. Effects of children's self-control could be disentangled from their intelligence and social class as well as from mistakes they made as adolescents. In another cohort of 500 sibling-pairs, the sibling with lower self-control had poorer outcomes, despite shared family background. Interventions addressing self-control might reduce a panoply of societal costs, save taxpayers money, and promote prosperity.


Low Trait Self-Control Predicts Self-Handicapping

[Author unlisted]
Journal of Personality, forthcoming

Past research has shown that self-handicapping stems from uncertainty about one's ability and self-presentational concerns. The present studies suggest that low dispositional self-control is also associated with self-handicapping. In three studies (N=289), the association between self-control and self-handicapping was tested. Self-control was operationalized as trait self-control, whereas self-handicapping was operationalized as trait self-handicapping in Study 1, self-reported self-handicapping in Study 2, and behavioral self-handicapping in Study 3. In all studies, hierarchical regression analyses revealed that low self-control predicts self-handicapping, independent of self-esteem, self-doubt, social desirability, and gender.


Unskilled but aware: Reinterpreting overconfidence in low-performing students

Tyler Miller & Lisa Geraci
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, forthcoming

People are generally overconfident in their self-assessments and this overconfidence effect is greatest for people of poorer abilities. For example, poor students predict that they will perform much better on exams than they do. One explanation for this result is that poor performers in general are doubly cursed: They lack knowledge of the material, and they lack awareness of the knowledge that they do and do not possess. The current studies examined whether poor performers in the classroom are truly unaware of their deficits by examining the relationship between students' exam predictions and their confidence in these predictions. Relative to high-performing students, the poorer students showed a greater overconfidence effect (i.e., their predictions were greater than their performance), but they also reported lower confidence in these predictions. Together, these results suggest that poor students are indeed unskilled but that they may have some awareness of their lack of metacognitive knowledge.


Role Modeling, Risk, and Resilience in California Adolescents

Antronette Yancey et al.
Journal of Adolescent Health, January 2011, Pages 36-43

Purpose: To examine the relationship between role model presence, type of role model, and various health-risk and health-protective behaviors among California adolescents.

Methods: We used cross-sectional data on 4,010 multiethnic adolescents aged 12-17 years from the 2003 California Health Interview Survey, a population-based random-digit dial telephone survey of more than 40,000 California households. The survey, conducted every other year since 2001, collects extensive demographic, health, and health-related information.

Results: Fifty-nine percent of adolescents identified a role model. Affluent teens were more likely to have a role model than lower income teens. Role models were generally of the same ethnicity and gender as the teens; ethnic congruence was higher among African Americans and whites than Latinos and Asians; gender congruence was higher among males. Type of role model was significantly associated with health-related behaviors. Identification of a teacher was strongly associated with positive health behaviors. Correlations with health-promoting behaviors were generally smaller in magnitude but consistently positive among family member and athlete role models. Peer or entertainer role models were associated with health-risk behaviors.

Conclusion: Not only role model presence but also the type of role model is an important predictor of adolescent health-related behaviors. Our findings have implications for designing youth targeted interventions and policies involving role models.


Perceptions of unfairness in allocations between multiple recipients

Kimmo Eriksson & Brent Simpson
Cognitive Psychology, May 2011, Pages 225-244

This paper introduces a new model to explain perceptions of unfairness in resource allocations between multiple recipients. The model yields several novel predictions, all confirmed in a series of new empirical tests. For instance, while much prior research focuses on the differences between the judge's share and others' shares, we argue that people also care about differences between others' shares. In particular, the presence of a single loser increases perceptions of unfairness. We also study individual variation in sensitivity to the single-loser dimension. Most centrally, we offer empirical support for the existence - indeed the prevalence - of ostraphobics, individuals with an acute sensitivity to being "ostracized" as a sole loser. We show that ostraphobics perceive unfairness more strongly than other types, are higher in need to belong and fear of negative evaluation, and are more prone to a heretofore unrecognized type of preference reversal with respect to fairness.


Big and Mighty: Preverbal Infants Mentally Represent Social Dominance

Lotte Thomsen et al.
Science, 28 January 2011, Pages 477-480

Human infants face the formidable challenge of learning the structure of their social environment. Previous research indicates that infants have early-developing representations of intentional agents, and of cooperative social interactions, that help meet that challenge. Here we report five studies with 144 infant participants showing that 10- to 13-month-old, but not 8-month-old, infants recognize when two novel agents have conflicting goals, and that they use the agents' relative size to predict the outcome of the very first dominance contests between them. These results suggest that preverbal infants mentally represent social dominance and use a cue that covaries with it phylogenetically, and marks it metaphorically across human cultures and languages, to predict which of two agents is likely to prevail in a conflict of goals.


Inadequate Early Social Experience Increases the Incentive Salience of Reward-Related Cues in Adulthood

Anna Lomanowska et al.
Behavioural Brain Research, forthcoming

The mechanisms by which childhood abuse and/or neglect become risk factors for the development of drug addiction, problem gambling, and other disorders of behavioral inhibition are unknown. The loss of behavioral inhibition is often triggered by reward-related cues that acquire incentive salience. This study examined whether inadequate early-life social experience in rats affects the incentive salience of reward-related cues. Rats were deprived of early-life social experience with the mother and litter through artificial-rearing (AR). A group of AR rats (AR + STM) received additional tactile stimulation that mimicked maternal licking, a critical component of rat maternal care. Control rats were maternally-reared (MR). The incentive salience attributed to a food cue was measured in adult rats using a conditioned approach task, where a conditional stimulus (CS; lever) was paired with food delivery, and in a conditional reinforcement task. The dependent measures were approach towards the CS (sign-tracking) versus approach towards the place of food delivery (goal-tracking) and instrumental responding for the CS. AR rats made significantly more sign-tracking responses than MR rats. AR rats also made more instrumental responses when reinforced with the CS. AR + STM rats' responses were intermediate to MR and AR rats. Thus, inadequate early-life social experience enhanced the incentive salience of a reward-related cue in adulthood. Replacement of maternal licking partially reversed this effect. These results highlight a potential link between early-life social adversity and susceptibility to disorders of behavioral inhibition.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.