Research Lead: Grammy Awards Change Artists, A Bias Toward Decisiveness, Think Like an Anthropologist, and More

You’re reading the Research Lead, a monthly digest connecting you to noteworthy academic and applied research from around the behavioral sciences.

What’s next? Artists’ music after Grammy Awards”

How does winning a Grammy Award influence a musician’s subsequent art? What about losing one? A team of researchers recently investigated what happens to an artist’s music after they are nominated for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, or Best New Artist. The research team found that after winning, artists were more likely to differentiate their musical style from other artists, and even from their own prior work. They observed the opposite effect in Grammy nominees who did not win, whose music became less stylistically distinct from comparable artists. 

Why this shift? One reason, the authors suggest, is that the increased recognition gives winning artists leverage in their relationships with their record labels to pursue their personal artistic inclinations. Nonwinners, by contrast, may interpret their loss as a signal that their previous efforts were undeserving of recognition, which could make them more inclined to imitate features of successful artists.

Because there are more nominees who lose than win, “The award system apparently exerts a chilling effect on artistic differentiation in a cultural field,” the authors write, “even though the intentions of award sponsors are often the reverse.” [American Sociological Review, open access]

Loss aversion and the endowment effect for information

We know that losses loom larger than gains when it comes to money and material goods. Recently, a team of researchers tested whether the same goes for information. In line with prospect theory, they found that people tended to be loss averse for information. In one experiment examining the endowment effect, participants in the experimental condition were told they were going to receive a three-fact bundle. Later, they were offered the opportunity to exchange that three-fact bundle for a four-fact bundle. They were more likely to stick with their endowed three-fact bundle than switch. 

“Just as research on the endowment effect … helps explain why people are loath to give up their possessions, this perspective may illuminate why they often resist accepting that facts that they think are true may be false,” the authors write.

Though this study didn’t look at false beliefs directly, it does help build a bridge between research on objects and that on information. “Identifying loss aversion and the endowment effect for information may be particularly relevant in the digital age, when unprecedented access to information complicates and potentially changes the way we value it—e.g., being able to look up a fact makes it less important to remember,” the authors write. “But that makes the finding that we do indeed feel ownership over—and accompanying loss aversion for—information all the more unexpected and interesting.” [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

What do friends have to do with economic mobility?

How does social capital relate to economic mobility? In a two-part study recently published in Nature, Raj Chetty and his team analyzed data from over 70 million Facebook users to find out. Their work revealed the importance of friendships across socioeconomic class lines. More specifically, they found that economic connectedness, or the degree to which high-SES and low-SES people are friends with each other, is one of the most powerful predictors of economic mobility identified to date. 

In their second paper, the authors focus on the potential policy implications of this newly uncovered connection between friendships and economic mobility. If policymakers can successfully foster economic connectedness, the authors argue, they might be able to boost mobility too: “If children with low-SES parents were to grow up in counties with economic connectedness comparable to the average child with high-SES parents, their incomes in adulthood would increase by 20% on average.”

The authors provide clear but nuanced advice: in places where people already tend to form cross-class friendships, increased exposure (via more integrated schools, neighborhoods, and religious organizations) might help boost economic connectedness. In places where people predominantly befriend those within their own group, extra steps may be necessary to foster these connections, such as restructuring local institutions and community spaces. To help policymakers integrate these considerations into their decision-making, the authors created an interactive visualization of all of their data here. [Nature: Part 1, Part 2]

What can psychedelics teach us about social connection?

The scientific interest in psychedelics has boomed in recent years, particularly as a possible treatment for conditions like PTSD. Psychedelics also offer scientists a new means of investigating enduring questions related to well-being, Sonja Lyuobirsky explains in a recent article in Perspectives in Psychological Science. As an example, Lyuobomirsky sketches out what we might learn about social connection through experiments with MDMA, a psychoactive drug that has been shown to increase feelings of love and bonding, while reducing feelings of fear and anxiety. 

“Social connection is a fundamental human need, yet researchers still possess few tools to effectively and durably boost it,” she writes. “MDMA allows investigators to isolate the psychological mechanisms—as well as brain pathways—underlying felt social connection and thus reveal what should be targeted in future (nondrug) studies.” 

Of course, it’s important to point out the potential harm from psychedelics or any drugs (legal or illegal) when not used safely. Though we still have much to learn, Lyubomirsky is optimistic about the potential of psychedelics to enhance future social psychological research. [Perspectives on Psychological Science, open access]

Rediscovery: Reducing discrimination between groups (2008, 2020)

Shared identity can help bridge divides between groups in conflict, explain Dominic Packer and Jay Van Bavel in a video describing the methods and findings of two conflict-reduction experiments. The first is their 2008 study where they explored whether imposing an arbitrary shared identity (i.e., Team Leopards or Team Tigers) can mitigate biased reactions to participants of different races. The second is a 2020 study by Salma Mousa examining the same question through a behavioral lens among Christian and Muslim players in an Iraqi soccer league. [Van Bavel et al., 2008, Psychological Science, open access; Salma Mousa, 2020, Science, open access]

How the opportunity to tip group decisions skews juries 

If you were on a jury, and your vote could send someone to prison, how would you make your decision? 

In their recent paper, Diag Davenport and Yuji Winet examine the psychology of jury decisions. Specifically, they looked at the decision-making process of the pivotal voter, whose choice either solidifies the final decision of the group or results in a hung jury. 

In their first study, they reviewed criminal jury trial outcomes in Louisiana prior to 2018, where a decision required agreement among a minimum of 10 out of 12 jurors. They find that voters in the pivotal position (i.e., the tenth voter), disproportionately vote in alignment with the majority to reach a conviction (although they didn’t find the same pattern with acquittals).

They build on this finding across three subsequent lab studies. In addition to replicating the effect they observed in Louisiana, they also find evidence that people tended to adopt harsher views of the target upon learning of their pivotal voter status. In other words, pivotal voters not only become more inclined to convict the target, they also become more convinced that the target deserves that conviction. 

The authors conclude that a bias toward decisiveness plays a role in how jurors in the pivotal spot make decisions. The implication can be dire, the authors write: “Many defendants who have been convicted (even by unanimous juries) may not have in fact been considered guilty by all members of the jury, for reasons beyond mere conformity. As a result, innocent people are likely being imprisoned due to the predictable and systematic influence of our proposed effect.” [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences]

“Americans discount the effect of friction on voter turnout”

What do you think matters more for voter turnout: political beliefs or friction getting to the polls? In a recent study, researchers measured Americans’ perceptions of the importance of each of these factors. 

“We compared the actual and perceived roles of political beliefs (e.g., ideology, voting is a civic duty) and friction (e.g., conflicts with work or childcare) on voter turnout in the 2020 election,” the authors explain. “We found that potential voters overwhelmingly attributed turnout to beliefs over friction, with this tendency emerging both for perceptions of others’ turnout as well as their own.” Over 90 percent of participants’ open responses listed beliefs as a factor, while only 12 percent listed friction. 

“Crucially, the tendency to overlook friction in favor of beliefs in determining voter turnout was tied to policy support. Discounting friction was linked to increased support for policies that could dampen turnout.” [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, open access]

Rediscovery: “How to think like an anthropologist” (2018)

How do anthropologists try to make sense of the world? Matthew Engelke’s 2018 book How to Think Like an Anthropologist provides an engaging introduction to the world of anthropology. In introducing the field, he aims not to review, one by one, what anthropologists have found out over the past century. Nor does he try to proselytize the anthropological approach to understanding human behavior. Rather, as the title suggests, his goal is to put the reader in the mind of an anthropologist to show how they make sense of human behavior. What questions do they ask? What methods do they use to find the answers? What have they discovered about essential topics of human existence—family, values, war, and reason? What questions remain unanswered? [How to Think Like an Anthropologist]