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More random studies I found interesting
Apologies for not posting much recently, here’s a quick post summarising some of the more interesting papers I’ve read recently. Haven’t checked if they’ve replicated or delved much into other studies so take with the appropriate amount of salt!
Are charismatic leaders more effective?
Here’s a study I read recently (as ever, from JPSP), investigating the relationship between being charismatic and being an effective leader. The paper starts by pointing to some of the previous literature, which apparently generally shows that if you run a linear regression, measures of charisma are usually strongly positively associated with various good outcomes, seemingly because their employees trust and respect charismatic leaders:
Charismatic leaders have the ability to inspire followers toward higher levels of performance and to instil deep levels of commitment, trust, and satisfaction (e.g., Conger et al., 2000; Dvir, Eden, Avolio, & Shamir, 2002; Shamir, House, & Arthur, 1993). As a result, they are generally perceived as more effective by their subordinates compared with less charismatic leaders (Amirul & Daud, 2012; Lowe, Kroeck, & Sivasubramaniam, 1996).
But is the relationship really linear? The authors talk about the ‘too much of a good thing’ effect, referencing a famous paper that shows that lots of characteristics that managers have are strongly associated with positive outcomes up to a point, but become harmful eventually. The examples given include leader assertiveness and something called ‘contingent-reward leadership’, which basically just refers to rewarding employees for being good at their jobs. Both of these things apparently have curvilinear relationships with various outcomes (see the graph below for an example).
Okay, so how about charisma? Seemingly, the same relationship exists. Charismatic leaders are good, but extremely charismatic leaders are not so good. The study design is pretty simple - people working for someone were asked to rate them on a ten-point scale in terms of overall effectiveness, and also to fill out a survey about various aspects of their personality (from which the authors could place each leader on a charisma scale). The finding is that how charismatic a leader is had a consistently strong and linear positive relationship with self-perceived effectiveness (i.e. how the boss rated themself), but a curvilinear relationship with the ratings given by employees (see below). The finding was replicated in a few additional studies by the same authors.
What should we make of this? I’m not sure why charismatic leaders are perceived as less effective (and I suppose, probably actually are less effective), but a few reasons come to mind. The authors suggest that the self-confidence that comes with charisma is linked with overconfidence and hubris in business decisions, which makes sense. Another possibility that seems plausible is just that charismatic people get promoted beyond their actual ability. But then, would we expect to see observers rating the charismatic leaders as more effective even if they actually aren’t? Unsure.
Why did Sam Bankman-Fried do what he did?
Why do people cheat others?
Ruedy et al. (2013) is a pretty interesting paper. They did six studies looking at how people predict they’ll feel when they cheat others in various settings, and also how they actually feel. Apparently one of the dominant assumptions in the literature had been that when people cheat others, they’ll feel guilt or shame. The reason that this was the assumption was that people remembered (or claimed to remember) that they felt guilty after committing various misdeeds in their past (such as cheating in an exam).
There are a few problems with this assumption. The first is that people are extremely bad at remembering how they felt when doing something. Another is that people apparently often misremember unethical things they did in some way (for example, they might remember doing something less bad than they actually did). A third is social desirability bias - it seems like people might report feeling ashamed at doing something bad even if they actually felt great!
The authors wanted to check out how much this stuff is actually true. The first finding is that people predict that they (or someone else) would feel guilty if they did something morally wrong. Participants were told about an experiment in which someone would have the opportunity to behave unethically (lying about well they did on some maths puzzles, which would lead to a higher payment), and asked how the participant would be likely to feel after behaving unethically. Fairly unsurprisingly, people thought that cheating would make someone feel worse than behaving honestly.
Then, they actually carried out a similar study to the one described (on different participants) on students at a US university. Participants were paid $10 for participation in a word-unscrambling game, and given $1 extra for every correct answer. They were also given an opportunity to cheat by lying about how many they had got right. The researchers could tell how many they actually got correct by comparing an imprint from a hidden sheet of copy paper of the original answers to the results submitted. After completing the game, they were asked to complete a ten question survey on how good they felt at that moment.
The result can be seen below - seemingly, there is a small cheater’s high for those who decided to lie about how well they had done. Cheaters actually feel better for having cheated! They also ran another study where participants were randomly assigned to a cheating or non-cheating condition, and found the same thing, indicating this probably isn’t a result where people who enjoy cheating are choosing to cheat.
Another perspective on Lookism
My impression is that it’s fairly well established that less physically attractive people are often discriminated against in various circumstances - they’re likely to be offered lower salaries with the same credentials, receive less votes in elections, receive worse performance evaluations, etc. There might be some confounding going on for some of the claims about this sort of discrimination, but I think it’s fairly obvious that physical appearance matters. (I guess there’s also a question about the extent to which lookism is rational. If more attractive salespeople make more sales is it really so bad to want to hire them more?).
But when is it bad to be attractive? Lee et al. (2018) find that when someone is applying for a job that is considered low status, being less attractive may be an asset. Several studies were carried out in this paper that all generally find the same thing - people assume that more attractive people will be dissatisfied with a job that’s perceived as undesirable. See the figure below for the result from one of the studies. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the design of any of the individual studies, but because they all point in the same direction and use different methods and samples, I think they’re valuable.