Saturday, May 2, 2020

Does Commodification Corrupt? Lessons from Paintings and Male Prostitutes

Does Commodification Corrupt? Lessons from Paintings and Prostitutes. Stephen Clowney. Seton Hall Law Review, Vol. 50, 1005.

Check reference for full text and notes.

1  Art appraisers

Does commodification corrupt? The central finding of my research is that putting prices on creative masterworks does not diminish appraisers’ ability to experience the transcendent values of art. Of the twenty assessors interviewed for this study, not one reported that market work disfigured their ability to enjoy the emotional, spiritual, and aesthetic qualities of artistic masterworks. In fact, most appraisers insisted they can easily and completely compartmentalize their professional duties from their private encounters with art. This finding challenges the panicked rhetoric of many anti-commodification theorists who continue to insist that commerce diminishes the meaning of sacred things.

Contrary to the predictions of market skeptics, the appraisers in this study spoke with joyful enthusiasm about their experiences viewing exceptional works of art. Even the most senior appraisers—those who have monetized thousands and thousands of objects—remain passionate consumers of art in their personal lives. The professionals I interviewed all reported visiting museums for pleasure, and many collect art to display in their homes. As a group, they described seeing beautiful pieces as “a charge,”164 “a rush,”165 “a thrill,”166 “fabulous,”167 “a giggle fest,”168 “exciting,”169 and “delight[ful].”170 Many of the respondents—twenty five percent—dubbed their experiences with great art as either “magic” or “magical.”171

Todd Sigety, a past president of the International Society of Appraisers, succinctly captured the dominant sentiment that emerged from the appraisers: “[i]t really is magic when you see a really good piece. When you see something special, that’s marvelous . . . . [Y]ou bounce.”172 Importantly, the respondents insisted that appraisal work had not dampened their appreciation of art’s non-instrumental virtues. Jane C.H. Jacob, an appraiser with thirty-five years of experience, explained, “[the appraisal work] does not corrode my enjoyment at all. I never get tired of looking at art. Never bored. I love art more now than I did 20 years ago.”173

She continued, “[f]or me, the joy is being able to experience it and inspect it. Listen, I don’t love art because of the price, but because of the way I respond to it. When I see [Monet’s] Water Lilies I never don’t get excited. A tear comes to my eye.”174

Edward Yee, arguably the nation’s top assessor of photographs, expressed a nearly identical opinion: “[w]hen I see a great photograph, I love that. The wow factor is still there . . . I can easily compartmentalize [my appraisal work]. If I’m in a museum as a tourist, I totally shut it off. I’m there for the enjoyment. I’m not thinking about value.”175


Brady, the foremost American appraiser of silver, recalled a comparable episode. While trying to inspect Benjamin Franklin’s silver spoon in a Philadelphia museum, Brady’s enthusiasm for the piece engulfed him—he bent over too close to the display and unwittingly triggered a museum security alarm. Brady said, “[w]hen I walk through a museum with a great silver collection I’m not thinking, ‘oh this thing is worth $65,000.’ I’m looking at what it is and trying to appreciate it. I’m the guy who gets down on his hands and knees to look under these things.”182

Even after twenty years of doing appraisals, Edward Yee could easily conjure examples of how art still inspires him. “I was at the Met for their Civil War photography show. And I saw this hand-painted albumen print. I’d seen my fair share, but this image was so good. It ruined albumen prints for me. The collections I see, they still move me.”183

For the appraisers in this study, it is clear that market work has not undermined their ability to enjoy the more sacred values of artistic masterpieces. In fact, the opposite appears true. A majority of the assessors stated that ascribing values to art actually increased their admiration for paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other creative work. But how could that be so? Given the widely reported dangers of commodification, how could non-instrumental values blossom in the hard soil of the marketplace? Anti-commodification scholars, it seems, have failed to appreciate that market work is a powerful educational agent that breaks the stale cake of ignorance, turns apathy into understanding, and nurtures new insights about the sacred. Imagine, for example, an appraiser confronted with attaching value to Mary Cassatt’s painting, Young Mother Sewing. Anyone attempting to price such an object must, at the outset, become well-versed in the artist’s career, the provenance of the work, and the ethos of the larger impressionist movement.184

Then, the appraiser must probe to explain whether the painting is a “good, better, or best” example of Cassatt’s work.185

Would it fetch more at auction than Child in a Straw Hat, Girl Arranging Her Hair, or The Boating Party? This is a challenge to the appraiser’s discernment and reason giving abilities.186

They must ascertain how the brushwork compares to the artist’s other efforts. Is it noticeably energetic? Is the color palette harmonious? Is the composition distinctive? Does the piece say anything about Gilded Age femininity? Finally, the appraiser must record all of this information—the entire basis for the valuation—in a written report prepared for the client.187 Market skeptics see little good in any of this. They argue that such pricing decisions fail to value artwork in the right way. Markets, so their argument goes, transform unique things into soulless commercial products.A rch-anticommodificationist Elizabeth Anderson even suggests that those who engage in ranking and valuation of art are “philistines, snobs, and prigs, precisely those least open to a free exploration and development of their aesthetic sensibilities.”188

But that is quite wrong. Commodification does not render these artworks flat and fungible. And it is not carried out by Philistines. Just the opposite. Putting an accurate price on sacred objects demands education, rigorous training, and cultivation of the eye.189

Appraisers must understand the objects on an intimate level in order to properly evaluate their quality and make suitable comparisons between seemingly disparate works.190

Such knowledge only enhances appreciation for the way that creative work can exhilarate, sooth, baffle, enlighten, and uplift.

The interviews are littered with examples of the educational power of markets. As one respondent explained, “[t]he training changed the way I thought about art. I learned about history and context, and my whole vision of what was ‘art’ changed. I became interested in regular items. And craft. It really opened my eyes to a whole new world.”191

Another appraiser, Deborah Force, described how her apprenticeship sharpened her eye and developed her connoisseurship of modern paintings. “I’ve learned so much about new areas,” she said, “[w]hen I was at Christie’s, my boss would quiz me all the time. Is this good? Is this good? It was often things I’d never seen, and artists I’d never seen. I had to try and articulate what I liked about it or why it failed. Sometimes I got it right. Sometimes wrong. But I looked at as much as I could.”192

Suzanne Smeaton, the foremost American appraiser of antique frames, related a similar experience that occurred at the beginning of her career. “The hardest thing to learn was whether gilded surfaces were original or restorations. When I started, I couldn’t tell the difference.”193

But, slowly, things changed. Smeaton recalled, “You learn by looking and seeing many, many objects and many surfaces. And seeing the finest examples of the type gives context. You start to see that gold leaf takes on this particular patina over time. It has a
richness and beauty . . . . I’m hyperaware of it.”194 Far from turning paintings into fungible commodities—as many anti-commodificationists warn—putting prices on artistic masterpieces forces appraisers to consider what makes them distinctive. As one interviewee explained, even the most renowned painters have good days and bad days in the studio.195

2  Sex


The art world is not the only locus of the market skeptics’ worries. Among anti-commodification scholars, nothing causes more consternation than sex work and the status of prostitutes.208

In a sprawling literature, commentators have argued that exchanging sex for money “commodif[ies] sexuality,”209 degrades intimacy,210 “impedes human flourishing,”211 and foments attitudes that undermine the sacredness of the body.212 In short: market skeptics believe that prostitution corrupts the meaning of sex.213

Physical intimacy becomes something far grimmer and more transactional for both escorts and their customers. And, over time, market thinking can spread like a virus—seeping into the larger culture and driving out noncommodified understandings of physical love.214 Despite the sustained attention on commercial sex and its dangers, the same problem that plagued academic analysis of art appraisers reappears in the literature about escorts; scholars have gorged themselves on theoretical arguments but have largely failed to test their theories with any empirical rigor. The data on the private lives of escorts is “very limited.”215

In particular, the romantic relationships and sexual satisfaction of prostitutes, outside of work, have “not been studied extensively . . . .”216

As one research team noted, “[w]e are not aware of any research which explores how sex with paying customers is related to a prostitute’s private sex life . . . .”217

In the face of this scholarly lacuna, it appears that anticommodification scholars have uncritically accepted the prevailing view
that commercial sex work taints the sacredness of intimate acts. This exploratory study now erects an experimental scaffolding to test that assumption. Is sex work harmless? Or does exchanging sex for money corrupt important values and moral beliefs?

Methodology notes: Interviewing men offers one absolutely critical advantage: the market for male sex workers is more open, efficient, and well-developed than the market for female prostitutes. As a result of gendered norms among law enforcement officers, male prostitution “has received little intrusion from legal authorities.”225

Male escorts have more freedom to advertise aggressively, catalogue their prices, and openly list their contact information. Moreover, “unlike their female counterparts, male sex workers usually work independently.”226

In the male sex trade, individual escorts rather than pimps or traffickers remain broadly responsible for setting prices and developing marketing strategies. Thus, male sex workers are, on average, more directly enmeshed in the market than their female counterparts—a vital fact for a study about commodification.227

[Note 227 Centering male escorts provides another important benefit; it removes the stubbornly
perverse gender dynamics that accompany the typical transaction for sexual services
between a female escort and male client. For female prostitutes, the specter of rape and
patriarchal domination always looms. This ever-present threat of physical violence can
make it difficult to untangle and analyze prostitutes’ attitude toward the sexual act. Does
commodification affect their views about intimacy? Or have their ideas about sex been
shaped by the gendered violence they experience, the economic forces that push them into
the business, and the unfair cultural stigmas that attach to women who have casual
relationships with multiple partners? Focusing on male escorts eliminates some of these
exogenous variables. Although data about prostitution is always murky, when both buyer
and seller are men it allows a sharper focus on the role of markets and commodification in
shaping attitudes about sex.]

The experiences of male sex workers call into question some of the more harrowing predictions of the anti-commodification literature. As discussed above, market skeptics have long theorized that active sex markets would coarsen relationships, cheapen the meaning of sex,228 and undermine human flourishing.229

Yet, the escorts I interviewed insisted that selling physical intimacy did not corrupt their understanding of sex. While the physical demands of the job often left the interviewees feeling exhausted, each of the prostitutes revealed that they continued to experience the loving (and joyfully profane) virtues of the sexual act. Indeed, a majority of escorts confided that their market work positively impacted their private lives—commercial sex honed their sexual skills, boosted their confidence, and deepened their understanding of other men. Based on the data gathered here, it appears that anti-commodificationists have exaggerated the strength of their claims: sex is not some delicate crystal whose meaning shatters on impact with the market.

All of the prostitutes in this study insisted that they still derive real pleasure and intimacy from sleeping with men in non-commercial settings.

Jake, a married thirty-year-old from New Orleans, found that the paid sex work did little to dampen his enthusiasm for recreational sex. “I engage in different types of sexual activity,” he said, “just for my own fun and pleasure, whether that’s a dark room in a bar, or picking guys up on Grindr and having them over for the morning.”230

While the other interviewees may have lacked Jake’s zeal for causal encounters, they concurred that sex remained an affirming and welcome part of their relationships. Steve, a forty-four-year-old married Texan who supplements his family’s income with escort work, still relishes sleeping with his husband. “Oh, yes. I like to have sex. Absolutely. I mean, it’s a good thing . . . . [W]e still have a healthy sex life and [we’re] still kind of exploring and getting adventurous at home as well.”231

Oliver, who also has a long-term partner, agreed that it is “definitely” possible to engage in commercial sex while having a fulfilling private sex life. “Yeah,” he said, “I can’t really think of many ways which [commercial sex] might be negative.”232

Other respondents affirmed that they continued to value non-commercial sexual encounters, saying things like: “I do have good sex,”233 “[t]here’s definitely a passion [for sex],”234 and “[the work] hasn’t impacted my enjoyment.”235 A majority of the men also asserted that they could easily erect and maintain boundaries between their market roles and their private selves.236

Tyler summarized the views of many of the informants. “For me it is really easy to keep the two separate,” he said, “[w]ith [my partner] . . . it feels a lot more intimate.”237

Steve also had become adept at maintaining a separation between his work role and responsibilities at home. “I’m very good at compartmentalizing,” he insisted, “[t]here’s a difference between sex and love . . . . There’s a huge difference between going through the motion versus actually being in love with someone. That’s something that I feel internally . . . . “238

Harry, too, said that work sex is a “separate” hing.239  He elaborated: “[y]es, it is different, because there’s not, typically, emotional connection. It’s strictly business.”240  For these men, the boundary between personal sex and commercial sex seemed like a natural divide that required only light policing. This finding may surprise anti-commodificationists. How have escorts managed to so easily resist the pull of market thinking? The answers varied significantly between individuals. Some embraced the use of an escort pseudonym to help cement the distance between home and work spheres—a common practice among escorts around the globe.241

Another group manufactured a work identity fundamentally different from the persona they presented in private domains.242 Tyler, for instance, crafted a swashbuckling personality that he could slip into during work hours: “I put on at least a little bit of persona, a little extra bravado or something. I stay maybe a bit more active when I’m working. At that point I’m trying to really please the customer.”243 Alvin assumed a similarly assertive identity when escorting, “[i]t’s a lot of work,” he said, “and it’s a lot of acting.”244 Other men eschewed such performative masks, and focused instead on creating tactile, physical differences between their commercial and noncommercial encounters.245  Tyler, for instance, did not adopt an outrageous persona or stage name when at work. Instead, he only had unprotected sex with his private partner—his husband.246  The presence or absence of a condom marked a clear boundary between his nurturing relationship sex and his commercial endeavors.247  Similarly, Shawn, a twenty-nine year old from Oklahoma City, actively structured his personal sexual encounters to conform with social expectations of “normality.”248  “When I do decide to have sex in my private life,” he said, “it’s more so geared to the things that make me more comfortable . . . . I like a little bit of ambiance.”249  He continued, “[i]f I’m going to have sex in my private life, I don’t want to rush it. I don’t want to look at the clock and know how much time I have left . . . . You know, that sort of thing. I like for things to be a little bit more relaxed.”250

Vincent, a twenty-seven year old with two years of experience, employed the most radical strategy to demarcate work sex from personal sex. In his private life Vincent identified as heterosexual and only had sex with women. “I can keep them separate,” he said, “because I’m straight. With women, sex is a totally different thing.”251 Thus, it appears sex work is not the mere transference of personal sexual behaviors into the commercial setting, but rather, a type of sexual performance distinct from the norms and routines of the private bedroom.252 The two can be kept apart.

This negotiability of sexual meaning undermines one of the market skeptics’ core claims. Recall that much of the campaign against prostitution rests on the premise that commerce inescapably tarnishes the sacredness of sex. Yet, the data from this study show that corrosion is not inevitable.253  The interviewees stress that they successfully cordoned off their commercial activities and protected the intimacy of their private worlds. For these men, sex remained a joyful and cherished activity, even after years of selling their bodies. In truth, the lack of contamination should not entirely surprise anti-commodificationists. Decades of research from psychology and sociology have established that employees in many other industries “effectively separate [the] self from the role they play at work.”254

Doctors, entrepreneurs, and service workers all maintain psychological boundaries that distance the home sphere from occupational
pressures.255  The interviews compiled here provide evidence that escorts, too, effectively protect their inner worlds from the threatening effects of bargain and sale. Market skeptics, in their rush to promote the idea that commerce inevitably coarsens the good life, seem to have overlooked this nuance.

Anti-commodificationists have also ignored the possibility that prostitution might, on balance, have valuable long-term impacts on the inner-worlds and relationships of sex workers. On first blush, this may seem unlikely. Is it really possible that selling intimacy—getting naked with strangers in exchange for money—could bolster appreciation for fundamental values? The respondents in this study largely answered in the affirmative. A strong majority of the escorts reported that engaging in commercial sexual activities actually improved the quality of their private lives and their appreciation for sacred things.256 Just as appraisal work revealed new insights about the creative process, prostitution taught the interviewees about the complexity of desire, gave them a deeper understanding of the sexual act, and enhanced their ability to satisfy a private partner.257  The interviews are rich in significant details on this point. As Jake pithily explained, “I’m really good at [sex]. [I]t’s just like any skill. It takes practice.”258  He elaborated,

I’m a top, and it’s just like I’m a lot more in-tune with what
people want . . . . Different people want different things.
Picking up on different body language. Some people want it
really rough and hard, and other people want it a little more
delicately. I think one thing is . . . just having the confidence of
knowing, like, when you start to do the foreplay, when the
foreplay becomes heavy, and when you can transition into sex.
You know, it’s almost just like an experience thing.259

Shawn agreed that the commercial work had a positive impact on his understanding of sex. “I think having to be so many different things to so many different people— you know, when you’re working—I think that’s kind of made me better at sex overall.”260 Ken, too, argued that he benefited from the sexual knowledge he acquired during work. He said,“[y]ou definitely learn to do things that maybe you didn’t think about . . . .[Y]ou definitely learn what everyone’s flavor is.”261

Market skeptics may view these admissions through a rather dark prism, arguing that commodification simply turns all sex into a crass search for the most extreme carnal pleasures. The interviewees, however, resisted that outlook. They stressed that the knowledge gleaned through their work affirmed their private loving relationships. Steve, for example, felt that his escort work improved the companionate sex in his marriage. He enjoyed that he could share what he learned on the job with his husband. “[I]f anything, my work life has broadened my adventures in the bedroom at home,” he said, “I bring home a new skill, or a new method, or a new trick that I’ve learned, then my husband’s like, ‘[w]ell, that’s interesting. I kind of like that.’”262 Others, like Harry, reported that the communication skills they learned as prostitutes made them more open-minded and responsive in their personal sexual relationships.263

Alvin also felt that the commercial work taught him to focus more attentively on his partner’s needs during his personal sexual escapades: “so I’m feeling good. Is this person feeling good? What can I do to make them feel better? It’s that kind of interplay that still occurs in my head, even when I’m having casual sex [in my private life].”264 Thus, far from turning sex into a flat and interchangeable commodity, market work deepened the escorts’ understanding of physical intimacy. Sex work instilled the importance of honest communication between partners, revealed that men have many different (and often colorful) needs, and showed that not all fantasies can be met by working off the same script. On these points, the market is an exacting teacher.

Importantly, escort work did more than just bestow a greater appreciation for the joyous, open, and adventurous aspects of the sexual act. Many of the interviewees reported that sex work also bolstered their confidence and reaffirmed the sacredness of the bodies.265  The impact stemmed primarily from the market’s ability to make the escorts feel physically desirable. Alvin admitted that before engaging in escort activities he had a “series of insecurities.”266   Becoming a sex worker, however, rebuilt his self-esteem. “It’s . . . glamorous to be considered good looking enough or hot enough or sexually appealing enough to be in the sex industry,” he said, “and knowing that I’m literally being paid to have sex with this individual because they find me desirable, it kind of—it carries over [into my personal life].”267  Tyler told a very similar story. “I never really thought I looked that great or that I was that interesting,” he said, “[s]o, it was a little weird. I was like: ‘wow people give me money to talk to me, touch me for a second’ and I’m like ‘okay!’.”268 And no one stated more emphatically than Shawn that prostitution has the inherent capacity to re-kindle self-belief and improve body image:

It kind of gave me confidence, you know, when I was going
through all of this stuff with losing my job . . . and then going on
interviews and being told, “no, you’re not good enough,” at least
twice a week. Then, getting into the industry, as you kind of
learn the ropes, as you kind of learn how to navigate the
unfamiliar situations that you put yourself in, basically making
people’s weeks . . . giving them a good experience, them telling you
positive comments, telling you that you’re really attractive,
you’re fun to spend time with. It gives you this sense of
confidence that you never really had before.269

The experience of escorts like Shawn punches new holes in the armor that anti-commodificationists have constructed around their arguments. The respondents’ comments suggest that markets may do more to uplift and ennoble sacred things than corrupt or degrade them. But what about the downsides? Were there any costs to participating in the market for commercial sex? A few. One interviewee did seem to struggle with the border between commercial sex work and his personal
intimate encounters.270  Ken said, “when you start doing this sex work, you obviously get paid for your time. So, when you’re not on the clock . . . and just having sex in your spare time for fun, and the back of your mind, you’re always thinking, ‘damn, I wish I was getting paid for this.’”271  Yet, even Ken still expressed enthusiasm for engaging in sexual activity in his dating life. He said, “I don’t think [the sex work has] detracted. I tell people all the time that I love sex. If I could have sex every day, I would. I don’t think it could ever really detract from my private life.”272
A far more common complaint among the escorts was that work sex supplanted some of the playful casual sex they enjoyed in their personal lives. One interviewee admitted, “[i]t has actually admittedly replaced a lot of the time that I would spend trying to pursue or actually engage in casual sex.”273

Another concurred, “if I have some off-time now, I’m not necessarily looking for sex. I’m either resting, or I’m at the bar enjoying a drink, just because I like the taste of vodka, not because I’m trying to get laid.”274 This occurred for three reasons. First, the physical nature of the work coupled with the late hours often left the escorts too fatigued for
private erotic encounters. As Alvin explained, “it comes down to the fact that oh, well, I am exhausted physically.”275

Second, having sex three or four times a week with clients sapped the libidinous urges of many. Oliver said, “if I’m going in [and] performing for a client . . . then [I’m] not really feeling like being sexual again.”276

Third, the escorts sometimes refrained from private casual sex because it affected their ability to get an erection and ejaculate with their paying clients. Alvin made this point explicitly.277


These complaints, however, are not anchored in concerns about commodification. Being tired at the end of the day is not the same as being tired of sex. As Ty said, escort work interferes with “day-to-day life” just as much as a “night shift . . . job.”279  Moreover, reducing the frequency of sex does not inherently change the meaning attached to physical intimacy or spontaneously refashion moral commitments. Tyler perfectly captured the distinction. He summarized the effect of sex work on his life: “the rate at which I look for [sex] has gone down, but my enjoyment hasn’t.”280

Before moving on, it is worth thinking back one last time on the dominant narrative about commercial sex. Market skeptics posit that individuals who trade sex for money will gradually lose the ability to access the more spiritual virtues of the sexual act. Sex, so the argument goes, will inevitably become something bleak and mechanical. The prostitutes in this study provide a sturdy challenge to this worldview. Despite their immersion in the market for intimate services, the interviewees emphasized that they still found meaning in the sexual act. Their personal sex lives remained exciting, satisfying, and full of beauty. Moreover, the escorts indicated that they had little difficulty demarcating their professional personas from their personal identities. Negative views about commodified sex did not seep into their quotidian routines or imperil their non-commodified understandings of love and relationships. Rather, their market work seemed to impart new insights about desire and a deeper appreciation for the power of sex. Going forward, scholars should acknowledge that the mental barricades protecting sacred things like sex are stronger and less porous that anti-commodification scholars insist.

Politicians change the topics they address as they are informed of polls; also, exposure to public opinion research alters politicians' substantive positions in the direction of majority opinion

Does Public Opinion Affect Political Speech? Anselm Hager, Hanno Hilbig. American Journal of Political Science, May 1 2020.

Abstract: Does public opinion affect political speech? Of particular interest is whether public opinion affects (i) what topics politicians address and (ii) what positions they endorse. We present evidence from Germany where the government was recently forced to declassify its public opinion research, allowing us to link the content of the research to subsequent speeches. Our causal identification strategy exploits the exogenous timing of the research's dissemination to cabinet members within a window of a few days. We find that exposure to public opinion research leads politicians to markedly change their speech. First, we show that linguistic similarity between political speech and public opinion research increases significantly after reports are passed on to the cabinet, suggesting that politicians change the topics they address. Second, we demonstrate that exposure to public opinion research alters politicians' substantive positions in the direction of majority opinion.


This article has provided novel text‐analytic evidence to assess whether public opinion affects political speech. Drawing on evidence from Germany, we found that politicians change their speech markedly when exposed to public opinion research. Not only does their speech become more similar to the language used in the public opinion reports—a finding that points toward agenda setting—but they also adjust their substantive positions to the public's preferences expressed in the reports. The evidence thus brings clarity to one mechanism through which politicians connect with voters: speech.
Before reflecting on the substantive implications of the findings, two words of caution are in order. First, this article assessed agenda setting using cosine similarity, whereas substantive responsiveness was assessed using human coding. The latter measure, given that it was coded by humans, is less controversial. Still, reducing nuanced public opinion reports and speeches—both of which seldom touch on just one topic—to a one‐dimensional agreement‐scale is not without problems. Politicians may, for example, agree with some points made in an opinion report, while disagreeing with others, which likely creates measurement error. Regarding the former a critic might object that cosine similarity does not reflect a true change in agenda, but merely small rhetorical adjustments. We have tried to address this concern by showing that (i) similarity increases are driven by substantively meaningful words and (ii) speechwriters do not plagiarize from the reports. Still, we must again caution that we merely detect agenda setting along the intensive margin—a result of the local RD design.
Second, our attempt to make a causal argument deserves critical scrutiny. The consistent finding that cosine similarity and substantive agreement increase right after reports are given to cabinet members makes a causal interpretation intuitive. Yet, a skeptic might say that the observed changes are the product of a general shift in rhetoric. Although we do not believe that a few days should bring about such changes (indeed, the placebo and permutation tests paint a different picture), the criticism showcases the need to look at rhetoric in a more dynamic setting. Future research could help model such changes with greater clarity, perhaps by benchmarking political speech to speech in the media. Relatedly, a skeptic might also quibble that the finding is tautological (i.e., politicians writing the survey questions and timing the dissemination of the research). We believe that the qualitative and quantitative evidence rule out this possibility. The pronounced coefficients do underline that elected officials react to public opinion research. At a minimum, our study thus provides descriptive evidence that cabinet members systematically conduct public opinion research and subsequently change their speech.
Having discussed these caveats, we want to briefly reflect on how our research may be expanded. If German politicians, indeed, adjust their speeches to public opinion, this bears important insights for the study of representative democracy. In times of increasing polarization, a potential follow‐up question is whether citizens perceive such adjustments as deceptive or manipulative. The beginning of the 2000s saw U.S. pundits lament that American politicians were more interested in responding to public opinion than in crafting their own agenda. Such “finger‐in‐the‐wind” responsiveness was portrayed as a symbol for elected officials' lack of courage (Medvic and Dulio 2004). In the German context, Angela Merkel has been described in The New Yorker as “the quiet German”—a politician who silently panders to public opinion (Packer 2014). Similarly, leaked cables show that U.S. diplomats labeled the chancellor “Teflon‐Merkel.” Merkel's rhetoric, so the story goes, allows her to sidestep political controversy (Waterfield 2010). Sophisticated public opinion data are a double‐edged sword. On the one hand, relying too heavily on public opinion research can turn political speech into a science that sidesteps truthful dialogue. On the other hand, knowledge about public preferences spurs responsiveness. These considerations showcase the need to further explore the relationship between elite speech and public opinion, mapping more fully the ways in which government officials use and interpret public preferences.

Men Who Pay for Sex Are More Supportive Of Gender Role Equality & Have More Egalitarian Attitudes Toward Women Than Males Overall In The U.S.

Are Men Who Pay for Sex Sexist? Masculinity and Client Attitudes Toward Gender Role Equality in Different Prostitution Markets. Barbara G. Brents et al. Men and Masculinities, February 4, 2020.

Abstract: Prostitution clients’ attitudes toward gender equality are important indicators of how masculinity relates to the demand for commercial sexual services. Research on male client misogyny has been inconclusive, and few studies compare men in different markets. Using an online survey of 519 clients of sexual services, we examine whether male client attitudes toward gender role equality are related to the main methods customers used to access prostitution services (i.e., through print or online media vs. in-person contact). We found no differences among men in these markets in attitudes toward gender role equality in the workplace and home. This is in a context where all clients had more egalitarian attitudes toward women’s roles than the U.S. male population in the General Social Survey (GSS). However, clients in in-person markets were less supportive of affirmative action than in online markets in a context where all clients were less supportive compared to the national average. These findings point to need to rethink how masculinity and gender role attitudes affect patterns of male demand for paid sex.

Keywords: criminology, deviance, gender equality, hegemonic masculinity, sexualities, United States, feminism, prostitution, prostitution demand, prostitution clients

Porn consumption was, overall, not significantly correlated with increased enjoyment of the staged sexual acts; but males were significantly more likely to report enjoying degrading or uncommon acts

I (Dis)Like it Like That: Gender, Pornography, and Liking Sex. Matthew B. Ezzell, Jennifer A. Johnson, Ana J. Bridges & Chyng F. Sun. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Apr 28 2020.

Abstract: Rates of pornography consumption in the U.S. are high and increasing. With exploratory aims, this study addresses the questions: What is the association between pornography consumption and liking of sexual behaviors commonly depicted in pornography, and is enjoyment moderated by gender? Sexual scripts theory suggests that increased pornography consumption is associated with increased engagement in pornographic sex acts, but it does not speak to enjoyment of the acts when engaged. The current study seeks to fill that gap. Based on data collected from a larger sample of 1,883 heterosexual men and women (predominantly, 86.6%, college or university students) in the U.S., and comparing correlations between pornography consumption (frequency of use) and reported enjoyment of a range of sexual behaviors by gender using Fisher’s z transformations (α value set at <.0025), analysis revealed that pornography consumption, overall, was not significantly correlated with increased enjoyment of the sexual acts that comprise the pornographic sexual script. However, gender was a significant moderating factor in the enjoyment, specifically, of degrading and/or uncommon acts. Male respondents were significantly more likely to report enjoying these acts than their female counterparts. These findings have possible implications for consumers, educators, and mental health professionals.

Attractive sellers enjoy greater credibility due to perceived sociability & competence; unattractive ones are considered more believable due perceived competence; plain looking sellers perform worse

The Faces of Success: Beauty and Ugliness Premiums in e-Commerce Platforms. Ling Peng et al. Journal of Marketing, April 27, 2020.

Abstract: Given the positive bias toward attractive people in society, online sellers are justifiably apprehensive about perceptions of their profile pictures. Although the existing literature emphasizes the “beauty premium” and the “ugliness penalty,” the current studies of seller profile pictures on customer-to-customer e-commerce platforms find a U-shaped relationship between facial attractiveness and product sales (i.e., both beauty and ugliness premiums and, thus, a “plainness penalty”). By analyzing two large data sets, the authors find that both attractive and unattractive people sell significantly more than plain-looking people. Two online experiments reveal that attractive sellers enjoy greater source credibility due to perceived sociability and competence, whereas unattractive sellers are considered more believable on the basis of their perceived competence. While a beauty premium is apparent for appearance-relevant products, an ugliness premium is more pronounced for expertise-relevant products and for female consumers evaluating male sellers. These findings highlight the influence of facial appearance as a key vehicle for impression formation in online platforms and its complex effects in e-commerce and marketing.

Keywords: attractiveness, beauty premium, e-commerce, social selling, ugliness premium

Individual differences in trust evaluations are shaped mostly by personal learning, not genes

Individual differences in trust evaluations are shaped mostly by environments, not genes. Clare A. M. Sutherland et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 27, 2020.

Significance: Rapid impressions of trustworthiness can have extreme consequences, impacting financial lending, partner selection, and death-penalty sentencing decisions. But to what extent do people disagree about who looks trustworthy, and why? Here, we demonstrate that individual differences in trustworthiness and other impressions are substantial and stable, agreeing with the classic idea that social perception can be influenced in part by the “eye of the beholder.” Moreover, by examining twins, we show that individual differences in impressions of trustworthiness are shaped mostly by personal experiences, instead of genes or familial experiences. Our study highlights individual social learning as a key mechanism by which we individually come to trust others, with potentially profound consequences for everyday trust decisions.

Abstract: People evaluate a stranger’s trustworthiness from their facial features in a fraction of a second, despite common advice “not to judge a book by its cover.” Evaluations of trustworthiness have critical and widespread social impact, predicting financial lending, mate selection, and even criminal justice outcomes. Consequently, understanding how people perceive trustworthiness from faces has been a major focus of scientific inquiry, and detailed models explain how consensus impressions of trustworthiness are driven by facial attributes. However, facial impression models do not consider variation between observers. Here, we develop a sensitive test of trustworthiness evaluation and use it to document substantial, stable individual differences in trustworthiness impressions. Via a twin study, we show that these individual differences are largely shaped by variation in personal experience, rather than genes or shared environments. Finally, using multivariate twin modeling, we show that variation in trustworthiness evaluation is specific, dissociating from other key facial evaluations of dominance and attractiveness. Our finding that variation in facial trustworthiness evaluation is driven mostly by personal experience represents a rare example of a core social perceptual capacity being predominantly shaped by a person’s unique environment. Notably, it stands in sharp contrast to variation in facial recognition ability, which is driven mostly by genes. Our study provides insights into the development of the social brain, offers a different perspective on disagreement in trust in wider society, and motivates new research into the origins and potential malleability of face evaluation, a critical aspect of human social cognition.

Keywords: trustface evaluationfirst impressionsbehavioral geneticsclassical twin design

Here, we find large and stable individual variation in key facial evaluations of trustworthiness, dominance, and attractiveness, consistent with the classic idea that these visual judgments can be shaped by “the eye of the beholder.” Using a twin study, we show that this variation in facial evaluation is largely shaped by people’s personal experiences, rather than by genetic factors or shared environments. Highlighting the scope of personal experience to affect trust offers a different perspective on the fundamental basis, nature, and origin of individual trust and on our capacity to change whom we trust, for good or for ill. As our lives are increasingly affected by highly personalized social experiences, especially online (12), our findings suggest that disagreements about whom we trust are also likely to increase.
Notably, our finding that variation in facial evaluation is driven by personal environments stands in sharp contrast to variation in facial recognition ability, which is almost entirely genetically driven (25). Multivariate modeling showed that the environmental factors driving individual differences in trustworthiness, dominance, and attractiveness evaluations were also largely independent. This pattern suggests that individual differences in impression formation are based on different experiences, and largely not based on overall or general familiarity, typicality, or overall statistical learning (2022). Instead, our results are supportive of social learning theories, whereby unique social encounters shape individual associations between facial cues and associated traits (3536), or could also motivate new statistical learning theories which can account for the social context. Our results shed light on a core aspect of human social perception and indicate a remarkable diversity in the architecture of individual variation across different components of face processing.
As well as revealing the etiology of individual differences in trustworthiness and dominance evaluation, our results replicate and extend a behavioral genetics study of individual aesthetic judgments, which also found that individual differences in facial attractiveness are driven by people’s personal experiences (18). Our current study used a new, more diverse (e.g., in age) and more naturalistic sample of faces. This demonstration of generalizability is especially critical here because the faces used will strongly affect the types of facial cues people can use to judge attractiveness and, consequently, available individual differences (927).
Interestingly, our results do not necessarily imply that familial environment is unimportant even though the shared environment was not a major contributing factor. Siblings, including twins, can have remarkably unique familial environments (reviewed in ref. 29). For example, maternal affection can be very different even across identical twin pairs (29). Early caregiver or familial social experiences could therefore still influence unique mappings of facial cues to impressions.
Finally, it is important to be clear that our findings about individual differences do not argue against the claim that facial impressions of trustworthiness are adaptive, as suggested by leading facial impression theories (5726). Major evolutionary models of impressions have been based on consensus impressions (see ref. 17 for a review) whereas twin studies are concerned with individual variation. Facial cues that are critical for survival or successful reproduction may in fact be particularly strongly selected for, leading to consensus across individual perceivers. Indeed, consensus impressions, particularly of trustworthiness, are remarkably similar across cultural contexts, although there may be cultural “dialects” in impressions (3739).
Our results suggest that a priority for future research should be to understand the development of social evaluation of faces. Especially, it will be critical to discover the developmental drivers of individual differences in face impressions, rather than focusing on potential genetic influences. We know little about how early in development these individual differences occur or which kinds of experiences are most consequential. One suggestion, based on our current findings, is that individual interactions with strangers, peers, and caregivers will be especially critical. A key methodological contribution of the current work is to provide a set of reliable tests of individual variation in trust and other impressions, which will benefit developmental and other research into individual differences in facial impression formation. As individual differences in facial impressions and identity recognition show distinctive etiologies, the perceptual and neural mechanisms driving variation in facial impressions will likely differ from those discovered in face recognition perception so far (reviewed in ref. 25). In terms of perceptual mechanisms, little is known about which facial features drive idiosyncratic impressions although a wealth of research has illustrated which facial features underlie consensus impressions (e.g., smiling, femininity, and raised eyebrow height are generally perceived as trustworthy) (67). Idiosyncratic impressions could result from individually specific weighting of the same features that drive consensus trustworthiness impressions, as well as associations with additional features with trust or mistrust. Indeed, different facial features are likely to drive trustworthiness variation for different people, depending on their personal experiences (for example, one person may rely heavily on emotional expression to judge trustworthiness whereas another person relies on gender). Regarding neural mechanisms, plausible candidate neural regions driving individual impressions include the amygdala and caudate, which encode associative facial trust learning at the participant group level (23). Finally, the importance of individual experience, highlighted by our findings, motivates research to determine the long-term malleability of facial evaluations. This research aim is particularly critical, given the potential for these impressions to bias important social decisions, from online dating to courtroom sentencing (317).
To conclude, we provide compelling evidence for substantial individual differences in impression formation and show that these differences are largely driven by unique personal environments, not genes (or shared environment). We also provide reliable tests of individual differences in impression formation. Our findings will speak to any scientist, philosopher, journalist, artist, or curious person who wonders why we judge a book by its cover, to what extent impressions lie in the eye of the beholder, and how our experiences with family, friends, partners, or the media might shape how we view the world.

People see themselves as better than average in many domains, from leadership skills to driving ability; exception is remembering names, when they rate themselves as approx. the same as others their age

Hargis, M. B., Whatley, M. C., & Castel, A. D. (2020). Remembering proper names as a potential exception to the better-than-average effect in younger and older adults. Psychology and Aging, May 2020.

Abstract: People see themselves as better than average in many domains, from leadership skills to driving ability. However, many people—especially older adults—struggle to remember others’ names, and many of us are aware of this struggle. Our beliefs about our memory for names may be different from other information; perhaps forgetting names is particularly salient. We asked younger and older adults to rate themselves compared with others their age on several socially desirable traits (e.g., honesty); their overall memory ability; and their specific ability to remember scientific terms, locations, and people’s names. Participants demonstrated a better-than-average (BTA) effect in their ratings of most items except their ability to remember names, which both groups rated as approximately the same as others their age. Older adults’ ratings of this ability were related to a measure of the social consequences of forgetting another’s name, but younger adults’ ratings were not. The BTA effect is present in many judgments for both younger and older adults, but people may be more attuned to memory failures when those failures involve social consequences.

Participants refrained from bullshitting only when they possessed adequate self-regulatory resources and expected to be held accountable for their communicative contributions

Self-Regulatory Aspects of Bullshitting and Bullshit Detection. John V. Petrocelli, Haley F. Watson, and Edward R. Hirt. Social Psychology, April 30, 2020.

Abstract: Two experiments investigate the role of self-regulatory resources in bullshitting behavior (i.e., communicating with little to no regard for evidence, established knowledge, or truth; Frankfurt, 1986; Petrocelli, 2018a), and receptivity and sensitivity to bullshit. It is hypothesized that evidence-based communication and bullshit detection require motivation and considerably greater self-regulatory resources relative to bullshitting and insensitivity to bullshit. In Experiment 1 (N = 210) and Experiment 2 (N = 214), participants refrained from bullshitting only when they possessed adequate self-regulatory resources and expected to be held accountable for their communicative contributions. Results of both experiments also suggest that people are more receptive to bullshit, and less sensitive to detecting bullshit, under conditions in which they possess relatively few self-regulatory resources.

Keywords: accountability, bullshit, bullshitting, bullshit detection, self-regulation, self-regulatory resources