Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Boys to STEM occupation, girls to people-oriented occ.: Women's empowerment is associated with relatively high levels of national wealth & this wealth allows more students to aspire to occupations they are intrinsically interested in

Stoet, Gijsbert, and David C. Geary. 2021. “Sex Differences in Adolescents’ Occupational Aspirations: Variations Across Time and Place.” PsyArXiv. October 20. doi:10.31234/osf.io/zhvre

Abstract: We investigated sex differences in 473,260 adolescents’ aspirations to work in things-oriented (e.g., mechanic), people-oriented (e.g., nurse), and STEM (e.g., mathematician) careers across 80 countries and economic regions using the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). We analyzed student career aspirations in combination with student achievement in mathematics, reading, and science, as well as parental occupations and family wealth. In each country and region, more boys than girls aspired to a things-oriented or STEM occupation and more girls than boys to a people-oriented occupation. These sex differences were larger in countries with a higher level of women's empowerment. We explain this counter-intuitive finding through the indirect effect of wealth. Women's empowerment is associated with relatively high levels of national wealth and this wealth allows more students to aspire to occupations they are intrinsically interested in. Implications for better understanding the sources of sex differences in career aspirations and associated policy are discussed.

There was no evidence whatsoever that older adults of today have more favorable views on how they age than older adults did two decades ago

Wahl, H.-W., Drewelies, J., Duezel, S., Lachman, M. E., Smith, J., Eibich, P., Steinhagen-Thiessen, E., Demuth, I., Lindenberger, U., Wagner, G. G., Ram, N., & Gerstorf, D. (2021). Subjective age and attitudes toward own aging across two decades of historical time. Psychology and Aging, Oct 2021. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000649

Abstract: A large body of empirical evidence has accumulated showing that the experience of old age is “younger,” more “agentic,” and “happier” than ever before. However, it is not yet known whether historical improvements in well-being, control beliefs, cognitive functioning, and other outcomes generalize to individuals’ views on their own aging process. To examine historical changes in such views on aging, we compared matched cohorts of older adults within two independent studies that assessed differences across a two-decade interval, the Berlin Aging Studies (BASE; 1990/1993 vs. 2017/2018, each n = 256, Mage = 77) and the Midlife in the United States Study (MIDUS; 1995/1996 vs. 2013/14, each n = 848, Mage = 67). Consistent across four different dimensions of individuals’ subjective views on aging (age felt, age appeared, desired age, and attitudes toward own aging) in the BASE and corroborated with subjective age felt and subjective age desired in the MIDUS, there was no evidence whatsoever that older adults of today have more favorable views on how they age than older adults did two decades ago. Further, heterogeneity in views on aging increased across two decades in the MIDUS but decreased in BASE. Also consistent across studies, associations of views on aging with sociodemographic, health, cognitive, and psychosocial correlates did not change across historical times. We discuss possible reasons for our findings, including the possibility that individual age views may have become increasingly decoupled from societal age views.

Physically strong men were consistently perceived as more conservative; inferences from strength cues were moderated neither by type of conservatism (i.e., fiscal versus social) nor presence of wealth cues

Brown, Mitch, Donald F. Sacco, and Aaron Lukaszewski. 2021. “Physical Strength as a Heuristic Cue of Political Conservatism.” PsyArXiv. October 26. doi:10.31234/osf.io/g5f87

Abstract: Social bargaining models posit physically formidable men tend to pursue strategies for acquiring resources and status through direct competition and promoting hierarchical social organization. Previous research indicates that formidable men espouse more conservative political viewpoints, as a means of advancing social policies favoring use of aggressive bargaining and hierarchy-maintenance strategies. If the mind is designed to utilize probabilistic cues of behavioral strategies, physical strength may function as a heuristic cue of political conservatism. Participants in three studies inferred conservatism of physically strong and weak men. Physically strong men were consistently perceived as more conservative (Studies 1 and 2). Inferences from strength cues were moderated neither by type of conservatism (i.e., fiscal versus social) nor presence of wealth cues. Inferences further extended to tradition-based and libertarian moral foundations domains (Study 3). We frame results using an affordance management framework, suggesting individuals utilize cues to formidability as heuristics to infer political attitudes.

Opium Wars' impact on China’s economy during the 19th century: They brought down local interest rates, & regions under Western influence exhibited both higher rates of industry growth and technology adoption

The Economic Consequences of the Opium War. Wolfgang Keller & Carol H. Shiue. NBER Working Paper 29404, Oct 2021. https://www.nber.org/papers/w29404

Abstract: This paper studies the economic consequences of the West’s foray into China after the Opium War (1839-42), when Western colonial influence was introduced in dozens of so-called treaty ports. We document a turnaround during the 19th century in the nature of China’s capital markets. Whereas before the Opium War, coastal cities were of relatively minor importance, the treaty port system of the West transformed China into an economy focused on coastal areas and on international trade that aligned with the trading interests of the West. We show, first, that the West had a positive impact on China’s economy during the 19th century. It brought down local interest rates, and regions under Western influence exhibited both higher rates of industry growth and technology adoption. Second, the geographic scope of influence went far beyond the ports, impacting most of China. Interest rates fell by more than a quarter in the immediate vicinity of the ports and still by almost ten percent at distances of 450 kilometers from treaty ports. The development of China was not simply propelled by its own pre-1800 history, or by post-1978 reforms. The nearly 100 years of semi-colonization have shaped China’s economy today as one focused on the coastal areas. 

Six-year-olds appear to more flexibly use multiple sources of information than younger children & adults; in their development, children are able to weigh information before they are too biased toward individuating information

Gualtieri, S., & Denison, S. (2021). Developmental change in the use of base-rates and individuating information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Oct 2021. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0001121

Abstract: Adults tend to make biased inferences when they are given base-rates (i.e., prior probabilities) that conflict with individuating information (i.e., a personality description), relying heavily on individuating information. Recent work has shown that six-year-olds do the same, whereas four-year-olds rely more on prior probabilities. In the present article, we revisit the argument that producing responses that align closely with base-rates should necessarily be seen as normative. We instead posit that rational inferences should be sensitive to all relevant information and should depend on its strength. In three experiments, we explored four-year-olds’, six-year-olds’ (N = 200), and adults’ (N = 196) information use by manipulating the strength of individuating and base-rate information. Across base-rate manipulations, adults showed a bias for individuating information regardless of its strength. In contrast, six-year-olds appeared to use each type of information flexibly, depending on which was more informative. Four-year-olds’ performance was less clear: Although they relied on base-rates when they were informative, they struggled to use the individuating information in their inferences and did not appreciate the manipulation of the strength of individuating information. Thus, six-year-olds appear to more flexibly use multiple sources of information than both younger children and adults, suggesting a period in development where children are able to weigh information before they are too biased toward individuating information.

Analyzing language on Reddit, we tracked people’s social, cognitive, and emotional lives as they dealt with the breakup of a close intimate relationship; impending relationship breakups can be detected up to 3 months before they occur

Language left behind on social media exposes the emotional and cognitive costs of a romantic breakup. Sarah Seraj,  Kate G. Blackburn, James W. Pennebaker. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 16, 2021 118 (7) e2017154118; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2017154118

Significance: By analyzing language on the social media platform Reddit, we tracked people’s social, cognitive, and emotional lives as they dealt with the breakup of a close intimate relationship. Language markers can detect impending relationship breakups up to 3 mo before they occur, with continued psychological aftereffects lasting 6 mo after the breakup. Because the language shifts are also apparent in subreddits (forums) unrelated to relationships, the research points to the pervasive impact personal upheavals have across people’s social worlds. Comparable cognitive and social effects are apparent among people undergoing divorce or dealing with major life secrets. The analysis of subtle shifts in pronouns, articles, and other almost-invisible words can reveal the psychological effects of life experiences.

Abstract: Using archived social media data, the language signatures of people going through breakups were mapped. Text analyses were conducted on 1,027,541 posts from 6,803 Reddit users who had posted about their breakups. The posts include users’ Reddit history in the 2 y surrounding their breakups across the various domains of their life, not just posts pertaining to their relationship. Language markers of an impending breakup were evident 3 mo before the event, peaking on the week of the breakup and returning to baseline 6 mo later. Signs included an increase in I-words, we-words, and cognitive processing words (characteristic of depression, collective focus, and the meaning-making process, respectively) and drops in analytic thinking (indicating more personal and informal language). The patterns held even when people were posting to groups unrelated to breakups and other relationship topics. People who posted about their breakup for longer time periods were less well-adjusted a year after their breakup compared to short-term posters. The language patterns seen for breakups replicated for users going through divorce (n = 5,144; 1,109,867 posts) or other types of upheavals (n = 51,357; 11,081,882 posts). The cognitive underpinnings of emotional upheavals are discussed using language as a lens.


Breaking up is a complicated social and cognitive process that can last many months. The results suggest a natural evolution in the language people use before, during, and after a breakup.

Before the breakup, we see people’s natural thinking patterns on display, but the breakup disrupts this cognitive equilibrium. In fact, even before the actual breakup, analytic thinking drops as people talk about their relationship in a personal and informal manner. One explanation may be that people can sense the end of the relationship. This prebreakup phase reveals a disruption to people’s normal thinking patterns starting almost 3 mo before the breakup.

A second cognitive process is activated when the breakup occurs. As people make decisions about their new lives, their language spikes in the use of cognitive processing words. Finally, as the story becomes more developed and organized, analytic thinking increases again. The fluctuation in analytic and cognitive processing words reveals two dynamic cognitive mechanisms that unfold over the course of a breakup. Indeed, in many ways, these two cognitive processes may be tied to the way we encode experiences and map them into memories. We can see people’s thought process through their word use before a breakup even takes place. Additionally, tracking what happens during the moment of the breakup gives access to the ways people are trying to explain to themselves and others why the breakup occurred.

As seen in the post hoc analyses, those who write about their breakups more frequently are slower to return to their prebreakup language patterns. One explanation is simply that people who need to write continually may have experienced more disruptive or traumatic breakups. Alternatively, writing about the same events repeatedly may be a form of rumination whereby people are reliving the same distressing events over and over. In fact, expressive writing studies have found that people who write about emotional upheavals in similar ways on multiple occasions often do not show as many health benefits compared to those who update their narrative over time (47). By repeatedly recalling the same experience over several months, those who continue to relive the same painful memories might benefit from an alternative coping strategy, such as seeking clinical intervention.

Using language analysis tools, social scientists can now track social shifts in human connections in near-real time. Within hours of people revealing their broken hearts, it is possible to detect how they are communicating with other parts of their social networks about their hobbies, jobs, or religion. Communities such as Reddit provide a laboratory for researchers to measure how different coping strategies can potentially work. One contribution of the current research is that it points to the power of analyzing social media data to understand the unfolding dynamics of interpersonal processes.

The social construction of birthdays: There are many fewer modern U.S. births than would be expected on Christmas Day; in addition, modern parents appear to use birth medicalization to avoid undesirable birthdays (Friday the 13th)

Identity Selection and the Social Construction of Birthdays. Brett W. Pelham et al. Front. Psychol., October 26 2021. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.693776

Abstract: We argue that rather than being a wholly random event, birthdays are sometimes selected by parents. We further argue that such effects have changed over time and are the result of important psychological processes. Long ago, U.S. American parents greatly overclaimed holidays as their children's birthdays. These effects were larger for more important holidays, and they grew smaller as births moved to hospitals and became officially documented. These effects were exaggerated for ethnic groups that deeply valued specific holidays. Parents also overclaimed well-liked calendar days and avoided disliked calendar days as their children's birthdays. However, after birthday selection effects virtually disappeared in the 1950s and 1960s, they reappeared after the emergence of labor induction and planned cesarean birth. For example, there are many fewer modern U.S. births than would be expected on Christmas Day. In addition, modern parents appear to use birth medicalization to avoid undesirable birthdays (Friday the 13th). We argue that basking in reflect glory, ethnic identity processes, and superstitions such as magical thinking all play a role in birthday selection effects. Discussion focuses on the power of social identity in day-to-day judgment and decision-making.

General Discussion

The studies in this report attest to the powerful role intuitive beliefs play in people's preferences for their children's birthdays. They suggest, for example, that basking in reflected glory, superstitious thinking, and the pragmatic goals of health care providers all influence preferences for a real-world outcome, namely a child's date of birth. The finding that birthday selection effects are larger than usual for more important holidays suggests that parents long ago engaged in motivated social cognition or even outright fabrication when recalling their children's dates of birth. This finding, combined with the aversions we have found here and elsewhere for undesirable birthdates, suggests that birthday selection is not simply a matter of memorial accessibility. For example, modern parents clearly avoided giving birth on the 13th of the month. These were actual birthdays rather than remembered birthdays. These findings strongly suggest that parents themselves play at least some role in birthday selection effects. The aversions to certain dates we have observed here and elsewhere suggest that there is much more to birthday selection than simple memorial accessibility.

The naming patterns observed in Study 1 strongly suggest that at least some parents try to help their children bask in the reflected glory of famous people—rather than simply misremembering salient dates as their children's dates of birth. Future research should try to dissect impression management processes and magical thinking processes as separate explanations for the effects document here. Given how robust birthday selection effects are, it would be surprising if a single mechanism were responsible for all cases of birth date selection. Many social preferences are overdetermined.

Limitations of this Research

Many of the studies in this report are open to more than one interpretation. For example, even showing that some parents gave their children names such as “George Washington Johnson” does not guarantee that all parents who chose this birthday for their children were trying to bask in reflected glory. Likewise, most of these studies cannot tell us exactly which parents falsely claimed desirable birthdays and which ones reported birthdays accurately. Further, we assume that more than one psychological mechanism is likely to be at the root of the preferences documented here. Along similar lines, we did not present any evidence that magical thinking played a role in any of these preferences. To address this concern, Pelham and von Hippel (2021) directly asked both parents and college students whether they endorsed “magical” beliefs about birthdays and holidays. These preliminary studies show that people clearly believe that others expect children to possess the traits associated with certain holidays. For example, people report that they believe most Americans think that a child born on Christmas Day will be perceived as “holy” and “generous” —whereas a child born on September 11th will be perceived as “evil” and “Anti-American.” Respondents even concede that they themselves endorse such beliefs—although to a weaker extent than they think such beliefs are endorsed by others. Magical thinking appears to be at least part of the reason for the preferences documented here. But this reinforces the fact that the present studies could not definitively identify the exact mechanisms responsible for the birthday selection effect.

Future research might also assess whether birthday selection in our older data is grounded in (a) motivated memory biases (ranging from self-deception to “judgment calls” that happen when children are born in very close proximity to midnight), or (b) consciously calculated fabrications. Illusory beliefs that portray us and those we love in a favorable light appear to be both more satisfying and more convincing to others when we truly believe them ourselves (Murray et al., 1996Von Hippel and Trivers, 2011). But it is surely reasonable to assume that some of these parents consciously claimed a desirable birthday for their children. And if some of these parents lied about their children's birth dates, one must ask why they did so. Our findings suggest that at least some of these parents may have felt their children would benefit from basking in the reflected glory of a famous person or event. It is less clear that an obvious fabrication of a child's birth date could allow parents themselves to conclude that their child was especially holy. Magical thinking probably works best among people who personally buy into the relevant association. However, as Von Hippel and Trivers (2011) have argued, the line between self- and other deception is much fuzzier than most people assume. People who are able to convince themselves that a fabrication is true may well have an easier than average time convincing others.

Do our results reflect “cherry picking”? When researchers are able to study entire populations rather than convenience samples, and when they are able to examine every possible operationalization of a variable (as one can do with U.S. holidays but not with variables such as “self-esteem” or “cognitive dissonance”), concerns about “cherry picking” and “researcher degrees of freedom” are largely ruled out. Of course, one can always open the conceptual net—by examining the cross-cultural generality of an effect, for example. This is exactly what some members of this research team are currently doing. Whatever one's perspective, the findings reported here pave the way for critics who might wish to disconfirm our hypotheses. For example, the Social Security Death records examined here are freely available at ancestry.com. Thus, it would be possible to see how robust any one of these holiday biases is across the 50 U.S. states—or to see if these biases vary with cultural variables such as collectivism (see Vandello and Cohen, 1999). Our initial analyses suggest that cultural variables do matter. Both the pro-Christmas bias of yesteryear and the preference for July 4th birthdays were stronger than average in more collectivistic U.S. states. The Christmas Day preference was also much stronger than average in more religious U.S. states. As a final example, researchers could manipulate well-studied self-concept motives in the lab (e.g., using self-affirmation vs. self-concept threat manipulations) to examine the effects of such manipulations on the birthday preferences examined here.

One surprising aspect of our findings in Study 4 is that birthday number effects (e.g., the 11th vs. the 12th of the month) were so large in the 1890–1910 window that they introduced some noise into the assessment of some of the 10 specific holidays we examined in Study 1. In principle, one could ipsatize (i.e., proportionalize) the 31 days of the month during a given historical period to reduce noise when creating effect sizes for the holidays in the same exact window. Of course, these ipsatized scores would need to be calculated separately for different temporal windows, making this task a bit more complex than it would be otherwise. Having said all this, our supplemental analyses (e.g., those comparing claimed birthdays on the 25th of December vs. the 25th of other months) do make it very clear that holiday effects are not merely calendar day effects—or day of the week effects—in disguise. It is also possible that different psychological mechanisms underly the subtle preferences for certain calendar days and the preferences for specific holidays. It is not clear, for example, whether any parents would ever expect their children to bask in the glow of the likable number 14.

Of course, arguments such as these rest on the assumption that a person's birthday can be a part of a person's identity. Is this true? Research suggests so. Most people strongly like their birthday numbers (Kitayama and Karasawa, 1997). Further, many researchers have incorporated liking for one's birthday numbers into measures of implicit self-esteem (DeHart et al., 2006). In principle, any letter, number, or symbol that is associated with a person can become a part of a person's identity. Former professional athletes Reggie Jackson and Wayne Gretsky even incorporated their uniform numbers into their signatures (Armstrong, 1986). Of course, fans of famous athletes often advertise their psychological connection to such athletes—and to the teams for which the athletes play—by wearing copies of the jerseys of famous athletes. Symbols and events that are connected to us and to the groups to which we belong truly become a part of us. Finally, even if most people were not highly invested in their birthdays, those who believe that their birthday is special—because it doubles as a widely adored holiday—might be expected to identify more strongly than average with their birthdates.

These findings attest to the power and pervasiveness of both identity and magical thinking. We have long known that human beings care deeply about their identities (James, 1890Cooley, 1902Mead, 1934), including the ethnic, religious, and cultural groups to which they belong. The present findings suggest that parents are keenly aware of the subtle ways in which people can derive a sense of value or worth by merely sharing a birthday with a person who is deeply valued or respected by most others. Likewise, taken together, these studies strongly suggest that magical thinking is alive and well in the distortion and creation of children's dates of birth. For well over a century, U.S. parents have apparently gone to great lengths to create happy birthdays for their children.