Grapefruit, Animal Economics, and Big Drunk Guys

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

An Economic Theory with Horses and Dogs, for CEOs
The Thrill of Victory: Measuring the Incentive to Win,” Bentley Coffey and M.T. Maloney, Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 28, no. 1, January 2010, pp. 87–112, DOI 10.1086/648318. (Thanks to Peter Kinder for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Clemson University, explain:

There is ample evidence that incentive pay structures, such as tournaments, result in increased performance. Is this due to selection or increased individual effort, and is any increased individual effort caused by pecuniary incentives or merely thirst for the thrill of victory (TOV)? Prior literature has not separated the different effects. We look at performance in horse and dog racing and find that only horses, controlled by jockeys during the race, exhibit performance corresponding to pecuniary incentives, while both respond to selection and TOV. The results show that pay structures do matter.

Swapped, Unnoticed Cinnamon-Apple and Bitter Grapefruit
Magic at the Marketplace: Choice Blindness for the Taste of Jam and the Smell of Tea,” Lars Hall, Petter Johansson, Betty Tarning, Sverker Sikstrom, and Thére se Deutgen, Cognition, in press, 2010. (Thanks to Ig Nobel Prize winner Dan Simons for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Lund University, Sweden and University College London, U.K., explain:

We set up a tasting venue at a local supermarket and invited passerby shoppers to sample two different varieties of jam and tea, and to decide which alternative in each pair they preferred the most. Immediately after the participants had made their choice, we asked them to again sample the chosen alternative, and to verbally explain why they chose the way they did. At this point we secretly switched the contents of the sample containers, so that the outcome of the choice became the opposite of what the participants intended. In total, no more than a third of the manipulated trials were detected. Even for remarkably different tastes like Cinnamon-Apple and bitter Grapefruit, or the smell of Mango and Pernod, was no more than half of all trials detected, thus demonstrating considerable levels of choice blindness for the taste and smell of two different consumer goods.

Detail from the Hall/Johansson/Tarning/Sikstrom/Deutgen study “Magic at the Marketplace: Choice Blindness for the Taste of Jam and the Smell of Tea.”

“Big, Drunk, Aggressive Guy” Experiment
The Big, the Bad, and the Boozed-Up: Weight Moderates the Effect of Alcohol on Aggression,” C. Nathan DeWall, Brad J. Bushman, Peter R. Giancola, and Gregory D. Webster, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 46, no. 4, July 2010, pp. 619–23. The authors, who are variously at the University of Kentucky, the University of Michigan and University of Florida in the U.S. and at VU University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, explain:

Most people avoid the “big, drunk guy” in bars because they do not want to get assaulted. Is this stereotype supported by empirical evidence? Unfortunately, no scientific work has investigated this topic. Based on the recalibrational theory of anger and embodied cognition theory, we predicted that heavier men would behave the most aggressively when intoxicated... Apparently there is a kernel of truth in the stereotype of the “big, drunk, aggressive guy.”

Disliking a Subject Possibly Predicts Poor Performance
Affective and Behavioral Predictors of Novice Programmer Achievement,” Ma. Mercedes T. Rodrigo,
Ryan S. Baker, Matthew C. Jadud, Anna Christine M. Amarra, Thomas Dy, Maria Beatriz V. Espejo-Lahoz, Sheryl Ann L. Li , Sheila A.M.S. Pascua, Jessica O. Sugay, and Emily S. Tabanao, ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 3, September 2009, pp. 156–60. The authors, at several institutions in the Philippines and in the U.S., report:

Disliking programming appears to be associated with lower success in early programming courses.

Detail from the Rodrigo/ Baker/Jadud/Amarra/Dy/Espejo-Lahoz/Li/Pascua/Sugay/Tabanao study of novice computer programmers.

Measuring Formidability of the Shirtless
Formidability and the Logic of Human Anger,” Aaron Sell, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 106, no. 35, September 1, 2009, pp. 15073–8. The authors, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, report:

Eleven predictions derived from the recalibrational theory of anger were tested. This theory proposes that anger is produced by a neurocognitive program engineered by natural selection to use bargaining tactics to resolve conflicts of interest in favor of the angry individual.... Raters were shown full body photographs of each subject wearing a standard black pair of shorts and standing next to an experimenter (for a standard comparison); these had been edited with Photoshop 8.0 so that the subjects’ heads were not visible. Men removed their shirts for the photographs; for cultural reasons, women could not be photographed shirtless, and were instead given a white t-shirt to wear over their shirts to standardize style of dress.


This article is republished with permission from the September-October 2010 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research.

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