Primary Sources

Choking in the clutch; Hungarian xenophobes; booze and bedlam at the ball game

Foreign Affairs

Somalia on the Mediterranean?
The Gaza Strip is famously wracked by political and religious turmoil, but much of its unrest can be traced to family feuds, according to a report by the International Crisis Group. After the second intifada, Israel eviscerated the Palestinian Authority’s security establishment, and clans stepped in to deal with their members’ crimes—up to and including murder. Now these families have consolidated power by establishing their own autonomous zones and quasi-governmental functions. Blood loyalties trump political ones, and Hamas, which took over the government of Gaza in mid-2007, has been unable to extinguish the clan vendettas or to weaken the family bonds that undermine its authority. The clan structures represent a “double-edged sword,” the authors suggest: they are the rare organizing principle that has stayed constant and reliable during a period of deprivation and unrest, arguably preventing a “total collapse” in Gazan society, but at the same time they ensure that Gazans remain persistently divided, which contributes to the growing disorder in the territory. Hamas will have to reconcile with the families, the report argues; otherwise, they will provide a potent focal point for resistance to Hamas’s (often brutal) attempts to consolidate power.

“Inside Gaza: The Challenge of Clans and Families,” International Crisis Group


The Old College Riot
Is there an American analogue to that persistent European scourge, the soccer hooligan? Two economists at the University of Colorado suggest that it could be the college football fan. They find that arrests for all sorts of belligerence and bad behavior rise after home football games—and skyrocket after upsets, whether the home team is on the winning or the losing end. The researchers examined crime data from 26 police stations that had jurisdiction over college campuses from 2000 to 2005, and then compared game-day arrests with typical daily crime stats. Although away games had no effect on the crime numbers, after home games arrests spiked in all the categories studied—from assaults to vandalism. Upsets triggered even greater havoc. Disorderly-conduct arrests jumped by 93 percent after upset victories, for instance, and DUIs increased 57 percent after upset defeats. The authors reject some common psychological explanations for the mayhem—the idea that fans mimic the violence they see unleashed on the gridiron, or the idea that rioting is a way of relieving frustration after a loss. But one thing the authors say they couldn’t discount as a root of game-day evils: lots and lots of booze. Even though all the stadiums in the sample had banned liquor sales, the authors note that “it is difficult to rule out the possibility that the relationship between college football games and aggressive behavior is entirely driven by alcohol consumption.”

“College Football Games and Crime,” Daniel I. Rees and Kevin T. Schnepel, University of Colorado



The notion that we repress memories of sexual trauma dates back to the dawn of the Freudian era, but three Canadian psychologists report that such memories tend to be among the hardest to repress. The psychologists surveyed 44 women who’d sought counseling for sexual traumas ranging from childhood abuse to assault in adulthood. The women were asked about the persistence of three memories from the same general time in their lives: the sexual trauma, a nonsexual trauma, and a positive experience. The recollections of sexual trauma proved to be the most enduring, and the subjects relayed them with greater detail, emotion, and vividness than the other memories. Curiously, the women were much more likely to think they’d misremembered the sexual trauma than the nonsexual trauma or the positive incident. In effect, trauma survivors excelled at remembering sexual trauma but found it more difficult to recall whether they’d remembered it correctly.

“Are memories for sexually traumatic events ‘special’? A within-subjects investigation of trauma and memory in a clinical sample,” Kristine A. Peace, Stephen Porter, and Leanne ten Brinke, Memory


Webbing the Vote

The YouTube presidential debates were just the tip of the iceberg: according to a new Pew Research Center study, Americans are turning increasingly to online sources for election coverage. Although television continues to outperform print newspapers and the Internet as the main source of campaign news, the percentage of people who say they get most of their news about the election from television dropped from 68 percent during the 2004 race to 60 percent in late 2007, while the percentage of people who reported that they turn primarily to the Internet for news about the presidential candidates more than doubled, from 6 percent in 2004 to 15 percent at the end of 2007. Nearly half of 18-to-29-year-olds report that they get most of their election news online, compared with 21 percent in 2004. The Internet gets slightly higher marks for objectivity: 45 percent of the people who consume news online believe that Republican and Democratic views get roughly equal attention on political Web sites and blogs, whereas 41 percent of all Americans feel the same way about general media coverage of the campaigns. However, the new media landscape may be less diverse than some of the hype would suggest: the study finds that online readers relied overwhelmingly on only a few popular news sites, with MSNBC, CNN, and Yahoo News topping the list. And the growing popularity of political coverage on the Internet doesn’t necessarily correlate with a rising appetite for news. As the study reports, “a majority of web users … say they ‘come across’ campaign news and information when they are going online to do something else.”

Campaign news online
Click the graph above to see a larger version

“Social Networking and Online Videos Take Off: Internet’s Broader Role in Campaign 2008,” [PDF] Andrew Kohut et al., Pew Research Center


The A’s Have It

Expectant parents have long considered the meaning behind names before choosing one for their child, but a recent study suggests it’s our initials that help determine our fates. The authors argue that our preference for our names is so strong that we unconsciously gravitate toward people, places, objects, and outcomes that begin with the same letter as our moniker: Mary is more likely to marry Mark, drive a Mazda, and move to Maryland than is Virginia, who’s more likely to marry Virgil, drive a Volvo, and move to Virginia. To test whether the influence of initials could override a conscious desire to succeed at something, the authors turned to professional baseball players and graduate students. An analysis of Major League Baseball records from 1913 to 2006 showed that players whose first or last name started with the letter K (the symbol for strikeout) were slightly more likely to fulfill the destiny suggested by their initials: they struck out 18.8 percent of the time, compared with 17.2 percent for other players. Likewise, MBA students whose first or last name began with a C or a D tended to end up with lower grade-point averages, and law students with A or B in their initials tended to end up at better-ranked programs than those whose initials included a C or a D. Students with initials from the very beginning of the alphabet did not, however, earn higher grades than those with grade-irrelevant initials. The authors explain that performance reflects both motivation and ability, so although having a name tied to “easy-to-achieve negative outcomes” might hurt you, having a name whose first letter reflects “hard-to-achieve positive outcomes” may not offer a boost.

“Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success,” Leif D. Nelson and Joseph P. Simmons, Psychological Science


Continental Divide
The debates in France and Britain may get the lion’s share of attention, but if you’re looking for places in Europe where immigration is really controversial, a new study suggests, head east and south. Data from a pan-European survey reveal three distinct types of attitudes toward immigration on the Continent. Scandinavians tend to be “lenient,” displaying few categorical prejudices against foreigners and expressing an overall generosity toward immigrants. Western Europeans likewise tend to lack generalized prejudices, but they have specific preferences as to which immigrants ought to be admitted, emphasizing markers such as education and income. Meanwhile, Europeans from eastern and southern countries—including Poland, Hungary, Greece, and Italy—tend to have sweepingly negative attitudes toward foreigners settling in their countries. Many people in this last group, whom the author labels “strict gatekeepers,” hail from countries that are relatively new to the EU and arguably lack the resources necessary to assimilate immigrants; the study also notes that the eastern European countries in the sample tend to have experienced a post–Cold War revival of nationalistic fervor.

“Guarding the gates of Europe: A typological analysis of immigration attitudes across 21 countries,” Eva G. T. Green, International Journal of Psychology


Don’t Even Think About It
There are two common explanations for why some athletes perform poorly in the clutch: either the pressure distracts them, or it causes them to focus too intently on usually automatic actions. To test the competing theories, two researchers studied 20 experienced Australian golfers in a low-stakes contest and a high-stakes competition with monetary prizes. The participants played three 10-putt rounds, and they were given different instructions at the start of each: first, they were told to concentrate on three things that were irrelevant to the task; then to focus on three words that related to technical aspects of their swing, such as arms, weight, or acceleration; and finally to concentrate on a single “holistic cue word” describing their intended movement, such as smooth. In the high-pressure situation, participants did worse when thinking about words related to execution; overall, golfers in both situations did best while concentrating on the holistic cue. The authors speculate that focusing on a cue word prevents experts from trying to “consciously control their movements under pressure,” which suggests that overthinking, rather than distraction, may be the greater danger facing athletes in the clutch.

“Choking under pressure in sensorimotor skills: Conscious processing or depleted attentional resources?” Daniel F. Gucciardi and James A. Dimmock, Psychology of Sport and Exercise