Quick Study

Illustrations by Istvan Banyai

Given, to Distraction

Doodling, self-grooming, and fiddling during conversation may indicate good breeding—or at least a good inheritance. When watching taped conversations between two subjects, viewers could accurately gauge each speaker’s family income, socioeconomic status, and mother’s level of education just from their body language. Subjects from poorer backgrounds were far more engaged—nodding, laughing, and raising their eyebrows—than their less attentive (and more fortunate) peers.

War Starts at Home

The physical safety of women in a given country is a better predictor of its peacefulness than wealth, level of Islamic influence, or even strength of democracy. Violence against women (including female infanticide and sex-selective abortion) may account for more deaths than all the wars of the 20th century. This kind of cultural aggression likely sparks increased nationalism and, eventually, warfare.

“The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States,” International Security

Slave States

Residual psychological effects of the slave trade may be one reason Africa’s economies are so dysfunctional. Africans who descend from tribes that were heavily exposed to slavery show significantly less trust in their local governments, their neighbors, and even their relatives, and they exhibit low confidence in state institutions, the rule of law, and the benefits of civic participation—all attitudes that choke economic growth.

“The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa,” National Bureau of Economic Research
Crash Etiquette

From the confirmed-urban-myths file: as the Titanic sank, women and children really were saved first, and first-class passengers were much more likely to score spots in lifeboats than those in second and third class. A “procreation instinct” may have induced passengers to give way to women of reproductive age and those with children. And upper-class passengers were more likely to survive because they had practice giving orders, access to better information, and the means to bribe crew members.

“Surviving the Titanic Disas­ter: Economic, Natural and Social Determinants,” CESifo

Threat on the Steppes

Tajikistan—Afghanistan’s northern neighbor—could collapse at any moment. Energy infrastructure is failing, hunger is spreading, and violence and unrest are on the rise. Remittances account for half the country’s GDP; as jobs dry up globally and workers return home, the dictatorial president could face an uprising. This could destabilize Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, threaten U.S. operations in Afghanistan, and trigger a regional disaster.

“Tajikistan: On the Road to Failure,” International Crisis Group
Inflationary Pressure

When teachers were offered cash rewards for good performance (measured by factors like grades and parental feedback), student scores on national exams significantly declined. Worse: the teachers may have been inflating classroom grades to cash in.

—“Individual Teacher Incentives, Student Achievement and Grade Inflation,” Institute for the Study of Labor

Hollywood Heist

Mobsters are getting into piracy—of DVDs. And with good reason: a single outfit can control the entire supply chain, typical markups of 1,150 percent offer a much higher profit margin than drug dealing, and an arrest brings only a slap on the wrist. By one estimate, the racket has cost the U.S. 140,000 jobs, nearly $1 billion in tax revenue, and $5.5 billion in lost earnings.

“Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism” [PDF], Rand Corporation