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Insights: The Headlines

News on reputation, musical economics, humiliation and toddler aptitude.

Green with Status Envy

How much is your reputation worth?

Americans bought 13,000 2010 Toyota Priuses in the car’s first month out. Despite the fact that a Prius costs more per horsepower than a more luxurious Lexus, over 1.2 million car buyers have chosen the hybrid.

Such displays of eco-friendliness may not be eco-motivated. A study found that non-green luxury products were preferred to their equally priced green counterparts when people weren’t focused on status, but once status became a concern—even sub­consciously—people became more likely to go green.

“When shopping in public, people are willing to spend more on a product that might not work as well but is better for society,” says Joshua Tybur of the University of New Mexico, a co-author of the study. Why? Wealth and self-sacrifice boost social status, and going green proclaims that the buyer not only has the financial muscle to pick up the sometimes heftier tab, but is also willing to sacrifice personal comfort for the greater good. Seems that reputations can be bought, starting at $22,000. —Sophie Chen

Pop Goes the Bubble

Song lyrics fit the times.

Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” was a hit earlier this year not just because of its catchy melody; it also has the downward-spiraling economy to thank.

During tough times, people’s preferences tend toward the mature and the practical. In a study to be published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, Terry Pettijohn II of Coastal Carolina University and Donald Sacco Jr. of Miami University in Ohio found that from 1955 to 2003, popular songs dealt with more meaningful themes at times when socioeconomic conditions were threatening. Lyrics also focused more on friendships and romances; in hard times, people feel a stronger need for close relationships.

“Popular music tastes reveal the condition of a culture and indicate what society needs,” Pettijohn says.

Top of the stock charts

A few years and their Billboard #1 singles

1997 - Asian financial crisis: Elton John: “Candle in the Wind”

2000 - Stock market peak: Destiny’s Child: “Independent Woman, Part I”

2006 - Slowdown in housing market: Daniel Powter: “Bad Day”

Sophie Chen

Cruel and Unusual

Humiliation is torture.

Pundits can debate whether waterboarding is “torture” all they want, but there’s science saying that it and other coercive techniques cause lasting damage.

Enduring multiple stressors when one feels helpless and degraded is more likely to lead to PTSD than simple beatings and burnings, according to a study of hundreds of Yugoslav and Turkish former political prisoners by trauma expert Metin Basoglu of King’s College London.

Being naked may not seem inherently threatening. But imagine you’re also blindfolded. And left for hours alone in a cold room. Your captors finally appear, only to call you a dog. Any one method may not seem outrageous, but when carried out with others in an unpredictable, threatening environment, the effect can be irreversibly traumatic.

If one defines torture as acts from which one never fully recovers, far less than mock-drowning qualifies. —Sonya Sobieski

Baby Steps to Harvard

Predicting preschool aptitude

Ah, the first day of school, ripe with parental pride. Good thing your 3-year-old aced her IQ test. Some elite preschools have admissions criteria more rigorous than the Ivy League.

But how accurate is IQ testing for toddlers? The commonly used Wechsler Intelligence Scale evaluates verbal ability based on vocabulary size and clarity of speech. “If a speech therapist can help you with these skills, how is that testing intelligence?” says Emily Glickman of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting.

Researchers agree that measurement errors due to fussiness, hunger, and even how well a child likes her questioner are fairly common when testing preschoolers.

Glickman also notes that “a lot of psychological testing is your ability to copy things. I think that’s a test of exposure, not intelligence. If kids have had practice drawing, if they’ve learned about farm animals, they’re going to do better on the tests.”

IQ scores at age 3 do correlate strongly with IQ scores at age 21, Joseph Fagan of Case Western Reserve University has found. But results at the lower end of the scale may be the most useful: IQ tests were originally developed to differentiate normal children from those needing special education. An IQ of 130 versus 120, Fagan says, “is not going to make a big difference in how someone turns out.” —Sonya Sobieski