CHAPTER THREE: The Warren Harding Error: Why We Fall For Tall, Dark and Handsome Men
|There are many excellent books on Warren Harding:
Francis Russell. "The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times." 1968. New York: McGraw-Hill Company.
Mark Sullivan. "Our Times: The United States 1900-1925." Vol. VI: The Twenties. 1935. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 16.
Harry M. Daugherty. "The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy." 1932. New York: The Churchill Company.
Andrew Sinclair. "The Available Man: The Life Behind the Masks of Warren Gamaliel Harding." 1965. New York: The Macmillan Company.
2. Blink in Black and White
For more on the IAT see:
Anthony G. Greenwald, Debbie E. McGhee, and Jordan L.K. Schwartz. "Measuring Individual Differences in Implicit Cognition: The Implicit Association Test." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1998. Vol. 74. No. 6. pp. 1464-1480. Purchase here.
|86.||For another excellent treatment of the height issue, see:
Nancy Etcoff. "Survival of the Prettiest." 1999. New York: Random House. p. 172.
|88.||The height-salary study can be found in:
Timothy A. Judge and Daniel M. Cable. "The Effect of Physical Height on Workplace Success and Income: Preliminary Test of a Theoretical Model." Journal of Applied Psychology. June 2004. Purchase here.
It's worth, I think, fleshing out the height argument a bit more. My guess is that we have an attraction to tall men for evolutionary reasons: when you're living in a cave, height is a fairly good proxy for physical strength--and that's not a bad criterion for choosing a leader. It's also the case that that bias--if it's as hard-wired as it seems--can create a real advantage for tall people: if they've been tall their whole lives, then they've been looked up to by others their whole lives, and by the time they've reached their thirties or forties, they've had a lifetime of experience with being thought of as a leader. That's a real advantage. But being comfortable with being a leader--and having people make a immediate association between you and leadership--is not, of course, all it takes to be a good leader. And that's the problem.
Here's a paper that looks specifically at where the height advantage starts to kick in:
"The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height." Nicola Persico, University of Pennsylvania; Andrew Postlewaite, University of Pennsylvania; Dan Silverman, University of Michigan. Purchase here.
Here is the abstract:
"Labor market outcomes are likely to differ depending on a person's outward characteristics. These differences have motivated a large body of research focused on the disparities across racial and gender groups. Beyond establishing the magnitude of the disparities, a goal of this research is to identify the channels through which the gaps develop. In this paper we take up the same research agenda with respect to height. We start by estimating the magnitude of the height premium, and find it comparable to those associated with race and gender. We then take advantage of a special feature of height relative to race and gender: height varies over time, so that a relatively tall 16-year old may turn out to be a relatively short adult, and vice versa. This time-variation allows us to investigate the stage of development at which having the characteristic (in our case, being short) most strongly determines the wage disparity. We find that being relatively short through the teen years (as opposed to adulthood or early childhood) essentially determines the returns to height. We document that the beneficial effects of teen height are not complementary with any particular vocation path, broadly defined; instead, they manifest themselves in a higher level of achievement in all vocation categories. We point out some social activities that might be important channels for the emergence of the height premium. We use our estimates of the return to teen height to evaluate the monetary incentive to undertake a newly approved treatment that increases teen height, human growth hormone therapy. Finally, we show that teen height is predictably greater for sons of tall parents, meaning that there is an expected wage penalty incurred by the as-yet-unborn children of short parents."
On the height question, Eric Nehrlich writes:
"On page 88, you refer to a study by Timothy Judge that purports to demonstrate that height translates directly into career earnings. However, the study only corrects for age and gender and weight. It misses a factor that I think is crucial, which is socioeconomic class. What does that have to do with height, you ask? Height is heavily tied to childhood nutrition. To quote a New Yorker article:
"Biologists say that we achieve our stature in three spurts: the first in infancy, the second between the ages of six and eight, the last in adolescence. Any decent diet can send us sprouting at these ages, but take away any one of forty-five or fifty essential nutrients and the body stops growing. ("Iodine deficiency alone can knock off ten centimeters and fifteen I.Q. points," one nutritionist told me.)"
Genetics determines a range of possible heights, but diet will determine where in that range a given person will end up. And the children that are fed well tend to grow up taller and smarter than those that aren't. Since I think childhood nutrition also correlates to socioeconomic class, I think it's probable that kids that grow up taller also have a huge initial advantage in having richer parents that get them into better schools. So it's possible that tall people have, in addition to their height, more intelligence and better schooling, which would correlate well with career success. It's all interrelated, as you note, since those that are told they will succeed tend to actually succeed, but the height study is far too blunt an instrument to demonstrate anything convincingly in my eyes."
I think that's a good point. And it certainly suggests why--from an evolutionary perspective--we may have learned to place more trust in the tall. If you want to pick a leader, starting with someone who is healthier than average is not a bad place to start. But, of course, it doesn't apply much to the modern industrialized world, does it? My concern is that we have continued--without realizing it--to hold to an unconscious bias long past the point that the bias serving any meaningful function.
3. Taking Care of the Customer
For a full description of the Chicago car dealerships study--and other deeply disturbing forays into unconscious prejudice, I strongly suggest you read Ayres's book.
Ian Ayres. "Pervasive Prejudice? Unconventional Evidence of Race and Gender Discrimination." 2001. University of Chicago Press.
Ayres has done quite a bit of really wonderful research, by the way, and so I encourage anyone interested in following up this line of research to investigate his website: ianayres.com
|One of the most bizarre reactions that I received from reviewers of Blink is an absolute inability to accept the notion of unconscious prejudice. Here is an example from a fairly well known writer named Steve Sailer. Sailer, in turns, quotes from a very hostile review of Blink in The New Republic by Richard Posner.
Here is the key section from Sailer's review:
Ayres sent matched testers into auto show rooms where they found that car dealers gave the lowest initial offers to white men, followed by white women, black women, and finally black men. Even after 40 minutes of negotiating, the black guy shoppers were still being offered prices nearly $800 higher than the initial offer made to the white guys.
(Although Gladwell doesn't mention this, the race or sex of the salesperson didn't matter--e.g., on average, black saleswomen quote higher prices to black women than to white men.)
Ever the loyal lackey of multiculti capitalism, Gladwell theorizes that the car salespeople just didn't realize "how egregiously they were cheating women and minorities." He seems to hold the novel opinion that auto dealers are well meaning but uninformed about profit-maximization.
See, the salesmen would have offered their female and black shoppers lower prices if only they had known (perhaps from reading Blink) that they suffered from irrational prejudices that were keeping them from making more money!
"It would not occur to Gladwell, a good liberal, that an auto salesman's discriminating on the basis of race or sex might be a rational form of the "rapid cognition" that he admires... [It] may be sensible to ascribe the group's average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average. An individual's characteristics may be difficult to determine in a brief encounter, and a salesman cannot afford to waste his time in a protracted one, and so he may quote a high price to every black shopper even though he knows that some blacks are just as shrewd and experienced car shoppers as the average white, or more so. Economists use the term 'statistical discrimination' to describe this behavior."
What's actually going on in showrooms is this:
Women dislike hurting other people's feelings more than men do, and car salesmen are very good at acting emotionally hurt when you try to lowball them. When I've gone car shopping with my wife, I've seen her flinch in empathetic pain when I scoff at a dealer's highball offer. But, after I've bought our new car for a $1,000 less than she would have settled for, she forgives me.
Black men, for whatever complicated reasons, enjoy being seen as big spenders. And car salesmen are all too willing to help them spend big.
These ethnic differences in how hard groups will bargain extend far beyond basic black and white. For example, a friend of mine who is a small businessman in Los Angeles can rattle off a ranked list of how difficult it is to bargain with the myriad ethnic groups he deals with.
The most ferocious negotiators he runs into are the Armenians, Koreans, and Israelis. The most aristocratically insouciant about prices and terms are the white South Americans.
It's hard to know just what to say in the face of arguments like this. But let's go over them slowly. My interpretation is that the reason the car salesmen quote higher prices to otherwise identical black shoppers is because of unconscious discrimination. They don't realize what they are doing. But buried prejudices are changing their responses in the moment. Sailer and Posner, by contrast, think that the discrimination is conscious and, what's more, that it's rational. The salesmen, in Posner's words, "ascribe the group's average characteristics to each member of the group, even though one knows that many members deviate from the average." And what is the "group's average characteristic" in this case? That, as Sailer puts it, black men "enjoy being seen as big spenders." Am I wrong or is that an utterly ludicrous (not to mention offensive) statement? Where does this idea come from? How is it possible that when it comes to buying things black men--magically--all take on the same personality?
Now, I suppose it's possible that salesman believe this ludicrous statement to be true. But not on a conscious level. I refuse to believe that all of the car salesmen of Chicago are so stupid as to believe that by virtue of having a slightly darker skin color a human being becomes somehow predisposed towards higher prices. Sailer and Poser have a very low opinion of car salesmen. Nor do I believe that this ridiculous prejudice is rational. The point of the chapter is that prejudices that rely on people's appearance don't help salesmen make money. A salesman makes money on volume--and anything that has the potential to stigmatize or scare off a specific kind of customer is a really bad idea. The reason the notion of unconscious prejudice is so important is that there are certain kinds of behavior that are so inexplicable that this is the only way to explain them.
For proof that you can combat prejudice:
Nilanjana Dasgupta and Anthony G. Greenwald. "On the Malleability of Automatic Attitudes: Combating Automatic Prejudice with Images of Admired and Disliked Individuals." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2001. Vol. 81. No. 5. p. 800-814. Purchase here.
There are number of other studies that have shown similar effects. Among them:
Irene V. Blair et al. "Imagining Stereotypes Away: The Moderation of Implicit Stereotypes Through Mental Imagery. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2001. Vol. 81. No. 5. pp. 828-841: Purchase here.
Brian S. Lowery and Curtis D. Hardin. "Social Influence Effects on Automatic Racial Prejudice." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 81. No. 5. pp. 842-855: Purchase here.