This Week in Research: The Upside of Bullying; How to Win the Presidency

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In this series, we look at the newest findings coming out of our area’s top research universities. We’ve got some great minds in Baltimore — let’s learn what they’re learning!
Social rejection:  it doesn’t feel good, that’s for sure. But can it sometimes be a good thing? Studies have shown that feeling isolated from a group can inhibit cognitive ability in people who think that belonging to a group is a good thing. But when it comes to people who take pride in their non-conformism, social isolation can be a good thing, according to recent research out of Johns Hopkins.

With bullying — or at least widely publicized bullying incidents — on the rise, there’s been a lot of talk about the negative consequences of social rejection. But the study’s authors argue that our understanding of these social dynamics needs to be more complex and multi-layered:  “Obviously, bullying is reprehensible and produces nothing good,” said Sharon Kim, an associate professor at Hopkins’ Carey Business School and co-author of the study. “What we tried to show in our paper is that exclusion from a group can sometimes lead to a positive outcome when independently minded people are the ones being excluded.”

To test this, Kim and her co-authors told their experimental subjects (college students) that they hadn’t been selected for a group, and then gave them standardized tests to measure their creativity. The most independent/nerdy of the group were the most creative after rejection. Kim hypothesizes that a certain type of creative, independent person might even grow to thrive on rejection, in contrast to someone who merely longs to be included. Because she’s a business professor, Kim outlines the implications for employers:  A business looking for creative types, she says, might want to take a second look at applicants with seemingly “unconventional personalities,” since they might be the ones with the best ideas.

Johns Hopkins political science prof Adam Sheingate has spent a lot of time thinking about the upcoming election. Elections, rather:  “Most people tend to forget that the U.S. presidential election is really 51 elections, not one,” Sheingate writes in the Johns Hopkins Magazine. That’s because of that darned Electoral College, of course.

According to Sheingate, the winner-take-all Electoral College system makes it so votes for the losing candidate are essentially meaningless; as he points out, five million Californians voted for John McCain in 2008, but all 55 of that state’s electoral votes went to Barack Obama.

One consequence of all this geographical math is that some places — namely those infamous swing states — end up mattering much more than others. ” In 2008, Obama and McCain made more than 20 personal appearances in four battleground states, skipping 27 other states entirely during the general election,” Sheingate says. “This makes sense given that the average margin of victory in these 27 states was more than 20 percent. By contrast, the average margin of victory in the four most heavily visited states was only 6 percent.”

After the 2010 Census, the Electoral College got rearranged slightly, and states that went for Obama in 2008 lost a total of six electoral votes. This year’s key battlegrounds will be Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, and Florida (which Obama will battle to win again) as well as Missouri (which McCain won by fewer than 4,000 votes last time around). The upshot to all this campaign calculus? Maryland, a state that’s nearly certain to opt for Obama, has to deal with way fewer campaign commercials.

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