The French Put-Down - Pacific Standard

The French Put-Down

Notes on early parenthood, cell phone usage, the lack of obesity in France and more.
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As long observed, the French tend to be less obese than Americans, despite their taste for brie, Burgundy and buttery croissants. A new Cornell University study published in the journal Obesity discovered an astonishingly simple reason: They tend to stop eating when they are full.

An analysis of questionnaires from 133 Parisians and 145 Chicagoans regarding their eating habits found that French diners put down their baguettes when they no longer feel hungry. In contrast, Americans tend to keep eating until an external event — an empty plate, for example, or the end of a television show — signals them to stop.

"Furthermore, we have found that the heavier a person is — French or American — the more they rely on external clues to tell them to stop eating," says senior author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. Bottom line: When your mother insisted you clean your plate, she instilled in you a lifelong bad habit.

New Meaning for the School Fight Song

High school football players are more than 40 percent more likely than nonathletes to get into a serious fight during a given year. In contrast, student athletes who play baseball, basketball or tennis are no more likely to get into a violent altercation than their sedentary schoolmates.

That's the conclusion of a nuanced new study of youth sports and violence by Penn State sociologist Derek Kreager, who used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. What's more, the friends of football players are also far more prone to violence than their classmates, suggesting the culture surrounding the game encourages the use of force to settle disputes.

"The aggression on the football field is not cathartic," Kreager says. "I would argue it becomes part of your identity." Changing this dynamic, he argues, will require a different mindset on the part of school administrators and coaches, too many of whom admire physically aggressive behavior as characteristic of a winner.

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Wait Not, Want Not?

It is accepted wisdom that postponing marriage and parenthood is a wise decision. Young people who form families are often forced to pass up educational and career opportunities. Plunging forward into full adulthood before you have a chance to discover your real needs and desires seems to be a recipe for long-term unhappiness.

A team led by sociologist Alan Booth of Penn State is questioning those conventional beliefs. Analyzing data on 8,000 18- to 25-year-olds from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the team found those who became parents had no more depressive symptoms than their childless peers.

In the Journal of Marriage and Family, Booth and his colleagues argue that, for people from less-advantaged backgrounds, starting a family early in life "may be beneficial, or at least benign," since the decision "may take them out of harsh or unsupportive living environments." In other words, for some, parenthood can serve as a means of escape and a fresh start.

Superstars in the Boss's Mind

The widening gulf between rich and poor is usually thought of as a product of growing incomes for educated professionals and stagnant ones for everyone else. In fact, income inequality is increasing more rapidly within professions than between them, according to a new study by sociologists Arthur Sakamoto of the University of Texas and ChangHwan Kim of the University of Minnesota. They report the gap between the top earners in a given profession and those at the midpoint of the wage scale increased by 15 percent from 1985 to 2000 — a startling 1 percent per year.

Sakamoto cites a number of reasons, including the decline of unions (no longer large enough to set a prevailing wage in most industries) and the decreasing tendency of companies to give automatic yearly wage increases pegged to seniority. He believes the largest factor, however, is the rise of a superstar stratum in so many occupations.

From heart surgeons to hairdressers, he says, "The top people in their fields are getting much higher salaries than they used to get." It seems we reflexively assume a handful of service providers are the best available, and we're willing to pay them top dollar — even though their prominence may be a matter more of savvy publicity than of superior performance.

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Call in the Wild

Cell phones instill a false sense of security that may lead users to take foolish risks, according to a study in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. A survey of 305 students at Ohio State University found 40 percent reported they walked somewhere after dark they would not have gone had they not been carrying a mobile phone. A separate survey found about three-quarters of students said carrying a cell made them feel safer while walking alone at night.

Small problem: In fact, "They are probably less safe because they are paying less attention to their surroundings," says co-author Jack Nasar, a professor of city and regional planning at Ohio State.

Nasar notes that a person who is deeply involved in a conversation can be oblivious to otherwise obvious danger signals. He found that 48 percent of pedestrians on their cell phones crossed a busy road in front of approaching cars, compared with 25 percent of those whose undivided attention was on their immediate environment.

The Simian Slur

One of the most revolting of all racial stereotypes — that African Americans are somehow apelike — is lodged in the minds of white American males just below the level of consciousness, according to a series of six dispiriting studies.

A team led by Penn State psychologist Phillip Atiba Goff "primed" a group of mostly white, male undergraduates by quickly flashing in front of their eyes one of three images: a black male face, a white male face or a line drawing. The participants then watched a short, blurry nature film, which gradually came into focus. Those primed with the black male face were, by some distance, the first to identify the animal in the film as an ape.

Even more disturbingly, a group of men primed with ape-associated words were more likely to describe a police beating of a black man as justified. And a study of criminal trial reporting in The Philadelphia Inquirer over 20 years found that black defendants were far more likely to be described with ape-related terms — and that the more such words appeared in press coverage, the more likely the defendants were to receive the death penalty. If we are to have a genuine dialogue about race, as Barack Obama has urged, these unconscious associations might provide a painful but promising place to begin talking.

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