Fans of the New York Yankees incorrectly perceive Fenway Park, home of the archrival Boston Red Sox, to be closer to New York City than is Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles, a study by NYU psychologists has found. Their research appeared in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“Sun Tzu, the Chinese military general…reportedly coined the famous phrase ‘Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’,” write the study’s co-authors, NYU’s Jenny Xiao, a doctoral candidate, and Jay Van Bavel, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. “In the same way, our participants appeared to be doing something quite similar—they reported that their ‘enemies’ were closer, but only when they posed a potential threat.”

Previous scholarship has shown that people categorize themselves on the basis of an individual identity, a collective identity, or both. More specifically, earlier studies have shown that categorical labels make people exaggerate perceived distance between arbitrary categories. For example, people overestimate distances on a map between locations. In other words, categorization enlarges estimations of between-group physical distance.

The NYU researchers sought to clarify our understanding of perceived distances by examining how collective identities and threats to these identities may alter estimates of large-scale physical distances.

To test their theory, the researchers interviewed Yankees fans and non-Yankees fans outside of Yankee Stadium on June 18-19, 2010—prior to the start of games against the New York Mets. At the time of the interviews, the Yankees were in first place in the American League East, the Red Sox were in second place (one game behind the Yankees), and the Baltimore Orioles were in last place (23 games behind the Yankees). A series of questions identified participants as either Yankees fans who were threatened by the Red Sox or non-Yankees fans who felt no such threat.

Participants were then asked to estimate the distance from Yankee Stadium both to Fenway Park (actual distance = 190 miles) and to the Orioles’ home stadium, Camden Yards (170 miles). Camden Yards was chosen as the control location because it is the home of a non-threatening group in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, and is a similar (albeit slightly shorter) distance from Yankee Stadium as Fenway Park. Participants’ distance estimations were assessed by either a written report in miles or a map measure, in which they saw a map of the northeastern U.S., with a 500-mile-radius circle centered on Yankee Stadium, and then indicated the location of these two stadiums on two maps.

Their results, which also took into account participants’ geographical expertise, supported the researchers’ hypothesis: non-Yankees fans correctly estimated that Fenway Park was marginally farther than Camden Yards; in contrast, Yankees fans estimated that Fenway Park, the home stadium of a threatening group, was marginally closer than Camden Yards, the home stadium of a non-threatening group. Therefore, the relative difference in distance estimations to the two stadiums (Fenway Park and Camden Yards) differed as a function of the perceivers’ baseball identity—being a fan of the Yankees or not.

Stern Study Reveals Those With Perception of Power or Status Act Differently

In a recent paper, “Differentiating the Effects of Status and Power: A Justice Perspective,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Stern School of Business associate professor of management and organizations Steven Blader and co-author Ya-Ru Chen of Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management examined the effect of power and status on how fairly individuals act towards others.

Across a series of studies, the authors demonstrated that those who regard themselves as higher in power treat others less fairly, as compared to those who regard themselves as lower in power. In contrast, those who regard themselves as higher in status treat others more fairly, as compared to those who regard themselves as lower in status. In other words, although power and status are often thought of as two sides of the same coin, they in fact have opposite effects on the fairness of people’s behavior.  

These results have important implications for managers and for organizations more generally, since they inform our understanding of why managers treat those they interact with (including, importantly, their subordinates) fairly or unfairly. The authors suspect that the tendency by organizations to emphasize things that make managers feel more powerful (e.g., headcount, budget control, bonuses) actually leads those managers to treat their subordinates less fairly.

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