Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Claw machines for toys are rigged

At some point or another you've probably played one of these claw machines, hoping to score the plush toy of your dreams. But despite your skill at perfectly positioning the claw over the prize and activating it, you've found that the pincers just don't grab tightly enough to pick up a stuffed animal.

It's not your imagination. Those claw machines are rigged. ...

Some people think the claw machine is so hard to win because the stuffed animals are packed so tightly together. But the bigger reason is more insidious than that: the claw machine is programmed to have a strong grip only part of the time.

This isn't a closely kept secret. It's publicly available information, pulled straight from the instruction guides for the biggest claw games out there. ...

The machine's owner can fine-tune the strength of the claw beforehand so that it only has a strong grip a fraction of the time that people play.

The owner can manually adjust the "dropping skill," as well. That means that on a given number of tries, the claw will drop a prize that it's grabbed before it delivers it to you.

The machines also allow the owner to select a desired level of profit and then automatically adjust the claw strength to make sure that players are only winning a limited number of times...

This isn't isolated to one claw machine or one company — this is standard practice industry-wide.

Starting in 1951, the machines were regulated as gambling devices, but in 1974, those regulations were relaxed. A claw boom began. Today, they're ubiquitous in grocery stores, malls, and anywhere else with lots of foot traffic.
--Phil Edwards, Vox, on money from suckers. HT: MEL

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Friendliness can come from a genetic disorder

Eli D’Angelo has a superpower: the ability to win over strangers in seconds flat.

I once watched the gregarious 12-year-old approach a scowling man in a leather jacket and chaps as he secured his Harley in a restaurant parking lot. He didn’t look like he was in the mood for conversation, but his expression softened as soon as Eli complimented his bike. When Eli reached out to hug him, he hugged back.

Even more intimidating was the group of teenage girls Eli once greeted at an after-school soccer practice. With smiles and flattery, he talked them into drawing him a picture of a two-headed guitar-playing zombie who shoots laser beams from his eyes. ...

Eli’s superpower is actually a symptom. He has Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder sometimes called “cocktail party syndrome” because it makes people extremely outgoing and irrepressibly friendly. When I first heard of the disorder — before I knew much about the intellectual impairments and serious health issues it also entails — I was envious of the apparent social ease it imparted. ...

But Eli violated the standard rules of etiquette more often than he obeyed them. ... Again and again, people forgave Eli’s faux pas and responded instead to the earnestness of his interest in them and the sincerity of his care.

And Eli truly cares about people. He wants to talk to them, hug them, invite them over for a sleepover. He can’t help feeling this way; almost everyone with Williams does. It’s one of the quirks of the disorder, caused by the deletion of about two dozen genes from chromosome seven. The absence of these genes, it seems, produces an insatiable drive to connect with other people. ...

Spending time with Eli, and others with Williams, made me realize that this is the key difference between us: It’s not that they’re not awkward, it’s that they’re not afraid of being awkward. They don’t have the fear of looking foolish that holds many of us back. We’re so terrified of that one-in-100 chance of embarrassment or rejection that we avoid the 99 interactions that are more likely to be fulfilling. ... Lacking that concern, Eli grasped what has long eluded me: that most people aren’t excessively judgmental. They’re quick to forgive. And more often than not, they want to connect.
--Jennifer Latson, New York, on the darnedest genetic influences on behavior

Liberals on immigration a decade ago

A decade ago, liberals publicly questioned immigration in ways that would shock many progressives today.

In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, “Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that “immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants” and that “the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear.” His conclusion: “We’ll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants.” That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, “When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.

Prominent liberals didn’t oppose immigration a decade ago. Most acknowledged its benefits to America’s economy and culture. They supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Still, they routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America’s welfare state. And they were far more likely than liberals today are to acknowledge that, as Krugman put it, “immigration is an intensely painful topic … because it places basic principles in conflict.”

Today, little of that ambivalence remains. In 2008, the Democratic platform called undocumented immigrants “our neighbors.” But it also warned, “We cannot continue to allow people to enter the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked,” adding that “those who enter our country’s borders illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of the law.” By 2016, such language was gone. The party’s platform described America’s immigration system as a problem, but not illegal immigration itself. And it focused almost entirely on the forms of immigration enforcement that Democrats opposed. In its immigration section, the 2008 platform referred three times to people entering the country “illegally.” The immigration section of the 2016 platform didn’t use the word illegal, or any variation of it, at all. ...

In July 2015, two months after officially announcing his candidacy for president, Sanders was interviewed by Ezra Klein, the editor in chief of Vox. Klein asked whether, in order to fight global poverty, the U.S. should consider “sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders.” Sanders reacted with horror. “That’s a Koch brothers proposal,” he scoffed. He went on to insist that “right-wing people in this country would love … an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country.”

...progressive commentators now routinely claim that there’s a near-consensus among economists on immigration’s benefits.

There isn’t. According to a comprehensive new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Groups comparable to … immigrants in terms of their skill may experience a wage reduction as a result of immigration-induced increases in labor supply.” But academics sometimes de-emphasize this wage reduction because, like liberal journalists and politicians, they face pressures to support immigration.
--Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, on why we should be charitable towards our opponents

Friday, June 16, 2017

Why do fathers abandon their children?

Millions of poor children and teenagers grow up without their biological father, and often when you ask them about it, you hear a litany of male barbarism. ... The children’s tales often reinforce the standard image we have of the deadbeat dad — the selfish cad who spreads his seed and leaves generations of wreckage in his wake.

Yet when you ask absent fathers themselves, you get a different picture. You meet guys who desperately did not want to leave their children, who swear they have tried to be with them, who may feel unworthy of fatherhood but who don’t want to be the missing dad their own father was.

In truth, when fathers abandon their own children, it’s not a momentary decision; it’s a long, tragic process. A number of researchers have tried to understand how father abandonment happens, most importantly Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson, who moved to Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., immersed themselves in the neighborhoods there and produced an amazing account, “Doing the Best I Can.”

Pregnancy is rarely planned among the populations they studied. Typically the parents are in a semi-relationship that is somewhere between a one-night stand and an actual boyfriend-girlfriend bond. ...

When the men learn that their partner is pregnant, they don’t panic, or lament all the freedom they are going to miss. On the contrary, three-quarters of the men in Edin and Nelson’s research were joyous at the news. The men are less likely than the women to want to end the pregnancy with an abortion.

These guys have often had a lot of negativity in their lives. The child is a chance to turn things around and live a disciplined life. The child is a chance to have a respected role, to find love and purpose.

The men at this stage are filled with earnest resolve. They begin to take the relationship more seriously and commit to the kid during infancy. ...

The key weakness is not the father’s bond to the child; it’s the parents’ bond with each other. They usually went into this without much love or sense of commitment. ...

By the time the child is 1, half these couples have split up, and many of the rest will part ways soon after. Suddenly there’s a new guy living in the house, a man who resents the old one. The father redefines his role. He no longer aims to be the provider and caregiver, just the occasional “best friend” who can drop by and provide a little love. This is a role he has a shot at fulfilling, but it destroys parental responsibility.

He believes in fatherhood and tries it again with other women, with the same high hopes, but he’s really only taking care of the child he happens to be living with at any given moment. The rest are abandoned.
--David Brooks, NYT, on pregnancy without love

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Anxiety disorder is becoming the new norm

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is running well ahead of depression as the most common mental health concern, according to a 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. Meanwhile, the number of web searches involving the term has nearly doubled over the last five years, according to Google Trends. (The trendline for “depression” was relatively flat.)
--Alex Williams, NYT, on our anxious age

Richard Thaler's conflict of interest

Declaration of Conflicting Interests
R. H. Thaler has served as an uncompensated advisor to the United Kingdom Behavioural Insights States Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, both from their inception. He also has numerous behavioral biases so would personally benefit from evidence-based noncoercive nudges.
--Conflict of interest section from Benartzi et al., "Should Governments Invest More in Nudging?"

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Fetuses prefer face-like images

It is dark in the womb—but not that dark. Human flesh isn’t fully opaque, so some measure of light will always pass through it. This means that even an enclosed space like a uterus can be surprisingly bright. “It’s analogous to being in a room where the lights are switched off and the curtains are drawn, but it’s bright outside,” says Vincent Reid from the University of Lancaster. ...

But what exactly do fetuses see? And how do they react to those images? To find out, Reid shone patterns of red dots into the wombs of women in the third trimester of their pregnancies, and monitored the babies within using high-definition ultrasound. By looking at how the babies turned around, Reid showed that they have a preference for dots arranged in a face-like pattern—just as newborn infants do. ...

For decades, scientists have known that third-trimester babies can perceive sounds and other stimuli while still in the womb. For example, in 1980, Anthony DeCasper and William Fifer asked pregnant women to read The Cat in the Hat to their fetuses, again and again for the last 7 weeks of their pregnancies. As soon as the babies were born, DeCasper and Fifer gave them pacifiers. The babies could then choose to hear a recording of either The Cat in the Hat or a different children’s story, by sucking at different times. And they sucked for the cat.

“People showed that a fetus could learn, was aware of elements of language, and preferred its mother’s own voice,” says Reid. ...

[The study] also confirms that the preference for faces isn’t the result of experiences that happen after birth. Some scientists have suggested that babies imprint on the first things they see—usually their mother’s face—in the same way that baby chicks or ducklings do. It’s very hard to test that idea: If imprinting happens and is important, it would be unethical to deprive a baby of that stimulus. “But this study rules that out,” says Reid. The preference already exists in utero.
--Ed Yong, The Atlantic, on consciousness before birth

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The decline of the Big Mac

The Big Mac, wrote a top McDonald’s franchisee in a memo to fellow operators in July, “has gotten less relevant.” This is the problem facing the world’s largest hamburger maker—its burgers aren’t good enough.

Just one in five millennials, the fast-food industry’s core customer, has tried the flagship product, the memo said.
--Julie Jargon, WSJ, on how times change

Monday, May 29, 2017

The dark side of self-driving cars

I can’t count the number of emails I get from cybersecurity researchers who are predicting a spike in acts of terrorism carried out via self-driving cars. Picture everything from suicide-bombing cars (minus the actual suicide bombers) to triggering a 10-car pileup on a freeway by remotely taking over the controls of a car.
--Sheera Frenkel, NYT, on the advantage of wetware

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wealth is the adult version of magic

Wealth, I realized, is the adult version of magic: an incredibly powerful but ultimately arbitrary resource that transfers primarily through inheritance. It has some logic to it— but also enough randomness that those without can hope for a spontaneous windfall in the form of an improbably lucrative investment or a secret inheritance. (Harry Potter and Rachel Chu were both thrust into lands of glittering palaces and gem-studded talismans after discovering secret inheritances.) Particularly in the rapidly growing economies of post-WWII Asia and post-communist China, the acquisition [of] wealth has, at times, taken on a sort of magical quality — with all the confusion and trauma that can imply.
--Maureen O'Connor, New York, on the popularity of Crazy Rich Asians and other books/shows about rich people

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why are MLB pitchers taking longer between pitches?

Compared with 2007, the average MLB pitcher now holds the ball a full two seconds longer between consecutive pitches. ...

...in terms of baseball’s most valuable currency — fastball velocity — pitchers do benefit from a slower pace of delivery. I found this using a model that compared every pitch to the pitcher’s own average velocity, while normalizing for the count and number of pitches he had thrown in the game. ...
For every additional second they spend (up to 20 seconds), pitchers throw about .02 miles per hour harder.

Such a small difference in fastball velocity might seem too insignificant to chase. But every mile per hour matters: According to a 2010 study by Mike Fast (now employed in the Houston Astros’ front office), a single tick of fastball velocity is worth 0.3 runs per nine innings for a starter, and even more (0.45 runs per mph) for relievers. ...

If a team’s entire pitching staff took an average of 10 extra seconds, the resulting 0.2-mile per hour increase would equate to about 10 extra runs saved per season. Using the classic sabermetric rule of 10 runs per win, that’s one whole extra victory — something general managers have been willing to pay upwards of $7 million to acquire. ...

Across baseball, the average four-seam fastball velocity has spiked a full mile per hour since 2010, and that jump has coincided with the drop in pace. ... All in all, declining pace could be responsible for about 20 percent of the leaguewide increase in fastball velocity since 2010.
--Rob Arthur, FiveThirtyEight, on why baseball games last more than three hours

Revenge of the nerds on Wall Street

When Michael Savini came to Wall Street in 2006, banks and brokers had stocked their annual recruiting classes with a preponderance of new hires who shared at least one thing in common: They’d played college sports. ...

Ex-jocks had the right stomach for risk-taking, the theory went, and the ideal temperament to win clients’ trust and business. ...

As an economics major at Columbia University, where he was a four-year starter and co-captain of the wrestling team, Mr. Savini followed two older brothers, also college athletes, into finance. There, he believed, his background gave him an edge. “Athletes are better equipped at knowing you’re not always going to win,” he said. “In sales, you’re going to get a lot of doors slammed in your face. It’s how you bounce back from those losses that define us.”

Yet these days, when he attends mixers for former wrestlers in finance, Mr. Savini, 42 years old, says he hears more gripes than enthusiasm. If college athletes asked him for advice in pursuing a career on the trading floor, he said, his message would be a simple one.

Don’t. ...

Two years ago, after nearly a decade working as an equity salesman, Mr. Savini left for 303 Capital Markets, a boutique investment-banking firm. “The business is changing,” he said. “It’s all going electronic.”

“These guys are on the wrong side of Moore’s Law,” said Rett Wallace, a former investment banker, referring to the axiom on the exponential growth of computing power. ...

The industry started to shift away from athletes in the 1990s as derivatives grew in number and complexity. That necessitated a hiring spree for Ph.D.s who could understand and price them. More recently, the advent of electronic trading and quantitative investing called for many more recruits with math or computer-programming skills.
--Justin Baer, WSJ, on brains over brawn

The astronomical improbability of life

Nor do we know how life began. At some point, the Earth made the transition from chemistry to biology, yes, but we cannot “agree on a definition that separates the nonliving chemistry from life,” as the geneticist Johnjoe McFadden puts it. (He then paraphrases the astronomer Fred Hoyle, who famously said that the odds of assembling something like a bacterium out of the primordial ooze were akin to the odds of a tornado’s assembling a jumbo jet out of a junkyard heap as it sweeps through.)

There are scientists who will go so far as to say that life is a spectacular fluke. Not everyone, mind you: Researchers now estimate that there are one billion Earthlike exoplanets in the Milky Way. “To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” Stephen Hawking has said.

But a powerful essay by the evolutionary biologist Matthew Cobb will make you wonder whether any form of multicellular life is far less likely than one in a billion. He points out that “there are more single-celled organisms alive on Earth than there are Earthlike planets in the observable universe”; that the number of single-celled organisms that have lived on this planet over the course of 3.8 billion years is beyond calculation; that these organisms have interacted “gazillions” of times (I love it when words of the appropriate magnitude desert even the experts). Yet we’ve never had a second instance of eukaryogenesis — that remarkable moment when one unicellular life form lodged inside another, forming something much more complex — in all this time.
--Jennifer Senior, NYT, on the uniqueness of life as we know it

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Maybe macroeconomic forecasts aren't so bad

Macroeconomists... are asked to routinely produce forecasts to guide fiscal and monetary policy, and are perhaps too eager to comply. ...

...the supposedly most embarrassing forecast errors come with regards to large crises. Yet, these crises are rare events that happen once every many decades. Since typical economic time series only extend over a little more than one hundred years, statistically forecasting the eruption of a crisis will always come with large imprecision.

Compare how economics does relative to the medical sciences. ...

Imagine going to your doctor and asking her to forecast whether you will be alive 2 years from now. That would sound like a preposterous request to the physician, but perhaps having some actuarial mortality tables in her head, she would tell you the probability of death for someone of your age. For all but the older readers of this article, this will be well below 50%. Yet, one year later, you have a heart attack and die. Should there be outrage at the state of medicine for missing the forecast, with such deadly consequences?

One defense by the medical profession would be to say that their job is not to predict time of death. They are driven to understand what causes diseases, how to prevent them, how to treat them, and altogether how to lower the chances of mortality while trading this off against life quality and satisfaction. ... This argument applies, word for word, to economics once the word disease is replaced by the words financial crisis. ...

A more sophisticated defense would note that medical sciences are about making conditional forecasts: if you make some lifestyle choices, then your odds of dying change by this or that much. These forecasts are at best probabilistic. ...

Economics is not so different, even in 2007-08. Within days or weeks of the failure of Bear Sterns or Lehman Brothers, economists provided diagnoses of the crisis, and central banks and finance ministries implemented aggressive measures to minimize the damage, all of which were heavily influenced by economic theory. ... The economy did not die, and a Great Depression was avoided, in no small part due to the advances on economics over many decades.

Too many people all over the world are today being unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer, undergo enormously painful treatment, and recover to live for many more years. This is rightly hailed as a triumph of modern oncology, even if so much more remains to be done. After suffering the worst shock in many decades, the global economy’s problems were diagnosed by economists, who designed policies to respond to them, and in the end we had a painful recession but no melt down. Some, somehow, conclude that economics is at fault. ...

Macroeconomists are... asked to predict what will happen to the changes in the CPI or GDP over the next 1-5 years. The comparison of forecast quality must be made for the same time horizon and for a similar level of aggregation. The fairer comparison would be to ask doctors to predict what will be the percentage change in the annual number of patients that eventually die after being admitted to an emergency room due to a stroke. For these similar units, my guess is that medical forecasts will look almost as bad as macroeconomic forecasts.
--Ricardo Reis on comparing apples to apples

Why do dads tell dad jokes?

But now I know why dads tell dad jokes. You have this captive audience that laughs at 100% of your jokes for eight straight years, so your jokes just get worse and worse. And then one day, the laughter stops.
--MEL on the fate of the monopolist

Why do your sports teams suck? Taxes

Between 1989, when the team entered the N.B.A., and this season, the [Minnesota] Timberwolves have the worst record in the league. ...

In a state synonymous with hockey, neither the Wild nor the Stars (while in Minnesota) has won the Stanley Cup. Same for the Vikings and the Super Bowl. The Twins did win the World Series, but that’s the exception to the losing rule. ...

Minnesota has one of the highest top marginal income tax rates for any state at 9.85 percent. ...

It’s unclear how much professional athletes value these public goods, but the Timberwolves still have to pay extra to offset those taxes. And given the competition under a salary cap, it means Minnesota teams spend almost 10 percent less than teams from Florida or Texas, which have no income tax. This could be enough money to upgrade from an average player to an All-Star.

To test my theory, I gathered data on the outcomes of every professional sports game over the past 40 years as well as data on state and local tax rates each team member faces. I then computed how much taxes predict winning for each league in every year while controlling for other factors such as population, income, franchise age and local amenities (i.e., weather).

Results of the analysis show that higher taxes consistently predict worse performance in every league — not just the N.B.A. but also Major League Baseball, the N.H.L., and the N.F.L. over the past 20 years. ...

Several other factors connect the income tax effect to my theory. Comparing player salary to player value measures provides evidence that higher-taxed teams in baseball and basketball pay more for players of similar quality, suggesting tax compensation is real. The income tax effect also relies on the assumption that players and teams are responding to income tax rates when negotiating contracts. This explains why the effect arises only in the wake of collective bargaining agreements in the late 1980s and early 1990s that allowed players to become unrestricted free agents and have teams compete to sign them.

The income tax effect could also be explained if people in low-tax states such as Texas and Florida just enjoy sports more and support their teams more and this translates to more winning. But I found that in college football and basketball, where athletes are not paid and should not care about income tax rates, teams from lower-tax states do not perform better than teams in higher-tax states.
--Erik Hembre, NYT, on the tax elasticity of labor supply

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Does education make people less religious?

The idea is peppered through the writings of scholars, great thinkers, and New Atheist-types: Education is the cure for religion. ...

New data from the Pew Research Center doesn’t disprove these claims, but it does challenge them. ...

There are at least two different ways to think about the relationship between education and religiosity: how schooling affects belief, and how it affects practice. Pew’s researchers looked at data from a number of recent surveys, including their 35,000-person study of American religion from 2014. They found that educated people are generally less likely to believe in God: Among all U.S. adults, only 83 percent of college grads said they think God exists, while 92 percent of people with only a high-school degree or less said the same.

Within Christianity, though, the difference all but disappears. Among educated mainline Protestants, 96 percent said they believe in God, compared to 97 percent among the less educated; among Catholics, 98 percent of both groups said the same. Among Mormons, black Protestants, and evangelical Protestants, there was effectively no difference at all, because virtually everyone in those groups said they believe in God.

Educational differences had a much bigger effect on religious practice. Sixty-eight percent of college-educated evangelical Protestants go to church every week, compared to 55 percent of those who only went to high school. In fact, college grads show up in the church pews more often in nearly every kind of Christian tradition: Among mainline Protestants, weekly attendance was 36 to 31 percent, more educated to less; among black Protestants, 59 to 52 percent; and among Catholics, 45 to 39 percent. The effect was perhaps greatest among Mormons: 85 percent of Mormon college graduates go to church at least once a week, compared to 66 percent of their peers with a high-school education or less.
--Emma Green, The Atlantic, on religiosity among the knowledgable

Monday, April 24, 2017

Who has buyer's remorse? Hillary voters, not Trump voters

I argued last week that anecdotal stories about disillusioned Trump supporters were overdone. The fact is that, on a broad scale, Trump supporters say they aren't disappointed. In fact, a poll showed they were more pleased than disappointed, by about 5 to 1:
...The Pew Research Center released a poll showing very little buyer's remorse among Trump voters. The poll showed just 7 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump has performed worse than they expected him to. Fully 38 percent — five times as many — say he has performed better.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll confirms this — in spades. And, in fact, it shows more buyer's remorse for Trump's opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton. And were the 2016 election held again today, it shows Trump would avenge his popular-vote loss.

While just 4 percent of Trump's supporters say they would back someone else if there was a redo of the election, fully 15 percent of Clinton supporters say they would ditch her. Trump leads in a re-do of the 2016 election 43 percent to 40 percent after losing the popular vote 46-44. ...

Just 2 percent of those who voted for Trump say he has been a worse president than they expected. Only 1 percent say he has been “much worse,” and 1 percent say he has been “somewhat worse.”

In contrast, 62 percent say he has been better than expected, with one-third (33 percent) saying he has been “much better.”
--Aaron Blake, Washington Post, on happenings outside the liberal bubble

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Correlation between likability and status is nearly zero for teenage girls

“In elementary school, the kids who are really well-liked and who are nice are also the kids who are popular,” said Amanda Rose, a psychology researcher at the University of Missouri. “But in middle school, this starts to change.” By the time high school starts, there are two kinds of popularity: There are the well-liked students, and then there is the emergence of a new group, which researchers call the high-status students — these are the ones who dominate their social groups, who are perhaps voted to the homecoming court, or are captain of the soccer team.

This distinction — between status and likability — is especially important in understanding the alpha girl over her teenage-boy counterpart. Alpha boys tend to be aggressive in physical ways, starting fights or pushing each other around, while alpha girls are more likely to act in relationally aggressive ways, spreading rumors or using the silent treatment. ...

For girls, “the more aggressive you are, the less likable you will be. But it will make you more popular,” said Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of the upcoming book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World. “For boys, a lot of them can be [high-status] and also well-liked at the same time. But that is so not the case for girls. The correlation between likability and status approaches zero for girls.” Alpha girls are admired and feared, but they’re not often liked. ...

For teenagers, as you’ll no doubt recall, their peers’ opinions mean everything. Their parents’ opinions, on the other hand, means nothing — less than nothing. The farther they can get from anything adults approve of, the better. ...

Hence the allure of the alpha girl. High-status teenagers, the research suggests, tend to behave in ways adults find inappropriate, which other teenagers find exhilarating. ... They skip class, they dabble in drugs, they go to parties. They are, in a word, cool. ...

One might assume, as I did, that your high school’s alpha girl grew up to be the office alpha girl, too. But every researcher I talked to said the opposite; several of them, for that matter, pointed me toward a fascinating study led by Allen and published in 2014 in the journal Child Development, titled: “What ever happened to the ‘cool’ kids?” For that paper, Allen and his colleagues interviewed a group of teenagers — including the “high-status” ones, otherwise known as the popular kids — when they were seniors in high school, and then tracked them down and reinterviewed them ten years later. “And a decade later,” Allen tells me, “they’re not doing so well. They’re doing less well in romantic relationships, they’re more likely to have problems with alcohol use and criminal behavior.”