Chris Uggen's Blog: May 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

dr. drew on celebrity narcissism

I was surprised to learn that media personality Dr. Drew Pinsky had published a peer-reviewed article in Journal of Research in Personality 2006. I'm not wild about the sampling, but his "Narcissism and Celebrity," coauthored with S. Mark Young, turns out to be a pretty good read. From the abstract:

We used the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to assess the degree of narcissism among celebrities. Results indicate that celebrities are significantly more narcissistic than MBA students and the general population. Contrary to findings in the population at large, in which men are more narcissistic than women, female celebrities were found to be significantly more narcissistic than their male counterparts. Reality television personalities had the highest overall scores on the NPI, followed by comedians, actors, and musicians. Further, our analyses fail to show any relationship between NPI scores and years of experience in the entertainment industry, suggesting that celebrities may have narcissistic tendencies prior to entering the industry.

The sample was drawn from 200 celebrities appearing on Loveline, Dr. Pinsky's syndicated radio program, and a comparison group of 200 MBA students. Each participant completed the 40-item Narcissism Personality Inventory (NPI). I would be reluctant to draw any strong inferences from such a selective sample of celebrities, but I've charted some of the basic descriptives below. The figure shows mean levels of seven component NPI subscales for each group (authority, exhibitionism, superiority, entitlement, exploitativeness, self-sufficiency, and vanity), with the highest score on each subscale highlighted in yellow.

Overall, celebrities were significantly more narcissistic than MBA students, with the small samples of reality TV stars and comedians posting the highest overall scores (19.5 and 18.9, respectively). Are bloggers narcissists? For what it's worth, I scored a 16 on the online NPI -- about the same as the musicians and male MBAs.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

the steak knives or the caddy? small rewards and cultures of appreciation

According to Fortune, bonuses, titles, and big giveaways to top performers aren't very effective in motivating employees. Of course, Fortune's primary source on this point was a CEO selling alternative incentive systems -- Eric Mosley of Globoforce, the "leading worldwide provider of global strategic recognition solutions." The article did not cite much of the empirical literature on the subject from social psychology or organization studies, though it did offer a supportive quote from Hyagreeva Rao, a Stanford business professor and frequent contributor to American Journal of Sociology.

Celebrity CEO "Neutron Jack" Welch famously advocated rewarding the top 10% of employees and firing the bottom 10%. Universities, in contrast, offer non-tenured faculty an incentive system more akin to that of the Alec Baldwin character in Mamet's Glengarry, Glen Ross:

So what might work a little better?

Share the Wealth. About 80% to 90% of employees should get some reward every year. "A lot of companies worry that this sounds like 'everyone is a winner' thinking," says Globoforce's Mosley. "But when you're trying to reinforce certain behaviors, you need to constantly recognize them."

Small bucks beat big ones. The average prize should be just $110. Smaller prizes can seem insignificant, but larger ones, Globoforce found, don't motivate any better. "Even billionaires appreciate a Christmas sweater from their mom," says Mosley.

Weekly, not quarterly. Every week, 5% of employees should get an award. Any less frequent and people will forget about the program. "Salary increases, which many employees say they prefer, are one-time events," Mosley says. "There's just pressure for another one. Small awards all the time are a way to constantly touch people."
I'd like to see broader cultures of appreciation in academic departments, but academics are loathe to give out $110 gift certificates until they've been properly vetted by a Behaviors to be Recognized Committee with a fully articulated appeals process. Maybe if we hired Globoforce...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

spring issue

When Hartmann and I bid for Contexts magazine, our proposal was long on vision but skimpy on details. I think our new spring issue is about the closest we've come to realizing that vision, presenting a broader, more diverse, and more engaged sociology and celebrating its contributions to the public good.

This issue features a lively print exchange based on culture editor Dave Grazian's bar room discussion of glam metal and guilty pleasures with (non-academic sociologist) Chuck Klosterman. Paul Hirsch and Dan Cornfeld offer a fine retrospective on (non-academic sociologist) Studs Terkel, with some amazing artwork from (non-academic sociologist) Harvey Pekar's graphic adaptation of Terkel's Working. We've also got a slate of strong features by academic sociologists like Doug Downey and Edward Walker, incisive culture reviews on reality TV, and a compelling original analysis of bestselling books in sociology, with a comment by Herb Gans himself.

Though we've started to make good on a bit of the vision in our proposal, we know that Contexts ain't there yet. And while is attracting millions of eyeballs these days, our print publication is still speaking mainly to a few thousand academic sociologists. Those issues aside, I was dang pleased to peel the shrink wrap from this issue -- and I hope you like it too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

law enforcement death rate is falling, not rising

The Minnesota law enforcement community turned out strong to honor the memory of Officer Joe Bergeron of Maplewood, killed in the line of duty on May 1. Of course, such deaths ripple outward to affect much broader communities. I recall my mother's stories about a brave officer in our family -- the nice cousin who sang Everly Brothers songs with her, I believe -- shot and killed during a basic traffic stop. So I was especially troubled to see media reports citing a "a 17 percent jump in the number of officers 'feloniously killed' in the line of duty."

The reports are based on an FBI press release, but is it really the case that More Officers Died in the Line of Fire in 2009? The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund tracks law enforcement deaths by year and jurisdiction, while the Officer Down Memorial Page provides breakdowns by state. These include both felonious deaths (which are primarily firearms-related) and accidental deaths (which are primarily traffic-related). The long-term trend in officer deaths is shown in the first figure below. You can see peaks of 285 deaths in 1930, 279 in 1974, and 240 in 2001, but a decline to 116 officer deaths in 2009.

Of course, there were a lot more people in the United States in 2009 than in 1974, and a lot more in 1974 than in 1792. To get a better sense of long-term trends in the rate of law enforcement deaths, I plotted this long NLEOMF data series after standardizing it by population. The figure below shows the resulting rate of law enforcement deaths per million citizens.

Death rates were highest during the prohibition era from 1920-1932, reaching a peak rate of 2.32 officers per million population in 1930. Officer deaths then dropped dramatically in the 1940s and 1950s before rising again to a second peak of about 1.3 deaths per million in 1974. Since then, there has been another steep decline that extends to the present. By my calculations, the 2009 death rate of .38 per million has now reached its lowest point since 1875.

While there were indeed 7 more felonious deaths in 2009 than in 2008, I can find no evidence of a longer-term increase in the rate, number, or proportion of felonious deaths. According to an NLEOMF research bulletin, about 62 percent of officer deaths were felonious in the 1970s, about 54 percent were felonious in the 1980s, and about 46 percent were felonious in the 2000s.

A few caveats on this analysis: I cannot vouch for the quality of the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund data in the early years of this series, but it seems to track the FBI data very closely for more recent years. One might also critique the latter figure for using the total population as the denominator rather than the number of law enforcement officers.

Finally, it should go without saying that 116 officer deaths remains far too many. Nevertheless, this picture is far more heartening than the one painted by recent news reports -- the rate of officer deaths appears to be lower today than it has been for the past 135 years.