Published works

The Authentic Appeal of the Lying Demagogue: Proclaiming the Deeper Truth about Political Illegitimacy

February 2018 American Sociological Review
(read Copy Here)

with Minjae Kim and Ezra W. Zuckerman

We develop and test a theory to address a puzzling pattern that has been discussed widely since the 2016 U.S. presidential election: how can a constituency of voters find a candidate “authentically appealing” (i.e., view him positively as authentic) even though he is a “lying demagogue” (someone who deliberately tells lies and appeals to non-normative private prejudices)? Key to the theory are two points: (1) “common-knowledge” lies may be understood as flagrant violations of the norm of truth-telling; and (2) when a political system is suffering from a “crisis of legitimacy” (Lipset 1959) with respect to at least one political constituency, members of that constituency will be motivated to see a flagrant violator of established norms as an authentic champion of its interests. Two online vignette experiments on a simulated college election support our theory. These results demonstrate that mere partisanship is insufficient to explain sharp differences in how lying demagoguery is perceived, and that several oft-discussed factors—information access, culture, language, and gender—are not necessary for explaining such differences. Rather, for the lying demagogue to have authentic appeal, it is sufficient that one side of a social divide regards the political system as flawed or illegitimate.

Why elites love authentic lowbrow culture: overcoming high-status denigration with outsider art


with Ezra Zuckerman and Minjae Kim 

Going beyond the distinction-seeking explanation for why “cultural omnivorousness” (the tendency for Western elites to consume a wide range of genres) extends to lowbrow genres, we develop and test the idea that demonstrating appreciation of authentic lowbrow culture affords authenticity-insecure elites an effective way of shoring up their authenticity. This argument, which builds on recent sociological research on the “search for authenticity” (e.g., Grazian 2005), on Bourdieu’s (1993) notion of artistic “disinterestedness,” and on Hahl and Zuckerman’s (2014) theory of “high-status denigration,” is validated through experiments with American subjects in the context of “outsider” art (Fine 2004).  The first study demonstrates that preference for lowbrow culture is higher when individuals feel insecure in their authenticity—i.e., when their social category attained status in a manner whereby extrinsic motives are salient.  The second study demonstrates that audiences perceive the members of erstwhile denigrated social categories to be more authentic if they consume lowbrow culture but only if the cultural producer is perceived as authentic. We conclude by noting how this “authenticity-by-appreciation” effect might be complementary with distinction-seeking as a motivation for elite cultural omnivorousness and we draw broader implications for when and why particular forms of culture are in demand.



This paper addresses why customers at times prefer traditional practices deemed more authentic to a domain, particularly where these practices had previously been discarded as inferior. I argue that customer demand for authenticity can be triggered when extrinsic rewards (i.e., fame or money) increase in prominence in a market, causing audiences to doubt the motives of the market’s producers. I examine this dynamic in the context of Major League Baseball, where appreciation for traditional stadium features seemingly arose after the advent of free agency heightened awareness and coverage of the economic rewards in the sport. Experimental analysis validates the proposed mechanism, whereby increased fan exposure to extrinsic rewards increases concern about player inauthenticity, which increases preference for traditional stadium features. Difference in Difference analysis of attendance patterns (home-away) provides external validation for these experimental findings by showing that authenticity was more highly preferred, in the form of higher relative attendance in traditional-style ballparks, by those fans more affected by free agency. Conclusions are drawn about the role that perceptions about motives play in market perceptions of authenticity and valuation of authentic cultural objects. 



with Olenka Kacperczyk and Jason Davis

Although brokers who span structural holes have been shown to occupy a valuable position in organizations, emerging research suggests that the returns to these brokers can vary depending on whether alters can credibly threaten to disintermediate the broker and close the structural hole. Yet the factors that shape the likelihood of disintermediation have not been extensively explored.  In this paper, we argue that local network perception influences both 1) alters’ ability to disintermediate, and 2) the likelihood that individuals occupy high-performing brokerage positions in intra-organizational networks. Drawing on prior research about cognitive social structures, we argue that individuals are most likely to be in a structural hole under the condition of knowledge asymmetry—that is, when brokers know about the structural hole, but alters do not—which reduces the likelihood of disintermediation by alters and benefits to brokers. Using advice network data from a high-tech organization, we find evidence of knowledge asymmetry in existing structural holes, and moderation of this relationship by two factors also related to disintermediation: (1) broker’s reputation and (2) alter’s position in the resource flow. We also show that knowledge asymmetry is related to higher returns for brokers. The broader theoretical contribution is a better understanding of how network perceptions are related to positions across structural holes, an important structure from which power is derived in organizations and markets.



with David F. Babbel

The decision whether to buy term or permanent life insurance, or some combination of both, is among the most challenging elements of the purchasing process for many people. This study demonstrates that financial analyses which purport to show that the Buy Term and Invest the Difference (BTID) concept dominates the combination of permanent life insurance supplemented with term life are deficient in many ways and incapable of establishing this dominance. It also shows that the assumed financial discipline necessary to successfully implement the BTID approach is an unrealistic expectation for many consumers. Accordingly, it should not be claimed that one approach necessarily dominates the other for all consumers.



with Ezra Zuckerman

We develop theory and report on experiments that address the tendency for high-status actors to be deemed—even by high-status actors themselves—less considerate and more inauthentic than low-status actors.   We argue that this tendency, which potentially contradicts the fact that status is accorded on the basis of an actor’s capability and commitment, stems from two paradoxical features of typical status attainment processes: (a) The benefits of a high-status position typically carry an incentive to feign capability and commitment, thereby leading to suspicions of inauthenticity; and (b) Status is typically achieved through interaction patterns in which the high-status actor asserts its superiority and another’s inferiority, thereby leading to suspicions of inconsiderateness.  Three experimental studies are designed to validate this theory and help rule out an alternative hypothesis, whereby the negative correlation between status and morality derives from a psychological need for viewing the world as just or fair–leading evaluators to compensate those who lack status with higher attributions of morality.  Our studies, based on the “minimal group” paradigm, ask subjects to evaluate two arbitrary social categories based on members’ performance in a joint cognitive task.  Implications are drawn regarding high-status insecurity and the sources of instability in status hierarchies.


WORk in Process

opportunistic or Authentic Diversification? Resolving the Commitment Ambiguity of Category Spanning

with Jae Kyung Ha

When might affiliation with outside investors harm a firm’s ability to diversify? While most work has found that outside investors provide positive reputational effects for firms, we argue that in certain contexts, where commitment to a firm’s objectives and customers is not taken for granted, such affiliations limit a firm’s ability to diversify because a) diversification is an ambiguous signal of commitment to the focal industry and b) affiliation with outsiders will resolve this ambiguity negatively by increasing suspicions that the firm is no longer committed to its original customers and intentions. Through experiments based on qualitative work on therapists in the field of behavioral health, a key demand-side audience in the industry, we show that outside investor affiliations increase demand-side penalties for diversification through reduced perceptions of commitment. We further validate the mechanism by showing that when outside investors are perceived to be committed to the industry and its customers that the negative effect associated with such affiliations is eliminated. Articulating this mechanism and providing causal evidence contributes to research on organization theory by highlighting how and when audience perceptions of commitment might serve as a key demand-side factor influencing audience acceptance of firm attempts to diversify. We conclude by discussing how supply-side activities behind strategic commitments are related to demand-side perceptions of commitment and practical implications for the important role of impression management when affiliating with outside investors like private equity. 


Too Good to Hire? Capability and Commitment Inference in Labor Markets

with Roman Galperin, Jerry Guo, and Adina Sterling

A key and often unquestioned assumption in labor markets research is that employers hire the highest quality candidate at a given wage. In this paper, we theorize an aspect of screening that leads higher quality job candidates to experience lower chances of advancing in the screening process to receive job offers. We argue screeners perceive high-quality candidates to have lower commitment to the organization relative to lower quality candidates. To test our arguments, we conduct three experimental studies that use hiring managers as subjects. In Study 1, our findings indicate screeners have concerns about a high-quality candidate’s commitment to an employer, and that under the conditions we specify, high-quality candidates are more likely to be screened out of the hiring process than are lower quality candidates. In Study 2, we find that commitment concerns remain even when screeners have assurances that high-quality candidates will accept job offers. Finally, in Study 3, we test ways in which high-quality candidates can provide credible signals of commitment to reduce the quality penalty. We conclude with a discussion of the contributions of our study to theories of quality inference in labor markets.

Strategic Authenticity: Overcoming the dark side of success in Music

with Pete Younkin


Smoke and mirrors: institutional change, leader iconicity, and perceptions of authenticity in the market for cuban cigars

with Cameron Verhaal and Kevin Fandl


INGROUP 'Flexibility': Evidence of social influence in third-party regulation markets

with Sae S. Park and Sunkee Lee


WOrking papers

May I Deviate, Please? Status Effects on Anticipatory Impression Management

Copy available here

with Renee Richardson Gosline 

How can firms effectively reduce penalties for categorical deviance? Past research on organizational impression management indicates that firms can minimize penalty for deviance by pre-emptively using verbal accounts, or language that presents deviant behavior in a way that makes it acceptable to an audience. However, this work has yet to explore the role that organizational status plays, a factor that has also been shown to affect how audiences interpret a firm’s activities. This paper builds a bridge between these perspectives by showing how organizational status influences the effectiveness of anticipatory impression management tools like pre-emptive verbal accounts. We propose that high-status firms, unlike middle-status counterparts, are more effective at avoiding penalty for deviance when they employ the use of assertive verbal accounts that convey confidence. We design a series of experiments to test this argument in the context of the food industry. Specifically, we show that high-status firms are better off when they do not appear deferential, or overly apologetic, in anticipatory impression management signaling – while the opposite is true for middle-status firms. Mediation analysis shows that the same type of framing differently affects perceptions of skill and confidence depending on the status of the firm, but that too much perceived effort in framing the deviance will lead to negative results. Our findings support the claim that an organization’s attempts to manage audience impressions with verbal accounts must be aligned with the perceived status of the firm, such that status positively interacts with confident styles of anticipatory impression management and negatively interacts with more deferential styles.