The Situationist

Ideology, Psychology, and Free Speech

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2014

Supreme_Court_US_2010

From Today’s New York Times, here is a brief excerpt from an article about a revealing new study, co-authored by Lee Epstein.

In cases raising First Amendment claims, a new study found, Justice Scalia voted to uphold the free speech rights of conservative speakers at more than triple the rate of liberal ones. In 161 cases from 1986, when he joined the court, to 2011, he voted in favor of conservative speakers 65 percent of the time and liberal ones 21 percent.

He is not alone. “While liberal justices are over all more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices,” the study found, “the votes of both liberal and conservative justices tend to reflect their preferences toward the ideological groupings of the speaker.”

Social science calls this kind of thing “in-group bias.” The impact of such bias on judicial behavior has not been explored in much detail, though earlier studies have found that female appeals court judges are more likely to vote for plaintiffs in sexual harassment and sex discrimination suits.

Lee Epstein, a political scientist and law professor who conducted the new study with two colleagues, said it showed the justices to be “opportunistic free speech advocates.”

Read the entire article here.

The role that ideology plays in law and legal decision making is the focus of the book, Ideology, Psychology, and Law, which contains numerous chapters by contributors to and friends of this blog including one co-authored by Lee Epstein.  Read more about Ideology, Psychology, and Law here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Ideology, Law | Leave a Comment »

The Gendered (Lookist) Situation of Venture Capital

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2014

If you’re in search of startup funding, it pays to be a good-looking guy.

A series of three studies reveals that investors prefer pitches from male entrepreneurs over those from female entrepreneurs, even when the content of the pitches is identical. Attractive men are the most persuasive pitchers of all, the studies show.

The findings are detailed in the paper Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men, published in the March 2014 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our paper provides concrete proof that gender discrimination exists in the context of entrepreneurial pitching,” says Alison Wood Brooks, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who coauthored the paper with Laura Huang . . . Sarah Wood Kearney . . . and Fiona E. Murray . . . .

As a behavioral psychologist, Brooks studies the situational variables that influence personal persuasion. Kearney, her twin sister, is an entrepreneur and scholar whose research is fueled by both a frustration with and curiosity about the dearth of venture capital for women. (In the first half of 2013, companies with at least one female founder secured some 13 percent of total venture funding, up from 4 percent in 2004, according to data from PitchBook.) Murray is Kearney’s thesis adviser. Huang, whom Brooks met in the initial stages of their research, studies the role of “gut feel” in investment decisions.

THE GUYS HAVE IT

In their first study, the research team examined video recordings of 90 randomly selected pitches from three real-life entrepreneurial pitch competitions, held in various United States locations over a three-year period. In each case, a panel of angel investors had judged the pitches and awarded startup capital to the winners.

The researchers recruited a separate panel of 60 seasoned angel investors to watch the videos and code them across several measures, including physical attractiveness—rating the entrepreneurs on a scale of 1 (very unattractive) to 7 (very attractive). The coders were blind to the actual competition results.

The analysis showed a significant relationship between an entrepreneur’s gender and whether a pitch had been successful. Male entrepreneurs were 60 percent likelier to receive a funding prize than were female entrepreneurs. Among those male entrepreneurs, investor-deemed attractiveness led to a 36 percent increase in pitch success. But for female entrepreneurs, their looks had no apparent effect on the success of their pitches.

The second study was an experiment designed to isolate the effect of gender on pitch persuasiveness. The researchers used 521 participants to watch two entrepreneurial pitch videos online. In each case, one of the pitches had won funding in real life. Participants in the experiment, roughly half of whom were women, were tasked with guessing the actual winner, with the incentive of a monetary reward for a correct guess.

The pitches included still images and a voiceover narration by the entrepreneur. This format enabled the researchers to assign a gender to the entrepreneur—dubbing in a male voice for some videos and a female voice for others, while the content of the narrations remained identical.

All else being equal, 68.33 percent of participants favored ventures pitched by male voices, while only 31.67 percent chose female-voiced pitches. Importantly, the gender effect held steady regardless of the “investor’s” gender.

“We saw the same discriminatory effects between male and female participants,” Brooks says.

In the third study, . . .

* * *

NEXT STEPS AND LESSONS LEARNED

In the secondary stages of their exploration, the researchers plan to dive deeper into gender dynamics. Among the questions they are pursuing: What happens when the female entrepreneur is perceived as stereotypically masculine vs. feminine? Is a female entrepreneur more likely to be funded if her business targets female customers? Will a successful track record increase a woman’s chances of securing capital?

Brooks is hardly shocked by the results of the studies thus far. “I was surprised to find the effects consistently across both field and lab settings,” she says. “But, in general, I find our results to be more sad than surprising.”

Still, she’s hopeful that the research provides a wake-up call to the venture capital industry.

“Awareness is a critical first step,” Brooks says. “Though gender in entrepreneurship has become a hot topic . . . , we haven’t seen much concrete data on the topic until now. We hope this research leads investors and entrepreneurs to become more supportive of male and female entrepreneurs alike.”

Read the entire article here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Francis Shen

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 30, 2014

FrancisShen_350Just a reminder that SALMS will be hosting a lunchtime speaker event tomorrow:

Professor Francis Shen will be speaking to us about the intersection of neuroscience and the law. This area of scholarship often delves into questions of mental illness, drug rehabilitation, and mental privacy, and other issues of mind. For those looking to learn more about this branch of legal scholarship, this lunch should be a good first look.

When: Monday 3/31/14 12-1pm
Where: WCC 1010
Free Lunch?: Of course

For an example of Francis Shen’s more recent work, here is a link to a recent article: http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/36_2_653_Shen.pdf

Posted in Events, Legal Theory, Neuroscience, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Upcoming SALMS Talks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 20, 2014

HLS Langdell

Francis Shen U. Minnesota Law School March 31st
-The Intersection of neuroscience and the law
Joshua Greene Harvard College Psychology April 18th
- Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

Stay tuned for more details.

Posted in Events, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Criminal Defense

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 8, 2014

Debo Adegbile

An op-ed by Situationist friend, Sam Wheeler in (Talking Points):

On November 27, 1770, John Adams began the most important trial of his legal career. His clients were eight British soldiers who, when confronted by an angry gathering of Boston patriots, fired into the crowd, killing five. The soldiers were accused of murder and threatened with the death penalty. Adams was a patriot, openly and adamantly opposed to British occupation of the colonies, with no love of the British army. He took the case, which he called “one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country,” because in this nation, even before its founding, every accused criminal is entitled to zealous legal defense.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate blocked the confirmation of Debo Adegbile President Obama’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. Every Senate Republican voted against Adegbile’s nomination. They were joined by eight Democrats: Senators Casey, Coons, Donnelly, Heitkamp, Manchin, Pryor, and Walsh. The main charge against Adegbile is that, during the ten years he worked with the NAACP, he worked on a brief that successfully commuted the death sentence given to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man convicted of murdering a police officer thirty years ago.

Sen. Casey said in a statement explaining his vote: “I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime.” It is difficult if not impossible to reconcile this statement with his vote against Mr. Adegbile. The right of every citizen to competent legal representation simply cannot survive in a climate where politicians punish lawyers for the acts of their worst, most despised clients.

***

Our justice system is fundamentally flawed, and many of the cracks and imperfections manifest in stark racial and economic disparity. . . .

Men and women like Adegbile spend their careers trying to fix these cracks and imperfections, striving to make sure that American citizens are only punished after they have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of their peers, are only executed after having exhausted all appeals, and not a moment before hand. They throw their bodies between a prosecutor and their client so that the government must move mountains of incontrovertible evidence before it can take the life and liberty of a citizen. They are paid next to nothing, they work excruciating and unforgiving hours, and they go to work each day representing the people who can afford no other defense, who no one else will help.

They do these things not necessarily because they believe in the virtue or innocence of every client. Rather, they go to work every day because they understand that the only way to ensure that the rights and freedoms of virtuous men and women are not taken away without cause is to fight for the rights and freedoms of every person, regardless of crime or character.

I am currently a second year student at Harvard Law School. I go to school with some of the brightest young legal minds in the country, with the men and women who will undoubtedly shape the laws and legal institutions of the United States.

My classmates think seriously about what doors their choices will open and close. It’s incredibly hard to sell my friends on spending our careers like Adegbile knowing that it is now the practice of the United States Senate to punish public service.

There are already tremendous barriers to such a career. My school, like so many other prestigious institutions, is designed to be a waterslide to big law firms in New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. The vast majority of my classmates will end up in corporate law, eschewing a chance to make their living working for the common good. The choice is simple and understandable: corporate firms pay roughly three times what a first-year lawyer can receive in a public interest job, these jobs are secured during the summer of your second year, and they provide incredibly enticing job security in an increasingly competitive and precarious legal market.

Even my classmates who want to go into public service are wary of indigent criminal defense. They worry about the hours, the stress, and the compensation. They worry about being responsible for whether or not their clients spend their lives in jail. They worry about job security in a political climate where budgets in public defenders’ offices are routinely slashed. And they worry that the acts of their worst clients – the murderers, the rapists, the child molesters – will be held against them by their friends and family, by voters, and now by legislators in Congress.

So, the sell has just gotten harder. The Senate has sent an unequivocal message: that lawyers must beware of whom they represent. Should they have the opportunity to serve their country in high office, the men and women in the Senate will judge them not by their actions, not by their character, not by their achievements, but instead by the reputations and crimes of their clients.

In the aftermath of the Senate vote to block Adegbile’s nomination, I am left with only questions for the Senators who voted no.

What should I tell my classmates who are considering a career in indigent criminal defense? Should I tell them that they should not spend their lives representing the wretched, the despised, the friendless, for fear that they will be judged by people like you? How can we ensure everyone gets a zealous defense when lawyers are condemned for public service?

And while we’re at it, would you have voted against John Adams for defending the British soldiers that fired into the crowd during the Boston Massacre? Would you have voted against Thurgood Marshall for his defense of young black men accused of murder? Did you vote against John Roberts for representing eight-time murderer John Errol Ferguson? Does your humanity not teach you that the despised and the rejected are the most in need of help, compassion, and counsel?

We need our young lawyers to aspire to be the next John Adams and we must ask ourselves, in light of the Senate’s decision, how many will be willing to play that part. The number of lawyers who will stand and fight for those that society has condemned and who cannot advocate for themselves – already too few – will become vanishingly small. The Senate has told young lawyers that they must cast aside personal goals and ambitions if they choose to dedicate their careers to the belief that every citizen is entitled to a fair trial and a vigorous defense.

The Senate has raised the cost of such patriotism. I can only hope that there are those who remain willing to pay.

Read the entire op-ed here.

Posted in Law, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Situationist Torts at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 11, 2014

Frontier Torts Logo

From The Harvard Law Record (an article by Sara Murphy, Jessica Ranucci, Sean Cuddihy):

From the first day we marched into Professor Jon Hanson’s Torts class, it was clear that the course would not follow the traditional 1L torts syllabus. Professor Hanson, who is the Alfred Smart Professor of Law and Director of the Project on Law and the Mind Sciences, is well-known for his unusual course structure and material. He was charged with teaching us Torts last semester, but what we learned transcended the bounds of the traditional 1L curriculum. Professor Hanson teaches what he calls “situationist torts,” an approach to the law based in ideas from the mind sciences. He frames legal issues in terms of the “situation” and “disposition” of the actors involved, and demonstrates how legal institutions overemphasize the role of people’s dispositions (their freely made choices) when understanding and responding to problems. It is through this frame that he took us on an in-depth exploration of the evolution of tort law, from verses in the Torah to the present.

The class departed from many 1L pedagogical conventions. We read fewer cases, and for those we did study, we delved into the social and historical context. During a few class meetings we even engaged in imaginative reconstructions of the facts to help bring our presuppositions to light. There were no traditional cold calls. In the classroom, we focused on tort doctrine less than our peers— Professor Hanson provided us with videos and outlines so that we could efficiently learn the doctrine at home. For the final stage in our tour of the history of torts, we explored what Professor Hanson calls “Frontier Torts,” which are wrongs for which there currently exists no remedy in the civil legal system, but that could be on the edge of the expansion of liability. We spent weeks working in large groups on a final project applying situationist and dispositionist viewpoints to real-world problems. Most of us would agree that Frontier Torts week, which included presentations by our classmates and attorneys who are fighting on the frontiers of tort law, was the most memorable week of the semester. Even our final mandated that we apply our understanding of tort law to work towards fixing one of the largest problems facing America today.

Not everyone agrees with Professor Hanson’s ideas. Not everyone needs to. But we believe that generations of his students will remember his approach to understanding the law. Making whatever argument we can get away with to advance our side and presenting that argument as strongly as possible are important skills we learn throughout law school and will continue to develop throughout our legal careers. However, we believe that in the current 1L curriculum there is insufficient focus on the implications and motivations of the arguments we make and evaluate. Professor Hanson is one of the few 1L instructors to focus squarely and consistently on filling this educational gap. When the details of the cases and doctrine we’ve had to learn in most of our 1L classes have faded, his ideas will remain. They are applicable across subjects, and heighten our analytical abilities. We gained a framework for thinking about the law. We learned how to approach problems from a particular point of view. We learned how to recognize a pervasive type of bias.

We believe that Professor Hanson’s approach should play a greater role in the 1L curriculum and the legal profession. Essentially, it is the liberal arts educational ideal realized in the law school classroom. It taught us a mode of inquiry that is broadly applicable across situations. We then used that mode of inquiry to look at torts cases and understand why particular decisions may have been made, and to consider real, pressing societal issues and our approach to solving them. Our section may not be the best at telling you about the details of trespass to chattel, but we can pick out motivated reasoning and we can think creatively about how we, as future lawyers, can expand the frontiers of tort law to protect those who have been harmed in ways that are not yet recognized. What Professor Hanson left us with is a sense that we can do something about the problems that are encapsulated in (or omitted from) the law. Knowing how to clarify our thinking and address those problems by considering situational factors and challenging traditional assumptions seems more important than being able to regurgitate the Restatement (Second) of Torts.

Ohio attorney James D. Dennis, a guest speaker in our class and the winner of the 2013 Frontier Torts Award for his work to find civil remedies for workplace sexual harassment, wrote to our class about Professor Hanson:

“His teaching methods not only hone your abilities to think effectively like the excellent members of the bar and bench which you all are going to be, but also energize you to want to do it.” We couldn’t agree more. We would like to see more 1L classes that veer away from the traditional doctrine in favor of a more holistic and real-world pedagogical approach to each area of the law.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Legal Theory | Leave a Comment »

Immaculate Perception?

Posted by Jerry Kang on February 1, 2014

Recently, I did a TEDx talk on implicit bias titled “Immaculate Perception?”  It’s only about 13 minutes long, which made it quite a challenge. Enjoy!

Here’s a guide to my related scholarship.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Increasing Role of Pscyhology in Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 24, 2014

From the latest edition of Observer, an article by David Halpern:Halpern_David

When governments want advice on the likely impact of their policies, they traditionally turn to economists. Psychologists have been less in demand. The reasons are understandable: Economists have seemed to offer relatively clear and well developed models for predicting behavior, notably “expected utility theory.”  In contrast, the lessons from psychology have often seemed less clear-cut, no matter how interesting or suggestive they may have been.

This situation is now changing. Officials are recognizing that their policies may stand or fall on social, cognitive, and emotional factors that economists have traditionally neglected. Given their position at the top table, it is perhaps unsurprising — if ironic — that economists themselves have communicated this point. Behavioral economics, essentially a combination of economics and psychology, has provided a new bridge between policymakers and psychological findings.

Read more here.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Law, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Situationism

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 18, 2014

mlk1.jpgThis post was originally published on January 22, 2007.

* * *

Monday’s holiday provides an apt occasion to highlight the fact that, at least by my reckoning, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, among other things, a situationist.

To be sure, King is most revered in some circles for quotations that are easily construed as dispositionist, such as: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Taken alone, as it often is, that sentence seems to set a low bar. Indeed, some Americans contend that we’ve arrived at that promised land; after all, most of us (mostly incorrectly) imagine ourselves to be judging people based solely on their dispositions, choices, personalities, or, in short, their characters.

Putting King’s quotation in context, however, it becomes clear that his was largely a situationist message. He was encouraging us all to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle situational forces that caused inequalities and to question (what John Jost calls) system-justifying ideologies that helped maintain those inequalities.

mlk2.jpgKing’s amazing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is illustrative. While being held for nine days, King penned a letter in response to the public statement of eight prominent Alabama clergymen who denounced the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations. The prominent clergymen called King an “extremist” and an “outsider,” and “appeal[ed] to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

Regarding his “outsider” status, King insisted that the us-and-them categories were flawed, and that any meaningful distinction that might exist among groups was that between persons who perpetrated or countenanced injustice, on one hand, and those who resisted it, on the other:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . .”

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

mlk3.jpgIn describing the injustice itself, King sought to remove the focus from individual behavor and choice to the situational forces and absence of meaningful choice that helped to shape that behavior:

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

In terms of his methods, too, Dr. King was a situationist. He understood that negotiating outcomes reflected the circumstances much more than the the disposition, of negotiators. The aim of demonstrations was to create a situation in which questions otherwise unasked were brought to the fore, in which injustice otherwise unnoticed was made salient, and in which the weak bargaining positions of the otherwise powerless were collectivized and strengthened:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused tocivil-rights-protest.jpg negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. . . . Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

In the letter, King expressed his frustation, not just with the egregious racists, but also — no, moreso — with the moderates who were willing to sacrifice real justice for the sake of maintaining the illusion of justice. King put it this way:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’ . . . .”

mlk4.jpgAnd King recognized the role that laws could play in maintaining an unjust status quo. Of course, he criticized the laws that literally enforced segregation, but he didn’t stop there. He criticized, too, the seemingly neutral laws, and the purportedly principled methods of interpreting and applying those laws, that could serve as legitimating cover for existing disparities:

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

King explained that many churches, too, were implicated in this web of justification — caught up as they were in making sense of, or lessening the sting of, existing arrangements:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”

mlk5.jpg

So, yes, Reverend King urged us all to help create a world in which people were “not . . . judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But King said much more. He recognized and tried to teach those who would listen that getting to that world would mean examining and challenging the situation — including our beliefs, our laws, our ideologies, our religious beliefs, our institutions, and existing allocations of opportunity, wealth, and power.

Judging those who are disadvantaged by the content of their character is not, taken alone, much of a solution. It may, in fact, be part of the problem. As Kathleen Hanson (my wife) and I recently argued, the problem “is, not in neglecting character, but in attributing to ‘character’ what should be attributed to [a person's] situation and, in turn, to our system and ourselves.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, far more effectively: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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Mikki Hebl on Interpersonal Discrimination

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 16, 2013

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Paul Bloom on the Situational Effects of Religion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 3, 2013

Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University and contributing author of the 2012 Annual Review of Psychology, talks about his article “Religion, Morality, Evolution.” How did religion evolve? What effect does religion have on our moral beliefs and moral actions? These questions are related, as some scholars propose that religion has evolved to enhance altruistic behavior toward members of one’s group. But, Bloom argues, while religion has powerfully good moral effects and powerfully bad moral effects, these are due to aspects of religion that are shared by other human practices. There is surprisingly little evidence for a moral effect of specifically religious beliefs.

Find the article here.  

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Ideology, Morality | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving as “System Justification”

Posted by Jon Hanson on November 26, 2013

This post was first published on November 21, 2007.

The first Thanksgiving, painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

Thanksgiving has many associations — struggling Pilgrims, crowded airports, autumn leaves, heaping plates, drunken uncles, blowout sales, and so on. At its best, though, Thanksgiving is associated with, well, thanks giving. The holiday provides a moment when many otherwise harried individuals leading hectic lives decelerate just long enough to muster some gratitude for their harvest. Giving thanks — acknowledging that we, as individuals, are not the sole determinants of our own fortunes seems an admirable, humble, and even situationist practice, worthy of its own holiday.

But I’m interested here in the potential downside to the particular way in which many people go about giving thanks.

Situationist contributor John Jost and his collaborators have studied a process that they call “system justification” — loosely the motive to defend and bolster existing arrangements even when doing so seems to conflict with individual and group interests. Jost, together with Situationist contributor Aaron Kay and several other co-authors, recently summarized the basic tendency to justify the status quo this way (pdf):

Whether because of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, or sexual orientation, or because of policies and programs that privilege some at the expense of others, or even because of historical accidents, genetic disparities, or the fickleness of fate, certain social systems serve the interests of some stakeholders better than others. Yet historical and social scientific evidence shows that most of the time the majority of people—regardless of their own social class or position—accept and even defend the legitimacy of their social and economic systems and manage to maintain a “belief in a just world” . . . . As Kinder and Sears (1985) put it, “the deepest puzzle here is not occasional protest but pervasive tranquility.” Knowing how easy it is for people to adapt to and rationalize the way things are makes it easer to understand why the apartheid system in South Africa lasted for 46 years, the institution of slavery survived for more than 400 years in Europe and the Americas, and the Indian Caste system has been maintained for 3000 years and counting.

Manifestations of the system-justification motive pervade many of our cognitions, ideologies, and institutions. This post reflects my worry that the Thanksgiving holiday might also manifest that powerful implicit motive. No doubt, expressing gratitude is generally a healthy and appropriate practice. Indeed, my sense is that Americans too rarely acknowledge the debt they owe to other people and other influences. There ought to be more thanks giving.

Nonetheless, the norm of Thanksgiving seems to be to encourage a particular kind of gratitude — a generic thankfulness for the status quo. Indeed, when one looks at what many describe as the true meaning of the holiday, the message is generally one of announcing that current arrangements — good and bad — are precisely as they should be.

Consider the message behind the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation. In 1789, President George Washington wrote:

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks—for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country . . . for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions . . . . To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Existing levels of prosperity, by this account, reflect the merciful and omniscient blessings of the “beneficent Author” of all that is good.

More recently, President George W. Bush offered a similar message about the meaning of the holiday:

“In the four centuries since the founders . . . first knelt on these grounds, our nation has changed in many ways. Our people have prospered, our nation has grown, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved — after all, they didn’t have football back then. Yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: We give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day.”

The faith that we are being “watched over” and that our blessings and prosperity are the product of a gift-giving force is extraordinarily affirming. All that “is,” is as that “great and glorious Being” intended.

Fom such a perspective, giving thanks begins to look like a means of assuring ourselves that our current situation was ordained by some higher, legitimating force. To doubt the legitimacy of existing arrangements is to be ungrateful.

A cursory search of the internet for the “meaning of Thanksgiving” reveals many similar recent messages. For instance, one blogger writes, in a post entitled “Teaching Children the Meaning of Thanksgiving,” that:

your goal should be to move the spirit of Thanksgiving from a one-day event to a basic life attitude. . . . This means being thankful no matter what our situation in life. Thankfulness means that we are aware of both our blessings and disappointments but that we focus on the blessings. . . . Are you thankful for your job even when you feel overworked and underpaid?”

Another piece, entitled “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving” includes this lesson regarding the main source of the Pilgrim’s success: “It was their devotion to God and His laws. And that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.”

If we are supposed to be thankful for our jobs even when we are “overworked and underpaid,” should we also be thankful for unfairness or injustice? And if we are to be grateful for our sorrows, should we then be indifferent toward their earthly causes?

A third article, “The Productive Meaning of Thanksgiving” offers these “us”-affirming, guilt-reducing assurances: “The deeper meaning is that we have the capacity to produce such wealth and that we live in a country that affords us our right to exercise the virtue of productivity and to reap its rewards. So let’s celebrate wealth and the power in us to produce it; let’s welcome this most wonderful time of the year and partake without guilt of the bounty we each have earned.”

That advice seems to mollify any sense of injustice by giving something to everyone. Those with bountiful harvests get to enjoy their riches guiltlessly. Those with meager harvests can be grateful for the fact that they live in a country where they might someday enjoy richer returns from their individual efforts.

quotation-thanksgiving-3.pngYet another post, “The Meaning for Thanksgiving,” admonishes readers to be grateful, because they could, after all, be much worse off:

[M]aybe you are unsatisfied with your home or job? Would you be willing to trade either with someone who has no hope of getting a job or is homeless? Could you consider going to Africa or the Middle East and trade places with someone that would desperately love to have even a meager home and a low wage paying job where they could send their children to school without the worry of being bombed, raped, kidnapped or killed on a daily basis?

* * *

No matter how bad you think you have it, there are people who would love to trade places with you in an instant. You can choose to be miserable and pine for something better. You could choose to trade places with someone else for all the money they could give you. You could waste your gift of life, but that would be the worst mistake to make. Or you can rethink about what makes your life great and at least be happy for what you have then be patient about what you want to come to you in the future.

If your inclination on Thanksgiving is to give thanks, I do not mean to discourage you. My only suggestion is that you give thanks, not for the status quo, but for all of the ways in which your (our) own advantages and privileges are the consequence of situation, and not simply your individual (our national) disposition. Further, I’d encourage you to give thanks to all those who have gone before you who have doubted the status quo and who have identified injustice and impatiently fought against it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in Altruism, History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mahzarin Banaji on “Group Love”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 17, 2013

SillimanLecturePoster

From Yale News (by Phoebe Kimmelman):

On Thursday evening, Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji delivered a talk entitled “Group Love” where she demonstrated that the audience held an implicit bias for Yale over Princeton.

Banaji, who worked as a professor of psychology at Yale from 1986-2002 before taking a similar post at Harvard, focused in her talk on how group affiliations, or lack thereof, affect the ways in which we see the world and interact with others. In her research, Banaji has helped bring Freudian theories of the subconscious in the psychology laboratory to be empirically tested.

University President Peter Salovey delivered introductory remarks, saying Banaji had been the “heart and soul” of the Yale psychology department during her 16 years there.

“She is of those scientists who changes her field with her insights and her empirical data with a deep sense of social responsibility to her colleagues, her students and her field,” Salovey said.

In the lecture to roughly 100 people, Banaji first discussed an experiment she did in 2006 at Harvard that involved monitoring participants’ brain activity while they answered random questions about two hypothetical people, presented with only their political preferences. Neuroimaging showed that the subjects used different areas of the brain to make predictions about people with whom they agree and those with whom they disagree. Banaji used this study to introduce the idea of love of the in-group, a preference people have for a group of people who think the way that they themselves do.

Through presenting multiple studies, Banaji demonstrated the magnitude of positive bias towards the in-group in subjects ranging from sports fans to elementary school students. While we may not be able to eliminate our biases, Banaji said certain cognitive strategies can “outsmart” them. For instance, Banaji said she rotates among her computer screensavers images that defy racial and gender stereotypes.

“It’s not that we hate people of another group, but it’s love for the in-group that’s paramount,” she said.

Salovey and Banaji, who started as faculty at Yale on the very same day, were close friends and next door neighbors, he said. Salovey recalled that he and Banaji were each other’s “support systems” while writing PSYC 110 lectures together.

Banaji came to campus for this year’s Silliman Memorial Lecture, an annual speakership that began in 1888 and has brought such prominent scientific figures to campus as J.J. Thomson and Ernest Rutherford. Though a committee of faculty from Yale science departments usually chooses a speaker whose research is in the hard natural sciences, committee chair and Sterling professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry Joan Steitz said that her colleagues were eager to hear from Banaji this year. Though the lecture has no affiliation with Silliman College, the endowment is named for the mother of Benjamin Silliman, a scientist after whom the college is named.

“If you think about the impact that psychology and neurobiology and brain science [are] having these days, the committee did not consider it at all inappropriate to be going in that direction with this particular lecture,” Steitz said.

Since leaving Yale in 2002, Banaji has served as a professor of social ethics in Harvard’s psychology department, where she has continued her research on how unconscious thinking plays out in social situations.

Nick Friedlander ’17 said he found the lecture “eye-opening” because it revealed biases he did not know he held before.

For Zachary Williams ’17, the lecture demonstrated how little of the conscious mind controls mental processes.

“It was truly a treat to be able to sit in close quarters with such a fantastic paragon of academia and hear her talk about such relevant topics,” he said.

Banaji’s most recent book is entitled “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.”

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Implicit Associations, Morality, Neuroscience, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

“The Future of Equality” ACS Conference – This Weekend

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 15, 2013

The American Constitution Society Northeast Regional Student Convening will bring together lawyers and law students from across the Northeast to hear leading practitioners, government officials, judges, and academics discuss a progressive vision for the future of equality across a number of salient policy issues. Learn more here.

acs future of equality poster 2013

acs 2013 schedule

Posted in Events, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Eldar Shafir – Living Under Scarcity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 8, 2013

From TEDxMidAtlantic, 2011.  Eldar Shafir is the William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs in the Department of Psychology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His research focuses on decision-making, and on issues related to behavioral economics, with an emphasis on empirical studies of how people make decisions in situations of conflict and uncertainty.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Distribution, Education, Video | 1 Comment »

Nalini Ambady, Stanford psychology professor, dies at 54

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 2, 2013

By Bjorn Carey (Stanford News)Nalini Ambady

Nalini Ambady, a Stanford professor of psychology, died Oct. 28 after a long battle with leukemia. Her passing followed a yearlong, worldwide effort by family, friends and students to find a bone marrow donor match. She was 54.

A distinguished social psychologist, Ambady was well known for her research showing that people can form accurate first impressions about others based only on seconds-long observations of their nonverbal behavior.

“Thin slices,” as these quick impressions are known, are now a staple of social science textbooks, and were popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2005 bestselling book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

Ambady was born in Calcutta, India, and earned her bachelor’s degree at Delhi University. She came to the United States for her master’s degree in psychology, from the College of William and Mary, and later received her PhD in social psychology from Harvard. While at Harvard, she met her future husband, Raj Marphatia, who was studying at Harvard Law School.

After earning her PhD in 1991, she quickly joined the ranks of academia by accepting a position as an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross; she would go on to become an associate professor at Harvard and a professor at Tufts University. Ambady joined the Stanford faculty in 2011, becoming the first person of Indian origin to teach in Stanford’s Department of Psychology.

The importance of nonverbal communication

Ambady’s work on thin slices was fueled by her passion for nonverbal behavior. She argued that nonverbal behavior is important because it is a quick, efficient and relatively effortless way of obtaining information about others. At birth, humans respond to and produce nonverbal cues and nonverbal behavior that can serve as a primary mechanism of socialization across the lifespan. As she put it, “Nonverbal behavior offers a means of adapting to the social world.”

She put these concepts to the test in one of her first publications, in 1993. She created 30-second, silent video clips of college professors delivering a lecture and asked people who had never seen the professors before to assess their teaching effectiveness. Remarkably, the scores from independent raters fell in line with those of students who had actually spent an entire semester in the professor’s class. The results held even when she shortened the clip to 10, 6 and 2 seconds.

The work demonstrated that perceptual judgments made on the basis of very brief observations of nonverbal behavior can be surprisingly accurate and can influence a person’s long-term impressions. The findings challenged established wisdom that intuitive reasoning is typically wrong and became a basis for the growing appreciation of the usefulness of nonconscious or “fast” thinking.

Ambady believed that even without conscious awareness, initial evaluative impressions can influence whom we sit next to in a subway, whom we hire for a job and, perhaps, even whom we marry. Her follow-up studies showed that similar snap evaluations can accurately predict a person’s sexual orientation or political affiliation or a CEO’s company profits.

In 1999, she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from President Bill Clinton in recognition of this work. In February, she will be posthumously awarded the prestigious Carol and Ed Diener Award in Social Psychology, a recognition give by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology to scholars whose work has added substantially to the body of knowledge of the field.

A generous mentor and colleague

As a researcher, Ambady had a reputation for being collaborative and encouraging a very collegial lab space.

“Nalini had incredible energy, a very positive spirit,” said Hazel Markus, a professor of psychology. “She was brilliant and held herself and others to very high standards. She loved social psychology so much that people were very attracted to working with her.”

Ambady made her students and research assistants feel as though they were an extension of her family. When a first-generation college student from a low-income family was having difficulties getting to campus, Ambady took her to buy a bike. She bought a textbook for a struggling student who couldn’t afford it. And when she learned that some of her lab members either lived too far away or couldn’t afford to fly home for Thanksgiving, she invited them to dinner at her house.

She took immense pride in her students, said Marphatia, her husband, and was thrilled to see them rise to tenured professorships throughout academia. When her leukemia returned last November, she stayed deeply involved with her students’ work. She met with students at home and in the hospital while she was receiving treatment, and insisted on helping researchers with their grant proposals.

“Even though she was sick, she had this tremendous focus toward others,” said Brent Hughes, a postdoctoral scholar in Ambady’s lab. “She would stay on top of us in a really deeply caring way to make sure that we had everything we needed to do well.”

Upon coming to Stanford, one of her priorities was establishing a research center called SPARQ, designed to bring social psychological answers to real-world questions.

“She was the galvanizing force behind SPARQ,” said Jennifer Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology. “We now have a clinic which pairs practitioners with researchers and an online solutions catalog which describes effective interventions for a variety of social and environmental problems. This all happened within a year of Nalini coming to Stanford, and she continued to push hard on it until days before the end of her life.”

“She said, ‘Let’s take our academic research and findings and see if we can apply it to make changes in the real world,'” said Marphatia. “SPARQ is one thing that she was really looking forward to working on with her colleagues, and it is particularly disappointing that she won’t have a chance to work on that.

“It was the joy of her life to be at Stanford,” he said. “She thought it is such a wonderful environment to do research, with people inspiring each other and collaborating. It brought out the best of her professional abilities.”

A lasting legacy

One of the first projects that SPARQ-affiliated scientists will engage on will be done with Ambady in mind: A “Be the Match” initiative will aim to develop actionable ways to increase participation in bone marrow donor programs.

Ambady was originally diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, but treatment drove the disease into remission. When it returned last November, doctors told her that she needed a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, South Asians – and minorities in general – are severely underrepresented in bone marrow donor registries in the United States.

Students and friends began fundraising drives, including Nalini Needs You, to purchase and distribute the cheek swab kits used to identify potential donor matches, both in the United States and near her birthplace in India, where doctors believed there might be a better chance of locating a genetic match.

These efforts identified previously unregistered matches for seven other people in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant, for which Ambady was exceptionally pleased. Of the roughly dozen people who were potential matches for Ambady, however, half turned out to be incompatible or only superficial matches.

The others chose not to donate, a result that is common in bone marrow transplant cases. There are many reasons people ultimately decide not to donate, including cultural taboos or fears of pain or inconvenience. (Donating bone marrow is only slightly more complex than donating blood, though it requires multiple visits.) Some people’s contact information simply falls out of the system, especially the case with college-age donors who frequently change addresses.

Eberhardt and Markus said that SPARQ will partner with bone marrow registries to develop strategies for enrolling more people, and especially minorities, to participate in cheek swab tests, and also to encourage people to actually donate later on when they are identified as a match.

Ambady is survived by her husband, Raj Marphatia, and two daughters: Maya, who will enroll at Stanford next fall, and Leena, a sophomore at Castilleja School in Palo Alto.

Details of a memorial have yet to be finalized. Donations can be made to the Nalini Ambady Memorial Fund, care of the Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall, Building 420, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. Make checks payable to Stanford University.

Nalini Ambady was, among other things, a long-time Situationist friend who made two presentations of her extraordinary research at Harvard Law School over the years.  Her brilliance and warmth left a lasting impression on all who had the privilege of attending those talks.  Our hearts go out to her family and loved ones.

Situationist posts:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Natasha Schvey on Obesity in the Courtroom – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 1, 2013

weight bias courtroom - by Madelein witt

When: Friday 11/01/13 12-1pm
Where: WCC 2012

Today, join Section 6’s Ninja Tortles and the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) for a talk by Natasha Schvey on bias against overweight defendants in the courtroom. Schvey, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at Yale University, has focused her research on obesity, weight stigma, binge eating, and eating in response to negative affect. She argues that bias against the overweight should be addressed in the legal system through means such as juror selection, jury instructions, and anti-discrimination legislation.

The talk will be held at noon in WCC 2012, and food will be served.

Posted in Events, SALMS, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Daniel Simon’s Movie Perception Test

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 27, 2013

A movie perception test by Daniel Levin & Daniel Simons.

Review all the Situationist posts presenting or discussing illusions here.

Posted in Illusions | Leave a Comment »

Conference on the Legacy of Stanley Milgram

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 25, 2013

shock generator2

Yale Law School is hosting a conference on the Legacy of Stanley Milgram this Saturday.  Unsurprisingly, many Situationist Contributors (Thomas Blass, Jon Hanson, Dan Kahan, and Tom Tyler) and Situationist friends (Phoebe Ellsworth, Doug Kysar, and Jaime Napier) will be participating.  The conference agenda is below.

Saturday, October 26, 2013
Yale Law School
Sponsored by the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund

9:00-9:30
Registration and Breakfast

9:30-10:00
Introduction
Peter Salovey, President of Yale University

10:00-11:00
The role of situational forces in shaping false confessions
Saul Kassin, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Moderator: Marcia K. Johnson, Sterling Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, Yale University=

11:00-12:00
Situationism in law
Jon D. Hanson, Alfred Smart Professor and Director, Project on Law and Mind Sciences, Harvard Law School
Moderator: Douglas Kysar, Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law, Yale Law School

12:00-12:15    Pick up box lunch12:15-1:00
Reflections on the life and work of Stanley Milgram
Thomas Blass, Professor of Psychology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of The Man Who Shocked the World
Moderator: Tom Tyler, Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, Yale Law School and Department of Psychology, Yale University

1:00-2:00
Obedience to authority, Thoughts on Milgram as a filmmaker
Kathryn Millard, Professor of Film and Creative Arts, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney, AU
Moderator: Sarah Ryan, Empirical Research Librarian & Lecturer in Legal Research, Yale Law School

2:00-3:00
Inattentive bureaucrats or engaged followers? Understanding Milgram’s subjects
S. Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology and ARC Laureate Fellow, School of Psychology, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, AU
Moderator: Jaime Napier, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, Yale University

3:00-4:00
Milgram’s legacy in social psychology
Phoebe Ellsworth, Frank Murphy Distinguished University Professor of Law and Psychology, University of Michigan
Moderator: Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology, Yale Law School

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Events, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Boston Magazine recognizes Michael McCann

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 22, 2013

McCann Boston Magazine

Boston Magazine has released it’s “Best Boston Sports Personalities on Twitter” and Situationist Co-Founder & Contributor Michael McCann, who tweets @McCannSportsLaw, is on the list.

Boston Magazine described McCann as “a Massachusetts attorney who represented Maurice Clarett in his attempt to declare early for the NFL Draft, McCann is as reputable a source as there is on Aaron Hernandez’s trial and future prospects.” McCann is also the director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a legal analyst and writer for Sports Illustrated.

McCann’s tweeting on Aaron Hernandez relates to a book project he and Situationist Co-Founder & Editor Jon Hanson are developing on Hernandez and other major news stories.

Related Situationist posts co-authored by Jon Hanson and Michael McCann:

Posted in Awards | Leave a Comment »

 
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