The Situationist

Archive for June, 2009

The Situation of Displinary Welfare Programs – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 30, 2009

Welfare SignSanford Schram, Joe Soss, Richard Fording, and Linda Houser recently posted their fascinating article, “Deciding to Discipline: Race, Choice, and Punishment on the Frontlines of Welfare Reform” (74 American Sociological Review 398-422 (June 2009) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

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Welfare sanctions are financial penalties applied to individuals who fail to comply with welfare program rules. Their widespread use reflects a turn toward disciplinary approaches to poverty management. In this article, we investigate how implicit racial biases and discrediting social markers interact to shape officials’ decisions to impose sanctions. We present experimental evidence based on hypothetical vignettes that case managers are more likely to recommend sanctions for Latina and black clients – but not white clients – when discrediting markers are present. We triangulate these findings with analyses of state administrative data. Our results for Latinas are mixed, but we find consistent evidence that the probability of a sanction rises significantly when a discrediting marker (i.e., a prior sanction for noncompliance) is attached to a black rather than a white welfare client. Overall, our study clarifies how racial minorities, especially African Americans, are more likely to be punished for deviant behavior in the new world of disciplinary welfare provision.

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To download the paper for free, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Robin Hood Motives” and “Monkey Fairness.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Distribution, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Fortuitous Situation of News Cycles: From Mark Sanford to Michael Jackson

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 29, 2009

Mark Sanford Michael JacksonSteve Singiser of Daily Kos raises an interesting point: South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford may have been an unintended beneficiary of Michael Jackson’s death last week, as the public’s outrage and bewilderment over Sanford’s affair and possible dereliction of gubernatorial duties suddenly waned upon news of Jackson’s death.  Could Sanford’s political future tangibly benefit by the completely unrelated death of a pop music legend?  We excerpt Singiser’s piece below.

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The conventional wisdom (which, as the inimitable Molly Ivins was fond to point out, is often wrong) says that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s political career can now be described in the past tense.

There is some reason to believe that this is not necessarily true.

An obvious political “break” for Sanford was the nature of this week’s news cycle. Within 28 hours of Sanford’s extraordinary news conference explaining the nature of his disappearance and the details of his bizarre case of infidelity, Michael Jackson passed away.

Sanford, on the verge of being the sole topic of conversation for days on end in the midst of a slow early-summer news cycle, instead was relegated to a spot far down the depth chart, along with every other news story NOT about the Jackson death. Indeed, yesterday afternoon, five of the top six stories on the CNN.com list of most viewed stories were about Jackson. Sanford was not in the top ten.

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Of course, anyone reading the news this weekend might presume that [Jenny Sanford] no longer cares about the status of her husband’s political career. That said, it is worth noting that her comment comes less than 48 hours before she was humiliated in front of the national (heck, global) media. Time might function to heal those wounds. If he pushed the political issue two years from now, when GOP politicos were getting set for 2012, she may well sing a different tune.

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To read the rest of the piece, which raises a number of other interesting points, click here.  For related Situationist posts, see David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, and Now Mark Sanford: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation and The Undesirable Situation of “Weirdness” and Presidential Aspirations

Posted in Entertainment, Life | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Gender and Science

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 28, 2009

Men and ScienceRachana Dixit wrote a worthwhile article in Daily Progress summarizing recent research illustrating the implicit links between gender and science.  Here are some excerpts.

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A new study has found that both men and women hold unspoken stereotypes that males are more easily linked with science than females.

The work’s authors say the stereotypes may contribute to continuing underachievement and under-participation among girls and women in science, furthering the idea that science is a male career.

“I think this is pervasive in our culture, but it is changing,” said [Situationist Contributor] Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia psychology professor who led the study. . . .

The findings suggest that 70 percent of respondents harbored implicit stereotypes associating science with males more than with females. About 500,000 people from 34 countries — with roughly half from the United States — took part in the experiment.

The study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is a part of Project Implicit, a publicly accessible research project headed by Nosek, Harvard University professor and [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji and University of Washington professor Tony Greenwald.

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The study attempted to measure gender bias in science without explicitly asking about the subject. For this study, respondents were asked to sort out four categories — male and female names and science and humanities words. During the first test, participants grouped male names with science words and female names with humanities words; the second time, they did the opposite.

Nosek said the study found that the test-takers could link male names and science words faster than female names and science words. The time difference was generally used to gauge the bias, he said. The gender stereotype could determine how women engage in science disciplines, and gaps in achievement could also reinforce the biases that exist, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, he added.

“It can go both ways,” Nosek said.

In comparing science and math test scores from the separate Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the implicit bias data showed that boys performed better in math and science in countries whose residents stereotyped the most. The implicit thinking measured in the study may also indicate a country’s health in promoting science to both genders, Nosek said.

//www.astr.ua.edu/4000WS/Photo.html

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Nosek said the investigators are trying to figure out when the stereotypes start pervading people’s psyches. Early data suggest that it could be as early as elementary school.

Getting rid of the stereotypes, Nosek said, will be a tricky thing.

“Even becoming aware of them doesn’t make them disappear,” he said. “Changing them is not so simple.”

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To read the entire article, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts about gender and science, see “The Behavioral Consequences of Unconscious Bias,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Gender Conformity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 27, 2009

The following 3-minute video (from Sarah Lisenbe)  illustrates the power of gender roles, signage, and mindless compliance.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,”Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment . . . Today,” and “Solomon Asch’s Classic Group-Influence Experiment.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Chasing Storms

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 26, 2009

Storm ChaserWCCO (a CBS affliate in Minneapolis, Minnesota) has an interesting piece on what attracts people to chasing storms.  We excerpt it below.

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Most of us aren’t quite as ambitious as the storm chaser to brought us video of the tornado in Austin, Minn.

But think about how you react when crazy weather comes through. Even though we know it’s dangerous, a lot of us still can’t help but go outside or to our windows to watch.

So what attracts us to dangerous weather?

There is something incredibly powerful about a storm.

“We’re wired to avoid that which could kill us. Severe weather certainly falls in that category,” said John Tauer, a social psychologist with the University of St. Thomas.

“Even if we are afraid, people still look,” said WCCO’s Jason DeRusha.

“Well there’s that sense of thrill seeking and a little bit of an adrenaline rush, like going on a roller coaster,” said Tauer. “What’s interesting is very rarely does someone die in a plane crashes, yet people are really, really fearful, almost to the point of it being an irrational fear of plane crashes.”

“So I think there’s a sense that we think we have a little more control in this situation,” said Tauer.

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To read the rest, click here.  For other Situationist posts on weather, click here.  For a website devoted to a book on storm chasers–Storm Chasers! On the Trail of Twisters–click here.

Posted in Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, and Now Mark Sanford: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on June 26, 2009

During the summer of 2007, we published the post below in response to the sex scandal du jour involving U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). Last March we republished it in the wake of former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s (D) remarkable “indiscretions.”  Last August, former U.S. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee John Edwards’ confession had us dusting off this post yet again.  Last week U.S. Senator Jon Ensign (R-NV)–who in 1998 urged President Clinton to resign following the Monica Lewinsky scandal–was added to the list.  Today, the Mark Sanford scandal (video below) requires us to republish the post yet again.  (We have omitted many smaller scandals from our list, and we have little doubt that we’ll be posting it again, which is part of our point.)

The original Vitter story has much in common with the most recent scandal to titillate, enrage, and otherwise occupy the press and the public. We’ve republished the Vitter post below, and leave it to our readers to assess its relevance for the Jon Ensign scandal.

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David and Wendy VitterSenator David Vitter achieved much of his success by professing steadfast allegiance to “traditional family values” and punitive intolerance for those who violate them. Consider, for instance, his campaign statement on protecting the “sanctity of marriage”:

This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won’t do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage. I am the only candidate proposing changes to the senate rules to stop liberal obstructionists from preventing an up or down vote on issues like this, judges, energy, and on and on.

Similarly, Vitter once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families.” That’s extraordinarily serious, says Vitter, because “marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

In part because of his squeaky-clean, straight-arrow, red-state-values image, Rudolph Giuliani selected Vitter as his Southern campaign chairperson. Vitter was to be the personifying proof that social conservatives could trust Giuliani. Vitter was even seen by some Republicans as a future presidential candidate himself.

As recent revelations make clear, Vitter was more committed to family values in his preaching than in his practicing. According to CBS News:Deborah Palfrey

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam [Deborah Palfrey], hours after Hustler magazine told him his telephone number was among those she disclosed. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans [Jeanette Maier] and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

Vitter’s apology read as follows: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.”

With his public admission coming only after tJeanette Maier by Alex Brandon for APhe his dirty laundry was about to be aired publicly, Vitter comes off looking like quite the scoundrel. Many commentators see him, not simply as unfaithful to his family but, worse, hypocritical regarding his purported family values.

We Americans like to see people in terms of their dispositions, and we despise those who pretend to have one disposition when in fact they have another. We can’t stand hypocrites! And Vitter is nothing if not a hypocrite.

Although we share the indignation, there are two related problems with this reaction. First off, it misses the fact that, in important ways, most of us are hypocrites.

Surely many of our leaders are. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to preach fidelity while practicing “philandery.” Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are good examples of the political balance. Moreover, “sinning against God” seems all too common even among the anointed — from Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker to untold numbers of Catholic Priests.

clinton-cartoon.jpg

In all cases, the critics relish the opportunity to point to the flaws of their opponents. And, true to form, it seems that no one in this case is eager to attribute blame or responsibility to anyone other than Vitter — and everyone sees his use of “escorts” as a reflection of nothing other than his true disposition. As we’ve suggested, most commentators, and particularly those who are not close to him politically, portray him as a hypocrite. But even politicians closer to him are noticeably dispositionist in their reactions.

Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, responded to questions about his Southern campaign chairperson by emphasizing that the revelations reflected something about Vitter, butRudy Giuliani Judith Nathan David Vitter nothing about Giuliani: “Some people are flawed.” “I think you look at all the people I appointed — a thousand or so – sure, some of them had issues, some of them had problems, the vast majority of them were outstanding people.” The implication is that Vitter is among the minority of Giuliani appointees who are flawed and are not “outstanding people.”

It’s a strange distinction coming from Giuliani, who, if the measure is adultery, seems similarly “flawed” and less than “outstanding.” There is, in other words, hypocrisy among those who seek to distance themselves from this hypocrite.

Many of us, upon close examination might discover a similar tension. American attitudes toward adultery are sort of like American attitudes toward unhealthy, highly-caloric food. We claim to not want that “junk,” and sometimes manage to avoid it; still, most of us find ourselves eating something we wish we hadn’t from time to time — perhaps most of the time. In America, we curse our cake and eat it too. And also in America, we blame the obesity epidemic on the bad choices and dispositions of the obese.

Poll Americans and you’re likely to find that roughly 90 percent believe adultery is morally wrong. Meanwhile, ask Americas about whether they have engaged in an extramarital affair, and you’ll discover that many more than 10 percent have. In fact, according to one study, 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have extramarital intercourse. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what many people say is Marital Problemsmorally wrong and what many people do.

There’s another way of illustrating how we overestimate our own sexual righteousness. Numerous studies have shown that people are far less able to act according to their own explicit attitudes, goals, and standards when confronted with fairly intense drive states such as hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, moods, emotions, physical pain and sexual desire. According to George Loewenstein, such “visceral factors” tend to “crowd out” all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factors themselves. As summarized elsewhere:

If you find that difficult to understand, try holding your breath for two minutes or dropping an anvil on your toe, and see what significance your other goals and attitudes have in your behavior before the pain subsides.

Of course, responding to such intense bodily reactions makes perfect sense and is not, in itself, problematic. People should prioritize the acquisition of oxygen when it is scarce. And people should attend to their acute injuries before checking to make sure the anvil is ok. The problem stems from the fact that people often behave, in response to visceral cues, in ways that contradict their view of how they should behave, and sometimes even their own volition. And that problem occurs, according to Loewenstein, because of the second key feature of visceral factors, which is that “people underestimate the impact on their own behavior of visceral factors they will experience in the future”: “Unlike currently experienced visceral factors which have a disproportionate impact on behavior, delayed visceral factors tend to be ignored or to be severely underweighted in decision making. Today’s pain, hunger, anger, and so on are palpable, but the same sensations anticipated in the future receive little weight.”

In one experiment, for example, two groups of male subjects were shown photographs and then asked to imagine how they would behave in the context of a date-rape scenario. The group that had been shown sexually arousing photographs reported a much greater likelihood of behaving aggressively than the group that had been shown non-arousing photos. Without being aroused by the photographs, the second group seemed less able to imagine what they would do when aroused on a date.

There is plenty more evidence we could offer to make this point, but more details are unnecessary. Our goal is not to excuse Vitter’s behavior or justify Vitter’s policy positions (at least some of which, frankly, make us proud to be from Massachusetts). Instead, we hope simply to suggest that few of us are without similar “flaws” — or put differently, none of us are moved solely by disposition, much less our professed values.

And that brings us to a larger point. The human tendency to see hypocrisy will often reflect the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation — as well as our own motivations to see hypocrisy in the “others” that we would not be motivated to see in ourselves or in our in-groups.

Situations commonly lead us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our expectations, ambitions, attitudes, principles, and self-image. A basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that, just as the spirit is often weaker than the flesh, the disposition is often weaker than the situation.

By attacking Vitter’s disposition, many of his critics may be missing an opportunity to make a bigger point to the sorts of conservative politicians who Vitter typifies. It is the hard-core conservatives who too much of the time are attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. “Tough on crime,” for instance, means “tough on criminals,” not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. “Personal responsibility” means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. “Common sense” means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played. And so on.

Bill O’Reilly and Homelessness

We want to see sinister motives and evil intent in our enemies, just as we are subconsciously eager to see deficient character or lack of merit in those who are worse of than ourselves. Too often, though, the distinctions between “us” and “them” are more or less group- and system-affirming fabrications.

Instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint politician after politician after politician with the brush of hypocrisy, perhaps these instances might be used as teaching tools — examples to the Vitters of the world that although the disposition may be strong, the situation is often stronger. If we could stop pretending that people’s behavior and their condition in life is a product solely of their character or preferences, then perhaps we could begin to have more meaningful debates about topics that really matter.

Put differently, the dispositionist search for bad apples and hypocrites harmfully eclipses a deeper discussion that we could be having if we were to acknowledge the extent to which we are all situational characters rather than dispositional actors. With a different mindset, perhaps citizens and politicians would begin to take seriously ways of examining and altering the situation that is otherwise altering us.

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For some Situationist posts on the power, causes, and consequences of sexual attraction and love, go to “The Situation of Love,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Situation of Cupid’s Arrow,” “How System Threat Affects Cupid,” and “The Situation of Flirting.”

Posted in Life, Morality, Politics, Video | 1 Comment »

It’s Hard to Step into Someone Else’s Shoes

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 25, 2009

Shoes Someone ElseStanley Fish has an interesting new post (over on his New York Times blog) that reflects on a panel discussion at NYU Law School on the question of what kind of Supreme Court justices we want.  Do we actually desire a judge with “empathy”?

Fish gave particular attention to “Judge Sotomayor’s now famous or infamous speculation that a wise Latina might know something an old white guy did not.”

His analysis aligns with op-eds that Jon Hanson and I have written recently for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the anecdote he relates at the end is an excellent demonstration of just how blind we can be to the power of situation and, in particular, how easy it is to become lost in one’s own perspective.

Here is an excerpt of the post

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[If Sotomayor] is being descriptive, if she is saying only that no one can completely divest herself of the experiences life has delivered or function as an actor without a history, she is announcing no method at all. She is merely acknowledging a truth (as she sees it) about the human condition: the influences [Alabama Republican Senator Jeff] Sessions laments are unavoidable, which means that no one can be faulted for viewing things from one or another of the limited perspectives to which we are all (differently) confined.

In fact – and this is what Sotomayor means when she talks about reaching a better conclusion than a white man who hasn’t lived her life – rather than distorting reality, perspectives illuminate it or at least that part of it they make manifest. It follows that no one perspective suffices to capture all aspects of reality and that, therefore, the presence in the interpretive arena of multiple perspectives is a good thing. In a given instance, the “Latina Judge” might reach a better decision not because she was better in some absolute, racial sense, but because she was better acquainted than her brethren with some aspects of the situation they were considering. (As many have observed in the context of the issue of gender differences, among the current justices, only Ruth Bader Ginsburg knows what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl and might, by virtue of that knowledge, be better able to assess the impact on such a girl of a strip-search.)

Throughout the evening, John Payton [head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund] reminded us that these are not merely theoretical points. He read a chilling sentence from Herbert Wechsler’s influential essay “Toward Neutral Principles.” Wechsler is making the point that laws mandating the separation of the races burden both races equally: “In the days when I was joined with Charles Houston in a litigation in the Supreme Court before the present building was constructed, he did not suffer more than I in knowing that we had to go to Union Station to lunch together during the recess.”

One might wonder whether Houston would equate the lunchtime inconvenience suffered by his colleague with the humiliations he had to endure every day of his life. One might be amazed, as Payton was, by Wechsler’s blindness to what he is saying. He was a great legal mind, but something was missing. You can call it empathy or (as some in the audience suggested) you can call it understanding or imagination. I called it hearkening to the spirit rather than the letter. But whatever you call it, everyone present that evening agreed that it was what we wanted.

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “Stereotyping Sotomayor” and The Situation of Judicial Activism,” which contains links to still other related Situationist posts.

Posted in Ideology, Law | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Undesirable Situation of “Weirdness” and Presidential Aspirations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 24, 2009

Mark SanfordJonathan Martin of The Politico discusses the unexpected and still unexplained absence of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and why it may impact Sanford’s alleged presidential aspirations.  We excerpt the piece below.

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South Carolina GOP Gov. Mark Sanford’s disappearing act is reviving an often-whispered, if rarely written, question about presidential hopefuls: Just how strange is too strange?

It takes a unique person to run for the White House, but the dividing line between endearingly quirky and just downright odd can often separate winners from losers.

Sanford’s solo stroll on the Appalachian Trail falls short of the character questions raised by changing your name and fudging your age (Gary Hart) or accusing an incumbent president’s campaign of trying to disrupt your daughter’s wedding (Ross Perot).

But is the straight-laced Republican base ready for a candidate whose idea of relaxation is leaving his wife and kids on Father’s Day weekend to commune with nature?

As an introduction to the American public, Sanford’s walkabout is unquestionably damaging.

Yet past political figures have recovered from inauspicious national debuts — see, for example, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s droning speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention.

Where the Sanford story could be more fundamentally harmful to his political prospects is in what it suggests about his persona.

It’s one thing to be a millionaire who wears frayed slacks, as Sanford is known to do, but some veteran political strategists and observers believe this episode pushes him over the line between eccentricity and flat-out bizarre behavior.

“We’re talking about professional and personal issues of responsibility,” said longtime GOP ad man Alex Castellanos. “It’s not just that the governor of the state, charged with emergency management, disappears. But at the same time, on Father’s Day, he leaves his four kids and wife to go hiking and they don’t know where he is?”

Sanford is bumping up against a threshold in politics for what a state politician can get away with versus what voters will tolerate from presidential candidates.

As the political analyst Charlie Cook put it: “Governors can be quirky — presidents can’t be quirky.”

So it’s one thing, for example, for then-Gov. Jerry Brown to date the likes of rock star Linda Ronstadt and sleep on the floor of his apartment while governing California. But America wasn’t at the time — and probably still isn’t — ready for an ascetic bachelor in the White House.

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To read the rest, click here.  For other Situationist posts related to politics, click here.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 23, 2009

apple nailsFrom Cornell News Service, here is a news release regarding fascinating research on the effects of racial discrimination.

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Many studies have shown that experiencing chronic racial discrimination chips away at the mental health of African-Americans.

But a new Cornell study sheds light on precisely how – and to what effect – chronic racial discrimination erodes mental health.

The study found blacks may, in general, have poorer mental health as a result of two mechanisms: First, chronic exposure to racial discrimination leads to more experiences of daily discrimination and, second, it also results in an accumulation of daily negative events across various domains of life, from family and friends to health and finances. The combination of these mechanisms, reports Anthony Ong, assistant professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, places blacks at greater risk for daily symptoms of depression, anxiety and negative moods.

“As a result, African-Americans experience high levels of chronic stress. And individuals who are exposed to more daily stress end up having fewer resources to cope with them,” said Ong.

The study, one of the first to look at the underlying mechanisms through which racial discrimination operates to affect the daily mental health of African-Americans, was conducted with Cornell graduate student Thomas Fuller-Rowell and Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University-Chicago; it is published in the June issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (96:6).

The researchers examined the ways that chronic discrimination exerts a direct influence on daily mental health and an indirect influence through daily stress (i.e., daily racial discrimination and negative events) by analyzing daily questionnaires from 174 African-Americans for 14 days. Participants answered questions daily about the frequency of racially stressful encounters, mental health symptoms, mood and stressors across life domains.

“What we found was that it is the daily discrimination and daily stress that are driving the psychological distress,” Ong said.

The authors noted that racial discrimination in this country “is a ubiquitous experience in the lives of African-Americans,” citing various studies that reported that between half to three-quarters of black respondents report experiencing racial discrimination. They also cite a 2003 review of 32 studies that found a positive link between perceptions of racial discrimination and mental illness in all but one of the studies.

Based on the new study, Ong emphasized that the tendency for serious stressors, such as racial discrimination, to expand and generate additional stressors – a process called stress proliferation – requires that interventions cast a wide net.

“It is not enough that interventions target one problem,” Ong noted, “even if it appears to be a serious stressor, when there might be multiple hardships and demands that are instrumental in structuring people’s daily lives. Chronic exposure to racial discrimination provides a poignant illustration of the proliferation of stress stemming from repeated discriminatory experiences.”

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Racial Health Disparities,” and “The Physical Pains of Discrimination.”

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

The Behavioral Consequences of Unconscious Bias

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 22, 2009

NYTimes Tierney Implicit Bias.jpgFrom EurekaAlert and the new Blog, Project Implicit:

In the decade since the Implicit Association Test was introduced, its most surprising and controversial finding is its indication that about 70 percent of those who took a version of the test that measures racial attitudes have an unconscious, or implicit, preference for white people compared to blacks. This contrasts with figures generally under 20 percent for self report, or survey, measures of race bias.

A new study published this week validates those findings, showing that the Implicit Association Test, a psychological tool, has validity in predicting behavior and, in particular, that it has significantly greater validity than self-reports in the socially sensitive topics of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and age.

The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is an overview and analysis of 122 published and unpublished reports of 184 different research studies. In this analysis, 85 percent of the studies also included self-reporting measures of the type generally used in surveys. This allowed the researchers, headed by University of Washington psychology Professor Anthony Greenwald, to compare the test’s success in predicting social behavior and judgment with the success of self-reports.

“In socially sensitive areas, especially black-white interracial behavior, the test had significantly greater predictive value than self-reports. This finding establishes the Implicit Association Test’s value in research to understand the roots of race and other discrimination,” said Greenwald. “What was especially surprising was how ineffective standard self-report measurers were in the areas in which the test measures have been of greatest interest – predicting interracial behavior.”

Greenwald created the Implicit Association Test in 1998 and he and Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychology professor, and Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia associate professor of psychology, further developed it. Since then the test has been used in more than 1,000 research studies around the world. More than 10 million versions of the test have been completed at an Internet site where they are available as a self-administer demonstration.

The research looked at studies covering nine different areas – consumer preference, black-white interracial behavior, personality differences, clinical phenomena, alcohol and drug use, non-racial intergroup behavior, gender and sexual orientation, close relationships and political preferences.

Findings also showed that:

  • Across all nine of these areas, measures of the test were useful in predicting social behavior.
  • Both the test, which is implicit, and self-reports, which are explicit, had predictive validity independent of each other. This suggests the desirability of using both types of measure in surveys and applied research studies.
  • In consumer and political preferences both measures effectively predicted behavior, but self-reports had significantly greater predictive validity.

Studies in the research came from a number of countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Poland and the United States. They looked at such topics as attitudes of undecided voters one-month prior to an Italian election; treatment recommendations by physicians for black and white heart attack victims; and reactions to spiders before and after treatment for arachnophobia, or spider phobia.

“The Implicit Association Test is controversial because many people believe that racial bias is largely a thing of the past. The test’s finding of a widespread, automatic form of race preference violates people’s image of tolerance and is hard for them to accept. When you are unaware of attitudes or stereotypes, they can unintentionally affect your behavior. Awareness can help to overcome this unwanted influence,” said Greenwald.

Co-authors of the new study are [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, T. Andrew Poehlman of Southern Methodist University and Eric Uhlmann of Northwestern University.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Confronting the Backlash against Implicit Bias,” Legal Academic Backlash - Abstract,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,” and “Implicit Bias and Strawmen.”

Image source is here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Pollworkers and Voting Booths – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 21, 2009

poll workersAntony Page and Michael J Pitts recently posted their  intriguing article, “Poll Workers, Election Law, and the Problem of Implicit Bias” (forthcoming in Michigan Journal of Race & Law) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Racial bias in election administration – more specifically, in the interaction between pollworkers and voters at a voting booth on election day – may be implicit, or unconscious. Indeed, the operation of a polling place may present an “optimal” setting for unconscious racial bias to occur. Pollworkers sometimes have legal discretion to decide whether or not a prospective voter gets to cast a ballot, and they operate in an environment where they may have to make quick decisions, based on little information, with few concrete incentives for accuracy, and with little opportunity to learn from their errors. Even where the letter of the law does not explicitly allow for a pollworker to exercise discretion, there is a strong possibility that unconscious bias could play a role in pollworker decision-making. Whether a poll workers’ discretion is de jure or de facto, the result may be race-based discrimination between prospective voters. This article addresses how unconscious bias may play a role in the interaction between pollworkers and prospective voters and discusses some ways in which the potential for unconscious bias to operate in America’s polling places may be mitigated.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Racial Situation of Voting,” “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Your Brain on Politics.”

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Image from The Virginia Pilot.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Racial Situation of Voting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 20, 2009

Nate Silver discusses race in politics: Did Obama’s race hurt his votes in some places?  If so, how?  And what might be done about it?

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of a Black President,” “The Situation of Voting for Obama,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We ‘Know’ It Doesn’t,” What does an Obama victory mean?,” “The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.” For other Situationist posts on President Obama, click here.

Posted in Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Taking Advantage of the Elderly

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 19, 2009

Jayne Barnard, the Cutler Professor of Law at William and Mary Law School, has recently posted an extremely interesting article titled “Deception, Decisions and Investor Education” (17 Elder Law Journal (forthcoming 2009)) on SSRN.  The approach and conclusions will make any Situationist proud.  Here’s the abstract.

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Tens of millions of dollars each year are spent on investor education. Because older adults (those aged 60 and older) are disproportionately victims of investment fraud schemes, many educational programs are targeted at them. In this Article, Professor Barnard questions the effectiveness of these programs. Drawing on recent studies from marketing scholars, neurobiologists, social psychologists, and behavioral economists examining the ways in which older adults process information and make decisions, she offers a model of decision making (the “deception/decision cycle”) that explains why older adults are often vulnerable to investment fraud schemes. She then suggests that many of the factors that contribute to fraud victimization are unlikely to be influenced by fraud prevention education. She suggests some alternative uses for the money now spent on fraud prevention education that would better achieve the goal of protecting older investors.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “No Contract for Old Men” and When Thieves See Situation.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, and Now Jon Ensign: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on June 18, 2009

Jon EnsignDuring the summer of 2007, we published the post below in response to the sex scandal du jour involving U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). Last March we republished it in the wake of former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s (D) remarkable “indiscretions.”  Last August, former U.S. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee John Edwards’ confession had us dusting off this post yet again.  Now U.S. Senator Jon Ensign (R-NV)–who in 1998 urged President Clinton to resign following the Monica Lewinsky scandal–can be added to the list.  (We have little doubt that we’ll be posting it again, which is part of our point.)

The original Vitter story has much in common with the most recent scandal to titillate, enrage, and otherwise occupy the press and the public. We’ve republished the Vitter post below, and leave it to our readers to assess its relevance for the Jon Ensign scandal.

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David and Wendy VitterSenator David Vitter achieved much of his success by professing steadfast allegiance to “traditional family values” and punitive intolerance for those who violate them. Consider, for instance, his campaign statement on protecting the “sanctity of marriage”:

This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won’t do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage. I am the only candidate proposing changes to the senate rules to stop liberal obstructionists from preventing an up or down vote on issues like this, judges, energy, and on and on.

Similarly, Vitter once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families.” That’s extraordinarily serious, says Vitter, because “marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

In part because of his squeaky-clean, straight-arrow, red-state-values image, Rudolph Giuliani selected Vitter as his Southern campaign chairperson. Vitter was to be the personifying proof that social conservatives could trust Giuliani. Vitter was even seen by some Republicans as a future presidential candidate himself.

As recent revelations make clear, Vitter was more committed to family values in his preaching than in his practicing. According to CBS News:Deborah Palfrey

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam [Deborah Palfrey], hours after Hustler magazine told him his telephone number was among those she disclosed. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans [Jeanette Maier] and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

Vitter’s apology read as follows: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.”

With his public admission coming only after tJeanette Maier by Alex Brandon for APhe his dirty laundry was about to be aired publicly, Vitter comes off looking like quite the scoundrel. Many commentators see him, not simply as unfaithful to his family but, worse, hypocritical regarding his purported family values.

We Americans like to see people in terms of their dispositions, and we despise those who pretend to have one disposition when in fact they have another. We can’t stand hypocrites! And Vitter is nothing if not a hypocrite.

Although we share the indignation, there are two related problems with this reaction. First off, it misses the fact that, in important ways, most of us are hypocrites.

Surely many of our leaders are. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to preach fidelity while practicing “philandery.” Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are good examples of the political balance. Moreover, “sinning against God” seems all too common even among the anointed — from Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker to untold numbers of Catholic Priests.

clinton-cartoon.jpg

In all cases, the critics relish the opportunity to point to the flaws of their opponents. And, true to form, it seems that no one in this case is eager to attribute blame or responsibility to anyone other than Vitter — and everyone sees his use of “escorts” as a reflection of nothing other than his true disposition. As we’ve suggested, most commentators, and particularly those who are not close to him politically, portray him as a hypocrite. But even politicians closer to him are noticeably dispositionist in their reactions.

Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, responded to questions about his Southern campaign chairperson by emphasizing that the revelations reflected something about Vitter, butRudy Giuliani Judith Nathan David Vitter nothing about Giuliani: “Some people are flawed.” “I think you look at all the people I appointed — a thousand or so – sure, some of them had issues, some of them had problems, the vast majority of them were outstanding people.” The implication is that Vitter is among the minority of Giuliani appointees who are flawed and are not “outstanding people.”

It’s a strange distinction coming from Giuliani, who, if the measure is adultery, seems similarly “flawed” and less than “outstanding.” There is, in other words, hypocrisy among those who seek to distance themselves from this hypocrite.

Many of us, upon close examination might discover a similar tension. American attitudes toward adultery are sort of like American attitudes toward unhealthy, highly-caloric food. We claim to not want that “junk,” and sometimes manage to avoid it; still, most of us find ourselves eating something we wish we hadn’t from time to time — perhaps most of the time. In America, we curse our cake and eat it too. And also in America, we blame the obesity epidemic on the bad choices and dispositions of the obese.

Poll Americans and you’re likely to find that roughly 90 percent believe adultery is morally wrong. Meanwhile, ask Americas about whether they have engaged in an extramarital affair, and you’ll discover that many more than 10 percent have. In fact, according to one study, 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have extramarital intercourse. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what many people say is Marital Problemsmorally wrong and what many people do.

There’s another way of illustrating how we overestimate our own sexual righteousness. Numerous studies have shown that people are far less able to act according to their own explicit attitudes, goals, and standards when confronted with fairly intense drive states such as hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, moods, emotions, physical pain and sexual desire. According to George Loewenstein, such “visceral factors” tend to “crowd out” all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factors themselves. As summarized elsewhere:

If you find that difficult to understand, try holding your breath for two minutes or dropping an anvil on your toe, and see what significance your other goals and attitudes have in your behavior before the pain subsides.

Of course, responding to such intense bodily reactions makes perfect sense and is not, in itself, problematic. People should prioritize the acquisition of oxygen when it is scarce. And people should attend to their acute injuries before checking to make sure the anvil is ok. The problem stems from the fact that people often behave, in response to visceral cues, in ways that contradict their view of how they should behave, and sometimes even their own volition. And that problem occurs, according to Loewenstein, because of the second key feature of visceral factors, which is that “people underestimate the impact on their own behavior of visceral factors they will experience in the future”: “Unlike currently experienced visceral factors which have a disproportionate impact on behavior, delayed visceral factors tend to be ignored or to be severely underweighted in decision making. Today’s pain, hunger, anger, and so on are palpable, but the same sensations anticipated in the future receive little weight.”

In one experiment, for example, two groups of male subjects were shown photographs and then asked to imagine how they would behave in the context of a date-rape scenario. The group that had been shown sexually arousing photographs reported a much greater likelihood of behaving aggressively than the group that had been shown non-arousing photos. Without being aroused by the photographs, the second group seemed less able to imagine what they would do when aroused on a date.

There is plenty more evidence we could offer to make this point, but more details are unnecessary. Our goal is not to excuse Vitter’s behavior or justify Vitter’s policy positions (at least some of which, frankly, make us proud to be from Massachusetts). Instead, we hope simply to suggest that few of us are without similar “flaws” — or put differently, none of us are moved solely by disposition, much less our professed values.

And that brings us to a larger point. The human tendency to see hypocrisy will often reflect the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation — as well as our own motivations to see hypocrisy in the “others” that we would not be motivated to see in ourselves or in our in-groups.

Situations commonly lead us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our expectations, ambitions, attitudes, principles, and self-image. A basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that, just as the spirit is often weaker than the flesh, the disposition is often weaker than the situation.

By attacking Vitter’s disposition, many of his critics may be missing an opportunity to make a bigger point to the sorts of conservative politicians who Vitter typifies. It is the hard-core conservatives who too much of the time are attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. “Tough on crime,” for instance, means “tough on criminals,” not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. “Personal responsibility” means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. “Common sense” means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played. And so on.

Bill O’Reilly and Homelessness

We want to see sinister motives and evil intent in our enemies, just as we are subconsciously eager to see deficient character or lack of merit in those who are worse of than ourselves. Too often, though, the distinctions between “us” and “them” are more or less group- and system-affirming fabrications.

Instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint politician after politician after politician with the brush of hypocrisy, perhaps these instances might be used as teaching tools — examples to the Vitters of the world that although the disposition may be strong, the situation is often stronger. If we could stop pretending that people’s behavior and their condition in life is a product solely of their character or preferences, then perhaps we could begin to have more meaningful debates about topics that really matter.

Put differently, the dispositionist search for bad apples and hypocrites harmfully eclipses a deeper discussion that we could be having if we were to acknowledge the extent to which we are all situational characters rather than dispositional actors. With a different mindset, perhaps citizens and politicians would begin to take seriously ways of examining and altering the situation that is otherwise altering us.

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For some Situationist posts on the power, causes, and consequences of sexual attraction and love, go to “The Situation of Love,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Situation of Cupid’s Arrow,” “How System Threat Affects Cupid,” and “The Situation of Flirting.”

Posted in Life, Morality, Politics, Video | 1 Comment »

Examining the Bullying Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 17, 2009

BullyingDr. Perri Klass recently wrote an interesting essay, titled “At Last, Facing Down Bullies (and Their Enablers),” for The New York Times on the situation of bullies and bullying.  Here are some excerpts.

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In recent years, pediatricians and researchers in this country have been giving bullies and their victims the attention they have long deserved — and have long received in Europe. We’ve gotten past the “kids will be kids” notion that bullying is a normal part of childhood or the prelude to a successful life strategy. Research has described long-term risks — not just to victims, who may be more likely than their peers to experience depression and suicidal thoughts, but to the bullies themselves, who are less likely to finish school or hold down a job.

Next month, the American Academy of Pediatrics will publish the new version of an official policy statement on the pediatrician’s role in preventing youth violence. For the first time, it will have a section on bullying — including a recommendation that schools adopt a prevention model developed by Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology at the University of Bergen, Norway, who first began studying the phenomenon of school bullying in Scandinavia in the 1970s. The programs, he said, “work at the school level and the classroom level and at the individual level; they combine preventive programs and directly addressing children who are involved or identified as bullies or victims or both.”

Dr. Robert Sege, chief of ambulatory pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and a lead author of the new policy statement, says the Olweus approach focuses attention on the largest group of children, the bystanders. “Olweus’s genius,” he said, “is that he manages to turn the school situation around so the other kids realize that the bully is someone who has a problem managing his or her behavior, and the victim is someone they can protect.”

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By definition, bullying involves repetition; a child is repeatedly the target of taunts or physical attacks — or, in the case of so-called indirect bullying (more common among girls), rumors and social exclusion. For a successful anti-bullying program, the school needs to survey the children and find out the details — where it happens, when it happens.

Structural changes can address those vulnerable places — the out-of-sight corner of the playground, the entrance hallway at dismissal time.

Then, Dr. Sege said, “activating the bystanders” means changing the culture of the school; through class discussions, parent meetings and consistent responses to every incident, the school must put out the message that bullying will not be tolerated.

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How about helping the bullies . . . ? Some experts worry that schools simply suspend or expel the offenders without paying attention to helping them and their families learn to function in a different way.

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To read the entire article, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Bullying,” Dueling Stereotypes and the Law,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part III,” and “The Devil You Know . . . .”

Posted in Conflict, Education, Life | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Situationally Idle: Is Summer Vacation too Long for Kids?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 16, 2009

Kid Nothing to DoA pediatrician blogging on Daily Kos challenges the merits of 12-week-long summer vacation for kids.  We excerpt his piece below.

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For some kids, summer vacation will mean a dizzying array of chores and sports, camps and sitters. For others, vacation means sitting camped out in front of a television ten hours a day, their toughest chore deciding which channel to watch or video game sport to play.

For others still, the aimless and adolescent in particular, summer vacation means loitering in parking lots and shopping malls, cruising questionable websites, and perhaps experimenting with drugs or alcohol, and getting into trouble. Countless children at loose ends for hours a day months at a time cannot be an unadventurous thing.

Summer vacation is a massive headache for today’s families. Seven in ten American children live in households where two parents work, or with a single working parent. That long summer vacation means jury-rigging daylong childcare for up to five days a week, for ten to twelve weeks. For most parents, summer vacation is more an obstacle than a break.

And it’s an expensive vacation, at that. Weeklong camps aren’t cheap. Neither is child care. The typical family with school-aged children spends about eight percent of their summertime earnings on childcare, an additional financial burden less easily handled by the less well-off. Meanwhile, expensive schools facilities, computers, texts, and transportation sit idle.

Not to seem the childhood Scrooge, but it’s time to take a fresh look at the traditional summer break. Most every other industrialized nation has longer school years than we do. Students in Japan attend school an average of 243 days, in Israel 216 days, in Thailand 200 days, and in England 192 days. Other modernized countries offer no more than seven consecutive weeks of summer vacation. Meanwhile, American school districts offer up to twelve.

In the long-gone world of plentiful jobs requiring little education, such comparisons mattered less. Summer vacation may once have made good sense, back when the economy was brawn-based, more rural, and more self-contained, and when academic achievement was of lower import.

In the 21st century, however, our children will someday find themselves competing with young adults from Europe, China, and India for the brain-based jobs that are an ever-increasing percentage of the global economy. While the long summer break never once had a rational basis in educational policy, in today’s world it is simply irrational that an advanced nation would elect to have its children fall educationally behind their global peers.

Summer vacation is not ordained by nature. Summer, yes; summer vacation, no. The now-standard 180-day academic calendar with a long summer holiday is not built into the molecular structure of the universe. Rather, it took shape in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

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The biggest problem with summer vacation today may be its impact on the academic achievement of low-income kids. It has long been established that achievement gaps between such children and their more well-off peers widen further during the summer months, while learning gains across social lines are nearly equivalent during the school year.

Kids lose a lot of momentum over the course of a summer vacation, poor children most of all. Call it vacation deflation, if you will. Students of all family incomes routinely score lower on standardized tests in September than in April, and grade school teachers routinely spend the first month or more of each new school year reviewing the previous year’s work. It’s not easy to retain information for three months without reinforcement, especially when science and math have to compete with television.

In particular, as researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently confirmed, economically disadvantaged children lose significant academic ground in the summer time, while their more advantaged peers – those more likely to read or to be shuttled from one edifying and expensive activity to another – do not. The long summer vacation just exacerbates the inequities that already exist beyond the schoolhouse doors.

By high school, that widening gap translates into academic skills in deficit by three grade levels or more. This then later translates into lower graduation rates, university admissions, and employment opportunities. All of which would be bearable were there some trump-card reason why summer vacation benefited children. But there isn’t.

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To read the rest, click here.  For a related Sitautionist post, see The Situation of the American Middle Class.

Posted in Life | 6 Comments »

Locked Up with an Epidemic

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 15, 2009

San Quentin

Last week, Situationist Contributor Adam Benforado had another excellent op-ed — this one, titled “Prisoners, too, have rights during epidemics,” was published in the Providence Journal.  Here it is.

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JUST AS we were all beginning to relax and think about Purell-free summer plans, H1N1 is back in the news. In New York, the media attention has mostly been on the virus’s transmission at schools, with the flu having closed 30 of them. However, in the past couple of weeks, another local population has come under threat: There are now 47 confirmed cases of flu at Rikers Island, the city prison.

The city’s corrections officers’ union criticized the government’s response and called for temporarily relocating certain prisoners to other facilities. This suggestion was dismissed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who contrasted the prison context to that in schools:

“It is in some senses easier to control because, obviously, the prisoners can’t leave. On the other hand, it is also a confined area where we really don’t have the choice of moving people out and asking them to stay home. The situation in the schools, if you think about it, is exactly the reverse.”

The mayor’s comments raise the important question of what rights prisoners have during a serious health emergency.

If an epidemic is grave enough, a government has the ability to quarantine any implicated population. Indeed, we can imagine a situation where the state might seal off a school (with everyone still inside) after a deadly outbreak. However, absent this very high alert, the response is, generally, to close certain public spaces and order individuals to isolate themselves. Thus, in a more limited health emergency, individuals may lose their freedom of movement, but they are not forced by the state to be in contact with potential carriers of a disease.

As Mayor Bloomberg’s comments suggest, while some efforts may be made to isolate the sick within the prison during an outbreak, inmates do not enjoy a level of protection similar to that of the rest of society. Bloomberg treats this as simply a logistical necessity, but, in fact, it reflects a societal choice: a decision that part of punishment may include being exposed to potentially lethal diseases.

Confronting this reality should trouble us. In the modern United States, we have rejected corporal punishment: We do not brand people, whip them, or cut off their limbs. Why then do we choose to expose the incarcerated to something like a deadly flu virus? And, similarly, how can we justify prison policies that result in thousands of inmates contracting preventable diseases like hepatitis and HIV?

It is true that, when it comes to disease, the state is not directly delivering the suffering as it is when it holds the branding iron or snaps the whip, but society is no less implicated in the ultimate outcome. We have the ability to seriously reduce health risks within prison populations — including those associated with swine flu. Better monitoring and a zero-tolerance policy for discovered abuse could significantly cut down on prison rape and, consequently, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Improved treatment plans and oversight could reduce the incidence of diseases associated with illegal drug use. The quick transfer of inmates might help protect thousands of prisoners when new strains of influenza emerge. Mayor Bloomberg is wrong that “we really don’t have a choice.”

We may ultimately decide, as a society, that the costs of protection are too high to bear or that convicts deserve whatever dangers they find in prison, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that our hands are tied. It is time to put to rest the notion that when an inmate dies of an illness that he or she contracted while incarcerated, we had nothing to do with it.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” “Why Torture? Because It Feels Good (at least to “Us”),” “Why We Punish,” and “The Situation of Death Row.”

Posted in Law, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Survival through Friendship

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 14, 2009

Shari Roan of the Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece on new research on “Alliance Hypothesis for Human Friendship.”  We excerpt the story below.

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While they didn’t study the hit television show, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania conducted experiments on the motives behind human friendship. The prevailing theory is that humans build friendships in order to exchange goods and services, Penn psychologist Peter DeScioli, a co-author of the study, said in a news release. But that theory doesn’t explain studies that show people usually don’t keep tabs on the benefits they get from a friendship and will often help friends who are unable to repay them.

The new theory, called the Alliance Hypothesis for Human Friendship, argues that friendships form because of cognitive mechanisms aimed at creating alliances — or ready-made support groups of people. Under this theory, how you rank your best friends is closely related to how they rank you. And friends tend to be valued according to who is the most helpful in settling conflicts and based on how many strong commitments they have to others.

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To read the rest, click here.  For other Situationist posts on friendship, click here.

Posted in Life, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Money and Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 13, 2009

Money HappinessFiona Anderson of the Financial Post has an interesting take on a question that has been much discussed for many years: can money buy happiness?  We excerpt the piece below.

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But if the best things in life are free, why is it that we always seem to be after more money? Because we think it can buy happiness.

And for those at the lower end of the income scale, it probably can, according to Michael Schmitt, a social psychologist at Simon Fraser University. “Because having some money is definitely better than having no money at all,” he says.

But Mr. Schmitt words the question differently: Are people with more money generally happier than those with less?

The answer is yes, when we are talking about having enough money to cover food and shelter. But the answer is a definite maybe when you get to middle-class earners and above. “It’s going to be more important if you need money to get access to those things that meet our basic needs,” Mr. Schmitt says. “Beyond that, the effect of having more money seems to be weaker.

“And it seems when people do increase their income and have access to more material wealth, you don’t see corresponding increases in happiness.”

Happiness surveys have been carried out for years. And while income has been going up steadily for the past three or four decades, our level of happiness hasn’t changed much, Mr. Schmitt says.

In the 1950s and 1960s, there were a lot of things that were problematic, he says. “So it’s not like things were perfect and idyllic then. But our increases in material well-being don’t seem to have translated into increases in happiness overall.”

One reason may be evolving aspirations. As people achieve goals they create new ones. While that seems common for financial targets, not all goals have moving goal posts.

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To read the rest of the piece, click here.  For a related post, see Adam Benforado’s Somthing to Smile About.  To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Life | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Human Trafficking – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 12, 2009

Human TraffickingJonathan Todres has recently posted a fascinating article, titled “Law, Otherness, and Human Trafficking” (49 Santa Clara Law Review 605-672 (2009) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Despite concerted efforts to combat human trafficking, the trade in persons persists and, in fact, continues to grow. This article suggests that a central reason for the limited success in preventing human trafficking is the dominant conception of the problem, which forms the basis for law developed to combat human trafficking. Specifically, the author argues that “otherness” is a root cause of both inaction and the selective nature of responses to the abusive practice of human trafficking. Othering operates across multiple dimensions, including race, gender, ethnicity, class, caste, culture, and geography, to reinforce a conception of a virtuous “Self” and a devalued “Other.” This article exposes how this Self/Other dichotomy shapes the phenomenon of human trafficking, driving demand for trafficked persons, influencing perceptions of the problem, and constraining legal initiatives to end the abuse. By examining human trafficking through an otherness-aware framework, this article aims to elucidate a deeper understanding of human trafficking and offer a prescription for reducing the adverse effects of otherness on both efforts to combat human trafficking and the individuals that now suffer such abuses.

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You can download the article for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effect of Groups,” The Situational Benefits of Outsiders,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “March Madness.”

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Ideology, Morality, Public Policy, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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