The Situationist

Archive for November, 2009

The Corporate Situation of the Prison Population

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 7, 2009

In the video below, Free Speech TV’s news magazine program SourceCode looks inside the private prison boom, and at the growing opposition to for-profit private prisons, jails, and detention centers.

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Stephen Colbert recently parodied the trend.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Conference on the Free Market Mindset,” The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” “The Situation of Punishment,” “Why We Punish,” “The Situation of Death Row,” and “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – October 2009, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 6, 2009

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2009 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From 3 Quarks Daily: “Lard Lesson: Why Fat Lubricates Your Appetite”

“When you’ve spent the weekend splurging on greasy fast foods, your bathroom scale isn’t alone in reeling from the impact. Your brain does, too. New research shows just how saturated fat tricks us into eating more and elucidates the evolutionary basis for the propensity for poundage in developed nations. Our brain physiology, it seems, is glaringly out-of-date in the modern world.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “How Culture Shapes Our Mind and Brain”

“Most people would agree that culture can have a large effect on our daily lives — influencing what we may wear, say, or find humorous. But many people may be surprised to learn that culture may even effect how our brain responds to different stimuli. Indeed, until recently, most psychology and neuroscience researchers took for granted that their findings translated across individuals in various cultures. In the past decade, however, research has begun to unravel how cultural belief systems shape our thoughts and behaviors.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “Young children’s moral understanding more sophisticated than previously thought”

“[…] In judging moral responsibility, we adults focus almost exclusively on intention rather than outcome. Stated starkly, the person who deliberately attempts to kill an innocent, but fails, is judged as more evil than the person who accidentally kills an innocent. Now researchers have a taken a fresh look at how these moral processes develop in children.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “The speed of free will”

“Crudely speaking, our actions can be divided into those that are automatic and driven by the environment and those that are initiated volitionally, as an act of will. In an intriguing new study, Todd Horowitz and colleagues claim to have recorded the relatively sluggish time taken for free will to be enacted.” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Asymmetric Introspection and Extrospection

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2009

Pronin Image - by Marc ScheffSituationist Contributor Emily Pronin recently wrote a very helpful primer on her work on the difference between “How We See Ourselves and How We See Others,” which she published in Science.  Here’s the abstract.

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People see themselves differently from how they see others. They are immersed in their own sensations, emotions, and cognitions at the same time that their experience of others is dominated by what can be observed externally. This basic asymmetry has broad consequences. It leads people to judge themselves and their own behavior differently from how they judge others and those others behavior. Often, those differences produce disagreement and conflict. Understanding the psychological basis of those differences may help mitigate some of their negative effects.

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In case you’re not already familiar with Pronin’s work, we recommend it highly.  You can download the above article (as well as a many of her other publications) on her website (here).

For some related Situationist posts, see “Emily Pronin on the Situation of Bias,” The Situation of Biased Perceptions,” I’m Objective, You’re Biased,” and “Naive Cynicism – Abstract.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Illusions, Life, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Interior Situation of Honesty (and Dishonesty)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 4, 2009

PinocchioSeed magazine recently provided a terrific summary of fascinating research on the situation of honesty (here). Here are some excerpts.

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In a famous set of experiments in the 1970s, children were observed trick-or-treating in the suburbs. Some were asked their names and addresses upon arriving at a door, while some were asked nothing. All were instructed to take just one piece of candy from the bowl, but as soon as the owner of the home retreated into the kitchen, the children who hadn’t provided their names and addresses shoveled the candy into their bags, sometimes taking everything in the bowl. Psychologists posited that anonymity made the children feel safe from the repercussions of their actions, an effect they call deindividuation.

Moral psychologists have since constructed myriad experiments to probe the workings of human morality, studying how we decide to cheat or to play by the rules, to lie or to tell the truth. And the results can be surprising, even disturbing. For instance, we have based our society on the assumption that deciding to lie or to tell the truth is within our conscious control. But Harvard’s Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxton say this assumption may be flawed and are probing whether honesty may instead be the result of controlling a desire to lie (a conscious process) or of not feeling the temptation to lie in the first place (an automatic process). “When we are honest, are we honest because we actively force ourselves to be? Or are we honest because it flows naturally?” Greene asks.

Greene and Paxton have just published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that attempts to get at the subconscious underpinnings of morality by recording subjects’ brain activity as they make a decision to lie.

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[Using fMRI to examine the brain's activity during lying and telling the truth, researchers Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxon] found that honesty is an automatic process—but only for some people.  Comparing scans from tests with and without the opportunity to cheat, the scientists found that for honest subjects, deciding to be honest took no extra brain activity. But for others, the dishonest group, both deciding to lie and deciding to tell the truth required extra activity in the areas of the brain associated with critical thinking and self-control.

Their findings—that honesty is automatic for some people—is part of a growing body of work that shows that many, if not most, of our daily actions are not under our conscious control. According to [Situationist Contributor] John Bargh, a Yale social psychologist who studies automaticity, even our higher mental processes are performed unconsciously in response to environmental cues.

“It could potentially be some of the most intriguing evidence for group selection,” Bargh speculates, adding that the results are reminiscent of the evolutionary idea that “cheaters” and “suckers” coexist in a specific ratio in the animal kingdom.

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To read the entire article, which is very interesting, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Trust,” The Situation of Lying,” “The Facial Obviousness of Lying,” “Denial,” Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of it?The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Morality, Neuroscience, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Jim Sidanius, “Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence and ‘The Law’”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 3, 2009

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Jim Sidanius is a Professor in the departments of Psychology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.  His primary research interests include the political psychology of gender, group conflict, institutional discrimination and the evolutionary psychology of intergroup prejudice.

At the second annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place im March of 2008, Professor Sidanius’s fascinating presentation was titled ““Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence and ‘The Law.’” Here’s the abstract:

While instances of inter-communal violence and genocide are obvious and immensely tragic, what is not as readily appreciated is the widespread extent and ferocity of the intergroup violence that is channeled through legal and criminal justice systems.  Given the fact that the legal and criminal justice systems are disproportionately controlled by members of dominant rather than subordinate social groups, social dominance theory argues that a substantial portion of the output of the criminal justice system can be seen as a form of intergroup violence, the function of which is to maintain the structural integrity of group-based social hierarchy.

His talk was videotaped (though with poor lighting), and you can watch it on the three (roughly 9-minute) videos below.

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For more information about the March 2008 PLMS conference, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Ideology, Life, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Gang Rape

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 2, 2009

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In the wake of the horrific story about a 15-year-old girl gang-raped in a schoolyard during a homecoming dance.  The girl was brutalized for more than two hours and, if that wasn’t disturbing enough, there are reports of as many as twenty people stood by and watched, without even calling authorities.  The story raises the question about how so many could do so little to help.  Were they all monsters or is there some other explanation?

On that topic, two Situationist Contributors have been interviewed to offer a situationist perspective.  We’ve excerpted parts of both interviews below.

From ABC News, here are excerpts from an article, titled “How Could People Watch Alleged Gang Rape ‘Like An Exhibit’?,” by Radha Chitale, interviewing Situationist Contributor John Darley.

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Psychology experts say the incident, if it occurred as described, may have been the result of escalating wildness facilitated by an isolated, heavily male environment.

“If one of the boys or men grabbed her and pulled her toward him … and somebody else did something else so it became more and more sexual in nature … we now have a [group of boys] who are pretty wild,” said John Darley, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University. “Each act licensed what had gone before, and it also made more likely what came next.”

Anyone who had reservations about the unfolding events “was surrounded by people who were apparently tolerating what was going on and maybe even encouraging it,” Darley said.

In fact, several of the onlookers cheered and made comments as the student was assaulted.

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Meg Bossong, coordinator of Community Education and Outreach at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, said the case suggested elements of the bystander effect, in which people are less likely to respond to an emergency when there are others around.

“That idea [is] that the more people there are around, the fewer people will get involved because there’s a diffusion of responsibility,” she said. “Not stepping in sends the message that it’s not such a big deal. … This is something that we hear a lot about around crime and also around sexual assault.”

The element of sexual violence in the alleged attack at Richmond High School may have contributed to observers’ apparent inaction.

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But Darley said the apparent escalating brutality of the alleged attack may have had less to do with its sexual nature and more to do with the isolated location.

Marin Trujillo, a spokesperson for West Contra Costra Unified School District, said the attack occurred in a locked area not easily accessible from the enclosed gym where the homecoming dance was held and where security, which consisted of four police officers and numerous staff chaperones, were concentrated.

In fact, Darley said the seeds of behavior that could become unacceptable are evident when, for example, men catcall or whistle at people on the street, where social barriers prevent escalation. Military attacks on villages are another example where events can escalate beyond what is expected.

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You can read the entire article here.

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Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji was interviewed by Neal Conan on NPR’s Talk of the Nation about the same story.  Here are some excerpts from that interview.

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CONAN: And when we hear about a case like this and we’re talking about the bystanders, those who watched and did nothing and walked away, those who stayed and, at least as far as we know from that report, jeered or cheered on what was going on, we think of those people and think they must be terrible people.

Prof. BANAJI: That’s right. That’s the first thought that comes to our mind. What else are we to think when we hear that a horrific event like this was simply allowed to continue to happen while people just stood there? So biologists and psychologists have studied for a long, long time the incredible capacity of human beings to help, to be altruistic. And therefore, these kinds of events pose a real dilemma. How do they happen and why do they happen, given that we know that we have a capacity to help?

Evolutionary psychologists might tell us that sometimes we’re unable to help when the group that we’re thinking about helping is far away because we didn’t evolve to think about helping people who lived many, many miles away. But again, the bystander problems shows us that this is happening in the here and now.

Sometimes it’s easy to think about helping an individual person, even though a group tragedy may not affect us. And again, the bystander problem poses a dilemma because this is about an individual human being and that person’s suffering. And so, of course, there are now, we know, many, many experiments done on something called the bystander non-intervention effect, and it was done in the late ’60s, following the murder of Kitty Genovese. And exactly as you say, Neal, the initial response from psychiatrists and psychologists was: Who were these horrible people who stood around watching the murder of this woman and didn’t call the police? And that led to a stunning set of experiments.

And the reason I say that the experiments here are so important is that because in any given case, we don’t know exactly what the pressures on the situation were, and we don’t know exactly what those folks experienced. And that’s why when we bring complex phenomena like this into the laboratory and we put them to the test there, we can say with far greater precision what it is that’s going on. And the results of two psychologists by the name of Latane and Darley stand out here because they reenacted certain situations in the laboratory, a person having a seizure, a bunch of smoke just flowing into a room, and all they varied was the number of people present.

And the data show over and over again that if there was one person in the room, the likelihood of helping is around 75 percent. But as the number goes to two and three and four and five and six, the number of people who jump up to help drops to 10 percent, right?

So there’s something about the size of the group that, although it should lead us to be more likely to help, actually produces the counterintuitive reverse effect.

CONAN: That’s fascinating. So, in effect, there’s something biological going on here.

Prof. BANAJI: Well, we can – you know, we would want to at least say that it is something cognitive going on because here’s what we think needs to happen in an emergency situation like this. First of all, you have to notice that there is an emergency.

CONAN: Sure.

Prof. BANAJI: And the remarkable result from these original studies is that if you are with other people sitting there, you are less likely to even notice the smoke. You are less likely to even recognize that the child’s cry for help is a real cry for help, and so on. So there’s something that changes in our minds to even identify what it is that’s going on. And, of course, once we identify what it is that’s going on, then we need to figure out some way to take action, and that’s where psychologists believe something called diffusion of responsibility occurs, that the number of people, as that – yes.

CONAN: It has to – if there’s a large number of people, it’s not an individual’s responsibility anymore. It’s, hey, if Charlie over there doesn’t do it, why should I do it?

Prof. BANAJI: That’s correct. Try dropping a penny in an elevator with one other person present versus six others present, and you’ll find the number of people helping to pick it up just drop precipitously.

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Prof. BANAJI: You know, I would say that from the perspective of the research, the type of crime proves to be less important. What is far more important is the setup of the situation, that is to say in this case, the sheer number of other people who were watching. And I just want to go back to the previous caller and something that Lieutenant Gagan said.

You know, he said these suspects are monsters. I don’t understand how this many people, capable of such atrocious behavior, could be in one place at one time. And I think the answer is actually embedded in his – in what he says, that is how could so many monsters gather in one place at one time? And the right answer from our perspective would be: These are not monsters. These are us. This is all of us. This has nothing to do with the fact that it happened in a particular city, although the size of the city does matter.

So smaller towns are more likely to be places where we will be helped, not because people in smaller towns are better people but because smaller towns have fewer people.

CONAN: Are smaller by definition, yeah.

Prof. BANAJI: Yeah. And that’s what I think is the most important point in the research, that this is not about a few monsters. This is about everybody. It says something very difficult to us. It says that perhaps had we had been standing there, we ourselves, if we were not better educated about this particular effect and what it does to us, we may fall prey to it ourselves.

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CONAN: . . . . Bullying, is that something that would fall into this category of bystanders?

Prof. BANAJI: Yes, absolutely I would say that it does. And that’s why even though we speak about it on radio and hear the media report it when it is an event of the kind in Richmond, California, I think that what your caller is bringing up tells us that these acts of intervention are acts that we are called upon every single day to make.

I have been thinking of this in the context of institutional corruption, and again, to me, the issue of why we don’t pick up the phone and report on something when we know that we’re going to be protected, when it’s not even throwing ourselves into the river to have to save somebody, why is it that we don’t? And I think understanding what’s at the heart of that inability, both at the level of the moral sort of pressure that we feel, but also much more at the level of the situations and the institutional mechanisms that surround us, that keep us from being able to do that.

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Prof. BANAJI: . . . .  I would say that if there’s anything for us to do here, it is to learn as individuals, to practice small acts of intervention, to just sort of begin to think about events around us as our responsibility. Those are the sorts of things that we hope that our educational systems will impart to people and that our society will sort of hold people, in some ways, responsible and for intervening and for not intervening. And it’s sort of – it’s really a disturbing – in some sense – to hear . . . that the law, in trying to improve the situation, may be setting it up in such a way that we are hurting act of intervention.

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You can read or listen to the entire interview here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Construing ‘Acquaintance Rape’,” The Situation of Blaming Rihanna,” “What Counts as Rape?,” “Unrecognized Injustice — The Situation of Rape,” The Situation of Helping,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “History of Groupthink,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “March Madness.”

Posted in Education, Law, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the “Curveball”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 1, 2009

CurveballFrom U.S. News:

“Physically, there is no such thing as a breaking curveball,” said Zhong-Lin Lu, who holds the William M. Keck Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. “It’s mostly in the hitter’s mind.”

According to Lu, who helped to design a popular Web animation that illustrates the science behind what he calls the curveball illusion, the ball travels relatively straight toward the batter, curving somewhat but not nearly as much as claimed. What causes the perception of the break is a complex interplay between the fast spin of the ball, the contrast between the ball’s red seams and white background, and the batter’s flawed visual perception as the ball nears the plate.

Here’s how the curveball phenomenon seems to work, said Lu, a visual motion and perception specialist:

The ball leaves the pitcher’s arm at approximately 75 mph, slower than an average fastball. While it hurtles toward the batter, the ball spins obliquely at around 1,500 rpm (or 25 rotations per second). The ball reaches the plate in about 0.6 seconds.

Because of its unique spin, the ball appears to be moving faster than it really is, causing the batter to overestimate the speed. A slight curving trajectory forces the ball to move somewhat away from the hitter’s frontal view toward his side — or peripheral — vision just before he swings.

It’s during this final shifting of perception from frontal (also known as foveal) to peripheral view that causes the batter to perceive that the ball is dramatically dropping or moving abruptly to the left or right. In fact, the curveball is moving relatively straight, Lu said.

“The greater your eyes move away from the ball, the greater the curve,” he said.

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From EurekaAlert:

Zhong-Lin Lu, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at USC, along with USC alumni Emily Knight and Robert Ennis and Arthur Shapiro, associate professor of psychology at American University, developed a simple visual demo that suggests a curveball’s break is, at least in part, a trick of the eye.

Their demo, viewable at outstanding Illusion Sciences blog (here), won the Best Visual Illusion of the Year prize at the Vision Sciences meeting earlier this year.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Jim Rice and the Situation of Baseball Hall of Fame Voting,”  “Big Papi Magic,” “The Situation of a Baseball Pitch,” The Batting Situation,” and “The Unconscious Genius of Baseball Players.”   To review other Situationist posts containing of discussing illusions, click here.   Finally, to review a collection of similarly fascinating illusions by Arthur Shapiro, go to Illusion Sciences Blog.

Posted in Illusions, Situationist Sports, Video | 2 Comments »

 
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