The Situationist

Archive for February, 2010

Rebecca Saxe on how we read each other’s minds

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 28, 2010

From TEDTalks:  Sensing the motives and feelings of others is a natural talent for humans. But how do we do it? Here, Rebecca Saxe shares fascinating lab work that uncovers how the brain thinks about other peoples’ thoughts — and judges their actions.

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Dan Gilbert on Why the Brain Scares Itself,” “Nancy Kanwisher on the Situation of our Brain,” Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking” and ““The Grand Illusion” — Believing We See the Situation.”  To review a collection of Situationist posts on neuroscience, click here.

Posted in Life, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Neuro-Situation of Responsibility

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2010

Nicole Vincent recently posted her interesting paper, “Neuroimaging and Responsibility Assessments” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Could neuroimaging evidence help us to assess the degree of a person’s responsibility for a crime which we know that they committed? This essay defends an affirmative answer to this question. A range of standard objections to this high-tech approach to assessing people’s responsibility is considered and then set aside, but I also bring to light and then reject a novel objection — an objection which is only encountered when functional (rather than structural) neuroimaging is used to assess people’s responsibility.

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Download the paper for free here.   To read a sample of related Situationist posts see, Your Brain and Morality,” “Law & the Brain, The Science of Morality,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, and Now Mark Sanford: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation,” and “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Value-Affirmation, and the Situation of Climate Change Beliefs

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2010

On NPR’s All Things Considered, Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan and Donald Braman were interviewed this week by Christopher Joyce regarding their important work on cultural cognition.  Here is an excerpt.

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Over the past few months, polls show that fewer Americans say they believe humans are making the planet dangerously warmer, and that is despite a raft of scientific reports that say otherwise. And that puzzles many climate scientists, but not social scientists.

As NPR’s Christopher Joyce reports, some of their research suggests that when people encounter new information, facts may not be as important as beliefs.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The divide between climate believers and disbelievers can be as wide as a West Virginia valley, and that’s where two of them squared off recently at a public debate on West Virginia Public Radio.

Coal company president Don Blankenship is a doubter.

Mr. DON BLANKENSHIP (CEO, Massey Energy Company): It’s a hoax because clearly anyone that says that they know what the temperature of the earth is going to be in 2020 or 2030 needs to be put in an asylum because they don’t.

JOYCE: On the other side, environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr.

Mr. ROBERT KENNEDY JR. (Environmentalist): Ninety-eight percent of the research, climatologists in the world say that global warming is real, that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. There are 2 percent who disagree with that. I have a choice of believing the 98 percent or the 2 percent.

JOYCE: For social scientist and lawyer Don Braman, it’s not surprising that two people can disagree so strongly over science. Braman is on the faculty at George Washington University and a part of a research group called Cultural Cognition.

Professor DON BRAMAN (George Washington University Law School/The Cultural Cognition Project): People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their worldview.

JOYCE: Braman’s group has conducted several experiments to back that up. First, they ask people to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise – the so-called individualistic group. Others are suspicious of authority, or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them communitarians.

In one experiment, Braman then queried his subjects about something unfamiliar: nanotechnology, new research into tiny, molecule-sized objects that could lead to novel products.

Prof. BRAMAN: These two groups start to polarize as soon as you start to describe some of the potential benefits and harms.

JOYCE: The individualists tended to like nanotechnology; the communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous – all based on the same information.

Prof. BRAMAN: It doesn’t matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom on to the positive information.

JOYCE: So what’s going on here?

Professor DAN KAHAN (Yale University Law School/The Cultural Cognition Project): Basically, the reason that people react in a close-minded way to information is that the implications of it threaten their values.

JOYCE: That’s Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale University and a member of Cultural Cognition. He says people test new information against their preexisting view of how the world should work.

Prof. KAHAN: If the implication, the outcome, can affirm your values, you think about it in a much more open-minded way.

JOYCE: And if the information doesn’t, you tend to reject it.

In another experiment, people read a United Nations’ study about the dangers of global warming. Then the researchers said, okay, the solution is to regulate pollution from industry. Many in the individualistic group then rejected the climate science. But when more nuclear power was offered as the solution…

Prof. BRAMAN: They said, you know, it turns out global warming is a serious problem.

JOYCE: And for the communitarians, climate danger seemed less serious if the only solution was more nuclear power.

Then there’s the Messenger Effect. In an experiment dealing with the dangers versus benefits of a vaccine, the scientific information came from several people. They ranged from a rumpled and bearded expert to a crisply business-like one. And people tended to believe the message that came from the person they considered to be more like them – which brings us back to climate.

Prof. BRAMAN: If you have people who are skeptical of the data on climate change, you can bet that Al Gore is not going to convince them at this point.

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You can listen to, or read the rest of, the interview here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts related to cultural cognition, see The Situation of Scientific Consensus,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk.” For still more  Situationist posts discussing cultural cognition, click here.

For more Situationst posts on perceptions of climate change, see Global Climate Change and The Situation of Denial,” “Al Gore – The Situationist,” The Situation of Climate Change,” “Getting a Grip on Climate Change,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Denial,” The Need for a Situationist Morality,” “The Heat is On,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Legal Theory, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 25, 2010

From EurekAlert:

The human brain is a big believer in equality—and a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has become the first to gather the images to prove it.

Specifically, the team found that the reward centers in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does. The surprising thing? This activity pattern holds true even if the brain being looked at is in the rich person’s head, rather than the poor person’s.

These conclusions, and the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that led to them, are described in the February 25 issue of the journal Nature.

“This is the latest picture in our gallery of human nature,” says Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at Caltech and one of the paper’s coauthors. “It’s an exciting area of research; we now have so many tools with which to study how the brain is reacting.”

It’s long been known that we humans don’t like inequality, especially when it comes to money. Tell two people working the same job that their salaries are different, and there’s going to be trouble, notes John O’Doherty, professor of psychology at Caltech, Thomas N. Mitchell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, and the principal investigator on the Nature paper.

But what was unknown was just how hardwired that dislike really is. “In this study, we’re starting to get an idea of where this inequality aversion comes from,” he says. “It’s not just the application of a social rule or convention; there’s really something about the basic processing of rewards in the brain that reflects these considerations.”

The brain processes “rewards”—things like food, money, and even pleasant music, which create positive responses in the body—in areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and ventral striatum.

In a series of experiments, former Caltech postdoctoral scholar Elizabeth Tricomi (now an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University)—along with O’Doherty, Camerer, and Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech—watched how the VMPFC and ventral striatum reacted in 40 volunteers who were presented with a series of potential money-transfer scenarios while lying in an fMRI machine.

For instance, a participant might be told that he could be given $50 while another person could be given $20; in a second scenario, the student might have a potential gain of only $5 and the other person, $50. The fMRI images allowed the researchers to see how each volunteer’s brain responded to each proposed money allocation.

But there was a twist. Before the imaging began, each participant in a pair was randomly assigned to one of two conditions: One participant was given what the researchers called “a large monetary endowment” ($50) at the beginning of the experiment; the other participant started from scratch, with no money in his or her pocket.

As it turned out, the way the volunteers—or, to be more precise, the reward centers in the volunteers’ brains—reacted to the various scenarios depended strongly upon whether they started the experiment with a financial advantage over their peers.

“People who started out poor had a stronger brain reaction to things that gave them money, and essentially no reaction to money going to another person,” Camerer says. “By itself, that wasn’t too surprising.”

What was surprising was the other side of the coin. “In the experiment, people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money,” Camerer explains. “In other words, their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.”

“We now know that these areas are not just self-interested,” adds O’Doherty. “They don’t exclusively respond to the rewards that one gets as an individual, but also respond to the prospect of other individuals obtaining a reward.”

What was especially interesting about the finding, he says, is that the brain responds “very differently to rewards obtained by others under conditions of disadvantageous inequality versus advantageous inequality. It shows that the basic reward structures in the human brain are sensitive to even subtle differences in social context.”

This, O’Doherty notes, is somewhat contrary to the prevailing views about human nature. “As a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who works on reward and motivation, I very much view the brain as a device designed to maximize one’s own self interest,” says O’Doherty. “The fact that these basic brain structures appear to be so readily modulated in response to rewards obtained by others highlights the idea that even the basic reward structures in the human brain are not purely self-oriented.”

Camerer, too, found the results thought provoking. “We economists have a widespread view that most people are basically self-interested, and won’t try to help other people,” he says. “But if that were true, you wouldn’t see these sort of reactions to other people getting money.”

Still, he says, it’s likely that the reactions of the “rich” participants were at least partly motivated by self-interest—or a reduction of their own discomfort. “We think that, for the people who start out rich, seeing another person get money reduces their guilt over having more than the others.”

Having watched the brain react to inequality, O’Doherty says, the next step is to “try to understand how these changes in valuation actually translate into changes in behavior. For example, the person who finds out they’re being paid less than someone else for doing the same job might end up working less hard and being less motivated as a consequence. It will be interesting to try to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie such changes.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Robin Hood Motives,” “Martha Fineman on the Situation of Gender and Equality,” “The Blame Frame – Abstract,” “The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” and “The Situation of Inequality – Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Distribution, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

2010 HNLR Symposium: The Negotiation Within

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 24, 2010

This Saturday The Harvard Negotiation Law Review is hosting a symposium titled “The Negotiation Within.”

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To visit the conference registration site, click here.

Posted in Events, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Suspicion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 23, 2010

Andrew E. Taslitz recently posted his paper, titled “Police are People Too: Cognitive Obstacles to, and Opportunities for, Police Getting the Individualized Suspicion Judgment Right” (forthcoming in Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Some Fourth Amendment scholars have embraced the idea that the courts should defer to police judgments about reasonable suspicion and probable cause. The primary argument for deference is that much police reasoning is intuitive and unconscious, thus not accessible to systematic analysis. Yet, the argument continues, intuition is often more reliable than conscious thinking. This article examines this claim by exploring in depth the cognitive biases and abilities that serve respectively as obstacles to, and opportunities for, police making accurate judgments about individualized suspicion. The article concludes that requiring police consciously to justify their intuitions can improve their accuracy, that the greatest accuracy comes from constructing institutions in a way that combines the best of unconscious intuition with more systematic critique, and that police training can be improved in various ways to enhance cognitive accuracy about the individualized suspicion judgment.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Legal Situation of the Underclass,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” and “The Situation of Criminality – Abstract.”

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

Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 22, 2010

situationism-in-the-news

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news over the last several weeks.

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From Miller-Mccun: “Get Politically Engaged, Get Happy?”

“As the United States gears up for midyear elections, getting involved in a campaign might not only be a great opportunity to participate in democracy — it might make you feel better.” Read more . . .

From Miller-Mccun: “Threats, Anxieties Ingredients of Conservativism”

“Over the past year, a conservative right-wing movement has found a loud political voice in the United States. Strongly anti-government, the movement seems largely oriented around a message that anything the Obama administration wishes to accomplish is an attack on American tradition, and it is up to them to stop this radical socialist agenda emanating from Washington to preserve the country.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “Our Politics May Be All in Our Head”

“We all know that liberals and conservatives are far apart on health care. But in the way their brains work? Even in automatic reflexes, like blinking? Or the way their glands secrete moisture? That’s the suggestion of some recent research. It hints that the roots of political judgments may lie partly in fundamental personality types and even in the hard-wiring of our brains.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “The Riddle of Consciousness”

“The assorted mystics, philosophers, theologians and, most recently, neuroscientists who have burned a candle searching for the essence of consciousness all started with a simple presumption: Consciousness must begin where unconsciousness ends.” Read more . . .

From Science Daily: “Morality Research Sheds Light on the Origins of Religion”

“The details surrounding the emergence and evolution of religion have not been clearly established and remain a source of much debate among scholars. Now, an article published by Cell Press in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences on February 8 brings a new understanding to this long-standing discussion by exploring the fascinating link between morality and religion.” Read more . . .

Posted in Abstracts | Leave a Comment »

Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 20, 2010

“Crime and Criminals: Address to the Prisoners in the Chicago Jail” (1902)

Preface

This address is a stenographic report of a talk made to the prisoners in the Chicago jail. Some of my good friends have insisted that while my theories are true, I should not have given them to the inmates of a jail.

Realizing the force of the suggestion that the truth should not be spoken to all people, I have caused these remarks to be printed on rather good paper and in a somewhat expensive form. In this way the truth does not become cheap and vulgar, and is only placed before those whose intelligence and affluence will prevent their being influenced by it.
—Clarence Darrow

Crime and Criminals

If I looked at jails and crimes and prisoners in the way the ordinary person does, I should not speak on this subject to you. The reason I talk to you on the question of crime, its cause and cure, is because I really do not in the least believe in crime. There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.

I suppose a great many people on the outside would say I was doing you harm if they should hear what I say to you this afternoon, but you cannot be hurt a great deal anyway, so it will not matter. Good people outside would say that I was really teaching you things that were calculated to injure society, but it’s worth while now and then to hear something different from what you ordinarily get from preachers and the like. These will tell you that you should be good and then you will get rich and be happy. Of course we know that people do not get rich by being good, and that is the reason why so many of you people try to get rich some other way, only you do not understand how to do it quite as well as the fellow outside.

There are people who think that everything in this world is an accident. But really there is no such thing as an accident. A great many folks admit that many of the people in jail ought not to be there, and many who are outside ought to be in. I think none of them ought to be here. There ought to be no jails, and if it were not for the fact that the people on the outside are so grasping and heartless in their dealings with the people on the inside, there would be no such institution as jails.

I do not want you to believe that I think all you people here are angels. I do not think that. You are people of all kinds, all of you doing the best you can, and that is evidently not very well — you are people of all kinds and conditions and under all circumstances. In one sense everybody is equally good and equally bad. We all do the best we can under the circumstances. But as to the exact things for which you are sent here, some of you are guilty and did the particular act because you needed the money. Some of you did it because you are in the habit of doing it, and some of you because you are born to it, and it comes to be as natural as it does, for instance, for me to be good.

Most of you probably have nothing against me, and most of you would treat me the same as any other person would; probably better than some of the people on the outside would treat me, because you think I believe in you and they know I do not believe in them. While you would not have the least thing against me in the world you might pick my pockets. I do not think all of you would, but I think some of you would. You would not have anything against me, but that’s your profession, a few of you. Some of the rest of you, if my doors were unlocked, might come in if you saw anything you wanted — not out of malice to me, but because that is your trade. There is no doubt there are quite a number of people in this jail who would pick my pockets. And still I know this, that when I get outside pretty nearly everybody picks my pocket. There may be some of you who would hold up a man on the street, if you did not happen to have something else to do, and needed the money; but when I want to light my house or my office the gas company holds me up. They charge me one dollar for something that is worth twenty-five cents, and still all these people are good people; they are pillars of society and support the churches, and they are respectable.

When I ride on the street cars, I am held up — I pay five cents for a ride that is worth two and a half cents, simply because a body of men have bribed the city council and the legislature, so that all the rest of us have to pay tribute to them. If I do not wish to fall into the clutches of the gas trust and choose to burn oil instead of gas, then good Mr. Rockefeller holds me up, and he uses a certain portion of his money to build universities and support churches which are engaged in telling us how to be good. Some of you are here for obtaining property under false pretenses — yet I pick up a great Sunday paper and read the advertisements of a merchant prince — “Shirt waists for 39 cents, marked down from $3.00.”

When I read the advertisements in the paper I see they are all lies. When I want to get out and find a place to stand anywhere on the face of the earth, I find that it has all been taken up long ago before I came here, and before you came here, and somebody says, “Get off, swim into the lake, fly into the air; go anywhere, but get off.” That is because these people have the police and they have the jails and judges and the lawyers and the soldiers and all the rest of them to take care of the earth and drive everybody off that comes in their way. A great many people will tell you that all this is true, but that it does not excuse you. These facts do not excuse some fellow who reaches into my pocket and takes out a five dollar bill; the fact that the gas company bribes the members of the legislature from year to year, and fixes the law, so that all you people are compelled to be “fleeced” whenever you deal with them; the fact that the street car companies and the gas companies have control of the streets and the fact that the landlords own all the earth, they say, has nothing to do with you.

Let us see whether there is any connection between the crimes of the respectable classes and your presence in the jail. Many of you people are in jail because you have really committed burglary. Many of you, because you have stolen something; in the meaning of the law, you have taken some other person’s property. Some of you have entered a store and carried off a pair of shoes because you did not have the price. Possibly some of you have committed murder. I cannot tell what all of you did. There are a great many people here who have done some of these things who really do not know themselves why they did them. I think I know why you did them — every one of you; you did these things because you were bound to do them. It looked to you at the time as if you had a chance to do them or not, as you saw fit, but still after all you had no choice. There may be people here who had some money in their pockets and who still went out and got some more money in a way society forbids. Now you may not yourselves see exactly why it was you did this thing, but if you look at the question deeply enough and carefully enough you would see that there were circumstances that drove you to do exactly the thing which you did. You could not help it any more than we outside can help taking the positions that we take. The reformers who tell you to be good and you will be happy, and the people on the outside who have property to protect — they think that the only way to do it is by building jails and locking you up in cells on week days and praying for you Sundays.

I think that all of this has nothing whatever to do with right conduct. I think it is very easily seen what has to do with right conduct. Some so-called criminals — and I will use this word because it is handy, it means nothing to me — I speak of the criminals who get caught as distinguished from the criminals who catch them — some of these so-called criminals are in jail for the first offenses, but nine-tenths of you are in jail because you did not have a good lawyer and of course you did not have a good lawyer because you did not have enough money to pay a good lawyer. There is no very great danger of a rich man going to jail. Some of you may be here for the first time. If we would open the doors and let you out, and leave the laws as they are today, some of you would be back tomorrow. This is about as good a place as you can get anyway. There are many people here who are so in the habit of coming that they would not know where else to go. There are people who are born with the tendency to break into jail every chance they get, and they cannot avoid it. You cannot figure out your life and see why it was, but still there is a reason for it, and if we were all wise and knew all the facts we could figure it out.

In the first place, there are a good many more people who go to jail in the winter time than in summer. Why is this? Is it because people are more wicked in winter? No, it is because the coal trust begins to get in its grip in the winter. A few gentlemen take possession of the coal, and unless the people will pay $7 or $8 a ton for something that is worth $3, they will have to freeze. Then there is nothing to do but break into jail, and so there are many more in jail in the winter than in summer. It costs more for gas in the winter because the nights are longer, and people go to jail to save gas bills. The jails are electric lighted. You may not know it, but these economic laws are working all the time, whether we know it or do not know it.

There are more people go to jail in hard times than in good times — few people comparatively go to jail except when they are hard up. They go to jail because they have no other place to go. They may not know why, but it is true all the same. People are not more wicked in hard times. That is not the reason. The fact is true all over the world that in hard times more people go to jail than in good times, and in winter more people go to jail than in summer. Of course it is pretty hard times for people who go to jail at any time. The people who go to jail are almost always poor people — people who have no other place to live first and last. When times are hard then you find large numbers of people who go to jail who would not otherwise be in jail.

Long ago Mr. Buckle, who was a great philosopher and historian, collected facts and he showed that the number of people who are arrested increased just as the price of food increased. When they put up the price of gas ten cents a thousand I do not know who will go to jail, but I do know that a certain number of people will go. When the meat combine raises the price of beef I do not know who is going to jail, but I know that a large number of people are bound to go. Whenever the Standard Oil Company raises the price of oil, I know that a certain number of girls who are seamstresses, and who work after night long hours for somebody else, will be compelled to go out on the streets and ply another trade, and I know that Mr. Rockefeller and his associates are responsible and not the poor girls in the jails.

First and last, people are sent to jail because they are poor. Sometimes, as I say, you may not need money at the particular time, but you wish to have thrifty forehanded habits, and do not always wait until you are in absolute want. Some of you people are perhaps plying the trade, the profession, which is called burglary. No man in his right senses will go into a strange house in the dead of night and prowl around with a dark lantern through unfamiliar rooms and take chances of his life if he has plenty of the good things of the world in his own home. You would not take any such chances as that. If a man had clothes in his clothes-press and beefsteak in his pantry, and money in the bank, he would not navigate around nights in houses where he knows nothing about the premises whatever. It always requires experience and education for this profession, and people who fit themselves for it are no more to blame than I am for being a lawyer. A man would not hold up another man on the street if he had plenty of money in his own pocket. He might do it if he had one dollar or two dollars, but he wouldn’t if he had as much money as Mr. Rockefeller has. Mr. Rockefeller has a great deal better hold-up game than that.

The more that is taken from the poor by the rich, who have the chance to take it, the more poor people there are who are compelled to resort to these means for a livelihood. They may not understand it, they may not think so at once, but after all they are driven into that line of employment. There is a bill before the legislature of this State to punish kidnapping of children with death. We have wise members of the legislature. They know the gas trust when they see it and they always see it — they can furnish light enough to be seen, and this legislature thinks it is going to stop kidnapping of children by making a law punishing kidnapers of children with death. I don’t believe in kidnapping children, but the legislature is all wrong. Kidnapping children is not a crime, it is a profession. It has been developed with the times. It has been developed with our modern industrial conditions. There are many ways of making money — many new ways that our ancestors knew nothing about. Our ancestors knew nothing about a billion dollar trust; and here comes some poor fellow who has no other trade and he discovers the profession of kidnapping children.

This crime is born, not because people are bad; people don’t kidnap other people’s children because they want the children or because they are devilish, but because they see a chance to get some money out of it. You cannot cure this crime by passing a law punishing by death kidnapers of children. There is one way to cure it. There is one way to cure all these offenses, and that is to give the people a chance to live. There is no other way, and there never was any other way since the world began, and the world is so blind and stupid that it will not see. If every man and woman and child in the world had a chance to make a decent, fair, honest living, there would be no jails, and no lawyers and no courts. There might be some persons here or there with some peculiar formation of their brain, like Rockefeller, who would do these things simply to be doing them; but they would be very, very few, and those should be sent to a hospital and treated, and not sent to jail, and they would entirely disappear in the second generation, or at least in the third generation.

I am not talking pure theory. I will just give you two or three illustrations. The English people once punished criminals by sending them away. They would load them on a ship and export them to Australia. England was owned by lords and nobles and rich people. They owned the whole earth over there, and the other people had to stay in the streets. They could not get a decent living. They used to take their criminals and send them to Australia — I mean the class of criminals who got caught. When these criminals got over there, and nobody else had come, they had the whole continent to run over, and so they could raise sheep and furnish their own meat, which is easier than stealing it; these criminals then became decent, respectable people because they had a chance to live. They did not commit any crimes. They were just like the English people who sent them there, only better. And in the second generation the descendants of those criminals were as good and respectable a class of people as there were on the face of the earth, and then they began building churches and jails themselves.

A portion of this country was settled in the same way, landing prisoners down on the southern coast; but when they got here and had a whole continent to run over and plenty of chances to make a living, they became respectable citizens, making their own living just like any other citizen in the world; but finally these descendants of the English aristocracy, who sent the people over to Australia, found out they were getting rich, and so they went over to get possession of the earth as they always do, and they organized land syndicates and got control of the land and ores, and then they had just as many criminals in Australia as they did in England. It was not because the world had grown bad; it was because the earth had been taken away from the people.

Some of you people have lived in the country. It’s prettier than it is here. And if you have ever lived on a farm you understand that if you put a lot of cattle in a field, when the pasture is short they will jump over the fence; but put them in a good field where there is plenty of pasture, and they will be law-abiding cattle to the end of time. The human animal is just like the rest of the animals, only a little more so. The same thing that governs in the one governs in the other.

Everybody makes his living along the lines of least resistance. A wise man who comes into a country early sees a great undeveloped land. For instance, our rich men twenty-five years ago saw that Chicago was small and knew a lot of people would come here and settle, and they readily saw that if they had all the land around here it would be worth a good deal, so they grabbed the land. You cannot be a landlord because somebody has got it all. You must find some other calling. In England and Ireland and Scotland less than five percent own all the land there is, and the people are bound to stay there on any kind of terms the landlords give. They must live the best they can, so they develop all these various professions — burglary, picking pockets and the like.

Again, people find all sorts of ways of getting rich. These are diseases like everything else. You look at people getting rich, organizing trusts, and making a million dollars, and somebody gets the disease and he starts out. He catches it just as a man catches the mumps or the measles; he is not to blame, it is in the air. You will find men speculating beyond their means, because the mania of money-getting is taking possession of them. It is simply a disease; nothing more, nothing less. You cannot avoid catching it; but the fellows who have control of the earth have the advantage of you. See what the law is; when these men get control of things, they make the laws. They do not make the laws to protect anybody; courts are not instruments of justice; when your case gets into court it will make little difference whether you are guilty or innocent; but it’s better if you have a smart lawyer. And you cannot have a smart lawyer unless you have money. First and last it’s a question of money. Those men who own the earth make the laws to protect what they have. They fix up a sort of fence or pen around what they have, and they fix the law so the fellow on the outside cannot get in. The laws are really organized for the protection of the men who rule the world. They were never organized or enforced to do justice. We have no system for doing justice, not the slightest in the world.

Let me illustrate: Take the poorest person in this room. If the community had provided a system of doing justice the poorest person in this room would have as good a lawyer as the richest, would he not? When you went into court you would have just as long a trial, and just as fair a trial as the richest person in Chicago. Your case would not be tried in fifteen or twenty minutes, whereas it would take fifteen days to get through with a rich man’s case.

Then if you were rich and were beaten your case would be taken to the Appellate Court. A poor man cannot take his case to the Appellate Court; he has not the price; and then to the Supreme Court, and if he were beaten there he might perhaps go to the United States Supreme Court. And he might die of old age before he got into jail. If you are poor, it’s a quick job. You are almost known to be guilty, else you would not be there. Why should anyone be in the criminal court if he were not guilty? He would not be there if he could be anywhere else. The officials have no time to look after these cases. The people who are on the outside, who are running banks and building churches and making jails, they have no time to examine 600 or 700 prisoners each year to see whether they are guilty or innocent. If the courts were organized to promote justice the people would elect somebody to defend all these criminals, somebody as smart as the prosecutor — and give him as many detectives and as many assistants to help, and pay as much money to defend you as to prosecute you. We have a very able man for State’s Attorney, and he has many assistants, detectives and policemen without end, and judges to hear the cases — everything handy.

Most of our criminal code consists in offenses against property. People are sent to jail because they have committed a crime against property. It is of very little consequence whether one hundred people more or less go to jail who ought not to go — you must protect property, because in this world property is of more importance than anything else. How is it done? These people who have property fix it so they can protect what they have. When somebody commits a crime it does not follow that he has done something that is morally wrong. The man on the outside who has committed no crime may have done something. For instance: to take all the coal in the United States and raise the price two dollars or three dollars when there is no need of it, and thus kills thousands of babies and send thousands of people to the poorhouse and tens of thousands to jail, as is done every year in the United States — this is a greater crime than all the people in our jails ever committed, but the law does not punish it. Why? Because the fellows who control the earth make the laws. If you and I had the making of the laws, the first thing we would do would be to punish the fellow who gets control of the earth. Nature put this coal in the ground for me as well as for them and nature made the prairies up here to raise wheat for me as well as for them, and then the great railroad companies came along and fenced it up.

Most all of the crimes for which we are punished are property crimes. There are a few personal crimes, like murder — but they are very few. The crimes committed are mostly against property. If this punishment is right the criminals must have a lot of property. How much money is there in this crowd? And yet you are all here for crimes against property. The people up and down the Lake Shore have not committed crime, still they have so much property they don’t know what to do with it. It is perfectly plain why these people have not committed crimes against property; they make the laws and therefore do not need to break them. And in order for you to get some property you are obliged to break the rules of the game. I don’t know but what some of you may have had a very nice chance to get rich by carrying the hod for one dollar a day, twelve hours. Instead of taking that nice, easy profession, you are a burglar. If you had been given a chance to be a banker you would rather follow that. Some of you may have had a chance to work as a switchman on a railroad where you know, according to statistics, that you cannot live and keep all your limbs more than seven years, and you get fifty dollars a month for taking your lives in your hands, and instead of taking that lucrative position you choose to be a sneak thief, or something like that. Some of you made that sort of chance. I don’t know which I would take if I was reduced to this choice. I have an easier choice.

I will guarantee to take from this jail, or any jail in the world, five hundred men who have been the worst criminals and law breakers who ever got into jail, and I will go down to our lowest streets and take five hundred of the most hardened prostitutes, and go out somewhere where there is plenty of land, and will give them a chance to make a living, and they will be as good people as the average in the community. There is a remedy for the sort of condition we see here. The world never finds it out, or when it does find it out it does not enforce it. You may pass a law punishing every person with death for burglary, and it will make no difference. Men will commit it just the same. In England there was a time when one hundred different offenses were punishable with death, and it made no difference. The English people strangely found out that so fast as they repealed the severe penalties and so fast as they did away with punishing men by death, crime decreased instead of increased; that the smaller the penalty the fewer the crimes.

Hanging men in our county jails does not prevent murder. It makes murderers. And this has been the history of the world. It’s easy to see how to do away with what we call crime. It is not so easy to do it. I will tell you how to do it. It can be done by giving the people a chance to live — by destroying special privileges. So long as big criminals can get the coal fields, so long as the big criminals have control of the city council and get the public streets for street cars and gas rights, this is bound to send thousands of poor people to jail. So long as men are allowed to monopolize all the earth, and compel others to live on such terms as these men see fit to make, then you are bound to get into jail.

The only way in the world to abolish crime and criminals is to abolish the big ones and the little ones together. Make fair conditions of life. Give men a chance to live. Abolish the right of private ownership of land, abolish monopoly, make the world partners in production, partners in the good things of life. Nobody would steal if he could get something of his own some easier way. Nobody will commit burglary when he has a house full. No girl will go out on the streets when she has a comfortable place at home. The man who owns a sweatshop or a department store may not be to blame himself for the condition of his girls, but when he pays them five dollars, three dollars, and two dollars a week, I wonder where he thinks they will get the rest of their money to live. The only way to cure these conditions is by equality. There should be no jails. They do not accomplish what they pretend to accomplish. If you would wipe them out, there would be no more criminals than now. They terrorize nobody. They are a blot upon civilization, and a jail is an evidence of the lack of charity of the people on the outside who make the jails and fill them with the victims of their greed.
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Clarence Darrow (1857-1938) is most well known for his role in the Scopes and Leopold-Loeb trials, but he also defended Eugene Debs, Big Bill Haywood and many other labor, antiwar and civil rights cases. More extensive discussion of his views on crime and punishment can be found in his books Resist Not Evil (1903) and Crime: Its Cause and Treatment (1922).

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To read a sample or related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of False Confessions,” The Legal Situation of the Underclass,”The Situation of Criminality – Abstract,” A Situationist View of Criminal Prosecutors,” “Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” The Justice Department, Milgram, & Torture,” “Why Torture? Because It Feels Good (at least to “Us”),” “The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “The Situation of Punishment,” “Why We Punish,” and “The Situation of Death Row.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Education, History, Ideology, Law, Life, Marketing, Morality, Politics, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of Stereotype Threat

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 19, 2010

Randy Khalil has a nice article, “‘Stereotype threat’ negatively affects students,” in Wednesday’s Daily Princetonian.  Here are some excerpts.
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Princeton students fall victim to the “stereotype threat,” according to a study led by Adam Alter GS ’09.

The “stereotype threat” is the phenomenon in which reminding people of negative stereotypes associated with their group identity can encourage the fulfillment of those stereotypes.

“When reminded of their group membership, for example, white people struggle athletically, black people struggle academically, women struggle mathematically and men struggle linguistically,” Alter explained in an e-mail. Alter wanted to find out if the way that people are reminded of their group membership determines the magnitude of this effect.

Alter examined the stereotype which holds that students from high schools with low representation at the University feel more unsure about their academic ability when they arrive as freshmen than students from high schools that send many students to Princeton. In a survey of 19 undergraduates, 16 said that students from poorly represented high schools are more anxious about their academic ability than other students.

In Alter’s experiment, which tested 124 students, those from poorly represented high schools performed worse than those from highly represented high schools when the test was presented as a “reliable measure of [their] basic quantitative ability,” according to the study. When the test was presented as a measure of students’ ability to “do as well as [they possibly could],” however, the gap between students from different high schools disappeared.

Alter concluded from the experiment that the presentation of a test as either a “threat” or a “challenge” determines whether negative stereotypes are fulfilled.

“People cope much better with challenges than with threats, so we expected the effects of a stereotype threat to be diminished or eliminated when we framed the threat as a challenge,” Alter explained.

Psychology professor [and Situationist Contributor] Susan Fiske said that Alter’s research adds nuance to the current understanding of stereotype threats.

“What is new here is Alter’s finding ways to overcome stereotype threat by framing the problem as a challenge instead of a threat,” Fiske said in an e-mail.

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Posted in Abstracts, Education, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Century of Dipositionism – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 18, 2010

From BBC Website :

Adam Curtis’ acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.

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To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?

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The Freud dynasty is at the heart of this compelling social history. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis; Edward Bernays, who invented public relations; Anna Freud, Sigmund’s devoted daughter; and present-day PR guru and Sigmund’s great grandson, Matthew Freud.

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Sigmund Freud’s work into the bubbling and murky world of the subconscious changed the world. By introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud provided useful tools for understanding the secret desires of the masses. Unwittingly, his work served as the precursor to a world full of political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society’s belief that the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness is man’s ultimate goal.

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The videos from Episode Two, “The Engineering of Consent,” are below. Here is the BBC‘s overview:

The programme explores how those in power in post-war America used Freud’s ideas about the unconscious mind to try and control the masses.

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Politicians and planners came to believe Freud’s underlying premise – that deep within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires and fears. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of these instincts that had led to the barbarism of Nazi Germany. To stop it ever happening again they set out to find ways to control this hidden enemy within the human mind.

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Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna, and his nephew, Edward Bernays, provided the centrepiece philosophy. The US government, big business, and the CIA used their ideas to develop techniques to manage and control the minds of the American people. But this was not a cynical exercise in manipulation. Those in power believed that the only way to make democracy work and create a stable society was to repress the savage barbarism that lurked just under the surface of normal American life.

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It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.

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Part I of this series is here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Hey Dove! Talk to YOUR parent!,” “Deep Capture – Part IX,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Ideology, Public Policy, Public Relations, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – January, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 17, 2010

blogosphere image

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during January 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From Neuroscience Marketing: “Green Marketing: Light Up Sales”

“Green marketing” usually refers to using an environmental pitch to sell a product. A car creates less pollution, a paper product is made from recycled content, and so on. Results of appealing to environmental sentiment have been mixed.” Read more . . .

From Neurophilosophy: “Desire influences visual perception”

“WE tend to assume that we see our surroundings as they really are, and that our perception of reality is accurate. In fact, what we perceive is merely a neural representation of the world, the brain’s best guess of its environment, based on a very limited amount of available information. This is perhaps best demonstrated by visual illusions, in which there is a mismatch between our perception of the stimulus and objective reality.” Read more . . .

From Social Psychology Eye: “Why people choose to kill? The allure of terrorism”

“The 23-year-old Nigerian who boarded an international flight for Detroit with a bomb in his underwear on Christmas Day reminded many people of the important lessons they learned from Sept. 11. Terrorism attracts worldwide attention again. Many people, especially the psychologists, start to think more about the motivation of terrorism and solution to it. What do the terrorists who attempted to strike U.S. territory in common? What is the allure of terrorism? Is religion the only reason?” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Human: “Hyper-binding ain’t for sissies”

“Imagine this hypothetical scenario: You’re at a cocktail party and the host introduces you to a stranger, whose name is Jeremy. It’s a crowded party, and as you chat with Jeremy, you’re also picking up snippets of another conversation nearby. Something about a big football game on Sunday. It doesn’t concern you, so you try to tune it out. You have a short but pleasant conversation with Jeremy, then go on to mingle with other guests.” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Human: “The Science of Prayer”

“Everyone who is in any kind of serious relationship—with a partner, a child, a close friend—has been guilty of transgression as one time or another. That’s because we’re not perfect. We all commit hurtful acts, violate trust, and hope for forgiveness. […] Why not take all that prayer and direct it at the people who have wronged us? Is it possible that directed prayer might spark forgiveness in those doing the praying—and in the process preserve relationships?” Read more . . .

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

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

The Situation of Scientific Consensus

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 15, 2010

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Donald Braman, have just posted another fascinating paper, “Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Why do members of the public disagree – sharply and persistently – about facts on which expert scientists largely agree? We designed a study to test a distinctive explanation: the cultural cognition of scientific consensus. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the tendency of individuals to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values. The study presents both correlational and experimental evidence confirming that cultural cognition shapes individuals’ beliefs about the existence of scientific consensus, and the process by which they form such beliefs, relating to climate change, the disposal of nuclear wastes, and the effect of permitting concealed possession of handguns. The implications of this dynamic for science communication and public policy-making are discussed.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Broader Situation: A Case Study of Cop Car Cameras,” Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk,” To still more  Situationist posts discussing cultural cognition, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Education, Ideology, Legal Theory, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Oliver Sacks on His Situation and the Human Situation of Myth-making

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 14, 2010

From Big Think:

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see”The Interior Situation of Complex Human Feelings,” “Daniel Dennett on the Situation of our Brain,” Dan Dennett on our Interior Situation,” “The Situation of Reason,” The Situation of Confabulation,” “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” and “Unconscious Situation of Choice.”

Posted in Education, Ideology, Illusions, Life, Morality, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Century of Dipositionism – Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 13, 2010

From Wikipedia:

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, changed the perception of the human mind and its workings. His influence on the twentieth century is generally considered profound. The series describes the ways public relations and politicians have utilized Freud’s theories during the last 100 years for the “engineering of consent.”

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Freud himself and his nephew Edward Bernays, who was the first to use psychological techniques in public relations, are discussed. Freud’s daughter Anna Freud, a pioneer of child psychology, is mentioned in the second part, as is one of the main opponents of Freud’s theories, Wilhelm Reich, in the third part.

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Along these general themes, The Century of the Self asks deeper questions about the roots and methods of modern consumerism, representative democracy and its implications. It also questions the modern way we see ourselves, the attitude to fashion and superficiality.

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The business and, increasingly, the political world uses psychological techniques to read and fulfill our desires, to make their products or speeches as pleasing as possible to us. Curtis raises the question of the intentions and roots of this fact. Where once the political process was about engaging people’s rational, conscious minds, as well as facilitating their needs as a society, the documentary shows how by employing the tactics of psychoanalysis, politicians appeal to irrational, primitive impulses that have little apparent bearing on issues outside of the narrow self-interest of a consumer population. He cites Paul Mazer, a Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in the 1930s: “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

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The videos from Episode One, “Happiness Machines,” are below.  Here is the BBC‘s overview:

The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.
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Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.

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His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

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It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Hey Dove! Talk to YOUR parent!,” “Deep Capture – Part IX,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, History, Marketing, Politics, Public Policy, Public Relations, Video | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »

The Broader Situation: A Case Study of Cop Car Cameras

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 12, 2010

As part of my new commitment to posting more of my work on SSRN, I’ve just put up another forthcoming article that may be of interest to some readers.  It offers a law and mind sciences (situationist / critical realist) perspective on Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project (CCP) using a great recent article by CCP scholars Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman, and Donald Braman as a case study.  That article has been referenced in two recent New York Times pieces (including one that listed it as among the most important ideas of 2009).

If your interest is not yet piqued, I should also mention that the new SSRN post also has police chases and scandalous pictures of Angelina Jolie . . . or, well, at least one of those things.

The link is here; the abstract is found below.

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The Cultural Cognition Project (CCP) at Yale Law School and the Project on Law and Mind Sciences (PLMS) at Harvard Law School draw on similar research and share a similar goal of uncovering the dynamics that shape risk perceptions, policy beliefs, and attributions underlying our laws and legal theories.  Nonetheless, the projects have failed to engage one another in a substantial way.  This Article attempts to bridge that gap by demonstrating how the situationist approach taken by PLMS scholars can crucially enrich CCP scholarship.  As a demonstration, the Article engages the case of Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769 (2007), the subject of a recent CCP study.

In Scott, the Supreme Court relied on a videotape of a high-speed police chase to conclude that an officer did not commit a Fourth Amendment violation when he purposefully caused the suspect’s car to crash by ramming the vehicle’s back bumper.  Challenging the Court’s conclusion that “no reasonable juror” could see the motorist’s evasion of the police as anything but extremely dangerous, CCP Professors Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman, and Donald Braman showed the video to 1,350 people and discovered clear rifts in perception based on ideological, cultural, and other lines.

Despite the valuable contribution of their research in uncovering the influence of identity-defining characteristics and commitments on perceptions, Kahan, Hoffman, and Braman failed to engage what may well be a more critical dynamic shaping the cognitions of their subjects and the members of the Supreme Court in Scott: the role of situational frames in guiding attributions of causation, responsibility, and blame.  As social psychologists have documented—and as PLMS scholars have emphasized—while identities, experiences, and values matter, their operation and impact is not stable across cognitive tasks, but rather is contingent on the way in which information is presented and the broader context in which it is processed.

In large part, the Scott video is treated—both by the Supreme Court and by Kahan, Hoffman, and Braman—as if it presents a neutral, unfiltered account of events.  This is incorrect.  Studies of viewpoint bias suggest that the fact that the video offers the visual and oral perspective of a police officer participating in the chase—rather than that of the suspect or a neutral third party—likely had a significant effect on both the experimental population and members of the Court.

Had the Supreme Court watched a different video of the exact same events taken from inside the suspect’s car, this case may never have been taken away from the jury.  Any discussion of judicial “legitimacy”—in both the descriptive and normative sense—must start here.  The real danger for our justice system may not ultimately be the “visible fiction” of a suspect’s version of events, as Justice Scalia would have it, or cognitive illiberalism as Kahan, Hoffman, and Braman would, but the invisible influence of situational frames systematically prejudicing those who come before our courts.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,”The Situation of Racial Profiling,” “The Situational Demographics of Deadly Force – Abstract,” and “The Situation of False Confessions.”

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 11, 2010

situationism-in-the-news

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news over the last several weeks.

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From USA Today: “Psychologists: Propaganda works better than you think”

“Science seldom interacts with the legal world, more’s the pity. But the latest big Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, has some scientists talking about the difference between the legal view of human psychology and what the evidence shows.” Read more . . .

From Guardian: “We can make you behave”

“What have we learned from the financial crisis? That’s the question on everyone’s lips here at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, where we are taking part in a panel discussion with some of the world’s leading behavioural thinkers, including Professor Anil Gaba of INSEAD, Richard Nisbett” Read more . . .

From ScienceNOW: “The Ape That Never Grows Up”

“Chimpanzees have an aggressive reputation and often fight rather than share. Bonobos, on the other hand, are famously playful and friendly. A new study hints at a difference in how the two apes develop, suggesting that bonobos retain a youthful lack of social inhibition longer than chimpanzees do. Understanding how and why these two apes–the closest living relatives to humans–differ from each other could yield clues about how our own species evolved to be so social.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “The Americanization of Mental Illness”

“AMERICANS, particularly if they are of a certain leftward-leaning, college-educated type, worry about our country’s blunders into other cultures. In some circles, it is easy to make friends with a rousing rant about the McDonald’s near Tiananmen Square, the Nike factory in Malaysia or the latest blowback from our political or military interventions abroad. For all our self-recrimination, however, we may have yet to face one of the most remarkable effects of American-led globalization. We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “Is There an Ecological Unconscious?”

“[…] Last August, the American Psychological Association released a 230-page report titled “Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change.” News-media coverage of the report concentrated on the habits of human behavior and the habits of thought that contribute to global warming. This emphasis reflected the intellectual dispositions of the task-force members who wrote the document — seven out of eight were scientists who specialize in decision research and environmental-risk management — as well as the document’s stated purpose. “We must look at the reasons people are not acting, […] in order to understand how to get people to act.” Read more . . .

Posted in Abstracts | 1 Comment »

Valentines Day Pain Relief

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 10, 2010

From Eureka Alert:

Can the mere thought of your loved one reduce your pain?

Yes, according to a new study by UCLA psychologists that underscores the importance of social relationships and staying socially connected.

The study, which asked whether simply looking at a photograph of your significant other can reduce pain, involved 25 women, mostly UCLA students, who had boyfriends with whom they had been in a good relationship for more than six months.

The women received moderately painful heat stimuli to their forearms while they went through a number of different conditions. In one set of conditions, they viewed photographs of their boyfriend, a stranger and a chair.

“When the women were just looking at pictures of their partner, they actually reported less pain to the heat stimuli than when they were looking at pictures of an object or pictures of a stranger,” said study co-author Naomi Eisenberger, assistant professor of psychology and director of UCLA’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. “Thus, the mere reminder of one’s partner through a simple photograph was capable of reducing pain.”

“This changes our notion of how social support influences people,” she added. “Typically, we think that in order for social support to make us feel good, it has to be the kind of support that is very responsive to our emotional needs. Here, however, we are seeing that just a photo of one’s significant other can have the same effect.”

In another set of conditions, each woman held the hand of her boyfriend, the hand of a male stranger and a squeeze ball. The study found that when women were holding their boyfriends’ hands, they reported less physical pain than when they were holding a stranger’s hand or a ball while receiving the same amount of heat stimulation.

“This study demonstrates how much of an impact our social ties can have on our experience and fits with other work emphasizing the importance of social support for physical and mental health,” Eisenberger said.

One practical piece of advice the authors give is that the next time you are going through a stressful or painful experience, if you cannot bring a loved one with you, a photo may do.

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The study appears in the November 2009 issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Co-authors are Sarah Master, Shelley E. Taylor, Bruce Naliboff, David Shirinyan,  and Matthew D. Lieberman.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Pain,” The Racial Situation of Pain Relief,”Cupid’s Situation,” The Situation of Love,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Situation of Cupid’s Arrow,” “How System Threat Affects Cupid,” and “The Situation of Flirting.”

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

System Justification and the Meaning of Life

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2010

Situationist Contributor John T. Jost and his co-authors Lindsay E. Rankin and Cheryl J. Wakslak recently published a fascinating article, titled “System Justification and the Meaning of Life: Are the Existential Benefits of Ideology Distributed Unequally Across Racial Groups?” 22, Social Justice Research 312 (2009).  Here’s the abstract.

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In this research, we investigated the relations among system justification, religiosity, and subjective well-being in a sample of nationally representative low-income respondents in the United States. We hypothesized that ideological endorsement of the status quo would be associated with certain existential and other psychological benefits, but these would not necessarily be evenly distributed across racial groups. Results revealed that religiosity was positively associated with subjective well-being in general, but the relationship between system justification and well-being varied considerably as a function of racial group membership. For low-income European Americans, stronger endorsement of system justification as an ideology was associated with increased positive affect, decreased negative affect, and a wide range of existential benefits, including life satisfaction and a subjective sense of security, meaning, and mastery. These findings are consistent with the notion that system justification satisfies psychological needs for personal control and serves a palliative function for its adherents. However, many of these effects were considerably weakened or even reversed for African American respondents. Thus, the psychological benefits associated with religiosity existed for both racial groups, whereas the benefits of system justification were distributed unequally across racial groups.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “John Jost Speaks about His Own Research,” The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part II,” “Ideology is Back!,” A System-Justification Primer,” “Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” John Jost on System Justification Theory,” John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,”

To review other Situationist posts about system justification or ideology, click here or here respectively.

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Race and Implicit American-ness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 8, 2010

In case you missed it, here is a worthwhile CNN International interview of Thierry Devos and Debbie Ma about their study, titled “Is Barack Obama American Enough to Be the Next President?: The Role of Ethnicity and National Identity in American Politics” (pdf  here).  The study’s introduction is as follows.

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Recent research has demonstrated a tenacious propensity to more readily ascribe the American identity to Whites than to ethnic minorities . . . . Interest in this American = White effect is timely given that a front runner in the 2008 presidential election is African American. The aim of the present research was to determine the role of ethnicity and national identity in the perception of political candidates, as well as identify correlates (behavioral, attitudinal, individual differences) of the American = White effect.

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Roughly, the study found, among other things, that a black candidate may be implicitly conceived of as less American than a white candidate and that the more American a candidate is construed as being the more support that candidate receives.   Here’s the video.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Racial Attitudes in the Presidential Race,” “The Situation of Being ‘(un)American’,” The Racial Situation of Voting,” “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,”On Being a Mindful Voter,”Your Brain on Politics,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,”The Situation of Political Animals,” “Political Psychology in 2008,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters.”

Take our Policy IAT here.

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

Cupid’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 7, 2010

One week before Valentine’s Day, Jessica Pauline Ogilvie published an interesting article, titled “Scientists Try To Measure Love,” for the Los Angeles Times.  Here are some excerpts.

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Whatever its reason, there can be little doubt — even from a scientific standpoint — about the potent feelings that being in love elicits.

Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York, has done brain scans on people newly in love and found that after that first magical meeting or perfect first date, a complex system in the brain is activated that is essentially “the same thing that happens when a person takes cocaine.”

In one such study, published in 2005, Aron recruited 10 women and seven men who had fallen in love within the last one to 17 months. After taking a brief survey about the relationship (items included statements such as “I melt when looking deeply into ____’s eyes”), participants were put in MRI machines and shown pictures of their beloved, interspersed with pictures of neutral acquaintances. When participants viewed images of their partners, their brains’ ventral tegmental area, which houses the reward and motivation systems, was flooded with the chemical dopamine.

“Dopamine is released when you’re doing something [highly] pleasurable,” like having sex, doing drugs or eating chocolate, says Larry J. Young, a psychiatry professor at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Atlanta’s Emory University. Activation of this part of the brain is primarily responsible for causing the sometimes bizarre behavior of new couples, which is linked to motivation and achieving goals: excessive energy, losing sleep, euphoric feelings and, occasionally, anxiety and obsession when they’re separated from their objet d’amour.

According to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and author of “Why Him? Why Her?,” the smitten party is acting out of a motivation to “win life’s greatest prize — a mating partner for life.”

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After the dopamine surge, research suggests that two key hormones — oxytocin and vasopressin — enter the picture, encouraging couples to form emotional bonds.

Oxytocin is released in humans during intimate moments such as prolonged eye contact, hugging and sex. It’s also the hormone that causes mothers to bond with their infants. And having been proved to be involved in long-term bonding in prairie voles and, most recently, marmosets, researchers speculate that it plays the same role in humans.

Vasopressin — also linked to bonding in prairie voles — has similarly been linked to bonding in men. A 2008 study showed that a certain genetic variation of a vasopressin receptor was correlated with marital infidelity and fear of commitment.

All the chemicals and hormones released in new love help ensure that we mate and stay together long enough to reproduce or form partnerships for the long term. But once they’ve subsided, what happens?

Until recently, researchers assumed that most couples eventually settle into what’s called companionate love: relationships that are more intimate, more committed — and much less thrilling.

A recent study, however, proved this theory (and years of marriage sitcoms) wrong. Bianca Acevedo, postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Barbara, looked at brain scans of couples claiming to be madly in love after 20 years of marriage. She and her colleagues found that these fortunate folks had the same neural activity observed in newly in love couples, only without the anxiety or obsession.

Acevedo also discovered something that surprised even her: Based on preliminary surveys, this kind of lasting love appears to be present in approximately 30% of married couples in the U.S.

That doesn’t mean, though, that those of us who don’t fall squarely into that group should throw in the towel. Researchers believe that we have a lot to learn from these happy couples, if only we’re willing to do so.

To begin with, a great deal of research shows that doing novel, exciting things together boosts marital happiness. “Take a class together that you know nothing about,” suggests Aron, who has co-written several studies in this area. “See a play, go to a new location, go to a horse race.” The release of dopamine during these activities might remind couples of how it felt to fall in love or even be happily misattributed to the experience of being together.

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To read the entire article, including a number of excellent suggestions for how to maintain that “lov’n feel’n” click here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of Dopamine,” The Situation of Love,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Situation of Cupid’s Arrow,” “How System Threat Affects Cupid,” and “The Situation of Flirting.”

Posted in Emotions, Life, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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