The Situationist

Archive for April, 2010

Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 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 CNN: “Psychologists: Memorials can trigger more suicides”

“When college students take their lives, as apparently happened recently at Cornell University, the instinctual reaction, to mourn publicly and officially, may be the wrong thing to do, psychologists say.” Read more . . .

From Nature News: “Children who form no racial stereotypes found”

“Prejudice may seem inescapable, but scientists now report the first group of people who seem not to form racial stereotypes. Children with a neurodevelopmental disorder called Williams syndrome (WS) are overly friendly because they do not fear strangers. Now, a study shows that these children also do not develop negative attitudes about other ethnic groups, even though they show patterns of gender stereotyping found in other children.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “Brain Damage”

“Being fat is bad for your brain. That, at least, is the gloomy conclusion of several recent studies. For example, one long-term study of more than 6,500 people in northern California found that those who were fat around the middle at age 40 were more likely to succumb to dementia in their 70s. A long-term study in Sweden found that, compared to thinner people, those who were overweight in their 40s experienced a more rapid, and more pronounced, decline in brain function over the next several decades.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “Is Marriage Good for Your Health?”

“In 1858, a British epidemiologist named William Farr set out to study what he called the “conjugal condition” of the people of France. He divided the adult population into three distinct categories: the “married,” consisting of husbands and wives; the “celibate,” defined as the bachelors and spinsters who had never married; and finally the “widowed,” those who had experienced the death of a spouse. Using birth, death and marriage records, Farr analyzed the relative mortality rates of the three groups at various ages. The work, a groundbreaking study that helped establish the field of medical statistics, showed that the unmarried died from disease “in undue proportion” to their married counterparts.” Read more . . .

From Time: “Why Shady Deeds Are More Likely to Happen in the Dark”

“Human beings can be a devious lot. At some point, even the most moral of us have skulked or sneaked or filched something we weren’t supposed to — even if it were just a cookie from the kitchen. Of all the things that get our sneakiness juices going, there is nothing like a little darkness.” Read more . . .

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Liability for Unconscious Discrimination?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 28, 2010

Patrick Shin recently posted his excellent article, titled “Liability for Unconscious Discrimination? A Thought Experiment in the Theory of Employment Discrimination Law” (forthcoming Hastings Law Journal) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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A steadily mounting body of social science research suggests that ascertaining a person’s conscious motives for an action may not always provide a complete explanation of why he did it. The phenomenon of unconscious bias presents a worrisome impediment to the achievement of fair equality in the workplace. There have been numerous deeply insightful articles discussing various aspects of this problem and canvassing its implications for antidiscrimination law.

My purpose in this paper is to focus directly on what might be called a more naïve question: should implicit bias be a basis of disparate treatment liability under Title VII? The question might fairly be regarded as naïve insofar as any proposal for such liability would surely be unripe for present implementation, in light of serious issues pertaining to problems of proof in individual cases, not to mention intramural disputes among experts about the proper practical inferences that can be drawn from extant social science research.

My interest, however, is more theoretically basic. I want to understand whether and how the notion of unconsciously biased action fits into our operative legal concept of actionable discrimination. To reach that issue, I devise a thought experiment in which I assume, first, that unconscious or implicit bias is real in a sense that I will make explicit, and second, that unconscious discrimination is provable – i.e., that the influence of implicit bias on an agent’s action is something that can, in principle, be proved in individual cases. With these assumptions, I construct an hypothetical test case that squarely raises what I regard to be the hard question for theorizing about unconscious discrimination. Should an employment action give rise to liability when that action was provably affected by the actor’s unconscious bias in respect of a statutorily protected classification, even when the actor consciously acted only on legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons? The payoff of this thought experiment is not only a clearer picture of the theoretical commitments entailed by liability based on unconscious bias, but also a keener understanding of our currently prevailing notions of actionable discrimination.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Krieger on the Situation of Discrimination in France,” “What Are the Legal Implications of Implicit Biases?,” Colorblinded Wages – Abstract,” Firefighters and the Situation of “Merit”,” and The Situation of Situation in Employment Discrimination Law – Abstract.” For a list of Situationist posts discussing the research on implicit bias and the IAT, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Bullying

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 27, 2010

Maia Szalavitz, co-author of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered wrote an intriguing article, titled “How Not to Raise a Bully: The Early Roots of Empathy” in a recent issue of Time Magazine.  Here are some excerpts.

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Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can . . . be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age. Over the past decade, research in empathy — the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes — has suggested that it is key, if not the key, to all human social interaction and morality.

Without empathy, we would have no cohesive society, no trust and no reason not to murder, cheat, steal or lie. At best, we would act only out of self-interest; at worst, we would be a collection of sociopaths.

Although human nature has historically been seen as essentially selfish, recent science suggests that it is not. The capacity for empathy is believed to be innate in most humans, as well as some other species — chimps, for instance, will protest the unfair treatment of others, refusing to accept a treat they have rightfully earned if another chimp doing the same work fails to get the same reward.

The first stirrings of human empathy typically appear in babyhood: newborns cry when hearing another infant’s cry, and studies have shown that children as young as 14 months offer unsolicited help to adults who appear to be struggling to reach something. Babies have also shown a distinct preference for adults who help rather than hinder others.

But like language, the development of this inherent tendency may be affected by early experience. As evidence, look no further than ancient Greece and the millennia-old child-rearing practices of Sparta and Athens. Spartans, who were celebrated almost exclusively as warriors, raised their ruling-class boys in an environment of uncompromising brutality — enlisting them in boot camp at age 7 and starving them to encourage enough deviousness and cunning to steal food, which skillfully bred yet more generations of ruthless killers.

In Athens, future leaders were brought up in a more nurturing and peaceful way, at home with their mothers and nurses, starting education in music and poetry at age 6. They became pioneers of democracy, art, theater and culture. “Just like we can train people to kill, the same is true with empathy. You can be taught to be a Spartan or an Athenian — and you can taught to be both,” says Teny Gross, executive director of the outreach group Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Providence, R.I., and a former sergeant in the Israeli army.

What the ancient Greeks intuited is supported by research today. Childhood — as early as infancy — is now known to be a critical time for the development of empathy. And although children can be astonishingly resilient, surviving and sometimes thriving despite abuse and neglect, studies show that those who experience such early trauma are at much greater risk of becoming aggressive or even psychopathic later on, bullying other children or being victimized by bullies themselves.

Simple neglect can be surprisingly damaging. In 2007, researchers published the first randomized, controlled study of the effect of being raised in an orphanage; that study, and subsequent research on the same sample of Romanian orphans, found that compared with babies placed with a foster family, those who were sent to institutions had lower IQs, slower physical growth, problems with human attachment and differences in functioning in brain areas related to emotional development.

Institutionalized infants do not experience being the center of a loving family’s attention; instead, they are cared for by a rotating staff of workers, which is inherently neglectful. The infants miss out on intensive, one-on-one affection and attachment with a parental figure, which babies need at that vulnerable age. Without that experience, they learn early on that the world is a cold, insecure and untrustworthy place. Their emotional needs having gone unmet, they frequently have trouble understanding or appreciating the feelings of others.

Nearly 90% of brain growth takes place in the first five years of life, and the minds of young children who have been neglected or traumatized often fail to make the connection between people and pleasure. That deficit can make it difficult for them to feel or demonstrate love later on. “You can enhance empathy by the way you treat children,” says Martin Hoffman, an emeritus professor of psychology at New York University and a pioneer of empathy research, “or you can kill it by providing a harsh punitive environment.”

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You can read the entire article here, including an extended discussion fo the “Roots of Empathy” program, a school-based program designed to foster empathy and compassion and which has been shown to significantly reduce bullying.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Cruelty of Children,” Jane Elliot’s Situationist Pedagogy,” “Examining the Bullying Situation,” The Situation of Bullying,” The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” The Situation of Gang Rape,” Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part III.”

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

Video on the Original Milgram Experiment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2010

From Wikipedia:

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychologyexperiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question: “Was it that Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust had mutual intent, in at least with regard to the goals of the Holocaust?” In other words, “Was there a mutual sense of morality among those involved?” Milgram’s testing suggested that it could have been that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs.

After the jump, you can watch an outstanding video, including some original footage, about the experiment.  (We’ve placed it after the jump, because it plays automatically.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – March, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 24, 2010

blogosphere image

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

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From Neuronarrative: “When You Expect Rapid Feedback, the Fire to Perform Gets Hotter”

“Let’s say that you’re preparing for an extremely important test that you and roughly 100 other classmates will be taking in a week.  A few days before the test, you find out that your instructor will be going on a trip not long after the test is over and will be providing written and verbal feedback to the students within a day of the test.” Read more . . .

From Neurophilosophy: “Magnetic manipulation of the sense of morality”

“When making moral judgements, we rely on our ability to make inferences about the beliefs and intentions of others […] The legal system also places great emphasis on one’s intentions: a “guilty act” only produces criminal liability when it is proven to have been performed in combination with a “guilty mind”, and this, too, depends on the ability to make reasoned moral judgements. MIT researchers now show that this moral compass can be very easily skewed.” Read more . . .

From Social Psychology Eye: “The Bottom Line”

“What determines the importance of fairness, particularly to strangers?  There are no incentives to play fair when dealing with people we don’t know, aren’t related to, and will never interact with again. Evolutionary psychologist might point to carryover effects of living in smaller communities in our distant past. A recent study led by Joseph Henrich hopes to clarify the issue postulating that there is more to it than simply inheriting fairness attitudes.” Read more . . .

From Psyblog: “How to Increase Your Self-Control Without Really Trying”

“New study shows that self-control can be automatically, unconsciously bolstered by abstract thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just spontaneously and automatically exercise self-control, without all that painful back-and-forth battle with ourselves? […] Unfortunately so often temptation wins. And experiments show that when we are run down from exercising self-discipline all day, we become even more likely to give in to temptation.” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Human: “Fast food, racing thoughts”

“Fast food is unhealthy. I know, I know. Few of us need convincing of that fact any more. But as unassailable as it is, the brief against fast food has for years focused almost entirely on the food in fast food—the high fructose corn syrup and artery-busting fats and nutritional bankruptcy of burgers and French fries and soft drinks. But what about the fast in fast food? New science is now suggesting that fast food may be doubly unhealthy—not only nutritionally damaging but psychologically detrimental as well.” Read more . . .

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

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

Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Experience and Memory

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 23, 2010

From TedTalks: “Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness.”

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To sample some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Becoming Happier,” Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Well-Being,” Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Intuition,” and “Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology.” For a sample of other Situationist posts related to Kahneman’s work, see Dan Kahneman’s Situation,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part II.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The State of Shareholder Power in the Situation of Citizens United 

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2010

Who is speaking when a corporation talks? Can a corporation represent all of its shareholders and workers in political speech? How will corporations decide who to represent?  In “Corporate Governance Redux in the Light of Citizens United,” Robert A.G. Monks will detail  the history of corporate personhood and how this case relates to corporate governance.

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Come hear Mr. Monks, shareholder activist, author, corporate governance advisor, and HLS alum, for a lunch-time discussion of the state of shareholder power after Citizens United (04/22/10).  The talk will be held in Austin West at Harvard Law School (12pm-1pm).  Lunch will be provided.

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Events, History, Law, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Trust Me: You’ll Enjoy this Post

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 21, 2010

Craig Lambert has a worthwhile interview with Situationist friend, Dan Gilbert (author of the best-selling 2007 psychology book Stumbling on Happiness and host of the recent PBS television series This Emotional Life.), in the current issue of Harvard Magazine.   Here are some excerpts.

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In a recent issue of Science, Gilbert and his coauthorspsychology graduate student Matthew Killingsworth, Rebecca Eyre, Ph.D. ’05, and [Situationist Contributor] Timothy Wilson, Aston professor of psychology at the University of Virginiareported findings on “surrogation”: consulting the experience of another person, a surrogate, in deciding whether something will make you happy. They discovered that the direct experience of another person trumps the conjecturing of our own minds.

The surrogate’s verdict is a useful guide because we are far more similar to each other than we realize. “If you look at other human beings, we seem amazingly varied,” Gilbert explains. “What we forget is that if a Martian came and looked at us, he wouldn’t be able to tell any of us apart.” The same holds for our inner reactions. “One of the ways we’re quite similar is in our hedonic or emotional reactions to events,” he continues. “Yes, it’s true that you may like strawberry ice cream more than chocolate, whereas I prefer chocolate. But that shouldn’t obscure the much bigger point: everybody likes ice cream more than they like gall-bladder surgery. Everybody prefers a weekend in Paris to being hit over the head with a two-by-four.” Economic markets exist for this very reason: to a large degree, people like the same things.

Gilbert volunteers a thought experiment: ask a random person to list all possible human experiences, ranking them from best to worst. Then ask another randomly chosen individual to do the same. Gilbert predicts, “You’d see 99 percent overlap in their arrangements.” That’s why surrogation works. (It isn’t, however, a perfect guide, only better than the alternatives. Surrogation’s a poor strategy in those rare circumstances where human emotional responses vary widely—e.g., to a question like, “What’s your favorite number?”)

In one experiment to test surrogation, the psychologists asked a sample of women to predict how much they would enjoy a “speed date” with a particular man. Some women saw his personal profile and photograph; others learned nothing about him other than how much another woman (a stranger) had enjoyed her speed date with him. The second group predicted their enjoyment far more accurately than the first. Both groups had expected the reverse, and oddly enough, despite the outcome, both groups preferred to have the profile/photograph for their next date.

This suggests that ideas trump reality. But in predicting your likings, even someone else’s direct experience trumps mental hypotheses—which is why surrogation works. But to be helpful, the surrogate’s experience must be recent. “People are very poor at remembering how happy they were,” Gilbert says. “So it’s not very useful to ask, ‘How much did you like something you experienced last year?’ People get most questions about happiness wrong. But there is one question they get right: how happy are you right now?”

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To read the entire article and listen to parts of the interview, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Dan Gilbert on Why the Brain Scares Itself,” “Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It!

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

MBB Distinguished Lectures with Michael Gazzaniga

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2010

Harvard Mind, Brain & Behavior will hold its 2010 Distinguished Lecture Series this week, featuring three evening lectures with Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, psychology professor and director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara. All three events look interesting, and the final event has particular relevance to law and mind sciences. All events will be held in Harvard’s Yenching Auditorium, 2 Divinity Ave, Cambridge, MA.

  • Tuesday, April 20, 4 to 6 pm
    Building the Parallel Distributed Brain, How Do We Know?
    From Hebb, Lashley, and Sperry, and through modern research, the basics of brain organization are reviewed at both the cellular and neurological level, including a personal history of split-brain research that all lead up to the view of a parallel and distributed brain. Post-talk commentary by Professor Albert Galaburda (Neurology / HMS).
  • Wednesday, April 21, 4 to 6 pm
    Automatic Brains, Interpretive Minds
    With a massively parallel and distributed and automatic brain, how is it we believe we experience a unified conscious life? How does the sense of psychological unity become established and how does it work in the brain? Post-talk commentary by Professor Güven Güzeldere (Philosophy / FAS).
  • Thursday, April 22, 4 to 6 pm
    Feeling Free in a Mechanistic World: Where the Brain Meets the Law
    The idea of determinism and mechanism rings out from every quarter of science and society. What does this mean for the concept of personal responsibility and how might ideas on the issue impact our ideas of justice and the law? Post-talk commentary by Professor Joshua Greene (Psychology / FAS).

Posted in Classic Experiments, Events, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Frontline of Citizens United

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2010

What are the implications of corporate personhood after the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United? Get the story from behind this term’s most talked-about case from the lawyers who argued in district court and wrote the Supreme Court briefs. How did the FEC develop it’s position? What is at stake? What role do agency lawyers place in a high-profile case? What are the FEC’s next steps in light of the decision?

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David B. Kolker and Kevin A. Deely, Associate General Counsels for the Federal Election Commission, will speak today (04/19/10) at Harvard Law School (12pm-1pm, Austin East).  Lunch will be provided.

Posted in Deep Capture, Law, Politics | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

De-Capturing the FDA

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2010

Harvard Law Student, Jason Iuliano, recently posted his forthcoming article, “Killing Us Sweetly: How to Take Industry Out of the FDA” (forthcoming Journal of Food Law and Policy) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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For more than a century, the Food and Drug Administration has purported to protect the public health. During that time, it has actually been placing corporate profits above consumer safety. Nowhere is this corruption more evident than in the approval of artificial sweeteners. FDA leaders’ close ties to the very industry they were supposed to be regulating present a startling picture. Ignoring warnings from both independent scientists and their own review panels, FDA decision makers let greed guide their actions. They approved carcinogenic sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose while simultaneously banning the natural herb stevia because it would cut into industry profits. This Article proposes two reforms that can end these corrupt practices and take industry out of the FDA. By strengthening conflict of interest regulations and preventing companies from participating in safety trials, the FDA will be able to gain independence from corporate control.

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To download the paper for free, click here.

To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Food: The Movie,”Our Situation Is What We Eat,” Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” Big Calories Come in Small Packages,” The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,” The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

The American obesity paradox is explored at some length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic, including industry capture of regulatory institutions. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 18, 2010

Here is an outstanding 30-minute video interview about the sources of the financial crisis.  The interview should resonate with regular readers of The Situationist and those otherwise familiar with the “deep capture” hypothesis.

From Bill Moyers Journal:

“How did Big Finance grow so powerful that its hijinks nearly brought down the global economy – and what hope is there for real reform with Washington politicians on Wall Street’s payroll? Bill Moyers talks with authors Simon Johnson and James Kwak, two of the nation’s most respected economic experts and authors of the new book 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltodown.”

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Here’s a sample of the transcript:

James Kwak: I think there are two things. There’s a narrow and a broad view of this. The narrow view is I think Rubin is actually not lying. I think it is true that Rubin did not know what the risks were. Although he certainly should have known what the risks were. And that’s because he was fully subscribed to this ideology that free markets are good. That the market will take care of itself. That, he also suffered from a lot of the blindness that corporate officers and directors have. Corporate officers and directors manage these enormous organizations with tens of hundreds of thousands of people. They have very little idea what’s going on. They’re getting their information from subordinates, who are giving them a filtered view of the world. On the other hand, when he says, no one could have foreseen this. This is what I call an intellectual cover up. And I say that because it’s very disingenuous. Over the past 20 years, these banks used their economic power and their political power to engineer an unregulated financial environment in which precisely this sort of thing could happen. And in that sense, I think that this was not an accident. It was not a natural disaster. It was not unforeseeable. It was the product of the efforts by the sector over the past 20 years to reshape Washington and to engineer an environment that would allow them to make as much money as possible. Simon talked earlier about money. And we know that the financial sector, especially Wall Street, has been, has made enormous contributions to both campaign contributions and lobbying expenses. But I think there were, there were two more potent weapons in their arsenal. One is the revolving door. So, we’ve seen an enormous number of people passing back and forth between Washington and Wall Street over the past 20 years. This is not a new phenomenon. It happens in every industry. But there are certain things that make it especially pernicious when it comes to finance. One is that, one is a question of incentives. So, compared to other industries, Wall Street can simply offer enormous amounts of money. I’m not saying that everyone did that. I’m not saying that even the majority of people did that. But that is, that is very clear.

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You can learn more about Wall Street reform and Simon Johnson and James Kwak here.

The most basic prediction of the “deep capture” hypothesis is that there will be a competition over the situation (including the way we think) to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions and that those individuals, groups, entities, or institutions that are most powerful will win that competition. The deep capture hypothesis was described in more detail in a series of posts.

  • Part I of that series explained that the “deep capture” story is analogous to the (shallow) capture story told by economists (such as Nobel laureate George Stigler) and public choice theorists for decades regarding the competition over prototypical regulatory institutions.
  • Part II looked to history (specifically, Galileo’s recantation) for another analogy to the process that we claim is widespread today — the deep capture of how we understand ourselves.
  • Part III picked up on both of those themes and explains that Stigler’s “capture” story has implications far broader and deeper than he or others realized.
  • Part IV examined the relative power (measured as the ability to influence situation) of large commercial interests today, much like the power of the Catholic Church in Galileo’s day.
  • Part V described other parallels between the Catholic Church and geocentrism, on one hand, and modern corporate interests and dispositionism, on the other.
  • Part VI laid out the “deep capture hypothesis” a bit more and began loosely testing it by examining the role that it may have played in the “deregulatory” movement.
  • Part VII provided some illustrative examples of how atypical “regulators,” from courts to hard-hitting news networks, reflect and contribute to deep capture.
  • Part VIII contrasted different cultures for evidence of commercial interests in promoting dispositionism.
  • Part IX described the strategy of employing third-party messengers.
  • Part X summarized some of the evidence of how pro-commercial interests invested to shape legal theory and law.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Century of Dipositionism – Part I,” “Robert Reich on the Situation of Health Care Reform,” “Conference on the Free Market Mindset,” “Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” “Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,” “Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” “The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Reclaiming Corporate Law in a New Gilded Age – Abstract,” The Illusion of Wall Street Reform,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “The Situation of Talk Radio,” “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Book, Deep Capture, Ideology, Law, Public Policy, Public Relations, Video | 3 Comments »

Embodied Rationality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2010

Barbara Spellman and  Simone Schnall recently posted their fascinating paper, Embodied Rationality, on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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In the last decade, many cognitive and social psychology researchers have been inspired by the notion of “embodied cognition” – that cognition is grounded in actual bodily states, and that cognition takes place in the service of action. Consider two examples: (1) when wearing a backpack people perceive hills to be steeper than when not wearing one; (2) when holding a cup containing a hot drink people rate another person as more warm and friendly than when holding a cup containing a cold drink.

Findings such as these suggest that behavioral law and economics’s emphasis on “irrationality” in decision making could benefit by considering work in embodied cognition. Accordingly, this paper exploits recent research and theory on embodied cognition to find lessons for behavioral law and economics and theories of rationality.

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You can download the paper for free here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Embodied Cognition Bonanza!,” The Embodied Situation of Metaphors,” Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “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,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Embodied Cognition | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Some Situational Signals of a Suicidal Disposition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 16, 2010


From Physorg:

Following the suicide of a relative or close friend, surviving family members and friends are left with a number of painful questions: “What made them do it?,” “Why didn’t they get help?”  The most troublesome question is often, “Is there anything I could have done to prevent this?” People who are contemplating suicide tend to conceal their behavior, or deny they are having suicidal thoughts, so it can be difficult to identify warning signs. Even experienced clinicians sometimes do not catch any warning signs and suicide experts have been searching for a clear behavioral marker of suicide risk.

Psychological scientist Matthew Nock of Harvard University, along with colleagues from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, adapted the Implicit Association Test (IAT)  to measure associations between life and death/suicide and examined if it could be effective in predicting suicide risk.

The IAT is a widely used test that measures automatic associations people hold about various topics ó participants are shown pairs of words and how quickly they respond indicates if they unconsciously associate those words together. In the IAT version used in this study, participants classified words related to “life” (e.g., breathing) and “death” (e.g., dead) and “me” (e.g., mine) and “not me” (e.g., them). Faster responses to “death”/”me” stimuli than “life”/”me” stimuli would suggest a stronger association between death and self.

People seeking treatment at a psychiatric emergency room participated in this study. They completed the IAT and various mental health assessments. In addition, their medical records were examined six months later to see if they had attempted suicide within that time.

The results, reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, revealed that participants presenting to the emergency room after a suicide attempt had a stronger implicit association between death/suicide and self than did participants presenting with other psychiatric emergencies. In addition, participants with strong associations between death/suicide and self were significantly more likely to make a suicide attempt within the next six months than were those who had stronger associations between life and self. These results suggest that an implicit association between death/suicide and self may be a behavioral marker for suicide attempt. These findings also indicate that measures of implicit cognition may be useful for identifying and predicting clinical behaviors that tend not be reported.

As Nock explains, “these results are really exciting because they address a long-standing scientific and clinical dilemma by identifying a method of measuring how people are thinking about death and suicide that does not rely on their self-report.”  He adds, “we are hopeful that this line of research ultimately will provide scientists and clinicians with new tools for measuring how people think about sensitive clinical behaviors that they may be unwilling or unable to report on verbally.”

[Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, also of Harvard University and a co-author of this study, adds that this work presents a strong argument for the importance of funding basic behavioral research.  “These results are an example of basic research helping to solving a troubling and devastating problem in every society. The method we used was designed to understand the mind, but it turned into a technique that can predict disorders of a variety of sorts. One wonders why funding agencies that should know better about the value of basic research seem so naive when it comes to decisions about what is in the public’s interest,” Banaji explains.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Race and Implicit American-ness,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” “The Interior Situation of Suicide,” and “The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers.”

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

2010 Law and Mind Sciences Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 14, 2010

The 2010 Conference on Law and Mind Sciences


“Moral Biology? How should developments in mind sciences and behavioral biology alter our understanding of law and morality?”

When: Thursday, April 15, 2010, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Harvard Law School, Austin Hall, West Classroom

Free and Open to the Public

This panel discussion will examine how developments in evolutionary biology and the mind sciences should inform law, philosophy, and economics, focusing on subjects such as punishment, responsibility, racism, addiction, and cooperation. Participants will include:

  • I. Glenn Cohen
  • Joshua Greene
  • William Fitzpatrick
  • Adina Roskies
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
  • Thomas Scanlon

Co-sponsored by The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, the Gruter Institute, the Harvard Program on Ethics and Health, and the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project.

More specifics regarding participants, materials, and the conference agenda can be found here.

Posted in Events, Legal Theory, Morality, Neuroscience, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Sam Gosling on the Meaning of the Stuff in our Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 13, 2010

From ForaTV:

For the last 10 years psychologist Gosling has been studying how people project (and protect) their inner selves. By exploring our private worlds (desks, bedrooms, even our clothes and cars), he shows not only how we showcase our personalities in unexpected ways, but also how we create personality in the first place, communicate it others and interpret the world around us.

Does what’s on your desk reveal what’s on your mind? Do those pictures on your walls tell true tales about your character? Is your favorite outfit about to give you away?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Power of Appearance and Posture,” “Seeing Your Interior Situation through your Exterior Situation,” What Our Exterior Situation Reveals About Our Interior Situation,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

Posted in Book, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Life, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 11, 2010

From EurekaAlert:

“Just as our species could be considered the most violent, since we are capable of serial killings, genocide and other atrocities, we are also the most empathetic species, which would seem to be the other side of the coin”, Luis Moya Albiol, lead author of the study and a researcher at the UV, tells SINC.

This study, published in the most recent issue of the Revista de Neurología, concludes that the prefrontal and temporal cortex, the amygdala and other features of the limbic system (such as insular and cingular cortexcortex) play “a fundamental role in all situations in which empathy appears”.

Moya Albiol says these parts of the brain overlap “in a surprising way” with those that regulate aggression and violence. As a result, the scientific team argues that the cerebral circuits – for both empathy and violence – could be “partially similar”.

“We all know that encouraging empathy has an inhibiting effect on violence, but this may not only be a social question but also a biological one – stimulation of these neuronal circuits in one direction reduces their activity in the other”, the researcher adds.

This means it is difficult for a “more empathetic” brain to behave in a violent way, at least on a regular basis. “Educating people to be empathetic could be an education for peace, bringing about a reduction in conflict and belligerent acts”, the researcher concludes.

Techniques for measuring the human brain “in vivo”, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, are making it possible to find out more about the structures of the brain that regulate behaviour and psychological processes such as empathy.

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These findings were published in the latest issue of Revista de Neurología.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” The Situational Benefits of Outsiders,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,”The Case for Obedience,” and “March Madness.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Emotions | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Situationism in Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 10, 2010

Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson was recently interviewed by Big Think.  Here is his answer to the following question: “How have policy makers responded to your research?”

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You can view more at “Harvard Law Spotlights Situationism” and  “Jon Hanson on Situationism and Dispositionism,” which contains other related Situationist links.

Posted in Law, Legal Theory, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of an Airstrike

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2010

Benedict Carey wrote a great article, titled “Psychologists Explain Iraqi Airstrike Video” for the New York Times.  Here are some excerpts, with the addition of the videos to which the article refers.

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The sight of human beings, most of them unarmed, being gunned down from above is jarring enough.

But for many people who watched the video of a 2007 assault by an Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad, released Monday by WikiLeaks.org, the most disturbing detail was the cockpit chatter. The soldiers joked, chuckled and jeered as they shot people in the street, including a Reuters photographer and a driver, believing them to be insurgents.

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In recent days, many veterans have made the point that fighters cannot do their jobs without creating psychological distance from the enemy. One reason that the soldiers seemed as if they were playing a video game is that, in a morbid but necessary sense, they were.

“You don’t want combat soldiers to be foolish or to jump the gun, but their job is to destroy the enemy, and one way they’re able to do that is to see it as a game, so that the people don’t seem real,” said Bret A. Moore, a former Army psychologist and co-author of the forthcoming book “Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life After Deployment.”

Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human, said Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of the book “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” who is a former Army Ranger.

Combat training “is the only technique that will reliably influence the primitive, midbrain processing of a frightened human being” to take another life, the colonel writes. “Conditioning in flight simulators enables pilots to respond reflexively to emergency situations even when frightened.”

The men in the Apache helicopter in the video flew into an area that was being contested, during a broader conflict in which a number of helicopters had been shot down.

Several other factors are on display during the 38-minute video, said psychologists in and out of the military. . . .

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The fighters in the helicopter say over the radio that they are sure they see a “weapon,” even though the Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, is carrying a camera.

“It’s tragic that this all begins with the apparent mistaking of a camera” for a weapon, said David A. Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University. “But it’s perfectly understandable with what we know now about context and vision. Take the same image and put it in a bathroom, and you swear it’s a hair dryer; put it in a workshop, and you swear it’s a power drill.”

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After the helicopter guns down a group of men, the video shows a van stopping to pick up one of the wounded. The soldiers in the helicopter suspect it to be hostile and, after getting clearance from base, fire again. Two children in the van are wounded, and one of the soldiers remarks, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

Here again, psychologists say, when people are intensely focused on observing some specific feature of the landscape, they may not even see what is obvious to another observer. The classic demonstration of this is a video in which people toss around a basketball; viewers told to count the number of passes rarely see a person in a gorilla suit who strolls into the picture, stops and faces the camera, and strolls out.

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The soldiers were looking for combatants; experts say it is not clear they would have seen children, even if they should have.

The video’s emotional impact on viewers is also partly rooted in the combination of intimacy and distance it gives them, some experts said. The viewer sees a wider tragedy unfolding, in hindsight, from the safety of a desk; the soldiers are reacting in real time, on high alert, exposed.

In recent studies, researchers have shown that such distance tempts people to script how they would act in the same place, and overestimate the force of their own professed moral principles.

“We don’t express our better angels as much as we’d like to think, especially when strong emotions are involved,” Dr. Dunning said. He added, “What another person does in that situation should stand as forewarning for what we would do ourselves.”

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Thanks to Situationist Fellow Goutam Jois for sending us this link.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Soldiers,” Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Military Meets the Mind Sciences,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources of War – Part VII,” “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors,” The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” “Looking for the Evil Actor,” Neuroscience and Illusion,”

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Illusions, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – March, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2010

blogosphere image

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

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From BPS Research Digest: “Scary health messages can backfire”

“A short while ago there was a shocking advert on British TV that used slow motion to illustrate the bloody, crunching effects of a car crash. The driver had been drinking. Using these kind of scare tactics for anti drink-driving and other health issues makes intuitive sense. The campaigners want to grab your attention and demonstrate the seriousness of the consequences if their message is not heeded. However, a new study makes the surprising finding that for a portion of the population, scare tactics can back-fire, actually undermining a message’s efficacy.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “Why Some Human Brains Become Leaders, While Others Followers?”

“The human brain is a biological pattern making machine. At birth, a baby’s brain contains 100 billion neurons, roughly as many nerve cells as there are stars in the Milky Way. These billions of neurons in human brain have extraordinary capacity to construct and weave strings of useful information patterns which gets ever more complex as cognitive thought process increases. These neural patterns help the brain to recognize, organize, store and retrieve information patterns when needed. It has been noticed that leaders engage in activities which provide the time, space and structure to facilitate the construction of such neural patterns.” Read more . . .

From Frontal Cortex: “Inequality Aversion”

“The ultimatum game is a simple experiment with profound implications. The game goes like this: one person (the proposer) is given ten dollars and told to share it with another person (the responder). The proposer can divide the money however they like, but if the responder rejects the offer then both players end up with nothing. […] In a paper published last week in Nature, a team of Caltech and Trinity College psychologists and neuroeconomists looked at how the brain’s response to various monetary rewards is altered by the context of inequality.” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Simple Jury Persuasion: You may want to disagree with this post”

“Here’s a simple and powerful persuasion strategy. Although somewhat paradoxical, giving people the freedom to resist your message appears to undermine their wish to do so.” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Your brain is a liar: It will find what it wants before it even starts looking”

“Brains are pretty amazing. And the research on how our brains affect us comes out so fast it’s hard to keep up with–so we’re simply giving you a post with a hodge-podge of research findings. Prepare to be amazed (or perhaps amused).” Read more . . .

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

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

 
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