The Situationist

Archive for May, 2010

Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 30, 2010

From Youtube: “Choice is a powerful tool to define ourselves and mold our lives — but what do we know about the wants, motivations, biases, and influences that aid or hinder our endeavors?”

In her new book The Art of Choosing, Columbia University professor [and Situationist friend] Sheena Iyengar, a leading expert on choice, sets herself the task of helping us become better choosers. She asks fascinating questions: Is the desire for choice innate or created by culture? Why do we sometimes choose against our best interests? How much control do we really have over what we choose? Ultimately, she offers unexpected and profound answers, drawn from her award-winning, discipline-spanning research.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,”Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’”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! “  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Life, Social Psychology, Video | 3 Comments »

The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2010

Ellen Waldman recenly posted her thoughtful article, “Mindfulness, Emotions, and Ethics: The Right Stuff?” (Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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What role do emotions play in ethical decision-making? Philosophers have long debated the question, disagreeing about both the nature of “the good” and how best to achieve it. Rationalists ground one’s capacity for virtue in logic and deliberate cognition, while moral intuitionists look to one’s capacity for feeling deeply. Immanuel Kant, for example, maintained that right conduct flowed from a sense of duty that functioned independently of emotion. Conversely, David Hume argued that all right action involved sentiment and that reason, stripped of passion, could not impel ethical choice.

Philosophers are not alone in their fascination with the question. Psychologists also have delved into the relationship between emotion and moral development, creating varying models of maturation that either embrace or reject emotion as a critical component of moral discernment. Today, debates in the “soft sciences” of the mind spill into the “hard sciences” of the body. Interest in the biological bases of emotion invigorates neuroscience, and developments in functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) promise methods for mapping the synaptic pathways that induce affective states. Although we can now detect activity in portions of the brain associated with emotional experience, it remains unclear whether those electrical surges push us in “right” or “wrong” directions.

In the mediation world, scholars and practitioners frequently treat emotion as the unruly step-child of the problem-solving mind. Professor Leonard Riskin characterizes emotion as a potential negotiation saboteur and offers “mindful practice” as a useful corrective. He argues that mindful mediation can help negotiators gain better control over their wandering minds and negative emotions, and achieve more satisfying, interest-based solutions.

This essay celebrates Riskin’s call to arms while suggesting some limits to what mindfulness can achieve in the ethical realm. It examines in more detail the relationship Riskin posits between mindful practice and ethical decision-making. It discusses recent developments in neuroethics that imply a prominent role for emotions in establishing ethical restraint. It also surveys a growing body of evidence that suggests the directive power of our emotions remains largely hidden from and impervious to the control of our “reasoning” selves. Lastly, it examines what Riskin has, in an earlier work, described as the ethical “hard case” in light of recent explorations into the emotional wellsprings of deontological versus consequentialist thinking. Although the mediation community need not wade deeply into the debates currently roiling social psychologists, it is useful to reflect on the genesis of our ethical commitments and whether they continue to serve the field’s long-term goals and interests.

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You can download the article for free, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Legal Ethics,” “Blind to our Situational Blindness,” “Mood and Moral Judgment,” Law, Psychology & Morality – Abstract,” “Situating Emotion,” “The Motivated Situation of Morality,” and “Moral Psychology Primer.”

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Emotions, Morality, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Racial Prejudice in Real Estate Markets

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 26, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios. This episode asks, “what would you do if you attended a real estate open house where only certain people were welcome?” (and includes analysis from social psychologist John Dovidio).

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It has been over 50 years since the Black, middle-class Myers family moved into all-White Levittown.  You can watch the landmark (32-minute) documentary depicting reactions to the Myers moving into Levittown below.

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Finally, here is a 1991 ABC Primetime story on the “nature of today’s prejudices.” The documentary follows “two men (equal in all measurable aspects, except skin color) as they participate in a variety of ‘everyday’ life interactions and situations to test levels of prejudice based on skin colors. Shows how two young men in St. Louis, one white, one black, but otherwise similar in background, appearance, etc., are treated differently in various situations as they go about shopping, applying for work, and looking for rental housing.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Jane Elliot’s Situationist Pedagogy,” Leaving the Past,”Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Black History is Now,”Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?” and “The Racialized Situation of Vandalism and Crime,” each of which contains a sizable list of other related Situationist posts.

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, History | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Being Green

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 25, 2010

Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong recently posted their article, titled “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?” (forthcoming Psychological Science) on SSRN.

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Consumer choices not only reflect price and quality preferences but also social and moral values as witnessed in the remarkable growth of the global market for organic and environmentally friendly products. Building on recent research on behavioral priming and moral regulation, we find that mere exposure to green products and the purchase of them lead to markedly different behavioral consequences. In line with the halo associated with green consumerism, people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green than conventional products. However, people act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products as opposed to conventional products. Together, the studies show that consumption is more tightly connected to our social and ethical behaviors in directions and domains other than previously thought.

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You can download the article for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Denial,”The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing,” Unclean Hands,” Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part IISocial Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,”Situation of Consumption,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Marketing, Morality | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Profits and Perils of Public Engagement

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 24, 2010

In my last post, I asked whether it was a threat to academia for academics to make a concerted effort to engage the public with their work.

Tamara Piety had a thoughtful response (see here).  She made a number of interesting points about the value of reaching out to non-academics and of risking being wrong.  As she explained, “I think the argument that speaking to the general public somehow undermines your scholarly credentials is often just used as a weapon to try to intimidate and silence those with novel ideas (or ones the critic disagrees with).”

Overall, I think Tamara and I are in agreement that the benefits of academics striving to translate their research for a popular audience are worth the (not insignificant) costs.  (I, or course, welcome comments from those who disagree!)

But what about mind scientists and legal scholars who go beyond penning blog posts, magazine articles, and books to actually lobbying for changes (to the legal system or elsewhere), testifying as experts in court cases, or working for corporations eager to increase profits.

Certainly, there is a long history of those interested in human psychology working with marketers and advertisers.  (Indeed, reading over an old issue of the Monitor on Psychology this weekend, I was reminded of the efforts of Edward L. Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, on behalf of Lucky Strike to convince women to smoke.)  On a different note, psychologists and law professors were instrumental, back in 1999, in producing an 8,000-word national guide for the U.S. Department of Justice on collecting and preserving eyewitness evidence.  And, just last week, the Washington Post had a story on how Emory’s Drew Westen has taken on a more formal role advising Democrat leaders in the Senate and House in anticipation of the fall elections.

Should we think about these activities differently than we think about writing for a popular audience?  What is it that makes us uncomfortable in certain cases—the possibility that money might alter judgments; that consumers, voters, or juries might be manipulated?  Isn’t it beneficial to have people with actual expertise exercising more real world decision-making authority?

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Heart, Brain, or Wallet…How Do You Vote?,” “Drew Westen on the Political Brain, Part I, and Part II,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “The Century of Dipositionism – Part I, Part II, and Part III,” “Mass Marketing,” and “Deep Capture – Part VII.”

Posted in Ideology, Marketing, Politics, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Person-Situation Debate in Philosophy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 23, 2010

Situationist Contributor John Jost recently co-authored a brief comment, titled “Virtue ethics and the social psychology of character: Philosophical lessons from the person–situation debate,” which will be of interest to many of our readers.  Here are the opening paragraphs.

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A venerable tradition of ethical theory drawing on Aristotle’s Ethics still flourishes alongside consequentialist (utilitarian) and deontological (Kantian) alternatives. The Aristotelian notion is that if humans develop in themselves and inculcate in others certain settled dispositions to reason and act in characteristic ways—bravely, honestly, generously—they will behave in ways that secure and preserve eudaimonia (happiness or well-being) for themselves and others (Burnyeat, 1980; Hursthouse, 1999; Sherman, 1997). Virtue theorists are therefore committed to the existence of significant moral personality traits that not only summarize good (vs. bad) behavior but also explain the actions of the virtuous (and vicious) agents.

A powerful empirical challenge to virtue theories developed out of Mischel’s (1968) critique of personality traits and social psychological research emphasizing the ‘‘power of the situation” (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). These lessons were applied, perhaps overzealously, to moral philosophy by Flanagan (1991), Harman (1999), Doris (2002), and Appiah (2008). Harman (1999) claimed: ‘‘We need to convince people to look at situational factors and to stop trying to explain things in terms of character traits. . . [and] to abandon all talk of virtue and character, not to find a way to save it by reinterpreting it” (p. 1). This position, which might be termed eliminative situationalism, stimulated useful philosophical debate, but it is too dismissive of the role of personality (or character) in producing ethically responsible behavior.

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You can download a pdf of the entire essay here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see Your Brain and Morality,”Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will Debate – Part II,” Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” andThe Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Abstracts, Philosophy, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 21, 2010

Press release from University of Michigan:

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When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.

That is the claim of University of Michigan social scientist James S. Jackson and colleagues in an article published in the May 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The theory helps explain a long-time epidemiological puzzle: why African Americans have worse physical health than whites but better psychiatric health.

“People engage in bad habits for functional reasons, not because of weak character or ignorance,” says Jackson, director of the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Over the life course, coping strategies that are effective in ‘preserving’ the mental health of blacks may work in concert with social, economic and environmental inequalities to produce physical health disparities in middle age and later life.”

In an analysis of survey data, obtained from the same people at two points in time, Jackson and colleagues find evidence for their theory. The relationship between stressful life events and depression varies by the level of unhealthy behaviors. But the direction of that relationship is strikingly different for blacks and whites.

Controlling for the extent of stressful life events a person has experienced, unhealthy behaviors seem to protect against depression in African Americans but lead to higher levels of depression in whites.

“Many black Americans live in chronically precarious and difficult environments,” says Jackson. “These environments produce stressful living conditions, and often the most easily accessible options for addressing stress are various unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors may alleviate stress through the same mechanisms that are believed to contribute to some mental disorders—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis and related biological systems.”

Since negative health behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use and overeating (especially comfort foods) also have direct and debilitating effects on physical health, these behaviors—along with the difficult living conditions that give rise to them—contribute to the disparities in mortality and physical health problems between black and white populations.

These disparities in physical health and mortality are greatest at middle age and beyond, Jackson says. Why?

“At younger ages, blacks are able to employ a variety of strategies that, when combined with the more robust physical health of youth, effectively mask the cascade to the negative health effects,” Jackson said. “But as people get older, they tend to reduce stress more often by engaging in bad habits.”

Black women show heightened rates of obesity over the life course, he points out. In fact, by the time they are in their 40s, 60 percent of African American women are obese.

“How can it be that 60 percent of the population has a character flaw?” Jackson asks. “Overeating is an effective, early, well-learned response to chronic environmental stressors that only strengthens over the life course. In contrast, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, black American men’s coping choices are different.

“Early in life, they tend to be physically active and athletic, which produces the stress-lowering hormone dopamine. But in middle age, physical deterioration reduces the viability and effectiveness of this way of coping with stress, and black men turn in increasing numbers to unhealthy coping behaviors, showing increased rates of smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.”

Racial disparities in physical illnesses and mortality are not really a result of race at all, Jackson says. Instead, they are a result of how people live their lives, the composition of their lives. These disparities are not just a function of socioeconomic status, but of a wide range of conditions including the accretion of micro insults that people are exposed to over the years.

“You can’t really study physical health without looking at people’s mental health and really their whole lives,” he said. “The most effective way to address an important source of physical health disparities is to reduce environmentally produced stressors—both those related to race and those that are not. We need to improve living conditions, create good job opportunities, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of inner-city urban life.

“Paradoxically, the lack of attention to these conditions contributes to the use of unhealthy coping behaviors by people living in poor conditions. Although these unhealthy coping behaviors contribute to lower rates of mental disorder, over the life course they play a significant role in leading to higher rates of physical health problems and earlier mortality than is found in the general population.”

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Racial Health Disparities,” The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” and “Guilt and Racial Prejudice.” For a listing of numerous Situationist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Emotions, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Stop that Thief! (or not)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 20, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios.  This episode asks “what would you do if you witnessed a beach theif in action?” (and includes analysis from social psychologist Carrie Keating).

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?” and “The Racialized Situation of Vandalism and Crime,” each of which contains a sizable list of other related Situationist posts. “

Posted in Conflict, Morality, Video | Leave a Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – April, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 19, 2010

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

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From Big Think: “New Study: Insurers Take Both Sides in the War on Obesity”

“The other day I pointed out the conflicting motives of corporations that sell soda, snacks and fast food: They promote “wellness” because they want manageable health-care costs, but they also promote their products. And those are linked to just those long-term “lifestyle” diseases that push health-care costs up. Now comes this study in the American Journal of Public Health, which documents the mixed motives of another set of corporations—companies that sell health and life insurance.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “Milgram’s personal archive reveals how he created the ‘strongest obedience situation’”

“Stanley Milgram’s 1960s obedience to authority experiments, in which a majority of participants applied an apparently fatal electric shock to an innocent ‘learner’, are probably the most famous in psychology, and their findings still appall and intrigue to this day. Now, in a hunt for fresh clues as to why ordinary people were so ready to harm another, Nestar Russell, at Victoria University of Wellington, has reviewed Milgram’s personal notes and project applications, which are housed at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “The Brain Rejects Inequality”

“The human brain likes balance. Not simply biological and physiological homeostasis that maintains the proper functioning of the brain, but emotional, social and psychological balance. Notably, the human brain dislikes inequality when it comes to money, and rejects it at all costs, according to new research in the journal Nature.” Read more . . .

From Frontal Cortex: “Classroom Creativity”

“Everybody wants a creative child – in theory. The reality of creativity, however, is a little more complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we’re distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules. In other words, the most imaginative kids are often the trouble-makers.” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Neurolaw Update: Who’s in charge here—me or my brain?”

“Our brains. They seem to be all powerful. They make us do stuff. Stuff beyond our control or even awareness, or so it seems. For example, if you are a young (and presumably heterosexual, for this study) male, you are more likely to do something really risky if you are being watched by a young woman rather than another man.” Read more . . .

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

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

The Situation of Sexism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 17, 2010

Shankar Vedantam, author of the outstanding book, “The Hidden Brain,” excerpted a brief section of that book for TheAge.com. Here are some excerpts from that excerpt.

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. . . . The existence of unconscious sexism can be scientifically proved in laboratory experiments. . . .

Bias is much harder to demonstrate scientifically in real life, which may be why large numbers of people do not believe that sexism and other forms of prejudice still exist. Many people think we live in a “post-racial” and “post-sexist” world where egalitarian notions are the norm. Indeed, if you go by what people report, we do live in a bias-free world, because most people report feeling no prejudice whatsoever.

What would be remarkably instructive in real life would be if women in various professions could experience life as men, and vice versa. If the same person got treated differently, we would be sure sexism was at work, because the only thing that changed was the sex of the individual and not his or her skills, talent, knowledge, experience, or interests.

Joan Roughgarden and Ben Barres are biologists at Stanford University. Both are researchers at one of the premier academic institutions in the country; both are tenured professors. Both are transgendered people. Stanford has been a welcoming home for these scientists; if you are going to be a transgendered person anywhere in the United States, it would be difficult to imagine a place more tolerant than Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ben Barres did not transition to being a man until he was 50. For much of her early life, Barbara Barres was oblivious to questions of sexism. She would hear Gloria Steinem and other feminists talk about discrimination and wonder, “What’s their problem?” She was no activist; all she wanted was to be a scientist. She was an excellent student. When a school guidance counsellor advised her to set her sights lower than MIT, Barbara ignored him, applied to MIT, and got admitted in 1972.

During a particularly difficult maths seminar at MIT, a professor handed out a quiz with five problems. He gave out the test at 9am, and students had to hand in their answers by midnight. The first four problems were easy, and Barbara knocked them off in short order. But the fifth one was a beauty; it involved writing a computer program where the solution required the program to generate a partial answer, and then loop around to the start in a recursive fashion.

“I remember when the professor handed back the exams, he made this announcement that there were five problems but no one had solved the fifth problem and therefore he only scored the class on the four problems,” Ben recalled. “I got an A. I went to the professor and I said, ‘I solved it.’ He looked at me and he had a look of disdain in his eyes, and he said, ‘You must have had your boyfriend solve it.’ To me, the most amazing thing is that I was indignant. I walked away. I didn’t know what to say. He was in essence accusing me of cheating. I was incensed by that. It did not occur to me for years and years that that was sexism.”

By the time she was done with MIT, Barbara had more or less decided she wanted to be a neuroscientist. She decided to go to medical school at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. Gender issues at med school were like the issues at MIT on steroids; one professor referred Barbara to his wife when she wanted to talk about her professional interests. An anatomy professor showed a slide of a nude female pin-up during a lecture.

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But things changed in large and subtle ways after Barbara became Ben.

Ben once gave a presentation at the prestigious Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A friend relayed a comment made by someone in the audience who didn’t know Ben Barres and Barbara Barres were the same person: “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Ben also noticed he was treated differently in the everyday world. “When I go into stores, I notice I am much more likely to be attended to. They come up to me and say, ‘Yes, sir? Can I help you, sir?’ I have had the thought a million times, I am taken more seriously.”

When former Harvard president Larry Summers (who went on to become a senior economic adviser to President Barack Obama) set off a firestorm a few years ago after musing about whether there were fewer women professors in the top ranks of science because of innate differences between men and women, Ben wrote an anguished essay in the journal Nature. He asked whether innate differences or subtle biases – from grade school to graduate school – explained the large disparities between men and women in the highest reaches of science.

“When it comes to bias, it seems that the desire to believe in a meritocracy is so powerful that until a person has experienced sufficient career-harming bias themselves they simply do not believe it exists … By far, the main difference that I have noticed is that people who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect: I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

Joan Roughgarden came to Stanford in 1972, more than a quarter century before she made her male-to-female transition in 1998. When the young biologist arrived at Stanford, it felt as though tracks had been laid down; all Roughgarden had to do was stick to the tracks, and the high expectations that others had of the young biologist would do the rest.

“It was clear when I got the job at Stanford that it was like being on a conveyer belt,” Roughgarden told me in an interview. “The career track is set up for young men. You are assumed to be competent unless revealed otherwise. You can speak, and people will pause and people will listen. You can enunciate in definitive terms and get away with it. You are taken as a player. You can use male diction, male tones of voice. … You can assert. You have the authority to frame issues.”

At the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, an outpost of the university about 150 kilometres from campus, Roughgarden ruffled feathers in the scientific establishment by arguing that a prominent theory that described the life cycle of marine animals was wrong. Where previous research had suggested that tide pools were involved in the transportation of certain larvae, Roughgarden reframed the issue and showed that the larger ocean played a significant role. The new theory got harsh reviews, but Roughgarden’s ideas were taken seriously. In short order, Roughgarden became a tenured professor, and a widely respected scientist and author.

Like Ben Barres, Roughgarden made her transition to Joan relatively late in life. Stanford proved tolerant, but very soon Joan started to feel that people were taking her ideas less seriously. In 2006, for example, Joan suggested another famous scientific theory was wrong – Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. . . .

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The scientific establishment, Joan said, was livid. But in contrast to the response to her earlier theory about tide pools and marine animals, few scientists engaged with her. At a workshop at Loyola University, a scientist “lost it” and started screaming at her for being irresponsible. “I had never had experiences of anyone trying to coerce me in this physically intimidating way,” she said, as she compared the reactions to her work before and after she became a woman. “You really think this guy is really going to come over and hit you.”

At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Joan said, a prominent expert jumped up on the stage after her talk and started shouting at her. Once every month or two, she said, ”I will have some man shout at me, try to physically coerce me into stopping …When I was doing the marine ecology work, they did not try to physically intimidate me and say, ‘You have not read all the literature.’

“They would not assume they were smarter. The current crop of objectors assumes they are smarter.”

Joan is willing to acknowledge her theory might be wrong; that, after all, is the nature of science. But what she wants is to be proven wrong, rather than dismissed. Making bold and counter-intuitive assertions is precisely the way science progresses. Many bold ideas are wrong, but if there isn’t a regular supply of them and if they are not debated seriously, there is no progress. After her transition, Joan said she no longer feels she has “the right to be wrong”.

Where she used to be a member of Stanford University’s senate, Joan is no longer on any university or departmental committee. Where she was once able to access internal university funds for research, she said she finds it all but impossible to do so now. Before her transition, she enjoyed an above-average salary at Stanford. But since her transition, “My own salary has drifted down to the bottom 10 per cent of full professors in the School of Humanities and Sciences, even though my research and students are among the best of my career and are having international impact, albeit often controversial.”

I asked her about interpersonal dynamics before and after her transition. “You get interrupted when you are talking, you can’t command attention, but above all you can’t frame the issues,” she said. With a touch of wistfulness, she compared herself to Ben Barres. “Ben has migrated into the centre whereas I have had to migrate into the periphery.”

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You can read the entire excerpt here and learn more about the book here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Being ‘(un)American’,” “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “Examining the Gendered Situation of Harvard Business School,” which includes list of still more related links.  

Posted in Book, Distribution, Education, Life, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Should Psychologists Speak More to the General Public?

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 15, 2010

I really enjoyed reading Paul Bloom’s article, The Moral Life of Babies, in the New York Times last weekend.

If you missed it, here is the intriguing opening:

Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with two other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the “naughty” one. But this punishment wasn’t enough — he then leaned over and smacked the puppet in the head.

This incident occurred in one of several psychology studies that I have been involved with at the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University in collaboration with my colleague (and wife), Karen Wynn, who runs the lab, and a graduate student, Kiley Hamlin, who is the lead author of the studies. We are one of a handful of research teams around the world exploring the moral life of babies.

The article held personal interest for me because of recent experiments in the area of moral psychology that I’ve been working on with a cognitive psychologist colleague.  However, what really got me thinking today is the creation of the article itself.  How did it come to be?

I assume that Bloom approached the New York Times (although perhaps they approached him, as he’s written for them before) with the thought that he should reach a broader audience with his current research.  I, for one, am glad that he did, but while an increasing number of psychologists, behavioral economists, and other academics seem to be having similar urges, others seem quite resistant to the idea.  After a behavioral economist friend of mine recently told me about some new studies he was working on, I urged him to write an op-ed as his work seemed to shed important light on a current news topic.  Although agreeing that his research had the potential to reframe the debate, he was very wary of the idea of speaking to the public directly.  “Why don’t I send you some things and you can write the op-ed,” he said.

What do you think?  Does summarizing one’s work for a popular magazine, or writing an op-ed or blog post exploring some of the potential implications of one’s research, stand as a threat to academia or is it something that could make academia more effective?

This is a conversation I hope we can continue on the Situationist in the coming months.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “Implicit Associations on Oprah.” and “Situationism’s Improving Situation.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 15, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios (in consultation with renowned social psychologist John Dovidio).

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The ‘Turban Effect’,” “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “The Situation of Racial Profiling,” “The Situation of Being ‘(un)American’,” Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist.”

Posted in Conflict, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

The Spatial Situation of Crime and Criminal Law

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 13, 2010

No pressure (except for you, grandma — loyal reader number 1), but I have a new article out in the most recent issue of the Cardozo Law Review.  The abstract for The Geography of Criminal Law is below.

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When Westerners explain the causes of actions or outcomes in the criminal law context, they demonstrate a strong tendency to overestimate the importance of dispositional factors, like thinking, preferring, and willing, and underestimate the impact of interior and exterior situational factors, including environmental, historical, and social forces, as well as affective states, knowledge structures, motives, and other unseen aspects of our cognitive frameworks and processes. One of the situational factors that we are particularly likely to overlook is physical space—that is, landscapes, places, natures, boundaries, and spatialities. Our shortsightedness comes at a great cost. Spatial concerns shape legal structures, order interactions, and influence behavior.

To understand these dynamics, this Article establishes the foundation for a new spatial analysis of criminal law. By casting a wide net and capturing data across a diverse set of fields, this Article uncovers unappreciated but vital parallels, connections, and patterns concerning the ways in which physical space—and the meanings that we attach to spatial elements—affect (1) the proximate decision to commit a crime, (2) the likelihood a given person will become a criminal, (3) the experience of victimization, (4) the way in which policing is conducted, (5) what a crime is and how it is prosecuted, and (6) the consequences of being convicted.

As the first Article in a broader project, this systematic spatial analysis provides the basis for future work dedicated to understanding the origins of our criminal system and assessing whether our current legal structures—from the laws on the books to the practices of police officers to our approaches to punishment—align with our societal needs and values, and, thus, whether the structures we have in place ought to be changed. Instead of building its normative conclusions on geographical analysis alone, the project employs the lens of the mind sciences—including social psychology, social cognition, evolutionary psychology, and related fields—to investigate and explain identified spatial dynamics. This research offers the best hope for unlocking, among other concerns, why our justice system has focused on physically isolating criminals from society; why laws are frequently structured around protecting the physical boundaries of the body, home, and community; why more police shootings occur in certain areas than others; and why we have spatially-embedded laws that become inoperative when an individual leaves a jurisdiction.

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Click here for the full article on SSRN.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Looting,” “The Situation of Suspicion,” The Legal Situation of the Underclass,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,”Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” Why Criminals Obey the Law – Abstract,” and “The Situation of Criminality – Abstract.”

Posted in Abstracts, Geography, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Our Carcinogenic Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 12, 2010

The President’s Cancer Panel last week published its 2008 – 2009 Annual Report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks: What We Can Do Now.”  Here is an extended excerpt from the Report’s executive summary, describing the extent of the problem.

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Despite overall decreases in incidence and mortality, cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.

Public and governmental awareness of environmental influences on cancer risk and other health issues has increased substantially in recent years as scientific and health care communities, policymakers, and individuals strive to understand and ameliorate the causes and toll of human disease. A growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.

Between September 2008 and January 2009, the President’s Cancer Panel (the Panel) convened four meetings to assess the state of environmental cancer research, policy, and programs addressing known and potential effects of environmental exposures on cancer. The Panel received testimony from 45 invited experts from academia, government, industry, the environmental and cancer advocacy communities, and the public.

This report summarizes the Panel’s findings and conclusions based on the testimony received and additional information gathering. The Panel’s recommendations delineate concrete actions that governments; industry; the research, health care, and advocacy communities; and individuals can take to reduce cancer risk related to environmental contaminants, excess radiation, and other harmful exposures.

Key Issues for Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk

Issues impeding control of environmental cancer risks include those related to limited research on environmental influences on cancer; conflicting or inadequate exposure measurement, assessment, and classification; and ineffective regulation of environmental chemical and other hazardous exposures.

Environmental Cancer Research

Research on environmental causes of cancer has been limited by low priority and inadequate funding. As a result, the cadre of environmental oncologists is relatively small, and both the consequences of cumulative lifetime exposure to known carcinogens and the interaction of specific environmental contaminants remain largely unstudied. There is a lack of emphasis on environmental research as a route to primary cancer prevention, particularly compared with research emphases on genetic and molecular mechanisms in cancer.

Environmental Exposure Measurement, Methodologic, Assessment, and Classification Issues

Efforts to identify, quantify, and control environmental exposures that raise cancer risk, including both single agents and combinations of exposures, have been complicated by the use of different measures, exposure limits, assessment processes, and classification structures across agencies in the U.S. and among nations. In addition, efforts have been compromised by a lack of effective measurement methods and tools; delay in adopting available newer technologies; inadequate computational models; and weak, flawed, or uncorroborated studies.

Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Current toxicity testing relies heavily on animal studies that utilize doses substantially higher than those likely to be encountered by humans. These data—and the exposure limits extrapolated from them—fail to take into account harmful effects that may occur only at very low doses. Further, chemicals typically are administered when laboratory animals are in their adolescence, a methodology that fails to assess the impact of in utero, childhood, and lifelong exposures. In addition, agents are tested singly rather than in combination.

Regulation of Environmental Contaminants

The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful. Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.

U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective by five major problems: (1) inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, (2) fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with uneven and decentralized enforcement, (3) excessive regulatory complexity, (4) weak laws and regulations, and (5) undue industry influence. Too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.

Sources and Types of Environmental Contaminants

The line between occupational and environmental contaminants is fine and often difficult to demarcate. Many known or suspected carcinogens first identified through studies of industrial and agricultural occupational exposures have since found their way into soil, air, water, and numerous consumer products. People from disadvantaged populations are more likely to be employed in occupations with higher levels of exposure (e.g., mining, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, certain service sector occupations) and to live in more highly contaminated communities. The reality of this unequal burden is not just a health issue, but an issue of environmental justice.

While all Americans now carry many foreign chemicals in their bodies, women often have higher levels of many toxic and hormone-disrupting substances than do men. Some of these chemicals have been found in maternal blood, placental tissue, and breast milk samples from pregnant women and mothers who recently gave birth. Thus, chemical contaminants are being passed on to the next generation, both prenatally and during breastfeeding. Some chemicals indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to immune and endocrine dysfunction that can influence the effect of carcinogens.

Children of all ages are considerably more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures. In addition, some toxics have adverse effects not only on those exposed directly (including in utero), but on the offspring of exposed individuals.

Exposure to Contaminants from Industrial and Manufacturing Sources

Manufacturing and other industrial products and processes are responsible for a great many of the hazardous occupational and environmental exposures experienced by Americans. Many of these contaminants—even substances banned more than 30 years ago—remain ubiquitous in the environment because they break down very slowly, if at all. Other industrial chemicals or processes have hazardous by-products or metabolites. Numerous chemicals used in manufacturing remain in or on the product as residues, while others are integral components of the products themselves. Further, in the ongoing quest for more effective and efficient ways of making industrial and consumer products, new chemicals and other substances are being created continually and existing substances are being put to new uses. Limited research to date on unintended health effects of nanomaterials, for example, suggests that unanticipated environmental hazards may emerge from the push for progress.

Exposure to Contaminants from Agricultural Sources

The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other

chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition to pesticides, agricultural fertilizers and veterinary pharmaceuticals are major contributors to water pollution, both directly and as a result of chemical processes that form toxic by-products when these substances enter the water supply. Farmers and their families, including migrant workers, are at highest risk from agricultural exposures. Because agricultural chemicals often are applied as mixtures, it has been difficult to clearly distinguish cancer risks associated with individual agents.

Environmental Exposures Related to Modern Lifestyles

Conveniences of modern life—automobile and airplane travel, dry cleaning, potable tap water, electricity, and cellular communications, to name a few—have made daily life easier for virtually all Americans. Some of these conveniences, however, have come at a considerable price to the environment and human health, and the true health impact of others is unconfirmed. For example, mobile source air emissions (e.g., from cars, trucks, other passenger vehicles, ships), especially diesel particulate pollution, are responsible for approximately 30 percent of cancer resulting from air pollution. Disinfection of public water supplies has dramatically reduced the incidence of waterborne illnesses and related mortality in the United States, but research indicates that long-term exposure to disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes may increase cancer risk. Chemicals used for household pest control can become a component of carpet dust, posing a risk to children when they play on the floor.

Sharp controversy exists in the scientific community as to possible adverse health effects from exposure to low frequency electromagnetic energy. The use of cell phones and other wireless technology is of great concern, particularly since these devices are being used regularly by ever larger and younger segments of the population. At this time, there is no evidence to support a link between cell phone use and cancer. However, the research on cancer and other disease risk among long-term and heavy users of contemporary wireless devices is extremely limited. Similarly, current and potential harms from extremely low frequency radiation are unclear and require further study. In addition, ultraviolet radiation from excess sun exposure and tanning devices has been proven to substantially increase skin cancer risk.

Exposure to Hazards from Medical Sources

In the past two decades, improved imaging technologies, nuclear medicine examinations, and new pharmaceutical interventions have made possible significant strides in our ability to diagnose and treat human disease, including cancer. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that some of these same technologies and drugs that have contributed so greatly to health status and longevity also carry risks.

While ionizing radiation exposures from radon, occupational, and other sources have remained essentially stable over the past 30 years, Americans now are estimated to receive nearly half of their total radiation exposure from medical imaging and other medical sources, compared with only 15 percent in the early 1980s. The increase in medical radiation has nearly doubled the total average effective radiation dose per

individual in the United States. Computed tomography (CT) and nuclear medicine tests alone now contribute 36 percent of the total radiation exposure and 75 percent of the medical radiation exposure of the U.S. population. Medical imaging of children is of special concern; compared with adults, children have many more years of life during which a malignancy initiated by medical radiation can develop. Many referring physicians, radiology professionals, and the public are unaware of the radiation dose associated with various tests or the total radiation dose and related increased cancer risk individuals may accumulate over a lifetime. People who receive multiple scans or other tests that require radiation may accumulate doses equal to or exceeding that of Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors. It is believed that a single large dose of ionizing radiation and numerous low doses equal to the single large dose have much the same effect on the body over time.

Moreover, radiation dose for the same test can vary dramatically depending on the equipment used, technologist skill, application of dose-reduction strategies, and patient size, age, and gender. Licensure of imaging and radiation therapy technologists varies depending on the type of test performed by the technologist. Some states have only partial regulation; six states and the District of Columbia have no licensure or regulatory provisions of any kind.

In addition, pharmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown.

Exposure to Contaminants and Other Hazards from Military Sources

The military is a major source of toxic occupational and environmental exposures that can increase cancer risk. Information is available about some military activities that have directly or indirectly exposed military and civilian personnel to carcinogens and contaminated soil and water in numerous locations in the United States and abroad. However, we may never know the full extent of environmental contamination from military sources. Nearly 900 Superfund sites are abandoned military facilities or facilities that produced materials and products for or otherwise supported military needs. Some of these sites and the areas surrounding them became heavily contaminated due to improper storage and disposal of known or suspected carcinogens including solvents, machining oils, metalworking fluids, and metals. In some cases, these contaminants have spread far beyond their points of origin because they have been transported by wind currents or have leached into drinking water supplies.

Hundreds of thousands of military personnel and civilians in the United States received significant radiation doses as a result of their participation in nuclear weapons testing and supporting occupations and industries, including nuclear fuel and weapons production, and uranium mining, milling, and ore transport. Hundreds of thousands more were irradiated at levels sufficient to cause cancer and other diseases. These populations include the families of military and civilian workers, and people—known as “downwinders”—living or working in communities surrounding or downstream from testing and related activities, and in

relatively distant areas to which nuclear fallout or other radioactive material spread. Federal responses to the plight of affected individuals have been unsatisfactory. Those affected lack knowledge about the extent of their exposure or potential health problems they may face. Similarly, most health care providers are not aware of cancer and other latent radiation effects and therefore are unlikely to adequately monitor patients for these health conditions. Exposure to ionizing radiation related to nuclear weapons testing is an underappreciated issue worldwide.

Exposure to Environmental Hazards from Natural Sources

Most environmental hazards with the potential to raise cancer risk are the product of human activity, but some environmental carcinogens come from natural sources. For example, radon gas, which forms naturally from the breakdown of uranium mineral deposits, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked. Radon-induced lung cancer is responsible for an estimated average of 21,000 deaths annually. People who smoke and also are exposed to radon have a higher risk of lung cancer than from either exposure alone.

Although human activities such as mining, ore processing, use of arsenic-containing pesticides, and burning of fossil fuels are major contributors to waterborne arsenic in the U.S., most inorganic arsenic in drinking water is from natural sources. Inorganic arsenic in drinking water has been linked to skin, lung, bladder, and kidney cancer in both sexes and with prostate cancer in men, as well as numerous non-cancerous conditions including endocrine, reproductive, and developmental effects.

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You can download the Report, which includes details on what might be done about the problem, here.

Today, the Report will be the focus on NPR’s On Point.  Guests on that show will include Sandra Steingraber (ecologist, author, and cancer survivor), who wrote “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment,” and the subject of a new documentary based on her book.  She tells her story in the video below.  The second video is the trailer for her documentary.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Bottled Water,”  “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,”Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,”Denial,” The Need for a Situationist Morality,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” The Situation of University Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Industry-Funded Research – Part II,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Politics | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2010

NPR’s Morning Edition had a recent story (by Nell Greenfieldboyce) about research on the effects of hand-washing.  Here are some excerpts.

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Soaping up your hands may do more than just get rid of germs. It may scrub away the inner turmoil you feel right after being forced to make a choice between two appealing options.

That’s according to a new study on the psychological effects of hand washing in the journal Science. The study builds on past research into a phenomenon known as “the Macbeth effect.”

It turns out that Shakespeare was really onto something when he imagined Lady Macbeth trying to clean her conscience by rubbing invisible bloodstains from her hands. A few years ago, scientists asked people to describe a past unethical act. If people were then given a chance to clean their hands, they later expressed less guilt and shame than people who hadn’t cleansed.

This finding fascinated Spike W. S. Lee, a psychology researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He wondered if hand washing could restore more than just a sense of moral purity. After all, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” but people also often talk about “starting over with a clean slate.”

“Maybe there is a broader phenomenon here,” says Lee. “Anything from the past, any kind of negative emotional experiences, might be washed away.”

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He and a colleague named Norbert Schwarz decided to test hand washing’s effect on one kind of bad feeling: the lingering tension we feel after being forced to choose between two attractive options, because picking one option makes us feel that we’ve lost the other.

Psychologists know that people usually try to soothe this inner conflict by later exaggerating the positive aspects of their choice. “In other words, after they make the choice, they will like the chosen option more than before the choice,” Lee explains.

To see if hand washing could ease people’s tension and do away with the need for this after-the-fact justification, the researchers gave some students some mock “consumer surveys.”

They had students rank 10 different music CDs. Then, as a token of appreciation, the researchers offered students one CD as a take-home gift — they had to choose between their fifth- and sixth-ranked CDs.

Some students then lathered up with liquid soap, supposedly to evaluate this product. Others only looked at the soap or sniffed it.

Later, the students again had to rank all the music. People who didn’t wash their hands had the normal response — they scored their take-home CD higher than they had the first time around, suggesting that they now saw it as even more attractive than before.

But this wasn’t true for the hand washers. They ranked the music about the same.

“They feel no need at all to justify the choice,” says Lee.

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The researchers did another version of this experiment and found the exact same effect after people selected a jar of fruit jam and then rubbed their hands with an antiseptic wipe. “Apparently, you do not need water and soap,” says Schwarz — any kind of hand cleaning will do the trick.

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You can listen to the entire story, including topics of related future research,  here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Unclean Hands,”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,”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 Choice Myth, Embodied Cognition, Life, Morality | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Elena Kagan’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 10, 2010

In today’s New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Katharine Q. Seelye and Lisa W. Foderaro  have an illuminating biography of Supreme Court Nominee (and Situationist friend and supporter) Elena Kagan. Here are the opening paragraphs of that story.

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She was a creature of Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side — a smart, witty girl who was bold enough at 13 to challenge her family’s rabbi over her bat mitzvah, cocky (or perhaps prescient) enough at 17 to pose for her high school yearbook in a judge’s robe with a gavel and a quotation from Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court justice, underneath.

She was the razor-sharp newspaper editor and history major at Princeton who examined American socialism, and the Supreme Court clerk for a legal giant, Thurgood Marshall, who nicknamed her “Shorty.” She was the reformed teenage smoker who confessed to the occasional cigar as she fought Big Tobacco for the Clinton administration, and the literature lover who reread Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” every year.

She was the opera-loving, poker-playing, glass-ceiling-shattering first woman to be dean of Harvard Law School, where she reached out to conservatives (she once held a dinner to honor Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia) and healed bitter rifts on the faculty with gestures as simple as offering professors free lunch, just to get them talking.

Elena Kagan has been all of these things, charting a careful and, some might say, calculated path — never revealing too much of herself, never going too far out on a political limb — that has led her to the spot she occupies today: the first female solicitor general of the United States, who won confirmation with the support of some important Republicans, and now, at 50, President Obama’s nominee for the United States Supreme Court.

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The entire story is here.   Congratulations to Elena.

To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Martha Minow Named Dean of Harvard Law School,” The Situation of Harvard Law Students” “Hanson’s Chair Lecture on Situationism,” “The News Situation of Judge Sotomayor’s Nomination,” and The Situation of Judicial Activism.”

Posted in Education, Events, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Obesity and Bullying

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 9, 2010

Christian Nordqvist wrote a nice summary of recent research for  Medical News Today on the relationship of obesity with bullying.  Here are a few excerpts.

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A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that obese children have a higher risk of being bullied, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, social skills, academic achievement or gender. The study, titled “Weight status as a predictor of being bullied in third through sixth grades” was carried out by Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., . . . and her colleagues.

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The aim of this study was to establish the link between childhood obesity and being the victim of bullying in 3rd, 5th, and 6th grades.

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Researchers studied 821 children who were . . . . recruited at birth in 10 study sites around the USA.

The researchers evaluated the relationship between the child’s weight status and the chances of being bullied as reported by the child, mother, and teacher. The study accounted for grade level in school, gender, race, family income-to-needs ratio, racial and socioeconomic composition of the school, and child social skills and academic achievement as reported by mothers and teachers.

They found that obese children had a higher risk of being bullied, regardless of gender, race, family socioeconomic status, school demographic profile, social skills or academic achievement.

The authors conclude that being obese – by itself – raises the probability of being a victim of bullying. Lumeng adds that interventions to address bullying in schools are badly needed.

Lumeng said “Physicians who care for obese children should consider the role that being bullied is playing in the child’s well-being. Because perceptions of children are connected to broader societal perceptions about body type, it is important to fashion messages aimed at reducing the premium placed on thinness and the negative stereotypes that are associated with being obese or overweight.”

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To read the entire summary, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts see “The Situation of Bullying,” The Cruelty of Children,”Examining the Bullying Situation,” The Situation of Bullying,” The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Body Image,” Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Conflict, Food and Drug Law | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Financial Markets

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2010

Below the jump you can watch an outstanding and fascinating  video episode, “Mind over Money,” by PBS’s NOVA, that asks the question “Can markets be rational when humans aren’t?” and that includes significant segments describing some of the work by Situationist friend Jennifer Lerner.

(We’ve placed the (52 minute) video after the jump because it plays automatically.)

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Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Emotions, Ideology, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Racialized Situation of Vandalism and Crime

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 6, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios (in consultation with renowned social psychologist John Dovidio).

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “The Situation of Bystanders,” “The Situation of Racial Profiling,” “The Situation of Black and White,” He’s a Banana-Eating Monkey, but I’m Not a Racist,” “The Legal Situation of the Underclass,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” and “The Situational Demographics of Deadly Force – Abstract.”

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Examining the Gendered Situation of Harvard Business School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 5, 2010

Julia Brau, Paayal Desai, Alexandra Germain, Akmaral Omarova, Jung Paik,  and Julie Sandler are all students at Harvard Business School (HBS) who last week published a thoughtful article in their student newspaper The Harbus.  With potential lessons and relevance for many institutions, the piece discusses recent efforts  to understand and address sources of gender discrepancies in academic performance at HBS.  Here are some excerpts.

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Are men and women equal at HBS? It’s a question that has been front of mind at HBS in recent weeks. . . .

One of these many efforts is a field study that focuses on analyzing and addressing the current differences between the male and female academic experience at HBS. As The Harbus published in a Fall article, “WSA Academic Initiative Survey,” there is a marked discrepancy between male and female academic performance: though comprising 38% of the Class of 2010 student body, female students make up only 23% of first year honors recipients and an estimated 55% of the students asked to take leave from HBS after the RC [i.e., first] year in 2009. Females in past years with similar class compositions have comprised 11-14% of Baker Scholars.

This semester, a group of ECs partnered with faculty and HBS administration to understand some of the root causes driving these trends. The study was completed through three workstreams. First, a series of focus groups was conducted with a variety of students – men and women, honors recipients, sectionmates and non-sectionmantes – to try to identify root causes of grading inequities and generate a catalog of academic best practices that could be helpful to future students. Second, interviews with faculty explored academic root causes of underperformance from the faculty’s perspective and identified potential areas for improvement. Finally, all these efforts coincided with a data-focused workstream that included analysis of publicly available honors, class card and other information to understand if certain factors such as relationship status, age or work background play a part in determining male and female performance.

Preliminary findings on root causes have been grouped into five areas to be examined in another field study this fall.

Comment Frequency and Delivery
Survey and focus group results, along with faculty feedback, confirmed previous findings that women feel less comfortable speaking in class. Women also speak less frequently and with less confidence. Most notably, they are less willing to potentially offend or challenge classmates than their male peers are.

Section Dynamics
Some sections reported better female performance (i.e. many more female honors recipients, fewer females asked to take leave) than others, suggesting that the social and academic tone of a given section could impact men and women differently. Data analysis also showed that a much higher percentage of female honors students than average are married, suggesting further underlying social dynamics at work. Given this information, directed focus groups attempted to illuminate the role of social dynamics in predicting performance across genders. It seemed clear from focus groups that students take into account their social relationships with section peers when deciding whether to speak and what to say. Furthermore, focus group feedback indicated that dramatic in-class bonding experiences, Skydecks that avoided personal attacks, and engaged officers (leadership & values representatives, education representatives and presidents) all played a role in setting the tone for a positive learning environment for both men and women.

Potential Unconscious Faculty Biases
There is a body of research that shows that male and female comments are unconsciously processed differently. Focus group and Fall survey data further suggest that people perceive that women are raising their hands less and consequently getting called on less than men. Professor interviews exposed a wide range of faculty opinions on this unconscious bias issue; some professors care deeply about performance of different minorities and actively manage calling patterns and in-class interactions, while other professors feel they do not have any biases to manage. Faculty, for the most part, admitted that unconscious biases may exist and in turn asked for help in identifying these biases.

Admissions Differences:
Focus group feedback showed some students thought differences in grades might be explained by differences between men’s and women’s backgrounds and admissions profiles. Admissions data cannot be used for purposes other than admissions, but preliminary analysis using the classcards and honors list statistics of four representative sections yielded some interesting results. People with backgrounds in consulting and/or finance made up 84% of the honors list. In the four sections studied, women were actually more likely than men (70% women versus 60% men) to come from these finance or consulting backgrounds. On the flip side, first year honors recipients from the sections studied had a little more work experience than average while women across the four sections on average had fewer years’ work experience than men. Follow-up research in the fall will look into this issue further.

Lack of Female Role Models
Fall survey and focus group data highlighted female discomfort with the current lack of female professors and case protagonists. Psychology research supports the notion that women could be at a disadvantage from not seeing more female role models at HBS.

Summary of Findings and Next Steps
While HBS is still a long way from achieving grading parity, much has been accomplished through this field study and other ongoing efforts around this issue. Detailed analysis of grade and classroom data is helping the administration to better understand what factors contribute to performance. This May, HBS professors will have the opportunity to attend one of two sessions with Harvard psychologist [and Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji to understand how implicit biases affect how males and females are perceived differently in class settings. Efforts are underway to have next year’s RCs see a case that directly addresses gender dynamics in the workplace. In addition, extra sessions on class participation with Professor Frances Frei will be opened up to all students. Future students will receive a Survival Guide with updated information on difference between male and female academic performance. In addition, a series of recommendations ranging from opening analytics to all students to sharing EC exam grades and more detailed mid-semester RC participation feedback has been presented to the HBS administration.

Finally, a large part of this effort has been focused on keeping a dialogue open on issues surrounding female academic performance. An important study (Shih, Pittinsky & Ambady, Psychological Science, 1999) showed that Asian women performed better on math exams when their ethnic identities were activated than when their gender identities were activated by a series of questions at the start of the test. There was an internal implicit bias that made these women do worse when they self-identified as women than when they self-identified as Asian. A second study (Kray, Thompson & Galinsky, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 2001) showed that when this tendency to underperform was made explicitly known to test-takers in advance, the effect completely disappeared. One of the most important goals of the ongoing Women’s Initiative is to make explicit the underlying factors that can lead to grade disparity at HBS so that women can knowingly work to overcome them.

While there is some question as to whether or not HBS prepares women best for the “real world” by mirroring existing social conditions or by implementing changes to be “better” than the norm, the administration tends to come down on the side that says HBS should be a leader in the business community that sets, rather than follows, the larger social tone. The question for the HBS administration seems to be not whether to do anything, but what can be done to best ensure equality in grading. In the meantime, student movements like the Women’s Initiative will seek to help women understand the existing issues and try to give all students better tools to succeed both at HBS and in the workplace.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “A Rose by any other Name Might Become a Judge,” “Not Just Whistling Vivaldi,” The Nerdy, Gendered Situation of Computer Science,” The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,”Women’s Situational Bind,” The Situation of Gender and Science,Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

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