The Situationist

Archive for July, 2011

Why Goalies Often Dive To The Right

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 31, 2011

APS Press Release:

In the quarterfinal of the 2006 Soccer World Cup, England and Portugal played for 90 tense minutes and 30 minutes extra time without a single goal being scored. This led them to a penalty shoot-out; as one by one, players went against the opposing team’s goalie. After four shots by each team, Portugal was ahead 2-1. Portugal’s star Cristiano Ronaldo shot to English goalkeeper Paul Robinson’s left, but Robinson dove right. Portugal scored, won the game, and went on to the semifinal.

When Robinson dove to his right, he was making a common choice for our right-oriented brains, according to a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The researchers found that, in World Cup penalty shoot-outs, goalies tend to dive right when their team is behind and they have a chance to save the game for their country.

Many studies have found that people and animals that want something tend to go to the right. When dogs see their owners, they wag their tails more to the right; toads strike to the right when they’re going for prey; and humans are more likely to turn their heads to the right to smooch their sweeties.

Marieke Roskes, who cowrote the study with Daniel Sligte, Shaul Shalvi, and Carsten K.W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam, thought of looking at this phenomenon in another arena: the soccer field. “I was sitting with my coauthors in the bar and we were talking about soccer and about research, which we often do on Friday afternoons,” she says. They thought of looking at how goalkeepers move in penalty shootouts, when they’re going after a big win.

In a penalty shootout, there are very different assumptions for the shooter and the goalkeeper. it’s extremely difficult for the keeper to defend the whole goal against one man, so nobody really blames him if the ball goes in. But he can win glory if he saves a ball. “The goalkeeper is the only person who can regain the chance to win the game,” Roskes says. “So he has the chance to become the big hero.”

The researchers examined every penalty shoot-out in every World Cup from 1982 to 2010 and found that most of the time, goalies are equally like to dive right and left. But when the goalkeeper’s team was behind, he was more likely to dive right than left. In an experiment, the team found that people who are told to divide a line in half tend to aim a bit to the right when they are both thinking about a positive goal and under time pressure—just like the goalies.

“It’s quite impressive. Even in this really important situation, people are still influenced by biological factors,” Roskes says. She says this suggests that in many situations where people are focused on a positive outcome and have to react quickly, they may go right. And, of course, there’s another goal for her and her collaborators: “We’re very hopeful this will help the Dutch national team to win the next World Cup.”

* * *

For more information about this study, please contact: Marieke Roskes at m.roskes@uva.nl.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Entertainment, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Culture, Creativity & Copyright

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 30, 2011

Situationist friend David Simon recently posted his forthcoming article “Culture, Creativity & Copyright” (Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 28, 2011) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Recent literature in copyright law has attacked the traditional theory that economic incentives motivate people to create. Although the onslaught of criticism has come from different directions, it all shares a similar goal: to move copyright law in a direction that reflects actual creative processes and motivations. This Article adds to and diverts from these accounts, arguing that creativity may be a product of memes: units of culture, analogous to genes, that replicate by human imitation.

A memetic theory of creativity focuses on memes as the reference point for thinking about creativity. Under this view, the creator is a brain with limited space, where memes compete for occupancy. Like other views, memetics takes account of environmental and biological factors responsible for creativity, such as nonmonetary motivations and the creator’s upbringing. But the memetic account of creativity is different from these theories in one important way: it uses memes to explain the driving force of culture and creativity. The idea that replicators play a role in cultural creation suggests, among other things, that copyright’s originality requirement should be heightened; that the derivate right should be loosened; that fair use should be retained; and that moral rights should be discarded or substantially revised.

* * *

You can download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

 

Posted in Law, Legal Theory | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Scalability of Cities

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 29, 2011

From TedTalks:

Physicist Geoffrey West has found that simple, mathematical laws govern the properties of cities — that wealth, crime rate, walking speed and many other aspects of a city can be deduced from a single number: the city’s population. In this mind-bending talk from TEDGlobal he shows how it works and how similar laws hold for organisms and corporations.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Education | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mark Hauser Resigns

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 27, 2011

From Harvard Magazine:

Professor of psychology Marc D. Hauser, who was found “solely responsible” for eight counts of scientific misconduct last year, is resigning effective August 1, according to a letter dated July 7 that was published in the Boston Globe yesterday.

Hauser’s letter (PDF) did not mention the misconduct findings; he wrote that he planned to tackle “new and interesting challenges” including “work focusing on the educational needs of at-risk teenagers” and “exciting opportunities in the private sector.”

“During my eighteen years at Harvard, it has been a great pleasure to teach so many bright and talented students and to work with so many dedicated colleagues,” Hauser wrote. “I will greatly miss them.”

Hauser studies animal cognition as a window into the evolution of the human mind. For the past year, he has been on a leave of absence that the University has still not confirmed was connected to the investigation of his research practices. He had planned to return this fall, but last spring the psychology faculty voted to bar him from teaching, and his scheduled courses were canceled. (At last report, Viking Penguin still planned to publish Hauser’s next book, Evilicious: Explaining Our Evolved Taste for Being Bad.)

Last August, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith said five of the eight misconduct counts related to studies that were not published, or in which problems were corrected prior to publication. Of the other three cases, one was retracted. Hauser and a colleague repeated parts of the other two experiments, producing results that replicated the originally published findings. Some viewed this as an exoneration, while others said the new findings did not put to rest the questions Harvard raised about research practices in Hauser’s lab; still others said Harvard released so few details that it was difficult to draw conclusions.

More details may still emerge; Smith said last year that Harvard was cooperating with investigations by federal research funding bodies, but those investigations (which the agencies have not officially confirmed) have not produced public findings.

Posted in Morality | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the Energy Efficiency Gap

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 25, 2011

Brandon Hofmeister just posted his fascinating paper, “Bridging the Gap: Using Social Psychology to Design Market Interventions to Overcome the Energy Efficiency Gap in Residential Energy Markets” (forthcoming  19 Southeastern Environmental Law Journal 1 (2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

For decades, economists and energy policy analysts have noticed the existence of an “energy efficiency gap” – a significant underinvestment in energy efficiency measures whose benefits outweigh their costs – among residential consumers. Promoting energy efficiency is generally the most cost-effective manner to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to meet future energy demand, while simultaneously promoting economic growth and reducing poverty. Economists have attempted to explain the energy efficiency gap by applying theories of market failures that retain the underlying assumption that consumers generally act as economically rational actors. These theories partly explain the energy efficiency gap, but because they fundamentally misconstrue the reality of human behavior, traditional economic theories alone fail to adequately account for the energy efficiency gap. Social psychologists have discovered a number of predictable behavioral tendencies that contradict the rational actor assumption of economists. Many of these behavioral tendencies serve as significant cognitive barriers to investments in energy efficiency. Because traditional economists’ explanations for the energy efficiency gap are incomplete, their public policy solutions to close the gap are likewise insufficient. Specifically, most traditional economists reject forms of public policy they deem paternalistic. The article describes a number of general factors that should be considered when determining whether a market intervention is justified and applies these factors to some specific policies designed to promote residential energy efficiency. The article finds that a suite of market interventions – such as financial subsidies and mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and electronic devices – is justified to address the energy efficiency gap.

* * *

You can download the paper for free here.

Some related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Environment, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Heat of the Moment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2011

From Wired Science:

The link between violence and hot weather is so intuitive that it’s embedded in our language: Hotheads lose tempers that flare, anger simmers and comes to a boil, and eventually we cool down.

So what does science have to say? Do tempers truly soar with temperature? The answer, appropriately enough for these triple-digit days, is hazy and hotly contested.

To be sure, extensive literature exists on hot weather and violence, stretching from poorly controlled regional studies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — oh, those hot-blooded southerners! — to more sophisticated modern analyses. This doesn’t just apply to the United States, but countries like England and Wales and New Zealand.

But whether weather is cause or coincidence is difficult to determine.

Perhaps the most detailed studies, led by psychologists Ellen Cohn and James Rotton of Florida State University, involved violent crime over a two-year period in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cohn and Rotton classified assaults according to time of day, day of week, and month and temperature. They ultimately concluded that violence rose with temperature, but only to a point.

Around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, assault rates started to fall, a trend that dovetailed with a hypothetical explanation for heat-induced violence in which being uncomfortable provokes competing tendencies of both aggression and escape. At low to moderate levels of discomfort, people lash out, but at high levels they just want to flee.

But the results also fit with a sociological rather than psychological explanation. According to so-called Routine Activities Theory, many forms of violent crime are functions of social opportunity, and increase when more people spend more time outside. When it becomes so hot that people retreat inside, crime falls. Cohn and Rotton supported this explanation.

Cohn and Rotton’s interpretations of the numbers, however, were contested by Iowa State University psychologist Craig Anderson, who felt they hadn’t fully accounted for time-of-day effects. His own take on the data (.pdf) produced a linear relationship between heat and violence, with assault rates peaking at the highest temperatures.

A straight-line relationship supports various psychological and physiological processes.

In hot weather, the body exhibits changes — increased heart rate, blood circulation and sweating, and metabolic changes — associated with sympathetic nervous system activity, which in turn is linked to fight-or-flight responses. Hot weather also increases testosterone production, tilting that equation towards fight.

More.

Related Situationist Posts:

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Environment | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Fairness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 22, 2011

Carlos Alós-Ferrer, Anja Achtziger, and Alexander Wagner, recently posted their paper “Social Preferences and Self-Control” on SSRN.

We study the interaction of different motives and decision processes in determining behavior in the ultimatum game. We rely on an experimental manipulation called ego depletion which consumes self-control resources, thereby enhancing the influence of default reactions or, in psychological terms, automatic processes. We find that proposers make lower offers under ego depletion, i.e. self-centered monetary concerns are the default mode and not other-regarding considerations (fairness towards others). Responders are more likely to reject low offers under ego depletion, i.e. the affect-influenced reaction to reject unfair offers (reaction to unfairness towards oneself) is more automatic than unconditional monetary concerns.

* * *

You can download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Clarifying Judicial Understanding of “Stereotyping”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 20, 2011

Kerri Lynn Stone recently posted her article, “Clarifying Stereotyping”  (59 Kansas Law Review 2011) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

* * *

People make comments all the time that include or invoke stereotypes. Sometimes those comments are indicative of their belief systems or values. Sometimes they are feeble – or genuine – attempts at humor or wit. Sometimes people speak rashly and in anger. Many times, people are misunderstood, and their true feelings are belied by a clumsy choice of words. Much of the law of employment discrimination necessarily implicates a searching probe into the often undisclosed – sometimes even to oneself – motivations, beliefs, and intentions that underlie an impel acts alleged to have been discriminatorily premised on someone’s race, gender, or protected class status. Rarely in this day and age does one who suspects that discrimination has befallen him have a “smoking gun” or an admission to that effect. Generally, the undisclosed mindset of a discriminatory decision-maker, far from a simple hidden secret, is actually a complex tapestry of unvoiced beliefs, assumptions, and associations. This tapestry, a victim of discrimination soon realizes, is typically too tightly woven to easily extricate the needed, discrete strand of thought that shows a predisposition to see or judge certain groups differently.

This Article addresses the largely undefined, misunderstood-yet-often-resorted-to concept of “stereotyping” as a basis for, or sufficient evidence of, liability for employment discrimination. Since, the concept’s genesis in Supreme Court jurisprudence in 1989, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, plaintiffs have proffered remarks alleged to be tinged with, or indicating the presence of, impermissible stereotypes as evidence of discrimination based on protected-class status – be that sex, race, color, religion, or national origin – in contravention of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Article examines the language in Hopkins and its precise mandates and guidance for lower courts. It then explains the widespread extrapolation of Hopkins by lower courts and the framework in which the case now operates.

This Article posits that Hopkins furnished guidance that is less than clear as to when so-called “stereotyping” is evidence that warrants evaluation by a trier of fact and when a comment is harmless or too attenuated from an adverse action to permit an allegation of discrimination to survive. The Article also identifies the various smaller, often unarticulated questions bound up in the larger issues of when impermissible stereotyping has occurred and how various courts’ failures to specify these questions and their answers may have led to the confused state of stereotyping jurisprudence. The Article aims to dispel the myth, propagated in part by courts’ misreading of Hopkins, that there is such a discrete cause of action as “stereotyping.” At the same time, it reviews the myriad of cases that have tried to decide, as a matter of law, when a stereotyped comment sufficed to create an issue of fact as to intentional discrimination and breaks down this complex question. Courts appear to have no real uniform standards for evaluating when a statement alleged to have stereotyped a plaintiff is probative and when it can only reasonably be seen as a misspeak, a mistake, or otherwise too “stray” to suffice as evidence that impermissible discrimination took place.

* * *

Download the article for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Implicit Bias Symposium (with links to videos)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 19, 2011

UCLA (March 3, 2011)

Agenda

Welcome & Introduction by Dean’s Office

  • Kirk Stark, Vice Dean, UCLA, Law

Implicit Bias and the Courts — Substantive Framing and Introduction

  • Jerry Kang, Co-Director PULSE, UCLA, Law

1. State of the Science  – Implicit Biases / in the Courtroom. This panel will share and present findings from psychology about how biases, including but not limited to implicit biases measured through reaction-time instruments, may influence the courtroom and related judicial institutions. This panel will provide attendees with a state-of-the-art description of the predictive and ecological validities of various bias measures, with careful exposition of which theories, mechanisms, and findings enjoy which sorts of scientific “consensus.”

Panelists:

  • Nilanjana Dasgupta, U. Mass Amherst, Psychology
  • Justin Levinson, U. Hawaii, Law
  • Anthony Greenwald, U. Washington, Psychology

Moderator:  Phillip Atiba Goff, UCLA, Psychology

Video: Substantive Framing & Panel 1: State of the Science: Implicit Biases in the Courtroom
(volume is quite low — you will have to turn up your speakers; volume for other streams are normal)

2. State of the Field — Institutional Responses So Far. This panel will focus on the various ways in which legal institutions, including the judiciary and legal procedures, have responded to the emerging evidence of implicit biases. Judicial educators, judges, and academics will describe and assess what has been done, and to what effect– given various economic, political, and scientific constraints.

Panelists:

  • David Faigman, UC Hastings, Law
  • Pam Casey, National Center on State Courts
  • Dist. Court Judge Mark Bennett, N.D. Iowa
  • Judge Michael Linfield, LA Superior Court

Moderator:   Ingrid Eagly, UCLA, Law

Video: Panel 2: State of the Field (Institutional Responses So Far)

ROOM 1447
1 – 2:20 pm

Box Lunch and Public Interview with Anthony Greenwald, U. Washington, Psychology (Inventor of the Implicit Association Test).  Interviewers:  PULSE co-directors Jerry Kang & Jennifer Mnookin.

Video: Public Interview with Anthony Greenwald, Inventor of IAT

2:20 – 4 pm

3. Possibilities and Complications:  Theoretical and Practical, Legal and Scientific. The morning panels will have brought the audience up to speed on the state of the art.  This panel pulls back the lens to explore the various theoretical possibilities and practical complications connected to measuring biases, measuring their consequences, and implementing potential debiasing strategies.  Both legal and scientific complexities will be addressed.

Panelists:

  • Rachel Godsil, Seton Hall Law
  • Jeffrey Rachlinski, Cornell, Law
  • Devon Carbado, UCLA, Law
  • Jerry Kang, UCLA, Law

Moderator: Jennifer Mnookin, UCLA, Law

Video: Panel 3: Possibilities and Complications: Theoretical and Practical, Legal and Scientific

4:00 – 4:30 pm

Afternoon break & refreshments

4:30 – 6 pm

4. Back to Reality — Roundtable Discussion:  Concrete Solutions and Next Steps. The last panel will bring back all the panelists for a final robust, interdisciplinary, and unscripted conversation about the challenges and opportunities highlighted throughout the day. What can and should be done now? What research agenda will provide the knowledge necessary to lessen the impact of implicit bias within the courtroom and the judiciary?  What forces, besides the scientific merits, might drive the conversation and debate?

Moderator: Jerry Kang, UCLA, Law

Video: Panel 4: Back to Reality – Rountable Discussion: Concrete Solutions and Next Steps

Posted in Events, Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the Climate Change Debate

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 18, 2011

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan, Maggie Wittlin, Ellen Peters, Situationist Contributor Paul Slovic, Lisa Ouellette, Donald Braman, and Gregory Mandel, recently posted their paper, “The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

You can download the paper for free here.

 

 

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Environment, Ideology | Leave a Comment »

What Is Our Gross National Product?

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 17, 2011

On Wednesday, I walked over to Wharton for an interesting lecture by Temple law professor Peter Huang drawing together several strands of his work.

In the hour and a half, Peter spoke about happiness, memory, behavioral law and economics, and a host of other things, but one of the elements of his presentation that really caught my attention was this two minute clip from a speech by Robert F. Kennedy.

Some Situationist readers may be familiar with the contents, but it was totally new to me and it really struck a cord.  It stands as a strong articulation of our core American values, as well as — in my estimation — a powerful indictment of neoclassical economic analysis and traditional cost-benefit type calculations.

Take the time to listen; it’s worth it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Nicholas Christakis on the Situation of Epidemics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 16, 2011

From TED Talks:

After mapping humans’ intricate social networks, Nicholas Christakis and colleague James Fowler began investigating how this information could better our lives. Now, he reveals his hot-off-the-press findings: These networks can be used to detect epidemics earlier than ever, from the spread of innovative ideas to risky behaviors to viruses (like H1N1).

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Emotions, Food and Drug Law, Life, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

U Can’t Touch This

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 14, 2011

Look around and you will see countless examples of how we conceptualize luck as following the “logic of contagion”: the star baseball player who refuses to change his socks during his record-breaking hitting streak; the basketball player who takes a shower during halftime of a playoff game after going 0-12 from the field; the students rubbing the foot of a lucky statute on their way to a big exam.

Luck, good or bad, seems to have a certain “stickiness.”

Over the weekend my friend Norbert Schwarz sent me a fascinating new article that he has just published with Alison Jing Xu and Rami Zwick in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that investigates this very phenomenon.  The abstract of the paper appears below:

Many superstitious practices entail the belief that good or bad luck can be “washed away.” Consistent with this belief, participants who recalled (Experiment 1) or experienced (Experiment 2) an episode of bad luck were more willing to take risk after having as opposed to not having washed their hands, whereas participants who recalled or experienced an episode of good luck were less willing to take risk after having as opposed to not having washed their hands. Thus, the psychological effects of physical cleansings extend beyond the domain of moral judgment and are independent of people’s motivation: incidental washing not only removes undesirable traces of the past (such as bad luck) but also desirable ones (such as good luck), which people would rather preserve.

You can check out the whole article, Washing Away Your (Good or Bad) Luck: Physical Cleansing Affects Risk-Taking Behavior, here.

As a fan of Norbert’s work, I’m a bit biased, but it’s a great contribution to the growing embodied cognition literature.

For a recent review of the implications of the field for law and legal theory, click here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Colorblind? Really?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 12, 2011

From Sister Blog, Law and Mind (by HLS student, Rachel Funk):

Aunt Vivian: Gee, when Janice described him she didn’t mention that he was…tall. Not that I have a problem with people who are…tall.
Uncle Lester: My cousin used to date a girl who was…tall.
Uncle Phil: Heck, the boy go to a predominantly…tall school.
Will: Now, am I alone on this or didn’t y’all notice he was white?

~ Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Episode #2.6, Guess Who’s Coming to Marry)

In a short article in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, Siri Carpenter discusses two studies done by psychologists at Tufts and Harvard indicating that people who avoid mentioning race may actually appear more prejudiced. In the experiment, one white participant was paired up with one black participant, and they were each given the same set of photographs of random people. The black participant would choose a photograph, and the white participant had to figure out as quickly as possible which photograph his/her partner had chosen by asking him/her questions about each one in succession. The study was designed so that the matching process would go much faster if the white participant asked about the race of the person in the photograph. Significantly, the study found that the “intrepid few” who asked about race were deemed less prejudiced by black observers than the vast majority of white participants who didn’t mention race at all.

If that finding is accurate and generally applicable, then we as a society have totally f***ed up in making it a taboo to mention someone’s race. We have conflated defining someone by their race with simply acknowledging their race.

In her fantastic book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” And Other Conversations About Race, Dr. Beverly Tatum confronts this issue head-on. In reading about the above experiment, I was reminded of the following anecdote from her book:

“A father reported that his eight-year-old daughter had been talking very enthusiastically about a friend she had made at school. One day when he picked his daughter up from school, he asked her to point out her new friend. Trying to point her out of a large group of children on the playground, his daughter elaborately described what the child was wearing. She never said she was the only Black girl in the group.”

Despite the white father’s being thrilled that his daughter was colorblind, Dr. Tatum suggests — and I think that this is probably right — that the girl’s avoidance of mentioning her friend’s race was not so much a sign that she was colorblind as it was that she had been trained not to make explicit reference to someone’s race. (Interestingly, in the two studies mentioned earlier, one was done with adults, but the other one was done with children as young as 10 — the results were consistent across the two studies.) As further evidence of this phenomenon, Dr. Tatum notes that “[m]y White college students sometimes refer to someone as Black in hushed tones, sometimes whispering the word as though it were a secret or a potentially scandalous identification.”

When I was taking the Trial Advocacy Workshop at Harvard Law School, I had to do a closing statement for a mock police brutality case, in which a white policeman in a predominately white, upper-class neighborhood had allegedly assaulted the plaintiff, a black man who had been waiting to pick his daughter up from her white friend’s house. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I began, “what do we know? We know that Robin Boyd was a black man in a white neighborhood.” As soon as I said “black”, the temperature in the room dropped by several degrees, I think because everyone stopped breathing.

For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am extremely white. Pasty, even. And as a member of the oppressor group (or, to dress it up in fancy psychspeak, the socially dominant ingroup), it is my responsibility to avoid drawing attention to this fact. But why? Why is it that we feel the need to go out of our way to avoid mentioning someone’s race, and often feel uncomfortable if someone else brings it up? Is it part of some elaborate construction of a fiction that we’re colorblind? Or does it stem from a fear that we might unintentionally offend somebody, so it’s safest to take the path of least resistance and avoid mentioning race altogether?

Dr. Tatum points out that many, if not most, white people simply never think about their race: “There is a lot of silence about race in White communities, and as a consequence, Whites tend to think of racial identity as something that other people have, not something that is salient for them.”

This insight reminded of a time when I was riding the Metro in southeast D.C., an area of D.C. that is predominantly black. I spent the entire time being acutely aware of the fact that I was the only white person on the train, wondering whether this was all everyone else was noticing too, and trying to act like I hadn’t noticed. In an uncomfortable moment of revelation, I wondered whether this is what the handful of black students at most higher ed institutions feel like all the time.

Most of the time, the default race position is white. For instance, in a novel, unless the author indicates otherwise (either by explicitly describing the character’s race, or by laying out a context in which most of the characters will be of a specific minority, like the burgeoning class of novels geared specifically towards African Americans), we generally assume any characters that pop up are white. In fact, I remember being struck by, while reading one of Robert Parker‘s Spenser novels, the fact that the (white) narrator mentioned that another character was white. While Mr. Parker delights in bringing racial issues up in oblique, peripheral ways — I should note that the Spenser books are easy-read mystery/crime novels, not the kind of deep, soul-searching, trying-to-make-a-statement books you’d expect to confront issues about race — it still caught me off-guard. It surprised me that it surprised me, so to speak.

Time for a politically incorrect anecdote: One day, when my friends and I were walking back to Harvard from the Square, a couple stopped and asked us for directions to a building on the undergraduate campus. As highly superior law students, we of course had no idea. As they walked away, my Chinese friend commented, “They should know better than to stop and ask a little Asian girl for directions.” To which my white friend joked, “Yeah, but at least you’re good at math.” (Followed by my Chinese friend yelling, “RACIST!” and chasing my white friend through Harvard Yard.)

There’s no point to that story, I just thought it was time for a little levity in the post. (Although John Jost does offer some fascinating insights into complementary stereotypes via system justification theory…)

Since this is a blog about mind sciences and the law, what implications does how we think about race have for law? The following is a series of anecdotes meant to offer some food for thought on the various ways that law and race intersect:

1) A white public defender that I met during the Trial Advocacy Workshop told us that she always made it a point to put her hands on her client’s shoulders (her client usually being a young black man) at some point during her opening statement, to communicate to the jury that she, as a white woman, trusted her client, and therefore they should too.

She also told us that she had to warn her clients that she was going to do that so that they wouldn’t flinch when she did it.

2) A scholar at Harvard was attempting to research whether the verdict in jury trials where the defendant was black had any statistical correlation to whether and how many African-Americans were on the jury. However, there weren’t enough black jury members in Massachusetts jury trials to provide a reliable sample.

3) The Vera Institute of Justice‘s Prosecution and Racial Justice project works with prosecutor’s offices across the country to study how prosecutorial discretion is exercised in relation to race, focusing on four key areas where prosecutors have the most discretion: initial case screening, charging, plea offers, and final disposition. Not surprisingly, the project found that prosecutors as a group often exercise their discretion in a way that has a disproportionate impact on minorities. However, as part of the demonstration project, many of these offices have implemented policies that have significantly reduced this disparity, even when these policies did not explicitly focus on race. You can find out more about Vera’s approach and findings here.

The popular image of Justice as blind seems to me to be exactly wrong. Justice is not blind because we are not blind, and it is through us that our justice system operates. Maybe if we saw Justice as mindful instead, we would have a better idea of how to go about achieving it.

Related Situationist posts:

 

Posted in Ideology, Implicit Associations, Life, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

David Brooks, the Situationist

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 9, 2011

From New York Times:

Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen a number of gigantic policies produce disappointing results — policies to reduce poverty, homelessness, dropout rates, single-parenting and drug addiction. Many of these policies failed because they were based on an overly simplistic view of human nature. They assumed that people responded in straightforward ways to incentives. Often, they assumed that money could cure behavior problems.

Fortunately, today we are in the middle of a golden age of behavioral research. Thousands of researchers are studying the way actual behavior differs from the way we assume people behave. They are coming up with more accurate theories of who we are, and scores of real-world applications.

* * *

Yet in the middle of this golden age of behavioral research, there is a bill working through Congress that would eliminate the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. This is exactly how budgets should not be balanced — by cutting cheap things that produce enormous future benefits.

Let’s say you want to reduce poverty. We have two traditional understandings of poverty. The first presumes people are rational. They are pursuing their goals effectively and don’t need much help in changing their behavior. The second presumes that the poor are afflicted by cultural or psychological dysfunctions that sometimes lead them to behave in shortsighted ways. Neither of these theories has produced much in the way of effective policies.

Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard have recently, with federal help, been exploring a third theory, that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.

A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.

These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.

Shafir and Mullainathan gave batteries of tests to Indian sugar farmers. After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the I.Q. and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They appear to have lower I.Q.’s. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.

Princeton students don’t usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, and they were nearly oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organizers were charging. These brilliant Princeton kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own long-term detriment.

Shafir and Mullainathan have a book coming out next year, exploring how scarcity — whether of time, money or calories (while dieting) — affects your psychology. They are also studying how poor people’s self-perceptions shape behavior. Many people don’t sign up for the welfare benefits because they are intimidated by the forms. Shafir and Mullainathan asked some people at a Trenton soup kitchen to relive a moment when they felt competent and others to recount a neutral experience. Nearly half of the self-affirming group picked up an available benefits package afterward. Only 16 percent of the neutral group did.

People are complicated. We each have multiple selves, which emerge or don’t depending on context. If we’re going to address problems, we need to understand the contexts and how these tendencies emerge or don’t emerge. We need to design policies around that knowledge. Cutting off financing for this sort of research now is like cutting off navigation financing just as Christopher Columbus hit the shoreline of the New World.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Education, Life, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Heroism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 7, 2011

From NPR’s Morning Edition:

In 1971, at Stanford University, a young psychology professor created a simulated prison. Some of the young men playing the guards became sadistic, even violent, and the experiment had to be stopped.

The results of the Stanford Prison Experiment showed that people tend to conform — even when that means otherwise good people doing terrible things. Since then, the experiment has been used to help explain everything from Nazi Germany to Abu Ghraib.

Now, in a new project, [Situationist Contributor] Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who created the prison experiment, is trying to show that people can learn to bring out the best in themselves rather than the worst.

An Unwanted Legacy

Four decades after he created the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo says he’s still hearing about it.

“I hate the idea that the Stanford prison study is the main thing most people know me for,” he says.

Zimbardo has done many things. He was a professor of psychology at Stanford University for 40 years. He’s been president of the American Psychological Association. He’s written a book about the psychology of time and established a clinic for shy people. But he says his other achievements are often overlooked.

“Soon as people meet me, I go around the world, ‘Oh you’re the prison guy,'” he says.

Here’s how the experiment worked: Zimbardo recruited 24 male college students and paid them $15 a day to spend two weeks in a fake prison in a basement on the Stanford campus. Half the students were assigned to be guards, the others were prisoners.

As an educational video made about the experiment put it, “What happened surprised everyone, including Zimbardo. The illusion became reality. The boundary between the role each person was playing and his real personal identity was erased.” Some of guards in the experiment became abusive, and prisoners showed signs of mental breakdown. After six days, Zimbardo shut the experiment down and sent everyone home.

‘Here I Am, This Evil Scientist’

His reputation was sealed: He was the guy who had revealed that normal people can do very bad things — if you expose them to wrongdoing, even evil, they’ll join in.

“So here I am, this evil scientist, creating this situation where evil is dominating good,” he says.

The problem is, Zimbardo doesn’t see himself that way. He sees himself as a force of good in the world, not evil. And so now, retired from teaching at the age of 78, he has a new project, one that aims to change his legacy in a dramatic way: to turn regular people into heroes.

Not comic book heroes. But, rather, someone who would have helped Jews escape the Holocaust. Or even something more ordinary, like standing up for a classmate who’s being bullied.

“Heroes are not extraordinary people,” he says. “They’re ordinary people who do an extraordinary thing, step out of themselves, put their best self forward in service to humanity. And it starts with internalizing heroic imagination, namely — I could do it.”

So he’s calling it the Heroic Imagination Project. It’s a nonprofit training organization based in San Francisco. One of the first programs has been to teach heroism at a charter high school, called ARISE, in one of the tougher neighborhoods of Oakland, Calif.

Over the course of the year, Clint Wilkins been teaching students in the heroism course to recognize how their environment can shape their behavior. “As you can see,” he tells his students, “there are two kinds of ways of conforming, right? Do you guys remember which they are?”

Heroes Needed

Conformity is not an abstract concept to these students. Two years ago, the bystander effect happened not far from here. A 16-year-old girl was gang-raped by at least six men during a homecoming dance. Dozens of kids watched, some sent texts to their friends, telling them to come check it out. It took two hours before anyone called the police.

So this class is about training kids to break away from the pack, to be the person who defies conformity and does the right thing.

“They had to see the girl, you know?” says Phillip Johnson, a senior in the heroism class. “They had to see that girl go in the back with all those guys. Like if I see a group of guys in a circle, or something, I’m going to be like, what’s going on here? It’s like, oh. Woah. But that didn’t happen, apparently.”

The other students fall silent. Like Phillip, they’d like to think they would have been the one to call the cops. But if there’s one lesson to be learned from this class, it’s this: You aren’t always the person you think you’re going to be. Being able to imagine a different life for yourself is part of this school — and it’s the point of this heroism course.

It seems to be taking hold in Brandon Amaro. He’s a sweet-faced, 16-year-old kid who grew up in a farm town in southern California. Brandon says sometimes he feels like he could do something really exceptional with his life, something even his parents might not know he’s capable of. But then he starts having doubts.

He says it’s as if there are two Brandons. “The good one,” he says, “is like an over-energetic bee in my ear, always buzzing and buzzing, telling me, ‘You can do it, you can do it. Go for it.'” Then there’s the bad one, “who’s kind of like someone pressing down on your shoulders. He sees something good, he says, ‘No, you can’t try.'”

Brandon says when he imagines himself grown up, he’s just not so conflicted anymore. “The older me is going to be much more mature, more confident,” he says. “He’s going to walk and everybody’s going to just know it’s him. He’s going to know who he is.”

Can Courage Be Taught?

Zimbardo says he sees himself in these kids. After all, he grew up poor, too. “Growing up on welfare, in poverty, in the ghetto, in the south Bronx, amidst evil, drugs, prostitution and gangs and violence — I rose above that,” he says. “In some mystical way, I have always been the leader.”

But the question is, why did Zimbardo rise above? Why does anybody become a leader, or a hero, and someone else becomes a follower, or worse? And do we have a choice? Zimbardo’s class is teaching the students that they do.

But other social psychologists believe humans are more hard-wired than that. For example, they say criminal behavior comes from individual differences in personality, things like lack of self-control. These are differences we’re either born with or things we never learned as children.

Augustine Brannigan, who studies criminal behavior at the University of Calgary in Canada, is one of these people. When asked what he thinks of the idea of a heroism class, he replies, “Whether you can teach them to be heroes? No. What you can do is you can expose them to the narrative about heroes. If it takes, it takes. If it doesn’t, they still have the narrative, and they can respect it. But that doesn’t mean you’ve changed their behavior.”

Zimbardo aims to prove this thinking wrong. He’s betting that by studying heroic narratives, learning about human nature and taking on community service projects, the students will actually change the way they act.

A Practical Lesson

One afternoon, while the students are in heroism class, a fight breaks out in the hallway. Not students, but some neighborhood kids, possibly gang-affiliated, drift in from the street and start causing trouble. A teacher calls 911.

The students in the heroic imagination class cluster in the doorway, craning their necks to get a better look. And when they return to their seats, they begin to wonder: Maybe this was exactly one of those opportunities they’d been talking about, a chance to step up and be a hero. But it all happened so fast, and no one did anything.

“Students could have been, like, you know, someone come get this person,” remarks senior Phillip Johnson. “It shouldn’t have been a group of people watching.” On the other hand, other students argue, maybe having a teacher call the police was exactly the right thing to do.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when it is the right time to do something extraordinary, they say, and when it’s better to just stay on the sidelines.

* * *

Listen to the story here.

Some related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Classic Experiments, Conflict, Education, Ideology, Life, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 4 Comments »

Whitey Bulger’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2011

From Northeastern News:

Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger — who eluded authorities for more than 16 years — is accused of murdering 19 people. Here, David DeSteno, associate professor of psychology at Northeastern University, who studies the role of emotion in social cognition and social behavior, assesses the mind of crime figures like Bulger and those who exalt them as heroes.

What drives immoral behavior?

We cannot assume that Whitey Bulger, Anthony Weiner, or other “fallen” individuals were flawed from the start. After all, Whitey’s brother, William Bulger, was raised in the same environment but followed a different trajectory; he ended up becoming the president of the University of Massachusetts. 
The answer, then, to what makes someone “bad?” is found in understanding how character really works. Character, as it turns out, isn’t established early in life and fixed thereafter. It’s always in flux. Our moral behaviors are determined moment to moment by situational influences on the competing mechanisms in our mind. One class of mechanisms focuses on what’s good in the short term. The other class is focused on the long term — what actions, even if they sacrifice short-term benefits, will lead to long-term gain. Cheating or lying, for example, may offer a short-term gain. Cheating or lying too much, however, could lead to getting caught and ostracized, which carries long-term losses.

The more power that an individual possesses, the greater the disconnect between short-term and long-term impulses. With increased power, politicians, corporate CEOs, or mob bosses, for example, tend to view themselves as invulnerable and begin to favor short-term, expedient actions like cheating or aggression. Such power, then, allows the scale of character to tip toward self-serving, and possibly criminal, actions. The potential for vice and virtue resides in each of us. If we forget that, we’re much more likely to act immorally as well.

Some South Boston residents appear to be rooting for Bulger. Why do so many still look at him as a local hero and turn a blind eye to his criminal record?

How we judge a person’s character often has to do with how he “related” to us. Work in my lab shows that whether we’re willing to condemn someone for committing a transgression doesn’t depend solely on the objective facts. For one study, we asked participants to put on one of two different colored wristbands and then watch a staged interaction between two actors, which participants thought was real. In the scenario, one actor cheated on a task that left the other with more work to complete. We then asked our research participants to judge how fairly the cheater acted. What we found was quite astonishing: If the actor who cheated was wearing the same color wristband as a participant, then the participant viewed his actions as much less objectionable than did participants wearing a different color wristband. Feeling some level of similarity with the perpetrator leads one to excuse his behavior.

This simple example shows how deeply social bonds can alter moral judgments. The people in Southie who still look at Whitey as a hero would probably condemn another individual from New York who committed the same crimes.

For 16 years, Bulger lived life on the lam with his partner Catherine Greig, whom he must have trusted not to turn him in to the authorities. What role may trust have played in their relationship?

Trust is a fundamental part of the human condition. We have to trust people because we need others to survive. Trusting another person presents an interesting dynamic because it offers the potential for joint gain, or asymmetric loss. If both individuals are trustworthy, both can benefit. If, on the other hand, one “sells out,” then he or she can gain at the other’s expense. How much we’re willing to trust another person depends on several factors, but a primary one is the extent to which outcomes are joined.

In the case of Whitey Bulger and Catherine Greig, both faced prison sentences if the other broke ranks. Each knew enough of the other’s secrets, habits and finances that if one didn’t support the other, he or she would have a lot to loose. Having said that, work in our lab shows that trustworthiness is changeable. We can be very trustworthy with one person in one situation, but completely untrustworthy with another. Just because Whitey Bulger and Catherine Greig appear to have acted in a trustworthy manner with each other, does not indicate how they might deal with someone else.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Morality | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Sheena Iyengar on the Art of Choosing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2011

Situationist friend Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices — and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.

Relate Situationist posts:

To review the hundreds of Situationist posts discussing the “Choice Myth” click here.,

 

Posted in Choice Myth, Marketing, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Independence Day: Celebrating Courage to Challenge the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson on July 4, 2011

First Published on July 3, 2007:

Battle of Lexington

With the U.S. celebrating Independence Day — carnivals, fireworks, BBQs, parades and other customs that have, at best, only a tangential connection to our “independence,” — we thought it an opportune moment to return to its source in search of some situationism. No doubt, the Declaration of Independence is typically thought of as containing a dispositionist message (though few would express it in those terms) — all that language about individuals freely pursuing their own happiness. Great stuff, but arguably built on a dubious model of the human animal.

Declaration of IndependenceThat’s not the debate we want to provoke here. Instead, we are interested in simply highlighting some less familiar language in that same document that reveals something special about the mindset and celebrated courage of those behind the colonists’ revolt. Specifically, as Thomas Jefferson penned, “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Part of what made the July 4th heroes heroic, in our view, was their willingness to break from that disposition to suffer evils. They reacted, mobilized, strategized, resisted, and fought because they recognized that their suffering was not legitimate — a conclusion that many in the U.S. and abroad vehemently rejected.

Situationist contributor John Jost has researched and written extensively about a related topic — the widespread tendency to justify existing systems of power despite any unfair suffering that they may entail. As he and his co-authors recently summarized:

Whether because of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, or sexual orientation or because of policies and programs that privilege some at the expense of others, or even because of historical accidents, genetic disparities, or the fickleness of fate, certain social systems serve the interests of some stakeholders better than others. Yet historical and social scientific evidence shows that most of the time the majority of people – regardless of their own social class or position – accept and even defend the legitimacy of their social and economic systems and manage to maintain a “belief in a just world.”

If we truly want to emulate and celebrate the “founding fathers” of this republic, perhaps we should begin by taking seriously the possibility that what “is” is not always what “ought to be.”

Happy Fourth!

* * *

To read a couple of related Situationist posts, see “Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?” and “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!

Posted in History, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

HIP on NPR!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 3, 2011

The Heroic Imagination Project, directed by Situationist Contributor Phil Zimbardo, is excited to announce that we will be featured on NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday July 4, 2011.

The piece will run during Morning Edition’s weekly “Your Health” segment, and will focus on the idea of teaching Heroism. The program features Dr. Zimbardo and several of the students from ARISE high school.

Please check your local listings to find out when Morning Edition will be airing in your region. Schedules and stations are available here.

Posted in Education, Events | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 850 other followers

%d bloggers like this: