The Situationist

Archive for December, 2011

The Deep Capture of Financial Institutions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 31, 2011

Lawrence G. Baxter, at Duke Law School, recently wrote an excellent situationist article, titled “Capture in Financial Regulation: Can We Redirect It Toward the Common Good?” (forthcoming in 21 Cornell Journal of Law & Public Policy).  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

“Regulatory capture” is central to regulatory analysis yet is a troublesome concept. It is difficult to prove and sometimes seems refuted by outcomes unfavorable to powerful interests. Nevertheless, the process of bank regulation and supervision fosters a closeness between regulator and regulated that would seem to be conducive to “capture” or at least to fostering undue sympathy by regulators for the companies they oversee. The influence of very large financial institutions has also become so great that financial regulation appears to have become excessively distorted in favor of these entities and to the detriment of many other legitimate interests, including those of taxpayers, smaller financial institutions, and the promotion of general economic growth. So “deep capture” by the larger elements of the financial industry of the regulatory process might well have become a very significant problem. At the same time, it is unrealistic to assume that participants in the policy making and policy implementation process will not be trying to exert influence on the outcome of any regulation that impacts them. Attempts to maximize influence are surely an inevitable element of the ongoing regulatory process. And it is unrealistic to try to avoid extensive industry input altogether. Regulators and regulations depend on frequent and sometimes intense interaction with various sectors of the industry. To promote sound regulatory policy, we should renew efforts to shape the environmental conditions in which the competition for regulatory outcomes takes place, so that policy more favorable to the general public interest becomes more likely. This involves a combination of measures, many of which are quite traditional but some of which are too often neglected. Such measures might include: strengthening “tripartism,” advocated by Ayres and Braithwaite, by facilitating broader interest group participation in the regulatory process; limiting the influence of dominant participants by reducing their scale; properly structuring, resourcing and supporting regulatory agencies and regulators; “rotating” regulators so that they are less likely to develop unduly empathic relationships with the institutions they regulate; tightening the rules governing the “revolving door;” and making greater use of independent consultative and review bodies.

* * *

Download the paper here.

Related Situationist posts:

You can review hundreds of Situationist posts related to the topic of “deep capture” here

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

The Situation of “Opting Out”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 29, 2011

Since the early 2000s, much of  Situationist Contributors’ research, writing, teaching, and speaking has focused on the role of “choice,” “the choice myth,” and “choicism” in rationalizing injustice and inequality, particularly in the U.S.  (e.g., The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America).  That work has, among other factors, helped to inspire a growing body of fascinating experimental research (and, unfortunately, one derivative book) on the topic.   Over the next couple of months, we will highlight some of that intriguing new research on The Situationist.  (First installment, “Choice and Inequality, is here.)

Here is a summary of research co-authored by Situationist friend Nicole Stephens.

From APS:

For the first time in history, the majority of Americans believe that women’s job opportunities are equal to men’s. For example, a 2005 Gallup poll indicated that 53 percent of Americans endorse the view that opportunities are equal, despite the fact that women still earn less than men, are underrepresented at the highest levels of many fields, and face other gender barriers such as bias against working mothers and inflexible workplaces.

New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University helps to explain why many Americans fail to see these persistent gender barriers. The research demonstrates that the common American assumption that behavior is a product of personal choice fosters the belief that opportunities are equal and that gender barriers no longer exist in today’s workplace.

The study, “Opting Out or Denying Discrimination? How the Framework of Free Choice in American Society Influences Perceptions of Gender Inequality,” suggests that the assumption that women “opt out” of the workforce, or have the choice between career or family, promotes the belief that individuals are in control of their fates and are unconstrained by the environment.

The study was co-authored by Nicole M. Stephens, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, and Cynthia S. Levine, a doctoral student in the psychology department at Stanford University. It will be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Although we’ve made great strides toward gender equality in American society, significant obstacles still do, in fact, hold many women back from reaching the upper levels of their organizations,” said Stephens. “In our research, we sought to determine how the very idea of ‘opting out,’ or making a choice to leave the workplace, may be maintaining these social and structural barriers by making it more difficult to recognize gender discrimination.”

In one study, a group of stay-at-home mothers answered survey questions about how much choice they had in taking time off from their career and about their feelings of empowerment in making life plans and controlling their environment.

The participants then reviewed a set of real statistics about gender inequality in four fields – business, politics, law and science/engineering – and were asked to evaluate whether these barriers were due to bias against women or societal and workplace factors that make it difficult for women to hold these positions.

As predicted, most women explained their workplace departure as a matter of personal choice – which is reflective of the cultural understanding of choice in American society and underscores how the prevalence of choice influences behavior. These same women experienced a greater sense of personal well-being, but less often recognized the examples of discrimination and structural barriers presented in the statistics.

In a follow-up experiment, the researchers examined the consequences of the common cultural representation of women’s workplace departure as a choice. Specifically, they examined how exposure to a choice message influenced Americans’ beliefs about equality and the existence of discrimination. First, undergraduate students were subtly exposed to one of two posters on a wall about women leaving the workforce: either a poster with a choice message (“Choosing to Leave: Women’s Experiences Away from the Workforce”) or one in a control condition that simply said “Women at Home: Experiences Away from the Workforce.”

Then, the participants were asked to take a survey about social issues. The participants exposed to the first poster with the choice message more strongly endorsed the belief that opportunities are equal and that gender discrimination is nonexistent, versus the control group who more clearly recognized discrimination. Interestingly, those participants who considered themselves to be feminists were more likely than other participants to identify discrimination.

“This second experiment demonstrates that even subtle exposure to the choice framework promotes the belief that discrimination no longer exists,” said Levine. “One single brief encounter – such as a message in a poster – influenced the ability to recognize discrimination. Regular exposure to such messages could intensify over time, creating a vicious cycle that keeps women from reaching the top of high-status fields.”

Overall, Stephens and Levine noted that while choice may be central to women’s explanations of their own workplace departure, this framework is a double-edged sword.

“Choice has short-term personal benefits on well-being, but perhaps long-term detriments for women’s advancement in the workplace collectively,” said Stephens. “In general, as a society we need to raise awareness and increase attention for the gender barriers that still exist. By taking these barriers into account, the discussion about women’s workplace departure could be reframed to recognize that many women do not freely choose to leave the workplace, but instead are pushed out by persistent workplace barriers such as limited workplace flexibility, unaffordable childcare, and negative stereotypes about working mothers.”

More.

You can download a pdf of the article here.

Related Situationst posts:

You can review hundreds of Situationist posts related to the topic of “choice myth” here or to the topic of inequality here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Distribution, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Bird Brains

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 27, 2011

As regular readers of the Situationist are aware, I went on a cephalopod kick a few months back and while I continue to be mesmarized by the cuttlefish, squid, and octupus, I dare say that the real action in comparative psychology for 2012 may be in class Aves.

Yes, birds, it turns out, are not actually so “bird brained” after all.

In their new Science article, Pigeons on Par with Primates in Numerical Competence, Damian Scarf, Harlene Hayne, and Michael Colombo offer some startling findings:

Although many animals are able to discriminate stimuli differing in numerosity, only primates are thought to share our ability to employ abstract numerical rules. Here, we show that this ability is present in pigeons and that their performance is indistinguishable from that displayed by monkeys.

The New York Times (James Gorman) had a nice write-up of the work on December 22nd:

The pigeons had learned an abstract rule — peck images on a screen in order, lower numbers to higher. It may have taken a year of training, with different shapes, sizes and colors of items, always in groups of one, two or three, but all that work paid off when it was time for higher math.

**

Given groups of six and nine, they could pick, or peck, the images in the right order. This is one more bit of evidence of how smart birds really are, and it is intriguing because the pigeons’ performance was so similar to the monkeys’. “I was surprised,” Dr. Scarf said. He and his colleagues wrote that the common ability to learn rules about numbers is an example either of different groups — birds and primates, in this case — evolving these abilities separately, or of both pigeons and primates using an ability that was already present in their last common ancestor.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Antonio Damasio on Mystery of Consciousness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 26, 2011

From TedTalks:

Every morning we wake up and regain consciousness — that is a marvelous fact — but what exactly is it that we regain? Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio uses this simple question to give us a glimpse into how our brains create our sense of self.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Financial Situation of Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 24, 2011

From UC Berkeley News Center:

Emotional differences between the rich and poor, as depicted in such Charles Dickens classics as “A Christmas Carol” and “A Tale of Two Cities,” may have a scientific basis. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that people in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts.

By comparison, the UC Berkeley study found that individuals in the upper middle and upper classes were less able to detect and respond to the distress signals of others. Overall, the results indicate that socio-economic status correlates with the level of empathy and compassion that people show in the face of emotionally charged situations.

“It’s not that the upper classes are coldhearted,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study published online on Dec. 12 in the journal, Emotion. “They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.”

Stellar and her colleagues’ findings challenge previous studies that have characterized lower-class people as being more prone to anxiety and hostility in the face of adversity.

“These latest results indicate that there’s a culture of compassion and cooperation among lower-class individuals that may be born out of threats to their wellbeing,” Stellar said.

It has not escaped the researchers’ attention that the findings come at a time of rising class tension, expressed in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Rather than widen the class divide, Stellar said she would like to see the findings promote understanding of different class cultures. For example, the findings suggest that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds may thrive better in cooperative settings than their upper-class counterparts.

“Upper-class individuals appear to be more self-focused, they’ve grown up with more freedom and autonomy,” she said. “They may do better in an individualist, competitive environment.”

More than 300 ethnically diverse young adults were recruited for the UC Berkeley study, which was divided into three experiments that used three separate groups of participants. Because all the volunteers were college undergraduates, their class identification – lower class, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class or upper class – was based on parental income and education.

In the first experiment, 148 young adults were rated on how frequently and intensely they experience such emotions as joy, contentment, pride, love, compassion, amusement and awe. In addition, they reported how much they agreed with such statements as “When I see someone hurt or in need, I feel a powerful urge to take care of them,” and “I often notice people who need help.” Compassion was the only positive emotion reported at greater levels by lower-class participants, the study found.

In the second experiment, a new group of 64 participants viewed two videos: an instructional video on construction and an emotionally charged video about families who are coping with the challenges of having a child with cancer. Participants showed no differences while watching the “neutral” instructional video, and all reported feeling sad in response to the video about families of cancer patients. However, members of the lower class reported higher levels of compassion and empathy as distinct from sorrow.

The researchers also monitored the heart rates of participants as they watched the neutral and emotionally charged videos. Lower-class participants showed greater decreases in heart rate as they watched the cancer family video than upper-class participants.

“One might assume that watching someone suffering would cause stress and raise the heart rate,” Stellar said. “But we have found that, during compassion, the heart rate lowers as if the body is calming itself to take care of another person.”

Finally, a new set of 106 participants was randomly divided into pairs and pitted against one another in mock interviews for a lab manager position. To further raise the stress level in interviews, those who performed best were to win a cash prize. Post-interview reports from the participants showed that the lower-class interviewees perceived their rivals to be feeling greater amounts of stress, anxiety and embarrassment and as a result reported more compassion and sympathy for their competitors. Conversely, upper-class participants were less able to detect emotional distress signals in their rivals.

“Recognizing suffering is the first step to responding compassionately. The results suggest that it’s not that upper classes don’t care, it’s that they just aren’t as good at perceiving stress or anxiety,” Stellar said.

More.

Related Situationst posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution, Emotions, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Can The Law Go Upstream?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 22, 2011

Roger Magnusson, Lawrence O. Gostin, and David  Studdert recently posted their paper, “Can Law Improve Prevention and Treatment of Cancer?” on SSRN:

The December 2011 issue of Public Health (the Journal of the Royal Society for Public Health) contains a symposium entitled: Legislate, Regulate, Litigate? Legal approaches to the prevention and treatment of cancer. This symposium explores the possibilities for using law and regulation – both internationally and at the national level – as the policy instrument for preventing and improving the treatment of cancer and other leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In this editorial, we argue that there is an urgent need for more legal scholarship on cancer and other leading NCDs, as well as greater dialogue between lawyers, public health practitioners and policy-makers about priorities for law reform, and feasible legal strategies for reducing the prevalence of leading risk factors. The editorial discusses two important challenges that frequently stand in the way of a more effective use of law in this area. The first is the tendency to dismiss risk factors for NCDs as purely a matter of individual ‘personal responsibility'; the second is the fact that effective regulatory responses to risks for cancer and NCDs will in many cases provoke conflict with the tobacco, alcohol and food industries. After briefly identifying some of the strategies that law can deploy in the prevention of NCDs, we briefly introduce each of the ten papers that make up the symposium.

You can download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Environment, Law, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Motivated Ignorance

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 20, 2011

From EENews:

For many people, ignorance is bliss when it comes to vexing issues like climate change, according to a new study.

Published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the report shows that people who know very little about an issue — say the economic downturn, changes in the climate or dwindling fossil fuel reserves — tend to avoid learning more about it. This insulates them in their ignorance — a pattern described by researchers as “motivated avoidance.”

Faced with complicated or troubling situations, these people often defer to authorities like the government or scientists, hoping they have the situation under control.

“Our research suggests that this kind of overwhelmed feeling, and feeling that an issue is ‘above one’s head’ leads people to feel dependent on the government, and this dependence is managed by trusting the government more to deal with an issue, and this is managed by avoiding the issue,” explained Steven Shepherd, a social psychology doctoral student at the University of Waterloo in Canada and an author of the report, in an email.

“This is psychologically easier than taking a significant amount of time to learn about an issue, all the while confronting unpleasant information about it,” he added.

The report used survey data from 511 participants between 2010 and 2011. “In four studies we manipulated how we framed a domain like the economy or energy (e.g., simple or complex), and in the one study, we manipulated whether or not a future oil shortage was said to be an immediate problem, or a distant future problem,” Shepherd said.

The researchers found that people who received complex information on an issue felt more helpless and more trusting in government compared to those who received relatively simple explanations. In addition, people who felt ignorant on a certain topic — especially issues with dire consequences like fuel shortages or climate change — would reject negative information.

But researchers say there’s more to it than just plugging your ears and saying “la la la.”

The trust-and-avoid ploy

Motivated avoidance stems from a phenomenon known as system justification. “It refers to a motivation that most people hold to believe that the systems that they function with are legitimate,” explained [Situationist Contributor] Aaron Kay, another author. Kay, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, explained that people working within a government agency or large institution can’t really influence the collective group on their own.

So they are inclined to conclude the group largely knows what it’s doing. “It doesn’t always imply that people think this is good, but they think it’s better than the government not being in control,” he said. To maintain this view, he noted, people will deliberately avoid information that contradicts it.

“Climate change is a global issue that, seemingly, is beyond the efforts of any one individual. … I think a lot of people feel unable to do anything about it,” said Shepherd. “The next best thing is to either deny it, or defer the issue to governments to deal with it. … In our research we find that one easy way to maintain that psychologically comforting trust that an issue is being dealt with is to simply avoid the issue.”

The authors also speculate that political leanings play into whether people want to trust politicians handle climate change. “I think we see this in the recent ‘Occupy’ movements, and among those pushing for governments to do more about climate change,” Shepherd said.

“People who simply distrust the government to begin with, or libertarians who prefer to have as little government involvement in their lives as possible, are also unlikely to respond to feeling dependent on the government by trusting in them more.”

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Environment, Ideology, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Risky Situation of In-House Lawyers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 19, 2011

Donald Langevoort recently posted his worthwhile paper, “Getting (Too) Comfortable: In-House Lawyers, Enterprise Risk and the Financial Crisis” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

In-house lawyers are under considerable pressure to “get comfortable” with the legality and legitimacy of client goals. This paper explores the psychological forces at work when inside lawyers confront such pressure by reference to the recent financial crisis, looking at problems arising from informational ambiguity, imperceptible change, and motivated inference. It also considers the pathways to power in-house, i.e., what kinds of cognitive styles are best suited to rise in highly competitive organizations such as financial services firms. The paper concludes with a research agenda for better understanding in-house lawyers, including exploration of the extent to which the diffusion of language and norms has reversed direction in recent years: that outside lawyers are taking cognitive and behavioral cues from the insiders, rather than establishing the standards and vocabulary for in-house lawyers.

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Law, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Choice and Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2011

Since the early 2000s, much of Jon Hanson’s (and other Situationist Contributor’s) research, writing, teaching, and speaking has focused on the role of “choice,” “the choice myth,” and “choicism” in rationalizing injustice and inequality, particularly in the U.S.  (e.g., The Blame Frame: Justifying (Racial) Injustice in America).  That work has helped to inspire a significant amount of fascinating experimental research (and, unfortunately, one derivative book) on the topic.   Over the next couple of months, we will highlight some of that intriguing new research on The Situationist. 

Here is an abstract and excerpts from a fascinating article (forthcoming, Psychological Science – pdf of draft here) co-authored by Situationist friend Krishna Savani (Columbia) and Aneeta Rattan (Stanford).  Their article examines how “a choice mindset increases the acceptance and maintenance of wealth inequality.”

* * *

Abstract: Wealth inequality has significant psychological, physiological, societal, and economic costs. We investigate how seemingly innocuous, culturally pervasive ideas can help maintain and further wealth inequality. Specifically, we test whether the concept of choice, which is deeply valued in American society, leads people to act in ways that maintain and perpetuate wealth inequality. Choice, we argue, activates the belief that life outcomes stem from personal agency, not from societal factors, leading people to justify wealth inequality. Six experiments show that when choice is highlighted, people are less disturbed by facts about the existing wealth inequality in the U.S., more likely to underestimate the role of societal factors in individuals’ successes, less likely to support the redistribution of educational resources, and less likely to tax the rich even to resolve a government budget deficit crisis. The findings indicate that the culturally valued concept of choice contributes to the maintenance of wealth inequality.

* * *

Wealth inequality has substantial negative consequences for societies, including reduced well-being (Napier & Jost, 2008), fewer public goods (Frank, 2011; Kluegel & Smith, 1986), and even lower economic growth (Alesina & Rodrik, 1994). Despite these well-known negative consequences, high levels of wealth inequality persist in many nations. For example, the U.S. has the greatest degree of wealth inequality among all the industrialized countries in terms of the Gini Coefficient (93rd out of 134 countries; CIA Factbook, 2010). Moreover, wealth inequality in the U.S. substantially worsened in the first decade of the 21st century, with median household income in 2010 equal to that in 1997 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011), although per-capita GDP increased by 33% over the same period (Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2011), indicating that all of the gain in wealth was concentrated at the top end of the wealth distribution.

A large majority of Americans disapprove of a high degree of wealth inequality (Norton & Ariely, 2011), for example, when the top 1% of people on the wealth distribution possess 35% of the nation’s wealth, as was the case in the U.S. in 2007 (Wolff, 2010). Instead, people prefer a more equal distribution of wealth that includes a strong middle class, such as when the middle 60% of people own approximately 60% of the nation’s wealth, rather than only the 15% that they owned in the U.S. in 2007. If people are unhappy with wealth inequality, then policies that reduce this inequality should be widely supported, particularly in times of increasing wealth inequality. However, Americans often oppose specific policies that would remedy wealth inequality (Bartels, 2005). For example, taxation and redistribution—taxing the rich and using the proceeds to provide public goods, public insurance, and a minimum standard of living for the poor—is probably the most effective means for reducing wealth inequality from an economic perspective (Frank, 2011; Korpi & Palme, 1998). However, most Americans, including working class and middle class citizens, have supported tax cuts even for the very rich and oppose government spending on social services that would mitigate inequality (Bartels, 2005; Fong, 2001). What factors explain thisinconsistency between a general preference for greater wealth equality and opposition to specific policies that would produce it? We investigate whether people’s attitudes toward wealth inequality and support for policies that reduce wealth inequality are influenced by the concept of choice.

Choice is a core concept in U.S. American culture . . . .

Recent research suggests that the concept of choice decreases support for societally beneficial policies (e.g., a tax on highly polluting cars) but increases support for policies furthering individual rights (e.g., legalizing drugs; Savani, Stephens, & Markus, 2011). Historical analyses also suggest that Americans often use the concept of choice to justify inequality, arguing that the poor are poor because they made bad choices (Hanson & Hanson, 2006; see also Stephens & Levine, 2011). Building upon this work, we theorized that the assumption that people make free choices, when combined with the fact that some people turned out rich and others poor, leads people to believe that inequality in life outcomes is justified and reasonable. Therefore, when people think in terms of choice, we hypothesized that they would be less disturbed by wealth inequality and less supportive of policies aimed at reducing this inequality. . . .

* * *

You can download a pdf of the draft here.

Related Situationst posts:

You can review hundreds of Situationist posts related to the topic of “choice myth” here or to the topic of inequality here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Distribution, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Dehumanized Situation of Atrocities

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2011

From Duke Today, a story about recent research by Situationist Contributor Susan Fiske:

A father in Louisiana bludgeoned and beheaded his disabled 7-year-old son last August because he no longer wanted to care for the boy.

For most people, such a heinous act is unconscionable.

But it may be that a person can become callous enough to commit human atrocities because of a failure in the part of the brain that’s critical for social interaction. A new study by researchers at Duke University and Princeton University suggests this function may disengage when people encounter others they consider disgusting, thus “dehumanizing” their victims by failing to acknowledge they have thoughts and feelings.

This shortcoming also may help explain how propaganda depicting Tutsi in Rwanda as cockroaches and Hitler’s classification of Jews in Nazi Germany as vermin contributed to torture and genocide, the study said.

“When we encounter a person, we usually infer something about their minds. Sometimes, we fail to do this, opening up the possibility that we do not perceive the person as fully human,” said lead author Lasana Harris, an assistant professor in Duke University’s Department of Psychology & Neuroscience and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Harris co-authored the study with Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University.

Social neuroscience has shown through MRI studies that people normally activate a network in the brain related to social cognition — thoughts, feelings, empathy, for example — when viewing pictures of others or thinking about their thoughts.  But when participants in this study were asked to consider images of people they considered drug addicts, homeless people, and others they deemed low on the social ladder, parts of this network failed to engage.

What’s especially striking, the researchers said, is that people will easily ascribe social cognition — a belief in an internal life such as emotions — to animals and cars, but will avoid making eye contact with the homeless panhandler in the subway.

“We need to think about other people’s experience,” Fiske said. “It’s what makes them fully human to us.”

The duo’s previous research suggested that a lack of social cognition can be linked to not acknowledging the mind of other people when imagining a day in their life, and rating them differently on traits that we think differentiate humans from everything else.

This latest study expands on that earlier work to show that these traits correlate with activation in brain regions beyond the social cognition network. These areas include those brain areas involved in disgust, attention and cognitive control.

The result is what the researchers call “dehumanized perception,” or failing to consider someone else’s mind. Such a lack of empathy toward others can also help explain why some members of society are sometimes dehumanized, they said.

For this latest study, 119 undergraduates from Princeton completed judgment and decision-making surveys as they viewed images of people. The researchers sought to examine the students’ responses to common emotions triggered by images such as:

– a female college student and male American firefighter (pride);
— a business woman and rich man (envy);
— an elderly man and disabled woman (pity);
— a female homeless person and male drug addict (disgust).

After imagining a day in the life of the people in the images, participants next rated the same person on various dimensions. They rated characteristics including the warmth, competence, similarity, familiarity, responsibility of the person for his/her situation, control of the person over their situation, intelligence, complex emotionality, self-awareness, ups-and-downs in life, and typical humanity.

Participants then went into the MRI scanner and simply looked at pictures of people.

The study found that the neural network involved in social interaction failed to respond to images of drug addicts, the homeless, immigrants and poor people, replicating earlier results.

“These results suggest multiple roots to dehumanization,” Harris said. “This suggests that dehumanization is a complex phenomenon, and future research is necessary to more accurately specify this complexity.”

The sample’s mean age was 20, with 62 female participants. The ethnic composition of the Princeton students who participated in the study was 68 white, 19 Asian, 12 of mixed descent, and 6 black, with the remainder not reporting.

The study, “Dehumanized Perception: A Psychological Means to Facilitate Atrocities, Torture, and Genocide?” appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Psychology.

Image from Flickr.

Related Situationist posts:

Susan Fiske’s New Book

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality, Neuroeconomics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Situation, McDonalds, & Tort Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2011

Professor Caroline Forell has written a wonderfully thoughtful, situationist article, titled “McTorts: The Social and Legal Impact of McDonald’s Role in Tort Suits (forthcoming in Volume 24 of the Loyola Consumer Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

McDonald’s is everywhere. With more than 32,000 restaurants around the world, its Golden Arches and “Mc” conjure up both the good and the bad about American capitalism.

This article looks at McDonald’s, impact on public policy, and tort law from historical and social psychology perspectives, following McDonald’s from its beginnings in the mid-1950’s through today. By examining McDonald’s Corp. v. Steel and Morris (McLibel), Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants (Hot Coffee), and Pelman v. McDonald’s Corp. (Childhood Obesity), I demonstrate that certain tort cases involving McDonald’s have had particularly important social and legal consequences that I attribute to McDonald’s special influence over the human psyche, beginning in childhood. In explaining McDonald’s extraordinary power over the public imagination and how this affects lawsuits involving it, I rely on the social psychology approach called situationism that recognizes the strong effect that environmental influences can have on individual decision-making. I conclude that lawsuits involving McDonald’s have had and will continue to have important social and legal consequences because of the unique role this corporation plays in our lives.

* * *

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Professor Forell relies on an article by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” which you can access here.

Review tens of Situationist posts on the topic of diet and obesity by clicking here.

Posted in Abstracts, Food and Drug Law, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Connection Between Homophobia and Homosexual Arousal

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 14, 2011

Sure, there are lots of things to love about our wonderful online age (at least for those of us who are allowed to be part of it).  But, for me, one of the greatest gifts of the Internet is to the dinner party conversation.

Before the dawn of the web, guests were stuck talking about the tedious minutia of their daily lives (their jobs, their children, their car repairs).  Today, with weird and wonderful anecdotes just a mouse-click away, you never know what interesting adventure lies around the corner: a discussion of the ethics of cloning a wooly mammoth or the humor behind Will Ferrell’s strange viral Old Milwaukee beer ads.

The web is also extremely useful in allowing dinner party debates and argument to achieve some semblance of closure.

Take, for example, a recent dinner party exchange about whether people who are virulently homophobic are more likely to be homosexual.  In the past, this discussion would have turned largely on personal stories and well-known cases, but, with smart phones at the ready, it was possible to quickly check whether any psychological studies had been done on the matter.

And, indeed, there was research on precisely this topic.  Here, for example, is an abstract from a fascinating 1996 study:

The authors investigated the role of homosexual arousal in exclusively heterosexual men who admitted negative affect toward homosexual individuals. Participants consisted of a group of homophobic men (n = 35) and a group of nonhomophobic men (n = 29); they were assigned to groups on the basis of their scores on the Index of Homophobia (W. W. Hudson & W. A. Ricketts, 1980). The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies.

Interesting stuff!  Now, if you wouldn’t mind passing the mashed potatoes, that would be great . . .

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth | Leave a Comment »

Atheism-ism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2011

From USA Today:

A new study finds that atheists are among society’s most distrusted group, comparable even to rapists in certain circumstances.

Psychologists at the University of British Columbia and the University of Oregon say that their study demonstrates that anti-atheist prejudice stems from moral distrust, not dislike, of nonbelievers.

“It’s pretty remarkable,” said Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a co-author of the study, which appears in the current issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The study, conducted among 350 Americans adults and 420 Canadian college students, asked participants to decide if a fictional driver damaged a parked car and left the scene, then found a wallet and took the money, was the driver more likely to be a teacher, an atheist teacher, or a rapist teacher?

The participants, who were from religious and nonreligious backgrounds, most often chose the atheist teacher.

The study is part of an attempt to understand what needs religion fulfills in people. Among the conclusions is a sense of trust in others.

“People find atheists very suspect,” Shariff said. “They don’t fear God so we should distrust them; they do not have the same moral obligations of others. This is a common refrain against atheists. People fear them as a group.”

Shariff, who studies atheism and religion, said the findings provide a clue to combating anti-atheism prejudice.

“If you manage to offer credible counteroffers of these stereotypes, this can do a lot to undermine people’s existing prejudice,” he said. “If you realize there are all these atheists you’ve been interacting with all your life and they haven’t raped your children that is going to do a lot do dispel these stereotypes.”

Image from Flickr.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Ideology, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

A Reminder: Smile

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 11, 2011

Your mom was right: turn that frown upside down.

She may not have had science to back up her suggestion, but Ron Gutman does (watch the video above)!

A number of studies in Gutman’s short talk may be familiar to readers, but putting them altogether in a nice little package is the payoff here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Assistance and Obedience

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 10, 2011

From CNN Blog by Alan Elms:

During my first several weeks as Stanley Milgram’s research assistant, I did the sorts of things that research assistants often do.

I transcribed Milgram’s dictations and drafts of research procedures into neatly typed pages. I began to keep files of research volunteers: Their age, educational background, occupation, address and phone number. I helped Milgram audition amateur actors for the important role of “experimenter” and the nearly-as-important role of “learner,” the research confederate whom we started to call the “victim.”

The real volunteers would be playing the role of “teacher” in what appeared to be an experiment where electric shocks were used to speed the learning of simple word pairs. As you probably know by now, 50 years later, the victim only pretended to be shocked and the experiment really measured obedience to authority.

When everything was ready for the first volunteers to assume the role of teacher and for the pretend-learner to become the victim, Milgram celebrated by inviting me to join him behind the large two-way mirrors in the Social Interaction Lab.

Observing the unfolding drama as I sat beside Stanley was not part of my official job description. But for the rest of that 1961 summer, I would work all day at scheduling subjects and doing other necessary support tasks, walk to my nearby apartment for a quick dinner, then return to the lab to watch what would happen next.

Neither Stanley nor I had any clear idea what moral dramas the next several hours would display. But in contrast to the artificial circumstances of most psychological experiments I had studied in graduate school until then, this felt like real life – this situation where every subject had to decide over and over again whether to administer the next higher shock on the shock board to another human being who was screaming in apparent pain.

What sorts of decisions did we see the teachers make? Over and over again they chose to obey the experimenter’s commands to shock the victim whenever he failed to remember the correct word pair. And on command they administered higher and higher voltage levels – or so the labels on the shock machine’s switches said, and the victim’s increasing screams appeared to confirm those levels.

Stanley and I had both expected modest levels of obedience at most. These were, after all, ordinary middle-class Americans, not chosen for either sadistic or rebellious tendencies.

But all teachers in the basic experimental situation went at least to 300 volts on the shock board, approaching the level labeled “Extreme Intensity Shock.” A stunning two-thirds of teachers obeyed all the way to the end of the shock board – 450 volts, “Danger Severe Shock X X X,” the red-lettered labels said.

Some subjects wept as they administered the higher-level shocks. Others smirked or giggled or laughed hysterically; still others sweated profusely or clenched their teeth or pulled their hair. But for the most part they obeyed.

Stanley and I were both appalled at such levels of obedience, but we could not ignore or deny what we saw. The subjects were sitting there right in front of us, very visible through the two-way mirrors in the bright laboratory illumination as their fingers depressed one shock switch after another.

Stanley Milgram remained a valued friend and mentor to me and to many others until his death at age 51, from a heart attack much like the one that had killed his father at a similar age. Stanley wrote clearly and thoughtfully about his research, especially in his book “Obedience to Authority” and his collection of essays, “The Individual in a Social World.”

I have been granted two decades longer to continue my own research and writing, some of it related to obedience, much of it struggling to understand the pioneering geniuses in a variety of fields. Most of my writing about the genius of Stanley Milgram can be found on my website, http://starcraving.com, especially in the section titled “Social Psychology.”


More.

For more on Alan Elms’ experience, watch “Sanjay Gupta, M.D.” at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday and Sunday.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

A Call for More Research on the Psychology of Inequality

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 9, 2011

Last spring, I had the pleasure of participating in the 2011 PLMS Conference: The Psychology of Inequality.  As chronicled on this blog (and elsewhere), it was a tremendous group of speakers and many of the talks have continued to resonate as issues of inequality have continued to boil up, particularly in the form of the Occupy movement.

One of the issues that is particularly interesting to me is how people react when confronted with evidence of inequality.  The psychology is complicated because people’s reactions are contingent on numerous situational variables.  For one thing, different people seem to have very different tolerances for inequality.  For another, it seems to matter whether the context is one of system threat or general optimism.

A number of mind scientists are busy at work documenting and sorting out these details and in the process we are learning a tremendous amount about how inequality is perpetuated.  One of the things that researchers have discovered is that those who are motivated to do so are incredibly adept at minimizing even the starkest data.

On Monday, for example Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist with the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at U.C. Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, pointed out that according to the 2011 Forbes 400, five children and one daughter-in-law of the founders of Wal-Mart have a total combined worth of $69.7 billion, which is equivalent to the total wealth of the bottom 30% of American families.

To me, that is absolutely staggering information.  Read it again: six people on the Forbes list have equivalent wealth to roughly one-third of all American families taken together.  To me, this is a clear sign that the need for reform is urgent.  But for other people, this isn’t troubling at all.  It’s not that they are being facetious; they genuinely view the data differently than I do.

Because of this divergence, I would argue that before we can make any sort of the changes that would address the growing inequality in the United States (which I believe we must do as a society from a both practical and moral perspective), we need to spend more time and energy understanding why some people don’t see a problem in the first place.

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Distribution, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

John Bargh on Situational Behavioral Influences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 8, 2011

Situationist Contributor, John Bargh describes his remarkable research on “unsconscious behavioral guidance systems.”

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Emotions, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

What Will Sports Look Like In 20 Years?

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 6, 2011

When it rains, it pours.

My last two posts (here and here) focused on the connection between heading the ball in soccer and an assortment of different brain trauma problems. It was a single event the prompted my initial thoughts on the matter (the suicide of soccer legend Gary Speed), but in the intervening few days, there have been several stories in other news outlets concerning head injuries and sports.

The most poignant has been the New York Times series on the hockey player Derek Boogaard—perhaps the NHL’s most feared enforcer who died of an alcohol and drug overdose at just 28.  I enjoyed the first part of the series the most, as it explored the culture of hockey in Canada and the making of a professional fighter (Boogaard, born big and tough, realized early on that his chance at making the big leagues was with his fists, not the accuracy of his shot).  But the third installment, investigating Boogaard’s brain is most relevant to the topic at hand:

Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as C.T.E., a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It can be diagnosed only posthumously, but scientists say it shows itself in symptoms like memory loss, impulsiveness, mood swings, even addiction.

**

More than 20 dead former N.F.L. players and many boxers have had C.T.E. diagnosed. It generally hollowed out the final years of their lives into something unrecognizable to loved ones.

**

And now, the fourth hockey player, of four examined, was found to have had it, too.

**

But this was different. The others were not in their 20s, not in the prime of their careers.

**

The scientists on the far end of the conference call told the Boogaard family that they were shocked to see so much damage in someone so young. It appeared to be spreading through his brain.  Had Derek Boogaard lived, they said, his condition likely would have worsened into middle-age dementia.

On November 29, The New York Times also covered a recent class-action lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois asserting that “the N.C.A.A. has been negligent regarding awareness and treatment of brain injuries to athletes”:

The legal action comes after a five-year flurry of awareness of brain injuries in contact sports and follows lawsuits filed this year by dozens of former N.F.L. players who claim the league was negligent in its handling of brain trauma. The issue has moved from science labs to Congress and now to courtrooms, where the financial exposure of the sport’s governing bodies may be tested.

**

The N.F.L. is subsidizing care for some of the most seriously damaged of its former players, after public and Congressional pressure forced the league to acknowledge the gravity of the issue. But the damage did not begin with the first hit in an N.F.L. training camp. Players have been absorbing blows to the brain since they were children.

This all leads to a tough question: Is it time to change our contact sports?

I am a very serious sports fan and I understand those who find the very notion of hockey without fighting, soccer without heading, and football without tackling laughable at best.  I’ll admit: I love watching LaRon Landry cream a receiver and Andy Carroll smack home a header.  But the fact of the matter is that hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse, and boxing are just games.  The rules are invented.  They have changed in the past and they can change again.

As prudent a move as it is, do I think removing dangerous contact from these sports is likely in the near term?

Unfortunately, my answer is no.

As the evidence continues to build that sports are seriously endangering athletes, I think we’ll see two things happen.  First, there will be changes at the margins that don’t get to the core of the problem but make leagues appear as if they are being responsive (e.g., fining NFL players more heavily who engage in helmet-on-helmet hits).  Second, we’ll see an increasing backlash from those who feel that this is just another example of how know-it-all “experts” and “nannies” are ruining the fun—indeed, attacking the very foundations of our way of life.  These folks will argue that everyone knows that sports are dangerous and that people should be allowed to exercise their free choice.  They may point out that athletes get paid lots of money to assume the risk of serious head injuries.  And, in all likelihood, they’ll trot out the slippery-slope argument to suggest that if we change the rules of football, we’ll be on the road to totalitarianism where all freedoms are removed under the false promise of “eliminating dangers.”

That’s silliness.  Rule changes made in the name of public health aren’t going to kill sports and they certainly aren’t going to destroy America.

* * *

Review a collection of sports related Situationist posts here or posts related to naive cynicism and backlash here.

Posted in Entertainment, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Robert Sampson on the Situational Effects of Neighborhoods

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 5, 2011

From

Karen Sternheimer (USC) conducts an interview with Robert Sampson (Harvard) about neighborhood effects and his latest book, GREAT AMERICAN CITY (Chicago 2011).

From University of Chicago Press:

For over fifty years numerous public intellectuals and social theorists have insisted that community is dead. Some would have us believe that we act solely as individuals choosing our own fates regardless of our surroundings, while other theories place us at the mercy of global forces beyond our control. These two perspectives dominate contemporary views of society, but by rejecting the importance of place they are both deeply flawed. Based on one of the most ambitious studies in the history of social science, Great American City argues that communities still matter because life is decisively shaped by where you live.

To demonstrate the powerfully enduring impact of place, Robert J. Sampson presents here the fruits of over a decade’s research in Chicago combined with his own unique personal observations about life in the city, from Cabrini Green to Trump Tower and Millennium Park to the Robert Taylor Homes. He discovers that neighborhoods influence a remarkably wide variety of social phenomena, including crime, health, civic engagement, home foreclosures, teen births, altruism, leadership networks, and immigration. Even national crises cannot halt the impact of place, Sampson finds, as he analyzes the consequences of the Great Recession and its aftermath, bringing his magisterial study up to the fall of 2010.

Following in the influential tradition of the Chicago School of urban studies but updated for the twenty-first century, Great American City is at once a landmark research project, a commanding argument for a new theory of social life, and the story of an iconic city.

Related Situationist posts:

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

The Fundamental(ist) Attribution Error

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 4, 2011

Situationist Contributor Eric Knowles and his co-authors (Yexin Jessica Li, Kathryn Johnson, Adam Cohen, Melissa Williams, and Zhansheng) recently published a terrific situationist article, “Fundamental(ist) attribution error: Protestants are dispositionally focused, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Nov 14, 2011.  Here’s the abstract:

Attribution theory has long enjoyed a prominent role in social psychological research, yet religious influences on attribution have not been well studied. We theorized and tested the hypothesis that Protestants would endorse internal attributions to a greater extent than would Catholics, because Protestantism focuses on the inward condition of the soul. In Study 1, Protestants made more internal, but not external, attributions than did Catholics. This effect survived controlling for Protestant work ethic, need for structure, and intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Study 2 showed that the Protestant–Catholic difference in internal attributions was significantly mediated by Protestants’ greater belief in a soul. In Study 3, priming religion increased belief in a soul for Protestants but not for Catholics. Finally, Study 4 found that experimentally strengthening belief in a soul increased dispositional attributions among Protestants but did not change situational attributions. These studies expand the understanding of cultural differences in attributions by demonstrating a distinct effect of religion on dispositional attributions.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 833 other followers

%d bloggers like this: