The Situationist

Archive for February, 2012

Ideology, Psychology, and Law – Introduction

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 29, 2012

On SSRN, you can now download the introductory chapter of Ideology, Psychology, and Law (published in 2012 by Oxford University Press and containing chapters from numerous Situationist Contributors and edited by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson).

Here’s a quick description.

Formally, the law is based solely on reasoned analysis, devoid of ideological biases or unconscious influences. Judges claim to act as umpires applying the rules, not making them. They frame their decisions as straightforward applications of an established set of legal doctrines, principles, and mandates to a given set of facts. As most legal scholars understand, however, the impression that the legal system projects is largely an illusion. As far back as 1881, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. made a similar claim, writing that “the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.”

More than a century later, we are now much closer to understanding the mechanisms responsible for the gap between the formal face of the law and the actual forces shaping it. Over the last decade or so, political scientists and legal academics have begun studying the linkages between ideologies, on one hand, and legal principles and policy outcomes on the other. During that same period, mind scientists have turned to understanding the psychological sources of ideology. This book is the first to bring many of the world’s experts on those topics together to examine the sometimes unsettling interactions between psychology, ideology, and law, and to better understand what, beyond and beneath the logic, animates the law.

This introductory chapter describes why this volume came together when it did and provides an overview of the general sections and the individual chapters and comments in the book. It begins with a brief, loose, and highly stylized history of the relationships between ideology, psychology, and law—a history premised on the oversimplifying assertion that something changed around the year 2000.

Download the chapter for free here.

Learn more about the book here.

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Conformity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 28, 2012

From The Heroic Imagination Project:

Classic footage from the Asch conformity study. This version includes definitions of normative and informational conformity and the powerful effect of having an ally.

Sample of related Situationist Posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Iain Couzin Speaks Tomorrow on the Situation of Collective Behavior

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2012

“From Democratic Consensus to Cannibalistic Hordes: The Principles of Collective Behavior”

Lecture by Iain Couzin

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 6:00 PM

Why do billions of locusts suddenly break into motion? How do ants carry heavy loads and march with orderly precision along densely packed trails? How do flocks of birds and schools of fish select their navigators? And how do we—humans—make decisions as citizens, drivers, and numerous other social situations? Iain Couzin, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, has made major contributions to understanding the dynamics and evolution of collective animal behavior.

  • Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.
  • Free parking available in the 52 Oxford Street garage.
  • Part of the Evolution Matters lecture series. Supported by a generous gift from Drs. Herman and Joan Suit.

You can watch an earlier version of Professor Couzin’s lecture below.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

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Dan Gilbert at HLS on The Situation of Good Decisions – Another Version

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2012

From the Harvard Law Website (Jill Greenfield):

There is a simple method for making decisions, from trivial to life changing, that most people find easy to understand but impossible to follow. In a talk entitled “How To Do Precisely the Right Thing At All Possible Times,” Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” and host of the PBS television series “This Emotional Life,” discussed research in psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics that explains why it is indeed possible, yet incredibly difficult, to do the right thing at all possible times.

Gilbert’s talk was sponsored by the Living Well in the Law program at Harvard Law School, which endeavors to complement the teaching of the skills and substance of the law with attention to and development of each student’s sense of purpose as both a professional and a person.

Gilbert explained that our own minds thwart our attempts to make good decisions because our brains evolved to function in a world very different from the one we live in today, one in which decisions were limited to finding a mate and living in small communities, not purchasing long-term care insurance or making other complex decisions.

“We’re on an ancient vessel and can’t evolve quickly enough, but we’re not stupid,” Gilbert said. “The way we got to the moon wasn’t through intuition—we used science and disciplined rational thinking. We can use the same approach to make any kind of personal decision. The question isn’t whether we know how to do precisely the right thing at all the right times. The question is whether we will actually use what we know.”

He said that it should be simple to make a decision—all we need to do is multiply the odds of getting what we want by the value of getting it. But people make two classes of errors when trying to make decisions: errors in odds and errors in value.

Gilbert discussed the psychological phenomena leading to errors in odds, including the imaginability error and the optimism bias. We miscalculate the odds of a particular outcome because the imaginability error causes us to calculate odds based on how easy it is to bring something to mind. For example, people overestimate the odds of dying in a tornado or from using fireworks because those deaths make headlines, while they underestimate the odds of dying by drowning or from asthma, which are in reality far more common. The optimism bias, on the other hand, is simply attributed to the fact that we’re wildly optimistic about the odds of getting what we want, he said. Together, the imaginability error and the optimism bias distort our ability to anticipate odds of a particular outcome.

“The optimism bias occurs because, when you practice doing things, they become easier to do,” Gilbert said. “Motivational speakers tell you to practice thinking about success and not even let thoughts of failure cross your mind. If you just keep thinking about how your plans will work without being willing to entertain equally how they’re not going to work, success becomes easier and easier for you to imagine, and thus the imagineability error is at play. We practice thinking about success so much that it’s inevitable that we’ll overestimate the likelihood that it’s going to happen.”

Calculating how happy we’ll be if we actually achieve the outcome we want—the value of that outcome—is even more difficult. Anticipating value is so difficult because every form of judgment works by comparison, Gilbert explained. To illustrate that point, he used a decision very familiar to law students—deciding between two job offers. Job 1 offers a salary of $100,000, but everyone else at that firm will earn $105,000. The salary for Job 2 is $90,000, but everyone else will earn $85,000. Gilbert said that most study participants respond that Job 2 will make them happier because, although they’ll make less money, they won’t feel underpaid. But for that to be the right decision, one who chooses Job 2 must then walk around all day in that new job thinking about how wonderful that extra $5,000 is. In reality, people will not spend time making that comparison once they dive in and start the job.

“You forget about the setup. The comparison you make when determining the value of getting what you want is no longer the comparison you make once you get it, so it bedevils your attempt to make a good decision,” Gilbert said.

He warned that there is really nothing we can do to ensure that we make the right decisions—there’s no pill we can swallow, class we can take, or book we can read that will prevent us from making these errors in odds and value because they’re simply so natural to us.

“How can you do the right thing at all possible times? You probably can’t,” he said. “The best thing you can do is to catch yourself making these errors and know to watch out for them. Ask if yesterday’s price really matters today, or if today’s comparison will really matter tomorrow. We can stop ourselves not from making errors, but from completing errors.”

Related Situationist posts.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of First Impressions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 25, 2012

From The Heroic Imagination Project:

A practical demonstration of the speed at which impressions are made and how difficult they can be to change. Three women go into a job interview, with the interviewer secretly providing live information about her impressions of the applicants.

Sample of related Situationist Posts:

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

The Pretense of Colorblindness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 24, 2012

From Working Knowledge:

In trying to prevent discrimination and prejudice, many companies adopt a strategy of “colorblindness”—actively trying to ignore racial differences when enacting policies and making organizational decisions. The logic is simple: if we don’t even notice race, then we can’t act in a racist manner.

The problem is that most of us naturally do notice each other’s racial differences, regardless of our employer’s policy.

“It’s so appealing on the surface to think that the best way to approach race is to pretend that it doesn’t exist,” says behavioral psychologist Michael I. Norton, an associate professor at Harvard Business School. “But research shows that it simply doesn’t work. We do notice race, and there’s no way of getting around this fact.”

Several studies by Norton and his colleagues show that attempting to overcome prejudice by ignoring race is an ineffective strategy that—in many cases—only serves to perpetuate bias. In short, bending over backward to ignore race can exacerbate rather than solve issues of race in the workplace.

“Umm, he has pants”

In efforts to be politically correct, people often avoid mentioning race when describing a person, even if that person’s race is the most obvious descriptor. (Comedian Stephen Colbert often pokes fun of this tendency on his TV show, The Colbert Report, claiming that he doesn’t “see color.”) If a manager, for example, is asked which guy Fred is, he or she may be loath to say, “Fred’s Asian,” even if Fred is the only Asian person in the company.

“Instead, it’s, ‘He’s that nice man who works in operations, and, umm, he has hair, and, umm, he has pants,’ ” Norton says. “And it keeps going on until finally someone comes out and asks, ‘Oh, is he Asian?’”

Norton and several colleagues documented this phenomenon in a study that they described in an article for the journal Psychological Science, Color Blindness and Interracial Interaction. The researchers conducted an experiment in which white participants engaged in a two-person guessing game designed—unbeknownst to them—to measure their tendencies toward attempted racial colorblindness.

Each participant was given a stack of photographs, which included 32 different faces. A partner sat across from the participant, looking at one picture that matched a picture from the participant’s stack. The participants were told that the goal of the game was to determine which photo the partner was holding by asking as few yes/no questions as possible—for example, “Is the person bald?”

Half the faces on the cards were black, and the other half white, so asking a yes/no question about skin color was a very efficient way to narrow down the identity of the photo on the partner’s card. But the researchers found that many of the participants completely avoided asking their partners about the skin color of the person in the photograph—especially when paired with a black partner. Some 93 percent of participants with white partners mentioned race during the guessing game, as opposed to just 64 percent who were playing the game with black partners.

Backfiring results

Two independent coders were hired to watch videos of the sessions on mute, rating the perceived friendliness of the white participants based on nonverbal cues. Alas, the participants who attempted colorblindness came across as especially unfriendly, often avoiding eye contact with their black partners. And when interviewed after the experiment, black partners reported perceiving the most racial bias among those participants who avoided mentioning race.

“The impression was that if you’re being so weird about not mentioning race, you probably have something to hide,” Norton says.

The researchers repeated the experiment on a group of elementary school children. The third graders often scored higher on the guessing game than grown-ups because, Norton says, they weren’t afraid to ask if the person in the photo was black or white. But many of the fourth and fifth graders avoided mentioning race during the game. As it turns out, racial colorblindness is a social convention that many Americans start to internalize by as young as age 10. “Very early on kids get the message that they are not supposed to acknowledge that they notice people’s race—often the result of a horrified reaction from a parent when they do,” Norton says.

A zero-sum game?

In addition to an ineffective strategy at managing interracial interactions, racial colorblindness has evolved into an argument against affirmative action policies, an issue Norton addresses in a recent working paper, Racial Colorblindness: Emergence, Practice, and Implications, cowritten with Evan P. Apfelbaum of MIT and Samuel R. Sommers of Tufts University.

“Though once emblematic of the fight for equal opportunity among racial minorities marginalized by openly discriminatory practices, contemporary legal arguments for colorblindness have become increasingly geared toward combating race-conscious policies,” they write. “If racial minority status confers an advantage in hiring and school admissions and in the selection of voting districts and government subcontractors—the argument goes—then Whites’ right for equal protection may be violated.”

In a related article, Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing, Norton and Sommers surveyed 100 white and 100 black respondents about their perceptions of racial bias in recent American history. They found that black respondents reported a large decrease in antiblack bias between the 1950s and the 2000s, but perceived virtually no antiwhite bias in that same period—ever. White respondents, on the other hand, perceived a large decrease in antiblack bias over time, but also a huge increase in antiwhite bias. In fact, on average, white respondents perceive more antiwhite bias than antiblack bias in the twenty-first century.

“It’s very hard to find a metric that suggests that white people actually have a worse time of it than black people,” Norton says. “But this perception is driving the current cultural discourse in race and affirmative action. It’s not just that whites think blacks are getting some unfair breaks, it’s that whites are thinking, ‘I’m actually the victim of discrimination now.’”

More.

Related Situationist posts:

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Dan Gilbert at HLS on The Situation of Good Decisions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 23, 2012

From the Harvard Gazette:

To take a gratifying, low-paying job or a well-paid corporate position, to get married or play the field, to move across the country or stay put: The fact that most people face such choices at some point in their lives doesn’t make them any easier. No one knows the dilemma better than law students, who are poised to enter a competitive job market after staking years of study on their chosen field.

When faced with a tough choice, we already have the cognitive tools we need to make the right decision, Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard and host of the PBS series “This Emotional Life,” told a Harvard Law School (HLS) audience on Feb. 16. The hard part is overcoming the tricks our minds play on us that render rational decision-making nearly impossible.

Gilbert’s talk, titled “How To Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times,” was part of Living Well in the Law, a new program sponsored by the HLS Dean of Students Office that aims to help law students consider their personal and professional development beyond the fast track of summer associate positions and big-law job offers.

There is a relatively simple equation for figuring out the best course of action in any situation, Gilbert explained: What are the odds of a particular action getting you what you want, and how much do you value getting what you want? If you really want something, and you identify an action that will make it likely, then taking that action is a good move.

Unfortunately, Gilbert said, “these are also the two ways human beings screw up.”

First, he said, humans have a hard time estimating how likely we are to get what we want. “We know how to calculate odds [mathematically], but it’s not how we actually calculate odds,” he said.

We buy lottery tickets, because we “never see interviews with lottery losers.” If every one of the 170 million losing ticket holders were interviewed on television for 10 seconds apiece, we’d be having the image of losing drilled into our brains for 65 straight years, he said.

“When something’s easy to imagine, you think it’s more likely to happen,” he said.

For example, if asked to guess the number of annual deaths in the United States by firework accidents and storms versus asthma and drowning, most people will vastly overestimate the former and underestimate the latter. That’s because we don’t see headlines when someone dies of an asthma attack or drowns, Gilbert said. “It’s less available in your memory, but it is in fact more frequent.”

Then there’s the fact that we’re prone to irrational levels of optimism, a pattern that has been documented across all areas of life. Sports fans in every city believe their team has better-than-average odds of winning; the vast majority of people believe they’ll live to be 100.

A study of Harvard seniors, Gilbert gleefully reported, showed they on average believed they’d finish their theses within 28 to 48 days, but most likely within 33 — “a number virtually indistinguishable from their best-case scenario.” In reality, they complete their theses within 56 days on average.

Still, he said, calculating our odds of success is actually the easy part. “What’s really hard in life is knowing how much you’re going to value the thing you’re striving so hard to get,” he said.

When we consider buying a $2 cup of coffee at Starbucks, for example, we don’t compare the satisfaction of a morning caffeine jolt against the millions of other things we could purchase for $2. Rather, we compare the value of that cup of coffee against our own past experiences. If the same coffee only cost $1.50 yesterday, we might balk at paying $2 for it today.

“One of the problems with this bias, this tendency to pay attention to change, is that it’s hard to know if things really did change,” he said. “Whether things changed is often in the eye of the beholder.

“It turns out that every form of judgment works by comparison,” he said. “People shop by comparison.” Unfortunately, our comparisons are easily manipulated, and comparing one option with all other possible options is an impossible task.

Real estate companies, for example, show potential buyers “set-up properties,” rundown fixer-uppers that they actually own, to lower their clients’ expectations for houses that are actually for sale.

In his own lab, Gilbert’s research team had two groups of college students predict how much they would enjoy eating a bag of potato chips. The group that sat in a room with chocolates on display predicted they’d enjoy the chips less, while the second group — stuck in a room with the chips and a variety of canned meats — predicted much higher enjoyment of the salty snack.

But when the students rated their enjoyment of the chips while they were eating them, those differences disappeared. While their previous visual judgment was tainted by comparison, their judgment of the actual taste was not.

“The comparisons you make when you’re shopping are not the ones you’ll make after you’ve bought,” Gilbert said.

The human mind evolved to deal with different dilemmas than the ones we face today, Gilbert explained. Our ancestors weighed short-term consequences to ensure their survival, evolving a snap-judgment process that often serves us poorly when making long-term decisions such as buying a home, investing in the stock market, or making a cross-country move.

The brain “thinks like the old machine it is,” Gilbert said. “We are in some sense on a very ancient vessel, and we are sailing a very ancient sea.”

Still, he told his audience, we have the ability to overcome these evolutionary roadblocks to self-aware, smart decision-making, as long as we acknowledge our biases.

“We’ve been given that gift,” Gilbert said. “The question is, will we use it?”

Related Situationist posts.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Babies + Fairness = ?

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 21, 2012

Here at The Situationist, we love babies (see here) and we love fairness (see here), and when you put the two together it’s like an apple pie baked inside a cake (see here) . . . or, well, this new article by Stephanie Sloane, Renée Baillargeon, and David Premack:

Two experiments examined infants’ expectations about how an experimenter should distribute resources and rewards to other individuals. In Experiment 1, 19-month-olds expected an experimenter to divide two items equally, as opposed to unequally, between two individuals. The infants held no particular expectation when the individuals were replaced with inanimate objects, or when the experimenter simply removed covers in front of the individuals to reveal the items (instead of distributing them). In Experiment 2, 21-month-olds expected an experimenter to give a reward to each of two individuals when both had worked to complete an assigned chore, but not when one of the individuals had done all the work while the other played. The infants held this expectation only when the experimenter could determine through visual inspection who had worked and who had not. Together, these results provide converging evidence that infants in the 2nd year of life already possess context-sensitive expectations relevant to fairness.

As Sloane explained to ScienceDaily, “We think children are born with a skeleton of general expectations about fairness, and these principles and concepts get shaped in different ways depending on the culture and the environment they’re brought up in. . . . [H]elping children behave more morally may not be as hard as it would be if they didn’t have that skeleton of expectations.”

Related Situationist posts:

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Paul Bloom at Harvard Law School – Do Babies Crave Justice?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 19, 2012

Paul Bloom, Yale psychology professor, will speak at Harvard Law School tomorrow (Monday) in a talk titled “Do Babies Have a Sense of Morality and Justice? Is Kindness Genetic or Learned?”

Professor Bloom will argue that even babies possess a rich moral sense. They distinguish between good and bad acts and prefer good characters over bad ones. They feel pain at the pain of others, and might even possess a primitive sense of justice. But this moral sense is narrow, and many principles that are central to adult morality, such as kindness to strangers, are the product of our intelligence and our imagination; they are not in our genes. He will end with a discussion of the evolution and psychology of purity and disgust.

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. He is past-president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the major journals in the field. Dr. Bloom has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Atlantic. He is the author or editor of four books, including How Children Learn the Meanings of Words, and Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human. His newest book, How Pleasure Works, was published in June 2010.

Tomorrow’s talk will take place from 12 – 1 pm in Wasserstein Hall, Room 1023. Free Chinese food lunch!

Image from Flickr.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Events, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Social Justice

Posted by John Jost on February 17, 2012

This book review appeared earlier this week in the American Scientist:

THE FAIR SOCIETY: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice. Peter Corning. xiv + 237 pp. University of Chicago Press, 2011. $27.50.

After decades of exclusion from meaningful social and political discourse, themes of social justice are making a serious comeback. One can point to several recent examples from the disciplines of political science, economics and philosophy, including, respectively, Larry M. Bartels’s Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton University Press, 2008), Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice (Harvard University Press, 2009) and Derek Parfit’s massive two-volume tome On What Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011). These books have arrived to coincide with the apparent awakening of the sense of injustice in popular movements from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.

Peter Corning, who was trained as a biologist and is now the director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, joins the conversation at just the right time. His most recent book, The Fair Society, was published in early 2011, and—like Joseph Stiglitz’s Vanity Fair article “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”—it has turned out to be remarkably prescient. Several chapters read like an annotated list of complaints made by the most well-informed campers in Zuccotti Park last fall. Corning notes, for example, that in the United States, “since the 1980s, some 94 percent of the total increase in personal income has gone to the top 1 percent of the population”; at least 25 million Americans (17.2 percent of the workforce) are presently struggling with unemployment or drastic underemployment; “close to 50 million Americans experienced ‘food deprivation’ (hunger) at various times in 2009”; and as many as 75 million Americans (25 percent of the population) live in poverty. Adding insult to injury, the top 10 percent of income earners in the United States live 4.5 years longer on average than the bottom 10 percent.

In a nutshell, Corning’s thesis is that human nature has evolved in such a way as to create a natural revulsion to states of affairs like these. In the opening chapters, he recounts various evolutionary arguments for the notion that our hunter-gatherer ancestors possessed a deep sense of fairness and developed “a pattern of egalitarian sharing” in which “dominance behaviors were actively resisted by coalitions of other group members.” He draws eclectically on studies of baboons, descriptive anthropological accounts of hunter-gatherer societies and, in a few cases, the fossil record. With this biological framework in place, Corning endeavors to show that the capitalist system as currently practiced in the United States and elsewhere is manifestly unfair. His beef is not solely with laissez-faire capitalism, however; he claims that socialism is just as unfair, although in different ways, and that efforts to develop a “third way” that avoids the excesses of capitalism and socialism have been “anemic” and “unable to confront the status quo” of class-based inequality. In place of these failed institutions, he proposes a new type of society founded on a biosocial contract, which he describes as a “truly voluntary bargain among various (empowered) stakeholders over how the benefits and obligations in a society are to be apportioned among the members” that is “grounded in our growing understanding of human nature and the basic purpose of a human society.” Such a contract, he writes, must be focused on fairness and the obligation to address the “shared survival and reproductive needs” of our species.

Corning draws most heavily on evolutionary biology, behavioral economics and anthropology, but experimental social psychology would also back him up—and quite a bit more directly. Indeed, some of his ideas seem to have been inspired by the work of Morton Deutsch, who suggested, in a well-known 1975 article in the Journal of Social Issues, that human beings are finely attuned to three major principles of justice: equity, equality and need. Corning offers a slightly modified list. He defines fairness in terms of equality (in the satisfaction of basic needs, not necessarily in outcomes), equity (or merit) and reciprocity. The core thesis of The Fair Society was also anticipated by Melvin Lerner, who argued in 1977 that a universal “justice motive” compels individuals to pursue fairness goals to rectify unfairness and—only if these routes are blocked—to engage in victim-blaming and other defensive strategies to maintain the desired belief that we live in a just world (even if we do not). Although Lerner was perhaps more sensitive than Corning to the perverse consequences of caring passionately about the appearance of justice (for instance, blaming victims of rape, poverty or illness for their misfortune so as not to give up cherished illusions about personal deservingness), the two writers share the assumption that justice concerns are an essential part of human nature.

Anyone who is capable of critical perspicacity with regard to capitalist economic systems and practices is obliged to agree with Corning’s observation that the massive upswing in economic inequality over the past 30 years is at odds with nearly every conception of justice since Plato and, in that sense, is difficult (if not impossible) to justify on normative philosophical grounds (although some conservative libertarians have tried). Let us also grant that humans are prepared to experience moral outrage in the face of unjustified inequality (or gross inequity). Even capuchin monkeys show “inequity aversion,” refusing to participate in games in which other monkeys are given greater rewards for equal effort, as Sarah F. Brosnan and Frans de Waal showed in a 2003 article in Nature. Corning connects such observations to the present socioeconomic situation, writing, “Defection is the likely response to an exploitative, asymmetrical interaction,” and “No wonder there were protests and even riots at WTO [World Trade Organization] meetings.”

There is only one problem, and it is one that has given social scientists fits: What took so long? Why have U.S. citizens, for instance, put up with starkly increasing inequality and the kind of economic policies that only a dyslexic Robin Hood could embrace? There is a joke, often attributed to economist Paul A. Samuelson, which goes, “Economists have correctly predicted nine of the last five recessions.” I would say that sociologists, political scientists and others who study protest movements suffer from a similar problem, to wit: “Social scientists have correctly predicted nine of the last five revolutions.” The great political theorist Ted Robert Gurr, for instance, wrote in 1970 that “Men are quick to aspire beyond their social means and quick to anger when those means prove inadequate, but slow to accept their limitations.” If this were true in a deep psychological sense, rebellion would be far more common than acquiescence, but this is simply not the case.

My own, admittedly incomplete answer to the social scientists’ conundrum has emphasized a human motivation that is frequently on a collision course with Lerner’s justice motive and Corning’s biosocial contract, namely, system-justification motivation: the (typically nonconscious) desire to defend, justify and rationalize existing systems, institutions and widespread practices, even if (from a more objective point of view) they violate standards of justice, including equity, equality and need. Corning grants that our sense of fairness can be “easily subverted,” quotes Dr. Pangloss’s rosy rationalizations in Voltaire’s satire Candide, and touches—but only lightly—on beliefs and ideologies that blunt the sense of injustice. To my mind, the problem of system justification in U.S. public opinion about economic inequality (especially among political conservatives) is addressed far more satisfactorily in chapter 5 of Bartels’s Unequal Democracy.

Despite this conspicuous omission, much of what Corning has written is both important and accurate. The Fair Society is wide ranging and covers many areas of scholarship in a useful, integrative, insightful manner. It is an edifying book—not least because it offers a tremendous collection of memorable quotations from justice scholars over the centuries—more than a groundbreaking one. One could reasonably wonder whether his proposed biosocial model, which draws heavily on aspects of stakeholder capitalism and closely resembles that of Swedish society, is really enough of an improvement over the socialist and capitalist systems he so effectively lambastes in earlier chapters of the book. Even if one accepts Corning’s goal, there are huge obstacles standing in the way of its implementation. He recognizes, quite correctly, that “conservatives with vested interests in the status quo will no doubt dismiss the idea of a Fair Society as just another utopian scheme,” but it is far from clear how proponents of social and economic justice will ever overcome conservative skepticism. “There must be a broad political consensus that social justice is a core social value,” he writes, but this is precisely the problem; such a consensus does not exist. “How do the roughly 70 percent of us who support the principle of fairness and social justice overcome the formidable power of the 30 percent who largely control our politics and our wealth and who will fiercely defend the existing system, and their self-interest?” he asks. How, indeed? The difficulty, in my view, is that no one, including Corning himself, offers a convincing answer to this question.

At this moment in history, when our problems are so much clearer than their solutions, it is a genuine contribution to offer clearheaded analysis and moral encouragement to take much-needed steps in the direction of social and economic justice. I admire Corning’s attempt to develop a normative theory of justice that is “built on an empirical foundation”—that is, knowledge gleaned from the social and behavioral sciences, including aggregate sociological data from research on social indicators. Along very similar lines, psychologist Aaron Kay and I have advocated “naturalizing” the study of social justice, thereby integrating descriptive and normative insights gleaned from psychology, social science, philosophy, law and other disciplines.

Given the thick walls that separate academic scholarship from popular concern and policy outcomes, it is probably too much to expect rapid implementation of the specific recommendations made in The Fair Society, such as these, which address taxation: “Eliminate property tax deductions for second (vacation) homes, tax capital gains at the same graduated rate as earned income, and eliminate the expanded home equity line of credit loan provisions.” Nevertheless, one hopes that those who wish to occupy places of power on behalf of the 99 percent will heed Corning’s sage advice about what to do and—just as important—what not to do in planning for a better, more just society.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in Altruism, Book, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Dan Gilbert Returns to Harvard Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 15, 2012

Tomorrow (2/16) Daniel Gilbert, Situationist friend, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, author of Stumbling on Happiness, and host of the PBS television series This Emotional Life, returns to Harvard Law to deliver a talk entitled

“How To Do Precisely the Right Thing At All Possible Times.”

Most experts tell us what to decide but they don’t tell us how. So the moment we face a novel decision—should I move to Cleveland or Anchorage? Marry Jennifer or Joanne? Become an architect or a pastry chef?—we’re lost. Is it possible to do the right thing at all possible times? In fact, there is a simple method for making decisions that most people find easy to understand but impossible to follow. New research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics explains why.

February 16 – 4pm WCC – 2036 Milstein East C.

Posted in Education, Events, Life, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Effect of Names

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 14, 2012

From Eureka Alert:

Having a simple, easy-to-pronounce name is more likely to win you friends and favour in the workplace, a study by Dr Simon Laham at the University of Melbourne and Dr Adam Alter at New York University Stern School of Business, has found.

In the first study of its kind, and published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers analysed how the pronunciation of names can influence impression formation and decision-making. In particular, they demonstrated “the name pronunciation effect,” which occurs when people with easy–to-pronounce names are evaluated more positively than those with difficult-to-pronounce names.

The study revealed that:

  • People with more pronounceable names were more likely to be favoured for political office and job promotions
  • Political candidates with easy-to-pronounce names were more likely to win a race than those without, based on a mock ballot study
  • Attorneys with more pronounceable names rose more quickly to superior positions in their firm hierarchies, based on a field study of 500 first and last names of US lawyers

Lead author, Dr Simon Laham said subtle biases that we are not aware of affect our decisions and choices. “Research findings revealed that the effect is not due merely to the length of a name or how foreign-sounding or unusual it is, but rather how easy it is to pronounce,” he said.

Dr Adam Alter who conducted the law firm analysis said this effect probably also exists in other industries and in many everyday contexts. “People simply aren’t aware of the subtle impact that names can have on their judgments,” Dr Alter said.

Dr Laham said the results had important implications for the management of bias and discrimination in our society.

“It’s important to appreciate the subtle biases that shape our choices and judgments about others. Such an appreciation may help us de-bias our thinking, leading to fairer, more objective treatment of others,” he said.

Researchers conducted studies both in lab settings and in a natural environment using a range of names from Anglo, Asian, and Western and Eastern European backgrounds.

This research builds on Dr Alter’s earlier work, which suggests that financial stocks with simpler names tend to outperform similar stocks with complex names immediately after they appear on the market.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Situationist Valentine

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 13, 2012

Here are some previous Situationist posts on situation of love – Happy Valentines Day:

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

The Situation of Competition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 12, 2012

From the University of Illinois News Bureau:

Researchers have found a way to study how our brains assess the behavior – and likely future actions – of others during competitive social interactions. Their study, described in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use a computational approach to tease out differing patterns of brain activity during these interactions, the researchers report.

“When players compete against each other in a game, they try to make a mental model of the other person’s intentions, what they’re going to do and how they’re going to play, so they can play strategically against them,” said University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher Kyle Mathewson, who conducted the study as a doctoral student in the Beckman Institute with graduate student Lusha Zhu and economics professor and Beckman affiliate Ming Hsu, who now is at the University of California, Berkeley. “We were interested in how this process happens in the brain.”

Previous studies have tended to consider only how one learns from the consequences of one’s own actions, called reinforcement learning, Mathewson said. These studies have found heightened activity in the basal ganglia, a set of brain structures known to be involved in the control of muscle movements, goals and learning. Many of these structures signal via the neurotransmitter dopamine.

“That’s been pretty well studied and it’s been figured out that dopamine seems to carry the signal for learning about the outcome of our own actions,” Mathewson said. “But how we learn from the actions of other people wasn’t very well characterized.”

Researchers call this type of learning “belief learning.”

To better understand how the brain processes information in a competitive setting, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track activity in the brains of participants while they played a competitive game, called a Patent Race, against other players. The goal of the game was to invest more than one’s opponent in each round to win a prize (a patent worth considerably more than the amount wagered), while minimizing one’s own losses (the amount wagered in each trial was lost). The fMRI tracked activity at the moment the player learned the outcome of the trial and how much his or her opponent had wagered.

A computational model evaluated the players’ strategies and the outcomes of the trials to map the brain regions involved in each type of learning.

“Both types of learning were tracked by activity in the ventral striatum, which is part of the basal ganglia,” Mathewson said. “That’s traditionally known to be involved in reinforcement learning, so we were a little bit surprised to see that belief learning also was represented in that area.”

Belief learning also spurred activity in the rostral anterior cingulate, a structure deep in the front of the brain. This region is known to be involved in error processing, regret and “learning with a more social and emotional flavor,” Mathewson said.

The findings offer new insight into the workings of the brain as it is engaged in strategic thinking, Hsu said, and may aid the understanding of neuropsychiatric illnesses that undermine those processes.

“There are a number of mental disorders that affect the brain circuits implicated in our study,” Hsu said. “These include schizophrenia, depression and Parkinson’s disease. They all affect these dopaminergic regions in the frontal and striatal brain areas. So to the degree that we can better understand these ubiquitous social functions in strategic settings, it may help us understand how to characterize and, eventually, treat the social deficits that are symptoms of these diseases.”

More.

The paper, “Dissociable Neural Representations of Reinforcement and Belief Prediction Errors Underlie Strategic Learning,” is available online or from the U. of I. News Bureau.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Conflict, Neuroscience, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Effects of Food Advertising

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2012

Pierre Chandonm and Brian Wansink recently posted their paper “Is Food Marketing Making Us Fat? A Multi-Disciplinary Review” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

Whereas everyone recognizes that increasing obesity rates worldwide are driven by a complex set of interrelated factors, the marketing actions of the food industry are often singled out as one of the main culprits. But how exactly is food marketing making us fat? To answer this question, we review evidence provided by studies in marketing, nutrition, psychology, economics, food science, and related disciplines that have examined the links between food marketing and energy intake but have remained largely disconnected. Starting with the most obtrusive and most studied marketing actions, we explain the multiple ways in which food prices (including temporary price promotions) and marketing communication (including branding and nutrition and health claims) influence consumption volume. We then study the effects of less conspicuous marketing actions which can have powerful effects on eating behavior without being noticed by consumers. We examine the effects on consumption of changes in the food’s quality (including its composition, nutritional and sensory properties) and quantity (including the range, size and shape of the packages and portions in which it is available). Finally, we review the effects of the eating environment, including the availability, salience and convenience of food, the type, size and shape of serving containers, and the atmospherics of the purchase and consumption environment. We conclude with research and policy implications.

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America.  For a listing of numerousSituaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Comparing Distractions – Beer versus Facebook

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 8, 2012

From PsychCentral:

Getting your work done and even just chatting with your friends on Facebook or Twitter are harder desires for Germans to resist than drinking or smoking, according to a paper presented at Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s annual meeting in San Diego last week.

Researchers found the hardest desires to resist were either technology-driven — such as checking in with our friends on Facebook or surfing the web for specific information — or goal-directed activities, such as finishing up a project for work or school.

“Desires for media like watching television, surfing the Internet, using your iPhone, and our desire to work — that is, the intrinsic desire to get your work done —these are the hardest to resist,” said Wilhelm Hofmann, Ph.D., a behavioral science professor at the University of the Chicago.

The researchers studied the willpower of 205 adults ages 18 to 55 in the new study, checking in with them through a study-provided smartphone seven times a day to see if they were currently experiencing or recently experienced a desire or urge. Researchers assessed the kind of desire experience as well as its severity, and asked if the subject resisted or submitted to their desire. The study was conducted in and around the German city of Würtzburg, so it’s unclear whether the findings generalize to other countries or Americans.

Researchers collected 10,558 responses and 7,827 episodes where an urge or desire were reported.

It turns out that while sleep was a powerful desire for many subjects, it was easy to resist because there are few opportunities to sleep outside of the house. Other easy desires to resist include sexual urges, and spending impulses.

The hardest desires to control were ones dealing with our interactions with technology. It is especially hard for people to resist the desire to work even when it conflict with other goals such as socializing or leisure activities because “work can define people’s identities, dictate many aspects of daily life, and invoke penalties if important duties are shirked.”

Hofmann suggested that the desires for media may be harder to resist because of its high availability and also because it “feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist,” he told one media outlet.

Drinking and smoking, on the other hand, are not readily available to most people throughout the day, and they come with higher costs, both financially and socially.

“With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs — long-term as well as monetary — and the opportunity may not always be the right one. Even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still ‘steal’ a lot of people’s time.”

The best ways to resist undesirable urges said Hofmann is to not overindulge while drinking alcoholic beverages, and avoid being with or watching others participate in tempting activities.

The study also found that that as the day wore on, willpower lessened. This suggests it would be wiser not to make any big purchases later in the day, and to avoid behaviors which may lessen one’s willpower or inhibitions further.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Entertainment, Life, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Cultivating Conscience

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 6, 2012

At the end of last year, I was asked if I might be interested in reviewing UCLA Law professor Lynn Stout’s new book Cultivating Conscience as part of a “book club” on PrawfsBlawg.  The fun and excitement went down on Monday and Tuesday, and I suspect both the book and the commentary may be of interest to Situationist readers.

The other participants are a mix of law professors, psychologists, economists, and law professor-psychologist-economist hybrids: Chad Flanders, Brett McDonnell, Matt Bodie, Thomas Ulen, and Molly Walker Wilson.

Here’s a summary of the book:

Contemporary law and public policy often treat human beings as selfish creatures who respond only to punishments and rewards. Yet every day we behave unselfishly–few of us mug the elderly or steal the paper from our neighbor’s yard, and many of us go out of our way to help strangers. We nevertheless overlook our own good behavior and fixate on the bad things people do and how we can stop them. In this pathbreaking book, acclaimed law and economics scholar Lynn Stout argues that this focus neglects the crucial role our better impulses could play in society. Rather than lean on the power of greed to shape laws and human behavior, Stout contends that we should rely on the force of conscience.

**

Stout makes the compelling case that conscience is neither a rare nor quirky phenomenon, but a vital force woven into our daily lives. Drawing from social psychology, behavioral economics, and evolutionary biology, Stout demonstrates how social cues–instructions from authorities, ideas about others’ selfishness and unselfishness, and beliefs about benefits to others–have a powerful role in triggering unselfish behavior. Stout illustrates how our legal system can use these social cues to craft better laws that encourage more unselfish, ethical behavior in many realms, including politics and business. Stout also shows how our current emphasis on self-interest and incentives may have contributed to the catastrophic political missteps and financial scandals of recent memory by encouraging corrupt and selfish actions, and undermining society’s collective moral compass.

**

This book proves that if we care about effective laws and civilized society, the powers of conscience are simply too important for us to ignore.

Sound interesting?  My review of the book is here.  Other reviews (along with Lynn’s responses) are here.

Posted in Altruism, Book, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 5, 2012

This post was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

* * *

(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 4 Comments »

Teaching Law and Psychology?

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 1, 2012

As Jon Hanson and I discuss in a chapter of the newly released book, Psychology, Ideology, and Law, within legal academia, there is a long history of resistance to incorporating insights from the mind sciences.  Particularly, within the last ten or fifteen years, however, there have been great advances on the scholarly front.  Every day, I seem to come across more articles and more law professors eagerly taking up evidence from neuroscience and psychology and applying it to legal problems and theories.

With more law and mind science student groups, blogs, and conferences cropping up all the time, the influence and reach of the field seems to be expanding at a remarkable rate.  But how much is the latest research finding its way into the law school classroom?

On Wednesday, my colleagues and I approved what amounts to our third dedicated law and mind sciences course (Law and Mind Sciences, Mental Health Law, and Behavioral Science and the Law).  I teach Law and Mind Sciences and Don Bersoff, the incoming president of the American Psychological Association and the director of our joint JD/PhD Law and Psychology Program, teaches the other two.  Although the course titles might suggest quite a bit of overlap in coverage, there is little if any, and we have had high enrollment.

It leads me to wonder, whether Drexel is an anomaly or whether the experiences at other schools are similar.  Are courses in the psychology/neuroscience of law being offered at your school?  I occasionally get emails from folks asking if I might share my syllabus or hear law professors tell me about how they bring implicit racial bias research into their employment discrimination class or work on risk perceptions into environmental law, but I’m interested whether dedicated courses are emerging.  If you teach one, know of one, or are thinking of teaching one, I’d love to hear about it!

Posted in Education, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

 
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