The Situationist

Archive for April, 2012

How Much Choice Would You Choose?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2012

From Harvard Gazette:

Undergraduates packed Science Center E on Monday to hear two of Harvard’s leading social scientists discuss the way that humans make decisions, and whether having more choices really makes us happier.

The event, “What is Your N? A Personality Test for 4 AM Philosophers,” featured a conversation between social psychologist Dan Gilbert and economist N. Gregory Mankiw, and was sponsored by the Harvard University Initiative on the Foundations of Human Behavior. The discussion was moderated by professors Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and the Department of Sociology and David Laibson of the Department of Economics.

Laibson began the debate with the following thought experiment:

“We have pre-selected 100 different bottles of alcohol, covering all popular categories — beer, wine, rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, etc. Another person (who remains anonymous) is going to take one (regular-sized) drink, poured from one of the 100 bottles. Call him/her the recipient.

You will pick the number of bottles that the recipient will be able to choose among. To give the recipient complete choice, you would pick N = 100. To simplify the recipient’s decision, you would pick N < 100. You can pick any N value from 1 to 100.

If you pick N < 100, a robot will randomly determine which of the original 100 bottles the recipient will receive (with no repeats). You don’t get to pre-select the specific bottles the robot will choose. The N bottles will be presented to the recipient in categories (like whiskeys or vodkas), so the recipient can easily sort through them.

Your job is to pick N so as to maximize the happiness of the recipient.”

Next, Laibson asked the group to choose the number of bottles that they would send to the recipient under two different scenarios. In the first, the recipient would never know that there were 100 bottles to begin with. In the second scenario, he or she would.

As the students tapped on their laptops to submit their responses to the question online, Mankiw and Gilbert had at it. Mankiw kicked off the discussion by saying that the answer was easy for him and, he hoped, for anyone who had taken his introductory economics class. He would send the anonymous stranger all 100 bottles. Without any knowledge of the recipient’s tastes, it made sense to send as many bottles as possible in order to increase the chance that the stranger would get a drink that they would like.

“My wife and I [recently] went to a bar and had a drink and dinner,” he explained. “The bar had a big selection. I had no trouble at all. I said ‘I want a Tanqueray martini on the rocks with a twist.’ If the bartender had said ‘We randomly reduced the number of selections, so we don’t have Tanqueray tonight. We have Bombay Sapphire,’ I would have been a little disappointed. If they had said ‘We only have Gordon’s gin tonight,’ I would have been really upset. And if they had said ‘All we have is Kahlua, and crème de menthe,’ I would have walked out. So it was very clear to me that more selection is good.”

Gilbert said that Mankiw’s answer was not surprising. Americans like choices; the more the better. We want to choose what we want, even if the options are so great that our decision becomes essentially random. But Gilbert said there is more to choice than simply matching selection with preferences, and that there are costs associated with decision making, particularly when the options are too great. To illustrate his point, Gilbert described a study by Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir.

Shafir presented doctors with a pink pill that was said to treat osteoarthritis. The physicians learned about the drug, and then were asked whether or not they would be likely to prescribe it. Most said that they would.

Shafir then went to another group of physicians, this time with a pink and blue pill. He told the group that both would treat osteoarthritis and that the drugs were similar in their effects, aside from their color. He asked this group of doctors whether they would prescribe the pink pill, the blue pill, or neither. Fewer doctors said that they would give patients a pill — either pink or blue — than the group that had been presented with only one pill.

“You should get at least the same number prescribing one of the pills,” said Gilbert. “Or even more, because some will only like blue pills. However, the actual number goes down. Why? Because the physicians say ‘Well, I could do nothing, or choose between one of these two similar pills and I really can’t decide between them, so I’ll do nothing, because nothing looks really different than the pill.”

In terms of Laibson’s thought exercise, Gilbert noted that more bottles and more types of liquor could make the decision more difficult for the recipient. If you offer the drinker wine or beer, and the drinker likes wine, the choice is easy. But if the drinker likes wine and gets four different bottles to choose from versus one type of beer, they might actually choose the beer, even though they prefer wine.

“Because I’ve given you extra choices, you have now gone to the thing you like less, because you can’t think of a good reason to pick among the wines that are so similar,” Gilbert said.

After some waffling, Gilbert, half seriously, gave the number of bottles he would send to the stranger: two.

“Then you have only Kahlua and crème de menthe!” laughed Mankiw.

After Gilbert and Mankiw held forth, Laibson revealed the results of the online poll. Under conditions where the recipient would not be informed if their choices were narrowed, there was a barbell-shaped distribution. A large group of the 220 student respondents said that they would send between zero and 30 bottles to the drinker, with another group up at 100 bottles. In the second scenario, however, where the recipient would know if the selection had been pared, undergraduates overwhelmingly voted to send all 100 bottles to the drinker.

The results were fascinating to Laibson, who has studied employee participation in retirement plans and discovered that enrollment increases dramatically when workers are automatically enrolled and must voluntarily opt out. Given that the criticism for making auto enrollment the default in business is often that the policy is paternalistic, the results of the survey shed light on when people are OK with “Big Brother” and when they are not.

“The message here seems to be ‘Be a paternalist, but keep it a secret,’” Laibson said, eliciting laughter from the students. “The minute the recipient knows [his or her choices have been narrowed], this community gives a different answer [to the thought experiment]. Paternalism is bad when the recipient understands that paternalistic motives organize what happens to them.”

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

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Events, Food and Drug Law, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

Racism is Still on the Table

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 28, 2012

From CBS Charlotte:

A study conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University found that approximately 40 percent of wait staff decide how they are going to treat patrons based on their race.

The official study, “‘Because They Tip for S***!’: The Social Psychology of Everyday Racism in Restaurants,” and its controversial findings garnered national attention when they were published recently in the Journal of Black Studies.

Their collected data showed that 38.5 percent of servers said that race influenced their approach to waiting on patrons, and that 52.8 percent of servers saw co-workers engaging in discriminatory behavior through poor service.

Researchers were motivated by the potential to further discourse about a form of racism not frequently discussed, especially in a society described by some as “post-racial.”

“[We] were interested in studying tableside racism, or ‘dining while black,’ because of the continuing prevalence of subtle discrimination against African-Americans in everyday situations,” PhD candidate Sarah Nell Rusche told CBS Charlotte via e-mail. “Other forms of racial profiling … have been well documented and we wanted to further understandings of these forms of discrimination.”

 Surveys were administered by Rusche and the study’s co-author, Zachary W. Brewster, to 200 servers working at 18 full-service chain restaurants throughout the state during the summer and fall of 2004.

The study also chronicled the races waiters’ and waitresses’ sentiments regarding the most and least ideal races to serve, in addition to noting how a patron’s race may influence their behavior.

Those findings were consistent with the overall reported bias against black patrons – a reported 64.7 percent of waiters asked named whites as the most ideal race to serve, while 54.6 percent said African-Americans were the least ideal.

Rusche added that a significant contributing factor to such behavior was the stigma against African-Americans labeling them as bad tippers – a gesture sometimes meant to be indicative of inferior service, and what the study calls a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“[T]here is widespread belief among restaurant waitstaff that African-American customers are poor tippers,” she explained of the findings. “Since the bulk of servers’ income is from tips, many servers feel that prejudicial service based on perceived tip (which is also a race-based perception) is economically justifiable.”

Rusche suggested that restaurants looking to create an environment free of racial prejudices should take care to curb any speech or activity that may foster such sentiments.

“One thing our research shows is that workplace discourse frequently involves racist comments and discussions of customers’ race, including the use of code words meant to avoid overt bigotry,” Rusche observed. “So instead of recommending how establishments can avoid hiring racist individuals, I would recommend that they work to minimize the prevalence of racist workplace discourse that fosters these sentiments.”

More.

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The Situation of Emotion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 27, 2012

From by :

Robert Levenson, UC Berkeley Department of Psychology, explores the changes in emotion that occur with age. Much of his research focuses on the nature of human emotion, in terms of its physiological manifestations, variations in emotion associated with age, gender, culture, and pathology, and the role emotion plays in interpersonal interactions.

A sample of related Situationist posts:

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A Battle of Wills – Friday

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2012

The Harvard Society for Mind, Brain and Behavior presents:

A Battle of Wills: A discussion on free will, with professors Daniel Dennett, Joshua Greene, and Steven Pinker

What is free will? Do we have it? How can we coherently speak about it? How should ideas about free will impact our ideas of moral responsibility?

Join us for a symposium on these questions and more, featuring world-renowned professors of philosophy and psychology.

FRIDAY, APRIL 27, 2012
SCIENCE CENTER HALL B
3:00 PM – 4:45 PM

** Seating will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis **

Daniel Dennett is a University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. His work has addressed consciousness, free will, evolution, and many other topics. He is the author of Consciousness Explained, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, The Mind’s I, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

Joshua Greene is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He leads the Moral Cognition Lab, a group dedicated to the study of moral judgment and decision-making that has been profiled in Discover magazine.  He is also the author of the forthcoming book The Moral Brain and How to Use it.

Steven Pinker is a Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times and Time, and is the author of eight books, including The Language Instinct, The Blank Slate, How The Mind Works, and, most recently, The Better Angels of Our Nature.

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Low-Effort Cognition and Political Ideology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 25, 2012

From University of Arkansas Newswire:

When people use low-effort thought, they are more likely to endorse conservative ideology, according to psychologist Scott Eidelman of the University of Arkansas. Results of research by Eidelman and colleagues were published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“People endorse conservative ideology more when they have to give a first or fast response,” Eidelman said. “This low-effort thinking seems to favor political conservatism, suggesting that it may be our default ideology. To be clear, we are not saying that conservatives think lightly.”

While ideology – either conservative or liberal – is a product of a variety of influences, including goals, values and personal experiences, Eidelman said, “Our data suggest that when people have no particular goal in mind, their initial cognitive response seems to be conservative.”

Eidelman collaborated with Christian Crandall of the University of Kansas; Jeffrey A. Goodman of University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; and John C. Blanchar, a University of Arkansas graduate student, on studies reported in “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism.”

The researchers examined the effect of low-effort thought on the expression of ideology in several situations. In a field study, bar patrons were asked their opinions about several social issues before blowing into a Breathalyzer. Whether the individual self-identified as liberal or conservative, higher blood alcohol levels were associated with endorsement of more conservative positions. The results indicated that this was not because the conservatives drank more than the liberals.

The results were not just the alcohol talking: In one lab experiment, some participants were asked to respond quickly to political ideas, while others had ample time to respond. In another, some participants were able to concentrate while responding to political statements, while others were distracted. In both cases, participants with less opportunity to deliberate endorsed conservative ideas more than those who were able to concentrate.

In a fourth study, deliberation was manipulated directly. Some participants gave their “first, immediate response” to political terms, while others gave “a careful, thoughtful response.” Those instructed to think in a cursory manner were more likely to endorse conservative terms, such as authority, tradition and private property, than those who had time to reflect.

The researchers stressed that their results should not be interpreted to suggest that conservatives are not thoughtful.

“Everyone uses low-effort thinking, and this may have ideological consequences,” they write. “Motivational factors are crucial determinants of ideology, aiding or correcting initial responses depending on one’s goals, beliefs and values. Our perspective suggests that these initial and uncorrected responses lean conservative.”

More.

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Racial Stereotyping and Alcohol

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 24, 2012

From Kansas City Infozine:

Accusations of racism accompanying the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent actions of Florida police are prevalent in the national media. Many are questioning the psychological motivations of everyone involved. Recent research by MU Professor of Psychological Sciences Bruce D. Bartholow has shown that consuming alcohol can lead to increased expression of racial bias. A new study by Bartholow and his colleague, Elena Stepanova of Florida Gulf Coast University, shows that simply being exposed to alcohol-related images can have similar effects, even when no alcohol is consumed.

“Simply seeing images of alcohol, but not drinking it, influences behaviors like racial bias on a subconscious level,” Bartholow said. “Walking by a bar or seeing an ad for beer could be enough to affect someone’s mindset. You don’t have to be aware of the effects for it to affect you.”

The recent study found that participants who had initially viewed a series of magazine ads for alcoholic beverages made more errors indicative of racial bias in a subsequent task than did others who had initially seen ads for non-alcoholic beverages, such as water or coffee.

Test participants were shown a series of ads for either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. They then completed a computerized task in which pictures of white and black men’s faces were shown for a split second, followed immediately by either a picture of a handgun or a tool. Numerous previous studies using this same task have shown that people often mistakenly identify tools as guns following presentation of a black face, a response pattern attributed to the effects of racial stereotypes. The fast pace of the experiment kept participants from thinking about their responses, which allowed the subconscious mind to control reactions.

In the real world, snap decisions in which one object is mistaken for another can be deadly.

“As for the Trayvon Martin case, it very much reminds me of the Amadou Diallo case in 1999, when an unarmed black individual was shot to death by New York City police officers,” Stepanova said. “Diallo was shot because officers claimed that they thought he pulled a gun, while in fact he reached for his wallet. The wallet was misconstrued as a gun by police officers.”

“Associations between blacks and guns, violence and criminal behavior played a role in Mr. Martin’s case,” Stepanova said. “Mr. Martin was essentially a victim of racial stereotypes that so many in our society hold, and that cost him his life.”

The results of Bartholow and Stepanova’s study don’t contend that every test participant was a racist, however.

“Even if people do their best to be open-minded, we are all aware of stereotypes,” Bartholow said. “Participants’ responses could have been due to associations they are aware of but don’t personally endorse. Also the results could be influenced by people’s ability to control their behaviors. A member of the KKK could hide his prejudice if he had good control of his responses.”

Analysis of the results showed people’s automatic, subconscious behaviors were most affected after seeing an alcohol ad, whereas earlier studies found actually drinking alcohol most influenced conscious, controlled reactions. Bartholow suggested the mental associations people have with the effects of drinking alcohol may have been what caused their increased expression of racial bias after seeing alcohol ads. Upon seeing alcohol, they subconsciously felt they could relax their inhibitions and allow their behaviors to be more influenced by stereotypes.

The study was led by Elena Stepanova, a post-doctoral fellow in Bartholow’s lab, now a professor of social and behavioral science at Florida Gulf Coast University. The study was published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Bartholow’s research focuses on basic aspects of social cognition as well as how social and environmental factors, along with individual differences, contribute to alcohol involvement among young adults.

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Image from Flickr.

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Humility and Helpfulness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2012

From the University of Maine Press Office:

Helping one another in times of need is a cornerstone of quality human relationships, according to a University of Maine psychology researcher who has determined that humility trumps arrogance when it comes to offering assistance.

In a three-part research project involving 310 students at Baylor University in Texas, UMaine psychology lecturer Jordan LaBouff and colleagues found that people determined to be humble were more willing to donate time and resources to a hypothetical student in need. The results held true even when researchers controlled the study for potential influencers like empathy, agreeableness and other personality traits.

“The finding is particularly surprising since nearly 30 years of research on helping have demonstrated that the situation, not the person, tends to predict whether someone in need will receive help,” says LaBouff, who also is a UMaine Honors College preceptor.

“This research builds upon a growing body of evidence that humility is an important trait that results in a variety of pro-social and positive outcomes,” says LaBouff, the lead author of an article on the study with Baylor researchers Wade Rowatt, Megan Johnson and Jo-Ann Tsang in Texas. “It also suggests that if we can encourage humility in our communities, people may be more helpful to those in need.”

The researchers believe the study is one of the first laboratory studies to document a correlation between a personality dimension like humility or narcissism with willingness to help others. Humility could be a personality trait that is linked with altruistically motivated acts of helping, according to LaBouff.

Researchers reached their conclusions by measuring participant humility through self-reporting, or answering questions about their perceived sense of humility, in addition to gauging reaction time on tasks designed to measure implicit humility, LaBouff says. Participants were then introduced to a fictitious classmate who had suffered a personal tragedy and was requesting help to overcome the tragedy with time and resources from each participant.

“Participants who were more humble were most likely to help their peers, even when social pressure to do so was lowest,” says LaBouff. “That is, humble people were most likely to help even when they had the fewest external pressures to do so.”

The study results are reported in the January 2012 issue of The Journal of Positive Psychology.

More.

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Dan Rather Reports on the Brain’s Plasticity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2012

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Double-Checking Our Science

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2012

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

If you’re a psychologist, the news has to make you a little nervous—particularly if you’re a psychologist who published an article in 2008 in any of these three journals: Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, or the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

Because, if you did, someone is going to check your work. A group of researchers have already begun what they’ve dubbed the Reproducibility Project, which aims to replicate every study from those three journals for that one year. The project is part of Open Science Framework, a group interested in scientific values, and its stated mission is to “estimate the reproducibility of a sample of studies from the scientific literature.” This is a more polite way of saying “We want to see how much of what gets published turns out to be bunk.”

For decades, literally, there has been talk about whether what makes it into the pages of psychology journals—or the journals of other disciplines, for that matter—is actually, you know, true. Researchers anxious for novel, significant, career-making findings have an incentive to publish their successes while neglecting to mention their failures. It’s what the psychologist Robert Rosenthal named “the file drawer effect.” So if an experiment is run ten times but pans out only once you trumpet the exception rather than the rule. Or perhaps a researcher is unconsciously biasing a study somehow. Or maybe he or she is flat-out faking results, which is not unheard of. Diederik Stapel, we’re looking at you.

So why not check? Well, for a lot of reasons. It’s time-consuming and doesn’t do much for your career to replicate other researchers’ findings. Journal editors aren’t exactly jazzed about publishing replications. And potentially undermining someone else’s research is not a good way to make friends.

[Situationist Contributor] Brian Nosek knows all that and he’s doing it anyway. Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is one of the coordinators of the project. He’s careful not to make it sound as if he’s attacking his own field. “The project does not aim to single out anybody,” he says. He notes that being unable to replicate a finding is not the same as discovering that the finding is false. It’s not always possible to match research methods precisely, and researchers performing replications can make mistakes, too.

But still. If it turns out that a sizable percentage (a quarter? half?) of the results published in these three top psychology journals can’t be replicated, it’s not going to reflect well on the field or on the researchers whose papers didn’t pass the test. In the long run, coming to grips with the scope of the problem is almost certainly beneficial for everyone. In the short run, it might get ugly.

Nosek told Science that a senior colleague warned him not to take this on “because psychology is under threat and this could make us look bad.” In a Google discussion group, one of the researchers involved in the project wrote that it was important to stay “on message” and portray the effort to the news media as “protecting our science, not tearing it down.”

The researchers point out, fairly, that it’s not just social psychology that has to deal with this issue. Recently, a scientist named C. Glenn Begley attempted to replicate 53 cancer studies he deemed landmark publications. He could only replicate six. Six! Last December I interviewed Christopher Chabris about his paper titled “Most Reported Genetic Associations with General Intelligence Are Probably False Positives.” Most!

A related new endeavour called Psych File Drawer allows psychologists to upload their attempts to replicate studies. So far nine studies have been uploaded and only three of them were successes.

Both Psych File Drawer and the Reproducibility Project were started in part because it’s hard to get a replication published even when a study cries out for one. For instance, Daryl J. Bem’s 2011 study that seemed to prove that extra-sensory perception is real — that subjects could, in a limited sense, predict the future — got no shortage of attention and seemed to turn everything we know about the world upside-down.

Yet when Stuart Ritchie, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Edinburgh, and two colleagues failed to replicate his findings, they had a heck of a time getting the results into print (they finally did, just recently, after months of trying). It may not be a coincidence that the journal that published Bem’s findings, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is one of the three selected for scrutiny.

Nosek acknowledges that Bem’s study and Stapel’s fraud were among the motivators for the project. “Right now we have an opportunity to do something about it rather than writing another article about what we can do about it,” he says. He hopes that the replications for all three journals will be completed by the fall and the results published online next spring.

Like most researchers, Nosek is interested in advancing his own research agenda rather than simply running someone else’s experiments. That said, he thinks it’s better for researchers to know whether they’re discovering “true stuff” or just fooling themselves, their colleagues, and the general public. “Ultimately it’s a waste of everyone’s time if I can’t replicate the effects,” he says. “Otherwise, what are we working on?

More.

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The Situation of Good Ideas

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 18, 2012

From

One of our most innovative, popular thinkers takes on-in exhilarating style-one of our key questions: Where do good ideas come from?

With Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson pairs the insight of his bestselling Everything Bad Is Good for You and the dazzling erudition of The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air to address an urgent and universal question: What sparks the flash of brilliance? How does groundbreaking innovation happen? Answering in his infectious, culturally omnivorous style, using his fluency in fields from neurobiology to popular culture, Johnson provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.

Beginning with Charles Darwin’s first encounter with the teeming ecosystem of the coral reef and drawing connections to the intellectual hyperproductivity of modern megacities and to the instant success of YouTube, Johnson shows us that the question we need to ask is, What kind of environment fosters the development of good ideas? His answers are never less than revelatory, convincing, and inspiring as Johnson identifies the seven key principles to the genesis of such ideas, and traces them across time and disciplines.

Most exhilarating is Johnson’s conclusion that with today’s tools and environment, radical innovation is extraordinarily accessible to those who know how to cultivate it. Where Good Ideas Come From is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how to come up with tomorrow’s great ideas.

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Exciting New Book from Tamara Piety!

Posted by Adam Benforado on April 16, 2012

Situationist friend and Tulsa law professor Tamara Piety’s new book, Brandishing the First Amendment: Commercial Expression in America, has just hit book stores!

It looks to be an engaging read for all of us interested in how commercial entities have shaped and wielded First Amendment jurisprudence to increase profits and secure power.  And it is hard to think of a more important topic as we continue into this election year.

Here is a description:

Over the past two decades, corporations and other commercial entities have used strategic litigation to win more expansive First Amendment protections for commercial speech—from the regulation of advertising to the role corporate interests play in the political process, most recently debated in the Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Tamara R. Piety, a nationally known critic of commercial and corporate speech, argues that such an expansion of First Amendment speech rights imperils public health, safety, and welfare; the reliability of commercial and consumer information; the stability of financial markets; and the global environment.

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Beginning with an evaluation of commonly evoked philosophical justifications for freedom of expression, Piety determines that, while these are appropriate for the protection of an individual’s rights, they should not be applied too literally to commercial expression because the corporate person is not the moral equivalent of the human person. She then gathers evidence from public relations and marketing, behavioral economics, psychology, and cognitive studies to show how overly permissive extensions of First Amendment protections to commercial expression limit governmental power to address some of the major social, economic, and environmental challenges of our time.

To purchase a copy, click here.

Congrats, Tamara!

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Resisting Materialism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 15, 2012

From the Center for a New American Dream () at http://www.newdream.org:

Psychologist Tim Kasser discusses how America’s culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that “the good life” is “the goods life,” they not only use up Earth’s limited resources, but they are less happy and less inclined toward helping others. The animation both lays out the problems of excess materialism and points toward solutions that promise a healthier, more just, and more sustainable life.

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Pride and Prejudice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 14, 2012

From University of British Columbia Press office:

A new University of British Columbia study finds that the way individuals experience the universal emotion of pride directly impacts how racist and homophobic their attitudes toward other people are.

The study, published in the April issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, offers new inroads in the fight against harmful prejudices such as racism and homophobia, and sheds important new light on human psychology.

“These studies show that how we feel about ourselves directly influences how we feel about people who are different from us,” says Claire Ashton-James, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher in UBC’s Dept. of Psychology. “It suggests that harmful prejudices may be more flexible than previously thought, and that hubristic pride can exacerbate prejudice, while a more self-confident, authentic pride may help to reduce racism and homophobia.”

The findings build on research by UBC Psychology Prof. Jessica Tracy, a co-author of the study, who has previously shown that pride falls into two categories: “authentic pride,” which arises from hard work and achievement, and the more arrogant “hubristic pride,” which results through status attained by less authentic means such as power, domination, money or nepotism.

In this new study, Tracy and Ashton-James, a new professor at VU University Amsterdam, found that “authentic pride” creates a self-confidence that boosts empathy for others, which in turn reduces prejudices towards stigmatized groups. In contrast, the feelings of arrogance and superiority that result from “hubristic pride” reduce empathy, thereby exacerbating people’s prejudices against stigmatized groups.

The researchers found a direct link between pride and prejudice in both participants induced into “authentic” or “hubristic” pride states, and those with predispositions towards particular forms of pride. For example, those prone to “hubristic pride” exhibited greater levels of racism, while those prone to “authentic pride” harbored less racism.

With pride as a central emotion for people with power or high social status, the findings may offer important insights into the attitudes of political and economic leaders. “The kind of pride a leader tends to feel may partly determine whether he or she supports minority-group members or disregards them,” says Tracy, a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar.

The study involved 1,400 participants in Canada and the United States.

To view the full study, Pride and Prejudice: Feelings about the self influence feelings about others, here.

A sample of related Situationist posts:

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Frans De Waal on Morality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2012

Empathy, cooperation, fairness and reciprocity — caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait. But Frans de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.

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The Costs of Living in a Material World

Posted by Adam Benforado on April 11, 2012

Are “material girls” born or bred?

In four new experiments, Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen and his colleagues Monika A. Bauer, James E. B. Wilkie, and Jung K. Kim shed some light on this question.

Here is the abstract of the paper, forthcoming in Psychological Science:

Correlational evidence indicates that materialistic individuals experience relatively low levels of well-being. Across four experiments, we found that situational cuing can also trigger materialistic mind-sets, with similarly negative personal and social consequences. Merely viewing desirable consumer goods resulted in increases in materialistic concerns and led to heightened negative affect and reduced social involvement (Experiment 1). Framing a computer task as a “Consumer Reaction Study” led to a stronger automatic bias toward values reflecting self-enhancement, compared with framing the same task as a “Citizen Reaction Study” (Experiment 2). Consumer cues also increased competitiveness (Experiment 3) and selfishness in a water-conservation dilemma (Experiment 4). Thus, the costs of materialism are not localized only in particularly materialistic people, but can also be found in individuals who happen to be exposed to environmental cues that activate consumerism-cues that are commonplace in contemporary society.

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Carol Tavris Interview – Podcast

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 10, 2012

From (For Good Reason):

Carol Tavris describes dissonance theory and how self-justification and self-deception often keep people from changing their minds even in the light of compelling contrary evidence, because the evidence is often dissonant with one’s self-image. She details the implications of dissonance theory for the persistence of psychic charlatans and other peddlers of the paranormal, and how it may explain how someone like Sylvia Brown can live with herself, and also how it may explain how believers remain so gullible about such unsupportable claims. She describes confirmation bias as a component of dissonance theory. She talks about how dissonance theory applies to the skeptic movement, both in terms of suggesting the best strategies for engaging the credulous, and in terms of fostering skepticism about one’s own skeptical views. And she argues that skepticism should be affirmative rather than destructive in its approach, and focused on both critical thinking and creative thinking alike.

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Homophobia = Self-phobia?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2012

From University of Rochester:

Homophobia is more pronounced in individuals with an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires, a series of psychology studies demonstrates.

The study is the first to document the role that both parenting and sexual orientation play in the formation of intense and visceral fear of homosexuals, including self-reported homophobic attitudes, discriminatory bias, implicit hostility towards gays, and endorsement of anti-gay policies. Conducted by a team from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex, England, and the University of California in Santa Barbara, the research will be published the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” explains Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the study’s lead author.

“In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward,” adds co-author Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester who helped direct the research.

The paper includes four separate experiments, conducted in the United States and Germany, with each study involving an average of 160 college students. The findings provide new empirical evidence to support the psychoanalytic theory that the fear, anxiety, and aversion that some seemingly heterosexual people hold toward gays and lesbians can grow out of their own repressed same-sex desires, Ryan says. The results also support the more modern self-determination theory, developed by Ryan and Edward Deci at the University of Rochester, which links controlling parenting to poorer self-acceptance and difficulty valuing oneself unconditionally.

The findings may help to explain the personal dynamics behind some bullying and hate crimes directed at gays and lesbians, the authors argue. Media coverage of gay-related hate crimes suggests that attackers often perceive some level of threat from homosexuals. People in denial about their sexual orientation may lash out because gay targets threaten and bring this internal conflict to the forefront, the authors write.

The research also sheds light on high profile cases in which anti-gay public figures are caught engaging in same-sex sexual acts. The authors write that this dynamic of inner conflict may be reflected in such examples as Ted Haggard, the evangelical preacher who opposed gay marriage but was exposed in a gay sex scandal in 2006, and Glenn Murphy, Jr., former chairman of the Young Republican National Federation and vocal opponent of gay marriage, who was accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old man in 2007.

“We laugh at or make fun of such blatant hypocrisy, but in a real way, these people may often themselves be victims of repression and experience exaggerated feelings of threat,” says Ryan. “Homophobia is not a laughing matter. It can sometimes have tragic consequences,” Ryan says, pointing to cases such as the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard or the 2011 shooting of Larry King.

To explore participants’ explicit and implicit sexual attraction, the researchers measured the discrepancies between what people say about their sexual orientation and how they react during a split-second timed task. Students were shown words and pictures on a computer screen and asked to put these in “gay” or “straight” categories. Before each of the 50 trials, participants were subliminally primed with either the word “me” or “others” flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds. They were then shown the words “gay,” “straight,” “homosexual,” and “heterosexual” as well as pictures of straight and gay couples, and the computer tracked precisely their response times. A faster association of “me” with “gay” and a slower association of “me” with “straight” indicated an implicit gay orientation.

A second experiment, in which subjects were free to browse same-sex or opposite-sex photos, provided an additional measure of implicit sexual attraction.

Through a series of questionnaires, participants also reported on the type of parenting they experienced growing up, from authoritarian to democratic. Students were asked to agree or disagree with statements like: “I felt controlled and pressured in certain ways,” and “I felt free to be who I am.” For gauging the level of homophobia in a household, subjects responded to items like: “It would be upsetting for my mom to find out she was alone with a lesbian” or “My dad avoids gay men whenever possible.”

Finally, the researcher measured participants’ level of homophobia – both overt, as expressed in questionnaires on social policy and beliefs, and implicit, as revealed in word-completion tasks. In the latter, students wrote down the first three words that came to mind, for example for the prompt “k i _ _”. The study tracked the increase in the amount of aggressive words elicited after subliminally priming subjects with the word “gay” for 35 milliseconds.

Across all the studies, participants with supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation, while participants from authoritarian homes revealed the most discrepancy between explicit and implicit attraction.

“In a predominately heterosexual society, ‘know thyself’ can be a challenge for many gay individuals. But in controlling and homophobic homes, embracing a minority sexual orientation can be terrifying,” explains Weinstein. These individuals risk losing the love and approval of their parents if they admit to same sex attractions, so many people deny or repress that part of themselves, she said.

In addition, participants who reported themselves to be more heterosexual than their performance on the reaction time task indicated were most likely to react with hostility to gay others, the studies showed. That incongruence between implicit and explicit measures of sexual orientation predicted a variety of homophobic behaviors, including self-reported anti-gay attitudes, implicit hostility towards gays, endorsement of anti-gay policies, and discriminatory bias such as the assignment of harsher punishments for homosexuals, the authors conclude.

“This study shows that if you are feeling that kind of visceral reaction to an out-group, ask yourself, ‘Why?'” says Ryan. “Those intense emotions should serve as a call to self-reflection.”

The study had several limitations, the authors write. All participants were college students, so it may be helpful in future research to test these effects in younger adolescents still living at home and in older adults who have had more time to establish lives independent of their parents and to look at attitudes as they change over time.

Other contributors to the paper include Cody DeHaan and Nicole Legate from the University of Rochester, Andrew Przybylski from the University of Essex, and William Ryan from the University of California in Santa Barbara.

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Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Emotions, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Situational Effects of Wealth and Status

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2012

From University of California Berkeley:

The upper class has a higher propensity for unethical behavior, being more likely to believe – as did Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” – that “greed is good,” according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

In seven separate studies conducted on the UC Berkeley campus, in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide, UC Berkeley researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating; cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace.

“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” said Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published today (Monday, Feb. 27) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Piff’s study is the latest in a series of UC Berkeley scholarly investigations into the relationship between socio-economic class and prosocial and antisocial emotions and behaviors, revealing new information about class differences during a time of rising economic tension.

“As these issues come to the fore, our research – and that by others – helps shed light on the role of inequality in shaping patterns of ethical conduct and selfish behavior, and points to certain ways in which these patterns might also be changed,” Piff said.

To investigate how class relates to ethical conduct, the researchers surveyed the ethical tendencies of more than 1,000 individuals of lower-, middle- and upper-class backgrounds. Volunteers reported their social class using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status and filled out surveys revealing their attitudes about unprincipled behaviors and greed. They also took part in tasks designed to measure their actual unethical behavior.

In two field studies on driving behavior, upper-class motorists were found to be four times more likely than the other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk. Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behavior themselves.

Participants in the fourth study were assigned tasks in a laboratory where a jar of candy, reserved for visiting children, was on hand, and were invited to take a candy or two. Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as much candy as did their counterparts in other classes.

In the fifth study, participants each were assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment. Among other things, they were told that the job would soon be eliminated, and that they were free to convey that information to the candidate. Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information, the study found.

In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores. The player with the highest score would receive a cash prize. The players did not know that the game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls. Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating, according to the study.

The last study found attitudes about greed to be the most significant predictor of unethical behavior. Participants were primed to think about the advantages of greed and then presented with bad behavior-in-the-workplace scenarios, such as stealing cash, accepting bribes and overcharging customers. It turned out that even those participants not in the upper class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behavior as the upper-class cohort once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said.

“These findings have very clear implications for how increased wealth and status in society shapes patterns of ethical behavior, and suggest that the different social values among the haves and the have-nots help drive these tendencies,” Piff said of the cumulative findings.

Paper: “High social class predicts increased unethical behavior,” by Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner, PNAS (2012). (link)

NPR Marketplace Story on Paper.

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The Situation of the Voting Booth

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 4, 2012

Stanford University Press Release (2008):

What would you say influenced your voting decisions in the most recent local or national election? Political preferences? A candidate’s stance on a particular issue? The repercussions of a proposition on your economic well-being? All these “rational” factors influence voting, and peoples’ ability to vote, based on what is best for them, is a hallmark of the democratic process.

But Stanford Graduate School of Business researchers, doctoral graduates Jonah Berger and Marc Meredith, and S. Christian Wheeler, associate professor of marketing, conclude that a much more subtle and arbitrary factor may also play a role—the particular type of polling location in which you happen to vote.

It’s hard to imagine that something as innocuous as polling location (e.g., school, church, or fire station) might actually influence voting behavior, but the Stanford researchers have discovered just that. In fact, Wheeler says “the influence of polling location on voting found in our research would be more than enough to change the outcome of a close election.” And, as seen in the neck-to-neck 2000 presidential election where Al Gore ultimately lost to George W. Bush after months of vote counting in Florida, election biases such as polling location could play a significant role in the 2008 presidential election. Even at the proposition level, “Voting at a school could increase support for school spending or voting at a church could decrease support for stem cell initiatives,” says Wheeler.

Why might something like polling location influence voting behavior? “Environmental cues, such as objects or places, can activate related constructs within individuals and influence the way they behave,” says Berger. now an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton school. “Voting in a school, for example, could activate the part of a person’s identity that cares about kids, or norms about taking care of the community. Similarly, voting in a church could activate norms of following church doctrine. Such effects may even occur outside an individual’s awareness.”

Using data from Arizona’s 2000 general election, Berger, Meredith, a visiting lecturer at MIT, and Wheeler discovered that people who voted in schools were more likely to support raising the state sales tax to fund education. The researchers focused on Proposition 301, which proposed raising the state sales tax from 5.0 percent to 5.6 percent to increase education spending. What they found was that voters were more likely to support this initiative if they voted in a school versus other types of polling locations (55.0 percent versus 53.09 percent).

This effect persisted even when the researchers controlled for—or removed the possibility of—other factors such as:

Where voters lived. People who have kids may be pro-education and more likely to live near, and hence vote at, schools; Political views. Those who voted for Gore or positively on other propositions; and Demographics including age, sex, etc.

In regards to the first control, for example, people were still more likely to support Proposition 301 if they had voted in schools than if they had voted in places that were not schools but had schools nearby. No matter how they cut and spliced the data, the researchers found that voters in schools were more likely to support Proposition 301.

“We want factors like political views—whether someone thinks a candidate is going to make our country a better place—to sway elections,” said Berger. “But in forming election policy, we also want to make sure that arbitrary factors such as polling location don’t ultimately influence voting behaviors.”

To further test their hypothesis, the researchers even conducted the same analysis for the other 13 propositions on the Arizona ballot. They reasoned that if voters who cast their ballots in schools were more likely to vote positively for other unrelated propositions on wildlife or property taxes, for example, then the researchers would know that their model was not adequately accounting for some other factor beyond polling location, and that something such as voting preferences was having an effect. But such additional testing only supported the researchers’ hypotheses further.

The researchers also followed up with a lab experiment that allowed for random assignment of voters to pictures of different voting environments that the researchers thought might influence voting behavior. Participants were shown 10 images from well-maintained schools (e.g. lockers, classrooms) or churches (e.g. pews, alters), plus five additional filler images of generic buildings. A control group was shown images of generic buildings.

The participants then voted on a number of initiatives including California’s 2004 stem cell funding initiative, Arizona’s education initiative, and several others. Initiative wording was taken right from each state’s legislative council documents. As predicted by Berger, Meredith, and Wheeler: Environmental cues contained in the photos influenced voting.

Results from the second study showed that participants were less likely to support the stem cell initiative if they were shown church images than if they were shown school images or a generic photo of a building. The subjects also were more likely to support the education initiative if they were shown school images versus church or generic building images. The results further demonstrated that environmental cues present in different polling locations can influence voting outcomes, even when voters are randomly assigned to different environmental cue conditions.

“What our research suggests is that it might be useful to further investigate influences such as polling location to better understand how such factors affect different types of voting situations. From a policy perspective, the hope is that a voting location assignment could be less arbitrary and more determined in order to avoid undue biases in the future,” says Wheeler.

(pdf here.)

From USA Today (2012):

University of Maine psychology professor Jordan LaBouff and co-author Wade Rowatt, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, have a new paper out in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, finding that people expressed “cold” rather than “warm” attitudes toward gay men and women if they were asked their views while they were within sight of a church.

The research, conducted in England and the Netherlands with participants of 20 different nationalities, found that the unmentioned but evident visual cue of a church prompted people to express more conservative views on a range of issues — foreign aid, immigration, protection of the environment, separation of church and state, and more.

LaBouff said Thursday, “The effect is not specific to Christianity, but the sight of a church highlights our internal boundaries — who is like us and who is not like us. And we are more negative toward people who are not like us, whether we are religious or not.”

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Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Education, Implicit Associations, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

“We Didn’t Start the Scanner”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 3, 2012

From PsychCentral:

“A History of Cognitive Neuroscience…in Three Minutes.” Set to the melody of Billy Joel’s classic song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” new lyrics highlight significant scientists and advances in the field over the years, interspersed with comedy bits reminiscent of silent films. A lively and fun history lesson, this student video won the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Brains on Film Competition 2012 at University College London. Full lyrics are available here in the video’s description.

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