The Situationist

Archive for September, 2012

The Deeply Captured Situation of “Defensive Medicine”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 28, 2012

Sidney Shapiro, Thomas Owen McGarity, Nicholas Vidargas, and James Goodwin, have recently published their White Paper, titled “The Truth About Torts: Defensive Medicine and the Unsupported Case for Medical Malpractice ‘Reform’” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

In the debate about health care reform, “defensive medicine” has become a convenient culprit for rising costs and especially rising physician malpractice premiums. Vaguely defined, the phrase, “defensive medicine,” is used to suggest that physicians make medical decisions to avoid potential litigation, instead of with their patients’ health and safety in mind. On the strength of this assertion alone, some policymakers argue for restricting Americans’ right to bring suit to recover damages for medical malpractice. This report demonstrates, however, that the proponents of medical malpractice “reform” lack persuasive evidence that tort litigation against physicians encourages them to make medical decisions that they would not have made otherwise.

Powerful business interests have compelling reasons to perpetuate the “defensive medicine” myth. Because the national health care debate has been framed around costs – not patient health and safety or access to care – the “defensive medicine” message has been successfully deployed to restrict Americans’ access to the courts in many states. Meanwhile, “defensive medicine” also serves as a politically expedient straw man, allowing policymakers and the insurance industry to ignore or obscure the real drivers of rising medical costs, including the high costs of prescription drugs; the high demand for, and increasing use of, state-of-the-art technology; the growing incidence of chronic diseases; and an aging population that lives longer and consumes more medical care.

This report first establishes that an intact and robust civil justice system is necessary to the health of society and exposes how rarely doctors are actually being sued. Next, it examines why doctors order tests and procedures. It then surveys available empirical evidence showing that a supposed “defensive medicine” mindset has little impact on medical decisions or on medical practice costs. The report also exposes extraordinary shortcomings in the methodology and academic rigor of the evidence most frequently cited by civil justice opponents.

The evidence reveals that “defensive medicine” is largely a myth, proffered by interests intent on limiting citizen access to the courts for deserving cases, leaving severely injured patients with no other recourse for obtaining the corrective justice they deserve. These changes would limit the deterrent effect of civil litigation and diminish the regulatory backstop that the civil justice system provides to the professional licensing system, leading to more medical errors. Restricting lawsuits might save doctors a negligible amount on malpractice premiums but the vast majority of any savings will most certainly line the pockets of the insurance companies demanding these restrictions. On the other hand, buying into this myth has very real and dangerous consequences. Allowing civil justice opponents to pretend that constraining the civil justice system equates to meaningful health care reform distracts us from doing the things that must be done to fix the system, including avoiding the 98,000 deaths caused by preventable medical errors every year and reducing the unacceptable number of uninsured Americans.

Download report for free here.

For a related recent briefing book assembled by the Center for Justice & Democracy click here

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Rebecca Saxe on the State of Cognitive Neuroscience

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 26, 2012

Rebecca Saxe is an Associate Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience in the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. She is also an associate member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. She is known for her research on the neural basis of social cognition.

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Posted in Marketing, Neuroscience, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Privilege

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 24, 2012

From

Shamus Khan (Columbia University) discusses his C. Wright Mills award-winning book, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, and how elite schools “convert birthright into credentials” for privileged students.

Here is a summary of the book:

As one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation, St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, has long been the exclusive domain of America’s wealthiest sons. But times have changed. Today, a new elite of boys and girls is being molded at St. Paul’s, one that reflects the hope of openness but also the persistence of inequality.

In Privilege, Shamus Khan returns to his alma mater to provide an inside look at an institution that has been the private realm of the elite for the past 150 years. He shows that St. Paul’s students continue to learn what they always have–how to embody privilege. Yet, while students once leveraged the trappings of upper-class entitlement, family connections, and high culture, current St. Paul’s students learn to succeed in a more diverse environment. To be the future leaders of a more democratic world, they must be at ease with everything from highbrow art to everyday life–from Beowulf to Jaws–and view hierarchies as ladders to scale. Through deft portrayals of the relationships among students, faculty, and staff, Khan shows how members of the new elite face the opening of society while still preserving the advantages that allow them to rule.

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Merit and Fairness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 22, 2012

From Harvard Gazette:

Most parents like to believe that their children are more intelligent and insightful than the average person realizes. When it comes to concepts of fairness, they might be right, according to Harvard researchers.

A new study, conducted by Patricia Kanngiesser, a visiting graduate student from the University of Bristol, U.K., together with Felix Warneken, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard, suggests that children may have a far more advanced concept of fairness than previously thought. The study, described in a paper recently published in PLoS ONE, shows that children as young as 3 consider merit — a key part of more-advanced ideas of fairness — when distributing resources. Earlier studies had suggested that the use of merit didn’t emerge until a few years later.

“What this finding demonstrates, I think, is that merit seems to be an essential part of the earliest forms of fairness that children display,” Warneken said. “That challenges the idea that young children only have a very egocentric notion that everything should go to them, and shows that from a very early age they are sensitive to the work contributions partners make. Going forward, I think we can begin to rule out some of the earlier theories about merit — that it required a great deal of socialization or sophisticated cognitive skills to emerge.”

Importantly, the study shows that the notion of merit isn’t simply an abstract concept that children endorse, but one that they actually put into practice, even at a cost.

“It’s one thing to say that those who work harder should get more,” Warneken said. “But to be in that situation yourself and have to give something up to make it so, that’s something different. What we have shown is that very young children are not only sensitive to that concept, but that it guides their behavior.”

In the case of this new study, that behavior involved handing out stickers.

In the lab, children played what researchers called the “fishing game” alongside a puppet, using poles with hooks to lift containers filled with coins from a bucket. In some instances, Warneken said, the child collected more coins, in others the puppet did. Following each game, the child was given six stickers and was asked to decide how many to give to the puppet, and how many to keep.

To his surprise, Warneken said, the results showed that children used merit to decide how to distribute the stickers. The children always kept more stickers when they did more “work,” or collected more coins. However, if the puppet collected more, about a quarter of the children gave the puppet more stickers, while most others distributed them evenly.

Those findings run counter to earlier studies, which suggested that children’s concept of fairness evolves over time, with the idea of merit — that a person should be rewarded based on how much work he or she does — appearing by around age 7 or 8.

“The traditional model in psychology has been that children go through different stages of fairness,” Warneken said. “Initially, they are selfish. By a few years old, they develop the idea of equality, that we should each get half, regardless of [whether] you worked harder than I did, or you need more resources than I do. Finally, somewhere around school age, they develop the idea of equity or merit.”

The problem, Warneken said, is that the studies undergirding the traditional model were flawed.

Most relied on a similar structure — researchers would read clues to how children thought about cooperation by gauging their reaction to different stories. Such experiments, however, relied on increasingly complex stories to understand whether children understood concepts like merit, and most only tested what children thought about fairness.

“We thought that approach was too complex,” Warneken said. “We were more interested in what children actually do. We can’t say where it comes from, but I think we can conclude that for 3- to 5-year-old children, they are already paying attention to this principle.”

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SALMS Announces Fall 2012 Schedule

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 20, 2012

SALMS is excited to announce its Speakers Series slate for Fall 2012 all to be held at Harvard Law School. The following talks will take place at noon in Austin North unless otherwise noted.

  • [Situationist Contributor] Jon Hanson, Harvard Law School, “What Is ‘Law and Mind Sciences’ and Why Does It Matter?” – Monday, Sept. 24, Austin East
  • George Marcus, Williams College Political Science, “Conventional Wisdoms Versus Affective Intelligence: How Elections Are Really Won and Lost” — Thursday, Oct. 4
  • Ryan Enos, Harvard University Government — Thursday, Oct. 11
  • Todd Rogers, Harvard Kennedy School, “The Psychology of the Politics of Politics” — Thursday, Oct. 18
  • Betsy Sinclair, University of Chicago Political Science, “The Social Citizen” — Thursday, Oct. 25

The four October events are part of a special speaker series, Psychology and the 2012 Election, cosponsored by the HLS Republicans and the HLS American Constitution Society.

Posted in Events, Politics, SALMS, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Mind-Wandering and Why It Matters

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 18, 2012

From Harvard Gazette (regarding new research by Situationist friend Dan Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth):

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

The research, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, is described this week in the journal Science.

“A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” Killingsworth and Gilbert write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them: contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.

To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.

Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.

“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, a doctoral student in psychology at Harvard. “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the nonpresent.”

Killingsworth and Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

“Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and to ‘be here now,’” Killingsworth and Gilbert note in Science. “These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

This new research, the authors say, suggests that these traditions are right.

Killingsworth and Gilbert’s 2,250 subjects in this study ranged in age from 18 to 88, representing a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations. Seventy-four percent of study participants were American.

More than 5,000 people are now using the iPhone Web app.

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Image from flickr.

Posted in Emotions, Life, Positive Psychology | 3 Comments »

The Agricultural Situation of Climate Change

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 16, 2012

From TEDxTC:

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.

Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

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The Interior Situational Effect of Ads

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 14, 2012

Video from UMISR:

Brain scans showing neural reactions to pro-health messages can predict if you’ll keep that resolution to quit smoking more accurately than you yourself can. In this video, ISR researcher Emily Falk talks about her current and future research.

From APS (regarding Psychological Science article by Emily Falk, Elliot T. Berkman, and Matt Lieberman):

Brain scans of a small group of people can predict the actions of entire populations, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Michigan, the University of Oregon and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The findings are relevant to political advertising, commercial market research, and public health campaigns, and broaden the use of brain imaging from a diagnostic to a predictive tool.

As opposed to the wisdom of the crowd, the study suggests that the neurological reactions of a few – reactions that people are not even consciously aware of, and that differ from the opinions they express – can predict the responses of many other people to ad campaigns promoting specific behaviors.

“Brain responses to ads forecasted the ads’ success when other predictors failed,” said Emily Falk, first author of the study, which appears online in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Falk directs the University of Michigan Communication Neuroscience Lab.

Falk conducted the study with Elliot Berkman at the University of Oregon and Matthew Lieberman at UCLA. The researchers were supported by the National Science Foundation and by the National Institutes of Health.

“If people are making decisions based on what focus groups tell them, here’s an important brain region saying, ‘No, spend your money a different way,’” Matthew Lieberman said. “If I were deciding on an advertising campaign, I would want to know which ads are activating this region the most — that is where I would want to spend my money.”

“Our findings could help design better health campaigns. This is a key step in reducing the number of smokers and reducing deaths from cancer, heart disease, and other smoking-related illnesses,” Falk said.

The findings might also help produce more effective political campaign ads, and provide a neural roadmap to why some videos, fashions, behaviors, and ideas go viral, moving from one person to many thousands of others via social media.

For the study, the researchers recruited 31 heavy smokers with a strong desire to quit, and examined their neural responses to three anti-smoking ad campaigns, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). All the ads directly urged viewers to call the National Cancer Institute’s tobacco quit line (1-800-QUIT-NOW).

Following the fMRI, participants rated the effectiveness of the ads they had just viewed in a variety of ways. The researchers compared their brain scans to their reports on the ads’ effectiveness.

To obtain population-level measures, the researchers compared the number of calls to the tobacco quit-line in the month before and after each media campaign first aired in three different media markets.

When asked what they thought of the ads, participants’ rated Campaign B the highest, followed by Campaign A and then Campaign C. Industry experts familiar with the campaigns also disliked Campaign C. The three campaigns used very different strategies. Raters found Campaign C annoying and guessed that it would be ineffective. By contrast, Campaigns A and B resonated with participants, but in the end were less effective in actually driving calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

But brain scans, which focused on the medial pre-frontal cortex, an area of the brain identified in earlier studies as linked to positive responses to persuasive messages, showed a completely different order, with Campaign C eliciting the strongest response.

At the population level, each ad campaign led to increases in call volume to the quit-smoking line, compared with a no-media control month before the launch of each campaign. The increases ranged from 2.8 to 32 times higher than the control month, and the researchers found that Campaign C led to the highest increases, followed by Campaign B and lastly Campaign A — just the opposite of the participants’ guesses but precisely the same as their brain scans showed.

“It seems that the brain is picking up on important features of these ads, but we’re not sure what these features are yet,” Falk said. “We’re doing follow up studies now to translate what the brain is telling us about how to design better messages.”

This new research represents “the first thing you could call a neural focus group,” Lieberman said.

One reason focus groups can be misleading, he said, is that people often do not know what motivates their own behavior.

“Our brain is built to generate reasons for our actions,” Lieberman said, “and we think the reasons we come up with must be true. We believe our own reasons with an intensity that is out of proportion to their accuracy. In this study, we are bypassing people’s self-reports and getting at a form of hidden wisdom in the brain.”

“These findings could help us improve the success of campaigns,” Falk emphasized. “In the long run, we hope this will help us fight cancer and other preventable diseases.”

* * *

The article’s citation is as follows: Falk, E. B., Berkman, E. T., & Lieberman, M. D. (2012). From neural responses to population behavior: Neural focus group predicts population level media effects. Psychological Science, 23, 439-445. 

Go to the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory to download a pdf of the article.

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Posted in Implicit Associations, Marketing, Neuroscience, Video | Leave a Comment »

Michael Norton on Pro-Social Spending

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 12, 2012

From

Michael Norton shares fascinating research on how money can, indeed buy happiness — when you don’t spend it on yourself. Listen for surprising data on the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people.

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Posted in Distribution, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Sexual Assault at Boston University

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2012

A  report, commissioned by Boston University President after two hockey players were charged with sexual assault, found a “culture of sexual entitlement” in the hockey program and a lack of reporting and discipline against star players.  In effect, the report concluded that the situation contributed significantly to the behavior which put many BU students at risk.  Here are some excerpts:

On March 7, 2012, Boston University President Robert A. Brown established and charged the Men’s Ice Hockey Task Force with the responsibility to review the culture and climate of the Boston University men’s hockey program and to provide a thoughtful and impartial assessment. The task force was initiated in response to criminal charges, which included sexual assault being brought against two members of the men’s ice hockey team within a three-month period. These charges raised serious questions about whether the culture and climate of the ice hockey program contributed in some way to the alleged actions of the two individuals. The University chose to investigate these questions with the understanding that if evidence of systemic problems emerged, then appropriate changes would be made to ensure that our men’s ice hockey program is held to the same high standards to which we hold all members of our university community.

Of primary concern was the question of whether inherent aspects of the program’s culture and climate could have helped to foster the actions that led to the criminal charges. For those unfamiliar with Boston University athletic programs, the men’s hockey team, which has won a total of five national championships, has garnered substantial national recognition and is often among the top university ice hockey programs in the nation. Its visibility both on and off campus exceeds that of any other BU athletic program.

It is essential to note that the task force was not asked to conduct an assessment of the guilt or innocence of the two individuals who were charged with sexual assault. Neither was the task force asked to evaluate the judgments that were rendered in these two cases by Boston University’s Judicial Affairs, which has the responsibility for adjudicating alleged violations of the Student Code of Responsibilities. Those processes are the purview of the State of Massachusetts and the Boston University Dean of Students, respectively. In fact, prosecutors have since dropped the criminal charges that were filed against one of the individuals, while the other individual has pleaded guilty to reduced charges of assault and battery.

* * *

Our assessment of the information and data we gathered and reviewed concerning the Boston University men’s ice hockey program can be considered in two broad categories. The first includes the full range of university structures, processes, and procedures that govern all aspects of the men’s ice hockey program in particular, and competitive athletics at Boston University in general. Our conclusion is that there are a number of important structures and processes that are failing to achieve the full level and quality of oversight of the men’s ice hockey program that is expected and appropriate at a major university. These failings include issues of institutional control and governance structure at the highest levels, as well as shortcomings in leadership at the team level. Further, the absence of a few routine, transparent, and systematic processes that would establish clear expectations for players’ behavior has created a culture in which important aspects of oversight for our student-athletes’ behavior—beyond performance as a team member—has fallen inappropriately to the coaching staff.

The second broad category of findings relates to issues surrounding the social and sexual interactions of the men’s ice hockey players with the broader student community. Our assessment has shown that a culture of sexual entitlement exists among some players on the men’s ice hockey team, stemming in part from their elevated social status on campus. This culture of sexual entitlement, as evidenced by frequent sexual encounters with women absent an emotional relationship or on-going commitment, can also involve unprotected sex. This culture is actively supported by a small subset of BU’s undergraduate population. The absence of systematic processes for sexual assault prevention training for members of the men’s ice hockey team, and for BU students more broadly, contributes to behaviors that place many University students at risk. Substance abuse, including heavy alcohol use in particular, can be an important part of students’ social and sexual culture. Institutional practices and educational efforts relating to sexual health and substance abuse—for the men’s ice hockey players in particular, and for the undergraduate student body in general—do not provide sufficient information or guidance to our students.

* * *

Read the entire report, including fourteen recommendations here.

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Nancy Gertner on The Situation of Dispositionist Criminal Sentencing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 8, 2012

From Cognoscenti:

There is a canned, formulaic newspaper story about any criminal case. It can be repeated in every prosecution, no matter what the crime, no matter who the defendant.

Here’s how it goes: Judge X sentenced defendant Y to five years (or whatever the number). The prosecutor argued for 10 (or higher than the number the judge gave). The victim’s family is appalled. When interviewed, they stridently proclaim their outrage at the judge. The press then echoes that sentiment.

All concerned assume that the right sentence is the one the prosecutor wanted or the victim demanded. So when the judge sentences the defendant to less, they cry foul. Another lenient judge! Another liberal! Another blow against the “tough on crime” mentality!

Never do you see the opposite: a columnist decrying a sentence that was too high or a reporter noting that these sentencing lengths are just arbitrary numbers – five, 10, 15, 20 – without any relationship to what works to deter crime, what is cost effective, etc. And they are “just” numbers that will inevitably increase over time, precisely because they are contentless.

They do not reflect expert opinion about proportionality — for example, measuring relative sentences across crime categories or comparing nonviolent drug sentences to sentences for violent crime. They don’t consider alternative approaches. They don’t evaluate recidivism, whether drug treatment programs in certain instances will work better than incarceration.

These numbers only reflect the public’s and the district attorney’s spleen – and so whatever the number was before the sentencing of this defendant, they “must” be higher in the next case, with the next defendant. There is, in short, no end.

Popular punitiveness trumped everything, whether or not it bore any relationship to good public policy.

We lead the world in imprisonment not just by a little — but by several orders of magnitude. Our nearest competitors are Rwanda and China, hardly good company. And the racial figures are even worse: At the end of 2010, black men had an incarceration rate of 3,059 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 U.S. black male residents. This rate was almost seven times higher than the incarceration rate for white men (456 per 100,000).

Three decades ago, we considered rehabilitation and specific deterrence to be more important than retribution. And while there were unquestionably problems with that approach, at the very least it enabled a discussion about what punishments made sense to ensure public safety, to minimize recidivism and to balance all of the purposes of sentencing. In addition, it permitted criminal justice experts in various fields – including judges – to participate in a meaningful discussion about crime.

But in the 1980s rehabilitation was discredited. On the eve of sentencing reform in the federal courts, one scholar wrote: “What works? Nothing!” – although he subsequently amended his views. The sentencing focus shifted for the most part to a single purpose: retribution. And for that purpose there were new “experts”: the public. If the most important question had become, “What punishment fits this crime?” Everyone could weigh in.

And not just the public. By the late 1980s, crime issues were part and parcel of the political debate — think of the role of the Willie Horton ads in the 1988 presidential election. A decade later came the shock jocks and 24/7 pundits. What the public thinks about the crime, and thus what the criminal “deserves,” came to be shaped — indeed inflamed — by the press.

Meanwhile, criminal justice experts were sidelined. As Duke University law professor Sara Sun Beale argued in the aptly titled 1997 article “What’s Law Got to Do With It?” — criminal justice policy is largely driven by the media. The good news of falling crime rates over the past two decades was rarely reported; the nightly news famously reflected the principle, “if it bleeds, it leads.” The result? Popular punitiveness trumped everything, whether or not it bore any relationship to good public policy.

Some of the blame surely goes to the media. Take the case of Kenneth Belew of Somerville, Mass. On the evening of April 21, 2011, after drinking too much, Belew got behind the wheel and lost control of the car. Of the five passengers – two tragically died. The judge sentenced Belew to five years; the prosecutor had wanted eight to 10.

A Boston Globe columnist excoriated the judge in all too familiar terms: He was insensitive and unduly lenient for not imposing the sentence the prosecutor wanted. But what the prosecutor wanted was hardly the measure of fairness. The presumptive range of sentences under the Massachusetts Sentencing Guidelines was about three and a half to five and a half years.

Those guidelines were established by a Sentencing Commission consisting of prosecutors, defense counsel, public safety and correctional officials, and victim-witness advocates. And the judge accompanied the sentence with an elaborate recitation of the reasons for the sentence — on the record and in public.

The prosecutor cannot be so monitored. He picks a number and does not have to explain it, beyond justifying it in the particular case. There are no public, transparent guidelines for prosecutors, no Sentencing Commission, no standards. He cannot be easily reviewed to see if he is biased, choosing mandatory minimums for defendants of color more than for those who are white, or simply going with his gut.

Recently, a Suffolk County prosecutor criticized the Supreme Judicial Court for not requiring a judge whom the prosecutor believed to be too lenient to disclose his personal notes, records and diaries to justify his sentences. When was the last time a prosecutor was required to disclose why he chose to prosecute a defendant, or picked a given charge, or recommended a given sentence? The answer is never.

And, to a shocking degree, the prosecutor is picking numbers out of the air. Twenty years ago, we considered five years a very long sentence. In most European countries that is still the case. But now, in the United States, we increase sentences by fives. It’s like a betting game. Five does not send a message if it is what the defense lawyer wants. OK, I’ll raise you five more. Why five? Why not 10?

When sentences had to bear some relationship to outcomes – what worked to prevent recidivism, for example – there were limits. With retribution, there are few.

To be sure, pundits are beginning to write about the unfairness of mandatory minimum sentences. They are beginning to notice the disproportionate sentences for African Americans and Hispanics. And in this depressed economy, the media is beginning to acknowledge that lengthy sentences, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders, are not remotely cost effective.

But those general observations are rarely reflected in media coverage of individual cases. And individual cases, particularly the celebrated ones, are what drive the legislative debate (think Megan’s or Melissa’s laws) – not a general analysis of the needs of the criminal justice system or the lack of a relationship between the declining crime rate and our ever increasing imprisonment rate.

That is the only explanation of why, just when punitive states like Texas and Mississippi are repealing “three strikes” laws, Massachusetts just passed one, after two highly publicized and tragic crimes: the murders of Melissa Gosule and Officer Jack Maguire. Three strikes is nothing more than a baseball metaphor – not social policy.

Read the entire article, including the 5 myths echoed in the press and among legislators, here.

Related Situationist posts:

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Nancy Gertner‘s work, click here.

Posted in Law, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Libertarianism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 6, 2012

Situationist Contributor Peter Ditto and co-authors (Iyer, R., Koleva, S., Graham, J., & Haidt, J.) have recently published their article, “Understanding libertarian morality: The psychological dispositions of self-identified libertarians” on PLoS ONE.  Here’s the abstract:

Libertarians are an increasingly prominent ideological group in U.S. politics, yet they have been largely unstudied. Across 16 measures in a large web-based sample that included 11,994 self-identified libertarians, we sought to understand the moral and psychological characteristics of self-described libertarians. Based on an intuitionist view of moral judgment, we focused on the underlying affective and cognitive dispositions that accompany this unique worldview. Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians showed 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles; 2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional cognitive style; and 3) lower interdependence and social relatedness. As predicted by intuitionist theories concerning the origins of moral reasoning, libertarian values showed convergent relationships with libertarian emotional dispositions and social preferences. Our findings add to a growing recognition of the role of personality differences in the organization of political attitudes.

Download the pdf of the article here.

Related Situationist posts.

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Kathleen Vohs on Money’s Situational Effects

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 4, 2012

From :

Money changes people’s motivations — increasing their sense of self sufficiency and even making them keep a greater physical distance from others. After focusing on money, individuals work longer before asking for help, are less helpful to others, and prefer to play and work alone. Kathleen D. Vohs presented at the “Small Steps, Big Leaps: The Science of Getting People to Do the Right Thing” research briefing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, co-sponsored by the Center for Social Innovation.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

Materialism, Consumerism, and Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 2, 2012

From APS:

Money doesn’t buy happiness. Neither does materialism: Research shows that people who place a high value on wealth, status, and stuff are more depressed and anxious and less sociable than those who do not. Now new research shows that materialism is not just a personal problem. It’s also environmental. “We found that irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mindset, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in wellbeing, including negative affect and social disengagement,” says Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen. The study, conducted with colleagues Monika A. Bauer, James E. B. Wilkie, and Jung K. Kim, appears in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In two of four experiments, university students were put in a materialistic frame of mind by tasks that exposed them to images of luxury goods or words mobilizing consumerist values (versus neutral scenes devoid of consumer products or words without such connotations). Completing questionnaires afterwards, those who looked at the pictures of cars, electronics, and jewelry rated themselves higher in depression and anxiety, less interested in social activities like parties, and more in solitary pursuits than the others. Those primed to materialism by exposure to certain words evinced more competitiveness and less desire to invest their time in pro-social activities like working for a good cause.

In two other experiments, participants completed tasks that were framed as surveys—one of consumer responses, another of citizens.’ The first experiment involved moving words toward or away from the participant’s name on a computer screen—positive and negative emotion words and “neutral” ones that actually suggested materialism (wealth, power), self-restraint (humble, discipline), transcendence of self, or self-indulgence. The people who answered the “consumer response survey” more quickly “approached” the words that reflected materialistic values than those in the “citizen” survey. The last experiment presented participants with a hypothetical water shortage in a well shared by four people, including themselves. The water users were identified either as consumers or individuals. Might the collective identity as consumers—as opposed to the individual role—supersede the selfishness ordinarily stimulated by the consumer identity? No: The “consumers” rated themselves as less trusting of others to conserve water, less personally responsible and less in partnership with the others in dealing with the crisis. The consumer status, the authors concluded “did not unite; it divided.”

The findings have both social and personal implications, says Bodenhausen. “It’s become commonplace to use consumer as a generic term for people,” in the news or discussions of taxes, politics, or health care. If we use term such as Americans or citizens instead, he says, “that subtle difference activates different psychological concerns.” We can also take personal initiative to reduce the depressive, isolating effects of a materialist mindset by avoiding its stimulants—most obviously, advertising. One method: “Watch less TV.”

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