The Situationist

Archive for October, 2012

Peer Pressure and Voting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 30, 2012

From The Harvard Gazzette:

Many people believe that idealism motivates them to open their wallets for a favorite candidate or that civic duty motivates them to go to the polls to vote. But don’t discount peer pressure as an important factor in elections, a political scientist says.

“We operate as a family, a neighborhood, a team,” said Betsy Sinclair, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. “Family, friends, and neighbors affect” choices involving “the candidate, issues to support, the political party to identify with, whether to donate to political candidates, and whether we turn out to cast a ballot.”

Sinclair, author of the new book “The Social Citizen: Peer Networks and Political Behavior,” spoke Thursday at Harvard Law School’s Austin Hall about how social networks enforce behavior in American politics. Her lecture was titled “Mind Sciences and the Election: The Social Citizen.”

Why we write a check or cast a ballot is often for the same reason that we buy Girl Scout cookies or Tupperware: pressure to conform with a group. Sinclair came to that realization after observing a fundraising coffee session for a 2009 Democratic U.S. House candidate from Illinois, Julie Hamos.

The coffee klatch was held in an affluent, politically engaged Chicago district. The two previous election cycles, this group backed another candidate. But this time, the hostess invited Hamos to speak. When the candidate finished her remarks, the hostess asked everyone to get out their checkbooks. Many wrote checks, according to Sinclair.

The candidate lost. Sinclair, in her post-mortem, learned that many guests regretted backing the loser.

Sinclair called the pressure to back Hamos “the Tupperware effect,” where people are invited to a party for the plastic container ware and drink coffee, hear testimony about its worth, and then pony up money for their own plastic ware, just like at the campaign meeting.

“People reported a sense of social obligation,” Sinclair said. “Campaigns know this works.”

Indeed, Sinclair pointed to another congressional candidate fundraiser invitation. It listed the names of all the invitees to pressure as many people who knew others on the list to attend as possible.

Fundraising is one thing. No one believes his or her vote can be influenced. Yet, Sinclair said, we all believe we can persuade an acquaintance to vote for the candidate we support. The ability of one person to influence another person can be demonstrated by analyzing a get-out-the-vote effort.

In 2009, Sinclair put her theory to the test after U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel stepped down from his seat to take a job in the Obama White House. She picked a tiny nine-digit ZIP code in his district to test voter turnout. Democrat Michael Quigley ran unopposed to fill the seat, so turnout would be low.

She contacted residents with a mailing that showed their lackluster voting record in previous elections. (Voting records are public.) It asked them to do their “civic duty and vote,” and pointed out they’d failed to make it to the polls in the past two elections.

Sinclair’s target wasn’t the mailing’s recipients, though. It was the person they shared their home with and who voted regularly.

Someone who lived with a rare or infrequent voter was less likely to make it to the polls. But Sinclair noticed that people voted when they lived with someone who always goes to the polls.

“There’s a shame effect,” Sinclair said. “It’s not the message but the messenger that matters.”

This election cycle, some people have learned through Facebook that their social networks aren’t politically uniform, leading to nasty arguments and “unfriendings.” Sinclair contends that people forge online relationships outside of politics. But holding onto those bonds with people who surprise and enrage can be politically enlightening.

“That’s the person most likely to hear what you’re saying and engage you about what you’re saying,” Sinclair said.

The Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, Harvard Law School Republicans, Harvard Law School Democrats, and the Harvard Law School American Constitution Society sponsored the lecture. J.D. candidate Rebecca Matte ’14, vice president of the Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, introduced Sinclair.

Learn more about Professor Sinclair’s book here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Judge Nancy Gertner on the Situation of Discrimination Claims

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 27, 2012

From YLJO (the essay of an essay titled Losers’ Rules by Judge Nancy Gertner):

Each year, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts holds an extraordinary panel. All active judges are present to answer questions from the bar. A lawyer’s question one year was particularly provocative: “Why are the federal courts so hostile to discrimination claims?” One judge after another insisted that there was no hostility. All they were doing when they dismissed employment discrimination cases was following the law—nothing more, nothing less.

I disagreed. Federal courts, I believed, were hostile to discrimination cases. Although the judges may have thought they were entirely unbiased, the outcomes of those cases told a different story. The law judges felt “compelled” to apply had become increasingly problematic. Changes in substantive discrimination law since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964were tantamount to a virtual repeal. This was so not because of Congress; it was because of judges.

Decades ago, law-and-society scholars offered an explanation for that phenomenon, evaluating the structural forces at work in law-reform litigation that lead to one-sided judicial outcomes. Focusing on employment discrimination claims, Marc Galanter argued that, because employers are “repeat players” whereas individual plaintiffs are not, the repeat players have every incentive to settle the strong cases and litigate the weak ones.Over time, strategic settlement practices produce judicial interpretations of rights that favor the repeat players’ interests.More recently, Catherine Albiston went further, identifying the specific opportunities for substantive rulemaking in this litigation—as in summary judgment and motions to dismiss—and how the “repeat players,” to use Galanter’s term, take advantage of them.In this Essay, drawing on my seventeen years on the federal bench, I attempt to provide a firsthand and more detailed account of employment discrimination law’s skewed evolution—the phenomenon I call “Losers’ Rules.” I begin with a discussion of the wholly one-sided legal doctrines that characterize discrimination law. In effect, today’s plaintiff stands to lose unless he or she can prove that the defendant had explicitly discriminatory policies in place or that the relevant actors were overtly biased. It is hard to imagine a higher bar or one less consistent with the legal standards developed after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, let alone with the way discrimination manifests itself in the twenty-first century. Although ideology may have something to do with these changes, and indeed the bench may be far less supportive of antidiscrimination laws than it was during the years following the laws’ passage, I explore another explanation. Asymmetric decisionmaking—where judges are encouraged to write detailed decisions when granting summary judgment and not to write when denying it—fundamentally changes the lens through which employment cases are viewed, in two respects. First, it encourages judges to see employment discrimination cases as trivial or frivolous, as decision after decision details why the plaintiff loses. And second, it leads to the development of decision heuristics—the Losers’ Rules—that serve to justify prodefendant outcomes and thereby exacerbate the one-sided development of the law.

Read the entire essay here.

Related Situationist posts:

For a list of Situationist posts discussing the research on implicit bias and the IAT, click here. To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Nancy Gertner‘s work, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Politics, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Social Situation of the Citizen – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 25, 2012

When: Thursday, October 25, 2012, 12 – 1pm
Where: Austin North
Event type: Lectures
Sponsor: Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, HLS American Constitution Society, PLMS

Do social networks really influence individuals’ politics? If social networks matter, how do they work? Utilizing a variety of experimental and survey data from settings as diverse as the wealthy suburbs of Illinois and the streets of South Los Angeles, Dr. Besty Sinclair will identify the social influences that underlie political activities ranging from voter turnout to political contributions. Rather than being merely a source of information, our social networks have a direct and immediate influence on members’ political behavior.

Learn more about Professor Sinclair’s book here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Sunstein on Motivated Judicial Reasoning

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 23, 2012

From Bloomberg (an op-ed by Harvard Law School’s Cass Sunstein):

In the context of affirmative action, some of the nation’s most important and distinguished conservative legal thinkers, including Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, appear to have abandoned their own deepest beliefs about how to interpret the Constitution.

Unfortunately, this is not the only area in which they have done so. To appreciate the problem, we have to step back a bit.

For at least 25 years, there has been a clear division between leading conservatives and liberals with respect to constitutional interpretation. Conservatives have tended to favor “originalism” — the view that the meaning of the Constitution is fixed by the original understanding of its provisions at the time they were ratified.

Liberals have tended to reject originalism. They contend that the Constitution establishes broad principles whose specific meaning changes over time and that must, in the words of the influential legal theorist Ronald Dworkin, be given a “moral reading.”

Consider debates over the right to choose abortion and to engage in sexual relationships with people of the same gender. Many conservatives insist, rightly and to their credit, that our moral judgments must be separated from our judgments about the meaning of the Constitution. They go on to argue that if no provision of the Constitution was understood to protect these rights when it was ratified, then none protects these rights today.

* * *

Just this month, Justice Scalia put the point unambiguously: “Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.” By contrast, liberals have urged that the meaning of the Constitution’s broad principles evolves, and that judges can legitimately help shape the evolution.

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments involving the constitutionality of an affirmative-action policy at the University of Texas. Here is the great paradox: None of the conservative justices asked a single question about whether affirmative-action programs are consistent with the original meaning of any provision of the Constitution.

This failure to consider history is long-standing. Justices Scalia and Thomas, the court’s leading “originalists,” have consistently argued that the Constitution requires colorblindness. But neither of them has devoted so much as a paragraph to the original understanding. As conservative Ramesh Ponnuru, liberal Adam Winkler and others have suggested, their silence is especially puzzling because for decades, well-known historical work has strongly suggested that when passed by Congress in 1866 and ratified by the states in 1868, the 14th Amendment did not compel colorblindness.

Perhaps the most important evidence is the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866, which specifically authorized the use of federal funds to provide educational and other benefits to African-Americans. Opponents of the act (including President Andrew Johnson) explicitly objected to the violation of colorblindness, in the form of special treatment along racial lines. In fact, much of the congressional debate involved colorblindness. Along with many others, Representative Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota gave what the strong majority of Congress saw as a decisive response: “We have liberated four million slaves in the South. It is proposed by some that we stop right here and do nothing more. Such a course would be a cruel mockery.”

As law professor Eric Schnapper has shown, the 1866 Freedmen’s Bureau Act was one of several race-conscious measures enacted in the same period during which the nation ratified the 14th Amendment — which is now being invoked to challenge affirmative action. If Congress enacted race-conscious measures in the same year that it passed that amendment, and just two years before the nation ratified it, we should ask: Isn’t it clear that the 14th Amendment doesn’t require colorblindness?

* * *

Maybe this question can be answered. Maybe current affirmative-action programs, including the one at the University of Texas, are meaningfully different from the measures enacted by Congress after the Civil War. But to invalidate current programs, constitutional originalists have to say more. They must show that such programs are fatally inconsistent with the original understanding. Maybe they can do this, but remarkably, they haven’t even tried.

How can we explain this conspicuous lack of historical curiosity? . . . .

To read the entire article, including Sunstein’s answer to that question, click here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Morality, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Not Helping

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 21, 2012

From Youtube:

A man tries to help a woman being attacked, but instead he is stabbed and left to die in the streets of New York. As Paul Johnson reports, over 20 people pass the dying man and do nothing to help. A look at the various cases in the U.S. and Canada where bystanders could have saved people but chose to look the other way.

In the video below, Situationist Contributor, Philip Zimbardo describes the bystander effect and introduces an excellent series of demonstrations of the effect.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Seduction by Contract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 20, 2012

Oren Bar-Gill recently posted his introductory chapter for his intriguing new book, “Seduction by Contract: Law, Economics and Psychology in Consumer Markets” on SSRN.   Here’s the abstract.

Consumers routinely enter into contracts with providers of goods and services. These contracts are designed by sophisticated sellers to exploit the psychological biases of consumers. They provide short-term benefits, while imposing long-term costs – because consumers are myopic and optimistic. They are excessively complex – because complexity allows sellers to hide the true cost of the product or service from the imperfectly rational consumer. Using both general theory and detailed case studies, this book explains the costs – to consumers and society at large – imposed by seductive contracts, and outlines a promising legal policy solution: Disclosure mandates. Simple, aggregate disclosures can help consumers make better choice. Comprehensive disclosures can facilitate the work of intermediaries, enabling them to better advise consumers. Effective disclosure would expose the seductive nature of consumer contracts and, as a result, reduce sellers’ incentives to write inefficient contracts.

Download the introduction for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

One of the very first legal-academic articles (part of  a trilogy) devoted to the way sellers manipulate consumers is Taking Behavioralism Seriously: The Problem of Market Manipulation (74 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 363 (1999)) available for free download on SSRN.

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Choice Myth, Marketing, Public Policy | 3 Comments »

Todd Rogers on “The Psychology of the Politics of Politics” – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 18, 2012

Mind Sciences & the Election
“The Psychology of the Politics of Politics”
Dr. Todd Rogers (Kennedy School)
Thursday, Oct. 18, 12 p.m.
Austin North
Free pizza lunch!

Dr. Rogers will discuss research on two aspects of the politics of politics.  First, he will share a series of large field experiments (involving hundreds of thousands of people) exploring how behavior change insights from psychology can be used to increase the impact of get-out-the-vote efforts, and understand why people fail to vote.  These are now best practices in many practitioner circles, so this research will help you better understand the logic behind voter mobilization efforts in which you have been involved.  Second, Dr. Rogers will present a series of experiments exploring the cognitive reasons why politicians can dodge questions they are asked without voters noticing or punishing them for their evasiveness.  This work concludes with a practical intervention for preventing artful dodging.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Warmth or Competence – Not Both

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 16, 2012

From the Daily Princtonian (an article about a paper co-authored by Situationist Contributor, Susan Fiske):

To appear warm people convey themselves as less competent, and to appear competent people convey themselves as less warm, according to a recent study conducted by a team of researchers in the psychology department.

The study, published by Ph.D. candidate Deborah Holoien GS and psychology professor Susan Fiske, concluded that there is an inherently negative relationship between being perceived as friendly and being perceived as competent. This, Fiske said, causes people to stereotype societal groups — like different ethnic, religious, social or gender groups — based on how warm or competent they appear.

Fiske explained that this trade-off is rooted in evolutionary theory.

“It makes sense because the first thing you need to know about another [is] what their intentions are. If their intentions are good, that means they’re friendly and trustworthy and warm,” Fiske said. “The second thing you need to know is whether they can act on those intentions — whether they’re competent and capable — because if they can’t act on those intentions, they don’t matter to you that much,” she explained.

The study asked participants to draft emails and maintain chat conversations. One group was instructed to try to appear warm, and the other was instructed to appear competent. The selection of words or phrases these participants chose to use had been previously rated by a separate group of participants. The subjects’ choices were then evaluated based on these ratings.

Subjects’ choices indicated that in trying to create a certain impression, they had to sacrifice conveying warmth or competence in order to portray the other.

“When people want to appear warm, they tend to select words that are low in competence,” Holoien explained. “Similarly, when people want to appear very competent, they select words that are low in warmth.”

The paper argues that participants do not intend to convey a lack of one or the other. Yet to appear positively in one dimension, appearing negatively in the other is an unavoidable sacrifice.

This report builds on previous studies conducted by University faculty on the evolution of stereotyping. In trying to avoid stereotyping, people tend to emphasize positive stereotypes of ethnic groups. However, in doing so, the studies found that people are inherently implying the negative stereotype.

“If I say there’s a new immigrant group who’s really nice, the implication is that they’re not smart. If I say there’s an immigrant group who’s really smart, the implication is that they’re not nice,” Fiske explained. “What that means is that you can get away with stereotyping and even negative stereotyping by just accentuating the positive and omitting the negative.”

The two characteristics of warmth and competence determine 80 to 85 percent of impression formation, according to Fiske. In daily interactions, Fiske said, “these are the two key things that need to be communicated.”

This has implications in business strategies and in the workplace. Fiske found that how companies are viewed in light of these two characteristics affects what brands customers choose to purchase.

“Johnson & Johnson and Campbell’s and Hershey’s are seen as American, warm and competent companies, but the energy companies and the cigarette companies are seen as not only incompetent but also bad-intentioned,” Fiske said. “The luxury brands are seen as cold and competent, like Rolex and Porsche. And the U.S. government-subsidized companies like the Post Office and Amtrack are seen as well intentioned but incompetent.”

Holoien said the findings are also relevant for workplace interactions and job interviews, which are largely about first impressions.

Career Peer Advisor Claudine Quadrat ’13 said that the priority for students looking to be hired is to come across as confident in job interviews.

“It’s difficult to say [whether warmth or competence] is more important because you don’t want to be warm without selling anything, but you don’t want to sell in a condescending manner,” Quadrat said. “We definitely try to encourage both.”

Quadrat emphasized that a good manager or team leader commands respect through both warmth and competence rather than just fear or love.

Fiske extended the comparison to the highest elected office in the country.

“It’s clear that these same two dimensions matter to the presidential candidates,” Fiske said. “They have to establish both their competence and their trustworthiness, integrity and warmth. Neither one is sufficient by itself.”

Though the conclusions of this paper and similar studies have not been contradicted, an alternate theory would challenge the trade-off hypothesis. The “Halo Effect” psychological theory argues that people are generally rated positively or negatively on both scales.

Fiske said she hopes to publish her findings in a forthcoming book.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

The Rewards of Cooperation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2012

From the Harvard Gazette:

It turns out nice guys can finish first, and David Rand has the evidence to show it.

Rand, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology and a lecturer in human evolutionary biology, is the lead author of a new paper, which found that dynamic, complex social networks encourage their members to be friendlier and more cooperative, with the possible payoff coming in an expanded social sphere, while selfish behavior can lead to an individual being shunned from the group and left — literally — on his or her own.

As described this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research is among the first studies to examine social interaction as a fluid, ever-changing process. Previous studies of complex social networks largely used static snapshots of groups to examine how members were or were not connected. This new approach, Rand said, is the closest scientists have yet come to describing the way the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants interact daily.

“This model is closer to real life; thus the results are closer to real life,” Rand said. “What this is showing is that a key aspect of real-world social networks is the dynamic component. The point of this paper is to say that those networks are always shifting, and they’re not shifting in random ways.

“There are many nasty things that happen between people, but for the most part we are fantastically cooperative,” Rand said. “We do an amazing job of having thousands or even millions of people living in very close quarters in cities all over the world. In a functioning society, things like trade, friendship, even democracy itself require high levels of cooperation, and when everyone does it, you get good collective outcomes.”

“Cooperation is a fascinating topic,” said Sociology Professor and Pforzheimer House Master Nicholas Christakis. “We see cooperation everywhere in the biological and sociological worlds, but it’s actually very hard to explain. Why do creatures, including ourselves, cooperate?

“What our paper shows is that there is a deep relationship between cooperation and social networks. In particular, we found that if you allow people to rewire their social networks, cooperation persists in the population. I believe this paper is the first to show, empirically, how that relationship works. As humans, we do two unique things: We re-shape the social world around us, and in so doing, we create a better place for ourselves by being nice to each other.”

To demonstrate how groups reach those good collective outcomes, the scientists, including Sam Arbesman, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, recruited nearly 800 volunteers, who, in groups of between 20 and 30, took part in the study by playing a simple game.

At the outset, Rand said, each player begins with an equal number of points, and is randomly connected with one or more players. As the game progresses, players have the opportunity to be either generous, and pay to give points to each player they are connected with, or be selfish, and do nothing. Following each round, some players are randomly given the opportunity to update their connections, based on whether other players have been generous or selfish.

The findings, Rand said, showed that players re-wired their social networks in intriguing ways that helped both themselves and the group they were in.  They were more willing to make new connections or maintain existing connections with those who acted generously, and break connections with those who behaved selfishly.

“Because people have control over who they are interacting with, people are more likely to form connections with people who are cooperative, and much more likely to break those links with people who are not,” Rand said. “Basically, what it boils down to is that you’d better be a nice guy, or else you’re going to get cut off.”

Intriguingly, the study also uncovered a correction mechanism inherent to social groups. Those who were initially noncooperative, Rand said, were found to be twice as likely to become cooperative after being shunned, suggesting that being cut off from the group acts as a sort of internal discipline, ensuring that cooperation remains high within a social network.

“As a result, when you have a network that’s dynamic, you see stable, high levels of cooperation, whereas in a static network you see a steady breakdown of cooperation,” Rand said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Dr. Ryan Enos at HLS on the Role of Trivial Things on Elections

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 11, 2012

Today, October 4th
12 pm, Austin North
Dr. Ryan Enos (Harvard Government)
“Mitt Romney is Really, Really Good Looking: Do Attractiveness and Other Trivial Things Affect Elections?”
Free Chinese food!

Cognitive and social psychology have evidence that physical appearance can powerfully shape human behavior through “thin slice” judgments. Advances in measurement allow us to measure the appearance of individual politicians. Evidence consistently shows that good-looking politicians tend to win elections. But do voters really cast votes for politicians based on good looks? Dr. Enos evaluates the evidence and explains the possible role for these heuristic evaluations in voting.

Here is an excerpt from a related blog post (The Monkey Cage) by Enos and his work with co-authors:

Mitt Romney is better looking than almost everyone reading this blog.  Back in 2008, I wrote about how Sarah Palin’s looks put her in the 95th percentile of politicians.  Romney has even Palin beat—he scores above the 99th percentile.

These results come from a study with my colleagues Matthew Atkinson and Seth Hill, in which we developed a method for obtaining the ratings of the facial competence of governor and Senate candidates from 1994 to 2006 by showing the images of these candidates to undergraduate students for 1 second, as pioneered by Alex Todorov.  In 2007, when we collected this data, we removed highly-recognizable candidates so that opinions about the candidates, other than their appearance, would not affect the ratings.  However, as with Palin, we are fortunate that Romney was a relative unknown at the time (at least to the undergraduates in California that we used), so we obtained a rating of his face.

And what a face it is!  We gathered the ratings of 728 candidates for Senate and Governors’ seats and Romney outscored all but four of them.  The only persons to win election that beat him are Russ Feingold (the best looking Democrat) and John Thune (the best looking overall).  Romney also appears to far outdo Paul Ryan, who came in in the 67th percentile of the 2004 House candidates (although the photos did not include abs).  (Also, that study only included white male candidates and the House was not measured on a common scale with Senators and Governors, but I’d feel pretty confident saying the 67th percentile of the House puts you well behind Romney).

We don’t have a rating of Obama because we deemed him too well-known, even in 2007, because his Senate race had attracted a lot of attention and there was already an excitement building around a possible White House bid.  However, we do have a score for Biden—and Romney has him beat badly.  Biden only comes in the 62nd percentile of Senate and governor candidates.

So, if the election were decided on looks, it would be no contest.  Fortunately for Obama and Biden, the election is not decided by looks.  As we point out in our paper associated with the study, most of the correlation between candidate appearance and election outcomes is probably spurious.  Very few voters are willing to cast their ballot for a candidate based on looks – we estimate that if a candidate moves from the 25th to the 75th percentile in attractiveness, this is likely to gain that candidate about 3.5 percentage points in vote among independent voters, which was not enough to decide the winner of even a single Senate race out of 99 that we examined.  Rather than good looks directly affecting voters’ decisions, it is likely that good looking people like Romney have a lot of success in life, obtain significant human capital—education, career success, education—and because of all they have to lose, they are strategic about which races they enter.

In a certain respect, Romney’s career both fits and is counter to this explanation, because he ran for Senate in 1994, against Ted Kennedy when he did not have a good chance of winning, but he did not run for Governor until 2002 where he used his good looks and the considerable capital he had earned from the Salt Lake City Olympics to run in a seat with no incumbent.  Of course, Romney may not have been able to be as strategic about when to run for President – and unfortunately for him, most voters seem to have made up their mind long ago—nevertheless, if a candidate’s appearance every can make a difference, it should make a difference for Mitt Romney and his face in the 99th percentile.

Related Situationist posts:

More posts on the situation of politics here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji Speaks at HLS

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 10, 2012

Dr. Mahzarin Banaji
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

Friday, October 12 at 5:00 pm
Wasserstein Hall, Room 2019
Harvard Law School
1585 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA

Followed by a public reception at 7:00 pm

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People*
Mahzarin R. Banaji , Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics  at Harvard University

Most human beings take seriously the idea that their behavior ought to be consistent with their stated beliefs and values. The last fifty years of research in psychology has challenged that possibility by revealing that our minds operate, much of the time, without conscious awareness. Professor Banaji will speak to the question of how well-intentioned people behave in ways that deviate from their own intentions, and how this state of affairs compromises our decisions in legal, medical, financial, and political contexts.

*Book to be published February 2013

This is the keynote address of our Cooper v. Aaron conference. Please RSVP here if you plan to attend this talk.

Posted in Illusions, Implicit Associations, Life, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the 53 Percent

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2012

Situationist Contributor Eric Knowles recently published this excellent piece on Huffington Post:

What has crystallized in the last few weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign is nothing less than a battle between two competing theories of success — about where success comes from and the role of government in fostering it.

However, this question, which both campaigns have signaled will feature prominently in the upcoming presidential debates, is not one of competing values, personal philosophies, or party platforms. In fact, it has a right and a wrong answer, and social science can tell us which is which.

Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments reveal the governor’s belief in two alternative paths to success. On the one hand, some people achieve their goals because they possess the “right stuff” — talent, intelligence, and drive. Alternatively, people can get help from external sources — including, of course, the government. For Romney, aptitude and aid are inversely related: the more of one you have, the less of the other you need.

President Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remarks express a theory of success very different from Mr. Romney’s. According to Mr. Obama’s theory, success is most likely when individuals and the environment, including the government, both bring something to the table. For Obama, good environments are no substitute for aptitude and hard work — rather, they allow these qualities to most fully reveal themselves.

The scientific literature speaks clearly to the debate between these two theories of success, and it tells us that Mr. Obama is right.

Consider a recent study in which a team of researchers examined how genes and socioeconomic status combine to foster the development of cognitive abilities in young children.

The authors followed 750 pairs of identical and fraternal twins from the ages of 10 months to two years, measuring the growth in each child’s cognitive abilities over this period. By examining the relationship between cognitive development and the twins’ varying degrees of genetic similarity, the researchers were able to estimate the extent to which cognitive ability is genetically determined. The socioeconomic status (SES) of the children was judged through a combination of measures, including parental educational attainment and household income.

What the researchers found was striking. Among high-SES children, genes were strongly predictive of age-related increases in cognitive ability. In other words, children from relatively well-to-do families performed better or worse depending on their genes. These kids developed up to their intrinsic potential. Yet at the lowest levels of SES, genetic variation wasn’t related to cognitive development at all. This means that, if you’re poor, even having the right stuff doesn’t guarantee good developmental outcomes.

This research indicates that poor environments limit children’s opportunity to develop aptitudes that they are, in a sense, genetically “destined” to acquire. Like a good seed planted in poor soil, even the best equipped of us cannot be expected to thrive in impoverished circumstances. This, in a nutshell, is Mr. Obama’s theory of success.

The implications of this theory are clear: if we want the so-called 47 percent to succeed or fail on its merits — a requirement from which Mr. Romney believes they are currently spared — then the solution is more government assistance, not less.

Mr. Obama’s theory of success also gains credence from psychological research on “stereotype threat,” the experience of anxiety that results from awareness of being negatively stereotyped by others. Members of stigmatized groups often experience such threat in contexts where they know they are expected to do poorly, as when an African American student takes a test of verbal reasoning skills.

Owing to the anxiety caused by stereotype threat, students of color routinely underperform relative to their abilities — a self-fulfilling pattern that only serves to bolster the negative stereotypes that give rise to threat.

Fortunately, recent research by Stanford University’s Gregory Walton and [Situationist Contributor] Geoffrey Cohen has identified simple interventions that inoculate students from the experience of stereotype threat. For example, simply by increasing students’ sense of “belongingness” in academic settings, the researchers drastically reduced racial gaps in academic performance. Protected from the effect of a threatening stereotype environment, minority students’ true abilities shone through.

This work shows that inherent gifts and helpful environments are not inversely related routes to achievement, as Mr. Romney’s theory of success would have us believe. Rather, as Mr. Obama asserts, creating a good environment is the only way of ensuring that individuals’ aptitudes see the light of day.

If this is so, perhaps the government should be in the business of helping people after all — through, for instance, progressive taxation that reduces financial burdens on poor families or affirmative action policies that might help change our stereotypes of minority and women professionals.

Studies like ones I’ve described repudiate the notion that ability and help are interchangeable routes to achievement (the Romney theory of success). Rather, social science corroborates Mr. Obama’s contention that the government has a role to play in enabling its citizens to express whatever talents and aptitudes they possess to the greatest possible degree.

Eric D. Knowles is a Situationist Contributor and assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology. He studies the psychological factors that influence people’s political choices.

Chart from here.

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Posted in Education, Situationist Contributors | 2 Comments »

The Implicit Situation of Criminal Justice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 5, 2012

Robert Smith, Charles Ogletree, and Johanna Wald hare recently posted a synopsis of their chapter, titled “Coloring Punishment: Implicit Social Cognition and Criminal Justice” (in Justin D. Levinson and Robert J. Smith (eds), Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law, 2012) on SSRN.  Here’s the synopsis:

The United States has become the world’s leader in incarceration. The size and pervasiveness of the criminal justice regime have no parallel in history. One in 100 citizens are locked away in prisons and jails – a figure that reflects a tenfold expansion in the corrections population in less than four decades. If we count those individuals who are currently on probation or parole, more than 7 million men and women are under legal supervision – a number equal to the population of Israel. This system of mass incarceration – which includes policing, corrections, and the courts – employs 2.2 million Americans – which exceeds the 1.7 million Americans employed in higher education and the 650,000 employed by the system of public welfare. At the turn of the millennium, approximately 1.5 million children had at least one parent in jail or prison, and 10 million have had a parent in jail at some time during their lives.

Racial disparities are a defining feature of this regime. One in eight black males between the ages of 20–29 are in prison or jail on any given day, as compared with 1 in 59 white males of the same age. At the beginning of the new millennium black males had almost a 1 in 3 chance of serving time in prison, as compared with 3 in 50 for white males. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has suggested that current criminal justice policies and practices “threaten to render irrelevant fifty years of hard-fought civil rights progress.”

There are varied explanations for these disparities. Most analyses point to a constellation of complex and interrelated structural and institutional factors that include poverty, high rates of joblessness, low levels of education, and the clustering of blacks and Latinos in concentrated urban areas that are more heavily policed than predominantly white suburban and rural areas. In this chapter, we put forth a complementary analysis, one intended to fill in gaps that we consider to be missing from these structural analyses. The ongoing racial disparities evidenced in every phase of the criminal justice system can be at least partly explained by the levels of implicit racial bias held by key actors in the system. Although we cannot yet offer “the smoking gun” that indisputably links the presence of implicit bias among decision-makers to harsher criminal sanctions for black Americans, our hypothesis is backed by a robust and fast-growing literature that has developed over the past decade. This scholarship demonstrates conclusively that Americans (whites and people of color alike) possess negative implicit biases against black citizens. These implicit race biases are held by liberals and conservatives; by young people and old; and by residents on the East Coast, the West Coast, the South, and the Midwest. They often coexist, unknowingly by the holder, alongside more overtly egalitarian views. What makes them so important in any discussion about race and the law is that these implicit biases frequently determine our actions and sway our decisions. In the criminal justice context, these biases lead, for example, to more arrests and harsher sentences for blacks than for whites who commit similar offenses.

It is vital to understand and document more fully how and where implicit biases operate within the criminal justice system. Doing so will enable us to develop policies, practices, and strategies aimed at identifying and reducing their effects. In this chapter, we offer specific illustrations of how implicit racial bias influences the actions of key decision-makers at various phases of our criminal justice system. This chapter is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of the role of implicit bias within the criminal justice system; rather its objective is to match the literature on implicit bias with actual examples of its “real-world” effects. From the formulation of criminal justice policy, to the decision to target citizens of a particular race, to the selection of criminal petit juries, the impact of implicit race bias on decisions about arrests, sentences, and severity of punishment is broad and deep.

This chapter proceeds in five parts. Part I sets the stage for this analysis, introducing key implicit racial bias studies that demonstrate that the face of crime in America is black. More specifically, it documents that black citizens are considered to be more dangerous, hostile, and prone to criminality and also less fully human than white citizens. Building on this foundation, Part II examines the role that implicit racial bias plays in the formulation of crime policy. Part III examines why implicit racial bias might drive disparate outcomes in the enforcement of criminal laws. This part examines the phenomenon in two distinct contexts: (1) the decision to punish a student in the school discipline context and (2) the use of unnecessary force in police–citizen encounters. Part IV uses the example of discriminatory jury selection to explore how implicit racial bias might contribute to the exclusion of black citizens from the criminal justice decision-making process. Part V concludes the chapter.

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Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

SALMS Fall Speaker Series

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 3, 2012

SALMS is excited to announce its Speakers Series slate for Fall 2012. All of the following talks will take place at noon in Austin North unless otherwise noted.
  • 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, “Mitt Romney Is Really, Really Good Looking: Do Attractiveness and Other Trivial Things Affect Elections?” — 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, Mind Sciences & the Election, cosponsored by HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, and HLS American Constitution Society.

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

The Situation of Political Yard Signage

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 2, 2012

For The Conversation, Shannon Callahan wrote an interesting piece on the social psychology of political yard signs.  

As the November elections draw nearer, front yards across America are sprouting campaigns signs broadcasting their chosen political candidates.

These lawn signs have been a traditional part of politics in the United States for well over 60 years, and have remained commonplace even in the age of Facebook and other new media. Lawn signs can often feel ubiquitous in the build-up to major elections, yet in actuality most Americans don’t display them. However, more than enough voters are posting signs for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on their front yards – and apartment balconies and businesses and dorm windows and roadsides – to keep the tradition alive and well.

Some communities seem to be a sea of signs all supporting the same candidate, perhaps with the odd sign here and there that defiantly displays a contrary opinion. Other communities are more divided politically, and in places such as these lawn signs are a critical way of showing just what side you stand on. Yet whether people live in an area that is strongly in favour of one party or one that is more contested, displaying a lawn sign is more than just campaigning for a specific politician, doing one’s civic duty, or even conforming to neighbourhood norms.

Lawn signs are also about communicating our group membership to others, something that fulfils some very basic psychological needs. People want to feel accepted, and putting up a lawn sign literally symbolises that they are part of a group. What’s more, they gain strength from their group memberships and symbols. For example, Chris Miller at the University of Minnesota found that after the 2008 election, signs supporting the victorious Obama stayed up longer than signs supporting his defeated opponent John McCain. This suggests that people use lawn signs to “bask in the reflected glory” of their group’s success and “cut off the reflected failure” of their group’s losses. Thus, lawn signs can help us feel accepted and feel good about ourselves.

Yet despite their widespread usage and the psychological advantages just described, whether or not lawn signs are effective in winning elections is not clear. For presidential campaigns, lawn signs are all about social influence: capturing the all-important swing voters and motivating supporters to actually turn up at the polls come Election Day. Unfortunately, there is little direct evidence supporting that lawn signs can achieve these goals. However, recent research from the Attitudes and Group Identity Lab at the University of California, Davis, indirectly suggests lawn signs can be an effective source of social influence, though that this effectiveness may depend upon how far away the election is.

With my collaborator Alison Ledgerwood, we found that temporal distance – whether something will happen in the near future versus distant future – influences the degree to which people are affected by majority opinions versus single individuals. In our experiments, undergraduate students read about proposed changes to a political issue that they were told would go into effect in the near or distant future, as well how the majority of other students ostensibly felt about these changes.

When the changes were expected to occur in the distant future, our participants’ own opinions on the issue were more influenced by group opinion; that is, they conformed to the majority. But when the changes were expected to occur in the near future, participants’ opinions were less susceptible to group influence. These results complement findings from an earlier paper by our lab that suggest as events draw nearer in time, people are more influenced by the opinion of a single individual.

But what does this mean for lawn signs? As the election is currently over a month away, a large bloc of signs for Obama is likely to have more of an effect on a person’s vote than a lone sign for Romney. However, as the weeks fly by and the election draws nearer, a single sign on a specific person’s yard may start to have more of an effect.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that large numbers of signs for one candidate will ever be meaningless, even if Election Day is close. Distance affects the information people attend to for a reason: distance can lead to abstract, big-picture thinking (“why”) whereas proximity can lead to concrete, fine-details thinking (“how”). Even as the election draws close, encouraging people to think about the big picture can put them in an abstract mindset that pays more attention to the majority of lawn signs.

Thus, there’s more to lawn signs than tradition and a candidate’s name. It’s not simply an issue of which side has more signs posted, but also the mindset of the person viewing the sign. And lawn signs may not only help the candidate, but also may help the person posting the sign meet some of their basic psychological needs.

Not bad for laminated cardboard.

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Posted in Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

SALMS Introductory Meeting – Tonight!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 1, 2012

SALMS General Body Meeting
Monday, October 1, 7 p.m.
Hauser 101
Milk + cookies buffet!

For Harvard University students interested in getting more involved in the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (“SALMS”), there will be an introductory meeting tonight.   Learn more about the goals and upcoming projects and find out how you can get involved.

Posted in Events, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

 
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