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Archive for the ‘Abstracts’ Category

The Situational Effects of Food Advertising

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2012

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

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

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

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

Comparing Distractions – Beer versus Facebook

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 8, 2012

From PsychCentral:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Situationist posts:

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

The Situation of Psychopathy

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 20, 2012

A former student of mine, Brett Murphy, has co-authored a fascinating and sophisticated paper on the roots of psychopathy, which you can download on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

“Psychopathy” is a psychopathological construct involving a diverse set of affective deficits and behavioral disinhibitions that result in substantial antisocial behavior, and includes traits such as extreme egocentricity, profound lack of empathy, and limited ability to experience guilt and remorse. The costs that “psychopaths” impose on society are enormous. Researchers have estimated that they comprise more than 15 percent of the adult prison population and are even more highly represented among repeat violent offenders. Although psychopaths are not necessarily violent, when they do commit violent offenses, their violence is very often coldblooded, predatorial, and instrumentally employed in the pursuit of another goal, such as money, sex, or power.

This unpublished manuscript extensively reviews and summarizes much of the psychological and neurobiological literature related to “psychopathy.” In addition to reviewing the existing findings regarding psychopathy and the prominent hypotheses regarding its etiology and unifying characteristics, this manuscript also offers a novel theory of the primary form of psychopathy, the “power assessment” hypothesis. This “power assessment” hypothesis argues: (1) that much of human behavior and cognition is causally influenced by bioregulatory mechanisms related to internal, subconscious assessments of power; and (2) that abnormalities in these mechanisms, when present starting early in childhood, may generate the cognitive, attentional, and behavorial characteristics of primary psychopathy.

Download the paper for free here.

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Image from Flickr.

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God’s Situational Effects

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 8, 2012

This is the fourth in our series of posts intended to help our readers with their New Year’s resolutions.  From USA Today, here is a brief description of research recently co-authored by Kristin Laurin and Situationist Contributors Aaron Kay and Gráinne Fitzsimons .  

God references slipped into tests decreased student’s belief that they controlled their own destiny, researchers report, but made them more resistant to junk food temptation.

In the current Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study, six experiments on engineering students, researchers led by Kristin Laurin of Canada’s University of Waterlooo reported that just mentioning the Supreme Being in tests affected student self-perceptions and self-control, regardless of their fundamental religious views.

In the first set of tests, the research team gave half the students word-game type-tasks, telling them the tests were indicators of future achievement. Half the tests included references to religion in the sentences read by the students, while the rest contained reference to merely pleasant things, such as the sun, instead.

The result? Religion references dropped student views significantly on how much they felt in control of their careers.

However, in the last three experiments the team slipped religious references into similar tasks tests, but then checked student ability to resist junk food and sweets.

The result? Religion references increased the student’s ability to resist temptation. Most remarkable, the effect seemed independent of the depth of the engineers’ piety.

Given how often religious references crop up in daily life, the study authors suggest that they may play a role in even the most godless person’s psychology, and call for more research to confirm their finding.

More.

(Citation: Laurin, K., Kay., A. C., & Fitzsimons, G. M. (in press). Divergent effects of activating thoughts of god on self-regulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – pdf available here.)

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

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Life, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Deep Capture of Financial Institutions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 31, 2011

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

* * *

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

* * *

Download the paper here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

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

The Situation of “Opting Out”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 29, 2011

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

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

From APS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More.

You can download a pdf of the article here.

Related Situationst posts:

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

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The Financial Situation of Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 24, 2011

From UC Berkeley News Center:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More.

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

Can The Law Go Upstream?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 22, 2011

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

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

You can download the paper for free here.

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Motivated Ignorance

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 20, 2011

From EENews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trust-and-avoid ploy

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

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

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

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

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

More.

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

The Risky Situation of In-House Lawyers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 19, 2011

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

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

Download the paper for free here.

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

Choice and Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2011

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

You can download a pdf of the draft here.

Related Situationst posts:

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

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

The Dehumanized Situation of Atrocities

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2011

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

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

For most people, such a heinous act is unconscionable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Flickr.

Related Situationist posts:

Susan Fiske’s New Book

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

Situation, McDonalds, & Tort Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2011

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

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

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

The Connection Between Homophobia and Homosexual Arousal

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 14, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth | Leave a Comment »

Atheism-ism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2011

From USA Today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image from Flickr.

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

Robert Sampson on the Situational Effects of Neighborhoods

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 5, 2011

From

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

From University of Chicago Press:

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

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

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

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

The Fundamental(ist) Attribution Error

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 4, 2011

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

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

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

The Creative Situation of Cheating

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 2, 2011

From the American Psychological Association:

Creative people are more likely to cheat than less creative people, possibly because this talent increases their ability to rationalize their actions, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains, but creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks,” said lead researcher Francesca Gino, PhD, of Harvard University.

Gino and her co-author, Dan Ariely, PhD, of Duke University, conducted a series of five  experiments to test their thesis that more creative people would cheat under circumstances where they could justify their bad behavior. Their research was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers used a series of recognized psychological tests and measures to gauge research subjects’ creativity. They also tested participants’ intelligence. In each of the five experiments, participants received a small sum for showing up. Then, they were presented with tasks or tests where they could be paid more if they cheated. For example, in one experiment, participants took a general knowledge quiz in which they circled their answers on the test paper. Afterward, the experimenter told them to transfer their answers to “bubble sheets” – but the experimenter told the group she had photocopied the wrong sheet and that the correct answers were lightly marked. The experimenters also told participants they would be paid more for more correct answers and led them to believe that they could cheat without detection when transferring their answers. However, all the papers had unique identifiers.

The results showed the more creative participants were significantly more likely to cheat, and that there was no link between intelligence and dishonesty – i.e., more intelligent but less creative people were not more inclined toward dishonesty.

In another experiment, test subjects were shown drawings with dots on two sides of a diagonal line and asked to indicate whether there were more dots on the left side or right side. In half of 200 trials, it was virtually impossible to tell whether there were more dots on one side or another. However, participants were told they’d be paid 10 times as much (5 cents vs. 0.5 cents) for each time they said there were more dots on the right side. As predicted, the more creative participants were significantly more likely to give the answer that paid more.

“Dishonesty and innovation are two of the topics most widely written about in the popular press,” the authors wrote. “Yet, to date, the relationship between creativity and dishonest behavior has not been studied empirically. … The results from the current article indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas.”

The authors concede some important limitations in their work, most notably that they created situations in which participants were tempted by money to cheat. They suggested that future research should investigate whether creativity would lead people to satisfy selfish, short-term goals rather than their higher aspirations when faced with self-control dilemmas, such as eating a slice of cake when trying to lose weight.

More.

The Dark Side of Creativity (PDF, 185KB)

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Morality | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Illusion of Judicial Objectivity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 27, 2011

Daniel Real and Judge John Irwin have posted their article, “Unconscious Influences on Judicial Decision-Making: The Illusion of Objectivity” (McGeorge Law Review, Vol. 43, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Judicial decision making is influenced by unconscious decisions and motivations – implicit biases. This paper explores how implicit bias impacts judicial decision-making, as well as considerations for minimizing negative impacts of implicit bias.

* * *

Here is the article’s preview.

* * *

Most people, especially members of the judiciary, strive to make decisions that are correct, fair, ethical, and that are free from the influence of biases and prejudices. For members of the judiciary, the very notion of impartial decisionmaking is codified in the Judicial Code of Conduct. It is in the very nature of being a judge to be an impartial and unbiased arbiter of the cases presented to the court for disposition. Most judges expend significant energy and thought consciously avoiding personal biases and prejudices in the decision-makingprocess.

When considering biases and prejudices that influence decision-making, what most readily comes to mind is conscious bias and prejudice. But in recent years the subject of implicit bias—unconscious or subconscious influences on decision-making—has reemerged in a variety of psychological and social science venues and has potentially significant ramifications in judicial decision-making. This paper introduces the concept of implicit bias in useful terms and then points the reader to deeper and more nuanced discussions of the subject and its ramifications across the social science spectrum. This paper will then consider some aspects of implicit bias’ role in judicial decision-making, both in terms of quick, heat-of-trial decisions (known as “blinking”) and in terms of carefully considered and weighed decisions (known as “staring”). Finally, this paper proposes some avenues of thought for future consideration about implicit bias’ potential influences and possible steps toward minimizing whatever harmful effects it might have on judicial decision-making.

* * *

Download the article for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

For a list of Situationist posts discussing the research on implicit bias and the IAT, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, System Legitimacy | 1 Comment »

Rationalize or Rebel?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 19, 2011

From APS:

Psychological studies have found two contradictory results about how people respond to rules. Some research has found that, when there are new restrictions, you rationalize them; your brain comes up with a way to believe the restriction is a good idea. But other research has found that people react negatively against new restrictions, wanting the restricted thing more than ever.

Kristin Laurin of the University of Waterloo thought the difference might be absoluteness — how much the restriction is set in stone. “If it’s a restriction that I can’t really do anything about, then there’s really no point in hitting my head against the wall and trying to fight against it,” she says. “I’m better off if I just give up. But if there’s a chance I can beat it, then it makes sense for my brain to make me want the restricted thing even more, to motivate me to fight” Laurin wrote the new paper with [Situationist Contributor] Aaron Kay and Gavan Fitzsimons of Duke University.

In an experiment in the new study, participants read that lowering speed limits in cities would make people safer. Some read that government leaders had decided to reduce speed limits. Of those people, some were told that this legislation would definitely come into effect, and others read that it would probably happen, but that there was still a small chance government officials could vote it down.

People who thought the speed limit was definitely being lowered supported the change more than control subjects, but people who thought there was still a chance it wouldn’t happen supported it less than these control subjects. Laurin says this confirms what she suspected about absoluteness; if a restriction is definite, people find a way to live with it.

This could help explain how uprisings spread across the Arab world earlier this year. When people were living under dictatorships with power that appeared to be absolute, Laurin says, they may have been comfortable with it. But once Tunisia’s president fled, citizens of neighboring countries realized that their governments weren’t as absolute as they seemed — and they could have dropped whatever rationalizations they were using to make it possible to live under an authoritarian regime. Even more, the now non-absolute restriction their governments represented could have exacerbated their reaction, fueling their anger and motivating them to take action.

And how does this relate to unrequited love? It confirms people’s intuitive sense that leading someone can just make them fall for you more deeply, Laurin says. “If this person is telling me no, but I perceive that as not totally absolute, if I still think I have a shot, that’s just going to strengthen my desire and my feeling, that’s going to make me think I need to fight to win the person over,” she says. “If instead I believe no, I definitely don’t have a shot with this person, then I might rationalize it and decide that I don’t like them that much anyway.”

Click here for PDF.

Image from Flickr.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

 
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