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The Situation of Poor Choices

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 5, 2012

Social psychologist and Situationist friend Dave Nussbaum has another outstanding situationist post over on Random Assignments.  Here’s how it starts.

One of the obstacles that keeps the poor from rising out of poverty is the tendency to make costly financial decisions – like buying lottery tickets, taking out high interest loans (PDF), and failing to enroll in assistance programs – that only make their situation worse. In the past, these poor decisions have been attributed either to low income individuals’ personalities or issues in their environment, such as poor education or substandard living conditions. New research published this month in Science by Booth Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science Anuj Shah points to a new answer: living with scarcity changes people’s psychology.

The basic idea is that when resources are scarce – when people are short on time, or money, or food – each decision about how best to use those resources takes on greater urgency than when resources are abundant. This focus can have positive effects in the short term, but it comes at the expense of neglecting other, less urgent demands. For example, when they are under the press of urgent expenses like rent and groceries, people may neglect to do routine maintenance on their car and end up with costly (and avoidable) repairs down the road.

Shah, along with colleagues Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard and Eldar Shafir of Princeton, published five studies in which he studied the effects of scarcity on decision making in various games in which people were paid according to their performance. In each of the studies some people received ample resources with which to play, while others received very few. Moreover, in some studies the players had the opportunity to borrow additional resources with interest. The researchers then observed how scarcity affected the players’ borrowing behavior, their performance, and the psychological processes at play.

Across the studies Shah found that for people who had very few resources, the games took on more urgency. They became more focused on the task at hand in order to make the best use of their scarce resources, but that this added focus came at a price, including mental fatigue, costly borrowing decisions, and poor overall performance.

For example, in an Angry Birds-type of game, in which the object was to knock down as many targets as possible, players who could take only three shots per round spent more time aiming each shot than players who had fifteen shots. This added focus improved performance, but it had downsides. When players were given the opportunity to “borrow” a shot, by giving up two shots in a later round of the game, players who had fewer in shots made counterproductive borrowing decisions that hurt their overall performance.

Read the rest of Dave’s post, discussing possible implications of the research, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Blogroll, Choice Myth, Distribution, Marketing, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Success

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 20, 2012

Dave Nussbaum has an excellent new post over on Random Assignments.  Here’s how it starts.

I don’t think Michael Lewis was trying to make a political point when he gave the commencement address at Princeton University last month (watch the whole thing here). Lewis, the author of several bestselling books including MoneyballLiar’s Poker, and The Big Short, knows a thing or two about the interdependence of luck and success and he was sharing his thoughts on the matter with the about-to-be Princeton graduates. Here’s a taste of what he told them:

Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky. I make this point because — along with this speech — it is something that will be easy for you to forget.

He’s right about that last point; it is easy to forget. It’s also convenient, Lewis told Jeffrey Brown in a follow-up interview on PBS’ NewsHour. Most people would acknowledge that both luck and merit are important ingredients to success. It’s just that people often like to feel like they are the authors of their accomplishments and ignore everything and everyone else who played a role. “As they age, and succeed,” Lewis told the graduates, “people feel their success was somehow inevitable.”

Now Lewis isn’t trying to deny Princeton graduates (or anyone else) credit for their success. He just wants them to take a minute to “dwell on just how fortunate they are.” His hope is simply that they have some compassion for people who worked just as hard they did but were less fortunate. As it turns out, there’s some research that suggests that taking a minute to dwell on your good fortune might have exactly that effect.

Way over on the other side of the country, on the campus of another elite university, Chris Bryan and his colleagues (PDF) asked Stanford University students to take a minute (or ten) to tell the story of how they got into the prestigious college. Not all the students got the same instructions, though. Half of the students were asked to focus on the role that “hard work, self-discipline and wise decisions played in helping you get here.” The other half were told to focus on the role of “chance, opportunity and help from others.” Neither group had any difficulty writing the essay. As Bryan, who will be joining the faculty at UC San Diego this fall, explained to me in an email:

People writing about merit would tell the story most successful people probably tell themselves by default–reminiscing about the long hours they spent studying, the times they made the “tough choice” they knew to be right, or how they skipped nights out with friends to stay home and work on an important paper. In some ways, the most interesting thing was that most people who got the good fortune instructions had no trouble acknowledging the lucky breaks they had gotten. Many said things like “I definitely worked hard to get where I am but I realize how fortunate I was to be born into a family that could afford to give me the support and resources I needed to succeed.”

So it seems that people are capable of seeing the role of luck and merit in contributing to their success. What Lewis might be particularly pleased to see, though, is how dwelling on luck, and the help they’d received from others, changed people’s attitudes. Compared to the students who wrote about their own merit, students who wrote about the role of good fortune in their success were, on average, more strongly in favor of policies like universal healthcare and access to unemployment benefits, which presumably helps with one’s obligation to the less fortunate. In addition to increasing support for liberal policies, thinking about one’s luck decreased support for conservative policies like building more prisons and instituting a flat tax. As Bryan explained to me, “it’s not that people’s ideology doesn’t matter, it’s just that their views on important issues can move around significantly depending on how they think about their own success. When they’re focused on their own talent and effort, they’re much less willing to contribute to the common good than when they pause to recognize that luck and help from other people played a big part in their ability to succeed.”

Read the rest of the post, which examines the relevance of Lewis’s remarks and Bryan’s research for politics, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Blogroll, Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Random Assignments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2012

Social Psychologist Dave Nussbaum recently launched his blog, Random Assignments.

The blog already contains several posts worth reading, including a series on the important topic of replication in social science.  The first two parts are “Replicating Dissonance” and “Conceptual Replication.”

Here’s a sample of Nussbaum’s writing:

The 1950s were a bleak time if you were a social psychologist interested in the empirical study of thoughts and feelings and how they affect human behavior. At that time, experimental psychology was dominated by behaviorism, an approach which focused exclusively on observable behavior, exiling ephemeral concepts like beliefs and emotions outside the boundaries of proper science. But things were about to change.

The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, published by Leon Festinger in 1957, was one of those things. The theory was based on the simple idea that when a person simultaneously holds two conflicting beliefs he will experience a feeling of discomfort – cognitive dissonance – and that he will be motivated to end that discomfort by reducing the conflict between the beliefs, often by changing one of them.

Today, the term cognitive dissonance has entered our vernacular and the idea that we change or discard beliefs that don’t suit us seems like common sense. Research on how people rationalize their beliefs has spread to political science, medicine, neuroscience, and the law, and is one of the cornerstones of our understanding of human psychology. But in 1957, at a time when the field of psychology was dominated by behaviorism, the notion was far more controversial. Luckily, Leon Festinger and his colleagues and students conducted numerous experiments that tested predictions derived from Cognitive Dissonance Theory that could not be accounted for by behaviorist principles.

One of my favorite of these experiments (PDF), published by Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills in 1959, had college women reading obscene words out loud (words so obscene that I don’t feel comfortable writing them here myself, but the F word is in there, as is a four-letter word that also means rooster, and remember, this was 1959!). The women were reading these words as an initiation to get into a discussion group about the psychology of sex – they had to prove they were not going to be too embarrassed to take part in the conversation. This was the “severe initiation” condition. Another group of women recited a milder list of words (e.g., prostitute, virgin); this was the “mild initiation” condition. The women then heard a recording of a discussion by the group to which they had gained entry – as it turned out, the discussion was, according to the study’s authors, “one of the most worthless and uninteresting discussions imaginable.”  The question was which group of women would like the psychology of sex discussion group more, the ones who had to undergo the severe initiation or the mild one?

To find out, pay a visit to Nussbaum’s blog.

Related Situationist posts:

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

John Palfrey’s PLMS Conference Reflections

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

The brilliant John Palfrey posted some of his reflections about Saturday’s PLMS conference on his blog.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Today, Prof. Jon Hanson is hosting the Fifth Conference on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School.  The idea, dating back to 2007, has been to “introduce to scholars and students of law and legal theory intriguing, relevant research from social psychology, social cognition, public health, and related disciplines and to stimulate a productive, interdisciplinary exchange between scholars across these fields.”  It’s a rare and fun opportunity to hear from a broad range of mind scientists about their work and how it might intersect with ours in the field of law.

For instance, Dr. Laura Kubzansky (Harvard School of Public Health) discussed the relationship between stress and resilience.  (One data point that jumped out very clearly: the biggest contributor to some terrible health effects is work-related stress.)

Dr. Kristina Olson (Yale psychology department), an expert on children’s social cognitive development, spoke directly to some of the issues that we wonder about in the Youth and Media Policy group at the Berkman Center with respect to social inequalities.  Very young children (aged 3 – 5), her research shows, have an understanding of social inequality.  Even three year olds are more likely to presume that whites in America are more likely to be rich than black Americans (whether or not the children asked were white or black).  Another interesting finding of Dr. Olson’s was the likelihood of small children, each of whom has been allocated a stuffed animal to give to one person, to give the gift to a person who had allocated resources more equitably than others.

Arnold Ho (soon-to-be-minted ph.d. in psychology at Harvard) works on social dominance theory.  He introduced the theory to those of us previously ignorant of it (myself included) and showed how new research on the biased perception of biracials (Asian-White and Black-White biracials, in his work) may serve a hierarchy-increasing function.

There were many additional wonderful presentations and take-aways, especially in Jon Hanson’s own closing lecture.  My three thoughts at the end of the day: 1) how fun it is to feel allowed to be a student again, where the topic on the table is relevant to my area of work, but is not something about which I know the first thing; 2) how much more we can learn about kids and technology if we study the methods and the learning of mind sciences researchers; and 3) how valuable Jon Hanson’s work on the way we make policy judgments generally is for anyone studying the law or making normative judgments about how to order society.

* * *

Read the entire post on John Palfrey’s outstanding blog here.

Posted in Blogroll, Distribution, Education | 2 Comments »

Blogroll Review – Part 6

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 21, 2011

Over at the terrific new Law & Mind Blog, some Harvard Law students are writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs. Each post provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable. Here’s Part 6 of that series (authored by 1L Marty Ehlenbach).

Neuroanthropology: Featured Blog

Neuroscience and anthropology, culture and environment, past and present.  This blog seeks to find relevant connections between various disciplines to better understand the encultured brain and body.  From the authors:

Although we believe that human neural structure is biological and the product of evolution, we also recognize that the development processes shaping each individual include a host of other forces as well, including internal dynamics, so that we cannot privilege any single cause over all others.

The blog was originally created as an independent blog here (check it out for old posts), but moved to become part of a network of blogs on mind sciences.  Its principal bloggers are Daniel Lende, anthropology professor from the University of South Florida, and Greg Downey, anthropology professor at Macquerie University in Sydney, Australia.

Why neuroanthropology?  This post explains that the brain itself adapts to its environment, and thus to fully understand it we need to look both at biology and at culture.  It further states four roles for neuroanthropologists:

(1) understanding the interaction of brain and culture and its implication for our understanding of mind, behavior, and self; (2) examining the role of the nervous system in the creation of social structures; (3) providing empirical and critical inquiry into the interplay of neuroscience and ideologies about the brain; and (4) using neuroanthropology to provide novel syntheses and advances in human science theory.

The blog generally presents academic research, and features a number of guest bloggers.  It seeks to both explain things clearly and to rigorously analyze the accuracy of findings in popular science.  One article criticizes the idea of memes, while another exposes faulty reporting regarding a finding connecting having sex and willingness to take financial risks.  Another, very relevant to legal questions about culpability and rationales behind punishment, discusses how we should think about the ways that culture shapes our morality.  Do we act in a certain way because we’ve been shaped by evolution to do so?  In what sense are our decisions actually self-determined?  These topics, and many more, make reading the blog a fascinating and multifaceted experience.

See below for other interesting blogs relating to mind science.

Mind Matters

This blog is part of a wider project to promote an exchange of knowledge by connecting experts in a variety of fields.  Authored by David Berreby, a writer and researcher, Mind Matters focuses to a large extent on studies in the area of social psychology, and analyzes current current news and research.  We, as human beings, do not act rationally, and this has far-reaching consequences in law, economics, and virtually every field; Berreby highlights “the gaps between what we think we’re doing and what research says we’re doing.”  Discussions range from the ways that genes help you choose your friends to musings on the widely controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, and generally contain links to scientific studies to make research easily available to the interested reader.

Neuroethics & Law

Founded by Brooklyn Law School Professor Adam Kolber, the Neuroethics & Law blog is a forum for those interested in “legal and ethical issues relating to the brain and cognition.”  It highlights news relating to the field of brain science, links to recently published research, and announces conferences.  In one particularly interesting discussion, Kolber uses a recent court case to argue that we have an ethical obligation to take into account the particular ways that prisoners experience punishment.  In the case discussed, a Dutch prisoner is suing because he prison cell is simply too small to accommodate a person of his large stature; considering the implications, one wonders if the theory could extend to different treatment for prisoners with a dislike of small spaces, or possibly a fear of orange jumpsuits…

Neuronarrative

Originally here (check out for older posts), the blog has moved over to Psychology Today, and as expected deals with a wide variety of popular topics in the field of psychology.  The blog includes interviews with psychologists, and links to various videos of interest to author David DiSalvo, as well as presenting his musings on a wide variety of topics relating to decision-making and how we experience the world.  Most importantly, Mr. DiSalvo settles the argument over which breed of monster, the vampire or the zombie, best captures the imagination of the modern psyche in a recession economy.

Neuromarketing

As expected, this blog focuses on ways you can make money by taking recent brain research into account when creating an ad, discussing marketing strategy, or thinking about building a brand.  It also discusses ethical implications of new technology, highlights new studies, and discusses basic things businesses can do to ensure success.  Written by Roger Dooley, a neuromarketing consultant, it does its best to show that marketing does not have to be used to obfuscate or bamboozle, but can have a positive effect on the world as well.

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SALMS Website

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 20, 2011

The Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences has a beautiful new website.  Check it out here.

Posted in Blogroll, Education | 1 Comment »

Blogroll Review – Part 5

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 17, 2011

Over at the terrific new Law & Mind Blog, some Harvard Law students are writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs. Each post provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable. Here’s Part 5 of that series (authored by LLM candidate David Simon).

Have you ever wanted to know what blogs out there discuss mind sciences, law, or both? This is your lucky day. In this post I briefly review five blogs that relate to law & mind sciences. I feature one blog, Mind Hacks, and explain it in a bit more detail than the others.

The blogs:

1. The Jury Room.

Run by Keene Trial Consulting, The Jury Room–as the name suggests–is about juries! Specifically, the site focuses on how juries make decisions and react to behavior–and it generally explores questions of jury psychology (e.g., bias). The blog includes posts about current psychological research, events, and legal trends. One recent post, for example, discussed research showing how specific words correlate with individuals’ levels of trust.

2. Laura’s Psychology Blog.

Laura Freberg is a professor of psychology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where she studies biological psychology. Her eponymous blog is a mostly a collection of psychological literature that she is reading currently. It is a great aggregator of current information on psychology.

3. Legal Theory Blog.

One of the more well-known legal blogs among academics, the Legal Theory Blog reviews and comments on scholarship–and posts announcements about conferences and events–on nearly all legal subjects. Lawrence Solum, a professor of law & philospohy at the University of Illinois College of Law, runs the site. In addition to these reviews, he also periodically posts on subjects of legal theory–the legal lexicon. In a recent lexicon post, for example, Professor Solum explores a “virtue jurisprudence”–how a philosophy of virtue can apply to law, and the implications flowing from it.

4. Mediation Channel.

Founded by Boston-area attorney and mediator Diane Levine, Mediation Channel provides a nice cross-fertilization of law and mind sciences. The blog explores how cognition constraints and biases affect our thinking about fact. Levine frequently provides links to other useful blog posts or articles and comments on them. She pays particular attention to the implications psychology has for law and, specifically, mediation.

5. Mind Hacks (*Featured Blog*).

Like Laura’s Psychology Blog, Mind Hacks is focused exclusively on mind sciences research. The creators–Tom Stafford (a lecturer in psychology and congnitive science at The University of Sheffield) and Matt Webb–have been posting since November 2004. Many of their blog posts discuss new articles on scholarly psychology research, and they comment when it seems relevant. They don’t, however, limit their content. Posts often touch on news articles or other blogs, which provides a good deal of depth to the blog.

The blog has a lot of nice features. One of these is its ability to coherently string together large amounts of literature. The authors frequently cite articles and discuss how they are related or intersect.

The authors also do a fine job of both summarizing articles so that a potentially-interested person can decide if she should continue reading. A prime example occurs in this post, where the authors collect a variety of links to articles and provide short summaries of each.

For those more interested in techniques and in-depth discussions of psychology, the authors sometimes post their own thoughts on the subject. In a post on The Psychophysics of Policy Positions, for instance, the authors explain a particular psychological method for testing the accuracy and sensitivity of human sense. They then propose applying it to a common problem; namely, whether voters can accurately discriminate between and identify stated policy positions from different political parties. How?

We do this by presenting many small fragments of the manifestos and asking a participant to judge which party they are from. By gathering many many judgements we can get a sense of how likely they are to name each particular party (i.e. their bias) and get a sense for how likely they are to be correct (i.e. their sensitivity).

These data can then be used to assess individuals’ ability to discriminate between policy positions. The post demonstrates how the authors contribute beyond mere aggregation of interesting information on psychology: they propose to apply psychology techniques to help resolve real world issues.

Mind Hacks is a great resource for information on the mind sciences. In addition to linking to stories, articles, and blog posts, the authors provide concise descriptions of their linked-to content. They also opine when necessary, providing interesting thoughts on issues in psychology and cognitive research. I’m proud to make Mind Sciences my *featured blog* of the week!

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Blogroll Review – Part 3

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 13, 2011

Over at the terrific new Law & Mind Blog, some Harvard Law students are writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs. Each post provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable. Here’s Part 3 of that series (authored by 1L student Cassie Mathias).

Everyday Sociology: “What if sociologists ran the world?”, begins the “About this Site” section of the Everyday Sociology blog. The description could not be more on point. The blog is a compilation of a wide-variety of commentary from sociologists across the United States about what is going on in the news, or “what should be in the news.” The site truly does provide an entertaining point of view on current events. The writing is informed, funny, and current. The authors truly do put a unique spin on a variety of different topics. For example, in Social Theory and Siblings, Sally Raskoff commented on a recent NPR story that included three theories on why siblings can be so different (i.e., a Darwinian Theory, an Exaggeration Theory, and an Environmental Approach). She explained the theories with ease and cited other relevant examples of the theories to display how one can use theories to explain specific phenomenon.

Other posts are less academic, and are instead stories of the personal experiences and viewpoints of the authors. For example, When Our Baby Was Born, outlined in very personal detail. Tod Schoepflin’s expectations and experience during and after his wife’s childbirth. In Culture and Parties, Janis Prince compared the questions she was asked at holiday cocktail parties depending on the culture of the people with whom she was mingling.

Some posts also apply this sociological analysis to recent laws. There Oughta Be a Law? Formal and Informal Social Control, explores a recent law in San Fransisco banning the sale of toys with unhealthy children’s food through the formal social control theory. She also believes the ban is an example of a symbolic law, designed for their ability to send a message even if they are not enforced.  This blog may be more fun than formal and more relaxed than theoretical, but I really enjoyed reading the posts and would definitely recommend skimming through.

Deception. If you’re curious about deception in the news, the Deception Blog provides a compilation of links to various articles, studies, and journal articles about current psychological research on deception. The blog is easily organized and provides succinct, useful, and interesting summaries of everything that it links to. The blog seems to be most useful as a blogroll of sorts, rather than a place where the author writes about his own opinions or research. The author apologizes for his lack of spare time to comment in depth on the articles like he used to, but promises to continue to update it with studies that catch his eye.

Deliberations is self described as “Law, News, and Thoughts on Litigation Consulting by the American Society of Trial Consultants.” Being written by the American Society of Trial Consultants, it is not surprising that the blog provides a more law oriented approach than some of the other blogs I reviewed. However, they put a lot of effort into making the posts easy to read and interesting, and manage to put a more dynamic spin on some current topics regarding litigation consulting. For example, a guest blog from the ASTC Professional Visibility, written by Joe Rice about enlightenments from social media, is accompanied by a picture of a monopoly board about social media. Rice includes antics about his children before delving into how social media is used by trial legal professionals. For example, he describes how Facebook and LinkedIn are becoming growing communities for trial consultants to enhance their professional visibility and professional development.

Developing Intelligence explores the Developing Intelligences over time, across species, and cross-platforms? This blog truly does include commentary on a range of articles on the subject in the media. While the articles I read seem less law-oriented, it is a great place to learn about topics ranging from the surprising cognitive abilities of crows to new research on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

Context Discoveries, a blog created by the American Sociological Association, is inspired by the quarterly magazine Contexts. Some articles explore how society operates, often by introducing unique societies as an impetus for further thought. For example, in “Marry me Not,” Tim Ortyl commented on an article from the Utah Law Review, which explored the Mosuo people of Southwest China to explore the possibility that humans may not require monogamy or matrimony to establish a resilient society. Other topics explored include insanity pleas for felony arrests, the Academy Awards, managing anger in the workplace, and media portrayal of eating issues.

Dr. X’s Free Associations seems to be just that: the free associations of “Dr. X.” Whatever is on this mysterious “Dr. X’s” mind, he is not afraid to share it with his readers. For example, in Seroquel: Softening the Black Box Warnings, he describes a Seroquel XR commercial he saw earlier that evening, describing his disapproval of the amount of time the reader spent listing the potential adverse side affects and how the narrator’s tone of voice offset the negative impact of the script. Earlier, in Study Diseases or Cases?, he compared his experiences as a graduate student, responding to a paragraph of an article that I’m fairly positive he listed as From “Boring Old Man.” This blog is entertaining, zany, and, unpredictable. However, it is more of a traditional blog than a resource for scientific or legal information.

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Blogroll Review – Part 2

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 7, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, a group of Harvard Law students is writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs. Each post provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable. Here’s Part 2 of that series (authored by second-year student Jeremy Troxel).

* * *

Choices Worth Having examines how people make decisions. Social theorist Barry Schwartz psycho-dissects current events and topical subjects. Professor Schwartz believes our society makes poor decisions because of perverse incentives and flawed methodologies. His longish posts critique the status quo of decision making while offering an alternative approach that appreciates human nature.

The now defunct Cognitive Dail reported on interesting developments in cognitive psychology. It’s a shame that the blog went inactive last January after a five year run because the posts are incredibly comprehensible despite the academic subject matter. A post on synesthesia, experiencing one stimulus (e.g. sight, sound) in multiple modalities (taste, vision, etc.) prove to be interesting and easy to understand though I had no previous knowledge of the phenomena.

Daniel Gilbert writes with the wit and perception of a good fiction writer. His “stumbling on happiness” blog acts as an extension of his best-selling book by the same name. Professor Gilbert researches affective forecasting as a social psychologist at Harvard. Unlike many social scientist, Professor Gilbert arguments do not rely on naked statistics and reasoning. Instead, he shows us through narrative and humor how we’re unable to deliberately steer our future lives toward happiness.

In contrast to Gilbert’s story-like posts, Cognition & Culture caters to members of the emerging cross-disciplinary field of cognition and cultural studies. This intended audience makes many of the posts somewhat inaccessible for those without some background. On the other hand, if you already have an opinion on whether “Natural Pedagogy theory should formulate the Genericity Bias,” you may be interested in the generally analytically focused posts.

The Consumer Law & Policy Blog is sponsored and mostly run by Public Citizen’s litigation group. Ralph Nader founded Public Citizen as an umbrella organization for a number of the consumer advocacy initiatives. Nader’s influence is present in this blog that covers any and all things related to Consumer Protection. It’s all here. From policy to litigation and the occasional reflective piece on the purpose of consumer protection work. If you’re interested in Consumer Protection issues, this is a must read.

The posts are short and crisp, just the facts type writing. The writers usually utilize links to more thorough analysis of an issue or event rather than discussing it themselves. In terms of subject matter, the posts tend to lean more toward regulatory developments and changes in consumer law. Litigation matters are covered but they tend to be consumer fraud and predatory lending type class-actions or impact litigation. Other areas of litigation such as products and pharmaceutical liability and personal injury are glossed over or skipped entirely. Searching the archives retrieves no posts related to Yaz injuries or lawsuits of deaths attributed to Gardasil.

Despite any subject-matter shortcomings, there’s great material here that’s pertinent to both those in the consumer protection field and anyone who’s just interested. The posts give attention to events that often aren’t covered in newspapers and other media. Going through recent posts, I learned that in March the Consumer Product Safety Commission will launch a web-based public database launch a web-based public database containing all consumer complaints about products. Another brief post discusses the Toyota sudden-acceleration lawsuits and a shift in strategy being made by the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Like my childhood hero Batman, we may not be the hero you want, but we’re the one you need.

My favorite of the posts I reviewed discussed President Obama, Batman, and The Role of the Consumer Attorney. Class action attorney, Steve Berk, compares Batman to the Plaintiff’s attorney. The newest rendition of the Dark Knight is a hero needed to clean up Gotham, but hated by much of the city. Much like Batman, the Plaintiff’s attorneys are despised by much of the population and much of the legal profession as well. But despite being called ambulance chasers, vultures and worse names, plaintiffs attorneys still fight for safer products, clean water and responsible corporations.

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Blogroll Review – Part 1

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 2, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, a group of Harvard Law students is writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs.  Each posts provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable.  Here’s Part 1 of that series (authored by third-year student Lea Downey).

* * *

Another great blog on the mind science topic is BPS Research Digest, where the British Psychological Society reports on recent studies in psychological publications.

The featured studies are chosen with an expert eye for interest level, relevance to current events, and accessibility even to readers relatively unversed in psychology, like myself. That editor Christian Jarrett describes each study in vivid, catchy language adds to the appeal.

A good example is a recent post on climate change. Jarrett highlights a study by Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer in Psychological Science, which suggested that apocalyptic warnings may be more likely to evoke skepticism about the existence of global warming than more upbeat descriptions of potential technological solutions.

The post does a great job of pairing simple explanations of psychological phenomena:

Many people believe implicitly that the world is fair, that bad things by and large don’t happen to good people. When presented with evidence to the contrary, they ignore or downplay it.

With concise summaries of the results:

Those participants with stronger just-world beliefs were actually made more sceptical about global warming by the more shocking newspaper article. By contrast, the more upbeat article reduced participants’ scepticism regardless of the strength of their just-world beliefs.

Jarrett also makes connections to related studies, one concerning fear-based messages in the context of smoking, and another related to the framing of environmentalism as patriotic.

Other posts I recommend are “Other people may experience more misery than you realize” and “Coffee helps women cope with stressful meetings but has the opposite effect on men.” A particularly law-related one is “What makes revenge sweet?

Some other excellent mind sciences blogs are:

Advances in the History of Psychology, where a doctoral student explores developments related to her program in the history and theory of psychology at York University. A memorable recent post discussed “Autism’s First Child,” an October 2010 story in The Atlantic discussing the first individual to be diagnosed with autism, now age 77.

Blind Taste, a great blog linking food, wine, and popular culture with economics and cognition, looks not to have been updated in several months. But interesting posts concerning counterfeit wine, wine value mogul Robert Parker, and California’s Proposition 19 leave us hoping author Robin Goldstein will start up again soon.

Brain Blogger, an “official initiative of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation (GNIF),” reviews news and research in the fields of neuroscience and neurology, psychology and psychiatry, and health and health science. The blog’s diversity of posts includes “The Beauty of First Impressions” and “Daytime Napping Improves Memory.” Of particular salience to lawyers: “Free Will is NOT an Illusion.”

Channel N, meanwhile, exclusively features online videos related to brain and behavior. A subdivision of PsychCentral, “the Internet’s largest and oldest independent mental health and psychology network,” Channel N is currently highlighting videos on pediatric bipolar disorder, addiction, “why online dating is so unsatisfying,” and retired and rescued show horses being used in mental health therapy.

Do your brain a favor: check out some of these great blogs today!

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Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 31, 2011

From Boston Globe (by Kevin Lewis):

The Brand-Name Ego Boost:

Researchers found that using a generic (vs. brand name) product undermines self-esteem. In one experiment, university students were asked to type out a resume, ostensibly for a recruiting event. Students used an Apple iMac to type their resumes and were told that the keyboard and mouse were new. Some students, though, were told that the keyboard and mouse were generic parts — to save money. The students who used the generic keyboard reported expecting a lower salary.  More . . .

Lower stress through writing:

Researchers at the University of Chicago have shown that expressive writing before a test can boost scores.  More . . .

Higher ground:

Everyone assumes that heaven is high above the ground somewhere, while hell is down below. But why can’t heaven be below us, and hell high above? According to a new study, our brains seem to automatically link elevation with goodwill. In one experiment in a mall in mid-December 2009, researchers set up Salvation Army kettles in three locations: the top of an escalator, the bottom of an escalator, and away from any escalators. Shoppers contributed more often at the top of the escalator and least often at the bottom of the escalator. More . . .

Explaining Willow and Trig:

Let’s call it the Sarah Palin effect, in honor of Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. A new analysis suggests that parents living on the frontier tend to give their kids unusual names. . . . These differences seem to be explained by the greater individualistic culture of the frontier. More . . .

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – December

Posted by Gustavo Ribeiro on January 27, 2011

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during December 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From BPS Research Digest: “Do political scandals really distract us from important issues?”

“Barely a day goes by without some political scandal or other splashed across the papers. Critics argue this obsession with tittle-tattle distracts the electorate from more important policy issues. ‘…a fiercely independent media is the guarantor of democracy,’ Will Hutton wrote in 2000, before warning that the British media’s obsession with scandal ‘paradoxically, may be beginning to endanger it [democracy]‘.” Read more . . .

From Deliberations: “A Story of Social Media Enlightenment: It’s not just for kids anymore”

“I have watched the trial consulting industry evolve slowly over the past 22 years.  However, like a scene from a Sci-Fi movie, I feel like some aspects of our field have moved at an incredible pace.  Generally, these have been associated with technology.” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Simple Jury Persuasion: Christian religious concepts increase racial prejudice”

“We’ve written a lot about racial biases in the courtroom.  As regular readers of this blog know, we look for ways to mitigate the impact of racial biases. We believe in social justice. We also know (although we don’t like it much) that there are times when in the interests of advocacy, it is important to either fan the flame of racial prejudice or simply allow it to blossom and flower by not raising juror awareness of racism.” Read more . . .

From Psyblog: “The Illusion of Truth”

“We see ads for the same products over and over again. Politicians repeat the same messages endlessly (even when it has nothing to do with the question they’ve been asked). Journalists repeat the same opinions day after day.” Read more . . .

* * *

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – October

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 6, 2010

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From Frontal Cortex: “Why Social Closeness Matters”

“The internet currently has two very different models of social networking. There is, of course, Facebook – a massive sprawl of friends and acquaintances that allows us to keep track of people we know in real life. I’m “friends” with my grandmother, a bunch of second cousins and it seems like most of my high school class. The defining feature of this network is its focus on “social closeness” – I want to keep track of these people because I have some kind of connection to them. We are all part of the same “clan” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Simple Jury Persuasion: The dark side of psychological closeness”

“I swear there are times when simply reading a research report gives me chills. This is one of those times. […] Gino & Galinsky (2010) found that feeling similar to someone who has been selfish or dishonest led participants to “vicariously justify the actions of the wrongdoer and to behave less ethically”. Further, the ‘badness’ of the acts will be downplayed and framed in the participants’ mind as legitimate.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – October

Posted by Gustavo Ribeiro on November 30, 2010

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From BPS Research Digest: “Don’t touch! On the mixed effects of avoidant instructions”

“What happens if you tell a golfer not to over-shoot a putt? Does it make them more likely to overshoot (an ironic effect, like the way suppressing thoughts of white bears actually leads to bear-based thoughts) or does it provoke over-compensation – putts that are particularly short? The same question could be asked for similar situations in other sports and also for movement instructions in the psychology lab.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “Translational Neuroscience – Untapped Potential for Education and Policy”

“Recent decades have seen extraordinary advances in the fields of neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics, psychology, and cognitive science. In particular, the National Institutes of Health called the last 10 years of the 20th century the “Decade of the Brain.” Aside from the scientific advances made during that time, government agencies, foundations, and professional organizations put forth substantial efforts to increase public awareness about brain development and diseases. A growing number of neuroscientists indicate that these efforts need to be elevated in order for neuroscience findings to be translated into principles that can facilitate sound policymaking relevant to early childhood education.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology: “Trendspotting: Poverty”

“You might have heard that the poverty rate went up in 2009, from 13.2 percent of Americans to 14.3 percent. […] In any case, we can compare changes poverty rates over time by using a stable (although flawed) measure. It’s not a surprise that poverty rates would rise during a time when unemployment rates remain high. As you can see from the graph below, the number of people living in poverty tends to rise during recessions (the shaded bars).” Read more . . .

* * *

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – September

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 23, 2010

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during September 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From BPS Research Digest: “Power leads us to dehumanise others”

“Think how terrible you’d feel if a decision you made led to the death of another person. How then does a political leader cope with the burden of making decisions which lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands? According to a new journal article, they cope through dehumanising those over whom they have power. By this account, dehumanising – seeing others as less than human – isn’t always a bad thing. It serves a function, allowing leaders and certain professionals, such as doctors, to cope with the decisions they have to make.” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “When identifying punishment—will jurors focus on intent or outcome?”

“Back in October of 2009, we blogged about some new research from Harvard University showing that when we know someone has hurt us intentionally, it makes us furious. We talked about using that knowledge strategically to light the fire of moral indignation in jurors.” Read more . . .

From Mind Matters: “The Hidden Rules of Blame”

“People like to use categories for people (race, religion, nation, class, gender) as explanations for others’ behavior (for example, I was late because there was traffic and I have a lot on my plate right now, but you were late because you’re a Gen X slacker). Yet all categories are not equal. Instead, each one seems to be licensed to explain only certain kinds of behavior.” Read more . . .

From Neuromarketing: “Wear a Fake Rolex, Turn Into O.J.”

“You can find fake designer and luxury products just about anywhere these days, and most people consider owning one a harmless transgression. After all, if you were never going to pay $12,000 for a real Rolex, who is really hurt if you wear a fake that cost you $30? Rolex didn’t really lose a sale, right? It turns out that the victim of the “crime” may be none other than YOU!” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Humans: “Color blind? Or blind to injustice?”

“In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to the cause of racial equality, ruling 7 to 1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” was the law of the land. The lone dissenter in that landmark case was Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner, who bitterly predicted an era of inequality and racial intolerance in America. History proved Harlan right, and we now know what followed as the Jim Crow era. Indeed it took almost 60 more years for the Court to begin setting things right by discarding the “separate but equal” doctrine.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – July, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 27, 2010

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during July 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From Jury Room: “Deliberations: Jurors think and feel as they make decisions”

“Our legal system assumes jurors will make their decisions without bias. This assumption echoes the ancient words of  Aristotle: “the law is reason, free from passion”. Yet, most of us realize that decision-making encompasses both reason and passion. So how do you take that into consideration as you prepare and then present your case?” Read more . . .

From Psyblog: “How to Banish Bad Habits and Control Temptations”

“Anyone who has ever found themselves trying to turn on the bathroom light seconds after phoning  the power company to ask how long the power cut will last, knows how easily habits bypass our conscious thought processes.” Read more . . .

From Science of Small Talk: “Every Little Bit Counts”

“On a regular basis, we see or hear about the negative behaviors of others and think, what is wrong with this person? We tell ourselves, I would never do that, firmly convinced in the veracity of our assessment.” Read more . . .

From Social Psychology Eye: “Protecting the powerful”

“Minnesota representative Michelle Bachmann has had her share of questionable moments in the past. For example, she once referred to President Obama and his wife as “anti-American”. She also seems to side with the powerful. The most recent example of this comes in regards to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Humans: “No Exit: Living With Walls and Fences”

“The right to move around is a fundamental human right. Back in 1948, in the wake of World War II, the United Nations declared that all men and women have the right to roam freely in their homeland, to leave, to return if they choose, and to exit again. That political vision recognized a basic psychological truth—that it is a violation of human nature to fence people in.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – July, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 21, 2010

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during July 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From BPS Research Digest: “It’s the way they move – politicians’ personalities inferred from their motion patterns”

“People form impressions about the personality of politicians simply from the way they move, according to a new study. This isn’t your typical body-language investigation into double-armed hand-shakes, bitten lips and fidgety fingers. Rather Markus Koppensteiner and Karl Grammer devised a new system for mathematically describing the movement patterns of forty real German politicians giving speeches in parliament.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “Violent Video Games as a Learning Tool”

“Video games have come a long way from the early days of Pong and Pac-man. Today’s games are sophisticated media that blur the line between fiction and reality. One of the most heated debates surrounding video games, and, especially, their playing by young kids and adolescents, is the explicit violence present in many action-oriented games. While many parents, educators and psychology experts worry about the amount of violence that pervades society, new research is leading gaming experts to claim that video games, even violent ones, are actually useful learning tools.” Read more . . .

From Mediation Channel: “What did we know and when did we know it? The mutability of facts”

“Facts may indeed be stubborn things, but they are also subject to the vicissitudes of time and nature’s forces. Our thinking about those facts, and their significance to us, is often refracted through the lenses of culture, cognition, and bias. As our understanding of our physical world alters; as records are broken or measurements exceeded; as times, laws, borders, and customs change; our encyclopedias and other reference books, along with our memories, demand constant updating.” Read more . . .

From Mind Hacks: “Researchers implant false symptoms”

“An intriguing study  just published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology has found that we can be convinced we reported symptoms of mental illness that we never mentioned and, as a result, we can actually start believing we have the symptom itself.” Read more . . .

From Mind Matters: “Want to Play It Safe? Have a Cheeseburger”

“Sometimes it seems that everyone  has abandoned the notion that rational self-interest drives people’s decisions. It’s high time for some answers to the next obvious question: If Reason doesn’t rule the mental roost, then what does  govern people’s approach to buying, selling, voting, marrying, hiring and other choices? Last month, this study suggested that part of the answer is, simply, food. People who are hungry, it found, make different financial decisions than people who’ve recently eaten.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – June, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 15, 2010

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during June 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From BPS Research Digest: “Does greater competition improve performance or increase cheating?”

“What happens when you recruit dozens of students to perform a maze-based computer task and then you ratchet up the competitive pressure? Does their performance improve or do they just cheat more?” Read more . . .

From Beautiful Minds: “What do Narcissists Sound Like?”

“Narcissists love themselves. Even in psychology experiments. This is a problem for psychologists trying to study narcissists in the laboratory because narcissists are likely to present themselves in the best possible light, inflating their abilities on self-report surveys, and generally being oblivious to their own true selves (Vazire, 2010).” Read more . . .

From Frontal Cortex: “High Stakes Innovation”

“This oil spill sure is getting depressing. We’ve become extremely talented at hiding away the ill effects of our consumption decisions. We don’t see the inhumane chicken farms behind our chicken McNuggets, or the Chinese factories that produce our shoes, or the offshore oil rigs that extract our oil from the center of the earth. The end result is that, when we’re finally forced to confront the ugliness that makes our civilized life possible, we’re shocked and appalled. My cheap ground beef comes from that feedlot? My gas station depends on that infrastructure?” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Better find something besides DNA & hard science to persuade the jury!”

“For some time now, there have been concerns about the CSI Effect on our juries. In short, this is a belief/fear that potential jurors who watch television shows such as the CSI franchise will presume real labs can produce the same sort of evidence—and anything that falls short of that causes reasonable doubt. Litigators have lived in fear of the CSI Effect despite rising evidence it may actually be an urban (and rural!) litigation myth.” Read more . . .

From Neuromarketing: “Unconscious Buying”

“In a fascinating study just published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers have shown that we make buying decisions even when we aren’t paying attention to the products, and that fMRI observation of brain activity can predict these decisions. This new work builds on previous research by Stanford’s Knutson and CMU’s Loewenstein which showed that purchase decisions could be predicted when subjects were shown explicit offers.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – May, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 21, 2010

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during May 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

* * *

From Experiments in Philosophy: “Sex on the Bench: Do Women and Men Have Different Moral Values?”

“With Barack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan, the United States Supreme Court is likely to have more women than ever before. Some wonder whether the changing gender ratios could impact the Court’s decisions. Research on sex differences in moral judgments-including judicial judgments-suggests an affirmative answer.” Read more . . .

From Frontal Cortex: “Anchoring”

“In the last few months, the globalized world has endured two very different crises. […] In both instances, officials settled on an early version of events – the ash cloud posed a severe danger to plane engines, and the oil well wasn’t a very bad leak – and then failed to update that version in light of new evidence. As a result, valuable time was squandered. This is a form of anchoring, a mental bias first outlined (of course) by Kahneman and Tversky.” Read more . . .

From Neuromarketing: “Unconscious Branding: Who Needs Facts?”

“Few doubt that branding messages can be powerful, but new research shows that even when consumers don’t recall the specific message, their preferences can be shaped to the point where they reject new information that conflicts with their stored brand association.” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Who was hurt? That’s how we know just whom to blame…”

“Most of us know that in order to manage reactions to a personal injury story the plaintiff begins with the bad acts of the defendant as opposed to the sad story of the plaintiff. This story order results in anger at the bad defendant rather than hopeless feelings for the sad plaintiff. Instead of ‘if only’ reactions to the injuries, the plaintiff wants to elicit active anger at the defendant’s choices. This increases damage awards and mobilizes jurors to “do something”.” Read more . . .

For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 14, 2010

situationism-in-the-news

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news over the last several weeks.

* * *

From CNN: “Skin color affects ability to empathize with pain”

“Humans are hardwired to feel another person’s pain. But they may feel less innate empathy if the other person’s skin color doesn’t match their own, a new study suggests. When people say “I feel your pain,” they usually just mean that they understand what you’re going through. But neuroscientists have discovered that we literally feel each other’s pain (sort of).” Read more . . .

From Wired Science: “Eyewitness Account of ‘Watershed’ Brain Scan Legal Hearing”

“The very first federal admissibility hearing for fMRI lie-detection evidence wrapped up May 14 in a Tennessee court room. The decision, expected in a couple weeks, could have a significant influence on the direction that brain scan evidence takes in the courtroom.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “For Crime, Is Anatomy Destiny?”

“Poverty, greed, anger, jealousy, pride, revenge. These are the usual suspects when it comes to discussing the causes of crime. In recent years, however, economists have started to investigate a different explanation for criminal activity: physical attributes.” Read more . . .

From The Globe and Mail: “Tobacco marketing lures Chinese women

The tobacco companies have recently started to more vigorously target women in their advertising campaigns, associating smoking with fashion and liberation, said the 2010 China Tobacco Control Report, released Friday by the Tobacco Control Office of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.Read more . . .

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