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Archive for the ‘Situationist Sports’ Category

The Situation of Questions about NFL Players’ Sexual Orientation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 17, 2013

SI Loaded Question 3Last week the National Football League Players’ Association announced it would sell t-shirts with a gay pride theme.  A number of players have agreed to have their names on the t-shirts.  This is a positive step for the NFL, which as Situationist contributor Michael McCann wrote about earlier this year for Sports Illustrated, has seen fallout from its teams asking prospective players about their sexual orientation.  Here is an excerpt of McCann’s article “Loaded Question“, which appeared on page 16 in the March 25, 2013 issue of SI.

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In a March 14 letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman inquired why, during last month’s scouting combine, several college players were allegedly asked about their sexual orientation. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o denied reports that he had faced such queries, but Colorado tight end Nick Kasa said a team wanted to know if he “likes girls.” Kasa’s isn’t the first case of offensive predraft questioning. In 2010, Dolphins G.M. Jeff Ireland asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. (Ireland later apologized.)

The NFL asserts that such questions violate existing league policies and are subject to discipline. A league spokesperson also says that the questioning of prospects was to be discussed at this week’s owners meeting.

Are the NFL and the players association doing enough to protect prospects from biased questions? Article 49 of the current CBA declares, “There will be no discrimination in any form against any player … because of … sexual orientation.” But is a draft prospect who is not yet a member of the NFLPA or of an NFL team—and may never become one—fully protected by Article 49?

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To read the rest, click here.  For other Situationist posts on homophobia, click here.

Posted in Law, Life, Situationist Contributors, Situationist Sports | Leave a Comment »

The Stereotyped Situation of Dumb Jocks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2013

dumb jockFrom Michigan State News:

College coaches who emphasize their players’ academic abilities may be the best defense against the effects of “dumb jock” stereotypes, a Michigan State University study suggests.

Researchers found that student-athletes were significantly more likely to be confident in the classroom if they believed their coaches expected high academic performance, not just good enough grades to be eligible for sports.

“Coaches spend a lot of time with their players, and they can play such an important role to build academic confidence in student-athletes,” said lead author Deborah Feltz, University Distinguished Professor of kinesiology at MSU.

Published in the Journal of College Student Development, the study focused on the concept of “stereotype threat.” The theory holds that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies: They create anxiety in the stereotyped group, causing them to behave in the expected way.

Feltz and her graduate students wanted to see what factors influence student-athletes’ susceptibility to the “dumb jock” stereotype.

“It’s well-documented in the literature that many student-athletes hear prejudicial remarks from professors who say things like, ‘This test is easy enough that even an athlete could pass it,’” Feltz said. “They’re kind of the last group of students who can be openly discriminated against.”

The researchers surveyed more than 300 student-athletes representing men’s and women’s teams from small and large universities and a range of sports, from basketball and football to cross-country and rowing.

They found the more strongly student-athletes identified themselves as athletes, the less confident they were with their academic skills, and the more keenly they felt that others expected them to do poorly in school. Players in high-profile sports were more likely to feel they were weak students.

Feltz said the data suggest that coaches who put a premium on education may be in the best position to boost their players’ confidence in the classroom, but professors, academic advisers and classmates also have a part to play.

“They don’t have to do much,” she said. “It may be enough to just remind players they are college students, which is a big deal, you know? A lot of these students are the first in their family to go to college.”

Related Situationist posts:

Image by Les Stockton.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Positive Psychology, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Amy Cuddy on Body Language

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 4, 2013

Situationist friend, Amy Cuddy, delivers a fascinating TedTalk on how body language affects how others see us and on how we see ourselves.  Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Emotions, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 3, 2013

This post (authored by Adam Benforado) was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

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(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 1 Comment »

Michael McCann Taking Situationist Sports to UNH

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 11, 2013

McCann at UNH

Congratulations are in order to Michael McCann (who, among other things, is the co-founder of this blog).  The University of New Hampshire Law School just announced that they are launching the Sports & Entertainment Law Institute under the direction of Michael McCann, who will be moving from Vermont Law School where he directed the Sports Law Institute.  Here’s the announcement from UNH.

Noted sports law expert Michael McCann will join the University of New Hampshire School of Law this fall to launch a new Sports and Entertainment Law Institute. McCann has been a visiting professor at UNH Law during the 2012-13 academic year.

The Sports and Entertainment Law Institute will provide opportunities for students who demonstrate a talent and passion for sports and entertainment law with core skills in these practice areas and opportunities for thoughtful discussion of contemporary legal issues in the field. The Institute will help students gain real-world skills to obtain, and succeed in, careers in sports and entertainment law. Students will have the opportunity to enroll in a wide-range of core and supporting courses.

The Sports and Entertainment Law Institute will be a great pairing with our historic strengths in trademark and copyright law. And we are very fortunate to have Michael McCann, one of the most exciting legal scholars in the country, leading the way.

John Broderick, Dean of UNH Law

The Sports & Entertainment Law Institute will be part of UNH Law’s Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property, which is consistently ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation’s best intellectual property law programs.

I’m thrilled to join a school which is deservedly renowned for its intellectual property law program. To launch a sports and entertainment law institute as part of this program is a fantastic opportunity. I can’t wait to work with students in developing hands-on skills in sports and entertainment law, and helping them enter those fields.

Michael McCann, Professor of Law

McCann is a leading expert in sports law, a seasoned sports attorney, and an award-winning teacher, scholar and journalist. He founded and directed the sports law institute at Vermont Law School, where he created the groundbreaking Blue Chips Program, which provides students with the core skills and hands-on experience needed to succeed in the sports world.

McCann is also an accomplished journalist and legal commentator.  He is a legal analyst and writer for Sports Illustrated and SI.com and the on-air legal analyst for NBA TV. He also appears regularly on CNN and The Dan Patrick Show to provide sports law commentary. In the past year alone, McCann has covered such issues as: the NFL, NBA and NHL lockouts; the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State and the resulting NCAA penalties and litigation; Ed O’Bannon’s antitrust and intellectual property class action lawsuit against the NCAA; NFL concussion litigation; and Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds’ perjury trials, among many other topics.

McCann has authored 18 law review articles, including articles in the Yale Law Journal and Boston College Law Review, and more than 180 articles for Sports Illustrated and SI.com. McCann is also the editor-in-chief and publisher of Sports Law Blog, which has been honored by Fast Company as one of Three Best Sports Business Blogs and by the American Bar Association Journal as a Top 100 Law Blog. He also provides timely sports law commentary on Twitter @McCannSportsLaw, which has attracted more than 7,200 followers.

In 2004, McCann served as counsel to college football star Maurice Clarett in his lawsuit against the National Football League and its age eligibility rule. McCann was retained by Clarett’s legal team after a paper he wrote in law school – “Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA” – was published in the Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal and read by Clarett’s attorneys. Clarett v. NFL is considered one of the most important cases in U.S. sports law history.

McCann has also taught at Mississippi College School of Law, where he received the Professor of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008 and where he now teaches an intensive sports law course as the Distinguished Visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law. In 2010, McCann also taught a sports law and analytics reading group at Yale Law School – the first such course to be offered at any law school. Along with Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, McCann is co-founder of the Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School.

McCann holds an LLM degree from Harvard Law School, a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law and a BA from Georgetown University.

Review dozens of posts on “situationist sports” here.

Review Michael McCann’s SSRN page (including downloadable pdfs to his pathbreaking scholarship) here.

Posted in Situationist Contributors, Situationist Sports | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Bill Belichick and the “Frank Sinatra Principle”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 4, 2013

Bill BelichickSeveral of us on The Situationist are fans of the New England Patriots and their head coach, Bill Belichick.  Belichick is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, football coaches around; he’s often called a “genius”.  Why?  His teams have won 3 Super Bowl championships, and he’s coached in five of the last 11 Super Bowls.  And he seems consistently smarter than other coaches in his strategies and designs.  It’s as if the Patriots begin each game with a sizable advantage in coaching.

But how much of Belichick’s success can be attributed to situation rather than ability and work ethic?  The Washington Post‘s Norman Chad argues quite a bit in his piece Patriots Coach Bill Belichick may be the luckiest man on Earth:

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Let us count the ways Belichick has been wildly fortunate in his NFL head-coaching career:

1. Most coaches would not even get a second chance, as Belichick did, after his four-losing-seasons-in-five stint with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95.

2. He masterfully sidestepped the moribund New York Jets, who hired him in 2000, quitting one day after getting the job with his infamous, hand-scribbled note, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”

3. During the second game of his second season as coach of the New England Patriots, Drew Bledsoe got hurt; otherwise, Tom Brady might still be on the sideline, texting Mark Sanchez about good-looking ladies in the stands.

4. The Tuck Rule Game in January 2002, in which Brady fumbled away the Patriots’ last chance against the Oakland Raiders, only to have referee Walt Coleman reverse the call via replay and reverse the course of NFL history for the next decade.

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Belichick is now regarded as a football genius. But without Bledsoe’s misfortune and Brady’s magnificence, Belichick might’ve been Eric Mangini before Eric Mangini, glumly sitting in an ESPN studio dispensing gridiron bromides. Instead, Belichick — with 12 straight winning seasons in New England — has become the ninth-winningest coach in NFL history.

Belichick is a great example of what I call the “Frank Sinatra Principle.” The Sinatra principle states that two singers can be born on the same Hoboken, N.J., block in the same year with similar skills, but one becomes a treasured entertainment icon and the other works the Ramada Inn lounge in Fairborn, Ohio. And it is a result of luck or connections as much as talent and hard work.

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Read the entire article here.  

Related Situationist posts:

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The Situation of Sexual Assault at Boston University

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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Read the entire report, including fourteen recommendations here.

Related Situationist posts:

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Fear of Flying and NBA Players

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 1, 2012

Michael McCann recently posted his article, “Do You Believe He Can Fly? Royce White and Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act for NBA Players with Phobias” (to be published in the Pepperdine Law Review, Vol. 41, 20103) on SSRN.  The article is about Royce White, who will be entering the NBA next season, and what impact his severe fear of flying will have on his NBA career. The article also considers the legal mechanisms that may be available to White under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Here is an excerpt:

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If fear of flying constitutes a disability for White under the ADA, he could argue that the NBA or his team should accept any reasonable request for accommodation. They may disagree about what constitutes “reasonable”. Allowing White to take a train from Boston to New York City, or even a ship to Europe, would probably be reasonable so long as White does not miss meetings, practices or games. Then again, White as a rookie traveling alone, might not gain valuable insight from conversations with coaches and teammates or develop camaraderie with them.

Seemingly less reasonable would be allowing White to miss a road trip. Unless he is injured, suspended or assigned to the D-League (the NBA’s minor league), White will be contractually obligated to play 82 regular season games, along with four to six pre-season games, up to 28 postseason games, and possibly a handful of summer league games. No player signs a standard contract to play in “some games.” Consider the impact of such an arrangement on White’s coach: if White’s only an occasional player, his coach might struggle to set his rotation. On the other hand, professional leagues have carved out exceptions for players to miss road games. This has been true of NBA players recovering from injury. Gilbert Arenas, returning from a knee injury in 2009, was allowed a flexible schedule whereby he would play in all home games but only some road games. Other circumstances have led to similar arrangements. Last year the Central Hockey League allowed Rapid City Rush forward Brett Nylander, a second lieutenant in the Air Force, to only play home games because his military service limited travel.

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To read the rest, click here.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

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The Waiting Game

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 23, 2012

From Financial Times (snippets of an article by Frank Partnoy inspired by his latest book):

During the two weeks of play that begin on Monday, professional tennis players at Wimbledon will return thousands of first serves. Many of those returns will be entertaining. Some will be remarkable. But all will give spectators an opportunity to improve on the personal and professional decisions we make in all aspects of our lives: by helping us learn to manage delay.

Watch Novak Djokovic. His advantage over the other professionals at Wimbledon won’t be his agility or stamina or even his sense of humour. Instead, as scientists who study superfast athletes have found, the key to Djokovic’s success will be his ability to wait just a few milliseconds longer than his opponents before hitting the ball. That tiny delay is why most players won’t have a chance against him. Djokovic wins because he can procrastinate – at the speed of light.

During superfast reactions, the best-performing experts in sport, and in life, instinctively know when to pause, if only for a split-second. The same is true over longer periods: some of us are better at understanding when to take a few extra seconds to deliver the punchline of a joke, or when we should wait a full hour before making a judgment about another person. Part of this skill is gut instinct, and part of it is analytical. We get some of it from trial and error or by watching experts, but we also can learn from observing toddlers and even animals. There is both an art and a science to managing delay.

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A tennis court, baseline to baseline, is 78ft long. First serves are launched at well over 100mph. Some volleys come even faster. That means a player returning a shot has just 400 to 500 milliseconds from when the ball leaves their opponent’s racket until it hits his or her own. Just half a second.

Hitting a tennis ball at this speed is a paradoxical act. On one hand, it is a largely unconscious physical reaction. It has to be, given the speed of the ball. There is not enough time to consider spin or angle. Conscious contemplation takes at least half a second, so anyone who even tries to think about how to return a shot will end up helplessly watching the ball fly by.

On the other hand, tennis involves a range of sophisticated and creative responses. Ideally, a player should react to both the placement and trajectory of an incoming ball. The position and movement of an opponent are also crucial. Great tennis returners respond to the information cascade of an incoming ball as if they had taken time to process it consciously, even though we know that is not possible.

Professional tennis players are no faster than we are at pure visual reaction time. Imagine that you and Novak Djokovic are playing a video game. We can measure visual reaction time by having both of you simply press a button when you first see the ball leave an opponent’s racket. Both of you would take about 200 milliseconds. Most people are about that fast, and no one is much faster.

That means virtually anyone who can see a distance of 78ft can react visually to any tennis serve or shot in plenty of time. As even the slowest video gamer can attest, if all you have to do is “see” and then press a button to swing — if you don’t even have to get off the sofa — anyone could return a professional-speed serve.

In real tennis, the difficulty arises in the second stage of the service return. The remaining period of, say, 300 milliseconds is the time players have to react physically – to adjust themselves to what they know about the ball’s flight and then try to hit it how and where they’d like.

Having just 300 milliseconds to hit a ball is a serious problem for most of us. Amateurs cannot move to the correct spot and produce a swing with accuracy or power in 300 milliseconds. Most of us can barely adjust our rackets by a few inches. Many solid professionals cannot do much more.

Even Djokovic does not successfully return every shot. But for most returns, he has plenty of time. He is so skilled and practised that he can produce near-instantaneous muscle contractions to move his body and execute a swing in perhaps 100 milliseconds. For him, the physical part of hitting the ball is almost as easy as pressing a button.

Djokovic’s physical speed frees up time for him to prepare during the phase tennis coaches call “ball identification”. This is when he absorbs the crush of data generated after the ball leaves his opponent’s racket. He splits up the time available during a return shot; because he is so fast, he has extra time to gather and process information. Finally, at the last possible instant, he commits to his choice and swings. He can sandwich a lot of preparing between seeing and hitting.

Because Djokovic needs less time to hit, he has more time to gather and process information. He sees, prepares and, finally, only after he has processed as much information as possible, he hits. His preconscious time management and his extraordinary ability to delay enable him to stretch out a split-second and pack in a sequence of interpretation and action that would take most of us much longer.

* * *

Partnoy’s terrific article goes on to review the science of delayed reaction and to connect that research to all sorts of decisions, including investment decisions.  Better yet, Partnoy suggests how the underlying research may help explain the financial crisis.

Partnoy’s book, Wait: The useful art of procrastination’ will be published by Profile Books on July 5.

Related Situationist posts:

Why Goalies Often Dive To The Right

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Book, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 5, 2012

This post was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

* * *

(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 4 Comments »

What Will Sports Look Like In 20 Years?

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 6, 2011

When it rains, it pours.

My last two posts (here and here) focused on the connection between heading the ball in soccer and an assortment of different brain trauma problems. It was a single event the prompted my initial thoughts on the matter (the suicide of soccer legend Gary Speed), but in the intervening few days, there have been several stories in other news outlets concerning head injuries and sports.

The most poignant has been the New York Times series on the hockey player Derek Boogaard—perhaps the NHL’s most feared enforcer who died of an alcohol and drug overdose at just 28.  I enjoyed the first part of the series the most, as it explored the culture of hockey in Canada and the making of a professional fighter (Boogaard, born big and tough, realized early on that his chance at making the big leagues was with his fists, not the accuracy of his shot).  But the third installment, investigating Boogaard’s brain is most relevant to the topic at hand:

Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as C.T.E., a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It can be diagnosed only posthumously, but scientists say it shows itself in symptoms like memory loss, impulsiveness, mood swings, even addiction.

**

More than 20 dead former N.F.L. players and many boxers have had C.T.E. diagnosed. It generally hollowed out the final years of their lives into something unrecognizable to loved ones.

**

And now, the fourth hockey player, of four examined, was found to have had it, too.

**

But this was different. The others were not in their 20s, not in the prime of their careers.

**

The scientists on the far end of the conference call told the Boogaard family that they were shocked to see so much damage in someone so young. It appeared to be spreading through his brain.  Had Derek Boogaard lived, they said, his condition likely would have worsened into middle-age dementia.

On November 29, The New York Times also covered a recent class-action lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois asserting that “the N.C.A.A. has been negligent regarding awareness and treatment of brain injuries to athletes”:

The legal action comes after a five-year flurry of awareness of brain injuries in contact sports and follows lawsuits filed this year by dozens of former N.F.L. players who claim the league was negligent in its handling of brain trauma. The issue has moved from science labs to Congress and now to courtrooms, where the financial exposure of the sport’s governing bodies may be tested.

**

The N.F.L. is subsidizing care for some of the most seriously damaged of its former players, after public and Congressional pressure forced the league to acknowledge the gravity of the issue. But the damage did not begin with the first hit in an N.F.L. training camp. Players have been absorbing blows to the brain since they were children.

This all leads to a tough question: Is it time to change our contact sports?

I am a very serious sports fan and I understand those who find the very notion of hockey without fighting, soccer without heading, and football without tackling laughable at best.  I’ll admit: I love watching LaRon Landry cream a receiver and Andy Carroll smack home a header.  But the fact of the matter is that hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse, and boxing are just games.  The rules are invented.  They have changed in the past and they can change again.

As prudent a move as it is, do I think removing dangerous contact from these sports is likely in the near term?

Unfortunately, my answer is no.

As the evidence continues to build that sports are seriously endangering athletes, I think we’ll see two things happen.  First, there will be changes at the margins that don’t get to the core of the problem but make leagues appear as if they are being responsive (e.g., fining NFL players more heavily who engage in helmet-on-helmet hits).  Second, we’ll see an increasing backlash from those who feel that this is just another example of how know-it-all “experts” and “nannies” are ruining the fun—indeed, attacking the very foundations of our way of life.  These folks will argue that everyone knows that sports are dangerous and that people should be allowed to exercise their free choice.  They may point out that athletes get paid lots of money to assume the risk of serious head injuries.  And, in all likelihood, they’ll trot out the slippery-slope argument to suggest that if we change the rules of football, we’ll be on the road to totalitarianism where all freedoms are removed under the false promise of “eliminating dangers.”

That’s silliness.  Rule changes made in the name of public health aren’t going to kill sports and they certainly aren’t going to destroy America.

* * *

Review a collection of sports related Situationist posts here or posts related to naive cynicism and backlash here.

Posted in Entertainment, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Just In This Week! New Research on Soccer and Brain Damage

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 29, 2011

After reading my post on suicide, brain injuries, and soccer, a colleague of mine caught me in the hall this morning and mentioned that he had just been listening to the radio on the way to work and had heard a story on new research related to the dangers of “heading” a soccer ball.

While the new findings, presented this week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, does not make the link to suicide (or Gary Speed, for that matter), it does provide powerful evidence of the threat heading the ball holds for, well, . . . our heads.

Here is a CNN.com summary:

Heading the soccer ball too frequently may cause damage to the brain, according to new research.

* * *

In smaller numbers, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. It’s when the number of headers reaches about 1,300 per year that the brain may begin to suffer traumatic brain damage.

* * *

Numbers that high may seem excessive, but not for players regularly honing their skills on the field through practice. “Practice turns out to be a much bigger source of exposure than actual games,” says Dr. Michael Lipton, the lead study author and Director of Radiology Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Some people were reporting heading 5,000 times a year.”

* * *

Lipton’s team of researchers recruited 39 soccer players from amateur leagues, men in their late twenties and early thirties who play regularly but not professionally; many of whom have been playing for most of their lives. Players filled out a questionnaire meant to help them estimate the number of headers they make each year. When researchers compared the brain scans of players reporting lower numbers of headers to players reporting higher numbers, there were distinct differences between the two group’s brains.

* * *

“Excessive heading definitely seems to be associated with impairment of memory and processing speed,” says Lipton. “Soccer may not be as benign as people thought it was.”

* * *

The study uses diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a type of magnetic resonance (MR), which measures the movement of water molecules in the brain’s white matter. In healthy brains, the water molecules move in a uniform direction through the white matter, but in injured brains, they move less uniformly, and more randomly.

One of the more novel findings of the study is that the researchers found brain damage that resulted from routine heading, rather than from diagnosed concussions (which are already known to be a problem).  For all soccer players out there, this is reason for concern.

Posted in Situationist Sports | 1 Comment »

Brain Injuries and Soccer

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 28, 2011

On Sunday, one of the legends of the soccer world was found dead.

Gary Speed was only 42.  He played for clubs in England’s Premiership for 22 years and holds the record for the most appearances representing Wales for an outfield player.  He had recently taken over as the head coach of the national side and Wales, for the first time in years, had begun to look like a genuinely dangerous team.

But on Sunday, it all ended as Speed took his own life, leaving behind a wife and two sons, aged 13 and 14.

In the coming weeks, we will learn more about the circumstances surrounding the death, but one thing that immediately came to mind upon hearing the tragic news was whether there might be a connection to the string of suicides by football players, boxers, and hockey players who had suffered brain injuries.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been documented in autopsies of 20 or so football players who died young, including Dave Dureson, the Pro-Bowl Chicago Bears safety, who shot himself in February.  And there is more general research that shows that people with acquired brain injury are significantly more likely to demonstrate suicidal behaviors than those in the general population.

How might this relate to Gary Speed?

Well, Speed was, as the Guardian noted in its obituary, “an exceptional header of the ball.”  Expertly meeting a gun shot of a cross with his forehead and guiding it in his chosen direction was one of Speed’s special talents.  And he demonstrated that talent for longer than almost anyone: indeed, there are only two players, Ryan Giggs and David James, who played more games in the Premier League.

Although football and boxing have been getting most of the attention lately, we have known for years that there is evidence of chronic traumatic brain injury in professional soccer players.  Indeed, when researchers from the Netherlands looked at a population of professional soccer players in the Netherlands in 1998, the found that they

exhibited impaired performances in memory, planning, and visuoperceptual processing when compared with control subjects. Among professional soccer players, performance on memory, planning, and visuoperceptual tasks were inversely related to the number of concussions incurred in soccer and the frequency of “heading” the ball. Performance on neuropsychological testing also varied according to field position, with forward and defensive players exhibiting more impairment.

We will never know for certain why Gary Speed decided to take his own life, but my hope is that attention will be given to the possibility that the effects of his chosen profession may have contributed to his death.  At present, no one is writing about the role that brain trauma might have played in the tragedy on Sunday, but maybe they should.

In the end, soccer may not be the “safe” alternative to football that so many parents (including my own) have long assumed it to be.

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Review a collection of sports related Situationist posts by clicking here.

Posted in Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Homo economicus at the Ballpark

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 12, 2011


Looking at ESPN.com on Monday evening, as I watched the once lowly Detroit Lions continue their strange journey to respectability, I came across a survey:

Which of these NFL teams, currently under .500, has the best chance of making the playoffs?

Eagles (1-4)

Falcons (2-3)

Jets (2-3)

Personally, I don’t think any of these teams are going to make the playoffs.  But what was fascinating about the results was that ESPN recorded the responses by state and there were stark differences as you moved around the country.  New York was the only state in the entire nation to think that the Jets had the best chance of making the playoffs, Pennsylvania had the highest percentage of votes cast for the Eagles of any jurisdiction, and the Falcons fared the best in Georgia.

This got me wondering: If humans were the rational actors of neoclassical economics would we have professional sports?

I posit that the answer is no.

Without naïve realism, optimism bias, confirmation bias, and countless other cognitive quirks, I never would have stuck with the Redskins all of these years or suffered through countless disappointing Liverpool matches and Wizards games.

Only a human being — a situational character — could have stayed a fan.

A computer would soon have decided to spend Sunday afternoons gardening or learning Spanish.

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Situationist Sports | Leave a Comment »

The Neuro-Situation of Wins and Losses

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 10, 2011

From Montreal Gazette:

A new National Hockey League season is upon us, Major League Baseball playoffs are in full swing and the National Football League’s regular season has been in session for about a month.

As you fixate on your television, watching every move of your favourite athletes and longing for that great play or crucial win that can serve up a rush that can approach orgasm, consider this: New research from Yale University shows even more of your brain than previously thought physically reacts to something perceived as a win or a loss.

A new study, published in the journal Neuron, outlines experiments showing how most of the brain has heightened activity if one wins or loses a competition such as rock-paper-scissors.

It was a broader effect than what was known before to be a reaction of the central part of the brain in releasing dopamine when something good happens, creating a positive feeling in an individual. Conversely, past evidence has also shown this neurotransmitter is suppressed when an unwanted outcome occurs.

The study’s lead author, Timothy Vickery, a post-doctoral fellow at Yale’s psychology department, said it’s possible that the brain has a similar kind of engagement when its owner is watching sports.

“We didn’t look at that directly in this study, but it wouldn’t be very surprising to me if those sorts of second-hand experiences had the same influence, because you’re sort of identifying with your team, and a win for your team is a win for you,” he said.

Vickery said the high engagement sports fans feel when watching a competition likely comes from the previously known function of the basal ganglia, in the middle of the brain, sending out dopamine when a positive outcome is perceived.

It has its roots, he said, in evolutionary tendencies that favour people and animals that are able to make the right choices to improve chances for survival and create results — such as finding food — that induce dopamine-fuelled feelings of joy.

Vickery said the effect can be vicarious when watching other people participate in sports.

“I think it’s fair to say that, to the extent that you experience those wins and losses as your own, it would have a similar effect on your brain as taking your own actions,” he said.

By conducting MRIs on people while they competed against a computer in games such as rock-paper-scissors, the Yale study found that most parts of subjects’ brains, even beyond the basal ganglia, had physical reactions to both wins and losses.

By analyzing the brain as a whole, Vickery said the researchers could determine whether the individual was experiencing a win or a loss, based on subtle differences in the nature of the patterns. He said it is likely this broadly based brain reaction is somehow related to established theories concerning the reward-punishment function at the brain’s centre. The study, however, could not conclude that.

“My suspicion is that it’s not unrelated, that basically that signal gets sent out from the basal ganglia . . . and sort of filters out through the brain, but we don’t know for sure where it’s coming from. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Neuroscience, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Why Goalies Often Dive To The Right

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 31, 2011

APS Press Release:

In the quarterfinal of the 2006 Soccer World Cup, England and Portugal played for 90 tense minutes and 30 minutes extra time without a single goal being scored. This led them to a penalty shoot-out; as one by one, players went against the opposing team’s goalie. After four shots by each team, Portugal was ahead 2-1. Portugal’s star Cristiano Ronaldo shot to English goalkeeper Paul Robinson’s left, but Robinson dove right. Portugal scored, won the game, and went on to the semifinal.

When Robinson dove to his right, he was making a common choice for our right-oriented brains, according to a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The researchers found that, in World Cup penalty shoot-outs, goalies tend to dive right when their team is behind and they have a chance to save the game for their country.

Many studies have found that people and animals that want something tend to go to the right. When dogs see their owners, they wag their tails more to the right; toads strike to the right when they’re going for prey; and humans are more likely to turn their heads to the right to smooch their sweeties.

Marieke Roskes, who cowrote the study with Daniel Sligte, Shaul Shalvi, and Carsten K.W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam, thought of looking at this phenomenon in another arena: the soccer field. “I was sitting with my coauthors in the bar and we were talking about soccer and about research, which we often do on Friday afternoons,” she says. They thought of looking at how goalkeepers move in penalty shootouts, when they’re going after a big win.

In a penalty shootout, there are very different assumptions for the shooter and the goalkeeper. it’s extremely difficult for the keeper to defend the whole goal against one man, so nobody really blames him if the ball goes in. But he can win glory if he saves a ball. “The goalkeeper is the only person who can regain the chance to win the game,” Roskes says. “So he has the chance to become the big hero.”

The researchers examined every penalty shoot-out in every World Cup from 1982 to 2010 and found that most of the time, goalies are equally like to dive right and left. But when the goalkeeper’s team was behind, he was more likely to dive right than left. In an experiment, the team found that people who are told to divide a line in half tend to aim a bit to the right when they are both thinking about a positive goal and under time pressure—just like the goalies.

“It’s quite impressive. Even in this really important situation, people are still influenced by biological factors,” Roskes says. She says this suggests that in many situations where people are focused on a positive outcome and have to react quickly, they may go right. And, of course, there’s another goal for her and her collaborators: “We’re very hopeful this will help the Dutch national team to win the next World Cup.”

* * *

For more information about this study, please contact: Marieke Roskes at m.roskes@uva.nl.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Entertainment, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the Vancouver Riots

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 19, 2011

From :

It was a recipe for riot according to UVIC Social Psychologist Danu Stinson. Stinson says the large crowd, many wearing jerseys were left feeling faceless, anonymous and inhibited — that lack of self-awareness and personal accountability sparked and fuelled the riots. While Vancouver Police say anarchists and criminals were behind the mob that destroyed vehicles and buildings — Stinson said even average joes were easily dragged into the madness.

Dr. Stinson suggests something as simple as urging attendees to wear name-tags would have reinforced individuals and dismissed the pack mentality.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Morality, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Richard Hackman on “What Makes for a Great Team”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2011


Harvard University professor Richard Hackman spoke in March at Harvard Law School.Professor Hackman has studied the secrets of effective teams ranging from airplane cockpit crews to musical ensembles. In his talk, sponsored by the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences, Professor Hackman summarized the conditions that increase the likelihood of creating teamwork “magic.” For a brief introduction to Professor Hackman’s recent research on teamwork, check out this Harvard Business Review article on “sand dune teams.”

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Education, Positive Psychology, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

System Justification Theory and Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 5, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, several Harvard Law students have been blogging about about system justification theory.  In the first post on the topic (copied below), third-year student Rachel Funk summarizes a chapter by Gary Blasi and Situationist Contributor John Jost (forthcoming in Ideology, Psychology, and Law, edited by Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson).

* * *

In System Justification Theory and Research: Implications for Law, Legal Advocacy, and Social Justice, Gary Blasi and John Jost outline a model of social psychology they call system justification theory (SJT). According to Blasi and Jost, in addition to the well-established theories of ego justification (that is, our psychological need to think well of ourselves) and group justification (our psychological need to think well of the groups that we identify and associate with), there is a third related phenomenon: namely, system justification. While ego justification accounts for our tendency to privilege ourselves above others and to think and behave in ways that are self-serving, and group justification accounts for our tendency to give preference to members of our group over outsiders, Blasi and Jost argue that system justification is needed to fill out the picture, because we need to account for why marginalized members of society tend to support the current social order, even though it disadvantages them, thus defying the rational actor model inherent in our social institutions, particularly the legal system.

According to the rational actor model, members of disadvantaged groups should be trying to undermine the current regime, since, by definition, it disadvantages them. Instead, as demonstrated by various empirical studies, they seem to be zealous advocates (so to speak) of the status quo. Blasi and Jost argue that SJT can account for this seeming contradiction because, unlike the rational actor model, it posits that people will generally support the status quo, regardless of whether it advantages or disadvantages them.

In fact, our defense of the status quo becomes even more ardent when we perceive the current system to be threatened. For instance, Blasi and Jost cite one study in which people were asked to assign punishments to hypothetical defendants. For crimes that the researchers represented as being common but rarely punished — and thus an implicit threat to the existing social order — people assigned much more severe punishments to defendants accused of that crime than to defendants accused of crimes represented as being more frequently successfully prosecuted (129-30). However, we have the opposite reaction to the status quo when we view the regime change as “inevitable” (134-35), which may explain the phenomenon we are now seeing with regard to Americans’ changing attitudes to same-sex marriage, although it is unclear what is needed for a regime change to be considered “inevitable.”

So what happens when we endorse the status quo and adopt system-justifying ideologies? Studies show that in the short term, the acceptance of the status quo by disadvantaged members of society results in greater satisfaction at work and at home, indicating that system justification serves a “palliative function” (132). However, in the long run, their support of the status quo leads to cognitive dissonance, because their need to think well of themselves and their social groups necessarily conflicts with their low status in society. In other words, for disadvantaged members of society, ego justification and group justification will inevitably conflict with system justification because members of these groups will not be able to reconcile their positive perception of themselves and their social groups with their simultaneous support of a system that marginalizes them.

One of the reasons that society may be resistant to this model, as Blasi and Jost suggest, is that it necessitates accepting that our biases can be implicit (that is, unconscious) as well as explicit. The rational actor model is more comforting, because it assures us that we are in full control of our beliefs and behavior. If we have control over them, we can change them. And if we don’t change them, that must be because they are fine the way they are (and of course they are fine, because why else would we have them?).

Overall, SJT provides a persuasive account of the phenomena that Blasi and Jost seek to explain in the chapter. In the same vein as theories like “belief in a just world”, SJT offers a further insight into how we conjure up rationalizations for our situation in life because we do not want to believe — or cannot believe — that it is random or out of our control. Blasi and Jost also suggest a variety of ways in which SJT could be incorporated into the legal system, something that is desperately needed if the law’s foundational view of human behavior — which is to say, the rational actor model — is so far off the mark.

* * *

Read the students’ discussion of the chapter here.

Related Situationist posts:

To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Patriots Loss = “poetic justice”

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on January 17, 2011

Sal Paolantonio interviewed Bart Scott after the Jets beat the Patriots and Scott describe the win as  “poetic justice” that showed “what kind of defense, what kind of team this was.” Scott warned anyone who’s going to “talk crap about us” that they’ll play for it.  The video is here.

Those comments, as well as Deione Branch’s description of the Jets as “classless” put us in mind of the following Situationist post, published originally on February 5, 2008 (here).

Tom Brady

In case you hadn’t heard, the New England Patriots played their worst game of the season last night. A team that had savored, not merely defeating, but blowing out their opponents failed in their quest for perfection. For at least a little longer, the 1972 Miami Dolphins will hold onto their place in NFL history as the last team to end a season with a perfect record.

For Pats fans, like us, last night’s defeat was as shocking as it was untimely. And, really, who in their right mind would have thought that the Giants would win? Sure, some of the Giants players and die-hard fans were confident (or at least claimed to be), but the folks betting in Vegas certainly weren’t: the Pats were favored to win by 12 points. It sort of reminds us of another big and recent Super Bowl upset: the up-start and “lucky” Patriots defeating the allegedly indomitable St. Louis Rams back in 2002 in Super Bowl XXXVI. That one felt good, though.

But, if sports bloggers and commentators are to be believed, perhaps we should take heart. Apparently, much more is revealed by the outcome of this football game than simply the fact that Belichick’s boys are not the best team in the history of the sport. The team’s lackluster performance allegedly proved something far more important than that.

According to these commentators, by losing the Super Bowl in nail-biting fashion, the Patriots revealed that behind imperfection is a deeper and more affirming perfection: the universe is just.

One blogger writes: “We all saw something inexplicable, incredible and possibly supernatural when Eli Manning completed a spellbinding drive with a TD pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining.”

Consider the evidence.:

The Patriots got busted for cheat[ing] during the first game of the season, and when the season came down to it, after Asante Samuel drops an interception that would have ended the game, Eli Manning miraculously escaped the grasp of 200 Patriots pass rushers and heaved a prayer over David Tyree’s head that he pinned against his own helmet and kept from hitting the ground as his body nearly split in two at the waist. If you were rooting for the Patriots, as I was, when that play happened you said to yourself, “uh oh.”

And another asks:

Who ever heard of a helmet-catch? What kind of a play was that where Eli Mannning escaped from the grasp of several Patriot pass-rushers, and then tossed the ball downfield so his receiver could catch it on his helmet? Is that normal? Well, not according to the receiver, David Tyree, who said about the play, “This was all supernatural.”

* * *

As Josh Alper explains: “If you’re a karmic sort, . . . you can’t help but think the Patriots did their fair share to help [the Giants] along.” So, no, this was no mere coincidence. It wasn’t luck. And it wasn’t exactly skill either . . . . This was divine or cosmic intervention intended to even the scales of justice. Writing for the Denver Post, Mark Kizla is downright giddy about the game’s implications:

The only thing that left the Super Bowl undefeated was karma. For everyone who believes in truth, justice and a great American underdog story, the New York Giants kicked New England in the asterisk with a stunning 17-14 victory. Talk about your perfect ending. Sorry, Pats. Cheaters never prosper.

The 18-0 Patriots lost because they deserved to. In the end, writes another blogger, “[i]t was a team not worthy of perfection.” In a post titled “Karma Kicks Patriots In The Butt,” Madhava Gosh lays out the case this way:

Early in the season, [the Patriots] were caught videotaping the defensive signals of their opponents in a game. This is illegal and considered cheating. The results of the game were let stand, but the coach was fined 1 million dollars and the Patriots lost a draft choice in the 2008 draft.

*

Now, it seems to me, that the perfect season up to the Super Bowl was simply Krishna setting them up, as karma for their cheating, for the ultimate pain — losing not only the Super Bowl but the chance at a historical 19-0 season.

*

If you wanted to cause the team an enormous amount of pain for the cheating, what better way than to let them get so tantalizingly close. They had the lead with only 2 minutes left in the game, and then victory was snatched from their jaws by the Giants’ game winning miracle drive.

*

Anyone who has played in a meaningful game knows what the pain of defeat can be, and in this case it was amplified to a huge degree.

*

The cheating was nectar in the beginning that became poison in the end . . . . Karma is inexorable.

Just like that, the poison of losing a football game is transformed into the sweet nectar of justice. As Kizla puts it: “Karma won. The Patriots lost. No matter how you pour it, there’s nothing so sweet as the taste of justice.”

Yet another commentator sums up the karma effect as follows: “The Bradshaw fumble, holding penalties, false starts, running up the score, Spygate and yes, even the tuck rule from years ago finally caught up to the Patriots. They had a great regular season but at the end of the day, Karma bit the Pats in the ass!”

And still another describes the “karmic payback” this way:

If there was any moment that summed up why the Patriots deserved to lose this Super Bowl, it was Bill Belichick deciding not to remain on the field for the final second of the game.

*

It was a classless move by a classless coach, but there was also much more to it than that. It was a microcosm of the entire Patriots season. Because . . . the truth is that this year’s Patriots team, and their fans, pushed the envelope like no team ever has before. And in the end, it came back to nail them in crushing fashion.

Just as the single moment was a microcosm for the season, the football season is a microcosm for life. So take heart Patriots fans. Take heart Giants fans. Take heart everyone! What goes around, comes around. If not sooner, then sometime later—perhaps even in the final seconds of the last quarter of the ultimate contest—good will triumph over evil.

Or so the human animal likes to believe.

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To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in Entertainment, Situationist Contributors, Situationist Sports, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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