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Archive for the ‘Cultural Cognition’ Category

The Cultural Situation of Tort Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 7, 2009

Cultural TortsDavid Engel and Michael McCann, have posted on SSRN their introduction to their forthcoming edited volume Tort Law as Cultural Practice.  Here’s the abstract.

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Most scholars would agree that tort law is a cultural phenomenon and that its norms, institutions, and procedures both reflect and shape the broader culture of which it is a part. Yet relatively few studies have attempted to analyze tort law as a form of cultural practice or to address basic challenges regarding the methods or subject matter that are appropriate to such analyses. This essay introduces and summarizes a new volume of interdisciplinary, comparative, and historical studies of tort law in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, India, Thailand, and elsewhere (the volume is entitled Fault Lines: Tort Law as Cultural Practice, Stanford University Press, 2009). The introductory essay contends that culture is not some ‘thing’ outside of tort law that may or may not influence legal behavior and deposit artifacts in the case law reporters. Rather, tort law and culture are inseparable dimensions of social practice in which risk, injury, liability, compensation, deterrence, and normative pronouncements about acceptable behavior are crucial features. Contributors to this volume demonstrate a variety of ways in which tort law’s cultural dimensions can be explored as they write about such topics as causation and duty, gender and race, the jury and the media, products liability and medical malpractice, insurance and the police, and tobacco and asbestos litigation. Their analyses extend far beyond the confines of the tort reform debate, which has until now set the agenda for much of the sociolegal research on tort law.

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To download the introduction for free, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Situationist Torts – Abstract,” “Mark Lanier visits Professor Jon Hanson’s Tort Class (web cast),” and “Why Torts Die – Abstract.”

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Law, Legal Theory | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Biased? I know you are but what am I?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2009

Randy Dotinga, writing for the North County Times, quotes Situationist Contributor Peter Ditto on the bias of our media choices.

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If you’re a conservative, you’re more likely to listen to Rush Limbaugh than turn to National Public Radio. And if you’re liberal, you’re probably don’t spend your time tuned to Roger Hedgecock, Sean Hannity and Rick Roberts.

Pretty obvious, right? Yes, but now researchers have gone and confirmed what we think we know: People like to hear opinions that back up what they already think. In a study published this week in a journal called Psychological Bulletin, researchers say we do indeed turn to sources of information that confirm our biases, especially when it comes to things like politics and religion.

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Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology at UC Irvine, said there’s a bit more to it. We listen to, say, a conservative host because we believe he —- or in rare cases, she —- looks at the world through the correct prism.

“Republicans turn to Fox News not because they think it will confirm their beliefs, but because they believe they are the unbiased keepers of the truth —- and that MSNBC and CNN are biased toward the left,” Ditto said. “Liberals do exactly the opposite.”

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Read the entire article, including comments on social scientists’ tendency to find bias in conservatives, here.  For related Situationist The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “The Situation of Biased Perceptions,” and posts, see “I’m Objective, You’re Biased.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Entertainment, Ideology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Brooks on the Situation of Judging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 31, 2009

Michigan Law LibraryNew York Times columnnist David Brooks had a nice op-ed, “The Empathy Issue,” picking up some of the themes in the recent op-ed by Situationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson.  Here are some excerpts.

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The American legal system is based on a useful falsehood. It’s based on the falsehood that this is a nation of laws, not men; that in rendering decisions, disembodied, objective judges are able to put aside emotion and unruly passion and issue opinions on the basis of pure reason.

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Supreme Court justices, like all of us, are emotional intuitionists. They begin their decision-making processes with certain models in their heads. These are models of how the world works and should work, which have been idiosyncratically ingrained by genes, culture, education, parents and events. These models shape the way judges perceive the world.

As [Situationist Contributor] Dan Kahan of Yale Law School has pointed out, many disputes come about because two judges look at the same situation and they have different perceptions about what the most consequential facts are. One judge, with one set of internal models, may look at a case and perceive that the humiliation suffered by a 13-year-old girl during a strip search in a school or airport is the most consequential fact of the case. Another judge, with another set of internal models, may perceive that the security of the school or airport is the most consequential fact. People elevate and savor facts that conform to their pre-existing sensitivities.

The decision-making process gets even murkier once the judge has absorbed the disparate facts of a case. When noodling over some issue — whether it’s a legal case, an essay, a math problem or a marketing strategy — people go foraging about for a unifying solution. This is not a hyper-rational, orderly process of the sort a computer might undertake. It’s a meandering, largely unconscious process of trial and error.

The mind tries on different solutions to see if they fit. Ideas and insights bubble up from some hidden layer of intuitions and heuristics. Sometimes you feel yourself getting closer to a conclusion, and sometimes you feel yourself getting farther away. The emotions serve as guidance signals, like from a GPS, as you feel your way toward a solution.

Then — often while you’re in the shower or after a night’s sleep — the answer comes to you. You experience a fantastic rush of pleasure that feels like a million tiny magnets suddenly clicking into alignment.

Now your conclusion is articulate in your consciousness. You can edit it or reject it. You can go out and find precedents and principles to buttress it. But the way you get there was not a cool, rational process. It was complex, unconscious and emotional.

The crucial question in evaluating a potential Supreme Court justice, therefore, is not whether she relies on empathy or emotion, but how she does so. . . .

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To read the entire op-ed, click here.  For some related Situationist posts, see “The News Situation of Judge Sotomayor’s Nomination” and The Situation of Judicial Activism,” which contains links to still more related posts.

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Emotions, Ideology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Smiling

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2009

smilesIn response to our recent post, “Smile If You Love Your Future Relationships,” Situationist reader, Rafael Narvaez, wrote the following thoughtful comment, which we thought worthy of sharing on the main page.

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Though everyone smiles, people from different cultures, different social locations, different historical periods ascribe different meanings to smiling (and the actual smile, the muscular event that we call smiling, varies with time and place as well). Middle Americans smile more often, and sustain their (characteristically American, and even middle class) smiles for a longer period of time than, say, Icelanders. And Icelanders often consider excessive smiling as inappropriate, perhaps ridiculous, and, in general, undesirable. Hence, McDonald’s trouble to train their Icelandic cashiers to flash those winning and protracted American smiles right and left throughout their eight-hour shift. Look at the official portraits of the US presidents in chronological order and you will see that the smiling curb starts peaking only from the middle of the 20 century on. There is a history to the meaning of smiling. And smiling is hence a sort of intermediate variable that often points not toward universal affects, but toward an array of cultural meanings that tend to change from place to place and from time to time. Thus, just as lighter ownership is not the true predictor of cancer (though having a lighter in your pocket points toward possible cancer outcomes), smiling is not at all a true predictor of marriage stability. This predictor stands behind the smile, and it includes psychological, cultural, and historical conditions that seem to be completely outside the scope of this study.

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “Interpreting Facial Expressions,” “Seeing Faces,” “The Situation of Flirting,” “Can You Turn the World on With Your Smile?,” and ” A Look Into the Way Culture Affects Facial Expression.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Emotions, Life | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Social Tuning and Ideology – Part 2

Posted by Al Sahlstrom on January 26, 2009

Curtis Hardin is one of the authors of Shared Reality, System Justification, and the Relational Basis of Ideological Beliefs, an article that examines the relationship between affiliative motives and ideology.  I recently spoke with Professor Hardin about that work.  (For additional background on this research and shared reality theory, see Part 1.)

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Al Sahlstrom: Could you please briefly discuss the background of this research – 
what is social tuning and in what contexts have psychologists 
previously studied it?

Curtis Hardin: The observation that people can and do tune their attitudes toward the ostensible attitudes of others is an old and persistent one—dating at least to the dialogues of Plato (including The Republic and others). It is there at the inception of empirical psychology in the work of Wundt and Freud and James. It is there at the beginning of social psychology in the work of Sherif, Adorno, Lewin, Allport, and Asch. The problem of tuning in opinion surveys about racism, for example in which respondents expressed less racism toward black than white interviewers in the 1960s and 1970s, is arguably the precipitating finding that inspired the development of unobtrusive measures of prejudice including measures of implicit and automatic prejudice. The use of the term “tuning” was coined (I believe!) by Tory Higgins and colleagues in their “communication game” work that formally situated individual information-processing in social dynamics. Tuning and “anti-tuning” of this type as well as tuning-like phenomena captured in the classical social psychological literature formed one kind of evidence we have argued supports shared reality theory (Hardin & Higgins, 1996; Hardin & Conley, 2001).

AS: How does social tuning occur?  Is it something that everyone does? 
Is it limited by situation or subject matter?

CH: Social tuning is so ubiquitous that many explanations have been forwarded for it, ranging from bald conformity all the way to tacit, automatized management of common ground in face-to-face conversation. It is certain that depending on the circumstance, any number of explanations could be in operation. That said, from the perspective of shared reality theory, social tuning of the type captured in the research we’ve shown you now is ubiquitous. According to shared reality theory, being engaged in an interpersonal relationship requires modulation of “shared reality” (which is evidenced by social tuning). The direction and magnitude of this kind of social tuning is very much determined by the quality of the relationship as well as which attitudes and experiences are either situationally or chronically relevant to that relationship. Our group hasn’t systematically studied subject matter as a potential moderating variable, but we do find that the degree to which the particular attitude is perceived to be relevant to the effective relationship very much qualifies whether tuning will occur and the direction in which it occurs.

AS: Your research approaches political ideology as something that is 
influenced by motivational processes.  How does social tuning fit into 
this?

CH: In my view, research animated by system justification theory has focused most on epistemic and existential motivations. What we have begun to do—both in the Jost, Ledgerwood, & Hardin paper as well as experiments currently being done in my lab—is explore the possibility that another motivation for system justification may be relational. Corresponding to shared reality research, we’re starting to find evidence of both chronic relationship concerns in system justification as well as new or situationally relevant relationship concerns.

AS: Please tell me a little about the research you’re currently 
conducting on social tuning and political ideology.  What exactly are 
you looking at and what have you found so far?

CH: Broadly, many experiments in my laboratory are exploring how individual experience at a given moment reflects a kind of tension among more than one interpersonal relationship, including immediate relationships and long-term relationships. We’ve been working on this in a variety of ways. For example, we’ve found that automatic homophobic attitudes are greater after an interaction with an ostensibly gay than straight experimenter but only for participants who say they have no gay friends. In another line of experiments, we’ve found that unconscious threats to religious experience reduce explicit religious commitment, but only for participants who believe that they do not share their religious experience with their fathers. For participants who do perceive their religious experience to be shared, the unconscious threat is met with increased religious commitment. In yet another line of experiments, we’ve found that although people will become more anti-black when they’ve been included versus excluded in a game played with ostensible racists, the effect reverses when participants have been experimentally induced to be extra motivated to engage with the racists. We’ve found analogous effects on self-judgment as a function of the ostensible gender traditionality of people who include versus exclude participants.

AS: What do you think might be the limits of these effects?  How stable 
are they?  What factors might amplify or mitigate these effects (e.g. 
duration and consistency of exposure to the tuning group)?

CH: Very interesting questions we’ve not yet explored systematically. According to shared reality theory, social engagement (e.g., affiliative motivation) elicits shared reality (e.g., social tuning). Our research shows that such effects of an immediate relationship are moderated by the relation between that shared reality and potentially competing shared realities held in chronic or long-term relationships. But we haven’t attempted to study what makes some relationships more or less “strong” vis-à-vis shared reality. There would be a variety of ways to model this. My preference—that is, until it proves untenable!—would be that the strength of a given attitude would be determined by some simple function of (a) the number of relationships in which the attitude is shared, (b) the stability of the relationships involved, and (c) the salience of those relationships. For example, sharing reality in a new relationship would be inhibited to the degree that that shared reality is incompatible with existing relationships and to the extent that the existing relationships are stable and to the extent that those relationships are cognitively salient. As for the duration of social tuning effects, evidence across social psychology suggests to me that they are unlikely to be very stable. People are very adaptable to changing social circumstances—from situation to situation, relationship to relationship, and even within situations and particular relationships as they evolve.

AS: I think it’s safe to say many of us assume that ideology is 
something that we develop rationally.  What implications would you say 
your research has on this idea?

CH: Good questions. I don’t think ideology is rational in the sense that for most people it is logically coherent. Nor do I believe that ideology is rational in the sense that it primarily a product of deep or broad conscious thinking. I do believe ideological thinking is rational in the sense that it is adaptive for humans in evolutionary senses. That said, I do not think research I’ve personally been involved in bears terribly strongly on these questions. To show that unconscious processes influence ideology does not preclude ideology from operating consciously as well. To show that ideology is somewhat malleable is not to show that it is either illogical or evolutionarily adaptive. Those would be interesting avenues to pursue, however.

AS: What purpose does tuning serve in this context?  Do you see it as 
having a positive or a negative impact?

CH: 

We’ve identified some of the functions of social tuning in the research discussed above. Whether it’s positive or negative depends on who is tuning to whom on what dimension to what effect for whom! Like any other aspect of human psychology, it’s both positive and negative. One of the burdens of the scientist is to identify as clearly as possible the who-what-when-why of it.

AS: What research do you have planned for the future?

CH: One thing I’m very interested in is extending research we’ve done suggesting that religious experience is animated by shared reality processes to cases in which religion operates ideologically.

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Curtis D. Hardin, Ph.D, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.  His research focuses on the interpersonal foundations of cognition, including the self-concept, social identification, and prejudice.  He recently authored an article with John Jost and Alison Ledgerwood discussing the relational basis of ideological beliefs (available in PDF here).

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Life, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Social Tuning and Ideology – Part 1

Posted by Al Sahlstrom on January 25, 2009

The dominant view of ideology is that it is something that individuals consciously, rationally form.  In this mold, ideology is something pure that exists for its own reasons.  It is not a means to an end, unless that end is implementation of policy that reflects the most accurate evaluation of the world around us.  It does not, or at least should not, change based on different situations.  Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that unconscious, automatic processes and social psychological factors are connected to ideology.

One theoretical perspective that sheds light on this connection is shared reality theory.  Shared reality theory proposes the idea that particular cognitions are founded on and regulated by particular interpersonal relationships, and that particular cognitions in turn regulate interpersonal relationship dynamics.  In other words, there is evidence that our associations with others might have a meaningful impact on our internal thought processes and vice-versa.  Our social interactions may in fact serve a crucial psychological function by creating a common (or shared) view of reality that lends a sense of objectivity to otherwise transitory and subjective individual experience.  One theoretical means through which we establish shared reality is “social tuning,” through which we bring relationship-relevant attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors into harmony with those of others with whom we either wish to be close or must be close.  Ideology is particularly implicated in these processes, both due to its salience and because ideologies can function as “prepackaged” sets of beliefs that are useful for establishing where we stand in relation to others and their perspectives.

While shared reality theory and the possibility that people might actually “tune” their beliefs based on their relationships does not mean that ideology is arbitrary, it does undermine traditional dispositionist assumptions about the centrality of the individual as a rational decision-maker.  Our responses to situations that implicate our religious or political views involve automatic processes that are permeable and susceptible to the influence of those around us.  Our level of commitment to a given idea can vary depending on how we are experimentally primed.  Rather than occupying a consecrated position above other opinions, trends, and inclinations, it is possible that ideology can be as unconsciously driven and impacted by situational pressures as preferences that are given considerably less weight.  The full impact of these phenomena is likely to become clearer as social psychologists continue to explore our need for shared reality with others and its relationship with our view of the world around us.

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For more on the relationship between affiliative processes and ideology, read Part 2, which contains my interview of Curtis Hardin.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Networks” and “Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Life, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »

The Situation of Risk Perceptions – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2008

Gregory Mandel, Donald Braman, and Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan recently posted their paper, “Cultural Cognition and Synthetic Biology Risk Perceptions: A Preliminary Analysis,” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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We describe the results of a study to determine the synthetic-biology risk perceptions of a large and diverse sample of Americans (N = 1,500). The survey found that hierarchical, conservative, and highly religious individuals – one who normally are skeptical of claims of environmental risks (including those relating to global warming) – are the most concerned about synthetic biology risks. We offer an interpretation that identifies how selective risk-skepticism and risk-sensitivity can convey a cultural commitment to traditional forms of authority.

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A Situationist Critique of Legal Theory – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 2, 2008

Situationist contributor David Yosifon has recently posted his excellent article, “Legal Theoretic Inadequacy and Obesity Epidemic Analysis” (forthcoming 15 George Mason Law Review (2008)) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This Article explores crucial analytic and normative limitations in presently dominant and ascendant approaches to legal theory. The approaches’ failure to provide a satisfying framework for analyzing the obesity epidemic presently raging undeterred in American society reveals these limitations. Conventional law and economics scholars writing on the subject have deployed familiar frameworks to reach predictable conclusions that are neither intellectually nor morally justifiable. This Article argues that recent theoretical innovations promulgated within the burgeoning law and behavioralism movement have thus far provided no more reliable a framework for legal analysis of the obesity epidemic than has conventional law and economics. This Article critiques in particular the behavioral law and economics concepts of “libertarian paternalism” and “asymmetric paternalism,” as well as the concept of “expressive overdeterminism,” recently developed by proponents of “cultural cognition theory.” This project is undertaken as part of a broader effort to develop an alternative approach to legal theory that previous co-authors and I call “critical realism.” The theoretical arguments herein are broad, but this Article aims to also advance obesity epidemic analysis in particular. Part V briefly discusses specific public policy implications of my assessment, with special reference to a policy innovation based in the reform of corporate law.

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To download a copy of Professor Yosifon’s paper for free, click here.

For those interested, here is a list of related Situationist posts to date: “Big Calories Come in Small Packages,” The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Cultural Cognition, Food and Drug Law, Law, Legal Theory, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Cultural Situation of the HPV Vaccine – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 11, 2008

Situationist Contributors Dan Kahan, Geoffrey Cohen, and Paul Slovic and their coauthors Donald Braman, and John Gastil, recently posted a fascinating paper, “Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn’t, and Why? An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Cultural Cognition” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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The cultural cognition hypothesis holds that individuals are disposed to form risk perceptions that reflect and reinforce their commitments to contested views of the good society. This paper reports the results of a study that used the controversy over mandatory HPV vaccination to test the cultural cognition hypothesis. Although public health officials have recommended that all girls aged 11 or 12 be vaccinated for HPV – a virus that causes cervical cancer and that is transmitted by sexual contact – political controversy has blocked adoption of mandatory school-enrollment vaccination programs in all but one state. A multi-stage experimental study of a large and diverse sample of American adults (N = 1,500) found evidence that cultural cognition generates disagreement about the risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine. It does so, the experiment determined, through two mechanisms: biased assimilation, and the credibility heuristic. In addition to describing the study, the paper discusses the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.

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For a related set of Situationist posts on cultural cognition, click here.

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Emotional Reactions to Law & Economics – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 17, 2008

Economics Books - Flickr

Peter Huang posted his latest manuscript, titled “Emotional Reactions to Law & Economics, Market Metaphors, & Rationality Rhetoric” (forthcoming in Theoretical Foundations of Law and Economics) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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This chapter makes three fundamental points about law and economics. First, although some people feel strong, negative emotional reactions to utilizing microeconomics to analyze non-business areas of law, others feel no such emotional reactions. This chapter advances the hypothesis that people who do not view the world exclusively through an economics lens are likely to experience negative feelings toward applying microeconomics to non-business law areas, while people who view the world primarily through an economics lens are unlikely to experience such emotional reactions. Second, although law and economics remains an uncontroversial subfield of applied microeconomics; it has become a dominant, yet still controversial field of scholarship in legal academia. This chapter proposes that differences in how most academic and professional economists perceive law and economics versus how most academic and professional lawyers perceive law and economics are due primarily to differences in how familiar they are with microeconomics presented in a mathematically rigorous fashion. Third, much research considerably and significantly qualifies many well-known and often quoted alleged benefits of competitive markets and unbounded rationality. People who are familiar with this research appreciate that the extent to which markets and rationality are socially desirable is more complicated than people do not understand this research suggest. This research involves not only traditional microeconomics, but also behavioral economics, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and neuroeconomics.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Cultural Cognition, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2008

Image by misterbisson - Flickr

Situationist contributor Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, John Gastil, Situationist contributor Paul Slovic, and C.K. Mertz, posted their fascinating paper, “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception” (forthcoming 4 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 465-505, November 2007) on SSRN.

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Why do white men fear various risks less than women and minorities? Known as the white male effect, this pattern is well documented but poorly understood. This paper proposes a new explanation: identity-protective cognition. Putting work on the cultural theory of risk together with work on motivated cognition in social psychology suggests that individuals selectively credit and dismiss asserted dangers in a manner supportive of their preferred form of social organization. This dynamic, it is hypothesized, drives the white male effect, which reflects the risk skepticism that hierarchical and individualistic white males display when activities integral to their cultural identities are challenged as harmful. The article presents the results of an 1,800-person study that confirmed that cultural worldviews interact with the impact of gender and race on risk perception in patterns that suggest cultural-identity-protective cognition. It also discusses the implication of these findings for risk regulation and communication.

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Second National Risk and Culture Study – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2008

Global Warming Image from by Buou - Flickr

Situationist contributor Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, Situationist contributor Paul Slovic, John Gastil, and Geoffrey Cohen posted their paper, “The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of – and Making Progress In – The American Culture War of Fact” on SSRN. We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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Cultural Cognition refers to the disposition to conform one’s beliefs about societal risks to one’s preferences for how society should be organized. Based on surveys and experiments involving some 5,000 Americans, the Second National Risk and Culture Study presents empirical evidence of the effect of this dynamic in generating conflict about global warming, school shootings, domestic terrorism, nanotechnology, and the mandatory vaccination of school-age girls against HPV, among other issues. The Study also presents evidence of risk-communication strategies that counteract cultural cognition. Because nuclear power affirms rather than threatens the identity of persons who hold individualist values, for example, proposing it as a solution to global warming makes persons who hold such values more willing to consider evidence that climate change is a serious risk. Because people tend to impute credibility to people who share their values, persons who hold hierarchical and egalitarian values are less likely to polarize when they observe people who hold their values advocating unexpected positions on the vaccination of young girls against HPV. Such techniques can help society to create a deliberative climate in which citizens converge on policies that are both instrumentally sound and expressively congenial to persons of diverse values.

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For related posts, click on the “Cultural Cognition” category in the right margin.

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Nuclear Power Makes Individualists See Green

Posted by Dan Kahan on March 7, 2008

[This post was first published in October. It is being re-published this week because of its relevance to this Saturday’s conference at Harvard Law School, hosted by the Project on Law & Mind Sciences (for details, go to the conference webpage here).]

expressively overdetermined flag!

A while back I posted an entry about the “cultural cognition of nanotechnology risks.” The entry described a study that members of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School had done that showed that exposure to just a small bit of information about nanotechnology — a subject the vast majority of Americans have heard nothing or little about — can instantly polarize people along cultural lines. I promised that I would post another entry describing techniques for ameliorating this type of cultural polarization on risk issues.

Well, I waited about 6 months or so, not just to let suspense build but also to gather some data so that it wouldn’t seem I was just engaged in wild-eyed conjecture (although truth be told, I’m pretty partial to that mode of exposition). Now I’m going to describe a framing technique for reducing cultural polarization that involves identity affirmation (a communication strategy based on the work of social psychologist and Cultural Cognition Project researcher Geoff Cohen). And I’m going to illustrate how it works with a study that relates to global warming.

Let me start with just a little bit of background. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the psychological disposition of people to form beliefs about risk that cohere with their values. People who hold relatively egalitarian and communitarian values, for example, worry about environmental risks (nuclear power accidents, global warming, air pollution, etc.), the abatement of which would justify regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize the unconstrained pursuit of individual self-interest. Persons who subscribe to relatively individualistic values, in contrast, reject claims of environmental risk precisely because they cherish markets and private orderings. They worry instead that excessive gun control will render individuals unable to defend themselves — a belief congenial to the association of guns with individualist virtues such as self-reliance, courage, and martial prowess. Persons who hold traditional or hierarchical values fret about the societal risks of drug use and promiscuous sex, and the personal risks associated with obtaining an abortion or smoking marijuana — forms of behavior that denigrate traditional social norms and roles.

One of the basic mechanisms behind the cultural cognition of risk is identity-protective cognition. As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values.

This process, though, can presumably be reversed or at least mitigated. If one can frame risk information in way that affirms rather than threatens persons’ defining commitments, then those persons should be able to process information more open-mindedly.

We (Don Braman, Situationist Contributor Paul Slovic, Geoff Cohen, John Gastil and I) decided to test this hypothesis in an experiment focusing on global warming. People with individualistic values tend to be skeptical of environmental risks like global warming because accepting such risks seems to imply that government should regulate commerce, an activity individualists like. But it turns out that one possible solution to global warming is to rely more on nuclear power, which doesn’t emit the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel energy sources. Cultural individualists like nuclear power, because it is a symbol of individual initiative, industry, and mastery over nature. Advised that nuclear power is one solution to the risks of global warming, then, individualists should be more receptive to information suggesting that global warming in fact presents genuine and serious risks.

nuke_vs_antipollution.pngIn our experiment, we divided subjects (whose cultural values we measured ahead of time with appropriate scales) into two groups. Both received a news report describing a scientific study on global warming. The study was described as finding conclusive evidence that the temperature of the earth is increasing, that humans are the source of this condition, and that this change in the earth’s climate could have disastrous environmental economic consequences. In one version of the news story, however, the scientific study was described as calling for “increased antipollution regulation,” whereas in another it was described as calling for “revitalization of the nation’s nuclear power industry.”

The results of the experiment showed that subjects receiving the “nuclear power” version of the news story were less culturally polarized than ones receiving the “anti-pollution” version. That is, individualists who received the “nuclear power” version were less inclined to dismiss the facts related by the described report — that the earth’s temperature is increasing, that humans are the cause, and that the consequences would be dire if global warming were not reversed — than were individualists who got the “antipollution” version, even though the factual information, and its source, were the same in both articles. Indeed, individualists who received the “antipollution” version of the news report were even more skeptical about these facts than were individualists in a control group that received no newspaper story — and thus no information relating to the scientific study that made these findings.individualists_polarization.png

In sum, anti-pollution measures make individualists see red. Nuclear power makes them see green!

This is just one of a variety of experimental findings that appear in a report, “The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of — and Progress in — the American Culture War of Fact,” released last week by the Cultural Cognition Project. The study discusses a variety of issues in addition to global warming, including domestic terrorism, school shootings, and vaccination of school-age girls for HPV. It also identifies other mechanisms for counteracting the divisive effects of cultural cognition on these and other issues. I’ll discuss some of these findings too in future posts – ones that will appear, I promise, in less than six months’ time.

But before I conclude this post, I do want to make one thing clear. The point of “identity affirmation” and like techniques for counteracting cultural cognition is not to induce people to believe any particular set of facts about climate change, gun control, anti-terrorism policies, or the like. Rather it’s to neutralize the tendency of people to polarize along cultural lines as they consider and discuss information about such matters. If society availed itself of risk-communication and regulatory strategies founded on “identity affirmation” and similar mechanisms, disagreements about facts would no doubt persist, but they would no longer take the form of battles between rival cultural factions. And we think that’s a good thing.

Posted in Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 28, 2008

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan and his co-authors David Hoffman and Donald Braman, have an important and fascinating new paper available on SSRN (and forthcoming in Volume 122 of The Harvard Law Review): “Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe? Scott v. Harris and the Perils of Cognitive Illiberalism.” We’ve posted the abstract below:

This paper accepts the unusual invitation to see for yourself issued by the Supreme Court in Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769 (2007). Scott held that a police officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment when he deliberately rammed his car into that of a fleeing motorist who refused to pull over for speeding and instead attempted to evade the police in a high-speed chase. The majority did not attempt to rebut the arguments of the single Justice who disagreed with its conclusion that no reasonable juror could find the fleeing driver did not pose a deadly risk to the public. Instead, the Court uploaded to its website a video of the chase [see six-minute video below], filmed from inside the pursuing police cruisers, and invited members of the public to make up their own minds after viewing it. We showed the video to a diverse sample of 1,350 Americans. Overall a majority agreed with the Court’s resolution of the key issues, but within the sample there were sharp differences of opinion along cultural, ideological, and other lines. We attribute these divisions to the psychological disposition of individuals to resolve disputed facts in a manner supportive of their group identities. The paper also addresses the normative significance of these findings. The result in the case, we argue, might be defensible, but the Court’s reasoning was not. Its insistence that there was only one reasonable view of facts itself displayed a characteristic of a form of bias – cognitive illiberalism – that consists in the failure to recognize the connection between perceptions of societal risk and contested visions of the ideal society. When courts fail to take steps to counteract that bias, they needlessly invest the law with culturally partisan overtones that detract from the law’s legitimacy.

For some first-rate blogging about this paper, click here (Kahan) here (Braman) and here (Hoffman). To review previous Situationist posts discussing cultural cognition, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Law, Video | Leave a Comment »

Harvard Conference: “Ideology, Psychology & Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2008

The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School is hosting its second conference on March 8, 2008. To learn more about the conference or to register, go to the conference webpage. We’ve posted a tentative agenda, including abstracts of the presentations, below.

second-conference-image-large.jpg

Second Conference on Law and Mind Sciences

“Ideology, Psychology & Law”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tentative Agenda


9:25 – 9:55: Continental Breakfast
10:00 – 10:15: Opening Remarks
10:20 – 12:30: Session 1
Social Psychologists:

  • 10:20 – 10:45: Mahzarin R. Banaji, “The Hammer of Ideology”:

If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Ideology is like that, psychologically orienting us to hammer (almost) every judgment and decision with it. I will offer data on the conscious and unconscious manner in which the mind so hammers, and its consequences for fairness in law.

  • 10:50 – 11:15: Brian Nosek, “Ideology and Automaticity”:

Listen to a partisan, and you might believe that ideology is the result of reasoned analysis of social life. Listen to the evidence, and you might be convinced that the partisans’ reasons are the product of ideology, rather than the cause of it. My research group investigates the automatic basis of ideology and moral judgment, and how deliberative reasoning is a secondary act that emboldens or corrects the initial “gut” judgment.

  • 11:20 – 11:45: Aaron Kay, “The Psychological Power of the Status Quo”:

Although people tend to view their beliefs, values, and ideology as entirely the product of thoughtful deliberation, it is becoming increasingly clear that such a view is largely mistaken. In this talk, I will describe how the motivation to perceive the current status quo as just, legitimate, and desirable — an implicit motive known as “system justification” — exerts powerful and consequential effects on social perception and judgment. My remarks will focus particularly on the role of system justification in maintaining social inequalities.

11:50 – 12:20: Legal Scholars (Moderated Q&A):

  • Yochai Benkler
  • Elizabeth Warren

12:25 – 1:00: Lunch

1:05 – 1:15: Michael McCann, The Situationist

1:20 – 3:15: Session 2
Social Psychologists:

  • 1:20 – 1:45: Dan Kahan, “Cultural Cognition of” or “Political Ideology in” Law: What Difference Does It Make?”:

Recent scholarship in law and political science identifies “political ideology” as a major determinant of judicial decisionmaking. My talk will consider the possibility that much if not all the evidence this work rests on might be attributed to the influence of cultural cognition, a set of mechanisms that motivate individuals to conform their factual perceptions to their values. I will suggest why this account might not only furnish a psychologically richer and more complete description of dissensus (and consensus) in law, but also how it complicates the normative implications of judicial disagreements attributed to “ideology.”

  • 1:50 – 2:15: Geoffrey Cohen, “Identity, Belief, and Bias”:

The presented research explores the way in which motivations to protect long-held beliefs and identities contribute to bias, resistance to probative information, and ideological intransigence.

  • 2:20 – 2:45: Emily Pronin, “Implications of Personal and Social Claims and Denials of Bias”:

People’s efforts to make accurate, fair, and sound judgments and decisions often are compromised by various cognitive and motivational biases. Although this is clearly a problem, the solution is less clear due to the fact that people generally deny, and often are literally unaware of, their own commissions of bias – even while they readily impute bias to those around them. I will discuss evidence for this asymmetry in bias perception and for the sources that underlie it, and I will discuss its relevance to three policy concerns – i.e., corruption, discrimination, and conflict. Finally, I will discuss solutions, with a focus on potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

2:50 – 3:20: Legal Scholars (Moderated Q&A):

  • Jennifer Brown
  • Joseph Singer

3:25 – 3:40: Coffee Break

3:40 – 5:20: Session 3

  • 3:45 – 4:05: Jim Sidanius, “Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence and ‘The Law'”:

While instances of inter-communal violence and genocide are obvious and immensely tragic, what is not as readily appreciated is the widespread extent and ferocity of the intergroup violence that is channeled through legal and criminal justice systems. Given the fact that the legal and criminal justice systems are disproportionately controlled by members of dominant rather than subordinate social groups, social dominance theory argues that a substantial portion of the output of the criminal justice system can be seen as a form of intergroup violence, the function of which is to maintain the structural integrity of group-based social hierarchy.

  • 4:10 – 4:35: Jon Hanson, “The Situation of Ideology”

The frames, categories, schemas, and ideologies that dominate legal and policy discourse did not just emerge fully formed. Nor are they a gift of nature or the product of some well-functioning marketplace of ideas. Instead they reflect the interaction of numerous forces that operate more or less invisibly within us and around us. For instance, they reflect many of the subconscious proclivities discussed by the other presenters. My talk will focus on some of the external situational forces that are devoted to promoting some ideologies and undermining others by tapping into, manipulating, and exploiting those subconscious tendencies.

  • 4:40 – 5:00: Large Panel Discussion
  • 5:00 – 5:20: Audience Q&A

5:25 – 5:30: Closing Remarks

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Legal Theory, Politics, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Leave a Comment »

Project on Law and Mind Sciences 2008 Conference: “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 18, 2008

Ideology plays a central role in both law and legal theory. The most elemental human distinctions – right and left, red and blue – are popular shorthand for political creeds. Candidates for office are said to face two challenges: “rallying the base” and “reaching across the aisle.” The first requires the emphasis of deep ideological divisions; the second, the suggestion that a wise lawmaker can transcend them. Despite their apparent contradiction, both strategies accept theback-of-invitation.jpg political primacy of ideology.Judges, by contrast, often describe their role as uniquely free from ideology, because (they say) their legitimacy depends upon their neutrality. Chief Justice Roberts famously compared a good judge to a baseball umpire, anonymously striving to ensure that everyone knows and obeys the accepted rules. Most citizens endorse this model of judging, and describe controversial decisions – Roe v. Wade for some, Bush v. Gore for others – as a departure from it.

Most legal scholars, however, doubt the descriptive accuracy and normative plausibility of an account in which judges merely apply the self-sufficient law. Many scholars – and some judges – respond to the specter of an ideological judiciary by introducing norms from outside the law as an aid to umpiring. Meanwhile, critical theorists maintain that neither rights nor economic efficiency nor any other principle can be ideologically neutral yet practically decisive. At all levels of debate, ideology remains a central preoccupation in both the practice and the study of law.

Strikingly, since World War II, social scientists have paid no mind to ideology. They were convinced that the concept lacked coherence and stability. That view is now rapidly changing, as social psychologists and other mind scientists have begun to study the characteristics and situations of people drawn to different dogmas. Indeed, John Jost recently declared “the end of the end of ideology” for the field. The latest research suggests that ideology is more a manifestation of implicit processes, motives, and human needs than a product of careful reasoning and explicit choices. Ideology, the new evidence suggests, is one of the names we give to causal forces beyond our grasp. When we embrace an ideology or claim to rise above it – whether as citizens, judges or scholars – our efforts are motivated and often undermined by our social and psychological situations.

At the Second Conference on Law and Mind Sciences on March 8 2008, leading social scientists and law professors will present their research and discuss the implications of a psychological understanding of ideology for politics, law and legal theory. To register or to learn more details, go to the conference webpage.

We will post the tentative conference agenda later this week.

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Politics, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Leave a Comment »

Deep Capture – Part VIII

Posted by Jon Hanson on January 29, 2008

//sketchbook.dangermarc.com/This is the eighth part of a series on what Situationist Contributor David Yosifon and I call “deep capture.” The most basic prediction of the “deep capture” hypothesis is that there will be a competition over the situation (including the way we think) to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions and that those individuals, groups, entities, or institutions that are most powerful will win that competition. I review the previous posts in this series at the bottom of this post, which contrasts different cultures for evidence of commercial interests in promoting dispositionism.

(Situationist artist Marc Scheff is providing the primary illustrations in this series.)

* * *

“My research has led me to the conviction that two utterly different approaches to the world have maintained themselves for thousands of years. These approaches include profoundly different social relations, views about the nature of the world, and characteristic thought processes. Each of these orientations–the Western and the Eastern–is a self-reinforcing, homeostatic system. The social practices promote the worldviews; the worldviews dictate the appropriate thought processes; and the thought processes both justify the worldviews and support the social practices.”

~Richard E. Nisbett

The previous [posts in this series] provided a sample of evidence suggesting that various regulatory institutions are, indeed, highly dispositionist. This evidence should not be surprising, given that social psychologists have demonstrated that we humans tend to see the world dispositionally. So, although the evidence might be consistent with our deep capture hypothesis and might well reveal a major cause for concern, it may only evince a shared cognitive illusion–a worldview that emerges solely from forces outside of anyone’s control.

An important implication of deep capture is that our dispositionism is, at least in this market-oriented culture, more profound than it would otherwise be. Corporations exercise their enormous power over situation to encourage and reinforce dispositionism because it is valuable to them. This presumes that the basic contours of our outlook are malleable, that even dispositionism is not stable but is subject to situational influence.

A question thus emerges as to whether dispositionism reflects anything more than our hardwiring as humans–a shared interior situation. The answer seems to be that it does. As we have already indicated, dispositionism varies somewhat across contexts. Thus, exterior situation matters too. Social psychologists have begun looking more specifically at the significance of culture. In a revealing study by Takahiko Masuda and Richard Nisbett, for example, students at Kyoto University and the University of Michigan were shown animated underwater scenes containing images of various undersea objects, such as rocks, small fish, plants, and a “focal fish.” The focal fish was larger, brighter and faster moving than the others–the sort of characteristics that would, according to conventional understandings, make them more salient to the observer. After viewing the scenes, students were asked to describe what they saw. Predictably, American students spoke immediately of the focal fish (e.g., “a trout, moving off to the left”) and only later added references to its surroundings. The Japanese students, on the other hand, tended to begin by describing the context (e.g., “It looked like a pond”). During the course of their descriptions, students from both universities made roughly equal references to the focal fish, but the Japanese participants made over sixty percent more references to contextual elements and twice as many references to relationships with inanimate aspects of the environment (e.g., “the big fish swam past a rock”).Nisbett fish image

According to Nisbett, such evidence confirms the hypothesis that members of some cultures are more inclined to take in the world as if through a wide-angle lens, whereas members of other cultures tend to see the world as if through a zoom. Nisbett argues that this distinction across cultures has ancient roots and may even help explain why the Chinese made connections that Aristotle and Galileo, with their telescopic vision, missed:

The Greeks’ focus on the salient object and its attributes led to their failure to understand the fundamental nature of causality. Aristotle explained that a stone falling through the air is due to the stone having the property of ‘gravity.’ But of course a piece of wood tossed into water floats instead of sinking. This phenomenon Aristotle explained as being due to the wood having the property of ‘levity’! In both cases the focus is exclusively on the object, with no attention paid to the possibility that some force outside the object might be relevant. But the Chinese saw the world as consisting of continuously interacting substances, so their attempts to understand it caused them to be oriented toward the complexities of the entire ‘field,’ that is, the context or environment as a whole. The notion that events always occur in a field of forces would have been completely intuitive to the Chinese. The Chinese therefore had a kind of recognition of the principle of ‘action at a distance’ two thousand years before Galileo articulated it. They had knowledge of magnetism and acoustic resonance, for example, and believed it was the movement of the moon that caused the tides, a fact that eluded even Galileo. Thus, the tendency goes beyond perception of non-human objects and is revealed as well in how “Easterners” and “Westerners” conceptualize and construe social contexts.

The evidence about cultural variations in dispositionism provides some additional support for our hypothesis that humans are both “individually” and “culturally” dispositionist, but it may go further. It suggests that dispositionism is greatest where the situational influence of large corporate interests has likely been greatest.

Recall the fundamental attribution error that is at the heart of dispositionism fallacy–the tendency to miss the influence of situation and to overstate the power of disposition in understanding one’s own and other people’s behavior. Earlier, we described the centrality of that bias to human perception and experience. Cross-cultural comparisons, however, indicate that the fundamental attribution error may be more fundamental in Western societies than it is in other societies. People in Asia, for example, appear to be less prone to see disposition than are Westerners. The “focal fish” experiment provides some support for that conclusion. This disparity has been demonstrated in numerous experiments, including variations of the famous pro-Castro, anti-Castro speech experiment . . . .

In the basic version of that study, recall, subjects who knew that a student had been instructed to write and deliver a pro-Castro speech nevertheless thought that the views the student expressed in her speech were representative of her true dispositional beliefs. The same dispositionist mistake appeared when the study was conducted with a group of East Asian subjects–that is, subjects at first overstated the role of disposition in the students’ speeches. A number of similar studies have documented this basic commonality between Westerners and Easterners in the tendency to overstate disposition. Social psychologists therefore do believe that dispositionism, in its most basic form, is a widely shared human tendency.

Differences begin to emerge, however, when the basic design of the experiment is altered to highlight the role of the situational pressure even more prominently to subjects–by, for example, placing the subject in the target’s shoes and requiring her to write an essay that takes a particular stance. American subjects continue to exhibit the fundamental attribution error in significant proportions, while East Asians become far more likely to acknowledge the role of situation in the speeches they hear. This variation in dispositionism has recurred in several studies comparing Eastern to Western subjects. Such cross-cultural differences in the power of the fundamental attribution error suggest that, although dispositionism may be universal, the degree of dispositionism varies across cultures. Overall, the findings suggest that dispositionism is itself subject to situational influence, a reality that helps to make deep capture possible.

Another dimension to these cross-cultural experiments confirms that hypothesis. In a number of studies, people who are from the East but living in the West exhibit an outlook that falls between the strong dispositionism seen in Western subjects and the weaker dispositionism seen in Eastern subjects. A compelling explanation for these findings is that when subjected to different situational influences–that is, different cultures– people develop differences in how they perceive behavior. In other words, situation, not dispositional factors such as biology or race, makes the difference. And importantly for our deep capture thesis, the Western cultural situation appears to drive people into a deeper dispositionism and away from situationism. Undoubtedly, differences in basic outlook remain among the many subcultures within Western society. The general patterns, however, are reasonably clear that dispositionism is stronger in the West than in the East, and that the situational influences of Western culture powerfully alter outlooks toward dispositionism.

earth-brain.pngThe evidence suggesting a greater sensitivity in Eastern society than in Western society to situational influences over behavior at first appears to challenge explanations of the fundamental attribution error that are rooted in the mechanics of human perception. In our earlier discussion we stressed, as have social psychologists, that one reason for the fundamental attribution error is the relative facility of seeing individual behavior compared to the situational influences that may give rise to it. Our limited perceptual and cognitive resources focus on what is stark and miss what is subtle. Therefore, we see the person who would administer painful shocks to a test-subject as dispositionally bad or sadistic, rather than account for the myriad of situational influences that help account for that behavior. Notably for our thesis, social psychologists have not abandoned the basic perceptual explanation of the human tendency to overstate dispositionist explanations of behavior. Indeed, this basic perceptual account explains the baseline of similarity seen in the cross-cultural Castro speech experiments.

According to social psychologists, the ultimate divergence in the commitment to dispositionist explanations is a product of the difference in the two cultures’ lay theories of the relationship between individuals and society. In the West, the perceptual foundation of the fundamental attribution error is surrounded by lay theories of the self as an autonomous, free, dispositionally stable individual. In this fashion, the fundamental attribution error serves to confirm the dispositional worldview for Westerners. On the other hand, cultures in the East entertain lay theories that portray the individual as situated in an array of interdependent social relationships in which roles, rather than individual actors, are emphasized. Social psychologists, thus, attribute to culture the fact that Eastern subjects appear to correct more easily for the fundamental attribution errors received from basic perceptual cues than do Western subjects. That explanation finds support in a number of cross-cultural studies. For instance, individuals who have been “multiply enculturated”–that is, exposed extensively to two or more cultures–can be situationally primed to activate the causal schemas characteristic of either culture. In one study, students in Hong Kong were shown one of the following: Western images (such as a cowboy on a horse), Eastern images (such as a dragon), or neutral images (such as a landscape). Afterwards, when making causal attributions, subjects in the first group were most dispositionist, subjects in the second group were most situationist, and those in the control group fell in between. Studies by developmental psychologists have found that Eastern and Western children exhibit common fundamental attribution errors and, unlike their parents, Eastern children do not correct for those errors when situational constraints are highlighted. Having not yet learned the situational lay-theories that their culture provides, their perceptions appear to rest on the limitations that give rise to the fundamental attribution error in Easterners and Westerners alike.

It is important to note that Easterners’ tendency to correct for dispositional overstatements is itself an unseen, subtle process. The studies revealing the relative depth or shallowness of the fundamental attribution error show that the adjustments for situation are often made automatically; they are not the result of a conscious, explicit, intentional adherence to an ideology or worldview. The difference in outlook, driven by cultural differences, is attributable to unseen processes, not dispositional choice. Consequently, while exterior situation helps explain the depth of our dispositionism, that influence is registered automatically, beneath our conscious control in the situations of our interiors.

The fact that situational influence determines the depth of our dispositionism is extremely advantageous to corporations, which, as we have indicated, have an interest in encouraging such an outlook. The capture of this outlook can be accomplished by exercising power over situation, a pursuit that is itself enabled by the strength of the dispositionist theories that support corporate power.

* * *

Part I of this series explained that our “deep capture” story is analogous to the (shallow) capture story told by economists (such as Nobel laureate George Stigler) and public choice theorists for decades regarding the competition over prototypical regulatory institutions. Part II looked to history (specifically, Galileo’s recantation) for another analogy to the process that we claim is widespread today — the deep capture of how we understand ourselves. Part III picked up on both of those themes and explains that Stigler’s “capture” story has implications far broader and deeper than he or others realized. Part IV examined the relative power (measured as the ability to influence situation) of large commercial interests today, much like the power of the Catholic Church in Galileo’s day. Part V described other parallels between the Catholic Church and geocentrism, on one hand, and modern corporate interests and dispositionism, on the other. Part VI laid out the “deep capture hypothesis” a bit more and began loosely testing it by examining the role that it may have played in the “deregulatory” movement. Part VII provided some illustrative examples of how atypical “regulators,” from courts to hard-hitting news networks, reflect and contribute to deep capture.

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Ideology | 1 Comment »

Nuclear Power Makes Individualists See Green

Posted by Dan Kahan on October 2, 2007

expressively overdetermined flag!A while back I posted an entry about the “cultural cognition of nanotechnology risks.” The entry described a study that members of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School had done that showed that exposure to just a small bit of information about nanotechnology — a subject the vast majority of Americans have heard nothing or little about — can instantly polarize people along cultural lines. I promised that I would post another entry describing techniques for ameliorating this type of cultural polarization on risk issues.

Well, I waited about 6 months or so, not just to let suspense build but also to gather some data so that it wouldn’t seem I was just engaged in wild-eyed conjecture (although truth be told, I’m pretty partial to that mode of exposition). Now I’m going to describe a framing technique for reducing cultural polarization that involves identity affirmation (a communication strategy based on the work of social psychologist and Cultural Cognition Project researcher Geoff Cohen). And I’m going to illustrate how it works with a study that relates to global warming.

Let me start with just a little bit of background. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the psychological disposition of people to form beliefs about risk that cohere with their values. People who hold relatively egalitarian and communitarian values, for example, worry about environmental risks (nuclear power accidents, global warming, air pollution, etc.), the abatement of which would justify regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize the unconstrained pursuit of individual self-interest. Persons who subscribe to relatively individualistic values, in contrast, reject claims of environmental risk precisely because they cherish markets and private orderings. They worry instead that excessive gun control will render individuals unable to defend themselves — a belief congenial to the association of guns with individualist virtues such as self-reliance, courage, and martial prowess. Persons who hold traditional or hierarchical values fret about the societal risks of drug use and promiscuous sex, and the personal risks associated with obtaining an abortion or smoking marijuana — forms of behavior that denigrate traditional social norms and roles.

One of the basic mechanisms behind the cultural cognition of risk is identity-protective cognition. As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values.

This process, though, can presumably be reversed or at least mitigated. If one can frame risk information in way that affirms rather than threatens persons’ defining commitments, then those persons should be able to process information more open-mindedly.

We (Don Braman, Situationist Contributor Paul Slovic, Geoff Cohen, John Gastil and I) decided to test this hypothesis in an experiment focusing on global warming. People with individualistic values tend to be skeptical of environmental risks like global warming because accepting such risks seems to imply that government should regulate commerce, an activity individualists like. But it turns out that one possible solution to global warming is to rely more on nuclear power, which doesn’t emit the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel energy sources. Cultural individualists like nuclear power, because it is a symbol of individual initiative, industry, and mastery over nature. Advised that nuclear power is one solution to the risks of global warming, then, individualists should be more receptive to information suggesting that global warming in fact presents genuine and serious risks.

nuke_vs_antipollution.pngIn our experiment, we divided subjects (whose cultural values we measured ahead of time with appropriate scales) into two groups. Both received a news report describing a scientific study on global warming. The study was described as finding conclusive evidence that the temperature of the earth is increasing, that humans are the source of this condition, and that this change in the earth’s climate could have disastrous environmental economic consequences. In one version of the news story, however, the scientific study was described as calling for “increased antipollution regulation,” whereas in another it was described as calling for “revitalization of the nation’s nuclear power industry.”

The results of the experiment showed that subjects receiving the “nuclear power” version of the news story were less culturally polarized than ones receiving the “anti-pollution” version. That is, individualists who received the “nuclear power” version were less inclined to dismiss the facts related by the described report — that the earth’s temperature is increasing, that humans are the cause, and that the consequences would be dire if global warming were not reversed — than were individualists who got the “antipollution” version, even though the factual information, and its source, were the same in both articles. Indeed, individualists who received the “antipollution” version of the news report were even more skeptical about these facts than were individualists in a control group that received no newspaper story — and thus no information relating to the scientific study that made these findings.individualists_polarization.png

In sum, anti-pollution measures make individualists see red. Nuclear power makes them see green!

This is just one of a variety of experimental findings that appear in a report, “The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of — and Progress in — the American Culture War of Fact,” released last week by the Cultural Cognition Project. The study discusses a variety of issues in addition to global warming, including domestic terrorism, school shootings, and vaccination of school-age girls for HPV. It also identifies other mechanisms for counteracting the divisive effects of cultural cognition on these and other issues. I’ll discuss some of these findings too in future posts – ones that will appear, I promise, in less than six months’ time.

But before I conclude this post, I do want to make one thing clear. The point of “identity affirmation” and like techniques for counteracting cultural cognition is not to induce people to believe any particular set of facts about climate change, gun control, anti-terrorism policies, or the like. Rather it’s to neutralize the tendency of people to polarize along cultural lines as they consider and discuss information about such matters. If society availed itself of risk-communication and regulatory strategies founded on “identity affirmation” and similar mechanisms, disagreements about facts would no doubt persist, but they would no longer take the form of battles between rival cultural factions. And we think that’s a good thing.

Posted in Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

Cultural Thinking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 13, 2007

aps-poster.jpgIn May, the American Psychological Society (APS) held their annual conference at which numerous prominent social psychologists gave presentations. The latest issue of Observer, the APS magazine, contains articles summarizing a few of those presentations. This is the fourht in a series of posts (to link to the first three, click here, here, and here) by the Situationist excerpting and supplementing those articles. Below you will find excerpts of Catherine West’s fascinating summary of various presentations on “How Culture Influences the Way We Think.”

* * *

“Culture is like water for fish,” . . . Shinobu Kitayama . . . explained during the special Culture and Cognition themed program . . . . But defining our own culture is difficult, “because it is the only thing we know,” Kitayama said in his talk, “Voluntary Settlement and the Spirit of Independence: Some More Evidence from Japan’s ‘Northern Frontier.'”

Speaking to a packed room, Kitayama noted that researchers investigating cultural differences often contrast Western and Eastern cultures. Kitayama, however, utilized two separate samples from Japan — one from the mainland and the other from the island of Hokkaido — to examine differences in individualism that may exist in Japanese culture.

Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost territory, is unique due to its history as a frontier in Japan. For several reasons, including the collapse of the feudal government in Japan, which resulted in fewer job for Japan’s samurai soldiers, and a need to protect Hokkaido from increasing Russian aggression, many samurai were initially deployed to the island in the mid-1800’s. Subsequently, a large number of farmers and peasants followed suit in search of land, wealth, and freedom. According to the voluntary settlement hypothesis, the immigration to the frontier, while economically motivated, may have fostered psychological orientations toward independence.

Kitayama examined this notion by assessing Hokkaido-born and non-Hokkaido-born college students’ implicit theory of independence, and found that, like Americans, Hokkaido Japanese show a strong cognitive bias called the fundamental attribution error. They tend to explain another person’s behavior in terms of internal traits while ignoring situational forces. In contrast, mainland Japanese showed no such bias. The pattern suggests that the voluntary settlement hypothesis may indeed apply to individuals from Hokkaido.

This finding is particularly interesting in the context of the differences between Japanese and American values, beliefs, and traditions. As APS Fellow Richard Nisbett, University of Michigan, pointed out, modern Asian cultures are relatively collectivist or interdependent, whereas Western cultures thrive on independence and individualism, and it follows that these societal values sculpt one’s point of view.

Nisbett cited a study in which researchers used an eye-tracking device to pinpoint exactly where participants look when given a photo with a salient object (e.g., a train) set against a busy background. Americans looked outside the object an average of one time but had eight or nine fixations on the actual object. On the other hand, Chinese participants had one sharp initial fixation on the object followed by five or six fixations on the background context. “If people are seeing different things, it may be because they are looking differently at the world,” Nisbett added.

Doug Medin, Northwestern University, agreed. During his talk, Medin . . . presented research on the effect of our “cultural framework” (i.e., how we make sense of the world) on inter-group conflict. He said that the way we organize our knowledge varies by culture, and that this knowledge plays a large role in the ways we view others. Thus, limited observation of other groups and immersion solely in our own culture leads to overgeneralization of other cultures and the perpetuation of stereotypes.

. . .

Other participants in the APS program included Denise Park, and Qi Wang. To listen to an excellent NPR, Morning Edition report on Richard Nisbett’s pathbreaking scholarship on the role of culture on cognitions (or, “The Geography of Thought“), click here.

Posted in Cultural Cognition, History, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Emotions, Values, and Information: The Future of Nanotechnology

Posted by Dan Kahan on April 4, 2007

dummies1.jpgDo you know very much about nanotechnology? Which do you think will predominate — its benefits or its risks?

If you either answered “yes” to the first question, or assumed answering “no” disqualified you from offering an opinion on the second, you are unusual. We (Paul Slovic, Don Braman, John Gastil, Geoffrey Cohen and I), recently did a national study of nanotechnology risk perceptions. We discovered that although 80% of our subjects reported having heard “little” or “nothing” about nanotechnology, 90% of them (without being supplied any additional information) still had a view one way or the other on whether it was on net risky or beneficial.

But in truth, that result didn’t surprise us. It’s well known that people form rapid, intuitive judgments about even unfamiliar risks. Our primary goal in the study was to find out on what basis they would form such judgments toward nanotechnology and, even more significant, how their views would be influenced by the provision of information about this novel science.

What we discovered convinced us that nanotechnology is an emotionally charged topic that is poised to generate exactly the sort of political conflict that has historically attended nuclear power and today characterizes global warming.

The study involved a demographically diverse sample of 1,850 persons. In addition to our subjects’ views of nanotechnology risks and benefits, we also collected data on various individual characteristics that we hypothesized might explain those views.

regression_affect2.gifThe study (the results of which are set forth more completely in a working paper) generated two principle findings. The first is that existing reactions to nanotechnology are affect driven. The sign (positive or negative) and intensity of subjects’ visceral or emotional reactions toward nanotechnology explained eight times as much of the variance in their perceptions of its risks as did either gender or race. The impact of affect was approximately seven times larger than the impact of confidence in government to regulate risks effectively, six times larger than the impact of education, and four times larger than the impact of perception of other environmental risks. The next biggest influence — how much subjects reported knowing about nanotechnology before the study — was less than half that of affect.

This finding, of course, begs the question, What explains variance in affect? A variety of things, we found, but among the strongest predictors of our subjects’ affective response to nanotechnology was their perceptions of other environmental risks, such as nuclear power and global warming. In sum, the subjects in our study seemed to have a gut reaction to nanotechnology, a relatively novel risk, that was informed by their attitudes toward more familiar environmental dangers.

balancedinfo.gifThe second major finding had to do with what happens when individuals learn more about nanotechnology. To address this issue, we divided our sample into two and furnished one with additional information about nanotechnology before eliciting their views. That information consisted of two, relatively short paragraphs, one setting forth potential benefits of nanotechnology and other potential risks. We then compared the views of subjects who received this information to those who didn’t receive any.

Overall, there was no difference in the views of our “no information” and our “information exposed” subjects on the relative risks and benefits of nanotechnology. Again, perfectly predictable, given the balanced nature of the information we supplied.

But when we examined the views of subgroups of respondents defined with reference to their values, we discovered something much more interesting: polarization of our subjects along cultural and ideological lines.

The theory of “cultural cognition” posits that individuals process information in a way that reflects and reinforces their general preferences about how society should be organized. Egalitarians and communitarians, for example, tend to be sensitive to claims of environmental and technological risks because abating such dangers justifies regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize unconstrained pursuit of self-interest. Individualists, in contrast, tend to be skeptical about such risks, in line with their concern to ward off contraction of the sphere of individual initiative. So do hierarchists, who tend to see assertions of environmental technological risks as challenging the competence of governmental and social elites.We evaluated our subjects’ worldviews using scales that correspond to these cultural worldviews.

In our “no information” condition, hierarchists and egalitarians, individualists and communitarians all had roughly comparable perceptions of culture_pol.gifnanotechnology risks. However, in the “information exposure” condition, subjects adopted toward nanotechnology the clashing positions persons with their respective worldviews take on environmental risks generally.

Exposure to information also seemed to excite recognizable ideological divisions. Liberals, who held a slightly more positive view of nanotechnology among the subjects in the “no information” condition, actually traded places with conservatives in the “information exposure” conduction, assuming a stance of risk concern more characteristic of their ideology.

In sum, values operated as a powerful heuristic for our subjects. Confronted with balanced competing arguments about a novel risk, they assigned more weight to the position that best fit their general cultural and political predispositions.

Does this mean that public deliberations on nanotechnology will be plagued by division and acrimony? That’s certainly a possibility. In particular, it certainly can’t be assumed that the discovery of scientifically accurate information about the risks and benefits of nanotechnology will of its own force generate societal consensus on whether and how its development should be regulated: as they do on many well-known risks — from climate change to nuclear power to handgun possession to terrorism — people with different values are predisposed to draw different factual conclusions from the same information. If anything, the polarization effects we observed in our study could be even larger in the real world, where individuals are likely to select information sources that fit their values and that supply them with information systematically skewed toward one position or other.

But I, at least, don’t think such polarization on nanotechnology is inevitable. At the same time that the study of cultural cognition is generating insights into how values shape individuals’ processing of information, it is also teaching us lessons (ones I will describe in future posts) about how information can be framed so that persons of diverse cultural views can get the same factual content from it. That obviously doesn’t mean those persons all reach the same conclusions on how to balance the risks and benefits of nanotechnology or other forms of science. But it does mean that their deliberations will be informed by the best understandings available of what those risks and benefits are — a condition they would presumably all agree is essential to enlightened democratic regulation of risk.

The bottom line is that those who favor informed public deliberation about nanotechnology should be neither sanguine nor bleak. Instead, they should be psychologically realistic. And if they are, they will see the urgent need for additional efforts to develop risk-communication strategies that make it possible for culturally diverse citizens to converge on policies that promote their common interests.

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Emotions, Politics, Public Policy, Social Psychology | 6 Comments »

 
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