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Archive for the ‘Classic Experiments’ Category

Shocking for Money

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2011

From Science News:

When faced with a thorny moral dilemma, what people say they would do and what people actually do are two very different things, a new study finds. In a hypothetical scenario, most people said they would never subject another person to a painful electric shock, just to make a little bit of money. But for people given a real-world choice, the sparks flew.

The results . . . serve as a reminder that hypothetical scenarios don’t capture the complexities of real decisions.

Morality studies in the lab almost always rely on asking participants to imagine how they’d behave in a certain situation, study coauthor Oriel FeldmanHall of Cambridge University said in her presentation. But these imagined situations are missing teeth: “Whatever you choose, it’s not going to happen,” she said.

But in FeldmanHall’s study, things actually happened. “There are real shocks and real money on the table,” she said. Subjects lying in an MRI scanner were given a choice: Either administer a painful electric shock to a person in another room and make one British pound (a little over a dollar and a half), or spare the other person the shock and forgo the money. Shocks were priced in a graded manner, so that the subject would earn less money for a light shock, and earn the whole pound for a severe shock. This same choice was given 20 times, and the person in the brain scanner could see a video of either the shockee’s hand jerk or both the hand jerk and the face grimace. (Although these shocks were real, they were pre-recorded.)

When researchers gave a separate group of people a purely hypothetical choice, about 64 percent said they wouldn’t ever deliver a shock — even a mild one  — for money. Overall, people hypothetically judging what their actions would be netted only about four pounds on average.

But when there was cold, hard money involved, the data changed. A lot. A whopping 96 percent of people in the scanner chose to administer shocks for cash. “Three times as much money was kept in the real task,” FeldmanHall said. When participants saw only the hand of the person jerk as it got shocked, they chose to walk away with an “astonishing” 15.77 pounds on average out of a possible 20-pound windfall. The number dipped when participants saw both the hand and the face of the person receiving the shock: in these cases, people made off with an average of 11.55 pounds.

People grappling with the real moral dilemma — as opposed to people who had to choose in a  hypothetical situation — had heightened activity in parts of the insula, a brain center thought to be involved in emotion, the study shows. FeldmanHall said that insula activity might represent a sort of visceral tension that’s going on in the body as a person pits the desire for money against the desire to not hurt someone. These visceral conflicts within a person seem to be missing in experiments with no real stakes, she said.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Power of the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 28, 2011

From Discovering Psychology:

This program explores psychologists’ attempts to understand human behavior within its broader social context. It also examines how beliefs and behavior can be influenced and manipulated by other people and subtle situational forces.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Milgram-Inspired Movie

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 15, 2011

For those of you who missed this 1975 CBS movie, inspired by Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, here’s your chance to watch “The Tenth Level.”

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Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Entertainment, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Power of Suggestion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2011

In the wake of the massacre in Tucson one of the debates has been over whether a toxic environment might have contributed to the assailant’s behavior.  Social psychology has demonstrated countless times the power of seemingly trivial situatonal forces to encourage hostility and violence.  One of the classics is a 1975 study of the effects of dehumanization.

Here is a 1999 summary of that study by Situationist Contributor Phil Zimbardo.

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My colleague, Albert Bandura, and his students contnued this line of research by extending the basic paradigm here to study the minimal conditions necessary to create dehumanization (Bandura, Underwood, & Fromson, 1975). What they manipulated was only the actors’ perceptioin of their victims–no authority pressures, no induced anonymity. A group of college students expected to help train another group of students from a nearby college by collectively shocking them when they erred on the task.

Just as the study was about to begin, the participants overhead the assistant tell the experimenter one of three phrases–Neutral: “The subjects from the other school are here.” Humanized: “The subjects from the other school are here; they seem ‘nice.'” Dehumanized: “The subjects from the other school are here, they seem like ‘animals.'” Mind you, they never saw those other students, or heard anything directly from them, it is only this label that they had to go on in imaging what they were like.

On trial one, the manipulation failed to have a differential effect on their aggression, and had the researchers ended the study there, we would conclude that dehumanizing labels have no behavioral impact, but as the study wore on, it had a major impact. The boys, who imagined their victims as “animals,” progressively elevated their shock levels over each trial after the first, significantly more than the neutral control. Humanizing labels helped to reduce the aggression significantly below the level of the neutral control.

When the participants were interviewed subsequently about why they behaved as they did, what the researchers found was that the experimental condition enabled them to become morally disengaged, to activate a set of psychological mechanisms that minimized the evil of their deeds, while justifying it in a variety of ways. So a one-word label can create a stereotype of the victim, of the enemy, that also lowers the height of that line between good and evil and enables more good people to cross over and become perpetrators.

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Work cited:  Bandura, A., Underwood, B., & Fromson, M. E. (1975). Disinhibition of aggression through diffusion of responsibility and dehumanization of victims. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 253-269 (pdf here).

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, Education, Emotions, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Situationist Phil Zimbardo Takes Over the Dr. Phil Show

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 25, 2010

Here is a brief promotional piece to highlight the Heroic Imagination Project and Situationist Contributor Phil Zimbardo’s upcoming appearances on Dr. Phil.

Visit www.heroicimagination.org to learn more. www.drphil.com for show times.

You can watch video clips from today’s show here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Entertainment, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Rebecca Saxe on Situationism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2010

From the National Science Foundation:

Rebecca Saxe (Carole Middleton Career Development Professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT) discusses the under-appreciated power of situation.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part II,” “Jon Hanson on Situationism and Dispositionism,” Hanson’s Chair Lecture on Situationism,” “‘Situation’ Trumps ‘Disposition’ – Part I,” and ““Situation” Trumps “Disposition”- Part II.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Illusions, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Bystanders

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2010

ABC News‘s “What Would You Do?” series recently conducted a series of experiments testing the bystander effect.

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Most readers of The Situationist have likely seen the grainy video of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax‘s final moments on a street in Jamaica, Queens.  He was stabbed while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker and fell to the sidewalk, where he lay dying in a pool of his own blood for more than an hour while dozens of pedestrians passed by without calling for help.

A.G. Sulzberger and Mick Meenan wrote an excellent piece, titled “Questions Surround a Delay in Help for a Dying Man” last week in The New York Times.  The article quotes Situationist Contributor John Darley whose now classic research on the bystander effects which, unfortunately, remains as relevant today as ever.  Here are some excerpts.

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It will probably never be clear how many people realized that Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was dying.

One man bent down to the sidewalk to shake the man, lifting him to reveal a pool of blood before walking away. Two men appeared to have a conversation about the situation, one pausing to take a photo of the body before departing. But the rest merely turned their heads toward the body, revealing some curiosity as they hurried along.

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On Sunday, a week after the killing, people in the area seemed mostly unshaken by its circumstances. Many were unaware that someone had died on 144th Street in Jamaica, near 88th Road, in a hardscrabble neighborhood with large populations of Central American immigrants and of homeless men.

But to the question of obligation — whether those who encountered the body should have stopped and helped the man — the answers came quickly.

Perhaps the passers-by thought he was just drunk. Perhaps they were illegal immigrants themselves, too nervous to contact the authorities. Or perhaps they had just learned a lesson that Mr. Tale-Yax so clearly had not: better to keep to oneself than to risk the trouble that comes from extending a helping hand.

“It’s bad,” said Alexis Perez, 29, the superintendent of two buildings on the block where the stabbing occurred. “But I live here, so I know what it’s like. There are a lot of alcoholics who drink and then they fall down and they’re laying on the ground. People say to themselves, ‘I don’t know them so I won’t get involved.’ ”

At the Iglesia Cristo Peniel, a small brick assembly hall bursting with Spanish hymns, Uber Bautista, 37, a heavy-machinery operator who identified himself as a church elder, said that he believed the inaction might have stemmed from illegal immigrants’ trying to escape detection.

“So they’re going to be very afraid to call the authorities if they see something,” he said. “It’s not that people don’t care.”

Juan Cortez, himself the victim of several assaults, offered another theory as he collected cans from the trash nearby. “People mind their own business,” he said.

Regardless of the explanation, the death has become another unfortunate case study in bystander behavior in emergencies, a psychological field that developed after the notorious 1964 killing of Kitty Genovese. She was stabbed to death at an apartment building in Kew Gardens, Queens, where a large number of neighbors heard her screams but did not call the police.

The death of Mr. Tale-Yax is all the more dramatic because police say that he was stabbed as a result of his apparently trying to help a stranger.

“I’m afraid what we’ve got here is a situation of people failing to help, and the failure appears to be a moral failure,” said John Darley, a professor of psychology at Princeton University who has written about bystander response to emergencies. “He did what you’re supposed to do, and we let the person, who did what he was supposed to do, die.”

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To read the article in its entirety, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Busker or Virtuoso? Depends on the Situation,” “Thinking the Situation into Legal Theory: The Promise of Experimental Parable,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” “The Situation of Helping,” and “The Situation of Gang Rape.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Not Just Whistling Vivaldi

Posted by Emily Pronin on May 1, 2010

One of the great social psychologists of our time, Claude Steele, was recently on NPR discussing his new book Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. The book is a moving personal account and a compelling scientific discussion of how stereotypes shape the thoughts, feelings, and actions of those whom they target. Steele is the originator of “stereotype threat,” an idea that has spawned countless experiments around the world and profoundly impacted the way that we think about the racial achievement gap in American schooling.

Stereotype threat is a situationist concept if ever there was one. The idea goes like this:  In certain situations, all of us are subject to negative stereotypes because of identities we have (as a professor, we might be stereotyped as absent-minded, as a lawyer as argumentative, or as an African American as violent). The experience of stereotype threat occurs when a person becomes aware that, in a particular situation, he or she may be judged according to a negative stereotype, or may even confirm that stereotype via his or her actions. For example, an African American high school student might experience stereotype threat when taking a standardized test of “intellectual ability.” I sometimes experience stereotype threat when I’m stopped on the street for driving directions (and fear that any error or imprecision could contribute to the stereotype that females lack spatial ability).

Steele and others have found that this experience can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. African American college students who have shown equal math ability to their white peers perform worse on standardized math test problems when they are told that those problems measure intellectual ability (a claim that makes the race stereotype relevant), but they perform equally well when told that those same problems measure problem solving in general—and are not a test of intellectual ability. Whites perform worse at golf putting than African Americans when they are told that it involves innate athletic ability (something that whites are stereotyped to have less of than their African American peers)—but perform better than African Americans when they are told it taps into “athletic intelligence.” And, the effects of stereotype threat go beyond test performance. Women in math and science cut off aspects of their feminine identity when they walk into math class or science lab, in order to avoid being subject to negative stereotypes about their abilities (full disclosure: I was a student of Steele, and this finding was from our research together – pdf).

So why is the book entitled Whistling Vivaldi?  The somewhat mysterious reference is inspired by a story once told by Steele’s friend Brent Staples, a writer for The New York Times. Staples described how, as a young African American graduate student living in Chicago, he found that whites sometimes seemed fearful as he approached them while walking down the street. Over time, he found himself whistling Vivaldi as he walked past, as a way to prevent others from seeing him through the lens of a negative stereotype about young African American men and proneness to violence. His whistling of classical music suggested that the stereotype did not apply to him, and that he was a man of education, “culture,” and “class.” The story is a moving one. It captures the burden of being in situations where we are subject to stereotypes, and also the remarkable capability we have to function in the face of them, albeit at a cost for our mental and psychic resources. Vivaldi probably couldn’t have composed the “Four Seasons” (or solved any difficult math problems) if he’d had to whistle Corelli at the same time.

–Emily Pronin

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To read more about Whistling Vivaldi or purchase the book, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of a Black President,” “The Nerdy, Gendered Situation of Computer Science.” “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’,” Social Psychologists Discuss Stereotype Threat,” The Gendered Situation of Chess,” The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,” “Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Women’s Situational Bind,” The Situation of Gender and Science,Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Book, Classic Experiments, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 6 Comments »

Video on the Original Milgram Experiment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2010

From Wikipedia:

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychologyexperiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised his psychological study to answer the question: “Was it that Eichmann and his accomplices in the Holocaust had mutual intent, in at least with regard to the goals of the Holocaust?” In other words, “Was there a mutual sense of morality among those involved?” Milgram’s testing suggested that it could have been that the millions of accomplices were merely following orders, despite violating their deepest moral beliefs.

After the jump, you can watch an outstanding video, including some original footage, about the experiment.  (We’ve placed it after the jump, because it plays automatically.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

MBB Distinguished Lectures with Michael Gazzaniga

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2010

Harvard Mind, Brain & Behavior will hold its 2010 Distinguished Lecture Series this week, featuring three evening lectures with Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, psychology professor and director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara. All three events look interesting, and the final event has particular relevance to law and mind sciences. All events will be held in Harvard’s Yenching Auditorium, 2 Divinity Ave, Cambridge, MA.

  • Tuesday, April 20, 4 to 6 pm
    Building the Parallel Distributed Brain, How Do We Know?
    From Hebb, Lashley, and Sperry, and through modern research, the basics of brain organization are reviewed at both the cellular and neurological level, including a personal history of split-brain research that all lead up to the view of a parallel and distributed brain. Post-talk commentary by Professor Albert Galaburda (Neurology / HMS).
  • Wednesday, April 21, 4 to 6 pm
    Automatic Brains, Interpretive Minds
    With a massively parallel and distributed and automatic brain, how is it we believe we experience a unified conscious life? How does the sense of psychological unity become established and how does it work in the brain? Post-talk commentary by Professor Güven Güzeldere (Philosophy / FAS).
  • Thursday, April 22, 4 to 6 pm
    Feeling Free in a Mechanistic World: Where the Brain Meets the Law
    The idea of determinism and mechanism rings out from every quarter of science and society. What does this mean for the concept of personal responsibility and how might ideas on the issue impact our ideas of justice and the law? Post-talk commentary by Professor Joshua Greene (Psychology / FAS).

Posted in Classic Experiments, Events, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 3, 2010

Nestar John Charles Russell is publishing an article, titled “Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments: Origins and early evolution.”  Here’s the abstract.

Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority experiments remain one of the most inspired contributions in the field of social psychology. Although Milgram undertook more than 20 experimental variations, his most (in)famous result was the first official trial run–the remote condition and its 65% completion rate. Drawing on many unpublished documents from Milgram’s personal archive at Yale University, this article traces the historical origins and early evolution of the obedience experiments. Part 1 presents the previous experiences that led to Milgram’s conception of his rudimentary research idea and then details the role of his intuition in its refinement. Part 2 traces the conversion of Milgram’s evolving idea into a reality, paying particular attention to his application of the exploratory method of discovery during several pilot studies. Both parts illuminate Milgram’s ad hoc introduction of various manipulative techniques and subtle tension-resolving refinements. The procedural adjustments continued until Milgram was confident that the first official experiment would produce a high completion rate, a result contrary to expectations of people’s behaviour. Showing how Milgram conceived of, then arrived at, this first official result is important because the insights gained may help others to determine theoretically why so many participants completed this experiment.

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You can download the article for free here. (Thanks to Situationist friend, Brandon Weiss, for sending us this link.)

For a sample of related Situationist posts, “Milgram Replicated on French TV – ‘The Game of Death’,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again,” “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited,” Milgram Remake,” and The Milgram Experiment Today?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Classic Experiments, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Milgram Replicated on French TV – “The Game of Death”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2010

From NPR:

France is reeling from a documentary about a psychological experiment disguised as a game show. Researchers staged a fictitious reality show to see how far people would go in obeying authority, especially if television reinforces that authority.

The disturbing results have alarmed the French.

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From the BBC, “Row over ‘torture’ on French TV“:

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The hugely controversial Game of Death was broadcast in prime-time on a major terrestrial channel, France 2, on Wednesday.

It showed 80 people taking part in what they thought was a game show pilot.

As it was only a trial, they were told they wouldn’t win anything, but they were given a nominal 40 euro fee.

Before the show, they signed contracts agreeing to inflict electric shocks on other contestants.

One by one, they were put in a studio resembling the sets of popular game shows.

They were then asked to zap a man they believed was another contestant whenever he failed to answer a question correctly – with increasingly powerful shocks of up to 460 volts.

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Egged on by a glamorous presenter, cries of “punishment” from a studio audience and dramatic music, the overwhelming majority of the participants obeyed orders to continue delivering the shocks – despite the man’s screams of agony and pleas for them to stop.

Eventually he fell silent, presumably because he had died or lost consciousness.

The contestants didn’t know that the man, strapped in a chair inside a cubicle so they couldn’t see him, was really an actor. There were no shocks and it was all an experiment to see how far they would go.

Only 16 of the 80 participants stopped before the ultimate, potentially lethal shock.

“No one expected this result,” intoned a commentary. “Eighty per cent of the candidates went to the very end.”

The show was billed as a warning against blindly obeying authority – and a critique of reality TV shows in which participants are humiliated or hurt.

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The claim that “no one expected this result” must be incorrect.  Those who designed this experiment were simply remaking the classic Milgram experiment in which compliance levels were substantial; in this version, however, the pressures to comply may well have been far more significant  than in the original rendition, as this involved group (audience) pressure to continue shocking in a context (game shows) where extreme behavior is now part of the script.

To see why we say that, see the following Situationist posts: “Solomon Asch’s Famous Compliance Experiment,” “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “The Situation of Violence,” Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again,” “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited,” Milgram Remake,” The Milgram Experiment Today?.” Gender Conformity,”The Case for Obedience,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment . . . Today,” “Gender Conformity,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” and Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Entertainment, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 7, 2010

Last week, Situationist friend, Sheena Iyengar, was interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show (American University Radio) about her new book, “The Art of Choosing.”

The show’s description is as follows:  “The power of choice: Understanding the motivations, biases, and cultural influences that determine the choices, large and small, we make in our lives.”  As interesting as those issues are, the interview itself is at its best when Sheena discusses her own remarkable situation and how that influenced her research.

You can listen to the entire podcast here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,'”Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It! “  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.


Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Life, Podcasts, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situational Effects of Experimental Situations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 31, 2010

Situationist PodcastFor some interesting listening, here is an excellent BBC podcast looking at the 1920s experiment in a Chicago factory that gave rise to the phenomenon known as the Hawthorne Effect.

From the BBC MindChangers Series:

Hawthorne Effect: (30 minutes)

Claudia Hammond presents a series looking at the development of the science of psychology during the 20th century.

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In the 1920s, at the enormous Western Electric Hawthorne Factory in Cicero outside Chicago, management began an experiment which was to improve the working life of millions and give rise to a phenomenon that anyone planning a psychology experiment would have to take into account in their design.

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Keen to improve productivity at a time when the telephone industry was growing and Western Electric was building the components for all the telephone exchanges in the United States, management decided to see whether working conditions affected production. But the initial ‘illumination studies’ were inconclusive; whether lighting was increased or decreased to no better than moonlight, productivity increased. Whatever the intervention, it seemed to promote faster work.

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Confused, management turned to economists from Harvard Business School to design a more complex study. So, in April 1927 five women were removed from the factory floor and put in a separate room – the relay assembly test room. For the next five years, as they assembled the complex relays they were minutely monitored. Their working conditions were regularly altered, but whether breaks were included or removed, their working day lengthened or shortened, their productivity continued to rise.

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The study improved working conditions throughout the factory, as breaks were introduced for all, but it also gave rise to a phenomenon known as The Hawthorne Effect, which has to be taken into account in the design of any experiment – the mere fact that subjects know that they are being studied may alter their behaviour.

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Yet The Hawthorne Effect is widely questioned. How can an experiment using such a small sample – five women, two of whom were changed during the study – have given rise to such a ubiquitous theory?

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With the help of the Hawthorne Museum in Cicero, the Baker Library archive and Professor Michel Anteby at Harvard Business School, Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of Yale Business School who met the original participants in the study back in the 1970s, and Mecca Chiesa of the University of Kent, Claudia Hammond re-examines the classic Hawthorne Studies.

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To review a collection of  Situationist posts discussing other classic experiments, click here

Posted in Classic Experiments, Podcasts, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Mental Illness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 26, 2010

From Wikipedia:

The Rosenhan experiment was a famous experiment into the validity of psychiatric diagnosis conducted by psychologist David Rosenhan in 1973.  It was published in the journal Science under the title “On being sane in insane places.” The study is considered an important and influential criticism of psychiatric diagnosis.

Rosenhan’s study consisted of two parts. The first part involved the use of healthy associates or “pseudopatients” who briefly simulated auditory hallucinations in an attempt to gain admission to 12 different psychiatric hospitals in five different states in various locations in the United States. All were admitted and diagnosed with psychiatric disorders. After admission, the pseudopatients acted normally and told staff that they felt fine and had not experienced any more hallucinations. Hospital staff failed to detect a single pseudopatient, and instead believed that all of the pseudopatients exhibited symptoms of ongoing mental illness. Several were confined for months. All were forced to admit to having a mental illness and agree to take antipsychotic drugs as a condition of their release.

The second part involved asking staff at a psychiatric hospital to detect non-existent “fake” patients. The staff falsely identified large numbers of genuine patients as impostors.

The study concluded, “It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals” and also illustrated the dangers of depersonalization and labeling in psychiatric institutions. It suggested that the use of community mental health facilities which concentrated on specific problems and behaviors rather than psychiatric labels might be a solution and recommended education to make psychiatric workers more aware of the social psychology of their facilities.

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From the BBC MindChangers Series:

Listen now by clicking here (30 minutes).

Claudia Hammond revisits . . . David Rosenhan’s Pseudo-Patient Study, gaining access to his unpublished personal papers to discover how it changed our understanding of the human mind, and its impact 40 years on.

After Rosenhan published On Being Sane in Insane Places in the journal Science in 1973, the psychiatric profession went on the defensive to protest its diagnostic competence. The study struck at the heart of their attempts to medicalise psychiatry and be accepted as proper doctors. Its impact was felt when the third edition of the profession’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, came out in 1980: changes had been made which brought more rigour to the diagnostic process.

However, as Claudia discovers from Rosenhan’s unpublished papers, for him the study was less an experiment of diagnostic efficacy than an anthropological survey of psychiatric wards. In a chapter of the book he never finished, she reads his poignant account of his own first admission, and his sense that “minimal attention was paid to my presence, as if I hardly existed.”

Now suffering ill health and unable to speak, Rosenhan delegates his friends and colleagues professor of social psychology at Stanford University Lee Ross and clinical psychologist Florence Keller to speak to Claudia and show her the box containing previously unpublished material which throws new light on one of the most controversial and famous psychology experiments.

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From the New York Times, Ethan Watters (author of the forthcoming book, book “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche”) recently wrote a fascinating article, titled “The Americanization of Mental Illness.”  Here are some excerpts.

Americans, particularly if they are of a certain leftward-leaning, college-educated type, worry about our country’s blunders into other cultures. In some circles, it is easy to make friends with a rousing rant about the McDonald’s near Tiananmen Square, the Nike factory in Malaysia or the latest blowback from our political or military interventions abroad. For all our self-recrimination, however, we may have yet to face one of the most remarkable effects of American-led globalization. We have for many years been busily engaged in a grand project of Americanizing the world’s understanding of mental health and illness. We may indeed be far along in homogenizing the way the world goes mad.

This unnerving possibility springs from recent research by a loose group of anthropologists and cross-cultural psychiatrists. Swimming against the biomedical currents of the time, they have argued that mental illnesses are not discrete entities like the polio virus with their own natural histories. These researchers have amassed an impressive body of evidence suggesting that mental illnesses have never been the same the world over (either in prevalence or in form) but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places. In some Southeast Asian cultures, men have been known to experience what is called amok, an episode of murderous rage followed by amnesia; men in the region also suffer from koro, which is characterized by the debilitating certainty that their genitals are retracting into their bodies. Across the fertile crescent of the Middle East there is zar, a condition related to spirit-possession beliefs that brings forth dissociative episodes of laughing, shouting and singing.

The diversity that can be found across cultures can be seen across time as well. In his book “Mad Travelers,” the philosopher Ian Hacking documents the fleeting appearance in the 1890s of a fugue state in which European men would walk in a trance for hundreds of miles with no knowledge of their identities. The hysterical-leg paralysis that afflicted thousands of middle-class women in the late 19th century not only gives us a visceral understanding of the restrictions set on women’s social roles at the time but can also be seen from this distance as a social role itself — the troubled unconscious minds of a certain class of women speaking the idiom of distress of their time.

“We might think of the culture as possessing a ‘symptom repertoire’ — a range of physical symptoms available to the unconscious mind for the physical expression of psychological conflict,” Edward Shorter, a medical historian at the University of Toronto, wrote in his book “Paralysis: The Rise and Fall of a ‘Hysterical’ Symptom.” “In some epochs, convulsions, the sudden inability to speak or terrible leg pain may loom prominently in the repertoire. In other epochs patients may draw chiefly upon such symptoms as abdominal pain, false estimates of body weight and enervating weakness as metaphors for conveying psychic stress.”

In any given era, those who minister to the mentally ill — doctors or shamans or priests — inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate. Because the troubled mind has been influenced by healers of diverse religious and scientific persuasions, the forms of madness from one place and time often look remarkably different from the forms of madness in another.

That is until recently.

For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases. These symptom clusters are becoming the lingua franca of human suffering, replacing indigenous forms of mental illness.

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What is being missed, . . .[some doctors] have suggested, is a deep understanding of how the expectations and beliefs of the sufferer shape their suffering. “Culture shapes the way general psychopathology is going to be translated partially or completely into specific psychopathology. . . . When[, for example,] there is a cultural atmosphere in which professionals, the media, schools, doctors, psychologists all recognize and endorse and talk about and publicize eating disorders, then people can be triggered to consciously or unconsciously pick eating-disorder pathology as a way to express that conflict.”

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THE IDEA THAT our Western conception of mental health and illness might be shaping the expression of illnesses in other cultures is rarely discussed in the professional literature. Many modern mental-health practitioners and researchers believe that the scientific standing of our drugs, our illness categories and our theories of the mind have put the field beyond the influence of endlessly shifting cultural trends and beliefs. After all, we now have machines that can literally watch the mind at work. We can change the chemistry of the brain in a variety of interesting ways and we can examine DNA sequences for abnormalities. The assumption is that these remarkable scientific advances have allowed modern-day practitioners to avoid the blind spots and cultural biases of their predecessors.

Modern-day mental-health practitioners often look back at previous generations of psychiatrists and psychologists with a thinly veiled pity, wondering how they could have been so swept away by the cultural currents of their time. The confident pronouncements of Victorian-era doctors regarding the epidemic of hysterical women are now dismissed as cultural artifacts. Similarly, illnesses found only in other cultures are often treated like carnival sideshows. . . .

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Of course, we can become psychologically unhinged for many reasons that are common to all, like personal traumas, social upheavals or biochemical imbalances in our brains. Modern science has begun to reveal these causes. Whatever the trigger, however, the ill individual and those around him invariably rely on cultural beliefs and stories to understand what is happening. . . . It means that a mental illness is an illness of the mind and cannot be understood without understanding the ideas, habits and predispositions — the idiosyncratic cultural trappings — of the mind that is its host.

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CROSS-CULTURAL psychiatrists have pointed out that the mental-health ideas we export to the world are rarely unadulterated scientific facts and never culturally neutral. “Western mental-health discourse introduces core components of Western culture, including a theory of human nature, a definition of personhood, a sense of time and memory and a source of moral authority. None of this is universal,” Derek Summerfield of the Institute of Psychiatry in London observes. He has also written: “The problem is the overall thrust that comes from being at the heart of the one globalizing culture. It is as if one version of human nature is being presented as definitive, and one set of ideas about pain and suffering. . . . There is no one definitive psychology.”

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To read the entirety of Waters’s fascinating article (including an illuminating discussion of how the “brain disease” concept of mental illness may have increased, not decreased, the stigma of mental illness and thus hurt the very people it was supposed to help), click here.  (Thanks to Situationist friend, Andrew Perlman for suggesting this article to us.)

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Interior Situation of Complex Human Feelings,” “The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” “Imagine You Could Change Your Brain. Oops, You Just Did!,” and “Placebo and the Situation of Healing.”

Posted in Book, Classic Experiments, Cultural Cognition, Life | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Revisiting Arden House and the Situation of Aging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 20, 2010

Situationist PodcastFor those of you who would like to do some interesting listening, here is an excellent podcast featuring Situationist friend Ellen Langer.

From the BBC MindChangers Series:

Arden House: (30 minutes)

Claudia Hammond presents a series looking at the development of the science of psychology during the 20th century.

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She re-visits Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin’s 1976 study, conducted in a New England nursing home, Arden House.

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When the two psychologists set up the experiment so that residents on two floors of the 360-bed home for the elderly would experience some changes in their everyday life, they had no idea that they were introducing factors which could prolong life.

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While residents on both floors were given plants and film shows, only those on the fourth floor had the opportunity to control these events: choosing the plant and looking after it themselves, and choosing which night of the week to view the film.

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Eighteen months later, when Langer and Rodin returned to the home, they were astonished to discover that twice as many of the elderly residents in this ‘choices’ group were alive, compared with the control group on the second floor, who had been given plants that the staff tended, and were told which was their film night. It appeared that taking control made you live longer.

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These findings fit in well with the work on learned helplessness in dogs which Martin Seligman had done in the late 1960s, and on Langer and Rodin’s own studies on the perception of control.

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Claudia Hammond meets Ellen Langer, now Professor of Psychology at Harvard, and hears about Arden House and the work she has gone on to do on what she calls ‘mindfulness’. She visits Arden House, which is still a nursing home, and is shown around by current administrator Joanne Scafati.

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For a ssmple of relate Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Time and Mind,” The Situation of Health and Aging,” “Time and the Situation of Marshmallows,” and “January Fools’ Day.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Life, Podcasts, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Marc Hauser on the Situation of Morality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 16, 2009

Below you will find three parts of an edited lecture by Harvard Professor Marc Hauser. The first part moves from various philosophical theories of morality to social science research into moral dilemmas, leading up to the philosopher’s classic, the “trolley problem.”

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In the second part, below, Professor Hauser completes his description of the trolley problem and conclusions based on his research into how humans make moral decisions.

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In the final part, below, Professor Hauser discusses the impact of religious belief on moral decision-making.

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For a collection of related Situationist posts, see “Marc Hauser on the Situation of Morality,” The Situation of Innate Morality,” “Moral Psychology Primer,” “Pinker on the Situation of Morality,” and “The Science of Morality.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Morality, Philosophy, Video | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 2, 2009

From BBC’s Horizon:

What makes ordinary people commit extreme acts of violence?

In a thought-provoking and disturbing journey, Michael Portillo investigates one of the darker sides of human nature. He discovers what it is like to inflict pain and is driven to the edge of violence himself in an extreme sleep deprivation study.

He meets men for whom violence has become an addiction and ultimately discovers that each of us could be inherently more violent than we think, and watches a replication of one of the most controversial studies in history, the Milgram study. Will study participants be willing to administer a seemingly lethal electric shock to someone they think is an innocent bystander?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts about the situation of violence, see “The Situation of Soldiers,” Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” “Looking for the Evil Actor,”

To review some previous posts discussing the Milgram obedience experiment, see “Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again,” “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited,” Milgram Remake,” The Milgram Experiment Today?.” Gender Conformity,”The Case for Obedience,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” and Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Conflict, Ideology, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Interior Situation of Honesty (and Dishonesty)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 4, 2009

PinocchioSeed magazine recently provided a terrific summary of fascinating research on the situation of honesty (here). Here are some excerpts.

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In a famous set of experiments in the 1970s, children were observed trick-or-treating in the suburbs. Some were asked their names and addresses upon arriving at a door, while some were asked nothing. All were instructed to take just one piece of candy from the bowl, but as soon as the owner of the home retreated into the kitchen, the children who hadn’t provided their names and addresses shoveled the candy into their bags, sometimes taking everything in the bowl. Psychologists posited that anonymity made the children feel safe from the repercussions of their actions, an effect they call deindividuation.

Moral psychologists have since constructed myriad experiments to probe the workings of human morality, studying how we decide to cheat or to play by the rules, to lie or to tell the truth. And the results can be surprising, even disturbing. For instance, we have based our society on the assumption that deciding to lie or to tell the truth is within our conscious control. But Harvard’s Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxton say this assumption may be flawed and are probing whether honesty may instead be the result of controlling a desire to lie (a conscious process) or of not feeling the temptation to lie in the first place (an automatic process). “When we are honest, are we honest because we actively force ourselves to be? Or are we honest because it flows naturally?” Greene asks.

Greene and Paxton have just published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that attempts to get at the subconscious underpinnings of morality by recording subjects’ brain activity as they make a decision to lie.

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[Using fMRI to examine the brain's activity during lying and telling the truth, researchers Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxon] found that honesty is an automatic process—but only for some people.  Comparing scans from tests with and without the opportunity to cheat, the scientists found that for honest subjects, deciding to be honest took no extra brain activity. But for others, the dishonest group, both deciding to lie and deciding to tell the truth required extra activity in the areas of the brain associated with critical thinking and self-control.

Their findings—that honesty is automatic for some people—is part of a growing body of work that shows that many, if not most, of our daily actions are not under our conscious control. According to [Situationist Contributor] John Bargh, a Yale social psychologist who studies automaticity, even our higher mental processes are performed unconsciously in response to environmental cues.

“It could potentially be some of the most intriguing evidence for group selection,” Bargh speculates, adding that the results are reminiscent of the evolutionary idea that “cheaters” and “suckers” coexist in a specific ratio in the animal kingdom.

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To read the entire article, which is very interesting, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Trust,” The Situation of Lying,” “The Facial Obviousness of Lying,” “Denial,” Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of it?The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Morality, Neuroscience, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Jane Elliot’s Situationist Pedagogy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 24, 2009

From Wikipedia:

“Steven Armstrong was the first child to arrive to Elliot’s classroom on that day, asking why “a King” (referring to Martin Luther King Jr.) was murdered the day before. After the rest of the class arrived, Elliot asked them what they knew about Negros. The children responded with various racial stereotypes such as Negros were dumb or could not hold jobs. She then asked these children if they would like to find out what it was like to be a Negro child and they agreed.”

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Leaving the Past,”Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Black History is Now,”Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” “What does an Obama victory mean?,” “The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Education, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

 
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