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Archive for the ‘Distribution’ Category

Eldar Shafir – Living Under Scarcity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 8, 2013

From TEDxMidAtlantic, 2011.  Eldar Shafir is the William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs in the Department of Psychology and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His research focuses on decision-making, and on issues related to behavioral economics, with an emphasis on empirical studies of how people make decisions in situations of conflict and uncertainty.

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Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Distribution, Education, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Ageism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 9, 2013

Ageism North Fiske

From Princeton News, an overview of important work being done by Michael North and Situationist friend, Susan Fiske.

Michael North, a fifth-year graduate student in psychology at Princeton University, knew he was lucky to land a summer research position at the University of Michigan after he finished his bachelor’s degree there in 2006.

His task: Sit in a lab for two hours at a time and interview local residents — young and old — for a study on wisdom.

“When the professor told me this, I nodded and said OK, but as a 22-year-old kid I wasn’t really excited about sitting in a basement interviewing old people, as I saw them,” North said. “I thought they would be really boring. I thought they would smell. I thought they would make me feel weird. These were the thoughts I had, honestly.”

But the reality was different. North found that he enjoyed interacting with the older group more than the younger people. “The older people were the ones who showed more interest in the project, they showed more interest in me personally and asked more interesting questions,” North said.

The realization opened his eyes to a field ripe for exploration.

A focus on ageism research

North came to Princeton in 2008 and joined the lab of Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and a professor of psychology and public affairs. Together, they have put a new emphasis on ageism, or age-based prejudice, focusing on the challenges society faces to adjust to a growing older population and the intergenerational tensions that can result.

The older population in the United States is expected to double in the next 20 years, and the number of older people is likely to reach more than a quarter of the population by 2050, outnumbering children for the first time in history, North and Fiske noted last year in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

“In other words, the people society now considers older and irrelevant are about to become far more common and visible — perhaps more so than ever in modern society,” the researchers wrote.

Those factors make this an ideal time to put a spotlight on the social perceptions of ageism, a generally understudied area in academia, North said.

“It’s not hard to read The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal and see that as the baby boomers are getting older, age-discrimination cases are on the rise and worries are growing about the long-term sustainability of Social Security and Medicare,” North said. “The academic literature hasn’t really spoken to these questions.”

The research by North and Fiske homes in on the idea that understanding intergenerational tension is key to understanding ageism. Ageism is the one kind of discrimination, North noted, in which those who are generally doing the discriminating — younger generations — will eventually become part of the targeted demographic.

North and Fiske are making important contributions to ageism research, said Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who studies aging and adult development.

“Ageism is a topic that touches on many sensitive areas, including older adults themselves, family members, policymakers and the media,” she said. “North and Fiske unpack the stereotypes toward older adults and show how these stereotypes vary in their causes and effects.”

Fiske, a social psychologist, joined the Princeton faculty in 2000. Her most recent book is “Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us” (2012). The research she and North have conducted expands her far-reaching work on stereotypes.

“We have found a variety of evidence, over the past dozen years, that people make sense of each other along two primary and apparently universal dimensions,” Fiske said. “The first is warmth — does the other have good intentions, is that person trustworthy and sociable. The second dimension is competence — can the other enact those intentions. Stereotypically, the middle class are both warm and competent, rich people are cold but competent, homeless people are neither. The default stereotype for older people is well-intentioned (warm) but incompetent.”

What older people ‘should be’

The researchers focus on ageism that is based on what psychologists call prescriptive prejudice. “Instead of describing what old people supposedly are in reality, it ‘prescribes’ what others think old people should be,” Fiske said. “Older people who ‘violate’ these ‘prescriptions’ are punished by those who discriminate against them; older people who adhere to them are rewarded with sympathy and pity.”

The researchers say prescriptive stereotypes center on three key issues:

• Succession, the idea that older people should move aside from high-paying jobs and prominent social roles to make way for younger people;

• Identity, the idea that older people shouldn’t attempt to act younger than they are; and

• Consumption, the idea that older people shouldn’t consume so many scarce resources such as health care.

In studies detailed in an article for the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers found that younger people were more resentful of older people who went against these prescriptive stereotypes, compared with the feelings of middle-aged and older study participants. The article was published online in March.

In a January article in Social Issues and Policy Review, Fiske and North focused on the dangers of lumping together all older people, starting as young as ages 50 or 55. Instead, North and Fiske argue that the “young-old” — generally those still working and in relatively good health — should be considered separately from the “old-old” — generally older people who no longer work and are in poor health.

“Though numerical age is a useful indicator, it is an imprecise one when it comes to distribution of societal resources,” the researchers wrote. “Age-related characteristics are evolving all the time, but social policies seem stuck in the past, uncertain how to accommodate shifting age dynamics (as evidenced by impending Social Security and Medicare crises).”

Further advancing their work, North and Fiske have conducted experiments that helped shape a scale for measuring ageism that is described in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Psychological Assessment. The Succession, Identity and Consumption scale “is a promising tool for cutting-edge ageism research, as the population grays and generational equity concerns grow more salient,” the researchers wrote.

North, who is finishing his dissertation on the issue, said he hopes to continue to work on ageism throughout his career, identifying interventions that could lessen or prevent ageism, such as shifting views of the younger about what it means to be older.

“If there’s one take away from this research, it’s that it’s important to focus on the facts of these demographic changes rather than misguided perceptions,” he said. “Talking about these issues helps you find constructive ways to address them.”

Read article, including an interactive image here.

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See their video interview below.

Posted in Distribution, Life, Social Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situational Benefits of Compassion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 20, 2013

Dorothea Lange Damaged ChildEmma Seppala, for The Observer, has an outstanding overview of some of the health consequences and contagiousness of compassion.  Here is a portion of her article:

Decades of clinical research has focused and shed light on the psychology of human suffering. That suffering, as unpleasant as it is, often also has a bright side to which research has paid less attention: compassion. Human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to help relieve it. What led 26.5 percent of Americans to volunteer in 2012 (according to statistics from the US Department of Labor)? What propels someone to serve food at a homeless shelter, pull over on the highway in the rain to help someone with a broken down vehicle, or feed a stray cat?

What is Compassion?

What is compassion and how is it different from empathy or altruism? The definition of compassion is often confused with that of empathy. Empathy, as defined by researchers, is the visceral or emotional experience of another person’s feelings. It is, in a sense, an automatic mirroring of another’s emotion, like tearing up at a friend’s sadness. Altruism is an action that benefits someone else. It may or may not be accompanied by empathy or compassion, for example in the case of making a donation for tax purposes. Although these terms are related to compassion, they are not identical. Compassion often does, of course, involve an empathic response and an altruistic behavior. However, compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help.

Is Compassion Natural or Learned?

Though economists have long argued the contrary, a growing body of evidence suggests that, at our core, both animals and human beings have what APS Fellow Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley, coins a “compassionate instinct.” In other words, compassion is a natural and automatic response that has ensured our survival. Research by APS Fellow Jean Decety, at the University of Chicago, showed that even rats are driven to empathize with another suffering rat and to go out of their way to help it out of its quandary. Studies with chimpanzees and human infants too young to have learned the rules of politeness, also back up these claims. Michael Tomasello and other scientists at the Max Planck Institute, in Germany, have found that infants and chimpanzees spontaneously engage in helpful behavior and will even overcome obstacles to do so. They apparently do so from intrinsic motivation without expectation of reward. A recent study they ran indicated that infants’ pupil diameters (a measure of attention) decrease both when they help and when they see someone else helping, suggesting that they are not simply helping because helping feels rewarding. It appears to be the alleviation of suffering that brings reward — whether or not they engage in the helping behavior themselves. Recent research by David Rand at Harvard University shows that adults’ and children’s first impulse is to help others. Research by APS Fellow Dale Miller at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business suggests that this is also the case of adults, however, worrying that others will think they are acting out of self-interest can stop them from this impulse to help.

It is not surprising that compassion is a natural tendency since it is essential for human survival. As has been brought to light by Keltner, the term “survival of the fittest,” often attributed to Charles Darwin, was actually coined by Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinists who wished to justify class and race superiority. A lesser known fact is that Darwin’s work is best described with the phrase “survival of the kindest.” Indeed in The Descent of Man and Selection In Relation to Sex, Darwin argued for “the greater strength of the social or maternal instincts than that of any other instinct or motive.” In another passage, he comments that “communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Compassion may indeed be a naturally evolved and adaptive trait. Without it, the survival and flourishing of our species would have been unlikely.

One more sign that suggests that compassion is an adaptively evolved trait is that it makes us more attractive to potential mates. A study examining the trait most highly valued in potential romantic partners suggests that both men and women agree that “kindness” is one of the most highly desirable traits.

Compassion’s Surprising Benefits for Physical and Psychological Health

Compassion may have ensured our survival because of its tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health and overall well-being. Research by APS William James Fellow Ed Diener, a leading researcher in positive psychology, and APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Martin Seligman, a pioneer of the psychology of happiness and human flourishing, suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our life spans.

The reason a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well-being may be explained by the fact that the act of giving appears to be as pleasurable, if not more so, as the act of receiving. A brain-imaging study headed by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health showed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain, i.e., the parts of the brain that are active when we experience pleasure (like dessert, money, and sex), are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves! Giving to others even increases well-being above and beyond what we experience when we spend money on ourselves. In a revealing experiment by Elizabeth Dunn, at the University of British Columbia, participants received a sum of money and half of the participants were instructed to spend the money on themselves; the other half was told to spend the money on others. At the end of the study,  which was published in the academic journal Science, participants who had spent money on others felt significantly happier than those who had spent money on themselves.

This is true even for infants. A study by Lara Aknin and colleagues at the University of British Columbia shows that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increases the givers’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves. Even more surprisingly, the fact that giving makes us happier than receiving is true across the world, regardless of whether countries are rich or poor. A new study by Aknin, now at Simon Fraser University, shows that the amount of money spent on others (rather than for personal benefit) and personal well-being were highly correlated, regardless of income, social support, perceived freedom, and perceived national corruption.

Why is Compassion Good For Us?

Why does compassion lead to health benefits in particular? A clue to this question rests in a fascinating new study by Steve Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles, and APS Fellow Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The results were reported at Stanford Medical School’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education’s (CCARE) inaugural Science of Compassion conference in 2012. Their study evaluated the levels of cellular inflammation in people who describe themselves as “very happy.” Inflammation is at the root of cancer and other diseases and is generally high in people who live under a lot of stress. We might expect that inflammation would be lower for people with higher levels of happiness. Cole and Fredrickson found that this was only the case for certain “very happy” people. They found that people who were happy because they lived the “good life” (sometimes also know as “hedonic happiness”) had high inflammation levels but that, on the other hand, people who were happy because they lived a life of purpose or meaning (sometimes also known as “eudaimonic happiness”) had low inflammation levels. A life of meaning and purpose is one focused less on satisfying oneself and more on others. It is a life rich in compassion, altruism, and greater meaning.

Another way in which a compassionate lifestyle may improve longevity is that it may serve as a buffer against stress. A new study conducted on a large population (more than 800 people) and spearheaded by the University at Buffalo’s Michael Poulin found that stress did not predict mortality in those who helped others, but that it did in those who did not. One of the reasons that compassion may protect against stress is the very fact that it is so pleasurable. Motivation, however, seems to play an important role in predicting whether a compassionate lifestyle exerts a beneficial impact on health. Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, discovered that people who engaged in volunteerism lived longer than their non-volunteering peers — but only if their reasons for volunteering were altruistic rather than self-serving.

Another reason compassion may boost our well-being is that it can help broaden our perspective beyond ourselves. Research shows that depression and anxiety are linked to a state of self-focus, a preoccupation with “me, myself, and I.” When you do something for someone else, however, that state of self-focus shifts to a state of other-focus. If you recall a time you were feeling blue and suddenly a close friend or relative calls you for urgent help with a problem, you may remember that as your attention shifts to helping them, your mood lifts. Rather than feeling blue, you may have felt energized to help; before you knew it, you may even have felt better and gained some perspective on your own situation as well.

Finally, one additional way in which compassion may boost our well-being is by increasing a sense of connection to others. One telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. On the flip side, strong social connection leads to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. Social connection strengthens our immune system (research by Cole shows that genes impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation), helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life. People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show that they also have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connectedness therefore generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true for those who lack social connectedness. Low social connection has been generally associated with declines in physical and psychological health, as well as a higher propensity for antisocial behavior that leads to further isolation. Adopting a compassionate lifestyle or cultivating compassion may help boost social connection and improve physical and psychological health.

Read the entire article, including sections on “why compassion really does have the ability to change the world” and “cultivating compassion” here.

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Posted in Altruism, Distribution, Emotions, Morality, Positive Psychology | 2 Comments »

The Gendered Situation at Harvard Law School – Part III

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 15, 2013

harvard law library

The Harvard Crimson‘s Dev Patel has an outstanding series of articles last week on gender inequality at Harvard Law School. Here are some excerpts from the third article, titled “Female HLS Graduates Enter a Job Market Dominated by Men” in the series.

The law firm Brune & Richard is an anomaly. In a world where female lawyers represent fewer than 20 percent of partners in private practices, women make up 12 of the 18 lawyers at Brune & Richard.

And for founder Hillary Richard, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1988, that number makes a difference.

“What it presents for female lawyers, particularly younger lawyers, is an array of possibilities that they don’t see at other firms,” Richard said. “Women who come to work here know that being a woman is certainly not going to hold you back, is not going to be an impediment to partnership, and is not going to be an impediment professionally in any way.”

But when female students graduate from the Law School, most must grapple with the large gender gap in the legal profession, especially at the level of the most prestigious positions. According to a Feb. 2013 report by the American Bar Association, fewer than one-third of federal and state judgeships are filled by women, and only 15 percent of equity partners in law firms are female. Just 21.6 percent of general counsel at Fortune 500 companies are female lawyers, and women make up barely one-fifth of all deans in U.S. law schools.

Harvard Law professor David B. Wilkins ’77, an expert on the legal profession, said he thinks this severe gender disparity creates a vicious cycle that prevents many women from moving up in the field.

“I think it’s true as in many other places in society,” he said. “If people see people like themselves succeeding, they are more likely to succeed.”

At Harvard Law School, where fewer than one in five professors is female and women are regularly outperformed in the classroom by their male counterparts, graduating students are not immune to the pressure of entering a field dominated at the top by men.

A “FEMINIZED” PROFESSION, BUT NOT AT HARVARD

“Law is becoming a feminized profession, by which I mean the majority of the entrants to the profession are women,” said Wilkins, who described the breakdown in the United States as “50/50,” whereas worldwide “women make up the majority.”

Yet one would never get that sense from the campus of Harvard Law School.

More than six decades since the first women were admitted to the school, female students have never made up 50 percent or more of a class, according to Assistant Dean and Chief Admissions Officer Jessica L. Soban ’02, a former Crimson business editor.

A gender disparity is especially apparent in the most prestigious extracurricular activities, where women succeed in smaller numbers than their male peers.

According to Yvonne L. Smith of the Dean of Students Office, twice as many men as women made it to the semi-final round of the Ames Moot Court competition, a prestigious mock trial held annually by the school, and only nine of the 44 most recently elected editors on the Harvard Law Review have been women.

Valerie Duchesneau, director of student organizations on the Student Representative Board, pointed out that while most journals at the Law School have many women on staff, the Law Review is different.

“For me that’s why that statistic says something about there being a real problem,” said Duchesneau. “Somehow the Law Review gets a lot of the prestige that these other journals don’t carry.”

The gender gap at the Law Review is nothing new.

“When I was a student here from 1994 to 1997, I took the Law Review competition in the spring of 95, and of the 40 to 42 people who made the Law Review that year, only nine of us were women,” said visiting professor Laura A. Rosenbury ’92 in a video released by Shatter the Ceiling, a new coalition to address gender disparities. “I assumed when I came back to the faculty this year, that the Law Review would be close to 50/50. And it’s not.”

Students and faculty said there is no clear answer as to why certain extracurricular activities end up disproportionately male. The Harvard Law Review this year implemented a new gender-based affirmative action policy in an attempt to counteract the gap.

“There is, for lack of better terms, a hierarchy in terms of extracurriculars on campus,” said third-year Harvard Law student Stephanie E. Davidson, outgoing president of the Women’s Law Association.

TROUBLE AT THE TOP

And while the problem might start with student activities, it extends into the job market. Many in the Law School consider certain activities like the Law Review and Ames Moot Court to be important lines on the resume when securing top jobs after graduation.

Female graduates at the Law School find positions at private law firms less often than their male peers, according to Assistant Dean for Career Services Mark A. Weber. At the same time, he said, women tend to enter public interest work in greater numbers than men.

Nationwide, women make up 19.9 percent of partners in private legal firms, according to the American Bar Association.

Visiting professor Daniel R. Coquillette said that part of this disparity can be attributed to the fact that large law firms have “never made the accommodations they should make to family life.”

“I was an associate in a big law firm and I’ll tell you, it really is a very, very tough existence,” he said. “You might say that they treat men and women equally. And that’s true, they make it difficult for everyone, but under the conditions of modern society, it impacts women more.”

Wilkins agreed that typical legal careers, particularly at law firms where the key years in which lawyers become partners coincide with the time when many choose to start a family, are “not just made for a man but made for a man whose wife doesn’t work.”

“In a profession in which human capital is at its core, we are systematically losing out on the talent of very talented female lawyers who are leaving the profession altogether sometimes,” he said.

Wilkins helped co-author a study entitled “After the JD,” in which researchers surveyed lawyers in 2008 who had entered private practice in 2000. They found that at large law firms of 250 or more, men were five times more likely to have been made equity partner than women.

Weber said that while the statistics at the level of the top positions might paint a troubling picture, firms who hire HLS graduates soon after graduation treat candidates equally regardless of gender.

“What we’ve seen on the output side is that employers just want to hire smart, talented students,” he said. “It’s never an issue of gender. I’ve never seen employers say ‘We want to hire men.’”

Nevertheless, Wilkins said he thinks “unconscious bias and stereotypes” may play a powerful role.

“Whether they be clients or partners, when they think about a successful lawyer they are less likely to think of a female lawyer,” he said.

Richard said she thinks this issue is rooted in the low number of female partners. With a small number of women at the top, female job applicants find it harder to imagine their own success.

“I think with anything else, the more diversity that you have, whether its gender or race or what have you, I think the more it opens your mind to the possibility no matter who you are that there are jobs and careers open to you,” said Richard.

In lower courts, women fill more clerkship positions than men, according to Weber. But that dynamic changes at the level of the top positions. Among HLS graduates, far more men secure clerkships at the Supreme Court than women, a statistic often cited by the Shatter the Ceiling coalition.

“The higher you go in the profession, whether its Supreme Court Justices, partners in law firms, or deans of law schools, the number of women is smaller,” Dean of the Law School Martha L. Minow said. “It’s not just Harvard Law School’s problem, it’s the legal profession’s problem.”

Read the article here.

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Posted in Distribution, Education, History, Law | Leave a Comment »

The Gendered Situation at Harvard Law School – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2013

the hark 1953The Harvard Crimson‘s Dev Patel has an outstanding series of articles last week on gender inequality at Harvard Law School. Here are some excerpts from the second article, titled “In HLS Classes, Women Fall Behind” in the series.

Among the top students in their graduating classes, men and women entering Harvard Law School earn similar undergraduate grades and LSAT scores. But as soon as students step into Wasserstein Hall, a dramatic gender disparity emerges.

Indicators suggest that female students participate less and perform worse than their male counterparts over the course of their three years at the Law School.

“For better or worse, when women come to law school, they feel their gender more strongly than they may have in undergrad,” said third-year law student Stephanie E. Davidson, outgoing president of the Women’s Law Association. “I still barely have words to describe why that is or what that means. But you feel like a female lawyer instead of a lawyer.”

Davidson is not alone. Hundreds of students and faculty gathered this spring for Shatter the Ceiling, a new coalition whose goal is to address gender disparities at Harvard Law. The issue of imbalance in the classroom has emerged at the forefront of their discussions, prompting reactions across the campus and the nation over how women and men stack up.

IS SOCRATES SEXIST?

Harvard Law student Jessica R. Jensen hates the Socratic method. “It’s the worst thing in the world,” she said. “It forces you to talk like a man.”

“It made me feel really uncomfortable and incompetent at first, and it really impacted my performance in classes the first year,” Jensen said. “You feel like you don’t know the material really well because you feel like an idiot in class.”

Employed in some form across most classrooms at Harvard Law School, the Socratic method, a teaching style that relies on cold-calling, lies at the heart of the debate over gender issues and serves as a focal point for the Shatter coalition.

Today, many students and faculty have raised concerns over the teaching method, saying that men are more likely to participate voluntarily in Law School classes than women.

In a 2004 study on gender issues at Harvard Law School, a then-third-year law student Adam M. C. Neufeld found that men were 50 percent more likely than women to volunteer at least one comment during class, and 144 percent more likely to speak voluntarily at least three times. The study also showed that 10 percent of students accounted for nearly half of all volunteered comments in first-year law classrooms.

“I think the big point is that many men weren’t talking too,” Neufeld said. “There was a small number of people who account for most of the comments.”

More recently, according to a 2012 study at Yale Law School, men made 58 percent of comments in the classroom, while women made 42 percent.

Yet the root cause of this disparity remains contested, as professors, students, and administrators debate whether the Socratic method—the traditional form of legal pedagogy—needs to be adapted to account for gender disparities in the classroom.

For many in the Law School, the Socratic method is an outdated teaching style that reinforces gender imbalances in academia.

“Women take longer to process thoughts before they feel comfortable to say them out loud than men do,” Jensen said, adding that men feel more natural in that kind of classroom atmosphere.

Because of this disparity, the Shatter coalition hopes to encourage changes to the Law School pedagogy.

“If you can show that the Socratic method makes us better lawyers, then fine, but we need to see that data,” said Lena M. Silver, a third-year Law School student and the co-chair of the Shatter the Ceiling coalition.

Harvard Law professor Lani C. Guinier ’71, who has authored several articles on legal pedagogy, said that the problems described by Silver and her group highlight potential issues with legal education today.

“In short, women’s reaction to law school is an important warning sign, but a warning sign that the problem will not go away simply by focusing on helping the women think more like their male counterparts,” Guinier wrote in an email, saying that the faculty should reevaluate their pedagogical techniques.

Others suggested that the pressures of the classroom environment contribute to women not raising their hands as often as men. “Women are more likely to be called ‘gunners’ or ‘teacher’s pets’ if they participate in class,” said Jean N. Ripley, second-year Law School student and co-chair of the Shatter coalition.

In his study, Neufeld, who said he supports the Socratic method, found that women assessed themselves significantly lower than men did, suggesting that different confidence levels may account for the disparity in classroom participation.

“Volunteering is a fairly socially aggressive act,” he said. “You are making all the other students listen to your comment, you think it is unbelievably important and something that no one else has thought of.”

Yet supporters of the Socratic method discount the existence of inherent gender disparities and argue that it is an essential part of the legal education.

“It’s an extreme form of sexism to say that essentially women in general aren’t capable of dealing with the demands of the Socratic method,” said Harvard Law professor Alan M. Dershowitz.

Dershowitz noted that some of the best Socratic students in his classes have been women. “You cannot generalize about men and women when it comes to their ability to be law students or practice law,” he said. “We have to keep inquiring as to why this disparity exists but we have to do it without divulging into stereotypes.”

Dean of the Law School Martha L. Minow pointed to an ongoing debate over the possibility of gendered dimensions of certain forms of argument and reasoning, saying that it “can’t be the case” that “certain types of reasoning are beyond the reach of a group of students.”

And many professors, including Dershowitz, defend the Socratic method as a critical component of the Harvard Law School education.

* * *

Though Minow has refused to release data on the gender breakdown of grades, professors said that indicators point to a dramatic disparity between men’s and women’s performance despite blind assessment.

Neufeld’s 2004 study found that women earned lower grades in first-year courses across three years of data, though the disparity varied in part with the content and gender of the professor. The form of assessment, by contrast, did not increase or decrease the grade disparity.

In the study, men were also more likely to receive graduation honors than women, a disparity frequently cited by the Shatter coalition.

“We haven’t created a situation in which women are doing as well as we’d like them to be,” Law school professor Christine Desan said. “Part of that is surely societal, both social and political.”

But the gender grade disparity is not the same at other law schools, according to visiting professor Laura Rosenbury.

“It’s interesting because I’ve been teaching at Washington University in St. Louis, and we don’t have this problem,” said Rosenbury in a video released by the Shatter coalition. “In fact, women outperform their male colleagues both in terms of grades and in terms of law review competition. And so what makes Harvard different?”

Faculty and students alike have struggled to find an answer.

Minow said there is “unequivocally” no difference in undergraduate grades or the LSAT scores of men and women coming into Harvard Law.

“They are at some level puzzling, because the grading in the big classes are completely anonymous,” Tushnet said. “And yet there must be something about the style of a writing or arguing that the faculty prefers that tilts in favor of men.”

Others said they believe that levels of confidence and self-perception may play a role.

“The main argument for this one is the stereotype threat,” Neufeld said. “If you are a high school girl who’s taking a math class, and there’s a general perception that women do worse, you, no matter what your inherent ability, are going to be more anxious because you don’t want to do poorly and reflect that stereotype, and you will end up doing worse because you can’t relax and focus.”

While the cause of these issues remains unknown, in many ways the extent of the problem is also uncertain.

No new grade data has been released since the administration changed the grading system from the standard letter grades to an honors, pass/fail system. A key goal of the Shatter coalition has been access to that data, but Minow has declined to share it.

“We don’t need to have a study, we need to work on making this better,” Minow said. “Do I think there are issues about whether or not Harvard Law School or any law school is conducive to learning for any student? Yes. Might there be gendered dimensions? Possibly. You don’t have to prove anything to me; I’m already committed to addressing these issues, as is the faculty.”

Desan said that as long as she and her colleagues continue to grade, they must take responsibility for the marks they give.

“If those grades suggest that there may be a problem with our teaching or our testing, then we should try to figure out what that problem is,” she said. “We have data that we haven’t explored yet, and I think it’s time that we explored it.”

While Minow said she hopes to diminish the role of grades in the community, some students have raised concerns that beyond the Harvard Law campus, grades remain critical to success.

“I think that potentially a barrier Dean Minow has to face in deemphasizing the prestige of those things is that the legal profession and the academic world still values them,” President of the Student Representative Board Lisa M. Lana said.

Read the entire article, which includes an extensive discussion about the socratic method and links to the other articles in the series, here.

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Posted in Distribution, Education, History, Law | Leave a Comment »

The Gendered Situation at Harvard Law School – Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 8, 2013

men and woman in Langdell Library 1959The Harvard Crimson‘s Dev Patel has an outstanding series of articles this week on gender inequality at Harvard Law School. Here are some excerpts from the first article, titled “Once Home to Kagan and Warren, HLS Faculty Still Only 20 Percent Female” in the series.

Just 20 percent of U.S. senators are female. Women make up a mere 21.6 percent of the lawyers who serve as general counsels to Fortune 500 companies. Only three of the nine Supreme Court Justices are women.

But these figures are still higher than the proportion of women within the ranks of the Harvard Law School faculty.

At Elizabeth Warren and Elena Kagan’s former place of work, women constitute fewer than a fifth of all professors and assistant professors of law—a disparity that Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow called “absolutely inadequate.” With only 17 women among 92 tenure-track faculty members, according to the Law School’s online directory as of May 6, the gender imbalance of Harvard Law School’s faculty is comparable to that of other elite law schools, yet still among the most severe of the approximately 200 law schools nationwide.

Concerns about gender inequality have spread throughout campus as a new student-run coalition called Shatter the Ceiling draws hundreds of community members together to address these issues, faculty members pursue research on gender disparities, and the administration pushes for new strategies to level the playing field. Amidst this growing movement, some have raised questions about the impact of gender inequality within the ranks of the faculty, in the classroom, in student organizations, and in life after Law School.

Among their top concerns is the small proportion of women on the faculty, an issue they say is rooted in the Law School’s history and today impacts hiring decisions, faculty conversations, and topics of intellectual inquiry.

“It’s an issue that matters to me, an issue that matters to the Law School, and an issue that matters to the profession,” Minow said.

BURDENED BY THE PAST

Portraits of tenured professors arranged in chronological order line a wing of the Law School’s new student center, looking down on students as they walk to class each day. But students cannot see a woman’s photograph until they pass the 1972 mark, and can only count a handful more in the next few decades.

More than 20 years after female students first stepped foot on campus, the Law School in 1972 granted tenure to its first female faculty member, Elisabeth A. Owens. But she did not attend faculty meetings, and her appointment “was widely regarded as not genuine,” according to Daniel R. Coquillette, a visiting professor and the former dean of Boston College Law School.

Coquillette is currently working on a history of Harvard Law School that will devote a significant section to the history of gender at the school. He said that the Law School’s progress on gender issues came relatively late, after other law schools across the country had already taken significant steps towards welcoming women.

“The appointment of women to the tenured faculty is so recent that many of the pioneer women are still right there as active faculty members,” Coquillette said, referring particularly to Law School professors Martha A. Field ’65 and Elizabeth Bartholet ’62, two of the first women to successfully complete the tenure process.

Field recounted that when she first joined the faculty as a tenured professor in 1979, the Law School had “such a terrible reputation” among women in the field.

“It used to be a nice male club,” she said. “It really did sort of mess up the boys’ club when women came on.”

Field said that in the early years, the hiring of female faculty members was slowed by concerns about tilting the political direction of the school leftward.

“For a while, you sort of had the feeling that it was hard to hire women because people had one idea of what a woman should be,” Field said. “They assumed that if you pushed for women or minorities that you were leftist, radical, and pushy.”

Since that time, acceptance of female faculty members has improved—a development highlighted by the appointment of two female deans, Kagan in 2003 and Minow in 2009. But Minow herself acknowledges that these changes are still not enough.

“Now we have women serving as partners at law firms, on the Supreme Court, making a difference in all walks of legal life,” Minow said in a March interview. “On the other hand, the small relative number of women who are partners at law firms, sit on the bench, and are tenured professors shows that there’s still lots to be done.”

Harvard Law School ClassroomADDING MORE PORTRAITS

At less than 20 percent female, Harvard Law School’s tenure-track faculty is the least diverse of its kind in the Ivy League. At Columbia Law School, about 25 percent of faculty members are female, while women make up about 29 percent of the faculty at Yale Law School. The law schools at Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania count even more female faculty members among their ranks, with percentages of about 30 and 33, respectively.

Outside the Ivy League, female law professors are represented in even greater numbers. According to a report released by the Association of American Law Schools, women accounted for 34.4 percent of law school faculty nationwide in the 2008-2009 academic year.

“In terms of our peer [top-ranked] schools we are not so different,” Minow said, noting that the Law School does not fare as well when compared to a broader group of schools. “So it’s again the same pattern you see all over the profession. The higher the prestige, the more elite, the fewer women are there.”

Since she took the helm of the school four years ago, Minow has worked to change these numbers. Her first step: hiring equal numbers of men and women for entry-level faculty positions since 2009. This year, the Law School has made two hiring offers, one to a man and one to a woman.

Annually, the entry-level hiring committee conducts about 40 interviews, which are balanced in terms of gender breakdown. From these initial interviews, the hiring committee whittles down the pool of potential candidates, who must present to a faculty workshop, secure the recommendation of the hiring committee, and finally secure the approval of the faculty as a whole before they are hired. All the while, the hiring committee is careful to retain an equal number of male and female candidates, according to Law School professor David J. Barron ’89, chair of the entry-level committee.

The goal of having more female faculty members is “very much part of the consciousness, and consciousness matters,” said Barron, a former Crimson president. “There’s no reason that our faculty should not be more diverse.”

Despite this progress, Field said that gender stereotypes still remain in the Law School’s hiring process.

“The more you present yourself as the old traditional type, the more likely you are to get in,” Field said.

Field said that “for [the faculty] to take you seriously, it’s nice to have a good male subject, what they think of as hard law subjects”—constitutional law­, for instance. She said female applicants fare better when presenting a “‘touchy-feely’ subject”—for example, family law or other “soft law” topics.

Others, including professor John F. Manning ’82, chair of the lateral hiring committee, contested Field’s characterization of the hiring process, saying that they do not see any correlation between the topic presented during the workshop and a candidate’s ability to be hired.

“Some of the most successful presentations I’ve had have been on subjects that have been regarded as sort of soft law,” said Law School professor Alan M. Dershowitz, who said that his own subjects were typically regarded as softer. “I welcome more people in those subjects.”

The Law School has also taken steps to accommodate faculty members—both male and female—who want to balance both their personal life and their professional careers.

Law School professor David B. Wilkins ’77, who is an expert on gender issues in the legal profession, said that an important obstacle to women’s success is the simultaneous timing, in many cases, of pursuing a tenure-track position and choosing to raise a family.

To this end, Harvard Law School offers a parental leave program and allows faculty members to extend the period necessary to be considered for tenure, Minow said.

“I’m a woman, I’m a mother,” she said. “It’s a priority for me to allow people to have meaningful lives, work, and family.”

A GENDERED FEELING?

Before she came to Harvard in 2010, Law School professor Vicki C. Jackson taught and held associate deanships at Georgetown University Law Center. At Georgetown, she said, the more gender-balanced faculty created a remarkably different environment.

“It felt different just in terms of more women, more women at the workshops, and more women at the faculty,” she said, acknowledging that many other factors contributed to her perception.

For some professors like Jackson who have spent time at other law schools, Harvard’s gender disparity creates a distinct atmosphere around lunch tables and faculty workshops.

“For a variety of reasons, including the gender disparity, the faculty culture does have what I think scholars of this topic would describe as a masculine attitude, a way of presenting yourself and your arguments that has gender associations,” Law School professor Mark V. Tushnet ’67 said, adding that “assertive, outright statements” take precedence in faculty conversations.

Field said that as a result, engaging in faculty discussions becomes much more difficult for professors who are less outgoing.

“The first thing you have to learn how to do here is how to interrupt,” she said. “I think you’re considered smarter if you are showing off.”

Read the rest of the article, which includes range of opinions from a variety HLS faculty members on the question of gender disparity at Harvard Law School, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Education, History, Law | Leave a Comment »

Eliot Spitzer – Today at HLS

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 27, 2013

spitzer cover

Discussion with Eliot Spitzer on Corporations in America.  Wed., March
 27, 12 – 1 P.M.  Austin North.  Lunch served.

Courtesy of Professor Hanson’s Corporations class (aka “Like a Virgil”), please join us for a conversation with Governor Eliot Spitzer on Corporations in America.  A graduate of Harvard Law School, Eliot Spitzer has served as Governor and as Attorney General of New York, he conducted “The Wall Street Cases.”

Co-sponsored by ACS and the HLS Democrats.

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Events, Politics, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Helpful Summary of Wealth Inequality in U.S.

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 7, 2013

From Politizane:

Infographics on the distribution of wealth in America, highlighting both the inequality and the difference between our perception of inequality and the actual numbers. The reality is often not what we think it is.

Related Situationist posts:

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Recent Research on Well-Being, Giving, Getting, and Gratitude

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 20, 2013

Helping Others

From SPSP Press Release:

Giving away money to feel wealthy

New research shows that people all around the world – from Canada to Uganda, from South Africa to India – derive more happiness from spending money on others than they do on themselves.

For the first time, we show that giving away money or spending it on others confers the ironic psychological benefit of increasing the giver’s sense of wealth,” says Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and co-author with Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia of the upcoming book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. In a suite of new, not-yet published, studies, Norton and colleagues showed that charitable giving makes people feel wealthier.

This research follows on other recent work published in Psychological Science by Norton and colleagues that shows that giving time to others – from helping with homework to shoveling a neighbors’ driveway – actually makes people feel that they have more time. “In fact, giving time away alleviates people’s sense of time famine even more than receiving unexpected windfalls of free time.”

That people feel wealthier from spending money on others may explain why poor individuals tend to give away a higher fraction of their income than members of the middle class do. In one study, researchers reported that Americans earning less than $20,000 a year give a higher percentage of their income to charity than others earning up to $300,000 a year.

“Our results suggest when the poor give money away, that very act might mitigate their feelings of poverty,” Norton says. “More broadly than this specific benefit, our investigation contributes to the growing body of research documenting the benefits of prosocial behavior, which include greater happiness, reduced mortality, and better immune function.”

Buying experiences to feel happy

In related research, psychologists are finding that spending money on experiential purchases, such as vacations, concerts, and meals out, tends to bring us more happiness than material purchases, such as clothing, jewelry, or electronic gadgets. Amit Kumar and Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University are investigating one potential explanation for this difference: that experiences prompt storytelling more than possessions do.

In new research, they asked participants to recall either a significant experiential purchase or a significant material purchase. They then asked them how much they had talked about the purchase they recalled, and questions related to the satisfaction they derived from their purchase. Participants rated a higher satisfaction for experiences than for possessions, which was because they were more likely to talk about the experiences with other people.

In another experiment, the researchers measured what happens when people cannot talk about their purchases. They asked participants if they would be willing to pay a price to be able to talk about a beach vacation (experiential purchase) or an electronic good (material purchase). “Participants were more likely to switch from a better purchase that they could not talk about to a lesser purchase that they could talk about in the experiential condition than in the material one,” Kumar says.

“Well-being is likely to be enhanced by shifting the balance of spending in our consumer society away from material goods and towards experiential ones,” Kumar says. “This research also suggests that there are benefits to be had not only by nudging people to choose experiences over possessions, but also by encouraging people to share stories about their experiences.”

Knowing what is best to help others

The roots for how we give to others form at a very young age. Children, it turns out, are very sophisticated givers – not only coming to someone’s aid when needed but also coming up with the best strategy for doing so, often independent of an adult’s instruction.

In new research, Kristina Olson of Yale University and Alia Martin have found that children often will act, thinking they know better than others what is best for them or others. In a series of experiments, the researchers investigate whether 3-year-old children will help someone by ignoring the specific request and instead offering a better alternative.

In one study, for example, when an experimenter asks the child for a specific marker, but the child knows that marker does not work, the child will instead offer up a better marker. In another study, a pre-recorded child asks the child participant to give her a piece of chocolate via a tube that supposedly connects them. If the participant knows that chocolate makes the other child sick, the participant will decide to give her fruit snacks instead.

“Perhaps most provocatively, children will selectively decide not to help in this way if they don’t like the person,” Olson says. “For example, if an experimenter has previously been mean, children won’t warn the adult of a potential harm – such as something sharp in the container they are reaching in – but will if the experimenter was not mean.”

“These results suggest that children are able to help adults and peers already by the preschool years in rather complex ways, even when the beneficiary is misguided about what he or she wants,” Olson says. “Children don’t just blindly do as they are requested, but rather consider a person’s goal and consider alternative possible ways to achieve that goal.”

Read the entire press release here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Distribution, Emotions, Positive Psychology | 1 Comment »

Rising Star Interviews – Aaron Kay

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 23, 2013

Aaron KayIn 2011, APS published a series of “Rising Star” interviews, including several of scholars who are Situationist Contributors or good friends of blog.  We will highlight some of those interviews in weeks ahead.  Here is the interview of Situationist Contributor, Aaron Kay.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the relation between motivation, implicit social cognition, and broad societal issues. I have a particular interest in how basic motivations and needs – including ones that people may not be entirely aware of – manifest as specific social and societal beliefs. These include (but are not limited to) the causes and consequences of stereotyping and system justification, religious and political belief, and the attitudes people hold towards their institutions and social systems.

What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?

I was drawn to these issues because I was (and still am) taken by how little we know about some of humankind’s most cherished and steadfastly defended belief systems. I continue working on these issues because I have now to come to realize the extent to which understanding the origins and functions of these beliefs can shed light on basic psychological processes.

Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?

In graduate school I was very lucky to have two exceptional advisors: Lee Ross and John Jost. They are my most important mentors and their ideas are my most proximal psychological influences. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three other programs of research that deeply influenced my thinking as a graduate student. John Bargh’s research on the automatic nature of social behavior and motivation, Melvin Lerner’s research on the Belief in a Just World, and Susan Fiske and Peter Glicke’s research on hostile and benevolent forms of sexism all strongly influenced my approach to studying the social mind.

To what do you attribute your success in the science?

Two things, really: In graduate school, I had great advisors. They made it very hard for me not to be productive and excited about my research. Afterwards, my years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo were filled with brilliant and incredibly energetic social psychologist colleagues. Richard Eibach, John Holmes, Mike Ross, Steve Spencer, Joanne Wood, and Mark Zanna provided the type of support and nurturance that a fledgling academic can only dream about. They didn’t merely drop by every once in a while to see how things were going, but became actively engaged in my research, infusing it with different perspectives and methodological approaches. And while that was going on, I was surrounded by the hardest working and smartest set of graduate students one could hope for.

What’s your future research agenda?

That’s a great question, since it is one that I’d love to know the answer to. I have recently developed a model of compensatory control aimed at explaining a wide swath of beliefs and behaviors, and I imagine I will continue to work on understanding and refining that model. Where exactly that will take me, though, is an open question. Research for me is such a collaborative endeavor that I assume my future research agenda will be dictated, at least in part, by what aspects of my research my students and collaborators are most interested in.

Any advice for even younger psychologists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?

Lee Ross once told me that he thinks it is important to involve yourself in something “exciting” while in graduate school — that is, an idea or approach or perspective that you feel is new and different in some way. In looking back at my experience and those of my many successful peers, I now see the truth in that advice. I am not suggesting (nor do I think Lee was suggesting) that you need to develop something new yourself, but involving yourself in a larger research program that is doing that is an invaluable experience — or at least it was for me. Many of the most successful research programs  are ones that deviate from what everyone else is doing but in a way that still keeps them relevant to what everyone else is doing. To do this, you need to both understand what is happening in the field and have a desire to break new ground. The former can be learned pretty easily, but my feeling is the latter is facilitated by getting a sense for what it is like to swim in relatively uncharted waters. So, if possible, seek that out.

What publication you are most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?

Kay, A. C., Gaucher, D., Napier, J. L., Callan, M. J., & Laurin, K. (2008). God and the government: Testing a compensatory control mechanism for the support of external systems. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 18-35.

This article was directly inspired by my earliest research in graduate school and now motivates much of my current research. As such, it connects, via one common mechanism, issues I used to work on to issues I am now interested in. So it feels something like a unifying paper to my young career, both temporally and thematically.

Related Situationist posts:

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The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 3

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2012

Part 3 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed ‘healthy foods’ such as muesli and juices, both of which can be high in sugar.

He speaks with Simon Wright, an ‘organic consultant’ for Sainsbury’s in the 1990s, who explains how the food industry cashed in on the public’s concerns around salmonella, BSE and GM crops. By 1999 the organic industry was worth over £605M, a rise of 232% within two years.

How did the mainstream food producers compete? Peretti speaks with Kath Dalmeny, former policy director at the Food Commission, who explains some of the marketing strategies used by mainstream food producers to keep our custom.

The programme also explores the impact of successive government initiatives and health campaigns, such as the proposal of ‘traffic light labelling’, the introduction of which the food industry lobbied hard against.

But in 2012, when we have an Olympic Games sponsored by McDonalds and Coca Cola, has anything changed?

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 2

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 14, 2012

Part 2 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti investigates how the concept of ‘supersizing’ changed our eating habits forever. How did we – once a nation of moderate eaters – start to want more?

Speaking to Mike Donahue, former McDonalds Vice President, Peretti explores the history behind the idea of supersizing. 40 years ago, McDonalds hired David Wallerstein, a former cinema manager who had introduced the idea of selling larger popcorn servings in his Chicago cinema. Wallerstein realised that people would eat more but they didn’t like the idea of appearing gluttonous by going back for seconds. By increasing the portion sizes and the cost, he could sell more food. In 1972, he introduced the idea to McDonalds and their first large fries went on sale.

By the 1980s, we were eating more – and eating more often. Perretti speaks with industry professionals to examine the story behind the introduction of value meals, king-size snacks and multi-buy promotions. How did the advertising industry encourage us to eat more often?

The programme also explores the developments in dietary advice – by 2003, the Chief Medical Officer was warning of an ‘obesity time bomb.’ Peretti speaks to obesity expert Professor Philip James, who made recommendations in his 1996 report that the food industry should cease targeting children in their advertisements. He also speaks with Professor Terry Wilkin, who led a pioneering study into childhood weight gain; and former Labour MP David Hinchliffe, who chaired the 2003 Parliamentary Select Committee on Health.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 1

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2012

From Introduction of BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are now overweight than undernourished. Two thirds of British adults are overweight and one in four of us is classified as obese. In the first of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for revolutionising our eating habits, to find out how decisions made in America 40 years ago influence the way we eat now.

Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener was championed in the US in the 1970s by Richard Nixon’s agriculture secretary Earl Butz to make use of the excess corn grown by farmers. Cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it soon found its way into almost all processed foods and soft drinks. HFCS is not only sweeter than sugar, it also interferes with leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, so once you start eating or drinking it, you don’t know when to stop.

Endocrinologist Robert Lustig was one of the first to recognise the dangers of HFCS but his findings were discredited at the time. Meanwhile a US Congress report blamed fat, not sugar, for the disturbing rise in cardio-vascular disease and the food industry responded with ranges of ‘low fat’, ‘heart healthy’ products in which the fat was removed – but the substitute was yet more sugar.

Meanwhile, in 1970s Britain, food manufacturers used advertising campaigns to promote the idea of snacking between meals. Outside the home, fast food chains offered clean, bright premises with tempting burgers cooked and served with a very un-British zeal and efficiency. Twenty years after the arrival of McDonalds, the number of fast food outlets in Britain had quadrupled.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Poor Choices

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 5, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Pollan on the Political Situation of Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 29, 2012

Host Harry Kreisler welcomes writer Michael Pollan for a discussion of the agricultural industrial complex that dominates consumer choices about what to eat. He explores the origins, evolution and consequences of this system for the nations health and environment. He highlights the role of science, journalism, and politics in the development of a diet that emphasizes nutrition over food. Pollan also sketches a reform agenda and speculates on how a movement might change Americas eating habits. He also talks about science writing, the rewards of gardening, and how students might prepare for the future.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Education, Food and Drug Law, Ideology, Marketing, Politics, Video | 2 Comments »

Citizens United Primer

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 3, 2012

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Politics, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Rewards of Cooperation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2012

From the Harvard Gazette:

It turns out nice guys can finish first, and David Rand has the evidence to show it.

Rand, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology and a lecturer in human evolutionary biology, is the lead author of a new paper, which found that dynamic, complex social networks encourage their members to be friendlier and more cooperative, with the possible payoff coming in an expanded social sphere, while selfish behavior can lead to an individual being shunned from the group and left — literally — on his or her own.

As described this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research is among the first studies to examine social interaction as a fluid, ever-changing process. Previous studies of complex social networks largely used static snapshots of groups to examine how members were or were not connected. This new approach, Rand said, is the closest scientists have yet come to describing the way the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants interact daily.

“This model is closer to real life; thus the results are closer to real life,” Rand said. “What this is showing is that a key aspect of real-world social networks is the dynamic component. The point of this paper is to say that those networks are always shifting, and they’re not shifting in random ways.

“There are many nasty things that happen between people, but for the most part we are fantastically cooperative,” Rand said. “We do an amazing job of having thousands or even millions of people living in very close quarters in cities all over the world. In a functioning society, things like trade, friendship, even democracy itself require high levels of cooperation, and when everyone does it, you get good collective outcomes.”

“Cooperation is a fascinating topic,” said Sociology Professor and Pforzheimer House Master Nicholas Christakis. “We see cooperation everywhere in the biological and sociological worlds, but it’s actually very hard to explain. Why do creatures, including ourselves, cooperate?

“What our paper shows is that there is a deep relationship between cooperation and social networks. In particular, we found that if you allow people to rewire their social networks, cooperation persists in the population. I believe this paper is the first to show, empirically, how that relationship works. As humans, we do two unique things: We re-shape the social world around us, and in so doing, we create a better place for ourselves by being nice to each other.”

To demonstrate how groups reach those good collective outcomes, the scientists, including Sam Arbesman, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, recruited nearly 800 volunteers, who, in groups of between 20 and 30, took part in the study by playing a simple game.

At the outset, Rand said, each player begins with an equal number of points, and is randomly connected with one or more players. As the game progresses, players have the opportunity to be either generous, and pay to give points to each player they are connected with, or be selfish, and do nothing. Following each round, some players are randomly given the opportunity to update their connections, based on whether other players have been generous or selfish.

The findings, Rand said, showed that players re-wired their social networks in intriguing ways that helped both themselves and the group they were in.  They were more willing to make new connections or maintain existing connections with those who acted generously, and break connections with those who behaved selfishly.

“Because people have control over who they are interacting with, people are more likely to form connections with people who are cooperative, and much more likely to break those links with people who are not,” Rand said. “Basically, what it boils down to is that you’d better be a nice guy, or else you’re going to get cut off.”

Intriguingly, the study also uncovered a correction mechanism inherent to social groups. Those who were initially noncooperative, Rand said, were found to be twice as likely to become cooperative after being shunned, suggesting that being cut off from the group acts as a sort of internal discipline, ensuring that cooperation remains high within a social network.

“As a result, when you have a network that’s dynamic, you see stable, high levels of cooperation, whereas in a static network you see a steady breakdown of cooperation,” Rand said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Privilege

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 24, 2012

From

Shamus Khan (Columbia University) discusses his C. Wright Mills award-winning book, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, and how elite schools “convert birthright into credentials” for privileged students.

Here is a summary of the book:

As one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation, St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, has long been the exclusive domain of America’s wealthiest sons. But times have changed. Today, a new elite of boys and girls is being molded at St. Paul’s, one that reflects the hope of openness but also the persistence of inequality.

In Privilege, Shamus Khan returns to his alma mater to provide an inside look at an institution that has been the private realm of the elite for the past 150 years. He shows that St. Paul’s students continue to learn what they always have–how to embody privilege. Yet, while students once leveraged the trappings of upper-class entitlement, family connections, and high culture, current St. Paul’s students learn to succeed in a more diverse environment. To be the future leaders of a more democratic world, they must be at ease with everything from highbrow art to everyday life–from Beowulf to Jaws–and view hierarchies as ladders to scale. Through deft portrayals of the relationships among students, faculty, and staff, Khan shows how members of the new elite face the opening of society while still preserving the advantages that allow them to rule.

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Posted in Distribution, Education, Video | Leave a Comment »

Michael Norton on Pro-Social Spending

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 12, 2012

From

Michael Norton shares fascinating research on how money can, indeed buy happiness — when you don’t spend it on yourself. Listen for surprising data on the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Religious Beliefs

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 22, 2012

From TED:

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt asks a simple, but difficult question: why do we search for self-transcendence? Why do we attempt to lose ourselves? In a tour through the science of evolution by group selection, he proposes a provocative answer.

Jonathan Haidt studies how — and why — we evolved to be moral. By understanding more about our moral roots, his hope is that we can learn to be civil and open-minded.

A small sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Distribution, Ideology, Morality, Politics, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

 
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