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Situationist Torts at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 11, 2014

Frontier Torts Logo

From The Harvard Law Record (an article by Sara Murphy, Jessica Ranucci, Sean Cuddihy):

From the first day we marched into Professor Jon Hanson’s Torts class, it was clear that the course would not follow the traditional 1L torts syllabus. Professor Hanson, who is the Alfred Smart Professor of Law and Director of the Project on Law and the Mind Sciences, is well-known for his unusual course structure and material. He was charged with teaching us Torts last semester, but what we learned transcended the bounds of the traditional 1L curriculum. Professor Hanson teaches what he calls “situationist torts,” an approach to the law based in ideas from the mind sciences. He frames legal issues in terms of the “situation” and “disposition” of the actors involved, and demonstrates how legal institutions overemphasize the role of people’s dispositions (their freely made choices) when understanding and responding to problems. It is through this frame that he took us on an in-depth exploration of the evolution of tort law, from verses in the Torah to the present.

The class departed from many 1L pedagogical conventions. We read fewer cases, and for those we did study, we delved into the social and historical context. During a few class meetings we even engaged in imaginative reconstructions of the facts to help bring our presuppositions to light. There were no traditional cold calls. In the classroom, we focused on tort doctrine less than our peers— Professor Hanson provided us with videos and outlines so that we could efficiently learn the doctrine at home. For the final stage in our tour of the history of torts, we explored what Professor Hanson calls “Frontier Torts,” which are wrongs for which there currently exists no remedy in the civil legal system, but that could be on the edge of the expansion of liability. We spent weeks working in large groups on a final project applying situationist and dispositionist viewpoints to real-world problems. Most of us would agree that Frontier Torts week, which included presentations by our classmates and attorneys who are fighting on the frontiers of tort law, was the most memorable week of the semester. Even our final mandated that we apply our understanding of tort law to work towards fixing one of the largest problems facing America today.

Not everyone agrees with Professor Hanson’s ideas. Not everyone needs to. But we believe that generations of his students will remember his approach to understanding the law. Making whatever argument we can get away with to advance our side and presenting that argument as strongly as possible are important skills we learn throughout law school and will continue to develop throughout our legal careers. However, we believe that in the current 1L curriculum there is insufficient focus on the implications and motivations of the arguments we make and evaluate. Professor Hanson is one of the few 1L instructors to focus squarely and consistently on filling this educational gap. When the details of the cases and doctrine we’ve had to learn in most of our 1L classes have faded, his ideas will remain. They are applicable across subjects, and heighten our analytical abilities. We gained a framework for thinking about the law. We learned how to approach problems from a particular point of view. We learned how to recognize a pervasive type of bias.

We believe that Professor Hanson’s approach should play a greater role in the 1L curriculum and the legal profession. Essentially, it is the liberal arts educational ideal realized in the law school classroom. It taught us a mode of inquiry that is broadly applicable across situations. We then used that mode of inquiry to look at torts cases and understand why particular decisions may have been made, and to consider real, pressing societal issues and our approach to solving them. Our section may not be the best at telling you about the details of trespass to chattel, but we can pick out motivated reasoning and we can think creatively about how we, as future lawyers, can expand the frontiers of tort law to protect those who have been harmed in ways that are not yet recognized. What Professor Hanson left us with is a sense that we can do something about the problems that are encapsulated in (or omitted from) the law. Knowing how to clarify our thinking and address those problems by considering situational factors and challenging traditional assumptions seems more important than being able to regurgitate the Restatement (Second) of Torts.

Ohio attorney James D. Dennis, a guest speaker in our class and the winner of the 2013 Frontier Torts Award for his work to find civil remedies for workplace sexual harassment, wrote to our class about Professor Hanson:

“His teaching methods not only hone your abilities to think effectively like the excellent members of the bar and bench which you all are going to be, but also energize you to want to do it.” We couldn’t agree more. We would like to see more 1L classes that veer away from the traditional doctrine in favor of a more holistic and real-world pedagogical approach to each area of the law.

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Posted in Education, Legal Theory | Leave a Comment »

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 Cheating Students

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 29, 2013

honor or cheating

From American Psychological Association (excerpts from an article by Ann Novotney):

More than half of teenagers say they have cheated on a test during the last year — and 34 percent have done it more than twice — according to a survey of 40,000 U.S. high school students released in February by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics. The survey also found that one in three students admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

The statistics don’t get any better once students reach college. In surveys of 14,000 undergraduates conducted over the past four years by Donald McCabe, PhD, a business professor at Rutgers University and co-founder of Clemson University’s International Center for Academic Integrity, about two-thirds of students admit to cheating on tests, homework and assignments. And in a 2009 study in Ethics & Behavior (Vol. 19, No. 1), researchers found that nearly 82 percent of a sample of college alumni admitted to engaging in some form of cheating as undergraduates.

Some research even suggests that academic cheating may be associated with dishonesty later in life. In a 2007 survey of 154 college students, Southern Illinois University researchers found that students who plagiarized in college reported that they viewed themselves as more likely to break rules in the workplace, cheat on spouses and engage in illegal activities (Ethics & Behavior, Vol. 17, No. 3). A 2009 survey, also by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, reports a further correlation: People who cheat on exams in high school are three times more likely to lie to a customer or inflate an insurance claim compared with those who never cheated. High school cheaters are also twice as likely to lie to or deceive their boss and one-and-a-half times more likely to lie to a significant other or cheat on their taxes.

Academic cheating, therefore, is not just an academic problem, and curbing this behavior is something that academic institutions are beginning to tackle head-on, says Stephen F. Davis, PhD, emeritus professor of psychology at Emporia State University and co-author of “Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). New research by psychologists seems to suggest that the best way to prevent cheating is to create a campus-wide culture of academic integrity.

“Everyone at the institution — from the president of the university and the board of directors right on down to every janitor and cafeteria worker — has to buy into the fact that the school is an academically honest institution and that cheating is a reprehensible behavior,” Davis says.

Why students cheat

The increasing amount of pressure on students to succeed academically — in efforts to get into good colleges, graduate schools and eventually to land good jobs — tends to be one of the biggest drivers of cheating’s proliferation. Several studies show that students who are more motivated than their peers by performance are more likely to cheat.

“What we show is that as intrinsic motivation for a course drops, and/or as extrinsic motivation rises, cheating goes up,” says Middlebury College psychology professor Augustus Jordan, PhD, who led a 2005 study on motivation to cheat (Ethics and Behavior, Vol. 15, No. 2). “The less a topic matters to a person, or the more they are participating in it for instrumental reasons, the higher the risk for cheating.”

Psychological research has also shown that dishonest behaviors such as cheating actually alter a person’s sense of right and wrong, so after cheating once, some students stop viewing the behavior as immoral. In a study published in March in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Vol. 37, No. 3), for example, Harvard University psychology and organizational behavior graduate student Lisa Shu and colleagues conducted a series of experiments, one of which involved having undergraduates read an honor code reminding them that cheating is wrong and then providing them with a series of math problems and an envelope of cash. The more math problems they were able to answer correctly, the more cash they were allowed to take. In one condition, participants reported their own scores, which gave them an opportunity to cheat by misreporting. In the other condition, participants’ scores were tallied by a proctor in the room. As might be expected, several students in the first condition inflated their scores to receive more money. These students also reported a greater degree of cheating acceptance after participating in the study than they had prior to the experiment. They also found that, while those who read the honor code were less likely to cheat, the honor code did not eliminate all of the cheating,

“Our findings confirm that the situation can, in fact, impact behavior and that people’s beliefs flex to align with their behavior,” Shu says.

Another important finding is that while many students understand that cheating is against the rules, most still look to their peers for cues as to what behaviors and attitudes are acceptable, says cognitive psychologist David Rettinger, PhD, of the University of Mary Washington. Perhaps not surprisingly, he says, several studies suggest that seeing others cheat increases one’s tendency to cheat.

“Cheating is contagious,” says Rettinger. In his 2009 study with 158 undergraduates, published in Research in Higher Education (Vol. 50, No. 3), he found that direct knowledge of others’ cheating was the biggest predictor of cheating.

Even students at several U.S. military academies — where student honor codes are widely publicized and strictly enforced — aren’t immune from cheating’s contagion. A longitudinal study led by University of California, Davis, economist Scott Carrell, PhD, examined survey data gathered from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy from 1959 through 2002. Carrell found that, thanks to peer effects, one new college cheater is “created” through social contagion for every two to three additional high school cheaters admitted to a service academy.

“This behavior is most likely transmitted through the knowledge that other students are cheating,” says Carrell, who conducted the study with James West, PhD, and Frederick Malmstrom, PhD, both of the Air Force Academy. “This knowledge causes students — particularly those who would not have otherwise — to cheat because they feel like they need to stay competitive and because it creates a social norm of cheating.”

Dishonesty prevention

Peer effects, however, cut both ways, and getting students involved in creating a culture of academic honesty can be a great way to curb cheating.

“The key is to create this community feeling of disgust at the cheating behavior,” says Rettinger. “And the best way to do that is at the student level.”

* * *

Teachers can also help diminish students’ impulse to cheat by explaining the purpose and relevance of every academic lesson and course assignment, says University of Connecticut educational psychologist Jason Stephens, PhD. According to research presented in 2003 by Stephens and later published in the “The Psychology of Academic Cheating” (Elsevier, 2006), high school students cheat more when they see the teacher as less fair and caring and when their motivation in the course is more focused on grades and less on learning and understanding. In addition, in a 1998 study of cheating with 285 middle school students, Ohio State University educational psychologist Eric Anderman, PhD, co-editor with Tamara Murdock, PhD, of “The Psychology of Academic Cheating,” found that how teachers present the goals of learning in class is key to reducing cheating. Anderman showed that students who reported the most cheating perceive their classrooms as being more focused on extrinsic goals, such as getting good grades, than on mastery goals associated with learning for its own sake and continuing improvement (Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 1).

“When students feel like assignments are arbitrary, it’s really easy for them to talk themselves into not doing it by cheating,” Rettinger says. “You want to make it hard for them to neutralize by saying, ‘This is what you’ll learn and how it’s useful to you.’”

At the college level in particular, it’s also important for institutional leaders to make fairness a priority by having an office of academic integrity to communicate to students and faculty that the university takes the issue of academic dishonesty seriously, says Tricia Bertram Gallant, PhD, academic integrity coordinator at the University of California, San Diego, and co-author with Davis of “Cheating in School.” . . .

* * *

There’s also evidence that focusing on honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility and promoting practices such as effective honor codes can make a significant difference in student behaviors, attitudes and beliefs, according to a 1999 study by the Center for Academic Integrity. Honor codes seem to be particularly salient when they engage students, however. In Shu’s study on the morality of cheating, for example, she found that participants who passively read a generic honor code before taking a test were less likely to cheat on the math problems, though this step did not completely curb cheating. Among those who signed their names attesting that they’d read and understood the honor code, however, no cheating occurred.

“It was impressive to us how exposing participants to an honor code and really making morality salient in that situation basically eliminated cheating altogether,” she says.

Read entire article here.

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Alex Laskey on Social Situation of Energy Use

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2013

From TED: What’s a proven way to lower your energy costs? Would you believe: learning what your neighbor pays. Alex Laskey shows how a quirk of human behavior can make us all better, wiser energy users, with lower bills to prove it.

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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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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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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.

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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 »

The Situation of the 53 Percent

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2012

Situationist Contributor Eric Knowles recently published this excellent piece on Huffington Post:

What has crystallized in the last few weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign is nothing less than a battle between two competing theories of success — about where success comes from and the role of government in fostering it.

However, this question, which both campaigns have signaled will feature prominently in the upcoming presidential debates, is not one of competing values, personal philosophies, or party platforms. In fact, it has a right and a wrong answer, and social science can tell us which is which.

Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments reveal the governor’s belief in two alternative paths to success. On the one hand, some people achieve their goals because they possess the “right stuff” — talent, intelligence, and drive. Alternatively, people can get help from external sources — including, of course, the government. For Romney, aptitude and aid are inversely related: the more of one you have, the less of the other you need.

President Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remarks express a theory of success very different from Mr. Romney’s. According to Mr. Obama’s theory, success is most likely when individuals and the environment, including the government, both bring something to the table. For Obama, good environments are no substitute for aptitude and hard work — rather, they allow these qualities to most fully reveal themselves.

The scientific literature speaks clearly to the debate between these two theories of success, and it tells us that Mr. Obama is right.

Consider a recent study in which a team of researchers examined how genes and socioeconomic status combine to foster the development of cognitive abilities in young children.

The authors followed 750 pairs of identical and fraternal twins from the ages of 10 months to two years, measuring the growth in each child’s cognitive abilities over this period. By examining the relationship between cognitive development and the twins’ varying degrees of genetic similarity, the researchers were able to estimate the extent to which cognitive ability is genetically determined. The socioeconomic status (SES) of the children was judged through a combination of measures, including parental educational attainment and household income.

What the researchers found was striking. Among high-SES children, genes were strongly predictive of age-related increases in cognitive ability. In other words, children from relatively well-to-do families performed better or worse depending on their genes. These kids developed up to their intrinsic potential. Yet at the lowest levels of SES, genetic variation wasn’t related to cognitive development at all. This means that, if you’re poor, even having the right stuff doesn’t guarantee good developmental outcomes.

This research indicates that poor environments limit children’s opportunity to develop aptitudes that they are, in a sense, genetically “destined” to acquire. Like a good seed planted in poor soil, even the best equipped of us cannot be expected to thrive in impoverished circumstances. This, in a nutshell, is Mr. Obama’s theory of success.

The implications of this theory are clear: if we want the so-called 47 percent to succeed or fail on its merits — a requirement from which Mr. Romney believes they are currently spared — then the solution is more government assistance, not less.

Mr. Obama’s theory of success also gains credence from psychological research on “stereotype threat,” the experience of anxiety that results from awareness of being negatively stereotyped by others. Members of stigmatized groups often experience such threat in contexts where they know they are expected to do poorly, as when an African American student takes a test of verbal reasoning skills.

Owing to the anxiety caused by stereotype threat, students of color routinely underperform relative to their abilities — a self-fulfilling pattern that only serves to bolster the negative stereotypes that give rise to threat.

Fortunately, recent research by Stanford University’s Gregory Walton and [Situationist Contributor] Geoffrey Cohen has identified simple interventions that inoculate students from the experience of stereotype threat. For example, simply by increasing students’ sense of “belongingness” in academic settings, the researchers drastically reduced racial gaps in academic performance. Protected from the effect of a threatening stereotype environment, minority students’ true abilities shone through.

This work shows that inherent gifts and helpful environments are not inversely related routes to achievement, as Mr. Romney’s theory of success would have us believe. Rather, as Mr. Obama asserts, creating a good environment is the only way of ensuring that individuals’ aptitudes see the light of day.

If this is so, perhaps the government should be in the business of helping people after all — through, for instance, progressive taxation that reduces financial burdens on poor families or affirmative action policies that might help change our stereotypes of minority and women professionals.

Studies like ones I’ve described repudiate the notion that ability and help are interchangeable routes to achievement (the Romney theory of success). Rather, social science corroborates Mr. Obama’s contention that the government has a role to play in enabling its citizens to express whatever talents and aptitudes they possess to the greatest possible degree.

Eric D. Knowles is a Situationist Contributor and assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology. He studies the psychological factors that influence people’s political choices.

Chart from here.

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Posted in Education, Situationist Contributors | 2 Comments »

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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The Situation of Sexual Assault at Boston University

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2012

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

* * *

Read the entire report, including fourteen recommendations here.

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Mindfulness in School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 14, 2012

From On Point Radio (with Tom Ashbrook):

American children need reading, writing and arithmetic.  They need science, technology, engineering, art, literature.  They also, says a new movement, need a psychological tool kit filled with attention, perseverance, emotional control, “mindfulness.”  Some now call it character.

The habits of mind that make all else possible.  Taught in school.  Classrooms are now taking time out for meditative moments.  Getting centered.  Getting mindful.  The call it self-regulation.  Emotional learning.  Right alongside the “three-R’s”.

This hour, On Point:  teaching mindfulness at school.

Listen to the show here or by clicking on the following link: Mindfulness in School

Watch the TEDMED talk referenced in podcast below.

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Posted in Education, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Adult Well Being and Social Connection

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 5, 2012

From Springer:

Positive social relationships in childhood and adolescence are key to adult well-being, according to Associate Professor Craig Olsson from Deakin University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia, and his colleagues. In contrast, academic achievement appears to have little effect on adult well-being. The exploratory work, looking at the child and adolescent origins of well-being in adulthood, is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.

We know very little about how aspects of childhood and adolescent development, such as academic and social-emotional function, affect adult well-being – defined here as a combination of a sense of coherence, positive coping strategies, social engagement and self-perceived strengths.

Olsson and team analysed data for 804 people followed up for 32 years, who participated in the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study (DMHDS) in New Zealand. They explored the relative importance of early academic and social pathways to adult well-being.

In particular, they measured the relationship between level of family disadvantage in childhood, social connectedness in childhood, language development in childhood, social connectedness in adolescence, academic achievement in adolescence and well-being in adulthood. Social connectedness in childhood is defined by the parent and teacher ratings of the child being liked, not being alone, and the child’s level of confidence. Social connectedness in adolescence is demonstrated by social attachments (parents, peers, school, confidant) and participation in youth groups and sporting clubs.

The researchers found, on the one hand, a strong pathway from child and adolescent social connectedness to adult well-being. This illustrates the enduring significance of positive social relationships over the lifespan to adulthood. On the other hand, the pathway from early language development, through adolescent academic achievement, to adult well-being was weak, which is in line with existing research showing a lack of association between socioeconomic prosperity and happiness.

The analyses also suggest that the social and academic pathways are not intimately related to one another, and may be parallel paths.

The authors conclude: “If these pathways are separate, then positive social development across childhood and adolescence requires investments beyond development of the academic curriculum.”

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Image from Flickr.

Posted in Education, Emotions, Positive Psychology | 1 Comment »

The Historical Situation of Situationism at Harvard Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 24, 2012

Tito Rendas has just posted his terrific paper, “Mind Sciences in the Harvard Law School Curriculum: Tracing the History, Proposing the Proliferation” on SSRN.  We hope to post excerpts from the paper in time.  Here’s the abstract.

This paper explores the contours of the relationship between the mind sciences and the Harvard Law School curriculum, in particular, and the law curriculum more generally. Rather than using a conceptual definition of “mind sciences”, the paper will be based on an illustrative and fairly loose definition thereof. Any discipline that delves into the mechanisms that explain the functioning of the human mind and the reasons behind human behavior is considered a mind science for purposes of this study. Psychology, psychiatry, cognitive science, and neuroscience are examples of the disciplines that fit under the scope of this definition. The paper is divided into three parts.

Part I discusses the ideological sources of the relatively recent law and mind sciences movement at Harvard. Particular consideration will be given to the role played by the legal realists in questioning assumptions that would otherwise prevent the mind sciences from permeating law and policy-making.

Part II conducts an extensive historical review of the law and mind sciences courses in the HLS curriculum from 1957 to 2013. Six trends, and a predicted future trend, were identified.

Part III is normative in its essence, making the case for the expansion of the law and mind sciences curriculum. This argument is predicated on the answers to two other questions: Who should decide whether this expansion should be carried out? And, assuming its desirability, how should we go about it?

You can download the paper for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Education, History, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rebecca Onie on the Situation of Health (and Health Care)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 22, 2012

From

Rebecca Onie asks audacious questions: What if waiting rooms were a place to improve daily health care? What if doctors could prescribe food, housing and heat in the winter? At TEDMED she describes Health Leads, an organization that does just that — and does it by building a volunteer base as elite and dedicated as a college sports team.

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Posted in Distribution, Education, Law, Life, Morality, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Power of Stereotypes and Need for “Affirmative Meritocracy”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 3, 2012

From Stanford University News:

When it comes to affirmative action, the argument usually focuses on diversity. Promoting diversity, the Supreme Court ruled in 2003, can justify taking race into account.

But some people say this leads to the admission of less qualified candidates over better ones and creates a devil’s choice between diversity and merit.

Not so, says Stanford psychologist Greg Walton. Diversity and meritocracy are not always at odds.

In fact, sometimes it is only by taking race and gender into account that schools and employers can admit and hire the best candidates, Walton argues in a paper slated for publication in the journal Social Issues and Policy Review with co-authors Steven J. Spencer of the University of Waterloo and Sam Erman of Harvard University.

Walton, an assistant professor of psychology, and Spencer plan to present their findings to the Supreme Court in an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case the justices are scheduled to hear next fall and that many court watchers believe threatens to upend affirmative action. (Supreme Court rules bar Erman, who was a recent Supreme Court clerk, from participating in the brief.)

“People have argued that affirmative action is consistent or is not consistent with meritocracy,” Walton said. “Our argument is not that it’s consistent or inconsistent. Our argument is that you need affirmative action to make meritocratic decisions – to get the best candidates.”

The researchers say that people often assume that measures of merit like grades and test scores are unbiased – that they reflect the same level of ability and potential for all students.

Under this assumption, when an ethnic-minority student and a non-minority student have the same high school grades, they probably have the same level of ability and are likely to do equally well in college. When a woman and a man have the same score on a math test, it’s assumed they have the same level of math ability.

The problem is that common school and testing environments create a different psychological experience for different students. This systematically disadvantages negatively stereotyped ethnic minority students like African Americans and Hispanic Americans, as well as girls and women in math and science.

“When people perform in standard school settings, they are often aware of negative stereotypes about their group,” Walton says. “Those stereotypes act like a psychological headwind – they cause people to perform worse. If you base your evaluation of candidates just on performance in settings that are biased, you end up discriminating.”

The conclusion comes out of research on what is called stereotype threat – the worry people have when they risk confirming a negative stereotype about their group. That worry prevents people from performing as well as they can, hundreds of studies have found.

As a consequence, Walton says, “Grades and test scores assessed in standard school settings underestimate the intellectual ability of students from negatively stereotyped groups and their potential to perform well in future settings.”

Walton gives an example of how stereotype threat relates to preferences in admissions or hiring.

A woman and a man each apply to an elite engineering program, he says. The man has slightly better SAT math scores than the woman. He gets accepted to the program, but she does not.

“If stereotype threat on the SAT undermined the woman’s performance and as a consequence caused her SAT score to underestimate her potential, then by not taking that bias into account, you have effectively discriminated against the woman,” Walton says.

Walton and his colleagues argue that schools need to take affirmative steps to level the playing field and to make meritocratic decisions. If the SAT underestimates women’s math ability or the ability of African American students, taking this into account will help schools both admit better candidates and more diverse ones.

While courts have ruled that diversity justifies taking race into account in admissions decisions, justices have not considered meritocracy as a reason for sorting by race.

“Our argument is that it is only by considering race that you can make meritocratic decisions,” Walton says. “It’s a separate argument from the diversity argument.”

Walton’s research provides the justices with another reason for upholding affirmative action.

But confronting legal questions is only part of the issue.

Walton says remedies need to be found in policy, as well. Environments need to be created that are fair and allow people to do well.

“The first step is for organizations to fix their own houses,” he says.

Testing officials should look at how they administer tests and ask what they can do to mitigate the psychological threats that are present in their settings that cause people to do poorly, Walton says.

Schools and employers, he continues, should look into their own internal environments and ask how they can make those environments safe and secure so everyone can do well and stereotypes are off the table.

But if stereotype threat was present in a prior environment, hiring and admissions decisions need to take that into account.

“In taking affirmative steps,” Walton, Spencer and Erman write, “organizations can promote meritocracy and diversity at once.”

The Citation: Walton, G. M., Spencer, S. J., & Erman, S. (in press). Affirmative meritocracy (pdf). Social Issues and Policy Review.

Related Situationist posts:

For a collection of previous Situationist posts discussing how situation influences standardized test scores, click here.

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Distribution, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Race and Racism Among Children

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 25, 2012

From CNN:

Anderson Cooper details a study that seeks to gain insight into the way black and white children perceive each other.

A sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Implicit Associations | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of the Voting Booth

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 4, 2012

Stanford University Press Release (2008):

What would you say influenced your voting decisions in the most recent local or national election? Political preferences? A candidate’s stance on a particular issue? The repercussions of a proposition on your economic well-being? All these “rational” factors influence voting, and peoples’ ability to vote, based on what is best for them, is a hallmark of the democratic process.

But Stanford Graduate School of Business researchers, doctoral graduates Jonah Berger and Marc Meredith, and S. Christian Wheeler, associate professor of marketing, conclude that a much more subtle and arbitrary factor may also play a role—the particular type of polling location in which you happen to vote.

It’s hard to imagine that something as innocuous as polling location (e.g., school, church, or fire station) might actually influence voting behavior, but the Stanford researchers have discovered just that. In fact, Wheeler says “the influence of polling location on voting found in our research would be more than enough to change the outcome of a close election.” And, as seen in the neck-to-neck 2000 presidential election where Al Gore ultimately lost to George W. Bush after months of vote counting in Florida, election biases such as polling location could play a significant role in the 2008 presidential election. Even at the proposition level, “Voting at a school could increase support for school spending or voting at a church could decrease support for stem cell initiatives,” says Wheeler.

Why might something like polling location influence voting behavior? “Environmental cues, such as objects or places, can activate related constructs within individuals and influence the way they behave,” says Berger. now an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton school. “Voting in a school, for example, could activate the part of a person’s identity that cares about kids, or norms about taking care of the community. Similarly, voting in a church could activate norms of following church doctrine. Such effects may even occur outside an individual’s awareness.”

Using data from Arizona’s 2000 general election, Berger, Meredith, a visiting lecturer at MIT, and Wheeler discovered that people who voted in schools were more likely to support raising the state sales tax to fund education. The researchers focused on Proposition 301, which proposed raising the state sales tax from 5.0 percent to 5.6 percent to increase education spending. What they found was that voters were more likely to support this initiative if they voted in a school versus other types of polling locations (55.0 percent versus 53.09 percent).

This effect persisted even when the researchers controlled for—or removed the possibility of—other factors such as:

Where voters lived. People who have kids may be pro-education and more likely to live near, and hence vote at, schools; Political views. Those who voted for Gore or positively on other propositions; and Demographics including age, sex, etc.

In regards to the first control, for example, people were still more likely to support Proposition 301 if they had voted in schools than if they had voted in places that were not schools but had schools nearby. No matter how they cut and spliced the data, the researchers found that voters in schools were more likely to support Proposition 301.

“We want factors like political views—whether someone thinks a candidate is going to make our country a better place—to sway elections,” said Berger. “But in forming election policy, we also want to make sure that arbitrary factors such as polling location don’t ultimately influence voting behaviors.”

To further test their hypothesis, the researchers even conducted the same analysis for the other 13 propositions on the Arizona ballot. They reasoned that if voters who cast their ballots in schools were more likely to vote positively for other unrelated propositions on wildlife or property taxes, for example, then the researchers would know that their model was not adequately accounting for some other factor beyond polling location, and that something such as voting preferences was having an effect. But such additional testing only supported the researchers’ hypotheses further.

The researchers also followed up with a lab experiment that allowed for random assignment of voters to pictures of different voting environments that the researchers thought might influence voting behavior. Participants were shown 10 images from well-maintained schools (e.g. lockers, classrooms) or churches (e.g. pews, alters), plus five additional filler images of generic buildings. A control group was shown images of generic buildings.

The participants then voted on a number of initiatives including California’s 2004 stem cell funding initiative, Arizona’s education initiative, and several others. Initiative wording was taken right from each state’s legislative council documents. As predicted by Berger, Meredith, and Wheeler: Environmental cues contained in the photos influenced voting.

Results from the second study showed that participants were less likely to support the stem cell initiative if they were shown church images than if they were shown school images or a generic photo of a building. The subjects also were more likely to support the education initiative if they were shown school images versus church or generic building images. The results further demonstrated that environmental cues present in different polling locations can influence voting outcomes, even when voters are randomly assigned to different environmental cue conditions.

“What our research suggests is that it might be useful to further investigate influences such as polling location to better understand how such factors affect different types of voting situations. From a policy perspective, the hope is that a voting location assignment could be less arbitrary and more determined in order to avoid undue biases in the future,” says Wheeler.

(pdf here.)

From USA Today (2012):

University of Maine psychology professor Jordan LaBouff and co-author Wade Rowatt, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, have a new paper out in the International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, finding that people expressed “cold” rather than “warm” attitudes toward gay men and women if they were asked their views while they were within sight of a church.

The research, conducted in England and the Netherlands with participants of 20 different nationalities, found that the unmentioned but evident visual cue of a church prompted people to express more conservative views on a range of issues — foreign aid, immigration, protection of the environment, separation of church and state, and more.

LaBouff said Thursday, “The effect is not specific to Christianity, but the sight of a church highlights our internal boundaries — who is like us and who is not like us. And we are more negative toward people who are not like us, whether we are religious or not.”

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Education, Implicit Associations, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Howard Gardner Speaks at Harvard Law School on Wednesday

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2012

Posted in Education, Emotions, Law, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Science and Situationism Praised on Huffington Post Blog

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 17, 2012

From Huffington Post and Cornell Sun (By Sebastian Deri):

As someone who was better at English and history than math and science in high school, what I chose to study in college was partly an effort to shy away from the latter fields and take refuge in “softer” subjects. “Leave the questions of science to the scientists, I am concerned with justice and morality,” we, who chose humanities, said! These two domains were exclusive — “non-overlapping magisteria” as Stephen Jay Gould might say. No meaningful dialogue between the disciplines was possible or necessary.

This attitude, however, is lazy and destructive — or at best, hopelessly antiquated.

The scientific study of human behavior is shedding new light on our actions and inner life. To ignore these insights is not just a mistake. It is criminal.

I’m on our school’s mock trial team and have done mock trial for seven years now. There was a point at the beginning when I really felt that I was crusading on the side of righteousness in a system optimized for delivering justice. But eventually, I came to realize the solutions being offered in the courtroom simply could not get to the heart of the matter in the way science could. This realization came not from inside a courtroom, but rather from a brain scientist writing in a magazine.

In an article in The Atlantic, “The Brain on Trial,” David Eagleman makes the case that we must wade out of the swamp of the medieval machinations of our legal system — obsessed with the ancient and largely useless preoccupation with assigning blame.

He cites a seemingly straightforward pedophilia case. Eagleman describes the case of a 40-year-old man who “developed an interest in child pornography” and began to make “subtle sexual advances toward his prepubescent stepdaughter.” Eventually he was sent to prison. It was only after the discovery and successful removal of a tumor in his brain that he was able to abandon his pedophilia. Eagleman explains, “When your biology changes, so can your decision-making and your desires. The drives you take for granted… depend on the intricate details of your neural machinery.” Eagleman argues that “we can build a legal system more deeply informed by science, because when modern brain science is laid out clearly, it is difficult to justify how our legal system can continue to function without taking what we’ve learned into account.”

But, David Eagleman is a neuroscientist. Of course he would be inclined to make such a grandiose claim for his discipline. Well, we are hearing the same calls from within the law.

Jon Hanson is Law Professor at Harvard. He has a bachelor’s degree in Economics and a degree in law. Yet, eventually his studies in law — and specifically the tobacco industry — led him to abandon this field for the study social psychology, social cognition and other mind sciences.

He has since founded “The Project on Law and the Mind Sciences” at Harvard Law School and advocates for his version of the theory he calls “situationism.” As though it were coming straight from the mouth of Eagleman, Hanson writes that situationism “is premised on the social scientific insight that the naïve psychology… on which our laws and institutions are based is largely wrong. Situationists… seek first to establish a view of the human animal that is as realistic as possible before turning to legal theory or policy. To do so, situationists rely on the insights of scientific disciplines.”

And those insights are impossible to ignore. Take the MAO-A gene. Having a certain form of this gene (the low MAO-A gene), when combined with childhood mistreatment, significantly increases your chances of becoming violent. Yet, I have only ever heard of one case where such evidence was even up for discussion. In response to that evidence, the D.A. said, “The more of this information that you put before a jury, the [greater the] chances of confusing them.” In other words, the claim is not that such evidence is irrelevant, but rather we are too stupid to handle it. How condescending and pessimistic. Even the prosecution’s rebuttal expert claimed “it’s way too early to use this research in a court of law.” If we are ever to progress morally and socially we cannot afford to hold such views.

Not just our legal system, but our political system too could use an injection of scientific reasoning. Many political claims are testable scientific hypotheses and ought to be treated as such. To support the “war on drugs,” for example, under the claim that it reduces crime and drug use is to make a scientifically testable and falsifiable hypothesis. Of course, the data is messy and experiments hard to come by, but the very act of framing these as scientific questions will help us hack through this choking epistemic relativism in which everyone is entitled to an opinion by virtue of the fact that their justification may correspond to a possible version of reality. The world is not essentially unknowable. And the tools of science can help us peer into the eyes of reality. And from that reality, we should build our society.

I’m not worried that we run the risk of ignoring science as a great tool in our legal system, political debates or moral reasoning. Its encroachment into these domains is inevitable. The question is how quickly we’re going to embrace it rather than resist it at the cost of progress. With great gusto and speed, not only must scientists become lawyers, politicians and preachers but lawyers, politicians and preachers must become scientists.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Neuroscience, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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