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Barbie Commercials Across the Decades and the Implications on Female Identity and Objectification

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 11, 2011

From Sister Blog, Law and Mind (by HLS student, Cassie Mathias):

In the past weeks, the Law and Mind Sciences blogposts have included observations about media influences and gender, including Misogyny in Music, Mindfulness and Identity in the context of yogurt advertisements, and the conformity in appearances at HLS job interviews. As these posts described, pop culture, advertisements, and cultural norms all have the power to influence perceptions of gender. No where does this media influence appear to have a wider or longer lasting impact than Barbie. From the first Barbie television advertisement ever (portrayed in the above video) to the introduction of Ken, to current television advertising, Barbie has maintained a prominent presence as a commercial phenomenon, a fashion icon, and source of gender socialization.

The focus of investigations and attitudes towards Barbie differ, but all seem to recognize that the Barbie is not just a doll, but a cultural phenomenon. Since Barbie first arrived at the World Toy Fair in 1959, wearing a Zebra bikini and stilettos, over a billion Barbies have been produced in 150 countries. According to Mattel on Barbie’s 50th Anniversary in 2009, 90% of U.S. girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll. In a Newsweek article commenting on this anniversary, Eliza Grey described Barbie as “the original bimbo, a relic of postwar paternalism that teaches its young to worship at the altar of blond hair, peach skin and formidable cleavage atop a waistline the size of a pinkie ring.”

Others celebrate Barbie. Ruth Handler, the founder of Mattell, defended Barbie as a progressive alternative to baby dolls that emphasized playing mom. Dr. Lenore Wright has argued that role-playing with Barbie allows children to explore identity formation openly and in empowering ways, whereas media advertisements present a determined viewpoint of the female identity. At the very least, some argue Barbie is the better alternative to the even more sexualized Bratz dolls.

Barbie progresses alongside social and political changes, and thus new editions reflect changes in the construction of female identity. Barbie advertisements send a clear message to young girls about not just their role as women, but how to make sense of the world around them and societal roles. For example, during the Civil Rights Movement, Barbie received her first black friend, “Colored Francie.” In the 1970s, Mattell reacted to feminist criticisms by adding non-traditional female jobs for Barbie, such as an astronaut, Army medic, and presidential candidate.

Has Barbie become a better influence? As an undergraduate, I sought out to perform a content analysis study on Barbie commercials across the decades to explore this inquiry. I examined Barbie television commercials from 1959-2009. I found 45 commercials on YouTube and coded for social gender role themes and appearance themes. I coded for the presence of Social Gender Role themes, including homemaking (e.g., ironing, setting the table, cooking); motherhood or care taking; emphasis on relationships (noting if the ads explicitly referenced marriage), careers; Age inappropriate themes; Explicit patronizing gender role messages; and fashion. I also analyzed the appearance of the dolls and actors in the television commercials, coding for if all the female dolls were blonde, if a minority doll was present, if the Barbie was attempting to portray sex appeal, if the dolls had an extreme, unrealistic thin body type, and if there was an explicit emphasis on the importance of beauty. I divided the commercials up by decade and then analyzed the themes within each decade by calculating the percentage of commercials in our sample that contained each theme and then compared the proportion each theme was present across decades to analyze Barbie’s progression.

On her fiftieth birthday, Barbie has now had 108 careers, 50 nationalities, and over 1 billion pairs of shoes. This TV commercial from 2008 advertises three of these new careers, Barbie can be anything she wants to be, including a pet stylist, a baby doctor, or a swim teacher.

Despite so many expectations associated with Barbies’ new careers, I found few messages that encourage girls to search for meaning or substance. Although Barbie had more careers in new editions, the commercials still portrayed Barbie in non-threatening, female stereotyped careers. Even when Barbie had a positive career, the emphasis of the commercial was often on her sexuality or Ken.

I found that while new editions of Barbie continued to communicate gendered themes, they did not strictly mirror societal changes. As the traditional 1950s homemaker ideal faded, new editions of Barbie brought an emphasis on promiscuity, fashion, and materialism. In the 2000s, the career messages focused mostly on Barbie as a fashion model, encouraging girls to use their bodies and fashion as a source of power. These messages resist encouraging girls to search for other outlets of power and supports the objectification of women’s bodies.Barbie and her friends had many new looks and careers, but failed to challenge traditional female gender roles.

Even if parents resist gender socialization or refuse to buy Barbies, children will still be exposed to the gendered messages in advertisements. As children internalize these messages, the commercials will contribute to difficulties in emotional expression and coping behaviors that could ultimately lead to many pathologies.

The commercials emphasize subservient gender roles and depending on Ken, rather than empowering young girls to take care of themselves. Studies have shown that this exaggerated “housewife role” has been associated with disorders such as depression as women struggle with gender inequality in their daily routines. Young boys are socialized to be active and assertive, whereas messages such as these encourage girls to develop a passive coping style.

Barbie is portrayed as always carefree, which girls may internalize as evidence that they should not express sadness or anger. Boys who are playing with GI Joe’s may develop patterns of more “active” actions, although their violent emphasis could also contribute to boys’ externalizing and delinquent behaviors. The commercials emphasize Barbie’s role in relation to her friends, her boyfriend, and her sister. Spending hours role playing these relationships could contribute to girls’ interpersonal orientation, which has been found to lead to poor coping strategies such as rumination, and psychological problems such as depression, stress, and anxiety.

Barbie communicates unrealistic standards, with her dream house, dream wardrobe, dream job, and dream boyfriend. Women today are expected to excel in every domain, leading to feelings of low self worth. According to the Superwoman theory, women who perceive that they should have it all fail to be intrinsically motivated, but instead look for social approval. As women strive towards this perfection, there is an increasing isolation from family and friends.

At the same time that girls are strongly associating with the female gender role, they are experiencing bodily changes and thus intensified body dissatisfaction and low self esteem (Wichstrom, 1999). Barbie provides an expectation for an unattainable body type, increasing the risk for eating disorders. Nearly all commercials contained images of unrealistic thinness, encouraging girls to internalize the thin ideal at an early age. In 2006, Helga Dittmar, Emma Halliwell, and Suzanne Ive examined Barbie as the direct cause of body dissatisfaction and eating problems. Of the 162 five through eight-year olds they evaluated, those that played with a Barbie reported low body esteem and desired to be much thinner than those that were exposed to a larger doll or no dolls.

Besides being extremely thin, Barbie has large breasts and a tiny waist. Norton et al. Statistics suggest that the probability of attaining Barbie’s body shape was less than one in 100,000, whereas the probability of attaining Ken’s was about one in fifty. Especially alongside age inappropriate and sexual themes, this message validates the trend that women’s bodies are judged and sexualized more than men’s bodies, which contributes to the objectification of women. Accepting male entitlement and female subordination facilitates violence, abuse, and rape, and may cause women to experience self-blame and helplessness.

Barbie commercials provide explicit messages to young children about the expectations associated with being female. Rather than empowering young girls to be ambitious, empowered, and virtuous, the commercials emphasize the importance of sex appeal, fashion, and relationships. As Law and Mind Sciences has discussed, these messages are still very apparent. As girls grow older, the media continues to present objectifying messages and institutions continue to promote conformity, even in law school and the legal profession. Pop artists such as Ke$ha are speaking out against misogyny in their own ways, but I believe her lyrics are more of illustrative of the over-sexualization of women present in the current media that I found in today’s Barbie commercials. How much has changed from 1959 to today? Are girls and women simply identifying with a new variety of objectification in the media? Are icons like Ke$ha the modern day Barbie?

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Gingerism

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Anthony Greenwald on The Psychology of Blink

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 7, 2011

From

[Situationist friend] Dr. Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, describes his research developing the method (described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) that reveals unconscious thought patterns that most people would rather not possess. Learn about these mental contents, as Dr. Greenwald demonstrates the method and describes how these patterns affect our behavior.

From

In this program from the University of Washington psychology department, MacArthur awardee Dr. Lisa Cooper, professor at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, describes her research on how patient race influences patient-physician communication and physician clinical decision making. She also includes her efforts to design interventions to negate these undesired racial and ethnic health care disparities.

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The Regulatory Situation of Smoking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 1, 2011

From The Independent:

More than half a century after scientists uncovered the link between smoking and cancer – triggering a war between health campaigners and the cigarette industry – big tobacco is thriving.

Despite the known catastrophic effects on health of smoking, profits from tobacco continue to soar and sales of cigarettes have increased: they have risen from 5,000 billion sticks a year in the 1990s to 5,900 billion a year in 2009. They now kill more people annually than alcohol, Aids, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

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The West now consumes fewer and fewer of the world’s cigarettes: richer countries have changed – from smoking 38 per cent of the world total in 1990, they cut down to 24 per cent in 2009. Meanwhile, the developing world’s share in global cigarette sales has increased sharply, rising to 76 per cent in 2009.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday reveals that tobacco firms have taken advantage of lax marketing rules in developing countries by aggressively promoting cigarettes to new, young consumers, while using lawyers, lobby groups and carefully selected statistics to bully governments that attempt to quash the industry in the West.

In 2010, the big four tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco – made more than £27bn profit, up from £26bn in 2009.

The price of their profits will be measured in human lives. In the 20th century, some 100 million people were killed by tobacco use. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill a billion people in the 21st century.

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Anna Gilmore, professor of public health at the University of Bath, said: “What most people don’t realise is that, although sales are falling in the West, industry profits are increasing. These companies remain some of the most profitable in the world. This is thanks in part to their endless inventive ways of undermining and circumventing regulation. They’re trying to reinvent their image to ingratiate themselves with governments, but behind the scenes it’s business as usual.”

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In Indonesia alone there are 21 million child smokers. There is little to stop companies promoting cigarettes to young people. In countries such as Nigeria, Ukraine and Brazil, tobacco companies have sponsored club nights or parties aimed at attracting new young users. In Russia, attempts to entice women smokers have included packaging made to look like jewel-encrusted perfume bottles and even selling cigarettes branded by the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager for the WHO’s tobacco free initiative, said: “We need to do more. We need to stop the tobacco industry promoting themselves as normal corporate citizens when they are killing people every day. We are lagging behind in establishing comprehensive bans on advertising, marketing, promotion and sponsorship.”

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Laurent Huber, director of the Framework Convention Alliance on tobacco control, said: “In countries like Uruguay, the tobacco industry uses its vast wealth to tie up public health measures in court battles. Win or lose, this has a chilling effect on other governments.”

These tricks are by no means confined to the less-regulated emerging countries. In Australia, which will become the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes by law, the industry has been accused of scaremongering against the measures by threatening to flood the market with cheap fags.

In Britain, the industry is also prone to taking any measures necessary to keep regulation at bay. This autumn a group of tobacco companies is taking the Government to court over its proposals to ban cigarette displays in all shops.

More often in the UK, though, Big Tobacco’s attempts to alter public opinion are more subtle. A study from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), out this week, scrutinises the credibility of economic arguments used by the industry to fight back against legislation. For example, when Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said in 2010 that the smoking ban had severely threatened the pub and bingo industry because of lost jobs and livelihoods, the reality was a little different. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a net increase in the number of people visiting pubs since the smoking ban. When England went smoke-free in 2007, the number of premises licensed for alcohol increased by 5 per cent, and it has continued to grow every year since.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “In line with our international treaty obligations, the UK government has not only banned advertising and put health warnings on packs, but also committed to protect public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. To get round this, the industry uses front groups to covertly lobby politicians, arguing that smoke-free legislation has destroyed the pub trade, and that putting tobacco out of sight in shops will both be ineffective and put corner shops out of business.

More.

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The Situation of Jon Hanson

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 26, 2011

From Harvard Law School Website:

Professor Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law, is this year’s winner of the prestigious Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence, an honor bestowed each spring by the Harvard Law School graduating class. The award recognizes teaching ability, attentiveness to student concerns and general contributions to student life at the law school.

This is the second time Hanson has received the recognition. He won the Sacks-Freund award in 1999, and he was a finalist in 2000 and again in 2006.

Class Marshall Sameer Singh Birring ’12 introduced Hanson at Class Day exercises on May 25. He called Hanson a pioneer in the movement to apply insights from psychology to the analysis of law and policy. A student in Hanson’s Corporations class this spring, he said he found Hanson’s teaching to be transformative. “Jon Hanson impacted my thinking more than any other professor at Harvard and his class changed my life,” he said. “Learning about psychological phenomena and how they affect our choices, our thinking and our policy gave me an entirely new perspective with which to view the law and the greater world around us.”

In his remarks, Hanson talked about his own journey to Harvard Law School. “I wasn’t actually supposed to become a Harvard Law School professor. Just ask anyone who knew me before I was one.”

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Read more here.

Posted in Education, Life, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Ideology and Grading

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 22, 2011

From Inside Higher Ed:

Republican professors and Democratic professors presumably produce different outcomes when they enter the ballot box, but what about when they record grades?

A forthcoming study finds that there may be notable differences. Democratic professors appear to be “more egalitarian” than their Republican counterparts when it comes to grading, meaning that more of the Democratic grades are in the middle. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to award very high grades and very low grades.

While the study documents those differences, the work will not satisfy political partisans hoping to demonstrate that Republicans are trying to encourage Darwinian competition with grading or that Democrats are Lake Wobegon graders afraid to suggest anyone did poorly. That’s because the study makes clear that the researchers lacked the information to determine whether the Democratic or Republican grades were better reflections of student performance. The only thing the researchers could vouch for was the politically linked pattern in grading.

The study — forthcoming in Applied Economics — is by Talia Bar, an assistant professor at Cornell University, and Asaf Zussman, assistant professor of economics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They examined thousands of grades in a dataset covering the grades awarded at an unnamed elite American university between 2000 and 2004. Party registrations were used to identify professors’ political inclinations, and the faculty at this university leaned Democratic, especially among humanities professors. Using SAT scores as a proxy for the preparedness of students, the researchers were able to rule out patterns in which Republican or Democratic professors had better students.

On grade distribution, Republicans were more likely to give very high and very low grades. Among grades given by Republicans, 6.2 percent were C- or lower, compared to only 4.0 percent of the Democratic grades. But Republicans were also more likely to give out A+ grades (8 percent of their grades, compared to only 3.5 percent from Democrats).

Another key difference is that black students tend to fare better with Democrats than with Republicans.

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More.

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Holder on the Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2011

In 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the launch of the “Defending Childhood” initiative to help prevent children’s and young people’s exposure to violence, mitigate its effects and put an end to cycles of violence that undermine the public’s health. During this webcast, he described his vision for this initiative and its progress so far.

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Situational Sources of the Holocaust

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 6, 2011

From the Harvard Gazette:

The table slab was cold and hard beneath 6-year-old Irene Hizme as doctors and nurses took measurements and blood samples. She didn’t know what was happening to her, and by the time it was all over, she wouldn’t care. She was found lying nearly comatose on the ground by a woman who brought her home to begin her recovery.

Though it’s routine for children to be examined by physicians, that was hardly the case here. Her doctor was Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi who conducted cruel experiments on inmates at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.

Hizme, who survived both her imprisonment and Mengele’s experiments, told her story to a rapt audience at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph Martin Conference Center in the New Research Building on April 14. Hizme was participating in a program to kick off the opening of an exhibit at Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library of Medicine, “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”

The exhibit, created by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in collaboration with a long list of institutional sponsors, addresses physicians’ roles in the evolution of what became the Holocaust through the early decades of the 1900s to the horror of its full execution during World War II.

The exhibit presents an eye-opening look at some of the lesser-known programs — many of which involved physicians — that established the Nazi philosophy of racial improvement and then implemented it through the 1930s. These programs began in 1933 with forced sterilization of the blind, deaf, alcoholics, physically deformed, and other groups judged inferior. In 1939, the murders began of thousands of children born with deformities, moving on to the killings of hundreds of thousands of adults institutionalized for mental illness and other causes. That program saw the development and use of gas chambers, later employed against Europe’s Jews and other groups in Nazi death camps.

When Hizme, who was born in Prague, arrived at Auschwitz, she remembered the stifling, stinking conditions in the cattle car she and others rode and how relieved everyone was when the doors opened at their destination and let in fresh air. The relief for the 6-year-old and others didn’t last long, as they were rousted from the car and sorted, a duty carried out by doctors, with some prisoners going to the camp and others to the gas chambers.

Because Mengele had an interest in twins for his heredity experiments, she and her brother were kept alive. She believes that she was experimented on while her brother was used as a control. She recalled X-rays and many injections whose contents she still doesn’t know, and of being sick in the camp hospital many times. During one of those times, all the patients were gassed, while she was saved by a nurse who hid her under her skirt.

“I was young, so I really did not understand what was going on,” Hizme said.

Julie Hock, New England regional director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, said the organization has had many exhibits over the years, but this is the first that begins to answer the question on people’s minds as they try to grasp the enormity of what happened: How was this humanly possible?

Susan Bachrach, the exhibit’s curator, and Boston University Professor Michael Grodin, who has written about Holocaust doctors, laid out how the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s genetics experiments led to the growth of the global eugenics movement in the early 1900s. Eugenics organizations, seeking human perfection, were active in many countries, including Germany and the United States. In America, many states had forced-sterilization programs, backed by the Supreme Court, which in 1927 upheld Virginia’s such program for the “feebleminded.”

Grodin said physicians played not just a bit part, but a central role in both the eugenics philosophy and in its eventual translation into Nazi programs to “disinfect” society. Doctors had a much greater representation in the Nazi Party than average Germans and played key roles throughout.

“Physicians were not victims; they were perpetrators,” Grodin said. “Nothing was inevitable; choices were made.”

In his research, Grodin sought to determine why physicians who pledge to improve human life wound up joining with the Nazis instead. He said there were some traits that might explain some physician participation — such as a willingness to dehumanize patients, an ability to compartmentalize their own lives, and a feeling of omnipotence — but added there was no way of predicting who would wind up embracing Nazi activities, just as there was no way of predicting who would wind up protecting the persecuted, risking their own lives.

Grodin cautioned against thinking that the Holocaust was an isolated event, and exhibit organizers said the displays are intended to provide food for thought for some of today’s ethical questions. After all, Grodin said, black soldiers who liberated the prison camps were fighting in segregated companies, interracial marriage was outlawed in many states, and medical experiments in the United States have been repeatedly carried out against unwilling participants.

Grodin cited the Willowbrook experiments, in which hepatitis was given to mentally retarded children in New York for 14 years in the 1950s and 1960s, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, carried out on unsuspecting black men between 1932 and 1972, and the injection of patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital with live cancer cells in 1962.

Grodin said the Holocaust reached the scale it did because it was state-sponsored instead of just supported by individuals. Still, he said, it is instructive to understand the smaller steps that ultimately led to the Nazi death camps.

“I think we have to be very concerned when we take small steps,” Grodin said.

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Richard Hackman on “What Makes for a Great Team”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2011


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

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

The Informational Situation of Voters

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2011

Michele Margolis and Anthony Fowler, have posted their paper, “The Bias of Uninformed Voters,” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Survey researchers and political pundits bemoan the lack of political information within the American electorate. Not only do Americans fail to meet the democratic ideals of an informed electorate, but this lack of knowledge also has political consequences. An empirical analysis of survey data finds that informed voters are more likely to vote for Republican candidates; however, these correlational findings may be plagued by reverse causation and omitted variable bias. We present a model of an election with uninformed voters and experimentally test the effect of political information. Our results suggest that the lack of information in the American electorate typically biases election results toward the Republican Party. When uninformed citizens receive political information, they systematically shift away from the Republican Party.

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Download the paper for free here.

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Stereotype Threat

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 11, 2011

From Wikipedia:

A stereotype threat is the experience of anxiety or concern in a situation where a person has the potential to confirm a negative stereotype about their social group. First developed by social psychologist Claude Steele and his colleagues, stereotype threat has been shown to reduce the performance of individuals who belong to negatively stereotyped groups. For example, stereotype threat can lower the intellectual performance of African-Americans taking the SAT, due to thestereotype that African-Americans are less intelligent than other groups.Since its introduction into the scientific literature in 1999, stereotype threat has become one of the most widely studied topics in the field of social psychology. Stereotype threat is often discussed as a potential contributing factor to long-standing racial and gender gaps in academic performance. However, stereotype threat may occur in any situation in which an individual has the potential of confirming a negative stereotype.

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Psychology of Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2011

Elaine McCardle wrote a terrific review of last month’s Fifth Annual PLMS Conference.  Her article is the spotlight piece on the Harvard Law School website and includes several excellent videos, photos, and links.  Here’s the story.

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While equality is a fundamental principle of American law and the bedrock of the national psyche, inequality has actually increased in the past four decades in the distribution of wealth, power, opportunity, even health. Yet the topic of inequality has received relatively little attention from legal theorists, and, for the most part, it is ignored in the basic law school curriculum.

A conference last month at HLS, “The Psychology of Inequality,” presented by the Project on Law & Mind Sciences (PLMS), stepped into that vacuum, bringing together scholars, law students, and others to examine inequality from the standpoint of the latest research in social science, health science, and mind science, and to reflect on the implications of their findings for law. The HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS), together with a group of roughly 20 students, were instrumental in organizing the conference.

“Inequality matters in ways that are not commonly understood, including in how people see and make sense of the world,” saysJon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law and Director of PLMS. “Indeed, the way people respond to instances of inequality – either by equalizing, or by rationalizing – appears to be a very significant factor in how they view markets, regulation, and many important policy and social issues. So when we engage in policy debates, mustering all our best arguments and evidence in favor of a given policy conclusion we shouldn’t be perplexed when our opponent doesn’t budge,” says Hanson. “Such recalcitrance on both sides of a discussion often reflects, not the inadequacy, but the irrelevance, of the reasons being exchanged. Behind it all may be a conflict between largely subconscious urges: some people would rather rationalize inequality while others lean toward equalizing.”

Hanson was one of more than a dozen scholars who spoke at the Feb. 26 conference, the fifth annual conference by PLMS, founded by Hanson six years ago to promote interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration between the mind sciences and the l

egal community. PMLS supports research, writing and conferences in order to dislodge the prevailing “dispositionist” approach of law – which holds that human beings, for the most part, make rational choices based on logical preferences – in favor of a “situationist approach.” Situationsim recognizes that social sciences and mind sciences, including social psychology, social cognition, and cognitive neuroscience, have repeatedly demonstrated that human behavior is influenced by countless factors ignored by the dispositionist approach, which collectively are known as “situation.”

Jaime Napier, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, presented her research on the ways in which high-status and low-status groups differ in their rationalizations of inequality. High-status people tend to place blame on individuals for their lot in life, while low-status people tend to see theirs as the natural order of things. Eric Knowles, an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine, discussed his theory of “malleable ideologies,” through which different groups with a same core ideology – say, “life is sacred” – can come to different outcomes on issues such as abortion or the death penalty. Adam Benforado ’05, a former student of Hanson’s and an assistant professor at the Earl Mach School of Law at Drexel University, presented on the mind-body connection in decision-making, including how seemingly innocuous environmental influences such as room temperature might have significant influence on decisions made by juries and judges. Ichiro Kawachi, a Professor of Social Epidemiology and Chair of the Social/Behavioral Sciences Department at the Harvard School of Public Health, discussed research showing that people of lower social status lead shorter, sicker lives, while other speakers discussed ways that social disparities influence health, how even young children favor high-status individuals, and the drive among humans to view the world as essentially fair.

In addition to national experts in the areas of health, psychology, and mind sciences, a number of HLS faculty contributed to the discussion from their areas of expertise in a panel discussion (see video below), including John Palfrey ’01, the Henry N. Ess III

Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources, an expert on the internet; Lucie White ’81, the Louis A. Horvitz Professor of Law, who specializes in poverty law and international economic and social rights; Robert C. Bordone ’97, the Thaddeus R. Beal Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program; Stella Burch Elias, a Climenko Fellow and Lecturer on Law and Andrew Woods ’07, a Climenko Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in politics at Cambridge University.

In that discussion, Hanson shared some provocative ideas. The good news, he said, is that humans have an egalitarian impulse, so that inequality causes them discomfort; some resolve the conflict by redistributing so that there is more equality, while others rationalize with reasons that explain the inequality. The bad news, Hanson added, is that it’s not terribly hard to move someone away from the equalizing impulse.

“When you experience fear and threat – personal threat, group threat, system threat – you become a hardcore dispositionist,” said Hanson, snapping his fingers, “just like that!”

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Posted in Distribution, Education, Embodied Cognition, Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Belonging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 18, 2011

From Eureka Alert:

Along with the excitement and anticipation that come with heading off to college, freshmen often find questions of belonging lurking in the background: Am I going to make friends? Are people going to respect me? Will I fit in?

Those concerns are trickier for black students and others who are often stereotyped or outnumbered on college campuses. They have good reason to wonder whether they will belong – worries that can result in lower grades and a sense of alienation.

But when black freshmen participated in an hour-long exercise designed by Stanford psychologists to show that everyone – no matter what their race or ethnicity – has a tough time adjusting to college right away, their grades went up and the minority achievement gap shrank by 52 percent. And years later, those students said they were happier and healthier than some of their black peers who didn’t take part in the exercise.

“We all experience small slights and criticisms in coming to a new school” said Greg Walton, an assistant professor of psychology whose findings are slated for publication in the March 18 edition of Science.

“Being a member of a minority group can make those events have a larger meaning,” Walton said. “When your group is in the minority, being rejected by a classmate or having a teacher say something negative to you could seem like proof that you don’t belong, and maybe evidence that your group doesn’t belong either. That feeling could lead you to work less hard and ultimately do less well.”

Walton’s paper, co-authored by psychology and education Professor Geoffrey Cohen, reports that the grade point averages of black students who participated in the exercise went up by almost a third of a grade between their sophomore and senior years.

And 22 percent of those students landed in the top 25 percent of their graduating class, while only about 5 percent of black students who didn’t participate in the exercise did that well. At the same time, half of the black test subjects who didn’t take part in the exercise were in the bottom 25 percent of their class. Only 33 percent of black students who went through the exercise did that poorly.

Walton and Cohen split about 90 second-semester freshmen at a top American university into “treatment” and “control” groups. About half of the students in each group were black; the others were white.

All the test subjects – who were unaware of the full purpose of the exercise – were told the researchers were trying to understand students’ college experiences.

Those in the treatment group read surveys and essays written by upperclassmen of different races and ethnicities describing the difficulties they had fitting in during their first year at school. The subjects in the control group read about experiences unrelated to a sense of belonging.

The upperclassmen had reported feeling intimidated by professors, being snubbed by new friends and ignored in their quest for help early in their college careers. But they all emphasized that, with time, their confidence grew, they made good friends and they developed strong relationships with professors.

“Everybody feels they are different freshman year from everybody else, when really in at least some ways we are all pretty similar,” one older student – a black woman – was quoted as saying. “Since I realized that, my experience . . . has been almost 100 percent positive.”

The test subjects in the treatment group were then asked to write essays about why they thought the older college students’ experiences changed. The researchers asked them to illustrate their essays with stories of their own lives, and then rewrite their essays into speeches that would be videotaped and could be shown to future students. The point was to have the test subjects internalize and personalize the idea that adjustments are tough for everyone.

“We didn’t want them to think of difficulties as unique to them or specific to their racial group,” Walton said of the black test subjects. “We wanted them to realize that some of those bad things that happen are just part of the transition that everyone goes through when they go off to college.”

The researchers tracked their test subjects during their sophomore, junior and senior years. While they found the social-belonging exercise had virtually no impact on white students, it had a significant impact on black students.

Along with improved GPAs by their senior year, the black students who were in the treatment group reported a greater sense of belonging compared to their peers in the control group. They also said they were happier and were less likely to spontaneously think about negative racial stereotypes. And they seemed healthier: 28 percent said they visited a doctor recently, as compared to 60 percent in the control group.

Despite the impressive outcomes, Walton and Cohen say the social-belonging exercise isn’t a quick fix to closing the academic race gap – a problem fed by a host of issues tied to diversity, socioeconomics and public policy. But their research shows how addressing feelings of belonging can improve student performance. And similar exercises may succeed in addressing concerns about belonging among other groups, like first-generation college students, immigrants and new employees.

“This intervention alone is not the answer, but we know more about what types of things help,” Cohen said. “The intervention is like turning on a light switch. It seems miraculous when the lights go on, but it all hinges on the infrastructure that’s already in place.”

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Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Education, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors | 2 Comments »

Feminism in 1L Curriculum

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 7, 2011

Looking for an opportunity to process and discuss your 1L experience? Curious about what a feminist analysis of the 1L curriculum might offer? Join [Situationist Contributor] Professor Jon Hanson and Lecturer Diane Rosenfeld of HLS and Professor Jenny Wriggins of the University of Maine for a panel on feminist perspectives of the 1L courses.

Today (Monday) in Pound 107. at noon.  Lunch served.

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Sample of elated Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Events, Law, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Ideological Bias in Social Psychology?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 2, 2011

On January 27th, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt gave a provocative talk at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.  His presentation has since received a lot of press (including John Tierney’s New York Times article on the talk). Edge has posted a version of Haidt’s talk as well as a variety of responses (here).  Below, we’ve posted the response by Situationist Contributor, John Jost.

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Social psychology is not a “tribal-moral community” governed by “sacred values.” It is wide open to anyone who believes that we can use the scientific method to explain social behavior, regardless of their political beliefs. Nor is our “corner” of social science “broken” when it comes “race, gender, and class,” as Jonathan Haidt claimed in response to Paul Krugman. Rather, social psychologists have made cutting edge advances in understanding the subtle, implicit, nonconscious biases that perpetuate inequalities concerning race, gender, and class.

Haidt’s essay sows confusion; he misrepresents what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. By focusing on scientists’ personal beliefs rather than the quality of their work, Haidt perpetuates the myth that social scientific research simply exemplifies the ideological biases of the researchers. No doubt this energizes those who are eager to dismiss our findings. But polling firms are paid by clients, including political campaigns, and this fact neither determines nor invalidates the poll’s findings. Similarly, the personal beliefs of social scientists may (or may not) be one of many factors that affect the decision of what to study, but those beliefs are, at the end of the day, scientifically irrelevant.

This is because we, as a research community, take seriously the institutionalization of methodological safeguards against experimenter effects and other forms of bias. Any research program that is driven more by ideological axe-grinding than valid insight is doomed to obscurity, because it will not stand up to empirical replication and its flaws will be obvious to scientific peers — all of whom have been exposed to conservative perspectives even if they do not hold them.

If we do concern ourselves with the results of Haidt’s armchair demography, we should ask honestly whether social scientists are too liberal or society is too conservative. After all, when experts and laypersons disagree, we do not usually rush to the conclusion that the experts are biased. Haidt fails to grapple meaningfully with the question of why nearly all of the best minds in science find liberal ideas to be closer to the mark with respect to evolution, human nature, mental health, close relationships, intergroup relations, ethics, social justice, conflict resolution, environmental sustainability, and so on. He does not even consider the possibility that research in social psychology (including research on implicit bias) bothers conservatives for the right reasons, namely that some of our conclusions are empirically demonstrable and yet at odds with certain conservative assumptions (e.g., that racial prejudice is a thing of the past). Surely in some cases raising cognitive dissonance is part of our professional mission.

We need science, now more than ever, to help us overcome ideological disputes rather than getting bogged down in them. We do not need conservatives to become conservative social psychologists any more than we need liberals to become liberal social psychologists. Our “community” still holds that policy preferences should follow from the data, not the other way around. Sadly, Haidt puts the ideological cart before the scientific horse. I simply cannot agree that — especially in this political era — it would be good for our science to reproduce the ideological stalemate and finger-pointing that has crippled our government and debased our journalism.

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Read the other responses here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

John Palfrey’s PLMS Conference Reflections

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

The brilliant John Palfrey posted some of his reflections about Saturday’s PLMS conference on his blog.  Here are some excerpts.

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Today, Prof. Jon Hanson is hosting the Fifth Conference on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School.  The idea, dating back to 2007, has been to “introduce to scholars and students of law and legal theory intriguing, relevant research from social psychology, social cognition, public health, and related disciplines and to stimulate a productive, interdisciplinary exchange between scholars across these fields.”  It’s a rare and fun opportunity to hear from a broad range of mind scientists about their work and how it might intersect with ours in the field of law.

For instance, Dr. Laura Kubzansky (Harvard School of Public Health) discussed the relationship between stress and resilience.  (One data point that jumped out very clearly: the biggest contributor to some terrible health effects is work-related stress.)

Dr. Kristina Olson (Yale psychology department), an expert on children’s social cognitive development, spoke directly to some of the issues that we wonder about in the Youth and Media Policy group at the Berkman Center with respect to social inequalities.  Very young children (aged 3 – 5), her research shows, have an understanding of social inequality.  Even three year olds are more likely to presume that whites in America are more likely to be rich than black Americans (whether or not the children asked were white or black).  Another interesting finding of Dr. Olson’s was the likelihood of small children, each of whom has been allocated a stuffed animal to give to one person, to give the gift to a person who had allocated resources more equitably than others.

Arnold Ho (soon-to-be-minted ph.d. in psychology at Harvard) works on social dominance theory.  He introduced the theory to those of us previously ignorant of it (myself included) and showed how new research on the biased perception of biracials (Asian-White and Black-White biracials, in his work) may serve a hierarchy-increasing function.

There were many additional wonderful presentations and take-aways, especially in Jon Hanson’s own closing lecture.  My three thoughts at the end of the day: 1) how fun it is to feel allowed to be a student again, where the topic on the table is relevant to my area of work, but is not something about which I know the first thing; 2) how much more we can learn about kids and technology if we study the methods and the learning of mind sciences researchers; and 3) how valuable Jon Hanson’s work on the way we make policy judgments generally is for anyone studying the law or making normative judgments about how to order society.

* * *

Read the entire post on John Palfrey’s outstanding blog here.

Posted in Blogroll, Distribution, Education | 2 Comments »

Legal Socialization and the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, several Harvard Law students have been blogging about a chapter (forthcoming inIdeology, Psychology, and Law, edited by Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson) by Mitchell Callan and Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay. In the second post on the topic (copied below), LLM candidate David Simon discusses legal socialization.

* * *

Imagine you and your neighbor share a fence along a common border, part of which demarcates the boundary between both properties and “the wilderness.” The fence benefits both of you because it keeps out the livestock-killing coyotes. One day, a shared and critical part of the fence collapses onto your property, leaving your yard open to coyotes, who may eat your livestock. Without legal recourse, how might you resolve that dispute. Would you work with your neighbor to help reconstruct the fence? Would the solution be cooperative or adversarial? (For more on the resolution of land disputes without the aid of law, see Robert Ellickson, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes.)

Did Jack McCoy's role on Law & Order influence your perception of people as self-interested?

If we introduce law into the equation–say, by inventing a right that allowed you to sue your neighbor–how would the resolution of that dispute change? Might you claim that your neighbor ought to fix the fence herself, even if an unrepaired fence might harm you?

Mitchell J. Callan & Aaron Kay think that the answer to that last question may be “yes”: the law may in fact alter how we think about situations and how we interact (cooperatively or not) with others. This occurs, they argue, through a process called legal socialization: the process by which exposure to law can reinforce conceptions of individuals as self-interested and competitive. (This occurs, for example, by exposure to popular depictions of the legal system, such as those on Law & Order, as Beth describes in her post.) If you’re curious about how they reach this hypothesis, Becky’s blog post explains it for you. But the basic idea is this: if exposure to certain ideas influences how one thinks and acts, exposure to systems embedded with latent ideas might do the same. Because the U.S. legal system conceptualizes people as self-interested and competitive, exposure to it can reinforce notions of people as competitive and self-interested.

Identifying this phenomenon in everyday events is a bit more difficult than it sounds–largely because legal socialization seems to be gradual rather than punctuated. Nevertheless, there are instances where we can view the law as reinforcing certain conceptions of the individual.

SB-1070

Take, for example, Arizona’s recent enactment of SB-1070, one of the strictest immigration laws in recent history. Among other

Humor is one way to diffuse conceptions of people as self-interested and competitive.

things, the law criminalized both attempts by illegal immigrants to work, and attempts by others to solicit work from illegal immigrants (Sec. 13-2928). That provision alone seems to have “competitive” or “self-interest” overtones. In some ways, though, the law might be a product–rather than example–of legal socialization. I.e., the law represents how people perceive others are likely to act. In this case, the law conceptualizes an “outgroup” (immigrants) as a competitive threat, and seeks to neutralize that threat by preserving the “ingroup’s” (Arizona residents) interest. The law is both shaped by, and an embodiment of, visions of individuals as competitive and pursuing selfish aims.

What’s troubling is not so much the characterization of the individual, but the effect it has on social behavior and thinking. It may, for example, engender actual competitiveness where none existed before; that is, it may decompose social relations, rather than strengthen them. Interestingly, some groups have seemed to pick up on this dynamic already. When Arizona signed the law into law,

the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund . . . predict[ed] that the law would create “a spiral of pervasive fear, community distrust, increased crime and costly litigation, with nationwide repercussions.”

Though potentially exaggerated, those are the kinds of results we would expect given Callan & Kay’s findings. A law that reinforces stereotypes of the individual as competitive and self-interested will strengthen and propagate that stereotype. That, in turn, can have anti-social effects: less cooperation, more stratification, and enhanced hostility between “groups.”

School Board Meetings & the Open Access Law

For those unfamiliar with school board meetings, they can be nasty affairs. Disputes between the board and superintendents often are bitter–the board is an “outsider” to the superintendent, who “runs the school.” Disputes also can arise between the public–which wants to know what the board is discussing–and the board, which wants to run the meeting in a particular way.The latter dispute recently arose in a school board meeting in Oklahoma. The superintendent of schools in the district apparently has a knack for “poor behavior,” such as yelling. But beyond incivility, the author of the hyperlinked editorial is concerned with the law:

No one can force the grown-ups to act as such. But they can and should be compelled to follow the law.

Krushchev would have fit in well with some members of a recent Oklahoma school board meeting.

What law, you ask? Laws ensuring public access to meetings of public bodies–so called “open access laws.” The overarching purpose of such laws is to prevent secrecy among public bodies. Because public schools are accountable to, well, the public, most states have open access laws that govern their board meetings. In Illinois, for example, the Open Meetings Act requires most public school board meetings to be open to the public. When the board conducts closed or private meetings, it must videotape or record them.

Back to the author’s request: “follow the law.” Now, requiring people to follow the law is not an unreasonable request–and, indeed, it may be just the right thing to do. But notice how, in this case, the law itself is being used to quell what the author sees as the school board’s self-interested behavior. What, exactly, was that behavior? The author thinks it was a deliberate attempt to avoid disclosing issues to the public:

Much of the initial ruckus at the meeting involved three potential employees Barresi recommended for hire. But none of the names nor the positions they were to fill were listed on the agenda. Instead, the meeting’s posted agenda listed a “Report on Department personnel changes” as an item on the consent agenda.

I don’t know the board’s motives for issuing such a vague description. Maybe it was trying to be sneaky, or maybe it was just issuing a general topic to be discussed at the meeting. That’s not the point. What matters here is that the author’s sense of the activity (some kind of impropriety) is shaped by the law–more specifically, the author sees a person whose acts conform to the image the law projects.

Let’s see exactly how that is so. The law here is a mechanism to prevent the board from pursuing self-interested ends. Indeed, the law “sets up” this conclusion. The law assumes school boards and administrators as likely to meet in secret–as pursuing self-interest. By trying to prevent certain behavior, the law makes assumptions about how people will behave; in this case, it assumes they will behave in a self-interested fashion.

That assumption may or may not be accurate, but it certainly colors the author’s analysis of the issue. The author assumes–as does the law–that the board was providing vague descriptions because it had self-interested ends. Why? Because that is exactly what the law assumes. The author’s assessment may be correct, but the law’s conception of the individual certainly influences how one thinks about the situation. One might say, “Well, if the law says you have to do X because, if you don’t, your probably pursing self-interested aims, then you likely are pursing self-interested aims when you fail to do X.”

Pushing for people to follow “the law” may not be a bad thing, but when the law leads to perceptions about people’s nature, it can have unintended and potentially harmful consequences. The law presumes the school board will act in self-interested ways–and that may have socialized the author to view the board’s actions as violating the law (i.e., as self-interested) when they are not. Might the situation have been different if no law had existed? Would different norms have developed? Would the situation been viewed the same way?

Callan & Kay aren’t just concerned with cognition, though. Recall that they hypothesize that our conception of the law can actually influence our behavior. Maybe this is just such an instance. Instead of working with the board in a cooperative way, the author seeks legal recourse simply because the law leads the author to see the board’s behavior as self-interested.

A Question

I want to close with some thoughts on the legal socialization hypothesis, which I find interesting. I can’t help but wonder whether the law’s default preference in many cases is necessitated by actual self-interested or competitive behavior. Many times it’s difficult to separate what laws are merely socializing people to competitive and self-interest conceptions of human behavior from those that actually protect people from such behavior. Callan & Kay do note that the influence of the law on cognition and social relations is likely individual-relative–more research needs to be done. Even when controlling for such individual differences, though, I find the distinction a bit fuzzy. Do securities laws (false advertising laws, trademark laws, etc.), for example, protect people from actual (anti)competitive and self-interested behavior or merely reinforce such conceptions of human nature? The answer in that case is probably both, which is not particularly satisfying.

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Education, Entertainment, Ideology, Life, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

SALMS Website

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 20, 2011

The Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences has a beautiful new website.  Check it out here.

Posted in Blogroll, Education | 1 Comment »

2 Weeks from Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 12, 2011

Learn more here.  Register here.

Posted in Distribution, Education, Events, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Harvard Women’s Law Association Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 10, 2011

Panels

Health & Equality

There is a burgeoning awareness that access to health care is an equality issue.  With inadequate resources to access basic health services, women around the globe are impaired from functioning at the highest level.  At the same time, health disparities perpetuate other disparities, leaving women who lack these resources behind their counterparts elsewhere.  Women’s reproductive health needs make this question all the more stark.  Our panel brings together leading experts in legal and nonlegal fields, who have a holistic perspective on health that grounds legal answers in community-based approaches.

Equality & Economics

Economic inequality influences people’s choices and shapes their worldviews.  As such, it is necessary to continually interrogate the changing role of women in the economy. This panel brings together women who have broken through social and cultural barriers to begin to equalize economic environments.  Coming from different fields in the public and private sector, each panelist has a unique perspective on what it means to equalize the workplace, as well as the broader economy.

Equality on Both Sides of the Bench

Women represent a rapidly rising percentage of litigators and judges.  However, courtrooms remain one of the least gender-balanced arenas.  In this panel, we have brought together leading judges and litigators who have been experience in breaking through inequality on both sides of the bench. We hope that a conversation between litigators and judges will lead to a broad and fruitful discussion about what it means to be a woman in the courtroom, and how we can work to build off of their foundational work to eliminate gender discrimination in courtroom settings.

Equality for Girls

When envisioning the future we want to see, it is imperative to think about how the next generation of women will be educated and nurtured.  Continual efforts to eliminate gender discrimination in the schools and on the streets for girls around the world represent the best chance to positively affect the change we wish to see.  Our girls panel brings together the women who are doing exactly this: influencing the lives of young women around the globe through legal, social, economic, and cultural means.

More details here.

Posted in Distribution, Education, Events | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Tiger Mother

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 8, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, several Harvard Law students have been blogging about about system justification theory.  Here is one of those posts, written by first -year student Marty Ehlenbach.

Yale Law Professor Amy Chua’s recently published book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has become a seemingly endless source of fodder for Internet blogs and discussion groups. The book, largely meant to be a memoir, recounts the author’s methods of raising her two daughters; she allowed them limited time for playdates or TV, and describes grueling methods for both study and music practice. When a short excerpt was published in the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper fielded an enormous number of comments (7670 at this writing) expressing a wide variety of opinions on the topic. Even The Onion has weighed in on the subject.

Why does this book seem to resonate with so many people? One possible explanation is that it makes a distinction between a “Western” and “Chinese” parent in a time when many people seem to be particularly sensitive to any sort of cultural comparison. Chua’s stereotypical model of “Western” parenting describes a childhood lacking in any discipline and in some ways signifying a lack of commitment by parents to make their children into the most successful people possible. A New York Times article underscored the idea that there are many different types of skills needed to be a success, and believes that Professor Chua’s parenting style does not appropriately develop “soft skills” like communication and teamwork necessary in most business environments.

Blasi and Jost’s chapter on System Justification Theory (“SJT”) can serve to illuminate certain biases present in the story and in reactions to Chua’s assertions. The author, as a Yale professor, is admittedly a fairly elite member of our society, so she is not looking at the system from a position of disadvantage. The story clearly prescribes a particular path to success and shows an ultimate belief in the “winner’s” mantra as described by Jost:

I am deserving. My group is deserving. And, fortunately, we live in a system that has the wisdom and justice to reward deserving people.

Chua writes that “tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence,” but this idea necessarily presupposes that with excellence will come success. It doesn’t really address the differences in educational opportunities available to many children, but seems to have faith that the current system will treat people fairly by recognizing hard work. Losers in the system are clearly “lazy, unintelligent, poorly educated, or irresponsible” as described by Jost. Jost and Blasi recognize that system justification theory can be used to analyze ideologies like the Protestant work ethic and a belief in a meritocracy: Chua’s entire child-rearing method has aspects of both.

Another interesting connection between Jost’s theory and Chua’s book is the possibility that Chua could be providing ultimate justification for the type of upbringing that she experienced. The article on SJT shows that even on a micro-level, within a particular family, people still use methods of ego and system justification to perpetuate particular social arrangements. Chua herself was clearly raised by fairly strict Asian parents; she describes her father calling her “garbage” at one point when she was disrespectful. One wonders if this book is simply a way to legitimize her own upbringing and defend her willingness to create a similar type of relationship with her own daughters. Chua’s daughter Sophia, in an open letter defending her mother’s treatment, says that she “decided to be an easy child to raise”: the fact that she called it a “decision” could be an early justification for her own upbringing, and might show an early willingness to conform to her parents’ expected behaviors. Many of those commenting on the articles who described themselves as being being raised by parents similar to the “Tiger Mother” also spoke about how much they appreciated their parents’ tough love.

Chua’s story has important implications, I believe, for our legal system as pertains to victims of abuse. I do not mean to suggest that Chua’s methods constitute abuse; her goal was clearly to help her children be successful, and as one article described, shows a fear that success is becoming difficult to obtain in a world of increasing competition and a less than robust job market. This is a legitimate worry. Furthermore, I cannot pretend to understand the complex relationship between another parent and child, because they are quite unique and often complicated. However, recognizing that this justification can satisfy “needs for consistency, coherence, and certainty” as described by Blasi and Jost, and analyzing one woman’s story through this lens, leads one to wonder how the legal system could account for a demonstrable bias towards the status quo. Before a real abuse victim can come forward, she or he must be able to recognize that she does not actually deserve the behavior to which she is being subjected, and SJT posits that this recognition is not automatic. Furthermore, we don’t want to believe that our system is corrupt, but in many cases it is not the most hardworking who become successful, and frequently injustice is neither obvious nor easily corrected.

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Read the students’ discussion of the chapter here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Book, Conflict, Education, Life, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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