The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Emotions’ Category

The Situation of Train Crossing Accidents

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 10, 2011

From the Boston Globe:

On average, 10 people die daily by being hit as they’re crossing the tracks. Track trespassing is the largest everyday cause of unnatural deaths in Mumbai.

For just over a year, however, an experiment at Wadala station, on the Central Line, has been hinting at unorthodox solutions to this problem.

* * *
In the six months before the experiment went live in December 2009, Wadala had recorded 23 track-crossing deaths, said M. C. Chauhan, a manager with the Central Railway’s Mumbai division. Between January and June 2010, that number had dropped to nine; in the next eight months, up until February 2011, only one death was registered. “We think the project is a huge success,” Chauhan said.

* * *

To walk around the Wadala experiment is to understand the surprising effectiveness of simple appeals to the human mind’s irrationality. Before the experiment began, the few exhortations to trespassers consisted of warning signs with lengthy text and stick-figure diagrams. These had proved tragically inadequate, so Final Mile designed three specific “interventions,” each intended to tackle a particular cognitive problem.

First, Final Mile painted alternate sets of railway ties in fluorescent yellow — five painted, five unpainted, and so on — to tackle what is known as the Leibowitz Hypothesis. As laid out in a 1985 issue of American Scientist by experimental psychologist Herschel W. Leibowitz, the hypothesis found that we frequently underestimate the speed at which large objects move. Leibowitz, who died earlier this year, first observed this with aircraft, and in 2003, a pair of scientists proved the hypothesis for trains. “The misperception happens because the brain has no frame of reference, no way to evaluate roughly how fast a train is moving,” said Satish Krishnamurthy, a Final Mile behavior architect. But with the new paint job, Krishnamurthy said, “the mind now has a way to gauge the train’s speed, by observing how fast it traverses these ties.”

Second, the consultants replaced the stick-figure signboards with a graphic three-part tableau, featuring in extreme close-up the horror-struck face of a man being plowed down by a locomotive. “We hired an actor,” Krishnamurthy said, smiling, “because it had to be realistic.” They were drawing on the research of Joseph LeDoux, a New York University professor of neuroscience and psychology. LeDoux studies the links between emotion and memory, and in particular the mechanism of fear. “Emotional memory is stored in the nonconscious part of your brain,” Dominic said. “If you’ve been in a car crash and, months later, you hear tires squealing, your heart rate goes up and you start to sweat. That’s because your emotional memory has been stirred up.” The new signs dispense with explanatory text and instead attempt to trigger an emotional memory of fear.

Final Mile’s third intervention required train drivers to switch from one long warning whistle to two short, sharp blasts. By way of explanation, Dominic cited a 2007 paper from the Stanford University School of Medicine, which found that brain activity — and hence alertness — peaks during short silences between two musical notes. “The silence sets up a kind of expectation in the brain,” said Vinod Menon, the paper’s senior author and a behavioral scientist working with the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Lab. “That’s the way it works in music, and it isn’t inconceivable that it would work similarly with train whistles.”

These simple, inexpensive interventions have worked so well that they’re now being extended across the length of the Central Line. But the larger implications of the experiment stretch beyond Mumbai, and beyond track-crossing deaths as well.

* * *

More.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions | Leave a Comment »

On Money and Motivation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2011

This lively RSAnimate, adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA, examines some the ways that money doesn’t always buy motivation.

Related Situationist posts:

To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Ideology, Illusions, Life, Marketing, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Psychological Situation of Climate Change

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2011

Situationist friend, Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, describes the psychological impulses that make it difficult for humans to confront the threat of global warming.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Environment, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality, Public Policy, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Talk on the Situation of Retribution

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 1, 2011

Title: “Punishing Jaws: Experiments  on  Retribution  Against  Nonhuman  Perpetrators”

When: Today – April 1st, at 12PM

Where: Griswold 110, Harvard Law School

Who: Situationist Contributor and Drexel Law School Professor Adam Benforado and University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Geoff Goodwin will discuss historical and empirical research regarding retributive punishment imposed upon animals.  They will then use this evidence to draw inferences about human intuitions regarding punishment.

Free burritos!

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Events, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

If It’s Evitable, I Don’t Like It!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2011

Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay as well as Peter A. Ubel and Gavan Fitzsimons wrote the following editorial for the Detroit Free Press.:

This week it will be one year since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. Despite all the controversy that preceded the bill’s passage, most health policy experts confidently predicted that the public would soon embrace the legislation.

To back up these predictions, they pointed out that Medicare was quite controversial when it was established in the 1960s, but rapidly grew in popularity. Much the same happened more recently with Medicare Part D, the law championed by President George W. Bush to extend Medicare coverage to medications.

Recent polls belie these predictions, however, as support for health care reform has hit an all-time low. Why has the ACA failed to capture public support? Our research provides a novel explanation, one that pundits have failed to recognize to date.

Obama’s health reform bill is unpopular not simply because it is complicated, nor simply because it costs government money at a time when people are in a mood to balance the budget. Instead, it is unpopular in large part because it no longer feels inevitable.

And the key to gaining widespread support for Obama’s signature piece of domestic legislation is not to help the public better understand the intricacies of the bill, but instead to convince the public that the bill is here to stay.

Uncertainty can play a large role in reducing support for legislative actions. Consider a study we conducted, in which we asked people to imagine their local government had recently passed a bill to lower the speed limit, legislation spurred on by new evidence that such a law would save lives. The people we surveyed embraced the new rule, feeling thankful that legislators were paying attention to public safety.

However, in assessing public attitudes toward this bill, we conducted an experiment in which we told some of the people we surveyed that the legislature was about to pass the law but hadn’t yet voted on it – that is, it wasn’t officially a law yet. These people, in contrast to the first group, felt strongly that such legislation would be heavy-handed and paternalistic.

The same bill, when passed into law, was viewed more favorably than when it was merely pending legislation.

What about health care reform then? It has passed into law. Shouldn’t it be gaining in popularity?

Not if people don’t believe the bill is the law of the land. When the Republican-led House voted to repeal the bill, Washington insiders recognized the action as a symbolic gesture with no legislative consequence.

But many Americans thought this vote had actual legal implications. In fact, recent polls show that a fifth of the American public currently believe the ACA has been repealed, and another fifth is unsure if the bill still stands as law. This misperceived state of affairs provides no reason for these Americans to embrace a law they believe no longer stands.

Recent court rulings have created even greater uncertainty about the legal standing of the ACA. While most rulings have focused solely on the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate, one judge went as far as to opine that the entire law should be voided. This has left even more people wondering where the bill stands: as current law, pending law or past law?

Behavioral science has shown us that most people find uncertainty to be a very difficult pill to swallow, especially when it surrounds a proposed change to their lives. Half-hearted attempts at change often produce knee-jerk, negative reactions; people are not inclined to adapt to a change that may never occur or seems unlikely to stick. These are the types of situations most likely to breed backlash.

But when the uncertainty is removed, backlash reactions tend to dissipate and sometimes even reverse. When people know what cards they have been dealt – when they feel confident about what to expect in the future – people tend to begin the process of rationalizing the change and adapting to it.

The real battle over health care reform in the next few months will extend beyond the specifics of budget debates and regulatory wranglings. Instead the fate of health care reforms stands mainly on how soon, if ever, the public comes to feel that the legislation is enduring. If the permanence of the Affordable Care Act continues to feel unsettled, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Law, Life, Politics, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Criminals that Other Criminals Punish

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 16, 2011

This week, inmates in Sao Paulo broke into a cell block where prisoners convicted of rape and pedophilia were held and killed six people, including a man, Jose Agostinho Pereira, convicted of imprisoning his daughter for twelve years and having seven children with her, two of whom he also sexually abused.  Using makeshift knives, the attacking inmates, decapitated Pereira and three of the other prisoners.

Extreme overcrowding in the prison seemed to be one cause of the violence – a number of inmates, unhappy with their poor conditions, attempted to escape, which precipitated a riot.  However, the level of brutality and the focus of the harm seem to tell another story.  Indeed, it’s important to note that the men who were killed had been kept apart from the general population for their protection, a practice which is common at many prisons both abroad and in the United States.

Once imprisoned, child sex offenders become prime targets for violence by other inmates and it’s interesting to think about how much of that abuse might be retributive in nature.

Do prisoners who decapitate child molesters feel they are delivering “justice”?  And, if so, on behalf of whom do they believe they are acting?

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m currently working on a set of experiments with Penn cognitive psychologist Geoff Goodwin regarding intuitions about punishment and one of the recurring themes in our research (and that of others interested in retribution) is that people’s motives to punish often do not align with what legal scholars assume them to be and that there is still much left to uncover in the study of “responsive harm.”  For better or for worse, that additional research may lead us to some troubling truths.

* * *

Related Situationist Posts:

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Legal Theory, Morality | 1 Comment »

David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, Mark Sanford, and Now Chris Lee: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on February 14, 2011

During the summer of 2007, we published the post below in response to the sex scandal du jour involving U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). We republished it in the wake of former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s (D) “indiscretions.”  Former U.S. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee John Edwards’ confession had us dusting off this post yet again.  We published it again when Senator Jon Ensign (R-NV)–who in 1998 urged President Clinton to resign following the Monica Lewinsky scandal–was added to the list and then again in response to the Mark Sanford scandal.  For Chris Lee’s Craig’s List shenanigans (video below), we’ve decided to republish the post yet again.  (We have omitted many smaller scandals from our list, and we have little doubt that we’ll be posting it again, which is part of our point.)

Here is the original Vitter story.

* * *

David and Wendy VitterSenator David Vitter achieved much of his success by professing steadfast allegiance to “traditional family values” and punitive intolerance for those who violate them. Consider, for instance, his campaign statement on protecting the “sanctity of marriage”:

This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won’t do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage. I am the only candidate proposing changes to the senate rules to stop liberal obstructionists from preventing an up or down vote on issues like this, judges, energy, and on and on.

Similarly, Vitter once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families.” That’s extraordinarily serious, says Vitter, because “marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

In part because of his squeaky-clean, straight-arrow, red-state-values image, Rudolph Giuliani selected Vitter as his Southern campaign chairperson. Vitter was to be the personifying proof that social conservatives could trust Giuliani. Vitter was even seen by some Republicans as a future presidential candidate himself.

As recent revelations make clear, Vitter was more committed to family values in his preaching than in his practicing. According to CBS News:

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam [Deborah Palfrey], hours after Hustler magazine told him his telephone number was among those she disclosed. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans [Jeanette Maier] and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

Vitter’s apology read as follows: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.”

With his public admission coming only after tJeanette Maier by Alex Brandon for APhe his dirty laundry was about to be aired publicly, Vitter comes off looking like quite the scoundrel. Many commentators see him, not simply as unfaithful to his family but, worse, hypocritical regarding his purported family values.

We Americans like to see people in terms of their dispositions, and we despise those who pretend to have one disposition when in fact they have another. We can’t stand hypocrites! And Vitter is nothing if not a hypocrite.

Although we share the indignation, there are two related problems with this reaction. First off, it misses the fact that, in important ways, most of us are hypocrites.

Surely many of our leaders are. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to preach fidelity while practicing “philandery.” Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are good examples of the political balance. Moreover, “sinning against God” seems all too common even among the anointed — from Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker to untold numbers of Catholic Priests.

clinton-cartoon.jpg

In all cases, the critics relish the opportunity to point to the flaws of their opponents. And, true to form, it seems that no one in this case is eager to attribute blame or responsibility to anyone other than Vitter — and everyone sees his use of “escorts” as a reflection of nothing other than his true disposition. As we’ve suggested, most commentators, and particularly those who are not close to him politically, portray him as a hypocrite. But even politicians closer to him are noticeably dispositionist in their reactions.

Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, responded to questions about his Southern campaign chairperson by emphasizing that the revelations reflected something about Vitter, butRudy Giuliani Judith Nathan David Vitter nothing about Giuliani: “Some people are flawed.” “I think you look at all the people I appointed — a thousand or so – sure, some of them had issues, some of them had problems, the vast majority of them were outstanding people.” The implication is that Vitter is among the minority of Giuliani appointees who are flawed and are not “outstanding people.”

It’s a strange distinction coming from Giuliani, who, if the measure is adultery, seems similarly “flawed” and less than “outstanding.” There is, in other words, hypocrisy among those who seek to distance themselves from this hypocrite.

Many of us, upon close examination might discover a similar tension. American attitudes toward adultery are sort of like American attitudes toward unhealthy, highly-caloric food. We claim to not want that “junk,” and sometimes manage to avoid it; still, most of us find ourselves eating something we wish we hadn’t from time to time — perhaps most of the time. In America, we curse our cake and eat it too. And also in America, we blame the obesity epidemic on the bad choices and dispositions of the obese.

Poll Americans and you’re likely to find that roughly 90 percent believe adultery is morally wrong. Meanwhile, ask Americas about whether they have engaged in an extramarital affair, and you’ll discover that many more than 10 percent have. In fact, according to one study, 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have extramarital intercourse. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what many people say is Marital Problemsmorally wrong and what many people do.

There’s another way of illustrating how we overestimate our own sexual righteousness. Numerous studies have shown that people are far less able to act according to their own explicit attitudes, goals, and standards when confronted with fairly intense drive states such as hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, moods, emotions, physical pain and sexual desire. According to George Loewenstein, such “visceral factors” tend to “crowd out” all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factors themselves. As summarized elsewhere:

If you find that difficult to understand, try holding your breath for two minutes or dropping an anvil on your toe, and see what significance your other goals and attitudes have in your behavior before the pain subsides.

Of course, responding to such intense bodily reactions makes perfect sense and is not, in itself, problematic. People should prioritize the acquisition of oxygen when it is scarce. And people should attend to their acute injuries before checking to make sure the anvil is ok. The problem stems from the fact that people often behave, in response to visceral cues, in ways that contradict their view of how they should behave, and sometimes even their own volition. And that problem occurs, according to Loewenstein, because of the second key feature of visceral factors, which is that “people underestimate the impact on their own behavior of visceral factors they will experience in the future”: “Unlike currently experienced visceral factors which have a disproportionate impact on behavior, delayed visceral factors tend to be ignored or to be severely underweighted in decision making. Today’s pain, hunger, anger, and so on are palpable, but the same sensations anticipated in the future receive little weight.”

In one experiment, for example, two groups of male subjects were shown photographs and then asked to imagine how they would behave in the context of a date-rape scenario. The group that had been shown sexually arousing photographs reported a much greater likelihood of behaving aggressively than the group that had been shown non-arousing photos. Without being aroused by the photographs, the second group seemed less able to imagine what they would do when aroused on a date.

There is plenty more evidence we could offer to make this point, but more details are unnecessary. Our goal is not to excuse Vitter’s behavior or justify Vitter’s policy positions (at least some of which, frankly, make us proud to be from Massachusetts). Instead, we hope simply to suggest that few of us are without similar “flaws” — or put differently, none of us are moved solely by disposition, much less our professed values.

And that brings us to a larger point. The human tendency to see hypocrisy will often reflect the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation — as well as our own motivations to see hypocrisy in the “others” that we would not be motivated to see in ourselves or in our in-groups.

Situations commonly lead us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our expectations, ambitions, attitudes, principles, and self-image. A basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that, just as the spirit is often weaker than the flesh, the disposition is often weaker than the situation.

By attacking Vitter’s disposition, many of his critics may be missing an opportunity to make a bigger point to the sorts of conservative politicians who Vitter typifies. It is the hard-core conservatives who too much of the time are attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. “Tough on crime,” for instance, means “tough on criminals,” not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. “Personal responsibility” means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. “Common sense” means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played. And so on.

Bill O’Reilly and Homelessness

We want to see sinister motives and evil intent in our enemies, just as we are subconsciously eager to see deficient character or lack of merit in those who are worse of than ourselves. Too often, though, the distinctions between “us” and “them” are more or less group- and system-affirming fabrications.

Instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint politician after politician after politician with the brush of hypocrisy, perhaps these instances might be used as teaching tools — examples to the Vitters of the world that although the disposition may be strong, the situation is often stronger. If we could stop pretending that people’s behavior and their condition in life is a product solely of their character or preferences, then perhaps we could begin to have more meaningful debates about topics that really matter.

Put differently, the dispositionist search for bad apples and hypocrites harmfully eclipses a deeper discussion that we could be having if we were to acknowledge the extent to which we are all situational characters rather than dispositional actors. With a different mindset, perhaps citizens and politicians would begin to take seriously ways of examining and altering the situation that is otherwise altering us.

* * *

Some Situationist posts on the power, causes, and consequences of sexual attraction and love:

Posted in Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Life, Morality, Politics, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Can Meditation Make Us More Compassionate?

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 1, 2011

Last Friday, Sindya Bhanoo had an interesting little post on one of the New York Times blogs concerning recent research on the impact of meditation on the brain.

As is often the case in these mainstream media reports, I was left wanting more about the studies and less about the personal interest hook (in this case, the story of Sindya’s husband’s experiences meditating), but that was remedied easily enough by utilizing the wonders of the internet.

To me, the most interesting referenced article was a 2008 study by Antoine Lutz, Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, Tom Johnstone, and Richard Davidson on the regulation of our emotional neural circuitry through compassion meditation.

Here is the abstract:

Recent brain imaging studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have implicated insula and anterior cingulate cortices in the empathic response to another’s pain. However, virtually nothing is known about the impact of the voluntary generation of compassion on this network. To investigate these questions we assessed brain activity using fMRI while novice and expert meditation practitioners generated a loving-kindness-compassion meditation state. To probe affective reactivity, we presented emotional and neutral sounds during the meditation and comparison periods. Our main hypothesis was that the concern for others cultivated during this form of meditation enhances affective processing, in particular in response to sounds of distress, and that this response to emotional sounds is modulated by the degree of meditation training. The presentation of the emotional sounds was associated with increased pupil diameter and activation of limbic regions (insula and cingulate cortices) during meditation (versus rest). During meditation, activation in insula was greater during presentation of negative sounds than positive or neutral sounds in expert than it was in novice meditators. The strength of activation in insula was also associated with self-reported intensity of the meditation for both groups. These results support the role of the limbic circuitry in emotion sharing. The comparison between meditation vs. rest states between experts and novices also showed increased activation in amygdala, right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) in response to all sounds, suggesting, greater detection of the emotional sounds, and enhanced mentation in response to emotional human vocalizations for experts than novices during meditation. Together these data indicate that the mental expertise to cultivate positive emotion alters the activation of circuitries previously linked to empathy and theory of mind in response to emotional stimuli.

To download a free copy of the entire article, click here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Phillippe Golden on Emotions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 25, 2011

From Google Tech Talks:

The ability to recognize and work with different emotions is fundamental to psychological flexibility and well-being. Neuroscience has contributed to the understanding of the neural bases of emotion, emotion regulation, and emotional intelligence, and has begun to elucidate the brain mechanisms involved in emotion processing. Of great interest is the degree to which these mechanisms demonstrate neuroplasticity in both anatomical and functional levels of the brain.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Emotions, Positive Psychology, Video | 2 Comments »

Sarah Palin a Naive Cynic?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2011

Situationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have written extensively about a dynamic they call “naive cynicism.”

Their work explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naive cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema – dispositionism – would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema – situationism – less easily and effectively attacked. Naive cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Naive cynicism often takes the form of a backlash against situationism that involves an affirmation of existing dispositionist notions and an assault on (1) the situationist attributions themselves; (2) the individuals, institutions, and groups from which the situationist attributions appear to emanate; and (3) the individuals whose conduct has been situationalized. If one were to boil down those factors to one simple naive-cynicism-promoting frame for minimizing situationist ideas, it would be something like this: Unreasonable outgroup members are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.

* * *

Is Sarah Palin exhibiting that dynamic?  Below the video of her remarks you can read some excerpts from the transcript.

* * *

* * *

It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.

There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.

* * *

President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.

The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future.

* * *

Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

* * *

As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

* * *

No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

* * *

America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy.

* * *

You can review a list of related Situationist links in the following post: “The Tragedy in Tucson: What Do You Think?.”

In addition, here are few more:

Finally, you can review all of the Situationist posts related to naive cynicism by clicking here.

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

The Power of Suggestion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2011

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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

The Situation of Healthy Aging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 1, 2011

An informative, scholarly collection of presentations about recent research on the situation of healthy aging.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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

Just Deserts?

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 19, 2010

Over the last several months, I have been conducting some experiments on retribution with cognitive psychologist Geoff Goodwin.  I’ll be presenting some of our results next month at a workshop at Vanderbilt and hope to do some posts on the Situationist concerning our findings soon after.  Thinking a lot about the motivation to deliver just deserts has had a strange and unexpected effect on me.  I’ve found myself hyperaware of my own desire to punish when I read newspaper articles describing criminal acts or when I see movies where offenses are committed.  I’ve also noticed myself recasting events that would seem to have little to do with retributive motives.

Today, I came across a video of a man running onto the field during last week’s Fresno State versus Nevada football game.  As often seems to happen in these streaker scenarios, the man received extremely rough treatment at the hands of the security guards, who repeatedly smashed his head into the ground, after eventually running him down.

* * *

* * *

It made me wonder: what justifies the violent actions of the guards, if anything?  What makes this brutality seem acceptable, or at least somewhat acceptable, when it clearly wouldn’t be if administered to a fan sitting quietly in his seat, eating a hot dog?  I expect that if you asked university officials they would give you a story about needing to incapacitate a potentially dangerous and disruptive individual as quickly as possible.  If pressed, some others might say that guards need to be rough with men like this because it deters other drunken individuals from heading out onto the field.  But might a better explanation have to do with a collective sense that getting beaten up is just what you get when you break the rules and streak across the football field?

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Intuitions of Punishment?,” Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness,” “Steven Pinker Speaks at Harvard Law School,” “John Darley on “Justice as Intuitions” – Video,” “The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” The Situation of Revenge,” “The Situation of Punishment,” and “Why We Punish.”

Posted in Emotions, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Joseph LeDoux on the Neural Situation of Emotion and Memory

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 19, 2010

Joseph LeDoux is a professor and a member of the Center for Neural Science and Department of Psychology at NYU. His work is focused on the brain mechanisms of emotion and memory. In addition to articles in scholarly journals, he is author of “The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life” and “Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are.” He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a fellow of the New York Academy of Science, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science, and the recipient of the 2005 Fyssen International Prize in Cognitive Science. LeDoux is also a singer and songwriter in the rock band, The Amygdaloids.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Neuroeconomics and Situationist Economics,” “The Interior Situation of Complex Human Feelings,” “The Situation of Memory,” “Accidentally Us,” “The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation,” and Situating Emotion.”

Posted in Emotions, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Depression

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 29, 2010

From Gallup (09/28/10):

Residents of Gulf Coast-facing counties experienced a decline in their overall emotional health, as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Emotional Health Index, in the 15 weeks after the onset of the BP oil spill. Those living in inland counties in the same Gulf of Mexico states showed no such drops in emotional health in the oil spill’s aftermath.

* * *

From The Associated Press:

A Gallup survey released Tuesday of almost 2,600 coastal residents showed that depression cases are up more than 25 percent since an explosion killed 11 people and unleashed a three-month gusher of crude into the Gulf in April that ruined many livelihoods. The conclusions were consistent with trends seen in smaller studies and witnessed by mental health workers.

People just aren’t as happy as they used to be despite palm trees and warm weather. A “well-being index” included in the Gallup study said many coastal residents are stressed out, worried and sad more often than people living inland, an indication that the spill’s emotional toll lingers even if most of the oil has vanished from view.

* * *

The Gallup survey was conducted in 25 Gulf-front counties from Texas east to Florida over eight months before and after the spill, ending Aug. 6. People reported 25.6 percent more depression diagnoses after then spill than before it, although the study didn’t conclude the additional cases were tied directly to the oil.

The survey said people along the Gulf reported feeling sad, worried and stressed after the spill, while people living inland reported less over the same period. More than 40 percent of people in coastal areas reported feeling stress after the BP geyser blew, a 15 percent increase from before.

* * *

[A]n earlier study conducted in 13 counties and parishes with a total population of 1.9 million showed that 13 percent of coastal adults from Louisiana to Florida suffered probable serious mental illnesses after the spill.

The level of mental illness was similar to that seen six months after Hurricane Katrina decimated the coast five years ago, and experts aren’t yet seeing any improvement in mental health five months after the oil crisis began. Before Katrina, a study by the National Institute of Mental Health said only 6 percent of area residents had likely mental illnesses.

* * *

Steve Barrileaux, a psychologist at the Gulfport center, said some of the problems leading to mental health issues are obvious, like the loss of work by a person who rented chairs on the beach. Others are more subtle.

Many people are deeply worried about the environment, for instance, or lament the lost moments they would have spent fishing recreationally with loved ones. Others are still afraid to eat seafood, even on the coast where livelihoods depend on it.

* * *

To read the article in its entirety, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Some Situational Effects of the BP Gulf Disaster,” “The Situation of Mental Illness,”Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” “The Situational Consequences of Uncertainty,” “The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers.”

Posted in Distribution, Emotions, Life, Poll | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Happiness and Legal Policy – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 3, 2010

Peter Huang recently posted his interesting paper, “Happiness Studies and Legal Policy” (forthcoming Annual Review of Law & Social Science) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Social scientists have conducted numerous empirical and experimental studies of self-reported happiness. This review focuses on two fundamental areas of research in happiness and law, namely alternative measures of happiness and various policies to foster happiness. There are many aspects, concepts, dimensions, and visions of happiness. Empirical findings often depend critically on which particular measure of happiness is analyzed. Happiness studies have applications to national well-being indices; policy evaluation; civil judicial and jury decision-making about liability and damages in cases of sexual harassment, employment discrimination, torts; optimal tax law design; family law; criminal sentencing, legal education, and legal practice. There are decision-making, health, productivity, and psychological benefits to various types of happiness. There are more or less paternalistic happiness interventions, including policies to encourage regular physical exercise, good sleep, and meditation. Hopefully analysis of these topics offers exemplars of possibilities and limits to utilizing happiness studies in designing legal policy.

* * *

You can download the paper for free here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Pleasure,” “Money and the Situation of Happiness,” and “Something to Smile About.” To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Legal Theory, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Some Situational Effects of the BP Gulf Disaster

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 1, 2010

Excerpts from EurekaAlert:

Anger, depression, and helplessness are the main psychological responses being seen in response to the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and they are likely to have long-lasting effects, according to an interview in Ecopsychology, . . . .

The anger being expressed in response to the recent BP oil rig explosion and resulting spill of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico is “a way of masking the really unfathomable and profound despair that is just under the surface as we watch this catastrophe unfold,” says Deborah Du Nann Winter, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Whitman College (Walla Walla, WA). In an interview published in Ecopsychology and conducted by Editorial Board member Susan Koger, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Willamette University in Salem, OR, Winter predicts a great deal of chronic depression, withdrawal, and lack of functioning among not only people directly affected by the events in the Gulf, but also people nationwide and globally who identify or empathize with their circumstances.

* * *

With the hope that the BP spill, with all the damage and suffering it is causing, will stimulate renewed environmental activism and changes in attitudes and behaviors, Winter says, “this disaster is probably just the kick in the pants that the environmental movement has needed.”

* * *

The interview is available free online at www.liebertpub.com/eco.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” “The Situational Consequences of Uncertainty,” “The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Psychological Toll of Automobile Traffic,” “The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,”Denial,” The Need for a Situationist Morality,”

Posted in Emotions, Environment | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Situational Effects of Counterfactuals

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 19, 2010

From UCBerkeleyHaas:

* * *

* * *

According to new research by management professors Laura Kray and Philip Tetlock, at the Haas School, UC Berkeley, counterfactual thinking — considering a turning point moment in the past and alternate universes had it not occurred — heightens ones perception of the moment as significant, and even fated. Armed with a sense that life may not be arbitrary, counterfactual thinkers, the study suggests, are more motivated and analytical in organizational settings.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationst posts, see “The Situation of Regret,” Why You Bought That,” and “Behavioral Economics and Policy.”

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Terror Babies

Posted by Adam Benforado on August 17, 2010

Over the past few days, allegations of a frightening new terrorist plot have emerged.  Indeed, at the end of last week, Texas State Representative Debbie Riddle and Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert appeared on different editions of “Anderson Cooper 360” to sound the alarm that the Obama administration has been ignoring a critical threat to the United States.

What is this ominous menace?  Iranian nuclear missile silos?  North Korea transporting dirty bomb material into the United States?  The Chinese government developing technology to disable the U.S. power grid over the Internet?

Nope.  The answer is “terror babies.”

According to Riddle and Gohmert, terrorist organizations are sending pregnant women into our country so that the children that they bear will have American citizenship and, thus, be able to come and go into the United States as they receive terrorist training overseas.

If that seems fairly far-fetched and unnecessary, given that al Qaeda and other groups have no problem recruiting foreign terrorists willing to carry out attacks on America and Americans in the present, you would be correct.  As became clear during the interviews, neither Riddle nor Gohmert have any evidence whatsoever that this threat exists.

So if the claim is utterly baseless—as a former FBI agent explained to Anderson Cooper—why would Riddle and Gohmert be asserting it on national television and, in Gohmert’s case, on the floor of the House?

My guess is that these “scare stories,” in Cooper’s words, are linked to recent efforts to repeal the 14th Amendment, a move championed by the likes of former Colorado Representative Tom Tancredo—and current Republican leaders, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, and John Boehner, among others.

With anti-immigrant sentiment riding high and certain to be an issue in the fall elections, the notion of getting rid of birthright citizenship by overturning the Amendment has been gaining significant steam, with various politicians sounding the alarm.  As Sessions explained to Politico.com, “I’m not sure exactly what the drafters of the [14th] Amendment had in mind, but I doubt it was that somebody could fly in from Brazil and have a child and fly back home with that child, and that child is forever an American citizen.”  In an effort to properly frame the discussion, many supporters of repeal have employed the term “anchor babies” to reflect the perception that illegal immigrants use the babies to try and anchor themselves to the United States.

However, those who want to prevent the children of illegal immigrants from gaining automatic citizenship simply by being born on U.S. soil have a little problem—quite literally.

The target of their attack on the Constitution is the most innocent and blameless of parties: tiny new born babies.  It seems extremely harsh—and downright un-American—to penalize a baby for the decision of her parents.  After all, the baby didn’t have any say at all over her parents’ immigration choices or citizenship status.  And, in fact, many people who would readily come down hard on adult illegal immigrants, balk at the idea of punishing newborns.

Thus, supporters of overturning the Amendment have desperately needed to change the way Americans feel about these children.  Getting people to think of them as inanimate objects—“anchors”—rather than innocent victims has not been strong enough.  Americans need to be encouraged to view immigrant babies negatively, just like their immigrant parents.

Enter the idea of “terror babies.”

The awful brilliance of the strategy is not only that it effectively casts immigrant babies as hated outgroup members, but that it requires no actual factual support.  Riddle, Gohmert, and others can simply make the inflammatory allegation and then sit back as media forces turn it into a debate, carefully making sure that they allow both sides to present their opinions and giving plenty of air time to the crazy claims.

In his ten minute spot with Cooper, Gohmert offered nothing that came close to evidence as Cooper repeatedly pressed him for the basis for his claims.  To anyone watching, this was not so much a debate, as one person asking reasonable questions in a calm tone of voice and another person ranting gibberish at the top of his lungs.  However, when the interview was finished, CNN labeled the video “Cooper, Gohmert debate ‘terror babies’” with a description that read “Rep. Louie Gohmert and CNN’s Anderson Cooper engage in a spirited debate over the lawmaker’s ‘terror babies’ claims.”

The description might as well have been “Gohmert coasts to victory in CNN appearance.”

The goal for the champions of repeal is not to win the argument—something that they surely cannot do—but to plant the seeds of fear in the minds of the public and to get us all familiar with that oddest of juxtapositions: terror babies.

It gives a whole new meaning to original sin.

* * *

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Fear,” “The ‘Turban Effect’,” “The Bush Frame: Us vs. Them; Good vs. Evil; Intentions vs. Consequences,”  “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” A Convenient Fiction,” “The Law and Situation of Military Propaganda,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part VI,” and “With God on Our Side . . ..”

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Illusions, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Implicit Situation of Love

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 16, 2010

Earlier this month, Anthony Greenwald, one of the pioneers in IAT research, posted on Scientific American.  Here is how his piece, titled “I Love Him, I Love Him Not” began.

* * *

Over a decade ago, I devised a test for detecting attitudes and biases operating below the level of a person’s awareness.

Known as the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, it is presently the most widely used of the measures of implicit attitudes that have been developed by social psychologists over the past 25 years. It has been self-administered online by millions, many of whom have been surprised—sometimes unpleasantly—by evidence of their own unconscious attitudes and stereotypes regarding race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

Now it is my turn to be surprised—pleasantly. The test has been used for a purpose that I long imagined as possible, but never dared attempt, knowing that it needed the attention of psychologists who focus on romantic relationships.  The results suggest that the IAT is effective in predicting which romantic relationships will last.

The report, just published in the journal Psychological Science, is provocatively titled “Assessing the Seeds of Relationship Decay.” In it, three psychologists at the University of Rochester — Soonhee Lee, Ronald Rogge, and Harry Reis—describe their research predicting relationship breakup. They recruited participants by many means, including referrals by psychology faculty and various Internet sources. The mostly female participants were married, engaged, or otherwise in exclusive, committed relationships.

The research started with the collection of several measures—not only the IAT, but also some established questionnaire measures of relationship quality—all of which might be useful predictors of breakup.  Of the 222 participants who started, 116 were successfully re-contacted to obtain reports on the status of their relationships at various times up to 12 months later.

Nineteen (16%) of the re-contacted participants reported that a breakup had occurred.  Remarkably, the IAT measure of a subject’s attitude toward her partner did a better job of predicting the breakup than did several questionnaire measures of relationship quality.

The authors concluded that the questionnaire measures might have been ineffective either because participants were unaware of negative attitudes toward their partners or perhaps because they knew about them but were unwilling to report them. If that’s correct, the IAT worked because it depends on neither awareness of the attitude nor willingness to report it.

What exactly is the IAT, and how does it tap into mental processes that can operate outside of awareness?

* * *

You can read the entire post here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Cupid’s Situation,” The Situation of Love,” “Some Situational Signals of a Suicidal Disposition,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” “The Interior Situation of Suicide,” “Implicit Associations on Oprah,” “MSNBC Report on Implicit Associations,”Measuring Implicit Attitudes,” Mispredicting Our Reactions to Racism,” Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV,” and Do You Implicitly Prefer Markets or Regulation?,”

Posted in Emotions, Implicit Associations, Life | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 832 other followers

%d bloggers like this: