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Archive for the ‘Emotions’ Category

Sheena Iyengar on the Situation of Choosing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 3, 2010

From Ted Talks: “[Situationist friend] Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices — and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.”

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Emotions, Marketing, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

What Can a Robot Teach Us about the Situation of Trust?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 13, 2010

From Northeastern University:

What can a wide-eyed, talking robot teach us about trust?

A lot, according to Northeastern psychology professor David DeSteno, and his colleagues, who are conducting innovative research to determine how humans decide to trust strangers — and if those decisions are accurate.

(Read a Boston Globe article about this research.)

The interdisciplinary research project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is being conducted in collaboration with Cynthia Breazeal, director of the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group, Robert Frank, an economist, and David Pizarro, a psychologist, both from Cornell.

The researchers are examining whether nonverbal cues and gestures could affect our trustworthiness judgments. “People tend to mimic each other’s body language,” said DeSteno, “which might help them develop intuitions about what other people are feeling — intuitions about whether they’ll treat them fairly.”

This project tests their theories by having humans interact with the social robot, Nexi, in an attempt to judge her trustworthiness. Unbeknownst to participants, Nexi has been programmed to make gestures while speaking with selected participants — gestures that the team hypothesizes could determine whether or not she’s deemed trustworthy.

“Using a humanoid robot whose every expression and gesture we can control will allow us to better identify the exact cues and psychological processes that underlie humans’ ability to accurately predict if a stranger is trustworthy,” said DeSteno.

During the first part of the experiment, Nexi makes small talk with her human counterpart for 10 minutes, asking and answering questions about topics such as traveling, where they are from and what they like most about living in Boston.

“The goal was to simulate a normal conversation with accompanying movements to see what the mind would intuitively glean about the trustworthiness of another,” said DeSteno.

The participants then play an economic game called “Give Some,” which asks them to determine how much money Nexi might give them at the expense of her individual profit.  Simultaneously, they decide how much, if any, they’ll give to Nexi. The rules of the game allow for two distinct outcomes:  higher individual profit for one and loss for the other, or relatively smaller and equal profits for both partners.

“Trust might not be determined by one isolated gesture, but rather a ‘dance’ that happens between the strangers, which leads them to trust or not trust the other,” said DeSteno, who, with his colleagues, will continue testing their theories by seeing if Nexi can be taught to predict the trustworthiness of human partners.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Interior Situation of Honesty (and Dishonesty),” “The Situation of Trust,” The Situation of Lying,” “The Facial Obviousness of Lying,” “Denial,” Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of it?Unclean Hands,” The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Emotions, Morality | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Psychopaths

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 8, 2010

NPR’s Morning Edition had a three-part series, called “Inside the Criminal Brain” (hosted by Renee Montagne and Barbara Hagerty) at the end of June.  The first in the of the series, “Neuroscientist Uncovers A Dark Secret” (which you can listen to here) tells the story of neuroscientist James Fallon.  Here are some excerpts from the transcript.

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RENEE MONTAGNE:

For the past couple of decades, [James] Fallon has studied the brains of murderers.

Recently, Fallon made a startling discovery.

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Fallon investigated, and it turns out that one of his direct great-grandfathers, Thomas Cornell, killed his mother in the 1600s, and that line of Cornells produced seven other alleged murderers.

Dr. FALLON: There’s this whole lineage of very violent people, killers, ending with Lizzy Borden.

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HAGERTY: Fallon was a little spooked by his ancestry, so he set out to see if anyone in this family had the brain of a serial killer. He knows what to look for, since he’s studied the brains of dozens of psychopaths. He calls up an image of a brain on his computer screen. It’s lit up with patches of color.

Dr. FALLON: Here is a brain that’s not normal. You can see where this is – this yellow here and red here, and look at it. It’s almost nothing here.

HAGERTY: He’s pointing to the orbital cortex. It’s completely dark. That’s the part of the brain that’s right above the eyes, and this is the area that Fallon and other scientists believe is involved with ethical behavior, moral decision making and controlling one’s impulses.

Dr. FALLON: People with low activity are either freewheeling types or sociopaths.

HAGERTY: Fallon says that’s because the orbital cortex puts a brake on another part of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved with aggression and appetites. If there’s an imbalance, if the orbital cortex isn’t doing its job -maybe because it was damaged or was just born that way . . .

Dr. FALLON: What’s left? What takes over? Well, the area of the brain that drives your id-type behaviors, which is rage, violence, eating, sex, drinking.

HAGERTY: Now, nobody in his family has problems with those behaviors, but he persuaded 10 of his close relatives to submit to a brain scan. Then he examined the images, comparing them with the brains of psychopaths. . . .

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Dr. FALLON: And I took a look at my own PET scan and saw something a little disturbing that I did not talk about.

HAGERTY: What he didn’t want to reveal was that his orbital cortex looks inactive.

Dr. FALLON: If you look at the PET scan, I look just like one of those killers.

HAGERTY: Fallon cautions that this is a young field. Scientists are just beginning to understand this area of the brain. Still, he says, the evidence is accumulating that some people’s brains predispose them toward violence, and that psychopathic tendencies may be passed down from one generation to another.

Which brings us to the next part of this family experiment. Along with brain scans, Fallon also tested each family member’s DNA for genes that are associated with violence and impulsivity. He looked at 12 genes and zeroed in on something called the MAOA gene. It’s also known as the warrior gene because it regulates serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin affects your mood, and many scientists believe that if you have a certain version of the warrior gene, your brain won’t respond to the calming effects of serotonin.

Dr. FALLON: So this is the MAO gene. And we can see here my daughter, son, daughter, daughter, brother, brother, wife, brother.

HAGERTY: Everyone in his family has the low aggression variant, except…

Dr. FALLON: I’m like 100 percent here. I have the pattern, a risky pattern. In a sense, I’m a born killer.

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Ms. DIANE FALLON: I wasn’t too concerned. I really wasn’t. I mean, I’ve known him since I was 12.

HAGERTY: That’s Jim Fallon’s wife, Diane. She probably doesn’t need to worry, according to scientists who study this area. They believe that brain patterns and genetic makeup are not enough to make anyone a psychopath. You need a third ingredient: childhood abuse.

Ms. D. FALLON: And fortunately, he wasn’t abused as a young person, so I’ve lived to be, you know, a ripe old age so far.

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HAGERTY: Jim Fallon says he had a great childhood. And, he says, this journey through his brain has changed the way he thinks about nature and nurture. He used to believe that genes and brain function determine everything about us, but now, he says, he thinks his childhood may have made all the difference.

Dr. FALLON: We’ll never know. But had I been abused, I think we wouldn’t be sitting here today.

HAGERTY: As to the psychopaths he studies, he feels some compassion for these people who got, as he put it, a bad roll of the dice.

Dr. FALLON: It’s an unlucky day when all of these three things come together in a bad way. And I think one has to empathize with what happened to them.

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You can read the entire transcript or listen to the interview here.  Below is a Jim Fallon’s 8-minute TED Talk briefly describing his own work and his own family.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Mental Illness,” “The Situation of Bullying,” The Cruelty of Children,”  Examining the Bullying Situation,” The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,”  “The Psychology of The Dark Knight,” The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” The Situation of Gang Rape,” Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part III.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Legal Theory, Morality, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Money and the Situation of Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 23, 2010

The exceptional mind science writer and blogger Wray Herbert has a post on Huffington Post summarizing recent research studying the effects of money on happiness.  Here is an excerpt.

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Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach of the University of Liege, Belgium, and his colleagues wondered if wealth, because it promises abundant pleasure, might actually weaken the internal sense of scarcity that makes small pleasures possible. They decided to test this idea in the lab.

They recruited a large group of university employees, ranging from deans to janitors. The idea was to get a range of incomes and financial comfort, which they did: Some of the volunteers had socked away 75,000 euros or more, while others had a mere 1,000 euros in savings. They gave all of these volunteers a test that uses vignettes to gauge positive emotions like pride and awe and contentment. For example, the volunteers might be asked to imagine going on a hike and discovering an amazing waterfall. Would they be visibly emotional? Reminisce about the waterfall later? Tell others about the experience? And so on.

The scientists also measured the volunteers’ overall happiness, using a standardized scale, and also their desire for wealth. They measured desire for wealth with this kind of question: “How much money would you have to win in a lottery to live the life of your dreams?”

Then they crunched all the data together to sort out the links between money and happiness and savoring the little things in life. Here’s what they found: The more money people have, the less likely they are to appreciate things like waterfalls or blooming azaleas or quiet weekends. What’s more, cause-and-effect was clear from the data. That is, the ability to savor life’s small pleasures was not diminishing the need or desire for money; it was clearly the other way around.

And overall happiness? That’s the really interesting part. There is a modest relationship between wealth and happiness; that’s not all that surprising. But the inability to appreciate waterfalls undercuts money’s blessings. That is, any positive effects of wealth on happiness were offset by wealth’s deleterious effects on ability to savor life’s pleasures.

These findings reported in the journal Psychological Science, were provocative enough that the researchers wanted to double-check them in a different way. So in a second experiment, . . .

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You can read the entire post, including a description of the second experiment, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Money and Happiness,” “Receiving by Giving,” and “Something to Smile About.”  To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Emotions, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Students’ Situations Leave Them Less Empathetic (Situationist)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 16, 2010

From University of Michigan News Service:

Today’s college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and ’90s, a University of Michigan study shows. The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years. “We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”

Konrath conducted the meta-analysis, combining the results of 72 different studies of American college students conducted between 1979 and 2009, with U-M graduate student Edward O’Brien and undergraduate student Courtney Hsing. Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective” and “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.”

In a related but separate analysis, Konrath found that nationally representative samples of Americans see changes in other people’s kindness and helpfulness over a similar time period. “

Many people see the current group of college students—sometimes called ‘Generation Me’—as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history,” said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry. “It’s not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others,” O’Brien said.

Why is empathy declining among young adults? Konrath and O’Brien suggest there could be several reasons, which they hope to explore in future research. “The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor,” Konrath said. “Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to three times as much nonwork-related information. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games, and a growing body of research, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others.”

The recent rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy, suggests O’Brien. “The ease of having ‘friends’ online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ problems, a behavior that could carry over offline,” he said. Add in the hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success, borne of celebrity “reality shows,” and you have a social environment that works against slowing down and listening to someone who needs a bit of sympathy, he says. “College students today may be so busy worrying about themselves and their own issues that they don’t have time to spend empathizing with others, or at least perceive such time to be limited,” O’Brien said.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of College Education: Why Going for the Money Makes Sense for Some Prep Players,” “Racial bias clouds ability to feel others’ pain,” “The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” “The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “Virtual Bias,” “Internet Disinhibition,” Resident Evil 5 and Racism in Video Games,” and “The Situation of First-Person Shooters.”

Posted in Conflict, Education, Emotions, Life, Morality | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2010

Ellen Waldman recenly posted her thoughtful article, “Mindfulness, Emotions, and Ethics: The Right Stuff?” (Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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What role do emotions play in ethical decision-making? Philosophers have long debated the question, disagreeing about both the nature of “the good” and how best to achieve it. Rationalists ground one’s capacity for virtue in logic and deliberate cognition, while moral intuitionists look to one’s capacity for feeling deeply. Immanuel Kant, for example, maintained that right conduct flowed from a sense of duty that functioned independently of emotion. Conversely, David Hume argued that all right action involved sentiment and that reason, stripped of passion, could not impel ethical choice.

Philosophers are not alone in their fascination with the question. Psychologists also have delved into the relationship between emotion and moral development, creating varying models of maturation that either embrace or reject emotion as a critical component of moral discernment. Today, debates in the “soft sciences” of the mind spill into the “hard sciences” of the body. Interest in the biological bases of emotion invigorates neuroscience, and developments in functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) promise methods for mapping the synaptic pathways that induce affective states. Although we can now detect activity in portions of the brain associated with emotional experience, it remains unclear whether those electrical surges push us in “right” or “wrong” directions.

In the mediation world, scholars and practitioners frequently treat emotion as the unruly step-child of the problem-solving mind. Professor Leonard Riskin characterizes emotion as a potential negotiation saboteur and offers “mindful practice” as a useful corrective. He argues that mindful mediation can help negotiators gain better control over their wandering minds and negative emotions, and achieve more satisfying, interest-based solutions.

This essay celebrates Riskin’s call to arms while suggesting some limits to what mindfulness can achieve in the ethical realm. It examines in more detail the relationship Riskin posits between mindful practice and ethical decision-making. It discusses recent developments in neuroethics that imply a prominent role for emotions in establishing ethical restraint. It also surveys a growing body of evidence that suggests the directive power of our emotions remains largely hidden from and impervious to the control of our “reasoning” selves. Lastly, it examines what Riskin has, in an earlier work, described as the ethical “hard case” in light of recent explorations into the emotional wellsprings of deontological versus consequentialist thinking. Although the mediation community need not wade deeply into the debates currently roiling social psychologists, it is useful to reflect on the genesis of our ethical commitments and whether they continue to serve the field’s long-term goals and interests.

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You can download the article for free, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Legal Ethics,” “Blind to our Situational Blindness,” “Mood and Moral Judgment,” Law, Psychology & Morality – Abstract,” “Situating Emotion,” “The Motivated Situation of Morality,” and “Moral Psychology Primer.”

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Emotions, Morality, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 21, 2010

Press release from University of Michigan:

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When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.

That is the claim of University of Michigan social scientist James S. Jackson and colleagues in an article published in the May 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The theory helps explain a long-time epidemiological puzzle: why African Americans have worse physical health than whites but better psychiatric health.

“People engage in bad habits for functional reasons, not because of weak character or ignorance,” says Jackson, director of the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Over the life course, coping strategies that are effective in ‘preserving’ the mental health of blacks may work in concert with social, economic and environmental inequalities to produce physical health disparities in middle age and later life.”

In an analysis of survey data, obtained from the same people at two points in time, Jackson and colleagues find evidence for their theory. The relationship between stressful life events and depression varies by the level of unhealthy behaviors. But the direction of that relationship is strikingly different for blacks and whites.

Controlling for the extent of stressful life events a person has experienced, unhealthy behaviors seem to protect against depression in African Americans but lead to higher levels of depression in whites.

“Many black Americans live in chronically precarious and difficult environments,” says Jackson. “These environments produce stressful living conditions, and often the most easily accessible options for addressing stress are various unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors may alleviate stress through the same mechanisms that are believed to contribute to some mental disorders—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis and related biological systems.”

Since negative health behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use and overeating (especially comfort foods) also have direct and debilitating effects on physical health, these behaviors—along with the difficult living conditions that give rise to them—contribute to the disparities in mortality and physical health problems between black and white populations.

These disparities in physical health and mortality are greatest at middle age and beyond, Jackson says. Why?

“At younger ages, blacks are able to employ a variety of strategies that, when combined with the more robust physical health of youth, effectively mask the cascade to the negative health effects,” Jackson said. “But as people get older, they tend to reduce stress more often by engaging in bad habits.”

Black women show heightened rates of obesity over the life course, he points out. In fact, by the time they are in their 40s, 60 percent of African American women are obese.

“How can it be that 60 percent of the population has a character flaw?” Jackson asks. “Overeating is an effective, early, well-learned response to chronic environmental stressors that only strengthens over the life course. In contrast, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, black American men’s coping choices are different.

“Early in life, they tend to be physically active and athletic, which produces the stress-lowering hormone dopamine. But in middle age, physical deterioration reduces the viability and effectiveness of this way of coping with stress, and black men turn in increasing numbers to unhealthy coping behaviors, showing increased rates of smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.”

Racial disparities in physical illnesses and mortality are not really a result of race at all, Jackson says. Instead, they are a result of how people live their lives, the composition of their lives. These disparities are not just a function of socioeconomic status, but of a wide range of conditions including the accretion of micro insults that people are exposed to over the years.

“You can’t really study physical health without looking at people’s mental health and really their whole lives,” he said. “The most effective way to address an important source of physical health disparities is to reduce environmentally produced stressors—both those related to race and those that are not. We need to improve living conditions, create good job opportunities, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of inner-city urban life.

“Paradoxically, the lack of attention to these conditions contributes to the use of unhealthy coping behaviors by people living in poor conditions. Although these unhealthy coping behaviors contribute to lower rates of mental disorder, over the life course they play a significant role in leading to higher rates of physical health problems and earlier mortality than is found in the general population.”

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Racial Health Disparities,” The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” and “Guilt and Racial Prejudice.” For a listing of numerous Situationist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Emotions, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Financial Markets

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2010

Below the jump you can watch an outstanding and fascinating  video episode, “Mind over Money,” by PBS’s NOVA, that asks the question “Can markets be rational when humans aren’t?” and that includes significant segments describing some of the work by Situationist friend Jennifer Lerner.

(We’ve placed the (52 minute) video after the jump because it plays automatically.)

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Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Emotions, Ideology, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Bullying

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 27, 2010

Maia Szalavitz, co-author of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered wrote an intriguing article, titled “How Not to Raise a Bully: The Early Roots of Empathy” in a recent issue of Time Magazine.  Here are some excerpts.

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Increasingly, neuroscientists, psychologists and educators believe that bullying and other kinds of violence can . . . be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age. Over the past decade, research in empathy — the ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes — has suggested that it is key, if not the key, to all human social interaction and morality.

Without empathy, we would have no cohesive society, no trust and no reason not to murder, cheat, steal or lie. At best, we would act only out of self-interest; at worst, we would be a collection of sociopaths.

Although human nature has historically been seen as essentially selfish, recent science suggests that it is not. The capacity for empathy is believed to be innate in most humans, as well as some other species — chimps, for instance, will protest the unfair treatment of others, refusing to accept a treat they have rightfully earned if another chimp doing the same work fails to get the same reward.

The first stirrings of human empathy typically appear in babyhood: newborns cry when hearing another infant’s cry, and studies have shown that children as young as 14 months offer unsolicited help to adults who appear to be struggling to reach something. Babies have also shown a distinct preference for adults who help rather than hinder others.

But like language, the development of this inherent tendency may be affected by early experience. As evidence, look no further than ancient Greece and the millennia-old child-rearing practices of Sparta and Athens. Spartans, who were celebrated almost exclusively as warriors, raised their ruling-class boys in an environment of uncompromising brutality — enlisting them in boot camp at age 7 and starving them to encourage enough deviousness and cunning to steal food, which skillfully bred yet more generations of ruthless killers.

In Athens, future leaders were brought up in a more nurturing and peaceful way, at home with their mothers and nurses, starting education in music and poetry at age 6. They became pioneers of democracy, art, theater and culture. “Just like we can train people to kill, the same is true with empathy. You can be taught to be a Spartan or an Athenian — and you can taught to be both,” says Teny Gross, executive director of the outreach group Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence in Providence, R.I., and a former sergeant in the Israeli army.

What the ancient Greeks intuited is supported by research today. Childhood — as early as infancy — is now known to be a critical time for the development of empathy. And although children can be astonishingly resilient, surviving and sometimes thriving despite abuse and neglect, studies show that those who experience such early trauma are at much greater risk of becoming aggressive or even psychopathic later on, bullying other children or being victimized by bullies themselves.

Simple neglect can be surprisingly damaging. In 2007, researchers published the first randomized, controlled study of the effect of being raised in an orphanage; that study, and subsequent research on the same sample of Romanian orphans, found that compared with babies placed with a foster family, those who were sent to institutions had lower IQs, slower physical growth, problems with human attachment and differences in functioning in brain areas related to emotional development.

Institutionalized infants do not experience being the center of a loving family’s attention; instead, they are cared for by a rotating staff of workers, which is inherently neglectful. The infants miss out on intensive, one-on-one affection and attachment with a parental figure, which babies need at that vulnerable age. Without that experience, they learn early on that the world is a cold, insecure and untrustworthy place. Their emotional needs having gone unmet, they frequently have trouble understanding or appreciating the feelings of others.

Nearly 90% of brain growth takes place in the first five years of life, and the minds of young children who have been neglected or traumatized often fail to make the connection between people and pleasure. That deficit can make it difficult for them to feel or demonstrate love later on. “You can enhance empathy by the way you treat children,” says Martin Hoffman, an emeritus professor of psychology at New York University and a pioneer of empathy research, “or you can kill it by providing a harsh punitive environment.”

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You can read the entire article here, including an extended discussion fo the “Roots of Empathy” program, a school-based program designed to foster empathy and compassion and which has been shown to significantly reduce bullying.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Cruelty of Children,” Jane Elliot’s Situationist Pedagogy,” “Examining the Bullying Situation,” The Situation of Bullying,” The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” The Situation of Gang Rape,” Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part III.”

Posted in Book, Conflict, Emotions, History, Life, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Trust Me: You’ll Enjoy this Post

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 21, 2010

Craig Lambert has a worthwhile interview with Situationist friend, Dan Gilbert (author of the best-selling 2007 psychology book Stumbling on Happiness and host of the recent PBS television series This Emotional Life.), in the current issue of Harvard Magazine.   Here are some excerpts.

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In a recent issue of Science, Gilbert and his coauthorspsychology graduate student Matthew Killingsworth, Rebecca Eyre, Ph.D. ’05, and [Situationist Contributor] Timothy Wilson, Aston professor of psychology at the University of Virginiareported findings on “surrogation”: consulting the experience of another person, a surrogate, in deciding whether something will make you happy. They discovered that the direct experience of another person trumps the conjecturing of our own minds.

The surrogate’s verdict is a useful guide because we are far more similar to each other than we realize. “If you look at other human beings, we seem amazingly varied,” Gilbert explains. “What we forget is that if a Martian came and looked at us, he wouldn’t be able to tell any of us apart.” The same holds for our inner reactions. “One of the ways we’re quite similar is in our hedonic or emotional reactions to events,” he continues. “Yes, it’s true that you may like strawberry ice cream more than chocolate, whereas I prefer chocolate. But that shouldn’t obscure the much bigger point: everybody likes ice cream more than they like gall-bladder surgery. Everybody prefers a weekend in Paris to being hit over the head with a two-by-four.” Economic markets exist for this very reason: to a large degree, people like the same things.

Gilbert volunteers a thought experiment: ask a random person to list all possible human experiences, ranking them from best to worst. Then ask another randomly chosen individual to do the same. Gilbert predicts, “You’d see 99 percent overlap in their arrangements.” That’s why surrogation works. (It isn’t, however, a perfect guide, only better than the alternatives. Surrogation’s a poor strategy in those rare circumstances where human emotional responses vary widely—e.g., to a question like, “What’s your favorite number?”)

In one experiment to test surrogation, the psychologists asked a sample of women to predict how much they would enjoy a “speed date” with a particular man. Some women saw his personal profile and photograph; others learned nothing about him other than how much another woman (a stranger) had enjoyed her speed date with him. The second group predicted their enjoyment far more accurately than the first. Both groups had expected the reverse, and oddly enough, despite the outcome, both groups preferred to have the profile/photograph for their next date.

This suggests that ideas trump reality. But in predicting your likings, even someone else’s direct experience trumps mental hypotheses—which is why surrogation works. But to be helpful, the surrogate’s experience must be recent. “People are very poor at remembering how happy they were,” Gilbert says. “So it’s not very useful to ask, ‘How much did you like something you experienced last year?’ People get most questions about happiness wrong. But there is one question they get right: how happy are you right now?”

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To read the entire article and listen to parts of the interview, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Dan Gilbert on Why the Brain Scares Itself,” “Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,’” “Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing,” Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It!

Posted in Emotions, Life, Positive Psychology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 11, 2010

From EurekaAlert:

“Just as our species could be considered the most violent, since we are capable of serial killings, genocide and other atrocities, we are also the most empathetic species, which would seem to be the other side of the coin”, Luis Moya Albiol, lead author of the study and a researcher at the UV, tells SINC.

This study, published in the most recent issue of the Revista de Neurología, concludes that the prefrontal and temporal cortex, the amygdala and other features of the limbic system (such as insular and cingular cortexcortex) play “a fundamental role in all situations in which empathy appears”.

Moya Albiol says these parts of the brain overlap “in a surprising way” with those that regulate aggression and violence. As a result, the scientific team argues that the cerebral circuits – for both empathy and violence – could be “partially similar”.

“We all know that encouraging empathy has an inhibiting effect on violence, but this may not only be a social question but also a biological one – stimulation of these neuronal circuits in one direction reduces their activity in the other”, the researcher adds.

This means it is difficult for a “more empathetic” brain to behave in a violent way, at least on a regular basis. “Educating people to be empathetic could be an education for peace, bringing about a reduction in conflict and belligerent acts”, the researcher concludes.

Techniques for measuring the human brain “in vivo”, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, are making it possible to find out more about the structures of the brain that regulate behaviour and psychological processes such as empathy.

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These findings were published in the latest issue of Revista de Neurología.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” The Situational Benefits of Outsiders,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,”The Case for Obedience,” and “March Madness.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Emotions | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of an Airstrike

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2010

Benedict Carey wrote a great article, titled “Psychologists Explain Iraqi Airstrike Video” for the New York Times.  Here are some excerpts, with the addition of the videos to which the article refers.

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The sight of human beings, most of them unarmed, being gunned down from above is jarring enough.

But for many people who watched the video of a 2007 assault by an Army Apache helicopter in Baghdad, released Monday by WikiLeaks.org, the most disturbing detail was the cockpit chatter. The soldiers joked, chuckled and jeered as they shot people in the street, including a Reuters photographer and a driver, believing them to be insurgents.

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In recent days, many veterans have made the point that fighters cannot do their jobs without creating psychological distance from the enemy. One reason that the soldiers seemed as if they were playing a video game is that, in a morbid but necessary sense, they were.

“You don’t want combat soldiers to be foolish or to jump the gun, but their job is to destroy the enemy, and one way they’re able to do that is to see it as a game, so that the people don’t seem real,” said Bret A. Moore, a former Army psychologist and co-author of the forthcoming book “Wheels Down: Adjusting to Life After Deployment.”

Military training is fundamentally an exercise in overcoming a fear of killing another human, said Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of the book “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” who is a former Army Ranger.

Combat training “is the only technique that will reliably influence the primitive, midbrain processing of a frightened human being” to take another life, the colonel writes. “Conditioning in flight simulators enables pilots to respond reflexively to emergency situations even when frightened.”

The men in the Apache helicopter in the video flew into an area that was being contested, during a broader conflict in which a number of helicopters had been shot down.

Several other factors are on display during the 38-minute video, said psychologists in and out of the military. . . .

* * *

The fighters in the helicopter say over the radio that they are sure they see a “weapon,” even though the Reuters photographer, Namir Noor-Eldeen, is carrying a camera.

“It’s tragic that this all begins with the apparent mistaking of a camera” for a weapon, said David A. Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University. “But it’s perfectly understandable with what we know now about context and vision. Take the same image and put it in a bathroom, and you swear it’s a hair dryer; put it in a workshop, and you swear it’s a power drill.”

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After the helicopter guns down a group of men, the video shows a van stopping to pick up one of the wounded. The soldiers in the helicopter suspect it to be hostile and, after getting clearance from base, fire again. Two children in the van are wounded, and one of the soldiers remarks, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”

Here again, psychologists say, when people are intensely focused on observing some specific feature of the landscape, they may not even see what is obvious to another observer. The classic demonstration of this is a video in which people toss around a basketball; viewers told to count the number of passes rarely see a person in a gorilla suit who strolls into the picture, stops and faces the camera, and strolls out.

* * *

* * *

The soldiers were looking for combatants; experts say it is not clear they would have seen children, even if they should have.

The video’s emotional impact on viewers is also partly rooted in the combination of intimacy and distance it gives them, some experts said. The viewer sees a wider tragedy unfolding, in hindsight, from the safety of a desk; the soldiers are reacting in real time, on high alert, exposed.

In recent studies, researchers have shown that such distance tempts people to script how they would act in the same place, and overestimate the force of their own professed moral principles.

“We don’t express our better angels as much as we’d like to think, especially when strong emotions are involved,” Dr. Dunning said. He added, “What another person does in that situation should stand as forewarning for what we would do ourselves.”

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Thanks to Situationist Fellow Goutam Jois for sending us this link.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Soldiers,” Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Military Meets the Mind Sciences,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources of War – Part VII,” “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors,” The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” “Looking for the Evil Actor,” Neuroscience and Illusion,”

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

Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2010

From TempletonFoundation:

Why is revenge such a pervasive and destructive problem? Why is forgiveness so difficult? In “Beyond Revenge,” Michael E. McCullough argues that the key to creating a more forgiving world is to understand both the evolutionary forces that gave rise to these intimately human instincts and the social forces that activate them in our minds today. Drawing on the latest breakthroughs in the social and biological sciences, McCullough offers practical and often surprising advice for how individuals, social groups, and even nations might move beyond our deep penchant for revenge.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” The Situation of Revenge,” “The Situation of Punishment,” and “Why We Punish.”

Posted in Book, Conflict, Emotions, Life, Morality, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Neuro-Situation of Moral and Economic Decisions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 21, 2010

From ThirteenWNET:

To Steven Quartz & Colin Camerer the brain is a huge number-cruncher, assigning a numeric value to everything from a loaf of bread to our most deeply held moral “values.” In that sense, moral decisions are also economic ones. Using a brain scanner (fMRI), they want to catch the brain in the act—to see what it’s doing at exactly the moment a tough moral decision gets made. Their research is pioneering a new branch of neuroscience — neuroeconomics.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Legal Brain,” Read My Brain – From Science Friday,” “The Situation of Neuroeconomics and Situationist Economics,” and “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Distribution, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 25, 2010

From EurekAlert:

The human brain is a big believer in equality—and a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has become the first to gather the images to prove it.

Specifically, the team found that the reward centers in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does. The surprising thing? This activity pattern holds true even if the brain being looked at is in the rich person’s head, rather than the poor person’s.

These conclusions, and the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that led to them, are described in the February 25 issue of the journal Nature.

“This is the latest picture in our gallery of human nature,” says Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at Caltech and one of the paper’s coauthors. “It’s an exciting area of research; we now have so many tools with which to study how the brain is reacting.”

It’s long been known that we humans don’t like inequality, especially when it comes to money. Tell two people working the same job that their salaries are different, and there’s going to be trouble, notes John O’Doherty, professor of psychology at Caltech, Thomas N. Mitchell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, and the principal investigator on the Nature paper.

But what was unknown was just how hardwired that dislike really is. “In this study, we’re starting to get an idea of where this inequality aversion comes from,” he says. “It’s not just the application of a social rule or convention; there’s really something about the basic processing of rewards in the brain that reflects these considerations.”

The brain processes “rewards”—things like food, money, and even pleasant music, which create positive responses in the body—in areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and ventral striatum.

In a series of experiments, former Caltech postdoctoral scholar Elizabeth Tricomi (now an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University)—along with O’Doherty, Camerer, and Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech—watched how the VMPFC and ventral striatum reacted in 40 volunteers who were presented with a series of potential money-transfer scenarios while lying in an fMRI machine.

For instance, a participant might be told that he could be given $50 while another person could be given $20; in a second scenario, the student might have a potential gain of only $5 and the other person, $50. The fMRI images allowed the researchers to see how each volunteer’s brain responded to each proposed money allocation.

But there was a twist. Before the imaging began, each participant in a pair was randomly assigned to one of two conditions: One participant was given what the researchers called “a large monetary endowment” ($50) at the beginning of the experiment; the other participant started from scratch, with no money in his or her pocket.

As it turned out, the way the volunteers—or, to be more precise, the reward centers in the volunteers’ brains—reacted to the various scenarios depended strongly upon whether they started the experiment with a financial advantage over their peers.

“People who started out poor had a stronger brain reaction to things that gave them money, and essentially no reaction to money going to another person,” Camerer says. “By itself, that wasn’t too surprising.”

What was surprising was the other side of the coin. “In the experiment, people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money,” Camerer explains. “In other words, their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.”

“We now know that these areas are not just self-interested,” adds O’Doherty. “They don’t exclusively respond to the rewards that one gets as an individual, but also respond to the prospect of other individuals obtaining a reward.”

What was especially interesting about the finding, he says, is that the brain responds “very differently to rewards obtained by others under conditions of disadvantageous inequality versus advantageous inequality. It shows that the basic reward structures in the human brain are sensitive to even subtle differences in social context.”

This, O’Doherty notes, is somewhat contrary to the prevailing views about human nature. “As a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who works on reward and motivation, I very much view the brain as a device designed to maximize one’s own self interest,” says O’Doherty. “The fact that these basic brain structures appear to be so readily modulated in response to rewards obtained by others highlights the idea that even the basic reward structures in the human brain are not purely self-oriented.”

Camerer, too, found the results thought provoking. “We economists have a widespread view that most people are basically self-interested, and won’t try to help other people,” he says. “But if that were true, you wouldn’t see these sort of reactions to other people getting money.”

Still, he says, it’s likely that the reactions of the “rich” participants were at least partly motivated by self-interest—or a reduction of their own discomfort. “We think that, for the people who start out rich, seeing another person get money reduces their guilt over having more than the others.”

Having watched the brain react to inequality, O’Doherty says, the next step is to “try to understand how these changes in valuation actually translate into changes in behavior. For example, the person who finds out they’re being paid less than someone else for doing the same job might end up working less hard and being less motivated as a consequence. It will be interesting to try to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie such changes.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Robin Hood Motives,” “Martha Fineman on the Situation of Gender and Equality,” “The Blame Frame – Abstract,” “The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” and “The Situation of Inequality – Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Distribution, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Valentines Day Pain Relief

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 10, 2010

From Eureka Alert:

Can the mere thought of your loved one reduce your pain?

Yes, according to a new study by UCLA psychologists that underscores the importance of social relationships and staying socially connected.

The study, which asked whether simply looking at a photograph of your significant other can reduce pain, involved 25 women, mostly UCLA students, who had boyfriends with whom they had been in a good relationship for more than six months.

The women received moderately painful heat stimuli to their forearms while they went through a number of different conditions. In one set of conditions, they viewed photographs of their boyfriend, a stranger and a chair.

“When the women were just looking at pictures of their partner, they actually reported less pain to the heat stimuli than when they were looking at pictures of an object or pictures of a stranger,” said study co-author Naomi Eisenberger, assistant professor of psychology and director of UCLA’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. “Thus, the mere reminder of one’s partner through a simple photograph was capable of reducing pain.”

“This changes our notion of how social support influences people,” she added. “Typically, we think that in order for social support to make us feel good, it has to be the kind of support that is very responsive to our emotional needs. Here, however, we are seeing that just a photo of one’s significant other can have the same effect.”

In another set of conditions, each woman held the hand of her boyfriend, the hand of a male stranger and a squeeze ball. The study found that when women were holding their boyfriends’ hands, they reported less physical pain than when they were holding a stranger’s hand or a ball while receiving the same amount of heat stimulation.

“This study demonstrates how much of an impact our social ties can have on our experience and fits with other work emphasizing the importance of social support for physical and mental health,” Eisenberger said.

One practical piece of advice the authors give is that the next time you are going through a stressful or painful experience, if you cannot bring a loved one with you, a photo may do.

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The study appears in the November 2009 issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Co-authors are Sarah Master, Shelley E. Taylor, Bruce Naliboff, David Shirinyan,  and Matthew D. Lieberman.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Pain,” The Racial Situation of Pain Relief,”Cupid’s Situation,” The Situation of Love,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Situation of Cupid’s Arrow,” “How System Threat Affects Cupid,” and “The Situation of Flirting.”

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

Cupid’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 7, 2010

One week before Valentine’s Day, Jessica Pauline Ogilvie published an interesting article, titled “Scientists Try To Measure Love,” for the Los Angeles Times.  Here are some excerpts.

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Whatever its reason, there can be little doubt — even from a scientific standpoint — about the potent feelings that being in love elicits.

Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York, has done brain scans on people newly in love and found that after that first magical meeting or perfect first date, a complex system in the brain is activated that is essentially “the same thing that happens when a person takes cocaine.”

In one such study, published in 2005, Aron recruited 10 women and seven men who had fallen in love within the last one to 17 months. After taking a brief survey about the relationship (items included statements such as “I melt when looking deeply into ____’s eyes”), participants were put in MRI machines and shown pictures of their beloved, interspersed with pictures of neutral acquaintances. When participants viewed images of their partners, their brains’ ventral tegmental area, which houses the reward and motivation systems, was flooded with the chemical dopamine.

“Dopamine is released when you’re doing something [highly] pleasurable,” like having sex, doing drugs or eating chocolate, says Larry J. Young, a psychiatry professor at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Atlanta’s Emory University. Activation of this part of the brain is primarily responsible for causing the sometimes bizarre behavior of new couples, which is linked to motivation and achieving goals: excessive energy, losing sleep, euphoric feelings and, occasionally, anxiety and obsession when they’re separated from their objet d’amour.

According to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and author of “Why Him? Why Her?,” the smitten party is acting out of a motivation to “win life’s greatest prize — a mating partner for life.”

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After the dopamine surge, research suggests that two key hormones — oxytocin and vasopressin — enter the picture, encouraging couples to form emotional bonds.

Oxytocin is released in humans during intimate moments such as prolonged eye contact, hugging and sex. It’s also the hormone that causes mothers to bond with their infants. And having been proved to be involved in long-term bonding in prairie voles and, most recently, marmosets, researchers speculate that it plays the same role in humans.

Vasopressin — also linked to bonding in prairie voles — has similarly been linked to bonding in men. A 2008 study showed that a certain genetic variation of a vasopressin receptor was correlated with marital infidelity and fear of commitment.

All the chemicals and hormones released in new love help ensure that we mate and stay together long enough to reproduce or form partnerships for the long term. But once they’ve subsided, what happens?

Until recently, researchers assumed that most couples eventually settle into what’s called companionate love: relationships that are more intimate, more committed — and much less thrilling.

A recent study, however, proved this theory (and years of marriage sitcoms) wrong. Bianca Acevedo, postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Barbara, looked at brain scans of couples claiming to be madly in love after 20 years of marriage. She and her colleagues found that these fortunate folks had the same neural activity observed in newly in love couples, only without the anxiety or obsession.

Acevedo also discovered something that surprised even her: Based on preliminary surveys, this kind of lasting love appears to be present in approximately 30% of married couples in the U.S.

That doesn’t mean, though, that those of us who don’t fall squarely into that group should throw in the towel. Researchers believe that we have a lot to learn from these happy couples, if only we’re willing to do so.

To begin with, a great deal of research shows that doing novel, exciting things together boosts marital happiness. “Take a class together that you know nothing about,” suggests Aron, who has co-written several studies in this area. “See a play, go to a new location, go to a horse race.” The release of dopamine during these activities might remind couples of how it felt to fall in love or even be happily misattributed to the experience of being together.

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To read the entire article, including a number of excellent suggestions for how to maintain that “lov’n feel’n” click here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of Dopamine,” The Situation of Love,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Situation of Cupid’s Arrow,” “How System Threat Affects Cupid,” and “The Situation of Flirting.”

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

The Situation of Emotional Distress Claims

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 20, 2009

Betsy Grey has recently posted her intriguing paper, “Neuroscience and Emotional Harm in Tort Law: Rethinking the American Approach to Free-Standing Emotional Distress Claims” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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American tort law traditionally distinguishes between “physical” and “emotional” harm for purposes of liability, with emotional harm treated as a second class citizen. The customary view is that physical injury is more entitled to compensation because it is considered more objectively verifiable and perhaps more important. The current draft of the Restatement of the Law (Third) of Torts maintains this view. Even the name of the Restatement project itself – “Liability for Physical and Emotional Harm” – emphasizes this distinction. Advances in neuroscience suggest that the concern over verification may no longer be valid, and that the phenomena we call “emotional” harm has a physiological basis. Because of these early scientific advances, this may be an appropriate time to re-examine our assumptions about tort recovery for emotional harm.

Using studies of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an example, this paper explores advances in neuroscience that have begun to shed light on the biological basis of the harm suffered when an individual is exposed to extreme stress. These advances underline the shrinking scientific distinction between physical and emotional harm. Drawing on these scientific developments, as well as on the British approach to emotional injury claims, the paper concludes that we should rethink the American treatment of emotional distress claims. In general, it proposes that we change our approach to account for advances in neuroscience, moving toward a more unified view of bodily and emotional injury. Two potential legal applications are advanced in this paper: (1) that science can provide empirical evidence of what it means to suffer emotional distress, thus helping to validate a claim that has always been subject to greater scrutiny; and (2) that this evidence may allow us to move away from the sharp distinction between how physical and emotional injuries are conceptualized, viewing both as valid types of harm with physiological origins.

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To download the paper for free, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “Placebo and the Situation of Healing,” “The Situation of Time and Mind,” “The Rubber Hand Illusion,” The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” “A (Situationist) Body of Thought,” and “A Closer Look at the Interior Situation.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Law, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 11, 2009

Black Woman StressFrom Eureka Alert:

African-American women experiencing discrimination no longer feel masters of their own destiny

Racial discrimination is a major threat to African American women’s mental health. It undermines their view of themselves as masters of their own life circumstances and makes them less psychologically resilient and more prone to depression. These findings (1) by Dr. Verna Keith, from Florida State University in the US and her colleagues, are published online in Springer’s journal Sex Roles.

Dr. Keith and her team used data from the National Survey of American Life: Coping with Stress in the 21st Century to analyze the relationship between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms among 2,300 African American adult women. They also looked at whether personal mastery – the belief that one can control important circumstances affecting one’s life – explained the intensity of the women’s psychological response to discrimination, and whether experiences of discrimination differed by skin complexion. The effects of age and education were also assessed.

African American women who viewed themselves as being able to exercise some control over their life circumstances reported fewer depressive symptoms. Women who were subjected to higher levels of unfair treatment experienced more depressive symptoms, in part, because day-to-day discrimination undermined their overall confidence in their ability to manage life challenges, leaving them feeling powerless and depressed.

The authors’ analyses also showed that skin tone was not linked to level of discrimination, mastery or depressive symptoms. Older African American women reported slightly fewer experiences of discrimination, lower levels of mastery and fewer depressive symptoms than younger women. The more educated women felt more in control of their lives and experienced fewer depressive symptoms.

The authors conclude: “Our results show that perceptions of unfair treatment, like other chronic stressors, are psychologically burdensome to African American women. Our findings confirm that mastery mediates the relationship between discrimination and depressive symptoms and plays a major role in explaining why some African American women are more vulnerable to discrimination than others. Many women suffer emotionally because they are unable to view themselves as efficacious and competent actors when treated with suspicion and confronted with dehumanizing interactions.”

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The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

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

Dan Gilbert on Why the Brain Scares Itself

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 8, 2009

Dan Gilbert1For the Harvard Law Record, Harvard Law Students, Anush Emelianova and Gustavo Ribeiro, wrote a nice summary of Dan Gilbert‘s recent lecture at Harvard Law School.  His lecture, titled “Why Does the Brain Scare Itself?,” drew a  crowd of roughly 150 students and contributed to Gilbert’s reputation as an amazing and captivating speaker.    Here’s Emilianova and Ribeiro’s description.

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Why does the brain scare itself?  On Monday, October 19, Professor Dan Gilbert confronted this question in an event sponsored by first-year Section VI. Professor Gilbert, who wrote  the bestselling book Stumbling on Happiness, is a Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the Director of Harvard’s Hedonic Psychology Laboratory. He opened his remarks by stating that the power of the mind to automatically make predictions by simulating outcomes is the key feature that distinguishes humans from other animals.

Because the brain is made up of semi-independent systems, it can talk to itself or even “scare itself.”   But Prof. Gilbert believes that the limited mental capacities of humans impose limits on the accuracy of predictions about the emotional impact of future events. He demonstrated this by identifying four limitations of the brain’s ability to simulate the future: unrepresentativeness, essentialization, truncation, and presentism.

According to Prof. Gilbert, humans’ mental simulations are unrepresentatively based on the individual’s best or worst memories, failing to correspond to the average experience.  When the mind produces imaginary scenarios, the images tend to be essentialized, that is, distilled to a simplified image with the details cut out.  Remembered experiences also interfere with accurate prediction because they are truncated and fail to incorporate the ability to adapt to different situations over time.  Furthermore, Prof. Gilbert believes the human mind has a “presentist” bias, accepting in most circumstances the fiction that tomorrow will be exactly like today and that the feelings at the moment of making a decision will persist until the outcome of that decision arises. As an example, Professor Gilbert demonstrated a photograph of a 16-year-old who had tattooed Pac-Man on her head, suggesting that the excitement of the moment would eventually give way to regret.

Professor Gilbert does not believe humans have the capacity to systematically prevent errors in mental simulations.  “As I marinate you in the bloopers and foibles, the mistakes and biases of the human mind, you must be thinking, is there anything we can do about this? I’m happy to tell you the answer is no,” he said.

Despite the failure of predictions to account for dynamic circumstances, humans tend to adapt or rationalize outcomes to make themselves feel better.  Prof. Gilbert illustrated this tendency with the satisfied attitude of Pete Best, the original drummer for the Beatles.

Despite missing out on being part of one of the most successful bands ever, Best said in a 1994 interview that, “I’m happier than I would have been with the Beatles.” Professor Gilbert argued that this was a striking example of rationalization.

Prof. Gilbert also indicated that there may be techniques available to minimize some types of cognitive error.  “Surrogation,” or asking others about their experience of a similar situation, can act as a more reliable guide than one’s own expectations. In fact, according to Prof. Gilbert, any random person’s actual experience of a given situation is likely to be much more predictive of our future enjoyment than our imaginary simulation of that same experience.

“Human beings are all basically the same.”

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The Project on Law and Mind Sciences will make the video of Gilbert’s talk available within the next few weeks.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Dan Gilbert To Speak at Harvard Law School,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,” Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Psychology,”The Situation of Climate Change,” The Heat is On,”The Situation of Happiness,” and “Conversation with Dan Gilbert.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Emotions, Events, Illusions, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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