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Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Ride to Hell and The Situation of Sexual Violence in Video Games

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 15, 2013

In late June, Deep Silver published a new video game called Ride to Hell: Retribution. The action game, which is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, has players taking on the role of a Vietnam War veteran who wages battles with a biker gang. In addition to receiving horrific reviews for its shoddy game play and pointless story — Ride to Hell: Retribution has one of the lowest scores of all video games on Metacritic — the game has attracted much scorn for “forced” sex scenes and its demeaning depiction of women.

For an example of the sexual content in Ride to Hell: Retribution, see from the 10:00 minute mark in this video:

Justin Alderman, a video game critic for We Got This Covered, explains the controversy:

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The other thing to note about Ride to Hell: Retribution‘s missions is that each of them contain at least one impromptu, and very creepy, sex scene. At some point during each mission Jake will spot one or more male characters threatening (either physically or sexually) one or more female characters. After killing the hostile males, Jake is “rewarded” with a short cutscene of him having fully-clothed sex with the distressed damsel[s].

I’m not inherently against including sex in video games, but the circumstances surrounding the repeated sex scenes in Ride to Hell: Retribution are extremely offensive and troubling.

The most obvious issue is that almost all of the female characters in the game amount to nothing more than objects for Jake to eventually have sex with. What is far more disconcerting, in my opinion, is that the “sex reward” is basically forced upon players. You can either leave the distressed female to get beat up and/or raped, or you can stop the attack and then have sex with her yourself. There is never any option to be a decent human being and just stop the rape.

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To read the rest, click here. For other Situationist posts on video games, click here.

Posted in Entertainment, Marketing, Public Policy | 1 Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 3, 2013

This post (authored by Adam Benforado) was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

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(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Bill Belichick and the “Frank Sinatra Principle”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 4, 2013

Bill BelichickSeveral of us on The Situationist are fans of the New England Patriots and their head coach, Bill Belichick.  Belichick is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, football coaches around; he’s often called a “genius”.  Why?  His teams have won 3 Super Bowl championships, and he’s coached in five of the last 11 Super Bowls.  And he seems consistently smarter than other coaches in his strategies and designs.  It’s as if the Patriots begin each game with a sizable advantage in coaching.

But how much of Belichick’s success can be attributed to situation rather than ability and work ethic?  The Washington Post‘s Norman Chad argues quite a bit in his piece Patriots Coach Bill Belichick may be the luckiest man on Earth:

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Let us count the ways Belichick has been wildly fortunate in his NFL head-coaching career:

1. Most coaches would not even get a second chance, as Belichick did, after his four-losing-seasons-in-five stint with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95.

2. He masterfully sidestepped the moribund New York Jets, who hired him in 2000, quitting one day after getting the job with his infamous, hand-scribbled note, “I resign as HC of the NYJ.”

3. During the second game of his second season as coach of the New England Patriots, Drew Bledsoe got hurt; otherwise, Tom Brady might still be on the sideline, texting Mark Sanchez about good-looking ladies in the stands.

4. The Tuck Rule Game in January 2002, in which Brady fumbled away the Patriots’ last chance against the Oakland Raiders, only to have referee Walt Coleman reverse the call via replay and reverse the course of NFL history for the next decade.

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Belichick is now regarded as a football genius. But without Bledsoe’s misfortune and Brady’s magnificence, Belichick might’ve been Eric Mangini before Eric Mangini, glumly sitting in an ESPN studio dispensing gridiron bromides. Instead, Belichick — with 12 straight winning seasons in New England — has become the ninth-winningest coach in NFL history.

Belichick is a great example of what I call the “Frank Sinatra Principle.” The Sinatra principle states that two singers can be born on the same Hoboken, N.J., block in the same year with similar skills, but one becomes a treasured entertainment icon and the other works the Ramada Inn lounge in Fairborn, Ohio. And it is a result of luck or connections as much as talent and hard work.

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Read the entire article here.  

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Entertainment, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Comparing Distractions – Beer versus Facebook

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 8, 2012

From PsychCentral:

Getting your work done and even just chatting with your friends on Facebook or Twitter are harder desires for Germans to resist than drinking or smoking, according to a paper presented at Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s annual meeting in San Diego last week.

Researchers found the hardest desires to resist were either technology-driven — such as checking in with our friends on Facebook or surfing the web for specific information — or goal-directed activities, such as finishing up a project for work or school.

“Desires for media like watching television, surfing the Internet, using your iPhone, and our desire to work — that is, the intrinsic desire to get your work done —these are the hardest to resist,” said Wilhelm Hofmann, Ph.D., a behavioral science professor at the University of the Chicago.

The researchers studied the willpower of 205 adults ages 18 to 55 in the new study, checking in with them through a study-provided smartphone seven times a day to see if they were currently experiencing or recently experienced a desire or urge. Researchers assessed the kind of desire experience as well as its severity, and asked if the subject resisted or submitted to their desire. The study was conducted in and around the German city of Würtzburg, so it’s unclear whether the findings generalize to other countries or Americans.

Researchers collected 10,558 responses and 7,827 episodes where an urge or desire were reported.

It turns out that while sleep was a powerful desire for many subjects, it was easy to resist because there are few opportunities to sleep outside of the house. Other easy desires to resist include sexual urges, and spending impulses.

The hardest desires to control were ones dealing with our interactions with technology. It is especially hard for people to resist the desire to work even when it conflict with other goals such as socializing or leisure activities because “work can define people’s identities, dictate many aspects of daily life, and invoke penalties if important duties are shirked.”

Hofmann suggested that the desires for media may be harder to resist because of its high availability and also because it “feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist,” he told one media outlet.

Drinking and smoking, on the other hand, are not readily available to most people throughout the day, and they come with higher costs, both financially and socially.

“With cigarettes and alcohol there are more costs — long-term as well as monetary — and the opportunity may not always be the right one. Even though giving in to media desires is certainly less consequential, the frequent use may still ‘steal’ a lot of people’s time.”

The best ways to resist undesirable urges said Hofmann is to not overindulge while drinking alcoholic beverages, and avoid being with or watching others participate in tempting activities.

The study also found that that as the day wore on, willpower lessened. This suggests it would be wiser not to make any big purchases later in the day, and to avoid behaviors which may lessen one’s willpower or inhibitions further.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Entertainment, Life, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 5, 2012

This post was originally published on February 4, 2007.

Superbowl XLI

As I stake out my position on the couch this evening – close enough to reach the pretzels and my beer, but with an optimal view of the TV – it will be nice to imagine that the spectacle about to unfold is a sporting event.It shouldn’t be too hard: after all, there on the screen will be the field, Brian Urlacher stretching out his quads, Peyton Manning tossing a football, referees in their freshly-starched zebra uniforms milling about.Yes, I’ll think to myself, this has all the makings of a football game.

How foolish.

The Super Bowl isn’t about sports; it’s about making money.And with 90 million or so viewers, there is a lot of money to be made.

With CBS charging an estimated $2.6 million for each 30-second advertising spot, it’s no surprise that corporations don’t mess around with guessing what the most effective approach will be for selling their products.They call in the scientists.brain-on-advertising.jpg

For the second year in a row, FKF Applied Research has partnered with the Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, to “measure the effect of many of the Super Bowl ads by using fMRI technology.”The research involves “track[ing] the ads on a host of dimensions by looking for activity in key parts of the brain areas that are known to be involved in wanting, choosing, sexual arousal, fear, indecision and reward.”As the FKF website explains, why this research is useful to Fortune 100 companies is that it

shows clearly that what people say in focus groups and in response to poll questions is not what they actually think, feel and do. fMRI scans using our analytical methods allow us to see beyond self report and to understand the emotions and thoughts that are driving (or impeding) behavior.

Looking beyond the spoken word provides immense and actionable insights into a brand, a competitive framework, advertising and visual images and cues.

As it turns out, “brand” lives in a particular place in the human brain:

[W]hen [FKF] did an academic study on the impact of iconic brands, such as Pepsi and Coke and McDonalds, [they] found that the same part of the brain lit up over images of sports logos – say, for the NBA or NFL. There is a clear connection in the human brain between the anticipation of eating that you get from, say, the Coke logo and with the NBA logo.

nfl-coke-logos.jpg

For someone like me, who has always wondered why I feel so hungry reading the sports page, this is interesting stuff.For a corporate CEO, this is extremely interesting – and actionable – stuff.For everyone else . . . this is a reason to be concerned.

Corporations are using science to figure out how our brains work so they can sell more products and what they are finding is that our brains don’t work the way we think they do.

Anticipating this worry, FKF has an Ethics tab on its website:

We are committed to the highest level of ethical behavior in conducting our work. We are determined to be diligent in carving out a new field, and being a leader and advocate in ensuring the best interests of our subjects, the public, and our clients are protected. . . . We believe that wide dissemination about how people make decisions will empower all concerned – both consumers and purveyors of information. Such information, freely discussed in a democracy, will allow us to understand better how marketing is affecting us, discredit manipulation, promote communication, and help illuminate a process that fundamentally shapes the lives of human beings.

Sounds good – in fact, it sounds like situationism, and I have no reason to think that the founders of FKF, or the university scientists with whom they work, aren’t upstanding citizens with good moral compasses.It’s just that I’m still uneasy.

Corporations don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to learning counterintuitive information about human decision making and then using it responsibly.Rather, the best approach for maximizing shareholder profit is to discover some seemingly-illogical detail about the human brain, use that knowledge to sell more widgets, and then convince the public that their naïve (and incorrect) beliefs about how they make choices are, in fact, correct.

Take big tobacco: as Jon Hanson and others have documented, after figuring out that nicotine was addictive and could compel people to buy marlboro-sm.jpgMarlboros, cigarette companies made a concerted effort to both up nicotine concentrations in their products and convince people, through advertising, that they were rational actors who were not easily manipulated.From the perspective of an entity that is charged, through our legal rules, with making money (and not with doing social good), it makes little sense to alter peoples’ situations to get them to be better consumers and then tell them that you are doing it and that it matters.

Why, that would be as silly as announcing a weak-side blitz to the quarterback before the play.Sure, it would be the nice, ethical thing to warn decent gentlemen like Manning and Rex Grossman of the imminent threat, but it’s not part of the game we’ve developed.Football is a game where you can get blind-sided.

As corporations and our brains make certain, so is watching football.

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(To read about the results of a brain-scan study of men and women watching the 2006 Super Bowl by UCLA neuroscientist Marco Iacobini, click here. To listen to a recent one-hour NPR (On Point) program on “The Changing World of Advertising,” click here.)

Posted in Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Sports | 4 Comments »

What Will Sports Look Like In 20 Years?

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 6, 2011

When it rains, it pours.

My last two posts (here and here) focused on the connection between heading the ball in soccer and an assortment of different brain trauma problems. It was a single event the prompted my initial thoughts on the matter (the suicide of soccer legend Gary Speed), but in the intervening few days, there have been several stories in other news outlets concerning head injuries and sports.

The most poignant has been the New York Times series on the hockey player Derek Boogaard—perhaps the NHL’s most feared enforcer who died of an alcohol and drug overdose at just 28.  I enjoyed the first part of the series the most, as it explored the culture of hockey in Canada and the making of a professional fighter (Boogaard, born big and tough, realized early on that his chance at making the big leagues was with his fists, not the accuracy of his shot).  But the third installment, investigating Boogaard’s brain is most relevant to the topic at hand:

Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as C.T.E., a close relative of Alzheimer’s disease. It is believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head. It can be diagnosed only posthumously, but scientists say it shows itself in symptoms like memory loss, impulsiveness, mood swings, even addiction.

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More than 20 dead former N.F.L. players and many boxers have had C.T.E. diagnosed. It generally hollowed out the final years of their lives into something unrecognizable to loved ones.

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And now, the fourth hockey player, of four examined, was found to have had it, too.

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But this was different. The others were not in their 20s, not in the prime of their careers.

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The scientists on the far end of the conference call told the Boogaard family that they were shocked to see so much damage in someone so young. It appeared to be spreading through his brain.  Had Derek Boogaard lived, they said, his condition likely would have worsened into middle-age dementia.

On November 29, The New York Times also covered a recent class-action lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Illinois asserting that “the N.C.A.A. has been negligent regarding awareness and treatment of brain injuries to athletes”:

The legal action comes after a five-year flurry of awareness of brain injuries in contact sports and follows lawsuits filed this year by dozens of former N.F.L. players who claim the league was negligent in its handling of brain trauma. The issue has moved from science labs to Congress and now to courtrooms, where the financial exposure of the sport’s governing bodies may be tested.

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The N.F.L. is subsidizing care for some of the most seriously damaged of its former players, after public and Congressional pressure forced the league to acknowledge the gravity of the issue. But the damage did not begin with the first hit in an N.F.L. training camp. Players have been absorbing blows to the brain since they were children.

This all leads to a tough question: Is it time to change our contact sports?

I am a very serious sports fan and I understand those who find the very notion of hockey without fighting, soccer without heading, and football without tackling laughable at best.  I’ll admit: I love watching LaRon Landry cream a receiver and Andy Carroll smack home a header.  But the fact of the matter is that hockey, soccer, football, lacrosse, and boxing are just games.  The rules are invented.  They have changed in the past and they can change again.

As prudent a move as it is, do I think removing dangerous contact from these sports is likely in the near term?

Unfortunately, my answer is no.

As the evidence continues to build that sports are seriously endangering athletes, I think we’ll see two things happen.  First, there will be changes at the margins that don’t get to the core of the problem but make leagues appear as if they are being responsive (e.g., fining NFL players more heavily who engage in helmet-on-helmet hits).  Second, we’ll see an increasing backlash from those who feel that this is just another example of how know-it-all “experts” and “nannies” are ruining the fun—indeed, attacking the very foundations of our way of life.  These folks will argue that everyone knows that sports are dangerous and that people should be allowed to exercise their free choice.  They may point out that athletes get paid lots of money to assume the risk of serious head injuries.  And, in all likelihood, they’ll trot out the slippery-slope argument to suggest that if we change the rules of football, we’ll be on the road to totalitarianism where all freedoms are removed under the false promise of “eliminating dangers.”

That’s silliness.  Rule changes made in the name of public health aren’t going to kill sports and they certainly aren’t going to destroy America.

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Review a collection of sports related Situationist posts here or posts related to naive cynicism and backlash here.

Posted in Entertainment, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Miss Representation – Premieres Tonight on OWN

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 20, 2011

The documentary explores how the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. It will premiere in the US tonight at 9pm ET.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Entertainment, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Marketing Situation of Doritos (FTC Complaint)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 19, 2011

NPLAN filed a complaint today with the FTC today alleging that Frito-Lay has engaged in deceptive marketing to teens by disguising Doritos ads as entertainment; by collecting and using kids’ personal information in violation of its own privacy policy and without adequate disclosure about the extent and purpose of the data collection; and by engaging in viral marketing in violation of the FTC’s endorsement guidelines. Learn more about the complaint here.

These videos, which detail the advertising strategies and goals, speak for themselves.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Sarah Haskins on “Ladyfriend” Stereotypes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 21, 2011

From :

The best part about being a girl is your girlfriends. They keep you happy when you’re sad and make you laugh when you want to cry, and most importantly, tell you what to buy.

Related Situationist posts:

 

Posted in Entertainment, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Would You Obey?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 14, 2011

Here is another segment from John Quinones’s excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios. This episode asks, “Would You Obey a Total Stranger”

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Entertainment, Life, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Why Goalies Often Dive To The Right

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 31, 2011

APS Press Release:

In the quarterfinal of the 2006 Soccer World Cup, England and Portugal played for 90 tense minutes and 30 minutes extra time without a single goal being scored. This led them to a penalty shoot-out; as one by one, players went against the opposing team’s goalie. After four shots by each team, Portugal was ahead 2-1. Portugal’s star Cristiano Ronaldo shot to English goalkeeper Paul Robinson’s left, but Robinson dove right. Portugal scored, won the game, and went on to the semifinal.

When Robinson dove to his right, he was making a common choice for our right-oriented brains, according to a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The researchers found that, in World Cup penalty shoot-outs, goalies tend to dive right when their team is behind and they have a chance to save the game for their country.

Many studies have found that people and animals that want something tend to go to the right. When dogs see their owners, they wag their tails more to the right; toads strike to the right when they’re going for prey; and humans are more likely to turn their heads to the right to smooch their sweeties.

Marieke Roskes, who cowrote the study with Daniel Sligte, Shaul Shalvi, and Carsten K.W. De Dreu of the University of Amsterdam, thought of looking at this phenomenon in another arena: the soccer field. “I was sitting with my coauthors in the bar and we were talking about soccer and about research, which we often do on Friday afternoons,” she says. They thought of looking at how goalkeepers move in penalty shootouts, when they’re going after a big win.

In a penalty shootout, there are very different assumptions for the shooter and the goalkeeper. it’s extremely difficult for the keeper to defend the whole goal against one man, so nobody really blames him if the ball goes in. But he can win glory if he saves a ball. “The goalkeeper is the only person who can regain the chance to win the game,” Roskes says. “So he has the chance to become the big hero.”

The researchers examined every penalty shoot-out in every World Cup from 1982 to 2010 and found that most of the time, goalies are equally like to dive right and left. But when the goalkeeper’s team was behind, he was more likely to dive right than left. In an experiment, the team found that people who are told to divide a line in half tend to aim a bit to the right when they are both thinking about a positive goal and under time pressure—just like the goalies.

“It’s quite impressive. Even in this really important situation, people are still influenced by biological factors,” Roskes says. She says this suggests that in many situations where people are focused on a positive outcome and have to react quickly, they may go right. And, of course, there’s another goal for her and her collaborators: “We’re very hopeful this will help the Dutch national team to win the next World Cup.”

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For more information about this study, please contact: Marieke Roskes at m.roskes@uva.nl.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Entertainment, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Milgram-Inspired Movie

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 15, 2011

For those of you who missed this 1975 CBS movie, inspired by Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments, here’s your chance to watch “The Tenth Level.”

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Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Entertainment, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Legal Socialization and the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

SB-1070

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Board Meetings & the Open Access Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Question

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

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

Advertising By Pulling Advertising

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 28, 2011

In case you’ve been attending to important things and haven’t been keeping up on the latest MTV programing, the network has launched a new racy show, “Skins,” that depicts the wild alcohol/drug/sex-fueled world of high school — or, well, a high school (sadly, I went to a math equation/AP biology-fueled high school).

Like clockwork, various organizations like the Parents Television Council were enraged and called for protests, congressional investigations, and pitchfork rallies outside of ominous castles.

And, as these things inevitably go, a number of companies pulled their advertising from the show.

As a representative of Taco Bell explained to the Hollywood Reporter, “We’ve decided that the show is not a fit for our brand and have moved our advertising to other MTV programming.”

So what do we make of this . . . or, indeed, any instance where a company publicly drops a show or celebrity spokesman when controversy strikes?

Is it all downside?  That is certainly the story that gets told: we invested so much into the campaign centered around O.J. and then he had to go out and . . . !

But perhaps it’s not as bad as it would seem for corporate America.  In fact, perhaps these controversial “break-ups” present ripe opportunities for establishing a brand or company identity.

Accenture was the first sponsor to drop Tiger Woods as its representative after revelations of his sexual escapades were made public.

The drama that was portrayed in the media was one of a company done wrong, but I wonder about that narrative.

After all, Accenture benefited for years with Tiger coming to personify the accuracy and integrity of the firm.  When Tiger slipped up, the company swiftly acted to sever its relationship, with the implicit message that (1) Tiger did not live up to the high expectations of the company and (2) the company was so dedicated to accuracy and integrity that it would send its heavyweight spokesman packing for personal indiscretions.  The real upside, of course, was that the breakup was quite public with numerous “news” stories about the relationship gone bad.  People who knew nothing about consulting suddenly knew the name Accenture and what the company stood for.

As the song goes, breaking up is hard to do . . . but for many companies there may be some real upside from a public split.

And, in the case of a show like “Skins” — it’s a win-win.  MTV draws in viewers who are suddenly intrigued by talk of a show that’s so over-the-top and scandalous that Taco Bell ran the other direction and Taco Bell gets to establish that while it’s still hip and spicy (it’s not pulling its advertising from MTV completely), at heart it’s a “family-oriented” business.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Entertainment, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Law and Race

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 26, 2011

On Friday, I took in the new Philadelphia Theater Company production of David Mamet’s Race.  The plot revolves around two lawyers, one white and one black, who take on the defense of a wealthy white man accused of raping a young black woman.

The acting was quite good and the play has its moments (as one would expect, the structure is ingenious and Mamet throws in a number of memorable lines), but I was left wondering whether the playwright had challenged the audience enough.  If the purpose was to spur viewers to think deeply about race, was the exchange of quick, witty quips between characters the best means?  Mamet seemed to want to shock his audience, but what he produced seemed fairly tame — and enjoyable.

Today, I came across a video on the Onion addressing a very similar topic (law and race) and was struck by how, on a certain level, it seemed to surpass Mamet’s creation in forcing viewers to confront hard truths about race in the United States.

In any case, I strongly recommend viewing both (the Onion video, “Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried As Black Adult,” is below)!

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Entertainment, Law, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Secondhand Smoking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 20, 2011

From EurekaAlert:

Seeing actors smoke in a movie activated the brain areas of smokers that are known to interpret and plan hand movements, as though they too were about to light a cigarette, according to a new study in the Jan. 19 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Habitual smokers repeat the same hand motions, sometimes dozens of times a day. In this study, researchers led by senior investigator Todd Heatherton, PhD, and graduate student Dylan Wagner of Dartmouth College set out to determine whether the parts of the brain that control that routine gesture could be triggered by simply seeing someone else smoke.

The authors found that seeing this familiar action — even when embedded in a Hollywood movie — evoked the same brain responses as planning to actually make that movement. These results may provide additional insight for people trying to overcome nicotine addiction, a condition that leads to one in five U.S. deaths each year.

“Our findings support prior studies that show smokers who exit a movie that had images of smoking are more likely to crave a cigarette, compared with ones who watched a movie without them,” Wagner said. “More work is needed to show whether brain activity in response to movie smoking predicts relapse for a smoker trying to quit.”

During the study, 17 smokers and 17 non-smokers watched the first 30 minutes of the movie “Matchstick Men” while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The researchers chose the movie because it prominently features smoking scenes but otherwise lacks alcohol use, violence, and sexual content.

The volunteers were unaware that the study was about smoking. When they viewed smoking scenes, smokers showed greater brain activity in a part of the parietal lobe called the intraparietal sulcus, as well as other areas involved in the perception and coordination of actions. In the smokers’ brains specifically, the activity corresponded to the hand they use to smoke.

“Smokers trying to quit are frequently advised to avoid other smokers and remove smoking paraphernalia from their homes, but they might not think to avoid a movie with smoking content,” Wagner said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that exposure to onscreen smoking in movies makes adolescents more likely to smoke. According to their 2010 report, tobacco use in films has decreased in recent years, but about half of popular movies still contained tobacco imagery in 2009, including 54 percent of those rated PG-13.

Scott Huettel, PhD, of Duke University, an expert in the neuroscience of decision-making who was unaffiliated with the study, said scientists have long known that visual cues often induce drug cravings. “This finding builds upon the growing body of evidence that addiction may be reinforced not just by drugs themselves, but by images and other experiences associated with those drugs,” Huettel said.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Neuroscience | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

A Horror Movie for Palinites?

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 19, 2011

Despite my love of cinema, I tend to always fall behind on catching the latest movies.

Case in point: during the past weekend, I finally had the opportunity to see The King’s Speech, which my own grandmother watched and wrote me about . . . last year.

As a sort of New Year’s resolution, I’m attempting to be a bit more up-to-date on this front, and, thus, I’m going to dedicate this blog post to a film that hasn’t even been released yet, but that should be of interest to Situationist readers.

What caught my attention about the preview for the film was that it seemed as if it could easily be modified into a Sarah Palin 2012 political advertisement.

In the opening frames, we watch Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) as he first crosses paths with the ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  There is clearly an attraction, but, as the film website explains, “just as he realizes he’s falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart.”

Who are these mysterious men?

“[T]he agents of Fate itself—the men of The Adjustment Bureau—who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together.”

As one Adjustment Bureau agent explains, “We are the people who make sure that things happen according to plan.  We monitor the entire world.”

David (er, Matt) is then faced with a momentous decision: “let her go and accept a predetermined path . . . or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her.”

In the trailer, David explains, “All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her,” as the following lines scroll across the screen:

If you believe in free will.

If you believe in chance.

If you believe in choice.

Fight for it.

So . . . yes, perhaps I’m off my rocker (watch the trailer below for yourself), but I think the narrative of the film could have been pieced together straight from Palin’s tweets: (1) Americans are rational actors who can make their own choices and should be allowed to pursue freely their own conceptions of the good; (2) the agents of big government are extremely dangerous and are intent on controlling our environments; (3) Obama’s regulatory state (including the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection) is a paternalistic nightmare; . . . and, of course, (4) we must let our values and guts tell us what is right, and not allow regulators with their misguided “science” and “reason” to direct us (in one of my favorite moments in the trailer, one of the agents of the Adjustment Bureau is heard saying, “Remember we tried to reason with you.”).

Okay, readers, consider yourselves provoked.  What do you think?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Ideology, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Patriots Loss = “poetic justice”

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on January 17, 2011

Sal Paolantonio interviewed Bart Scott after the Jets beat the Patriots and Scott describe the win as  “poetic justice” that showed “what kind of defense, what kind of team this was.” Scott warned anyone who’s going to “talk crap about us” that they’ll play for it.  The video is here.

Those comments, as well as Deione Branch’s description of the Jets as “classless” put us in mind of the following Situationist post, published originally on February 5, 2008 (here).

Tom Brady

In case you hadn’t heard, the New England Patriots played their worst game of the season last night. A team that had savored, not merely defeating, but blowing out their opponents failed in their quest for perfection. For at least a little longer, the 1972 Miami Dolphins will hold onto their place in NFL history as the last team to end a season with a perfect record.

For Pats fans, like us, last night’s defeat was as shocking as it was untimely. And, really, who in their right mind would have thought that the Giants would win? Sure, some of the Giants players and die-hard fans were confident (or at least claimed to be), but the folks betting in Vegas certainly weren’t: the Pats were favored to win by 12 points. It sort of reminds us of another big and recent Super Bowl upset: the up-start and “lucky” Patriots defeating the allegedly indomitable St. Louis Rams back in 2002 in Super Bowl XXXVI. That one felt good, though.

But, if sports bloggers and commentators are to be believed, perhaps we should take heart. Apparently, much more is revealed by the outcome of this football game than simply the fact that Belichick’s boys are not the best team in the history of the sport. The team’s lackluster performance allegedly proved something far more important than that.

According to these commentators, by losing the Super Bowl in nail-biting fashion, the Patriots revealed that behind imperfection is a deeper and more affirming perfection: the universe is just.

One blogger writes: “We all saw something inexplicable, incredible and possibly supernatural when Eli Manning completed a spellbinding drive with a TD pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds remaining.”

Consider the evidence.:

The Patriots got busted for cheat[ing] during the first game of the season, and when the season came down to it, after Asante Samuel drops an interception that would have ended the game, Eli Manning miraculously escaped the grasp of 200 Patriots pass rushers and heaved a prayer over David Tyree’s head that he pinned against his own helmet and kept from hitting the ground as his body nearly split in two at the waist. If you were rooting for the Patriots, as I was, when that play happened you said to yourself, “uh oh.”

And another asks:

Who ever heard of a helmet-catch? What kind of a play was that where Eli Mannning escaped from the grasp of several Patriot pass-rushers, and then tossed the ball downfield so his receiver could catch it on his helmet? Is that normal? Well, not according to the receiver, David Tyree, who said about the play, “This was all supernatural.”

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As Josh Alper explains: “If you’re a karmic sort, . . . you can’t help but think the Patriots did their fair share to help [the Giants] along.” So, no, this was no mere coincidence. It wasn’t luck. And it wasn’t exactly skill either . . . . This was divine or cosmic intervention intended to even the scales of justice. Writing for the Denver Post, Mark Kizla is downright giddy about the game’s implications:

The only thing that left the Super Bowl undefeated was karma. For everyone who believes in truth, justice and a great American underdog story, the New York Giants kicked New England in the asterisk with a stunning 17-14 victory. Talk about your perfect ending. Sorry, Pats. Cheaters never prosper.

The 18-0 Patriots lost because they deserved to. In the end, writes another blogger, “[i]t was a team not worthy of perfection.” In a post titled “Karma Kicks Patriots In The Butt,” Madhava Gosh lays out the case this way:

Early in the season, [the Patriots] were caught videotaping the defensive signals of their opponents in a game. This is illegal and considered cheating. The results of the game were let stand, but the coach was fined 1 million dollars and the Patriots lost a draft choice in the 2008 draft.

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Now, it seems to me, that the perfect season up to the Super Bowl was simply Krishna setting them up, as karma for their cheating, for the ultimate pain — losing not only the Super Bowl but the chance at a historical 19-0 season.

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If you wanted to cause the team an enormous amount of pain for the cheating, what better way than to let them get so tantalizingly close. They had the lead with only 2 minutes left in the game, and then victory was snatched from their jaws by the Giants’ game winning miracle drive.

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Anyone who has played in a meaningful game knows what the pain of defeat can be, and in this case it was amplified to a huge degree.

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The cheating was nectar in the beginning that became poison in the end . . . . Karma is inexorable.

Just like that, the poison of losing a football game is transformed into the sweet nectar of justice. As Kizla puts it: “Karma won. The Patriots lost. No matter how you pour it, there’s nothing so sweet as the taste of justice.”

Yet another commentator sums up the karma effect as follows: “The Bradshaw fumble, holding penalties, false starts, running up the score, Spygate and yes, even the tuck rule from years ago finally caught up to the Patriots. They had a great regular season but at the end of the day, Karma bit the Pats in the ass!”

And still another describes the “karmic payback” this way:

If there was any moment that summed up why the Patriots deserved to lose this Super Bowl, it was Bill Belichick deciding not to remain on the field for the final second of the game.

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It was a classless move by a classless coach, but there was also much more to it than that. It was a microcosm of the entire Patriots season. Because . . . the truth is that this year’s Patriots team, and their fans, pushed the envelope like no team ever has before. And in the end, it came back to nail them in crushing fashion.

Just as the single moment was a microcosm for the season, the football season is a microcosm for life. So take heart Patriots fans. Take heart Giants fans. Take heart everyone! What goes around, comes around. If not sooner, then sometime later—perhaps even in the final seconds of the last quarter of the ultimate contest—good will triumph over evil.

Or so the human animal likes to believe.

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

Posted in Entertainment, Situationist Contributors, Situationist Sports, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Retail Discrimination

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 13, 2011

Here is another segment from John Quinones’s excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios. This episode asks, “How would you respond to blatant retail discrimination?

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Entertainment, Life, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

It Depends on What You Mean By “Discrimination” . . .

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 14, 2010

At the beginning of the month, I bemoaned FIFA’s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and pointed to the country’s poor human rights record.

On Monday of this week, Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president responded.

Okay, well, he didn’t *technically* respond to me, but he responded to a question that I would have liked a straight answer to: How can FIFA, which purports to be strongly against discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation (among other things), justify holding the World Cup in a country that explicitly discriminates against homosexuals and women?

What was Blatter’s joking response when asked about the possibility of corporal punishment against gays visiting Qatar in 2022?

“I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”

Then speaking more seriously he explained,

We are definitely living in a world of freedom and I’m sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems. You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it’s another culture because it’s another religion, but in football we have no boundaries.

We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever. If they want to watch a match somewhere in Qatar 2022, I’m sure they will be admitted to such matches.

So there you have it: discrimination, for Blatter, means whether you are allowed into the stadium or not.  The lashes you receive outside the stadium for exercising your basic human rights are not FIFA’s concern.

Posted in Entertainment, Situationist Sports | Leave a Comment »

 
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