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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Alex Laskey on Social Situation of Energy Use

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2013

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

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Posted in Education, Environment, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Interior Situation of the Climate Change Skeptic

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 23, 2013

global warming from davidllorito.blogspot.com/search/label/governanceFrom the APS Observer, an article by Situationist Contributor John T. Jost and Erin P. Hennes

A multitude of environmental scientists, among others, worry that future generations will look back at the present era as one in which the human race could have — and should have —taken decisive action to prevent (or at least mitigate) the most menacing costs associated with global climate change. According to public opinion surveys, however, only 38 percent of Americans believe that global warming will seriously affect them or their way of life (Newport, 2012), and 42 percent continue to believe that global warming claims are “generally exaggerated” (Saad, 2012). When it comes to beliefs about climate change, men are more skeptical than women, and political conservatives are more skeptical than liberals. In a Gallup survey conducted in 2010, 42 percent of men and only 30 percent of conservatives agreed that “effects of global warming are already occurring,” as compared to 56 percent of women and 74 percent of liberals (Jones, 2010; see also McCright & Dunlap, 2011).

In a recent book, the philosopher Stephen Gardiner (2011) argues that environmental inaction is the consequence of a “perfect moral storm.” Specifically, he points to the conjunction of three unfortunate causes: 1) a tendency for the richer nations of the world to foist the burden of environmental risks upon poorer nations; 2) the present generation’s temptation to defer the costs of the crisis to future generations; and 3) pervasive ignorance concerning science, ethics, international justice, and the interdependence of life. Gardiner writes that the last factor “not only complicates the task of behaving well, but also renders us more vulnerable to the first two storms” (p. 7). Gardiner provides an astute analysis of the problem of environmental inaction, but he overlooks the possibility that climate change denial may not merely result from ignorance. Rather, many members of the public may possess a relatively strong motivation to deny and minimize environmental realities. Specifically, our research team has found that the social psychological motivation to defend, bolster, and justify aspects of the status quo — what we refer to as system justification (see, e.g., Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004) — contaminates the public’s understanding of anthropogenic climate change.

In research published in 2010, we discovered that individuals who score higher on Kay and Jost’s (2003) General System Justification scale (which measures responses to statements such as “Most policies serve the greater good,” and “In general, the American political system operates as it should”) exhibit greater denial of environmental problems and vulnerabilities. Furthermore, system justification statistically mediates the effects of gender and political ideology on support for the environment. That is, men and conservatives are more likely than women and liberals to believe that American society is fair and legitimate, and these differences in system justification explain, at least in part, why they are so skeptical about climate change and are reluctant to take pro-environmental action (Feygina, Jost, & Goldsmith, 2010; see also Feinberg & Willer, 2011).

More recently, we have conducted a series of studies corroborating the hypothesis that system justification motivates skepticism about climate change. Specifically, we have found that the denial of environmental problems is facilitated by information-processing distortions associated with system justification that affect evaluation, recall, and even tactile perception (Hennes, Feygina, & Jost, 2011). In one study, we found that individuals who scored higher (vs. lower) on Jost and Thompson’s (2000) Economic System Justification scale (which measures responses to such statements as “If people work hard, they almost always get what they want,” and “It is unfair to have an economic system which produces extreme wealth and extreme poverty at the same time,” reverse-scored) found messages disparaging the case for global warming to be more persuasive, evaluated the evidence for global warming to be weaker, and expressed less willingness to take action to curb global warming.

In a second study, we extended these findings by demonstrating that motivated processing biases recall of information about climate change. Specifically, we exposed research participants to clips from a televised newscast and later asked them to recall details from the program and to evaluate scientific evidence concerning climate change. Once again, we found that high system-justifiers evaluated the quality of the evidence to be weaker, were less likely to believe that climate change is occurring, and viewed it as a less important policy issue, in comparison with low system-justifiers. High system-justifiers also recalled the information to which they had been exposed as less serious (i.e., remembering smaller increases in global temperatures, lower sea levels, and less reliable historical data concerning climate change) than did low system-justifiers. Poorer recall was associated with skepticism about climate change. Thus, individuals who misremembered the evidence provided in the video to be less severe were less likely to support efforts to address climate change.

In an experimental investigation, we demonstrated that temporarily activating system-justification motivation produced memory biases and exacerbated skepticism about global climate change. More specifically, we adapted a system-dependence manipulation developed by Kay, Gaucher, Peach et al. (2009; see also Shepherd & Kay, 2012) and found that when people were led to believe that the political system exerted a strong (vs. weak) impact on their life circumstances, they were more likely to misremember details from a newspaper article they read earlier in the session. Importantly, all of the memory errors were in a system-exonerating direction: The proportion of man-made carbon emissions was recalled as being less than actually reported, and the scientists who reported errors in the much-maligned 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were misidentified as skeptics rather than believers in anthropogenic climate change (Hennes et al., 2011).

We have discovered that system-justification motivation can even affect perceptions of ambient temperature. Our research assistants approached pedestrians in New York’s Washington Square Park during the summer months and asked them a series of questions, including their estimates of the temperature outside. Individuals who scored high on system justification or who were assigned to a high system-dependence condition reported that the current temperature was significantly lower than did individuals who scored low on system justification or who were assigned to a low system-dependence condition. These findings suggest that people may be motivated to feel (or not feel) the evidence of global warming when system-justification needs are either chronically or temporarily heightened.

Berkeley physicist Richard Muller, a former skeptic of anthropogenic climate change, made headlines last summer when he declared that not only is climate change real, but that “humans are almost entirely the cause” (Muller, 2012). If catastrophic events like Hurricane Sandy become more common, they may shift hearts and minds, albeit slowly. Given economic and other crises facing the nation (many of which probably exacerbate system-justification motivation), it still remains to be seen whether Americans and their elected officials will follow suit in embracing the scientific consensus. Climate change was a non-issue during the 2012 election campaign, and President Obama (2013) was criticized resoundingly by Senator Marco Rubio and other conservatives for emphasizing the issue in his most recent State of the Union speech. Suffice it to say that neither politicians nor the voters who back them appreciate the suggestion that the opinions they hold are motivated, even in part, by social and psychological factors that are probably outside of their awareness. American society and many others have yet to find a way of allowing the facts — scientific and otherwise — to trump special interests, political posturing, and motivated reasoning when it comes to the development of public policy. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

References and Further Reading:

Carroll, J. (2007). Public: Iraq war still top priority for President and Congress. Gallup Poll. Retrieved April 9, 2007, from http://www.galluppoll.com/content/?ci=27103&pg=1

Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2011). Apocalypse soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just world beliefs. Psychological Science, 22, 34–38.

Feygina, I., Jost, J. T., & Goldsmith, R. (2010). System justification, the denial of global warming, and the possibility of “system-sanctioned change.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 36, 326–338.

Hennes, E. P., Feygina, I., & Jost, J. T. (2011). Motivated evaluation, recall, and tactile perception in the service of the system: The case of anthropogenic climate change. Paper presented at the Princeton University Conference on Psychology and Policymaking, Princeton, NJ.

Jones, J. M. (2010). Conservatives’ doubts about global warming grow. Gallup Poll. Retrieved August 14, 2012, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/126563/conservatives-doubts-global-warming-grow.aspx

Jost, J. T., Banaji, M. R., Nosek, B. A. (2004). A decade of system justification theory: Accumulated evidence of conscious and unconscious bolstering of the status quo. Political Psychology, 25, 881–919.

Jost, J. T., & Thompson, E. P. (2000). Group-based dominance and opposition to equality as independent predictors of self-esteem, ethnocentrism, and social policy attitudes among African Americans and European Americans. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 209–232.

Kay, A. C., & Jost, J. T. (2003). Complementary justice: Effects of “poor but happy” and “poor but honest” stereotype exemplars on system justification and implicit activation of the justice motive. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 823–837.

McCright, A. M., & Dunlap, R. E. (2011). Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change, 21, 1163–1172.

Muller, R. A. (2012, July 30). The conversion of a climate-change skeptic. New York Times, p. A19.

Newport, F. (2012). Amercans’ worries about global warming up slightly. Gallup Poll. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/153653/Americans-Worries-Global-Warming-Slightly.aspx

Obama, B. (2012). State of the union address. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/13/us/politics/obamas-2013-state-of-the-union-address.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

Saad, L. (2012). In U.S., global warming views steady despite warm winter. Gallup Poll. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from http://www.gallup.com/poll/153608/Global-Warming-Views-Steady-Despite-Warm-Winter.aspx

Shepherd, S., & Kay, A. C. (2012). On the perpetuation of ignorance: System dependence, system justification, and the motivated avoidance of sociopolitical information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 264–80.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Environment, Ideology, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | 2 Comments »

Ideology, Purity, and Environment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 10, 2013

dirty water

From UC Berkeley Press:

When it comes to climate change, deforestation and toxic waste, the assumption has been that conservative views on these topics are intractable. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that such viewpoints can be changed after all, when the messages about the need to be better stewards of the land are couched in terms of fending off threats to the “purity” and “sanctity” of Earth and our bodies.

A UC Berkeley study has found that while people who identified themselves as conservatives tend to be less concerned about the environment than their liberal counterparts, their motivation increased significantly when they read articles that stressed the need to “protect the purity of the environment” and were shown such repellant images as a person drinking dirty water, a forest filled with garbage, and a city under a cloud of smog.

Published today (Dec. 10)  in the online issue of the journal Psychological Science, the findings indicate that reframing pro-environmental rhetoric according to values that resonate strongly with conservatives can reduce partisan polarization on ecological matters.

“These findings offer the prospect of pro-environmental persuasion across party lines,” said Robb Willer, a UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of the study. “Reaching out to conservatives in a respectful and persuasive way is critical, because large numbers of Americans will need to support significant environment reforms if we are going to deal effectively with climate change, in particular.”

Researchers conducted a content analysis of more than 200 op-eds published in such newspapers as The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, and found the pro-environmental arguments were most often pitched in terms of moral obligations to care about the natural environment and protect it from harm, a theme that resonates more powerfully with liberals, they added, than with conservatives.

They hypothesized that conservatives would be more responsive to environmental arguments focused on such principles as purity, patriotism and reverence for a higher authority. In their study, the authors specifically tested the effectiveness of arguments for protecting the purity of the environment. They said the results suggest they were on the right track:

“When individuals view protecting the environment as a moral issue, they are more likely to recycle and support government legislation to curb carbon emissions,” said Matthew Feinberg, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at Stanford University and lead author of the study which he conducted while at UC Berkeley.

Scientific consensus on the existence of warming global land and ocean temperatures – attributed in large part to human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions – continues to grow and influence public opinion, especially with such extreme weather events as Hurricane Sandy. A recent Rasmussen poll reported that 68 percent of Americans view climate change as a “serious problem,” compared to a 2010 Gallup poll in which 48 percent of Americans said they thought global warming was exaggerated.

In the first experiment, 187 men and women recruited via several U.S. Craigslist websites rated their political ideology on a scale of “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative.” They then rated the morality of such activities as recycling a water bottle versus throwing it in the garbage. The results of that experiment, and a similar one conducted on 476 college undergraduates, showed that liberals are more prone to viewing sustainability as a moral issue than are conservatives.

Next, researchers conducted a content analysis of pro-environmental videos on YouTube and more than 200 op-eds in national newspapers, sorting them under the themes of “harm/care,” which they expected to resonate more with liberals, and “purity/sanctity,” which they predicted would appeal more to conservatives. They found that most pro-environmental messages leaned strongly toward liberal moral concerns.

In the last experiment, 308 men and women, again recruited via Craigslist, were randomly assigned to read one of three articles. The harm/care-themed article described the destruction wreaked on the environment by humans and pitched protection of the environment as a moral obligation. Images accompanying the text were of a forest with tree stumps, a barren coral reef and drought-cracked land, which are more typical of the visuals promoted by pro-environmental groups.

The purity/sanctity-themed article stressed how pollution has contaminated Earth and people’s bodies, and argued for cleaning up and purifying the environment. To enhance those themes and elicit disgust, the accompanying images showed a person drinking filthy water, a city under a cloud of pollution and a forest full of garbage. The neutral article talked about the history of neckties.

Participants were then asked to rate how strongly they felt certain emotions, including disgust, in response to what they’d read. Next, they reported how strongly they agreed or disagreed with such statements as “It is important to protect the environment,” “I would support government legislation aimed at protecting the environment” and ‘I believe humans are causing global warming.”

Overall, the study found that the purity-themed message inspired conservatives to feel higher levels of disgust, which in turn increased their support for protecting the environment.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Environment, Ideology | Leave a Comment »

Trust and Reciprocity Situations Promote Social Common Goods

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 2, 2013

we trust

In the emerging field of tax psychology, the focus on regulation and overcoming tax evasion recently shifted towards searching for situational cues that elicit common goals compliance. Following this innovative behavioral economics quest, Situationist Contributor Julia M. Puaschunder found evidence (download paper here) for trust and reciprocity steering social common goods contributions.

In experiments at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory, the same participants played an economic trust game followed by a common goods game. The more trust and reciprocity were practiced and experienced by player duos, the stronger they supported common goals together.

The findings portray trust and reciprocity as interesting tax ethics antecedents and hold widespread implications for governmental-citizen relations. Shifting attention from prevailing ‘cops-and-robbers’ attempts to fight tax fraud, new public policy managers are advised to establish a service-oriented client atmosphere. In a socially-favorable societal climate breeding trust and reciprocity, common goals are likely to be reached.

Download the full paper ‘Trust and Reciprocity Drive Social Common Goods Contribution Norms’ for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Choice Myth, Environment, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Intergenerational Equity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2012

Four Generations

In another outstanding study, Situationist Contributor Julia M. Puaschunder (with her collaborator Gary Schwarz at the University of Nottingham) suggests ways to implement intergenerational equity on a global scale. 

An international survey presented respondents with public policy choices and asked to allocate tax units to different policies in the domains of culture, economics, education, foreign aid, infrastructure and environment.

Evaluating two policies with different outcome times – one more imminently and one that would benefit future generations – at once elicited more intergenerationally equitable outcomes than when deciding over bills with different impact times one at a time. When individuals judge alternative choices, presenting the viewpoints of two generations concurrently balanced intergenerational contributions.

Finding this intergenerational equilibrium pattern in Asia and the U.S. leverages the joint decision making advantage into a human-imbued nudge to overcome global common goods dilemmas. Based on the results, policy makers are advised to consider a multi-faceted decision schema and set up age-differentiated global governance consortia.

Download the full paper ‘The Future is Now: How Joint Decision Making Curbs Hyperbolic Discounting but Blurs Social Responsibility in The Intergenerational Equity Public Policy Domain” for free here.

Situationist Contributor Julia M. Puaschunder  is an Associate of the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences Center for the Environment working on intergenerational equity constraints in the domains of environmental sustainability, overindebtedness and social welfare reform of an aging Western world population.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr (by Will Barnet – Four Generations – Modern Art Galley of Vatican Museums)

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Choice Myth, Environment, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Social Status Loss Situations Drive Ethicality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 10, 2012

green crimson

In two recent, fascinating field experiments, Situationist Contributor Julia M. Puaschunder demonstrated how social conscientiousness can be “nudged” by social forces: Social status drops trigger social responsibility. 

In a field experiment in Harvard dormitories, social identity insignia (in the form of Harvard logo posters) connected to social norm cues (Sustainability at Harvard posters) promoting environmentalism fostered recycling compliance – once prior social status endowments were taken away.  Building on prospect theory, the paper argues looming social status losses are compensated with socially-favored ethicality.  Social status downs combined with social norm cues steer social responsibility.

A second study on energy conservation in Harvard libraries found a similar effect.  Tent card signage, featuring the Harvard logo, was placed in Harvard Law School’s Langdell Library in combination with social norm instructions asking students to turn off their task-light when finished studying.  When the social status endowing cards were removed, energy light consumption conscientiousness improved.  Situational social status losses related to social norm reminders nudged library visitors towards pro-social environmentalism.green harvard logo

Based on these findings, the Harvard Law School installed similar tent cards in Langdell Library study areas.  The results have attracted attention of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet Team on Behavioral Insights.  The U.S. Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education distributed the learning.  Follow-up studies in the organizational context have been inspired by the unprecedented idea to use social status endowments to gain social responsibility.

Here’s the abstract to the paper titled ‘Ethical Decision Making under Social Uncertainty’:

Decision making research has been revolutionized by prospect theory. In laboratory experiments, prospect theory captures human to code outcome perspectives as gains or losses relative to an individual reference point, by which decisions are anchored. Prospect theory’s core finding that monetary losses loom larger than gains has been generalized in many domains; yet not been tested for social status changes. Social status striving has been subject to social sciences’ research for a long time but until today we have no clear picture of how social status prospects relative to an individual reference point may influence our decision making and action. Understanding human cognition in the light of social status perspectives, however, could allow turning social status experiences into ethicality nudges. The perceived endowment through social status may drive social responsibility. Ethicality as a socially-appreciated, noble societal contribution offers the prospect of social status gains given the societal respect for altruism and pro-social acts. An Überethical filling of current legal gaps or outperforming legal regulations grant additional social status elevation opportunities. Building on prospect theory, two field observations of environmentally conscientious recycling behavior and sustainable energy consumption tested if social status losses are more likely to be answered with ethicality than social status gains. Social status losses are found as significant drivers of socially responsible environmental conscientiousness. Testing prospect theory for social status striving advances socio-economics and helps understanding the underlying mechanisms of social identity theories. Pegging social status to ethicality is an unprecedented approach to use social forces as a means for accomplishing positive societal change. Future studies may target at elucidating if ethicality in the wake of social status losses is more a cognitive, rational strategy or emotional compensation for feelings of unworthiness after social status drops.

Download the full paper, ‘Ethical Decision Making under Social Uncertainty,’ for free here.

Situationist Contributor Julia M. Puaschunder  is an Associate of the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences Center for the Environment working on intergenerational equity constraints in the domains of environmental sustainability, overindebtedness and social welfare reform of an aging Western world population.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Choice Myth, Environment, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Marion Nestle on The Situation of Our Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2012

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Environment, Food and Drug Law, History, Marketing, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Agricultural Situation of Climate Change

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 16, 2012

From TEDxTC:

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.

Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Environment, Food and Drug Law, Video | Leave a Comment »

Racial Stereotyping and Alcohol

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 24, 2012

From Kansas City Infozine:

Accusations of racism accompanying the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent actions of Florida police are prevalent in the national media. Many are questioning the psychological motivations of everyone involved. Recent research by MU Professor of Psychological Sciences Bruce D. Bartholow has shown that consuming alcohol can lead to increased expression of racial bias. A new study by Bartholow and his colleague, Elena Stepanova of Florida Gulf Coast University, shows that simply being exposed to alcohol-related images can have similar effects, even when no alcohol is consumed.

“Simply seeing images of alcohol, but not drinking it, influences behaviors like racial bias on a subconscious level,” Bartholow said. “Walking by a bar or seeing an ad for beer could be enough to affect someone’s mindset. You don’t have to be aware of the effects for it to affect you.”

The recent study found that participants who had initially viewed a series of magazine ads for alcoholic beverages made more errors indicative of racial bias in a subsequent task than did others who had initially seen ads for non-alcoholic beverages, such as water or coffee.

Test participants were shown a series of ads for either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. They then completed a computerized task in which pictures of white and black men’s faces were shown for a split second, followed immediately by either a picture of a handgun or a tool. Numerous previous studies using this same task have shown that people often mistakenly identify tools as guns following presentation of a black face, a response pattern attributed to the effects of racial stereotypes. The fast pace of the experiment kept participants from thinking about their responses, which allowed the subconscious mind to control reactions.

In the real world, snap decisions in which one object is mistaken for another can be deadly.

“As for the Trayvon Martin case, it very much reminds me of the Amadou Diallo case in 1999, when an unarmed black individual was shot to death by New York City police officers,” Stepanova said. “Diallo was shot because officers claimed that they thought he pulled a gun, while in fact he reached for his wallet. The wallet was misconstrued as a gun by police officers.”

“Associations between blacks and guns, violence and criminal behavior played a role in Mr. Martin’s case,” Stepanova said. “Mr. Martin was essentially a victim of racial stereotypes that so many in our society hold, and that cost him his life.”

The results of Bartholow and Stepanova’s study don’t contend that every test participant was a racist, however.

“Even if people do their best to be open-minded, we are all aware of stereotypes,” Bartholow said. “Participants’ responses could have been due to associations they are aware of but don’t personally endorse. Also the results could be influenced by people’s ability to control their behaviors. A member of the KKK could hide his prejudice if he had good control of his responses.”

Analysis of the results showed people’s automatic, subconscious behaviors were most affected after seeing an alcohol ad, whereas earlier studies found actually drinking alcohol most influenced conscious, controlled reactions. Bartholow suggested the mental associations people have with the effects of drinking alcohol may have been what caused their increased expression of racial bias after seeing alcohol ads. Upon seeing alcohol, they subconsciously felt they could relax their inhibitions and allow their behaviors to be more influenced by stereotypes.

The study was led by Elena Stepanova, a post-doctoral fellow in Bartholow’s lab, now a professor of social and behavioral science at Florida Gulf Coast University. The study was published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Bartholow’s research focuses on basic aspects of social cognition as well as how social and environmental factors, along with individual differences, contribute to alcohol involvement among young adults.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Environment, Public Relations, Uncategorized | Comments Off

“We Didn’t Start the Scanner”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 3, 2012

From PsychCentral:

“A History of Cognitive Neuroscience…in Three Minutes.” Set to the melody of Billy Joel’s classic song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” new lyrics highlight significant scientists and advances in the field over the years, interspersed with comedy bits reminiscent of silent films. A lively and fun history lesson, this student video won the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Brains on Film Competition 2012 at University College London. Full lyrics are available here in the video’s description.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

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

The Situation of Good Habits

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 6, 2012

This is the third in our series of posts intended to help our readers with their New Year’s resolutions.  From The Sun Herald, here is a brief description of recent research on the benefits of retraining your brain.

What does it really take to change a habit? It may have less to do with willpower and more to do with consistency and a person’s environment, researchers have found.

A 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology had 96 people adopt a new healthful habit over 12 weeks – things like running for 15 minutes at the same time each day or eating a piece of fruit with lunch. The average number of days it took for participants to pick up the habit was 66, but the range was huge, from 18 to 254 days.

Those who chose simple habits, such as drinking a glass of water, did better overall than those who had more involved tasks, such as running.

Skipping a day here and there didn’t seem to derail things, but greater levels of inconsistency did. Erratic performers tended not to form habits.

The same study also found that having a cue for when or where you performed the habit acted as a reminder and helped to make the habit stick. By always exercising in the morning you’re reminded that when you get up, it’s time to head to the gym. Consistently eating meals at the dining table takes away the urge to eat while sitting on the sofa with the television on.

Contrary to popular belief, adopting more healthful routines may have little to do with how much resolve someone has, says Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California.

“We tell ourselves that if only we had willpower we’d be able to exercise every day and avoid eating bags of chips,” she says. “But those behaviors are difficult to control because we have patterns that are cued by the environment” – patterns that we’ve learned from past bad habits.

We’ve learned to associate being in the car with eating from fast-food restaurant drive-throughs, so that when we’re out running errands we find ourselves wanting a burger and fries, perhaps when we’re not even hungry.

We’ve learned to associate arriving home with collapsing in front of the TV, and arriving at work with taking the elevator.

We go to the movies and automatically purchase a giant drum of buttery popcorn – and once the habit is formed, we’ll eat the popcorn even if it tastes bad, Wood has found.

In a study she coauthored that was published in 2011 in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, moviegoers were given fresh or stale popcorn to snack on while watching trailers.

People who were avid popcorn-eaters ate the same amount of stale popcorn as fresh: They evidently were snacking mindlessly. In contrast, those who didn’t have a movie-popcorn habit ate less stale popcorn than fresh.

“Once these habits become cued by the environment,” Wood says, “they tend to continue whether people are enjoying them or not.”

Wood suggests devising new activities to link to our environmental cues.

At the movie theater, instead of getting a large popcorn, get a small one or drink water instead. Soon you’ll associate movies with those new choices. Take the stairs the minute you walk into the building where you work – soon you’ll associate arriving at work with stair-climbing.

Instead of succumbing to the habit of snacking while sitting on the sofa and watching TV, use the time instead to do some simple exercises. After a while … you get the idea.

It takes some thought in the beginning, Wood says, “but once you’ve figured it out, it runs on its own. You’ve outsourced your behavior to the environment.”

More.

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, Environment, Life, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Can The Law Go Upstream?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 22, 2011

Roger Magnusson, Lawrence O. Gostin, and David  Studdert recently posted their paper, “Can Law Improve Prevention and Treatment of Cancer?” on SSRN:

The December 2011 issue of Public Health (the Journal of the Royal Society for Public Health) contains a symposium entitled: Legislate, Regulate, Litigate? Legal approaches to the prevention and treatment of cancer. This symposium explores the possibilities for using law and regulation – both internationally and at the national level – as the policy instrument for preventing and improving the treatment of cancer and other leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In this editorial, we argue that there is an urgent need for more legal scholarship on cancer and other leading NCDs, as well as greater dialogue between lawyers, public health practitioners and policy-makers about priorities for law reform, and feasible legal strategies for reducing the prevalence of leading risk factors. The editorial discusses two important challenges that frequently stand in the way of a more effective use of law in this area. The first is the tendency to dismiss risk factors for NCDs as purely a matter of individual ‘personal responsibility'; the second is the fact that effective regulatory responses to risks for cancer and NCDs will in many cases provoke conflict with the tobacco, alcohol and food industries. After briefly identifying some of the strategies that law can deploy in the prevention of NCDs, we briefly introduce each of the ten papers that make up the symposium.

You can download the paper for free here.

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Motivated Ignorance

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 20, 2011

From EENews:

For many people, ignorance is bliss when it comes to vexing issues like climate change, according to a new study.

Published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the report shows that people who know very little about an issue — say the economic downturn, changes in the climate or dwindling fossil fuel reserves — tend to avoid learning more about it. This insulates them in their ignorance — a pattern described by researchers as “motivated avoidance.”

Faced with complicated or troubling situations, these people often defer to authorities like the government or scientists, hoping they have the situation under control.

“Our research suggests that this kind of overwhelmed feeling, and feeling that an issue is ‘above one’s head’ leads people to feel dependent on the government, and this dependence is managed by trusting the government more to deal with an issue, and this is managed by avoiding the issue,” explained Steven Shepherd, a social psychology doctoral student at the University of Waterloo in Canada and an author of the report, in an email.

“This is psychologically easier than taking a significant amount of time to learn about an issue, all the while confronting unpleasant information about it,” he added.

The report used survey data from 511 participants between 2010 and 2011. “In four studies we manipulated how we framed a domain like the economy or energy (e.g., simple or complex), and in the one study, we manipulated whether or not a future oil shortage was said to be an immediate problem, or a distant future problem,” Shepherd said.

The researchers found that people who received complex information on an issue felt more helpless and more trusting in government compared to those who received relatively simple explanations. In addition, people who felt ignorant on a certain topic — especially issues with dire consequences like fuel shortages or climate change — would reject negative information.

But researchers say there’s more to it than just plugging your ears and saying “la la la.”

The trust-and-avoid ploy

Motivated avoidance stems from a phenomenon known as system justification. “It refers to a motivation that most people hold to believe that the systems that they function with are legitimate,” explained [Situationist Contributor] Aaron Kay, another author. Kay, who is an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, explained that people working within a government agency or large institution can’t really influence the collective group on their own.

So they are inclined to conclude the group largely knows what it’s doing. “It doesn’t always imply that people think this is good, but they think it’s better than the government not being in control,” he said. To maintain this view, he noted, people will deliberately avoid information that contradicts it.

“Climate change is a global issue that, seemingly, is beyond the efforts of any one individual. … I think a lot of people feel unable to do anything about it,” said Shepherd. “The next best thing is to either deny it, or defer the issue to governments to deal with it. … In our research we find that one easy way to maintain that psychologically comforting trust that an issue is being dealt with is to simply avoid the issue.”

The authors also speculate that political leanings play into whether people want to trust politicians handle climate change. “I think we see this in the recent ‘Occupy’ movements, and among those pushing for governments to do more about climate change,” Shepherd said.

“People who simply distrust the government to begin with, or libertarians who prefer to have as little government involvement in their lives as possible, are also unlikely to respond to feeling dependent on the government by trusting in them more.”

More.

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Posted in Abstracts, Education, Environment, Ideology, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Seeing the Situation of Animals

Posted by Adam Benforado on September 24, 2011

From birding with my father as a young boy to doing research in the Smithsonian’s Invertebrate Zoology Laboratory years later (before heading off to college), I have always been fascinated and amazed by the diversity of life on this planet.

Yet, when push comes to shove, I find it very hard to shake my anthropocentrism.  As a human, I feel very special, indeed.  And all around me there seems to be evidence to prove my special status: skyscrapers, airplanes, televisions, poetry, and music!

Though I wish it were otherwise, it really takes something unique to break me from the myth of human exceptionalism.

Well, here is just such a video.

I highly encourage you to watch it all the way through.

Posted in Environment, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the Energy Efficiency Gap

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 25, 2011

Brandon Hofmeister just posted his fascinating paper, “Bridging the Gap: Using Social Psychology to Design Market Interventions to Overcome the Energy Efficiency Gap in Residential Energy Markets” (forthcoming  19 Southeastern Environmental Law Journal 1 (2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

For decades, economists and energy policy analysts have noticed the existence of an “energy efficiency gap” – a significant underinvestment in energy efficiency measures whose benefits outweigh their costs – among residential consumers. Promoting energy efficiency is generally the most cost-effective manner to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to meet future energy demand, while simultaneously promoting economic growth and reducing poverty. Economists have attempted to explain the energy efficiency gap by applying theories of market failures that retain the underlying assumption that consumers generally act as economically rational actors. These theories partly explain the energy efficiency gap, but because they fundamentally misconstrue the reality of human behavior, traditional economic theories alone fail to adequately account for the energy efficiency gap. Social psychologists have discovered a number of predictable behavioral tendencies that contradict the rational actor assumption of economists. Many of these behavioral tendencies serve as significant cognitive barriers to investments in energy efficiency. Because traditional economists’ explanations for the energy efficiency gap are incomplete, their public policy solutions to close the gap are likewise insufficient. Specifically, most traditional economists reject forms of public policy they deem paternalistic. The article describes a number of general factors that should be considered when determining whether a market intervention is justified and applies these factors to some specific policies designed to promote residential energy efficiency. The article finds that a suite of market interventions – such as financial subsidies and mandatory minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and electronic devices – is justified to address the energy efficiency gap.

* * *

You can download the paper for free here.

Some related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Environment, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Heat of the Moment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2011

From Wired Science:

The link between violence and hot weather is so intuitive that it’s embedded in our language: Hotheads lose tempers that flare, anger simmers and comes to a boil, and eventually we cool down.

So what does science have to say? Do tempers truly soar with temperature? The answer, appropriately enough for these triple-digit days, is hazy and hotly contested.

To be sure, extensive literature exists on hot weather and violence, stretching from poorly controlled regional studies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — oh, those hot-blooded southerners! — to more sophisticated modern analyses. This doesn’t just apply to the United States, but countries like England and Wales and New Zealand.

But whether weather is cause or coincidence is difficult to determine.

Perhaps the most detailed studies, led by psychologists Ellen Cohn and James Rotton of Florida State University, involved violent crime over a two-year period in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Cohn and Rotton classified assaults according to time of day, day of week, and month and temperature. They ultimately concluded that violence rose with temperature, but only to a point.

Around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, assault rates started to fall, a trend that dovetailed with a hypothetical explanation for heat-induced violence in which being uncomfortable provokes competing tendencies of both aggression and escape. At low to moderate levels of discomfort, people lash out, but at high levels they just want to flee.

But the results also fit with a sociological rather than psychological explanation. According to so-called Routine Activities Theory, many forms of violent crime are functions of social opportunity, and increase when more people spend more time outside. When it becomes so hot that people retreat inside, crime falls. Cohn and Rotton supported this explanation.

Cohn and Rotton’s interpretations of the numbers, however, were contested by Iowa State University psychologist Craig Anderson, who felt they hadn’t fully accounted for time-of-day effects. His own take on the data (.pdf) produced a linear relationship between heat and violence, with assault rates peaking at the highest temperatures.

A straight-line relationship supports various psychological and physiological processes.

In hot weather, the body exhibits changes — increased heart rate, blood circulation and sweating, and metabolic changes — associated with sympathetic nervous system activity, which in turn is linked to fight-or-flight responses. Hot weather also increases testosterone production, tilting that equation towards fight.

More.

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Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Environment | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the Climate Change Debate

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 18, 2011

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan, Maggie Wittlin, Ellen Peters, Situationist Contributor Paul Slovic, Lisa Ouellette, Donald Braman, and Gregory Mandel, recently posted their paper, “The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

You can download the paper for free here.

 

 

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Environment, Ideology | Leave a Comment »

Self-Fulfilling Doomsday Prophecies

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 13, 2011

In a world experiencing global climate change and massive environmental degradation, could it be that doomsday prophecies are a cause and consequence of the seeming indifference and recalcitrance of so many Americans?

From NPR’s Here and Now:

* * *

Margaret Pease stands on a corner in downtown Pittsburgh, handing out doomsday pamphlets.

“JUDGMENT DAY FOLKS!” she yells with a volume that would make a drill sergeant proud. “May 21, 2011!”

For the past seven months, Pease has been crisscrossing the country in a caravan with eight others, warning anyone who will listen that God’s wrath is near.

“I might be a little loud, but I want people to get the message,” she says. “I don’t want anybody’s blood on my hands. … JUDGMENT DAY FOLKS!”

Nearby, David Liquori is telling passerby Thomas Sayers what he thinks will happen in just a few days.

“On May 21 at about 6 p.m., an earthquake of proportions which have never been known since man was on the Earth will occur,” Liquori says.

“This coming 21?” Sayers asks.

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, this is going to be awesome!” Sayers says. “Where’s it going to happen?”

“It’s going to happen everywhere,” Liquori says. “Everywhere.”

Sayers doesn’t buy it.

“I kind of feel bad for them because they do believe the world will end the 21st,” he says. “As a Christian, I also believe there’s a certain date that nobody knows. I’m on the same journey they are — they just think it ends the 21st and I don’t think it does.”

But like many people interviewed for this story, Liquori has bet everything on this date.

“I’m separated as a result of a difference of belief,” he says. “My wife got sick of me.”

He used to have a job and owned a house on Long Island.

“I have sold everything off,” Liquori says. “I have no more personal ambitions but to get the Gospel out to warn the world.”

Liquori and others believe that a very small fraction of Christian believers will fly up to heaven on that fateful day. Then on Oct. 21, the Earth and the universe will be destroyed.

But what about those who are left on Earth for those five months?

“Oh, it will be a horror story beyond measure,” says Harold Camping, the man who calculated the May 21 date.

Decoding The Bible

He has long been predicting the end on his international Christian radio network, Family Radio — which in 2009 was worth more than $100 million. Camping says the Bible is written in a code, and for those who are able to decipher it, it’s clear as daylight.

“With all the proofs that God has given us, and all the signs, I am absolutely certain [that Judgment Day will arrive on May 21]. It is going to happen. There is no Plan B.”

Of course, even Jesus said he didn’t know when Judgment Day would come. But Camping is not bothered by that, nor by the fact that he wrongly predicted Judgment Day once before, in 1994.

“It was based on incomplete research and I was quite aware that the research was incomplete,” he says. “So it was just like a first announcement that we’re almost there.”

So far, end time predictors have batted zero. The most famous was William Miller, a Baptist minister who believed that Jesus would return in the early 1840s. According to Catherine Wessinger, a historian of religion at Loyola University, New Orleans, on the night of Oct. 22, 1844, believers gathered on hilltops to watch Jesus return.

“People stayed up all night, they waited,” Wessinger says. “Some people allegedly put on white robes, waiting to go up to heaven, and were very disappointed when the sun rose the next morning and nothing had happened.”

It was deemed the Great Disappointment.

A Prophecy Upswing

“People have been predicting the end of the world in Christianity since the time of St. Paul,” says Cathy Gutierrez, a religion professor at Sweet Briar College.

She says usually end times prophets do not predict a specific date. That’s way too risky. But she says the predictions have come fast and thick in the past 60 years, largely because of one event in 1948: the creation of the state of Israel.

* * *

Some 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus will return by the year 2050, according to a poll by The Pew Research Center.

* * *

More.

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Posted in Emotions, Environment, History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Leave a Comment »

The Psychological Situation of Climate Change

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2011

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

Related Situationist posts:

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

The Disorderly Situation of Stereotyping

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 10, 2011

From Los Angeles Times:

Picture yourself in a well-kept room — pictures neatly hung on walls, books organized on a shelf, floors clear of junk. Now sit yourself in a room with crooked pictures, scattered books and dirty laundry on the floor. Feeling any different?

In the second room, you might be more apt to keep your distance from a person of another race, believe that Muslims are aggressive or think that gay people are creative, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The idea, said researchers from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, is that people in messy environments tend to compensate for that disorder by categorizing people in their minds according to well-known stereotypes.

Testing the relationship between disorder and discrimination in real-life situations was no easy feat, said social psychologist Diederik Stapel, the study’s lead author. But he got lucky — the cleaners at the bustling Utrecht train station went on strike, leaving disorder in their wake.

“It looked like a terrible mess,” said study coauthor Siegwart Lindenberg, a cognitive sociologist. “Lots of paper cups, chewed-up pieces of pizza, napkins, apple cores — you name it — just lying around.”

It was the perfect setup. The two researchers canvassed the station, asking 40 travelers (all of them white) to fill out surveys about Muslims, homosexuals and Dutch people while in the messy train station. Respondents were asked to rate how accurate they thought both positive and negative stereotypes were for each group.

The researchers asked the travelers to sit down while filling out the survey, noting how far the survey-taker chose to sit from a man positioned at one end of the row. That man was either black or white.

When the strike ended a few days later, the researchers repeated the experiments in the newly tidy station.

The result: When the station was messy, travelers agreed with stereotypes — both positive and negative — about 10% more strongly. They also sat about 25% farther from a black man than they did from a white man.

To pinpoint whether it was disorder or dirtiness that heightened people’s affinity for stereotypes, the researchers went to an affluent neighborhood. They loosened pavement tiles, parked Stapel’s old red Subaru Legacy with two wheels on the sidewalk and left a bicycle lying on the ground, as if abandoned. They asked 47 passersby the same questions about Muslims, gays and Dutch people. They also asked people to donate to a “Money for Minorities” fund.

They repeated the experiment after replacing the tiles, reparking the car and righting the bicycle. Again, they found that people in the disorderly environment stereotyped more. They also gave less money to the minorities fund — 1.70 euros, on average, compared to 2.35 euros for people approached when the street was tidy.

Lab experiments further confirmed that when faced with images of chaos — be it a messy room or a random scattering of triangles and circles — volunteers rated themselves higher on a scale measuring their personal need for structure. When they were allowed to express stereotypical feelings immediately after seeing those disordered pictures, however, their “personal need for structure” scores were lower. Stereotyping satisfied that need, Stapel said.

“This need for order matters a lot more than we might have thought,” said [Situationist Contributor] Aaron Kay, a social psychologist at Duke University who was not involved in the study. Disorder pushes people to find more structure in their lives, he said, noting: “Fishermen who fish on more treacherous seas are more likely to believe in a spiritual God.”

* * *

More.

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Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Environment, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

 
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