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Archive for the ‘Evolutionary Psychology’ Category

A New Situationist Fellow – Fábio Almeida

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2013

Fabio AlmeidaWe are happy to introduce a new Situationist Fellow, Fábio Almeida.

Fábio Portela L. Almeida is a 2003 graduate at Universidade de Brasília Law School in Brazil. After graduating, he worked as a lawyer and, in 2006, he has been working as a Clerk in the Brazilian Superior Court of Labour Law. He also earned a Master of Laws Degree in 2007 at the same university, where he wrote a dissertation about constitutional issues arising from religious teaching in Brazilian public schools, which was published as a book in 2008.

In 2011, he earned a M.Phil Degree at the Universidade de Brasília Department of Philosophy. His dissertation, “The evolution of a normative mind: origins of human cooperation,” awarded the ANPOF Prize of best philosophical dissertation in the biennium 2010/2011. Currently, Fábio is a SJD Candidate at the Universidade de Brasília Law School and a Visiting Researcher at Harvard Law School. His research interests are related to the interdisciplinary relationship between legal theory, biology, psychology, moral philosophy, economics, sociology and anthropology.

In his free time, Fábio enjoys writing about stock investing in his personal blog, listening to classical music, reading, traveling, and watching movies.  Fabio is a long-term reader of The Situationist, and we are delighted that he is visiting HLS for the year and contributing to the blog as a fellow.  Look for his first post soon.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Amy Cuddy on Power Posing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2013

From Time:

Using a few simple tweaks to body language, Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy discovers ways to help people become more powerful.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Gendered Situation of Smiling

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2013

Mona Lisa smile

By Soledad de Lemus, Russell Spears, & Miguel Moya wrote a terrific post on SPSP Blog about the mystery and meaning of the smile.  Here are some excerpts:

We  smile when we feel happy, but smiles are more than just the outward display of an inner emotion. We are far more likely to smile when we are with other people because a smile is a message: just one more way for people to communicate information to and establish social ties with other people.

A smile, though, sometimes means more than just “I am happy.” Just as many species bare their teeth to signal their dominance and rank, smiles exchanged among humans serve an interpersonal, regulatory function.  In our research we wanted to understand how smiles, which usually serve to signal  positive affiliation, also define status in the social hierarchy when the smile is coupled with other nonverbal information (e.g., posture). Specifically, we studied women’s nonverbal reaction to a man’s smile: will she, in addition to smiling back, also display signs of submissiveness, such as downcast eyes or a narrowing posture?

For social psychologists interested in gender, patronizing and paternalistic forms of discrimination have become a key focus of research in recent years. There are good reasons for this. Forms of prejudice and discrimination that are subtle make them more difficult to recognize and resist (Jackman, 1994), and these forms can be expressed more easily. For instance, gender relations are characterized by a power difference between men and women such that the men are considered as more worthy (e.g., as more competent, agentic than women) but women as friendlier, and more socially-oriented than men;  attributes that some consider to be important but less valuable in society. Further, gender stereotypes prescribe dominance to men compared to women, who are often expected to behave in a more submissive way to comply with the stereotypes of their group.

Other researchers have diligently explored how behaving in a complementary way in a social interaction helps to maintain positive relations, facilitating achievement of common goals. That is, when people are working together on a task with another person and they want to succeed in this task and also to maintain a positive interpersonal relations,  they will often respond to the other person’s behavior in a complementary way. This tendency generates interpersonal complementarity:  If one behaves in a dominant manner, the other will be more submissive (or vice versa), as long as there is a positive affiliation between them (e.g., they see each other as friendly and cooperative). These results have been found also when observing the non-verbal behavior of people during interpersonal interactions (Tiedens & Fragale, 2003).

Bringing together these two ideas (the role of power in gender relations, and the existence of complementary behavior in interpersonal relations), we hypothesized that in an affiliative setting—with smiles serving as strong signals of the situation’s positive emotional tone—people will display complementarity: in response to dominant behavior they will become more submissive, especially when gender is salient (i.e. in an intergroup context) providing a gender stereotypic basis for dominance vs. submission. When the context is more competitive (not affiliative –no smiling) the motivation will be to contest (compete with) the dominant behaviour, instead of complementing it.

We tested our hypotheses in three studies recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (de Lemus, Spears, & Moya, 2012).

. . .

Our research supports the argument that certain forms of prejudice and discrimination (sexism) that are subtle (disguised with a smile) make them more difficult to recognize and resist. The other way to frame our findings (perhaps in a more positive tone), is that when the smile is not present, women do seem to challenge male sexist dominance. This is, to some extent, a positive finding in terms of gender equality. We conclude our paper saying that “if women sustain the cycle of sexism unconsciously through their behavior this makes achieving gender equality harder than we might have thought. However, this implies that raising consciousness is literally as well as metaphorically the way forward.”

Read the rest of their post and a summary of their results here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Life | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 3

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2012

Part 3 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed ‘healthy foods’ such as muesli and juices, both of which can be high in sugar.

He speaks with Simon Wright, an ‘organic consultant’ for Sainsbury’s in the 1990s, who explains how the food industry cashed in on the public’s concerns around salmonella, BSE and GM crops. By 1999 the organic industry was worth over £605M, a rise of 232% within two years.

How did the mainstream food producers compete? Peretti speaks with Kath Dalmeny, former policy director at the Food Commission, who explains some of the marketing strategies used by mainstream food producers to keep our custom.

The programme also explores the impact of successive government initiatives and health campaigns, such as the proposal of ‘traffic light labelling’, the introduction of which the food industry lobbied hard against.

But in 2012, when we have an Olympic Games sponsored by McDonalds and Coca Cola, has anything changed?

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, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 2

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 14, 2012

Part 2 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti investigates how the concept of ‘supersizing’ changed our eating habits forever. How did we – once a nation of moderate eaters – start to want more?

Speaking to Mike Donahue, former McDonalds Vice President, Peretti explores the history behind the idea of supersizing. 40 years ago, McDonalds hired David Wallerstein, a former cinema manager who had introduced the idea of selling larger popcorn servings in his Chicago cinema. Wallerstein realised that people would eat more but they didn’t like the idea of appearing gluttonous by going back for seconds. By increasing the portion sizes and the cost, he could sell more food. In 1972, he introduced the idea to McDonalds and their first large fries went on sale.

By the 1980s, we were eating more – and eating more often. Perretti speaks with industry professionals to examine the story behind the introduction of value meals, king-size snacks and multi-buy promotions. How did the advertising industry encourage us to eat more often?

The programme also explores the developments in dietary advice – by 2003, the Chief Medical Officer was warning of an ‘obesity time bomb.’ Peretti speaks to obesity expert Professor Philip James, who made recommendations in his 1996 report that the food industry should cease targeting children in their advertisements. He also speaks with Professor Terry Wilkin, who led a pioneering study into childhood weight gain; and former Labour MP David Hinchliffe, who chaired the 2003 Parliamentary Select Committee on Health.

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, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 1

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2012

From Introduction of BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are now overweight than undernourished. Two thirds of British adults are overweight and one in four of us is classified as obese. In the first of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for revolutionising our eating habits, to find out how decisions made in America 40 years ago influence the way we eat now.

Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener was championed in the US in the 1970s by Richard Nixon’s agriculture secretary Earl Butz to make use of the excess corn grown by farmers. Cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it soon found its way into almost all processed foods and soft drinks. HFCS is not only sweeter than sugar, it also interferes with leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, so once you start eating or drinking it, you don’t know when to stop.

Endocrinologist Robert Lustig was one of the first to recognise the dangers of HFCS but his findings were discredited at the time. Meanwhile a US Congress report blamed fat, not sugar, for the disturbing rise in cardio-vascular disease and the food industry responded with ranges of ‘low fat’, ‘heart healthy’ products in which the fat was removed – but the substitute was yet more sugar.

Meanwhile, in 1970s Britain, food manufacturers used advertising campaigns to promote the idea of snacking between meals. Outside the home, fast food chains offered clean, bright premises with tempting burgers cooked and served with a very un-British zeal and efficiency. Twenty years after the arrival of McDonalds, the number of fast food outlets in Britain had quadrupled.

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, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Good, the Bad, and the Baby

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 19, 2012

From 60 Minutes:

The above video is from “The Baby Lab” which aired on Nov. 18, 2012.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality, Video | Leave a Comment »

Warmth or Competence – Not Both

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 16, 2012

From the Daily Princtonian (an article about a paper co-authored by Situationist Contributor, Susan Fiske):

To appear warm people convey themselves as less competent, and to appear competent people convey themselves as less warm, according to a recent study conducted by a team of researchers in the psychology department.

The study, published by Ph.D. candidate Deborah Holoien GS and psychology professor Susan Fiske, concluded that there is an inherently negative relationship between being perceived as friendly and being perceived as competent. This, Fiske said, causes people to stereotype societal groups — like different ethnic, religious, social or gender groups — based on how warm or competent they appear.

Fiske explained that this trade-off is rooted in evolutionary theory.

“It makes sense because the first thing you need to know about another [is] what their intentions are. If their intentions are good, that means they’re friendly and trustworthy and warm,” Fiske said. “The second thing you need to know is whether they can act on those intentions — whether they’re competent and capable — because if they can’t act on those intentions, they don’t matter to you that much,” she explained.

The study asked participants to draft emails and maintain chat conversations. One group was instructed to try to appear warm, and the other was instructed to appear competent. The selection of words or phrases these participants chose to use had been previously rated by a separate group of participants. The subjects’ choices were then evaluated based on these ratings.

Subjects’ choices indicated that in trying to create a certain impression, they had to sacrifice conveying warmth or competence in order to portray the other.

“When people want to appear warm, they tend to select words that are low in competence,” Holoien explained. “Similarly, when people want to appear very competent, they select words that are low in warmth.”

The paper argues that participants do not intend to convey a lack of one or the other. Yet to appear positively in one dimension, appearing negatively in the other is an unavoidable sacrifice.

This report builds on previous studies conducted by University faculty on the evolution of stereotyping. In trying to avoid stereotyping, people tend to emphasize positive stereotypes of ethnic groups. However, in doing so, the studies found that people are inherently implying the negative stereotype.

“If I say there’s a new immigrant group who’s really nice, the implication is that they’re not smart. If I say there’s an immigrant group who’s really smart, the implication is that they’re not nice,” Fiske explained. “What that means is that you can get away with stereotyping and even negative stereotyping by just accentuating the positive and omitting the negative.”

The two characteristics of warmth and competence determine 80 to 85 percent of impression formation, according to Fiske. In daily interactions, Fiske said, “these are the two key things that need to be communicated.”

This has implications in business strategies and in the workplace. Fiske found that how companies are viewed in light of these two characteristics affects what brands customers choose to purchase.

“Johnson & Johnson and Campbell’s and Hershey’s are seen as American, warm and competent companies, but the energy companies and the cigarette companies are seen as not only incompetent but also bad-intentioned,” Fiske said. “The luxury brands are seen as cold and competent, like Rolex and Porsche. And the U.S. government-subsidized companies like the Post Office and Amtrack are seen as well intentioned but incompetent.”

Holoien said the findings are also relevant for workplace interactions and job interviews, which are largely about first impressions.

Career Peer Advisor Claudine Quadrat ’13 said that the priority for students looking to be hired is to come across as confident in job interviews.

“It’s difficult to say [whether warmth or competence] is more important because you don’t want to be warm without selling anything, but you don’t want to sell in a condescending manner,” Quadrat said. “We definitely try to encourage both.”

Quadrat emphasized that a good manager or team leader commands respect through both warmth and competence rather than just fear or love.

Fiske extended the comparison to the highest elected office in the country.

“It’s clear that these same two dimensions matter to the presidential candidates,” Fiske said. “They have to establish both their competence and their trustworthiness, integrity and warmth. Neither one is sufficient by itself.”

Though the conclusions of this paper and similar studies have not been contradicted, an alternate theory would challenge the trade-off hypothesis. The “Halo Effect” psychological theory argues that people are generally rated positively or negatively on both scales.

Fiske said she hopes to publish her findings in a forthcoming book.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

The Rewards of Cooperation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2012

From the Harvard Gazette:

It turns out nice guys can finish first, and David Rand has the evidence to show it.

Rand, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology and a lecturer in human evolutionary biology, is the lead author of a new paper, which found that dynamic, complex social networks encourage their members to be friendlier and more cooperative, with the possible payoff coming in an expanded social sphere, while selfish behavior can lead to an individual being shunned from the group and left — literally — on his or her own.

As described this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research is among the first studies to examine social interaction as a fluid, ever-changing process. Previous studies of complex social networks largely used static snapshots of groups to examine how members were or were not connected. This new approach, Rand said, is the closest scientists have yet come to describing the way the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants interact daily.

“This model is closer to real life; thus the results are closer to real life,” Rand said. “What this is showing is that a key aspect of real-world social networks is the dynamic component. The point of this paper is to say that those networks are always shifting, and they’re not shifting in random ways.

“There are many nasty things that happen between people, but for the most part we are fantastically cooperative,” Rand said. “We do an amazing job of having thousands or even millions of people living in very close quarters in cities all over the world. In a functioning society, things like trade, friendship, even democracy itself require high levels of cooperation, and when everyone does it, you get good collective outcomes.”

“Cooperation is a fascinating topic,” said Sociology Professor and Pforzheimer House Master Nicholas Christakis. “We see cooperation everywhere in the biological and sociological worlds, but it’s actually very hard to explain. Why do creatures, including ourselves, cooperate?

“What our paper shows is that there is a deep relationship between cooperation and social networks. In particular, we found that if you allow people to rewire their social networks, cooperation persists in the population. I believe this paper is the first to show, empirically, how that relationship works. As humans, we do two unique things: We re-shape the social world around us, and in so doing, we create a better place for ourselves by being nice to each other.”

To demonstrate how groups reach those good collective outcomes, the scientists, including Sam Arbesman, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, recruited nearly 800 volunteers, who, in groups of between 20 and 30, took part in the study by playing a simple game.

At the outset, Rand said, each player begins with an equal number of points, and is randomly connected with one or more players. As the game progresses, players have the opportunity to be either generous, and pay to give points to each player they are connected with, or be selfish, and do nothing. Following each round, some players are randomly given the opportunity to update their connections, based on whether other players have been generous or selfish.

The findings, Rand said, showed that players re-wired their social networks in intriguing ways that helped both themselves and the group they were in.  They were more willing to make new connections or maintain existing connections with those who acted generously, and break connections with those who behaved selfishly.

“Because people have control over who they are interacting with, people are more likely to form connections with people who are cooperative, and much more likely to break those links with people who are not,” Rand said. “Basically, what it boils down to is that you’d better be a nice guy, or else you’re going to get cut off.”

Intriguingly, the study also uncovered a correction mechanism inherent to social groups. Those who were initially noncooperative, Rand said, were found to be twice as likely to become cooperative after being shunned, suggesting that being cut off from the group acts as a sort of internal discipline, ensuring that cooperation remains high within a social network.

“As a result, when you have a network that’s dynamic, you see stable, high levels of cooperation, whereas in a static network you see a steady breakdown of cooperation,” Rand said.

Read the rest of the article here.

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Face Blindness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 8, 2012

From CBS News:

Imagine you couldn’t recognize people’s faces, and even your own family looked unfamiliar. Lesley Stahl reports on face blindness, a puzzling neurological disorder.

From CBS News:

This week on “60 Minutes” Lesley Stahl reports on people who are “face blind.” It’s a mysterious and sad condition that keeps sufferers from recognizing or identifying faces — even the faces of close family members, children, or spouses. Many “face blind” people don’t even know they have it.

If you suspect you might be “face blind,” in the above video, you’ll find a test that may provide an answer. We show you a series of pictures of famous people and ask you to figure out who they are.

If you have trouble identifying the faces in our test, we suggest that you check out www.faceblind.org/facetests/ where you can learn about face blindness and take other tests created by Professor Brad Duchaine and his colleagues at Dartmouth College.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Illusions, Neuroscience, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Interior Situation of Belief in God

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 6, 2012

From BigThink:

Our Lady of Lourdes appears 18 times to a miller’s daughter collecting firewood in a small market town in France. A young woman leads an army through critical strategic victories in the 100 Years’ War, claiming to be guided by divine insight. In the very first hours of the 20th century, a student asks God to fill her with the holy spirit and begins to speak in tongues.

Are these incidents case studies in undiagnosed mental illness, spiritual transcendence, or something nebulously in between?

It’s an interesting and elusive question for neuroscientists, with big implications on our understanding of consciousness. As the Nobel-prize winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel has said, reductionism — the idea that a system is nothing more than the interactions between its parts — is an extremely successful theory of biology, but as a “theory of everything,” it fails to provide us with a sufficient explanation of a few basic, fundamental elements that shape human perception.

Particularly, religion. Why do we care whether or not God exists? And why do so many people believe? A new generation of neuroscientists is addressing those questions directly, with the ambitious goal of measuring what happens to the human brain during spiritual experiences. Dr. Andrew Newberg is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine and a pioneer in the field of neurotheology. Newberg doesn’t identify with a particular religious group, but he’s fascinated by the profound significance and persistence of human faith throughout history.

Watch the interiew of Dr. Andrew Newberg, a pioneer in the field of neurotheology, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Life, Morality, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Facial Situation of Presidential Candidates

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2012

From InMind (an outstanding article by Dr. Theresa DiDonato from a few years ago):

If your citizenship comes with the responsibility – and privilege – of voting, then every few years you face an interesting challenge. Who will you vote for? Whether you choose to support an incumbent, a celebrated war hero, an experienced government official, or a new face on the political scene, psychologists are incredibly curious about the process by which you come to that decision. There is reason to believe that, coming from a thoughtful and prepared voter, your ballot will reflect an objective assessment of candidate qualifications. You may, for example, use the time before an election to analyze debates, weigh social policies, and scrutinize performance records. With a wealth of political information at the tip of your fingers, only careful, deliberative thinking will contribute to your final decision…right?

Recent research in political psychology tells us that conscious deliberation is only part of the story when it comes to the voter-decision process. Information about candidates is further gathered using no mental effort, through processes operating completely outside of our awareness. Visual cues, for example, such as physical appearance, are instrumental in shaping our impressions of political candidates. Consider the case of Richard Nixon, a United States’ presidential hopeful back in September of 1960. Coming off of a hospital visit and sporting a five-o’clock shadow, Nixon participated in the first-ever televised presidential debate against John F. Kennedy, whose recent return from sunny California left him well-rested and tan. There is reason to believe that Nixon’s arguments were superior: radio listeners thought he won the debate. The estimated 70 million TV viewers, however, overwhelmingly preferred Kennedy. Visual information, i.e. Kennedy’s clean-cut confidence versus Nixon’s haggard appearance, is presumed to have influenced the TV viewers, ultimately shaping their global impressions of both candidates (Kraus, 1988).

Fast forward almost fifty years and researchers are just beginning to understand how physical appearance, particularly facial appearance, factors into voter choice. Nixon’s and Kennedy’s facial expression may certainly have evoked emotional reactions from television viewers during that critical debate. Accordingly, research suggests that feelings, like warmth or happiness, in response to a candidate’s facial gestures can influence voters’ attitudes and subsequent decisions (Sullivan & Masters, 1988). Of particular interest to social-cognitive researchers who study person-perception is how the mind translates facial appearance into beliefs about a candidate’s suitability for office. We now know that in the instant we see a person’s face, an array of fast and implicit cognitive processes take place. In that split second, we unconsciously construct ideas about a person’s personality (Bar, Neta & Linz, 2006). We may think a person is kind, strict, or honest, based only on his appearance. As you might imagine, because we make these personality inferences so easily, they can have important implications for a political candidate seeking election. Indeed, early research had found that a candidate’s photograph can communicate a clear image of his “congressional demeanor,” and fitness for office, affecting his voter appeal (Rosenberg, Bohan, McCafferty, & Harris, 1986). But what is it exactly about a politician’s face that influences his popularity? And which trait inferences matter when it comes to our voting decisions?

As most politicians know, people generally favor familiar faces over unfamiliar faces. What they may not be aware of is people also tend to prefer faces that are similar to their own. Such an idea is firmly grounded in evolutionary theory. Our faces tend to be similar to our family members’ faces, and we also generally share genetic material with them. The evolutionary perspective argues that we are fundamentally wired to protect and spread our genes, so it makes sense that we might be biologically-biased to prefer similar faces. Is this preference sufficiently ingrained so that we might actually prefer candidates who resemble us?

Bailenson, Iyengar, Yee, and Collins (in press) used a creative method to test this idea. Building on their previous work (Bailenson, Garland, Iyengar, & Yee, 2006), they examined the influence of facial similarity on voting behavior by actually manipulating the degree of facial similarity between participants and candidates. How? By digitally morphing images of participants’ faces with photographs of current candidates! Essentially, they screened out participants with glasses and facial hair, and used only high-quality photographs. They then used a computer program to morph, or blend, participants’ faces into the faces of real-life United States’ politicians, such as Hillary Clinton. Participants were unaware of the image modifications.

The researchers conducted three experiments in which they showed participants candidate photos that had been morphed with themselves (self-morph) and/or with a random other participant (other-morph). In some cases, these images were of widely-known politicians, like John Edwards or Rudy Giuliani, while other times they were of unfamiliar candidates. Participants rated each candidate on a set of ten positive personality traits (i.e. moral, intelligent, and friendly), reported their party affiliation (Democrat or Republican), and indicated the strength of that affiliation. In the final experiment, participants also saw a brief description of the candidates’ positions on issues like the Iraq War along with their picture.

The intrigue and appeal of these findings are further enhanced by the researchers’ discovery that judgment speed mattered. They found that immediate, first impressions of competence, made after seeing an image for only 100 milliseconds, were superior to deliberative judgments in anticipating the winner of an election (Ballew & Todorov, 2007). This finding seems counterintuitive: how could gut feelings outperform reflective thinking? At the same time, it fits well with one research study focused not on candidate preferences, but on strawberry jam. Wilson and Schooler (1991) asked participants to taste and rate the quality of different jams, and then tested the “accuracy” of these ratings by comparing them with evaluations offered by trained tasting experts. Results showed that when participants were instructed to reflect on why they liked or disliked the jams, they produced ratings that did not corresponded with the experts’ ratings as well as those who simply rated the jams without reflection.

What is it about judging unfamiliar candidates and unfamiliar jams that champions intuition over careful reflection?

Find out and to read the rest of the superb article, here.

Related Situationist posts:

More posts on the situation of politics here.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Daria Roithmayr to Speak at Harvard Law (Monday)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 1, 2012

As the final SALMS talk of this academic year, Daria Roithmayr will deliver her talk, “The Evolution of Legal Punishment” on Monday, 4/2, 12 p.m., Wass. 1023 (Chinese food served).

Professor Daria Roithmayr (USC Law) teaches and writes in the area of critical race theory and comparative law, focusing on the area of structural racial inequality in the U.S. and South Africa. Her interdisciplinary work draws from complex systems theory, antitrust, law and economics, sociology, history and a range of other areas.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

The Evolutionary Biology of Obesity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2012

Harvard’s Daniel Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, speaks about the evolutionary origins of today’s obesity epidemic.

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, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, History, Life, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Iain Couzin Speaks Tomorrow on the Situation of Collective Behavior

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2012

“From Democratic Consensus to Cannibalistic Hordes: The Principles of Collective Behavior”

Lecture by Iain Couzin

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 6:00 PM

Why do billions of locusts suddenly break into motion? How do ants carry heavy loads and march with orderly precision along densely packed trails? How do flocks of birds and schools of fish select their navigators? And how do we—humans—make decisions as citizens, drivers, and numerous other social situations? Iain Couzin, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, has made major contributions to understanding the dynamics and evolution of collective animal behavior.

  • Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.
  • Free parking available in the 52 Oxford Street garage.
  • Part of the Evolution Matters lecture series. Supported by a generous gift from Drs. Herman and Joan Suit.

You can watch an earlier version of Professor Couzin’s lecture below.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Events, Evolutionary Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dan Gilbert at HLS on The Situation of Good Decisions – Another Version

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2012

From the Harvard Law Website (Jill Greenfield):

There is a simple method for making decisions, from trivial to life changing, that most people find easy to understand but impossible to follow. In a talk entitled “How To Do Precisely the Right Thing At All Possible Times,” Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, author of “Stumbling on Happiness,” and host of the PBS television series “This Emotional Life,” discussed research in psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics that explains why it is indeed possible, yet incredibly difficult, to do the right thing at all possible times.

Gilbert’s talk was sponsored by the Living Well in the Law program at Harvard Law School, which endeavors to complement the teaching of the skills and substance of the law with attention to and development of each student’s sense of purpose as both a professional and a person.

Gilbert explained that our own minds thwart our attempts to make good decisions because our brains evolved to function in a world very different from the one we live in today, one in which decisions were limited to finding a mate and living in small communities, not purchasing long-term care insurance or making other complex decisions.

“We’re on an ancient vessel and can’t evolve quickly enough, but we’re not stupid,” Gilbert said. “The way we got to the moon wasn’t through intuition—we used science and disciplined rational thinking. We can use the same approach to make any kind of personal decision. The question isn’t whether we know how to do precisely the right thing at all the right times. The question is whether we will actually use what we know.”

He said that it should be simple to make a decision—all we need to do is multiply the odds of getting what we want by the value of getting it. But people make two classes of errors when trying to make decisions: errors in odds and errors in value.

Gilbert discussed the psychological phenomena leading to errors in odds, including the imaginability error and the optimism bias. We miscalculate the odds of a particular outcome because the imaginability error causes us to calculate odds based on how easy it is to bring something to mind. For example, people overestimate the odds of dying in a tornado or from using fireworks because those deaths make headlines, while they underestimate the odds of dying by drowning or from asthma, which are in reality far more common. The optimism bias, on the other hand, is simply attributed to the fact that we’re wildly optimistic about the odds of getting what we want, he said. Together, the imaginability error and the optimism bias distort our ability to anticipate odds of a particular outcome.

“The optimism bias occurs because, when you practice doing things, they become easier to do,” Gilbert said. “Motivational speakers tell you to practice thinking about success and not even let thoughts of failure cross your mind. If you just keep thinking about how your plans will work without being willing to entertain equally how they’re not going to work, success becomes easier and easier for you to imagine, and thus the imagineability error is at play. We practice thinking about success so much that it’s inevitable that we’ll overestimate the likelihood that it’s going to happen.”

Calculating how happy we’ll be if we actually achieve the outcome we want—the value of that outcome—is even more difficult. Anticipating value is so difficult because every form of judgment works by comparison, Gilbert explained. To illustrate that point, he used a decision very familiar to law students—deciding between two job offers. Job 1 offers a salary of $100,000, but everyone else at that firm will earn $105,000. The salary for Job 2 is $90,000, but everyone else will earn $85,000. Gilbert said that most study participants respond that Job 2 will make them happier because, although they’ll make less money, they won’t feel underpaid. But for that to be the right decision, one who chooses Job 2 must then walk around all day in that new job thinking about how wonderful that extra $5,000 is. In reality, people will not spend time making that comparison once they dive in and start the job.

“You forget about the setup. The comparison you make when determining the value of getting what you want is no longer the comparison you make once you get it, so it bedevils your attempt to make a good decision,” Gilbert said.

He warned that there is really nothing we can do to ensure that we make the right decisions—there’s no pill we can swallow, class we can take, or book we can read that will prevent us from making these errors in odds and value because they’re simply so natural to us.

“How can you do the right thing at all possible times? You probably can’t,” he said. “The best thing you can do is to catch yourself making these errors and know to watch out for them. Ask if yesterday’s price really matters today, or if today’s comparison will really matter tomorrow. We can stop ourselves not from making errors, but from completing errors.”

Related Situationist posts.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Dan Gilbert at HLS on The Situation of Good Decisions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 23, 2012

From the Harvard Gazette:

To take a gratifying, low-paying job or a well-paid corporate position, to get married or play the field, to move across the country or stay put: The fact that most people face such choices at some point in their lives doesn’t make them any easier. No one knows the dilemma better than law students, who are poised to enter a competitive job market after staking years of study on their chosen field.

When faced with a tough choice, we already have the cognitive tools we need to make the right decision, Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard and host of the PBS series “This Emotional Life,” told a Harvard Law School (HLS) audience on Feb. 16. The hard part is overcoming the tricks our minds play on us that render rational decision-making nearly impossible.

Gilbert’s talk, titled “How To Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times,” was part of Living Well in the Law, a new program sponsored by the HLS Dean of Students Office that aims to help law students consider their personal and professional development beyond the fast track of summer associate positions and big-law job offers.

There is a relatively simple equation for figuring out the best course of action in any situation, Gilbert explained: What are the odds of a particular action getting you what you want, and how much do you value getting what you want? If you really want something, and you identify an action that will make it likely, then taking that action is a good move.

Unfortunately, Gilbert said, “these are also the two ways human beings screw up.”

First, he said, humans have a hard time estimating how likely we are to get what we want. “We know how to calculate odds [mathematically], but it’s not how we actually calculate odds,” he said.

We buy lottery tickets, because we “never see interviews with lottery losers.” If every one of the 170 million losing ticket holders were interviewed on television for 10 seconds apiece, we’d be having the image of losing drilled into our brains for 65 straight years, he said.

“When something’s easy to imagine, you think it’s more likely to happen,” he said.

For example, if asked to guess the number of annual deaths in the United States by firework accidents and storms versus asthma and drowning, most people will vastly overestimate the former and underestimate the latter. That’s because we don’t see headlines when someone dies of an asthma attack or drowns, Gilbert said. “It’s less available in your memory, but it is in fact more frequent.”

Then there’s the fact that we’re prone to irrational levels of optimism, a pattern that has been documented across all areas of life. Sports fans in every city believe their team has better-than-average odds of winning; the vast majority of people believe they’ll live to be 100.

A study of Harvard seniors, Gilbert gleefully reported, showed they on average believed they’d finish their theses within 28 to 48 days, but most likely within 33 — “a number virtually indistinguishable from their best-case scenario.” In reality, they complete their theses within 56 days on average.

Still, he said, calculating our odds of success is actually the easy part. “What’s really hard in life is knowing how much you’re going to value the thing you’re striving so hard to get,” he said.

When we consider buying a $2 cup of coffee at Starbucks, for example, we don’t compare the satisfaction of a morning caffeine jolt against the millions of other things we could purchase for $2. Rather, we compare the value of that cup of coffee against our own past experiences. If the same coffee only cost $1.50 yesterday, we might balk at paying $2 for it today.

“One of the problems with this bias, this tendency to pay attention to change, is that it’s hard to know if things really did change,” he said. “Whether things changed is often in the eye of the beholder.

“It turns out that every form of judgment works by comparison,” he said. “People shop by comparison.” Unfortunately, our comparisons are easily manipulated, and comparing one option with all other possible options is an impossible task.

Real estate companies, for example, show potential buyers “set-up properties,” rundown fixer-uppers that they actually own, to lower their clients’ expectations for houses that are actually for sale.

In his own lab, Gilbert’s research team had two groups of college students predict how much they would enjoy eating a bag of potato chips. The group that sat in a room with chocolates on display predicted they’d enjoy the chips less, while the second group — stuck in a room with the chips and a variety of canned meats — predicted much higher enjoyment of the salty snack.

But when the students rated their enjoyment of the chips while they were eating them, those differences disappeared. While their previous visual judgment was tainted by comparison, their judgment of the actual taste was not.

“The comparisons you make when you’re shopping are not the ones you’ll make after you’ve bought,” Gilbert said.

The human mind evolved to deal with different dilemmas than the ones we face today, Gilbert explained. Our ancestors weighed short-term consequences to ensure their survival, evolving a snap-judgment process that often serves us poorly when making long-term decisions such as buying a home, investing in the stock market, or making a cross-country move.

The brain “thinks like the old machine it is,” Gilbert said. “We are in some sense on a very ancient vessel, and we are sailing a very ancient sea.”

Still, he told his audience, we have the ability to overcome these evolutionary roadblocks to self-aware, smart decision-making, as long as we acknowledge our biases.

“We’ve been given that gift,” Gilbert said. “The question is, will we use it?”

Related Situationist posts.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Paul Bloom at Harvard Law School – Do Babies Crave Justice?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 19, 2012

Paul Bloom, Yale psychology professor, will speak at Harvard Law School tomorrow (Monday) in a talk titled “Do Babies Have a Sense of Morality and Justice? Is Kindness Genetic or Learned?”

Professor Bloom will argue that even babies possess a rich moral sense. They distinguish between good and bad acts and prefer good characters over bad ones. They feel pain at the pain of others, and might even possess a primitive sense of justice. But this moral sense is narrow, and many principles that are central to adult morality, such as kindness to strangers, are the product of our intelligence and our imagination; they are not in our genes. He will end with a discussion of the evolution and psychology of purity and disgust.

Paul Bloom is a professor of psychology at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art. He has won numerous awards for his research and teaching. He is past-president of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology, and co-editor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, one of the major journals in the field. Dr. Bloom has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Atlantic. He is the author or editor of four books, including How Children Learn the Meanings of Words, and Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human. His newest book, How Pleasure Works, was published in June 2010.

Tomorrow’s talk will take place from 12 – 1 pm in Wasserstein Hall, Room 1023. Free Chinese food lunch!

Image from Flickr.

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Posted in Altruism, Events, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Social Justice

Posted by John Jost on February 17, 2012

This book review appeared earlier this week in the American Scientist:

THE FAIR SOCIETY: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice. Peter Corning. xiv + 237 pp. University of Chicago Press, 2011. $27.50.

After decades of exclusion from meaningful social and political discourse, themes of social justice are making a serious comeback. One can point to several recent examples from the disciplines of political science, economics and philosophy, including, respectively, Larry M. Bartels’s Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age (Princeton University Press, 2008), Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice (Harvard University Press, 2009) and Derek Parfit’s massive two-volume tome On What Matters (Oxford University Press, 2011). These books have arrived to coincide with the apparent awakening of the sense of injustice in popular movements from Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street.

Peter Corning, who was trained as a biologist and is now the director of the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, joins the conversation at just the right time. His most recent book, The Fair Society, was published in early 2011, and—like Joseph Stiglitz’s Vanity Fair article “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”—it has turned out to be remarkably prescient. Several chapters read like an annotated list of complaints made by the most well-informed campers in Zuccotti Park last fall. Corning notes, for example, that in the United States, “since the 1980s, some 94 percent of the total increase in personal income has gone to the top 1 percent of the population”; at least 25 million Americans (17.2 percent of the workforce) are presently struggling with unemployment or drastic underemployment; “close to 50 million Americans experienced ‘food deprivation’ (hunger) at various times in 2009”; and as many as 75 million Americans (25 percent of the population) live in poverty. Adding insult to injury, the top 10 percent of income earners in the United States live 4.5 years longer on average than the bottom 10 percent.

In a nutshell, Corning’s thesis is that human nature has evolved in such a way as to create a natural revulsion to states of affairs like these. In the opening chapters, he recounts various evolutionary arguments for the notion that our hunter-gatherer ancestors possessed a deep sense of fairness and developed “a pattern of egalitarian sharing” in which “dominance behaviors were actively resisted by coalitions of other group members.” He draws eclectically on studies of baboons, descriptive anthropological accounts of hunter-gatherer societies and, in a few cases, the fossil record. With this biological framework in place, Corning endeavors to show that the capitalist system as currently practiced in the United States and elsewhere is manifestly unfair. His beef is not solely with laissez-faire capitalism, however; he claims that socialism is just as unfair, although in different ways, and that efforts to develop a “third way” that avoids the excesses of capitalism and socialism have been “anemic” and “unable to confront the status quo” of class-based inequality. In place of these failed institutions, he proposes a new type of society founded on a biosocial contract, which he describes as a “truly voluntary bargain among various (empowered) stakeholders over how the benefits and obligations in a society are to be apportioned among the members” that is “grounded in our growing understanding of human nature and the basic purpose of a human society.” Such a contract, he writes, must be focused on fairness and the obligation to address the “shared survival and reproductive needs” of our species.

Corning draws most heavily on evolutionary biology, behavioral economics and anthropology, but experimental social psychology would also back him up—and quite a bit more directly. Indeed, some of his ideas seem to have been inspired by the work of Morton Deutsch, who suggested, in a well-known 1975 article in the Journal of Social Issues, that human beings are finely attuned to three major principles of justice: equity, equality and need. Corning offers a slightly modified list. He defines fairness in terms of equality (in the satisfaction of basic needs, not necessarily in outcomes), equity (or merit) and reciprocity. The core thesis of The Fair Society was also anticipated by Melvin Lerner, who argued in 1977 that a universal “justice motive” compels individuals to pursue fairness goals to rectify unfairness and—only if these routes are blocked—to engage in victim-blaming and other defensive strategies to maintain the desired belief that we live in a just world (even if we do not). Although Lerner was perhaps more sensitive than Corning to the perverse consequences of caring passionately about the appearance of justice (for instance, blaming victims of rape, poverty or illness for their misfortune so as not to give up cherished illusions about personal deservingness), the two writers share the assumption that justice concerns are an essential part of human nature.

Anyone who is capable of critical perspicacity with regard to capitalist economic systems and practices is obliged to agree with Corning’s observation that the massive upswing in economic inequality over the past 30 years is at odds with nearly every conception of justice since Plato and, in that sense, is difficult (if not impossible) to justify on normative philosophical grounds (although some conservative libertarians have tried). Let us also grant that humans are prepared to experience moral outrage in the face of unjustified inequality (or gross inequity). Even capuchin monkeys show “inequity aversion,” refusing to participate in games in which other monkeys are given greater rewards for equal effort, as Sarah F. Brosnan and Frans de Waal showed in a 2003 article in Nature. Corning connects such observations to the present socioeconomic situation, writing, “Defection is the likely response to an exploitative, asymmetrical interaction,” and “No wonder there were protests and even riots at WTO [World Trade Organization] meetings.”

There is only one problem, and it is one that has given social scientists fits: What took so long? Why have U.S. citizens, for instance, put up with starkly increasing inequality and the kind of economic policies that only a dyslexic Robin Hood could embrace? There is a joke, often attributed to economist Paul A. Samuelson, which goes, “Economists have correctly predicted nine of the last five recessions.” I would say that sociologists, political scientists and others who study protest movements suffer from a similar problem, to wit: “Social scientists have correctly predicted nine of the last five revolutions.” The great political theorist Ted Robert Gurr, for instance, wrote in 1970 that “Men are quick to aspire beyond their social means and quick to anger when those means prove inadequate, but slow to accept their limitations.” If this were true in a deep psychological sense, rebellion would be far more common than acquiescence, but this is simply not the case.

My own, admittedly incomplete answer to the social scientists’ conundrum has emphasized a human motivation that is frequently on a collision course with Lerner’s justice motive and Corning’s biosocial contract, namely, system-justification motivation: the (typically nonconscious) desire to defend, justify and rationalize existing systems, institutions and widespread practices, even if (from a more objective point of view) they violate standards of justice, including equity, equality and need. Corning grants that our sense of fairness can be “easily subverted,” quotes Dr. Pangloss’s rosy rationalizations in Voltaire’s satire Candide, and touches—but only lightly—on beliefs and ideologies that blunt the sense of injustice. To my mind, the problem of system justification in U.S. public opinion about economic inequality (especially among political conservatives) is addressed far more satisfactorily in chapter 5 of Bartels’s Unequal Democracy.

Despite this conspicuous omission, much of what Corning has written is both important and accurate. The Fair Society is wide ranging and covers many areas of scholarship in a useful, integrative, insightful manner. It is an edifying book—not least because it offers a tremendous collection of memorable quotations from justice scholars over the centuries—more than a groundbreaking one. One could reasonably wonder whether his proposed biosocial model, which draws heavily on aspects of stakeholder capitalism and closely resembles that of Swedish society, is really enough of an improvement over the socialist and capitalist systems he so effectively lambastes in earlier chapters of the book. Even if one accepts Corning’s goal, there are huge obstacles standing in the way of its implementation. He recognizes, quite correctly, that “conservatives with vested interests in the status quo will no doubt dismiss the idea of a Fair Society as just another utopian scheme,” but it is far from clear how proponents of social and economic justice will ever overcome conservative skepticism. “There must be a broad political consensus that social justice is a core social value,” he writes, but this is precisely the problem; such a consensus does not exist. “How do the roughly 70 percent of us who support the principle of fairness and social justice overcome the formidable power of the 30 percent who largely control our politics and our wealth and who will fiercely defend the existing system, and their self-interest?” he asks. How, indeed? The difficulty, in my view, is that no one, including Corning himself, offers a convincing answer to this question.

At this moment in history, when our problems are so much clearer than their solutions, it is a genuine contribution to offer clearheaded analysis and moral encouragement to take much-needed steps in the direction of social and economic justice. I admire Corning’s attempt to develop a normative theory of justice that is “built on an empirical foundation”—that is, knowledge gleaned from the social and behavioral sciences, including aggregate sociological data from research on social indicators. Along very similar lines, psychologist Aaron Kay and I have advocated “naturalizing” the study of social justice, thereby integrating descriptive and normative insights gleaned from psychology, social science, philosophy, law and other disciplines.

Given the thick walls that separate academic scholarship from popular concern and policy outcomes, it is probably too much to expect rapid implementation of the specific recommendations made in The Fair Society, such as these, which address taxation: “Eliminate property tax deductions for second (vacation) homes, tax capital gains at the same graduated rate as earned income, and eliminate the expanded home equity line of credit loan provisions.” Nevertheless, one hopes that those who wish to occupy places of power on behalf of the 99 percent will heed Corning’s sage advice about what to do and—just as important—what not to do in planning for a better, more just society.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Altruism, Book, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Situationist Valentine

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 13, 2012

Here are some previous Situationist posts on situation of love – Happy Valentines Day:

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Life, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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