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Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

The Deeply Captured Situation of Sugar

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 25, 2012

Mother Jones has a superb new article on the deeply captured situation of sugar.  It begins as follows:

ON A BRISK SPRING Tuesday in 1976, a pair of executives from the Sugar Association stepped up to the podium of a Chicago ballroom to accept the Oscar of the public relations world, the Silver Anvil award for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.” The trade group had recently pulled off one of the greatest turnarounds in PR history. For nearly a decade, the sugar industry had been buffeted by crisis after crisis as the media and the public soured on sugar and scientists began to view it as a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Industry ads claiming that eating sugar helped you lose weight had been called out by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration had launched a review of whether sugar was even safe to eat. Consumption had declined 12 percent in just two years, and producers could see where that trend might lead. As John “JW” Tatem Jr. and Jack O’Connell Jr., the Sugar Association’s president and director of public relations, posed that day with their trophies, their smiles only hinted at the coup they’d just pulled off.

Their winning campaign, crafted with the help of the prestigious public relations firm Carl Byoir & Associates, had been prompted by a poll showing that consumers had come to see sugar as fattening, and that most doctors suspected it might exacerbate, if not cause, heart disease and diabetes. With an initial annual budget of nearly $800,000 ($3.4 million today) collected from the makers of Dixie Crystals, Domino, C&H, Great Western, and other sugar brands, the association recruited a stable of medical and nutritional professionals to allay the public’s fears, brought snack and beverage companies into the fold, and bankrolled scientific papers that contributed to a “highly supportive” FDA ruling, which, the Silver Anvil application boasted, made it “unlikely that sugar will be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.”

The story of sugar, as Tatem told it, was one of a harmless product under attack by “opportunists dedicated to exploiting the consuming public.” Over the subsequent decades, it would be transformed from what the New York Times in 1977 had deemed “a villain in disguise” into a nutrient so seemingly innocuous that even the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association approved it as part of a healthy diet. Research on the suspected links between sugar and chronic disease largely ground to a halt by the late 1980s, and scientists came to view such pursuits as a career dead end. So effective were the Sugar Association’s efforts that, to this day, no consensus exists about sugar’s potential dangers. The industry’s PR campaign corresponded roughly with a significant rise in Americans’ consumption of “caloric sweeteners,” including table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This increase was accompanied, in turn, by a surge in the chronic diseases increasingly linked to sugar. Since 1970, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled, while the incidence of diabetes has more than tripled.

Read the entire article and related items here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, History, Ideology, Life, Marketing, Public Relations | 1 Comment »

Revisiting Milgram and Zimbardo’s Studies

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 23, 2012

A new essay in PLOS Biology returns to the path-breaking research of Stanley Milgram and Situationist Contributor Phil  Zimbardo and asks whether the studies demonstrate the power of blind conformity or something else.  In particular, the authors, Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher, are interested in the possibility that social identification might be driving the dynamic.  As Haslam explains, “Decent people participate in horrific acts not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe — typically under the influence of those in authority — that what they are doing is right.”

Here is the abstract of the paper:

Understanding of the psychology of tyranny is dominated by classic studies from the 1960s and 1970s: Milgram’s research on obedience to authority and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Supporting popular notions of the banality of evil, this research has been taken to show that people conform passively and unthinkingly to both the instructions and the roles that authorities provide, however malevolent these may be. Recently, though, this consensus has been challenged by empirical work informed by social identity theorizing. This suggests that individuals’ willingness to follow authorities is conditional on identification with the authority in question and an associated belief that the authority is right.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

Thanksgiving as “System Justification”

Posted by Jon Hanson on November 21, 2012

This post was first published on November 21, 2007.

The first Thanksgiving, painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

Thanksgiving has many associations — struggling Pilgrims, crowded airports, autumn leaves, heaping plates, drunken uncles, blowout sales, and so on. At its best, though, Thanksgiving is associated with, well, thanks giving. The holiday provides a moment when many otherwise harried individuals leading hectic lives decelerate just long enough to muster some gratitude for their harvest. Giving thanks — acknowledging that we, as individuals, are not the sole determinants of our own fortunes seems an admirable, humble, and even situationist practice, worthy of its own holiday.

But I’m interested here in the potential downside to the particular way in which many people go about giving thanks.

Situationist contributor John Jost and his collaborators have studied a process that they call “system justification” — loosely the motive to defend and bolster existing arrangements even when doing so seems to conflict with individual and group interests. Jost, together with Situationist contributor Aaron Kay and several other co-authors, recently summarized the basic tendency to justify the status quo this way (pdf):

Whether because of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, or sexual orientation, or because of policies and programs that privilege some at the expense of others, or even because of historical accidents, genetic disparities, or the fickleness of fate, certain social systems serve the interests of some stakeholders better than others. Yet historical and social scientific evidence shows that most of the time the majority of people—regardless of their own social class or position—accept and even defend the legitimacy of their social and economic systems and manage to maintain a “belief in a just world” . . . . As Kinder and Sears (1985) put it, “the deepest puzzle here is not occasional protest but pervasive tranquility.” Knowing how easy it is for people to adapt to and rationalize the way things are makes it easer to understand why the apartheid system in South Africa lasted for 46 years, the institution of slavery survived for more than 400 years in Europe and the Americas, and the Indian Caste system has been maintained for 3000 years and counting.

Manifestations of the system-justification motive pervade many of our cognitions, ideologies, and institutions. This post reflects my worry that the Thanksgiving holiday might also manifest that powerful implicit motive. No doubt, expressing gratitude is generally a healthy and appropriate practice. Indeed, my sense is that Americans too rarely acknowledge the debt they owe to other people and other influences. There ought to be more thanks giving.

Nonetheless, the norm of Thanksgiving seems to be to encourage a particular kind of gratitude — a generic thankfulness for the status quo. Indeed, when one looks at what many describe as the true meaning of the holiday, the message is generally one of announcing that current arrangements — good and bad — are precisely as they should be.

Consider the message behind the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation. In 1789, President George Washington wrote:

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks—for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country . . . for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions . . . . To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Bush - Times OnlineExisting levels of prosperity, by this account, reflect the merciful and omniscient blessings of the “beneficent Author” of all that is good.

More recently, President George W. Bush offered a similar message about the meaning of the holiday:

“In the four centuries since the founders . . . first knelt on these grounds, our nation has changed in many ways. Our people have prospered, our nation has grown, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved — after all, they didn’t have football back then. Yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: We give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day.”

The faith that we are being “watched over” and that our blessings and prosperity are the product of a gift-giving force is extraordinarily affirming. All that “is,” is as that “great and glorious Being” intended.

Fom such a perspective, giving thanks begins to look like a means of assuring ourselves that our current situation was ordained by some higher, legitimating force. To doubt the legitimacy of existing arrangements is to be ungrateful.

A cursory search of the internet for the “meaning of Thanksgiving” reveals many similar recent messages. For instance, one blogger writes, in a post entitled “Teaching Children the Meaning of Thanksgiving,” that:

your goal should be to move the spirit of Thanksgiving from a one-day event to a basic life attitude. . . . This means being thankful no matter what our situation in life. Thankfulness means that we are aware of both our blessings and disappointments but that we focus on the blessings. . . . Are you thankful for your job even when you feel overworked and underpaid?”

Another piece, entitled “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving” includes this lesson regarding the main source of the Pilgrim’s success: “It was their devotion to God and His laws. And that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.”

If we are supposed to be thankful for our jobs even when we are “overworked and underpaid,” should we also be thankful for unfairness or injustice? And if we are to be grateful for our sorrows, should we then be indifferent toward their earthly causes?

A third article, “The Productive Meaning of Thanksgiving” offers these “us”-affirming, guilt-reducing assurances: “The deeper meaning is that we have the capacity to produce such wealth and that we live in a country that affords us our right to exercise the virtue of productivity and to reap its rewards. So let’s celebrate wealth and the power in us to produce it; let’s welcome this most wonderful time of the year and partake without guilt of the bounty we each have earned.”

That advice seems to mollify any sense of injustice by giving something to everyone. Those with bountiful harvests get to enjoy their riches guiltlessly. Those with meager harvests can be grateful for the fact that they live in a country where they might someday enjoy richer returns from their individual efforts.

quotation-thanksgiving-3.pngYet another post, “The Meaning for Thanksgiving,” admonishes readers to be grateful, because they could, after all, be much worse off:

[M]aybe you are unsatisfied with your home or job? Would you be willing to trade either with someone who has no hope of getting a job or is homeless? Could you consider going to Africa or the Middle East and trade places with someone that would desperately love to have even a meager home and a low wage paying job where they could send their children to school without the worry of being bombed, raped, kidnapped or killed on a daily basis?

* * *

No matter how bad you think you have it, there are people who would love to trade places with you in an instant. You can choose to be miserable and pine for something better. You could choose to trade places with someone else for all the money they could give you. You could waste your gift of life, but that would be the worst mistake to make. Or you can rethink about what makes your life great and at least be happy for what you have then be patient about what you want to come to you in the future.

If your inclination on Thanksgiving is to give thanks, I do not mean to discourage you. My only suggestion is that you give thanks, not for the status quo, but for all of the ways in which your (our) own advantages and privileges are the consequence of situation, and not simply your individual (our national) disposition. Further, I’d encourage you to give thanks to all those who have gone before you who have doubted the status quo and who have identified injustice and impatiently fought against it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

 

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

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Political Polarization

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 11, 2012

From This American Life:

Everyone knows that politics is now so divided in our country that not only do the 2 sides disagree on the solutions to the country’s problems, they don’t even agree on what the problems are. It’s 2 versions of the world in collision. This week we hear from people who’ve seen this infect their personal lives. They’ve lost friends. They’ve become estranged from family members. A special pre-election episode of our show.

Listen to the episode here.

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Posted in Conflict, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Podcasts, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Citizens United Cartography

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 7, 2012

From NPR:

Explore political ad spending through creative cartography. This animated map shows where superPACs and other outside groups spent their money — over a six-month period during the general election — to air political ads aimed at influencing the presidential race.

Read the related NPR article here.

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Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Politics, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Effect of Negativity on Voting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2012

From Forbes:

Two studies published this month uncover some of the influences that play on the mind as we approach the voting booth.

Think Negative, Think Certain 

The first study, published in the British Journal of Social Psychology uncovers the power of negativity in framing political attitudes.  Researchers presented participants with information about two fictional candidates – one conservative, one liberal – for a position on a government board.

After reading about the two candidates, some participants were asked if they “supported” or “opposed” the liberal candidate and some were asked if they “supported” or “opposed” the conservative candidate. Participants who were led to frame their opinions negatively (“opposed”) – regardless of their underlying preference – expressed more certainty about their attitudes than did participants who were led frame their opinions positively (“supported”).

A follow-up experiment reinforced this result, but also showed that the effect was much stronger when the participants were able to think carefully about the candidates.  The effect was diminished when participants spent less time thinking about the candidates.

Quoting George Bizner, the lead author of the study, “Our prior research showed that framing an opinion in terms of opposition yields stronger attitudes than does framing it in terms of support. The most interesting point from our latest research is that this effect is actually stronger when people process the messages more deeply – when they are motivated and have been able to think about the issue. So, perhaps counter-intuitively, the people who care the most about the issues or candidates seem more likely to be affected by the bias.”

Read the entire article, including the summary of the second study here.

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Posted in Ideology, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Don Kinder on the Role of Race in the 2012 Election – Today

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 1, 2012

“He’s Still Black: The Role of Race in the 2012 Presidential Election”
With Dr. Don Kinder, University of Michigan Political Science
Thursday, Nov. 1, 12 pm
Austin North
Free Chinese food!

In 2008, Americans chose Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States. The following morning, The New York Times proclaimed that Obama had succeeded in “sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease.” With ease? No. There are good reasons to believe that Obama was elected president in spite of his race. But that was then. Four years later, are we any closer to post-racial politics? What role will race play in the 2012 election?

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Posted in Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, SALMS, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Peer Pressure and Voting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 30, 2012

From The Harvard Gazzette:

Many people believe that idealism motivates them to open their wallets for a favorite candidate or that civic duty motivates them to go to the polls to vote. But don’t discount peer pressure as an important factor in elections, a political scientist says.

“We operate as a family, a neighborhood, a team,” said Betsy Sinclair, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago. “Family, friends, and neighbors affect” choices involving “the candidate, issues to support, the political party to identify with, whether to donate to political candidates, and whether we turn out to cast a ballot.”

Sinclair, author of the new book “The Social Citizen: Peer Networks and Political Behavior,” spoke Thursday at Harvard Law School’s Austin Hall about how social networks enforce behavior in American politics. Her lecture was titled “Mind Sciences and the Election: The Social Citizen.”

Why we write a check or cast a ballot is often for the same reason that we buy Girl Scout cookies or Tupperware: pressure to conform with a group. Sinclair came to that realization after observing a fundraising coffee session for a 2009 Democratic U.S. House candidate from Illinois, Julie Hamos.

The coffee klatch was held in an affluent, politically engaged Chicago district. The two previous election cycles, this group backed another candidate. But this time, the hostess invited Hamos to speak. When the candidate finished her remarks, the hostess asked everyone to get out their checkbooks. Many wrote checks, according to Sinclair.

The candidate lost. Sinclair, in her post-mortem, learned that many guests regretted backing the loser.

Sinclair called the pressure to back Hamos “the Tupperware effect,” where people are invited to a party for the plastic container ware and drink coffee, hear testimony about its worth, and then pony up money for their own plastic ware, just like at the campaign meeting.

“People reported a sense of social obligation,” Sinclair said. “Campaigns know this works.”

Indeed, Sinclair pointed to another congressional candidate fundraiser invitation. It listed the names of all the invitees to pressure as many people who knew others on the list to attend as possible.

Fundraising is one thing. No one believes his or her vote can be influenced. Yet, Sinclair said, we all believe we can persuade an acquaintance to vote for the candidate we support. The ability of one person to influence another person can be demonstrated by analyzing a get-out-the-vote effort.

In 2009, Sinclair put her theory to the test after U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel stepped down from his seat to take a job in the Obama White House. She picked a tiny nine-digit ZIP code in his district to test voter turnout. Democrat Michael Quigley ran unopposed to fill the seat, so turnout would be low.

She contacted residents with a mailing that showed their lackluster voting record in previous elections. (Voting records are public.) It asked them to do their “civic duty and vote,” and pointed out they’d failed to make it to the polls in the past two elections.

Sinclair’s target wasn’t the mailing’s recipients, though. It was the person they shared their home with and who voted regularly.

Someone who lived with a rare or infrequent voter was less likely to make it to the polls. But Sinclair noticed that people voted when they lived with someone who always goes to the polls.

“There’s a shame effect,” Sinclair said. “It’s not the message but the messenger that matters.”

This election cycle, some people have learned through Facebook that their social networks aren’t politically uniform, leading to nasty arguments and “unfriendings.” Sinclair contends that people forge online relationships outside of politics. But holding onto those bonds with people who surprise and enrage can be politically enlightening.

“That’s the person most likely to hear what you’re saying and engage you about what you’re saying,” Sinclair said.

The Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, Harvard Law School Republicans, Harvard Law School Democrats, and the Harvard Law School American Constitution Society sponsored the lecture. J.D. candidate Rebecca Matte ’14, vice president of the Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, introduced Sinclair.

Learn more about Professor Sinclair’s book here.

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Posted in Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

The Social Situation of the Citizen – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 25, 2012

When: Thursday, October 25, 2012, 12 – 1pm
Where: Austin North
Event type: Lectures
Sponsor: Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences, HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, HLS American Constitution Society, PLMS

Do social networks really influence individuals’ politics? If social networks matter, how do they work? Utilizing a variety of experimental and survey data from settings as diverse as the wealthy suburbs of Illinois and the streets of South Los Angeles, Dr. Besty Sinclair will identify the social influences that underlie political activities ranging from voter turnout to political contributions. Rather than being merely a source of information, our social networks have a direct and immediate influence on members’ political behavior.

Learn more about Professor Sinclair’s book here.

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Posted in Choice Myth, Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Todd Rogers on “The Psychology of the Politics of Politics” – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 18, 2012

Mind Sciences & the Election
“The Psychology of the Politics of Politics”
Dr. Todd Rogers (Kennedy School)
Thursday, Oct. 18, 12 p.m.
Austin North
Free pizza lunch!

Dr. Rogers will discuss research on two aspects of the politics of politics.  First, he will share a series of large field experiments (involving hundreds of thousands of people) exploring how behavior change insights from psychology can be used to increase the impact of get-out-the-vote efforts, and understand why people fail to vote.  These are now best practices in many practitioner circles, so this research will help you better understand the logic behind voter mobilization efforts in which you have been involved.  Second, Dr. Rogers will present a series of experiments exploring the cognitive reasons why politicians can dodge questions they are asked without voters noticing or punishing them for their evasiveness.  This work concludes with a practical intervention for preventing artful dodging.

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Posted in Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

SALMS Fall Speaker Series

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 3, 2012

SALMS is excited to announce its Speakers Series slate for Fall 2012. All of the following talks will take place at noon in Austin North unless otherwise noted.
  • Jon Hanson, Harvard Law School, “What Is ‘Law and Mind Sciences’ and Why Does It Matter?” – Monday, Sept. 24, Austin East
  • George Marcus, Williams College Political Science, “Conventional Wisdoms Versus Affective Intelligence: How Elections Are Really Won and Lost” — Thursday, Oct. 4
  • Ryan Enos, Harvard University Government, “Mitt Romney Is Really, Really Good Looking: Do Attractiveness and Other Trivial Things Affect Elections?” — Thursday, Oct. 11
  • Todd Rogers, Harvard Kennedy School, “The Psychology of the Politics of Politics” — Thursday, Oct. 18
  • Betsy Sinclair, University of Chicago Political Science, “The Social Citizen” — Thursday, Oct. 25
The four October events are part of a special speaker series, Mind Sciences & the Election, cosponsored by HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, and HLS American Constitution Society.

Posted in Events, Ideology, Politics, SALMS, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Political Yard Signage

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 2, 2012

For The Conversation, Shannon Callahan wrote an interesting piece on the social psychology of political yard signs.  

As the November elections draw nearer, front yards across America are sprouting campaigns signs broadcasting their chosen political candidates.

These lawn signs have been a traditional part of politics in the United States for well over 60 years, and have remained commonplace even in the age of Facebook and other new media. Lawn signs can often feel ubiquitous in the build-up to major elections, yet in actuality most Americans don’t display them. However, more than enough voters are posting signs for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on their front yards – and apartment balconies and businesses and dorm windows and roadsides – to keep the tradition alive and well.

Some communities seem to be a sea of signs all supporting the same candidate, perhaps with the odd sign here and there that defiantly displays a contrary opinion. Other communities are more divided politically, and in places such as these lawn signs are a critical way of showing just what side you stand on. Yet whether people live in an area that is strongly in favour of one party or one that is more contested, displaying a lawn sign is more than just campaigning for a specific politician, doing one’s civic duty, or even conforming to neighbourhood norms.

Lawn signs are also about communicating our group membership to others, something that fulfils some very basic psychological needs. People want to feel accepted, and putting up a lawn sign literally symbolises that they are part of a group. What’s more, they gain strength from their group memberships and symbols. For example, Chris Miller at the University of Minnesota found that after the 2008 election, signs supporting the victorious Obama stayed up longer than signs supporting his defeated opponent John McCain. This suggests that people use lawn signs to “bask in the reflected glory” of their group’s success and “cut off the reflected failure” of their group’s losses. Thus, lawn signs can help us feel accepted and feel good about ourselves.

Yet despite their widespread usage and the psychological advantages just described, whether or not lawn signs are effective in winning elections is not clear. For presidential campaigns, lawn signs are all about social influence: capturing the all-important swing voters and motivating supporters to actually turn up at the polls come Election Day. Unfortunately, there is little direct evidence supporting that lawn signs can achieve these goals. However, recent research from the Attitudes and Group Identity Lab at the University of California, Davis, indirectly suggests lawn signs can be an effective source of social influence, though that this effectiveness may depend upon how far away the election is.

With my collaborator Alison Ledgerwood, we found that temporal distance – whether something will happen in the near future versus distant future – influences the degree to which people are affected by majority opinions versus single individuals. In our experiments, undergraduate students read about proposed changes to a political issue that they were told would go into effect in the near or distant future, as well how the majority of other students ostensibly felt about these changes.

When the changes were expected to occur in the distant future, our participants’ own opinions on the issue were more influenced by group opinion; that is, they conformed to the majority. But when the changes were expected to occur in the near future, participants’ opinions were less susceptible to group influence. These results complement findings from an earlier paper by our lab that suggest as events draw nearer in time, people are more influenced by the opinion of a single individual.

But what does this mean for lawn signs? As the election is currently over a month away, a large bloc of signs for Obama is likely to have more of an effect on a person’s vote than a lone sign for Romney. However, as the weeks fly by and the election draws nearer, a single sign on a specific person’s yard may start to have more of an effect.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that large numbers of signs for one candidate will ever be meaningless, even if Election Day is close. Distance affects the information people attend to for a reason: distance can lead to abstract, big-picture thinking (“why”) whereas proximity can lead to concrete, fine-details thinking (“how”). Even as the election draws close, encouraging people to think about the big picture can put them in an abstract mindset that pays more attention to the majority of lawn signs.

Thus, there’s more to lawn signs than tradition and a candidate’s name. It’s not simply an issue of which side has more signs posted, but also the mindset of the person viewing the sign. And lawn signs may not only help the candidate, but also may help the person posting the sign meet some of their basic psychological needs.

Not bad for laminated cardboard.

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Posted in Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Libertarianism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 6, 2012

Situationist Contributor Peter Ditto and co-authors (Iyer, R., Koleva, S., Graham, J., & Haidt, J.) have recently published their article, “Understanding libertarian morality: The psychological dispositions of self-identified libertarians” on PLoS ONE.  Here’s the abstract:

Libertarians are an increasingly prominent ideological group in U.S. politics, yet they have been largely unstudied. Across 16 measures in a large web-based sample that included 11,994 self-identified libertarians, we sought to understand the moral and psychological characteristics of self-described libertarians. Based on an intuitionist view of moral judgment, we focused on the underlying affective and cognitive dispositions that accompany this unique worldview. Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians showed 1) stronger endorsement of individual liberty as their foremost guiding principle, and weaker endorsement of all other moral principles; 2) a relatively cerebral as opposed to emotional cognitive style; and 3) lower interdependence and social relatedness. As predicted by intuitionist theories concerning the origins of moral reasoning, libertarian values showed convergent relationships with libertarian emotional dispositions and social preferences. Our findings add to a growing recognition of the role of personality differences in the organization of political attitudes.

Download the pdf of the article here.

Related Situationist posts.

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Religious Beliefs

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 22, 2012

From TED:

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt asks a simple, but difficult question: why do we search for self-transcendence? Why do we attempt to lose ourselves? In a tour through the science of evolution by group selection, he proposes a provocative answer.

Jonathan Haidt studies how — and why — we evolved to be moral. By understanding more about our moral roots, his hope is that we can learn to be civil and open-minded.

A small sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Distribution, Ideology, Morality, Politics, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Susan Fiske — Varieties of Dehumanization

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 29, 2012

From : Situationist Contributor, Susan Fiske recently spoke at the UCLA Psychology Diversity Science Initiative Lecture Series.

Abstract: Americans are becoming ever more aware of our huge social-class divides, for example in income inequality. Even outside socio-economic status, other forms of status divide us (Fiske, 2011). Status-comparison compels people, even as it stresses, depresses, and divides us. Comparison is only natural, but the collateral damage reveals envy upward and scorn downward, which arguably poison people and their relationships. Based on one of the Stereotype Content Model’s two primary dimensions, status/competence, several experiments-using questionnaire, psychometric, response-time, electro-myographic, and neuroimaging data-illustrate the dynamics of envy up and scorn down. All is not lost, however, as other experiments show how to mitigate the effects of envy and scorn.

Initial studies suggest the importance of status, as people value other people by their apparent social status (Cikara, Farnsworth, Harris, & Fiske, 2010). Other data show how scorn down minimizes thought about another’s mind; contempt deactivates mentalizing processes (Harris & Fiske, 2006). Turning to envy up, other studies demonstrate that Schadenfreude (malicious joy) targets envied outgroups (Cikara & Fiske, in press-a). However, counter-stereotypic information, empathy, and outcome dependency can mitigate both scorn and envy (Ames & Fiske, under review; Cikara & Fiske, in press-b; Harris & Fiske, 2007).

Related Situationist posts:

 

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Video | Leave a Comment »

Obama Emphasizes Situation: Romney Emphasizes Disposition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 26, 2012

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The Situation of Success

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 20, 2012

Dave Nussbaum has an excellent new post over on Random Assignments.  Here’s how it starts.

I don’t think Michael Lewis was trying to make a political point when he gave the commencement address at Princeton University last month (watch the whole thing here). Lewis, the author of several bestselling books including MoneyballLiar’s Poker, and The Big Short, knows a thing or two about the interdependence of luck and success and he was sharing his thoughts on the matter with the about-to-be Princeton graduates. Here’s a taste of what he told them:

Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky. I make this point because — along with this speech — it is something that will be easy for you to forget.

He’s right about that last point; it is easy to forget. It’s also convenient, Lewis told Jeffrey Brown in a follow-up interview on PBS’ NewsHour. Most people would acknowledge that both luck and merit are important ingredients to success. It’s just that people often like to feel like they are the authors of their accomplishments and ignore everything and everyone else who played a role. “As they age, and succeed,” Lewis told the graduates, “people feel their success was somehow inevitable.”

Now Lewis isn’t trying to deny Princeton graduates (or anyone else) credit for their success. He just wants them to take a minute to “dwell on just how fortunate they are.” His hope is simply that they have some compassion for people who worked just as hard they did but were less fortunate. As it turns out, there’s some research that suggests that taking a minute to dwell on your good fortune might have exactly that effect.

Way over on the other side of the country, on the campus of another elite university, Chris Bryan and his colleagues (PDF) asked Stanford University students to take a minute (or ten) to tell the story of how they got into the prestigious college. Not all the students got the same instructions, though. Half of the students were asked to focus on the role that “hard work, self-discipline and wise decisions played in helping you get here.” The other half were told to focus on the role of “chance, opportunity and help from others.” Neither group had any difficulty writing the essay. As Bryan, who will be joining the faculty at UC San Diego this fall, explained to me in an email:

People writing about merit would tell the story most successful people probably tell themselves by default–reminiscing about the long hours they spent studying, the times they made the “tough choice” they knew to be right, or how they skipped nights out with friends to stay home and work on an important paper. In some ways, the most interesting thing was that most people who got the good fortune instructions had no trouble acknowledging the lucky breaks they had gotten. Many said things like “I definitely worked hard to get where I am but I realize how fortunate I was to be born into a family that could afford to give me the support and resources I needed to succeed.”

So it seems that people are capable of seeing the role of luck and merit in contributing to their success. What Lewis might be particularly pleased to see, though, is how dwelling on luck, and the help they’d received from others, changed people’s attitudes. Compared to the students who wrote about their own merit, students who wrote about the role of good fortune in their success were, on average, more strongly in favor of policies like universal healthcare and access to unemployment benefits, which presumably helps with one’s obligation to the less fortunate. In addition to increasing support for liberal policies, thinking about one’s luck decreased support for conservative policies like building more prisons and instituting a flat tax. As Bryan explained to me, “it’s not that people’s ideology doesn’t matter, it’s just that their views on important issues can move around significantly depending on how they think about their own success. When they’re focused on their own talent and effort, they’re much less willing to contribute to the common good than when they pause to recognize that luck and help from other people played a big part in their ability to succeed.”

Read the rest of the post, which examines the relevance of Lewis’s remarks and Bryan’s research for politics, here.

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Posted in Blogroll, Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Kristina Olson on the Psychology of Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 15, 2012

At the Fifth Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference,“Young Children’s Understanding of Social Inequality” (Harvard, 2011) , Kristina Olson made a fascinating presentation, titled “Stress and Reslience: Pathways to Social Disparities in Health.”  The video of her presentation is above.  Here is a short description:

Dr. Olson discusses recent research indicating that even young children (aged 3-5 years), have an understanding of social inequality. In her lab and others, researchers are finding astounding evidence that children routinely notice social inequality, they favor individuals and groups who are high in social status, and they often behave in ways that perpetuate inequalities between individuals and groups. Olson describes these results, their implications, and will describe other behaviors children engage in that might offset some of these biases to uphold or perpetuate the status quo.

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Posted in Distribution, Ideology, Social Psychology, Video | 2 Comments »

Will John Roberts Drift?

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 10, 2012

A number of years ago, Jon Hanson and I wrote an article for Boston Review on the situations that lead Supreme Court justices to drift (or not drift) from their previous ideological moorings, which has gained new relevance in light of Chief Justice John Roberts majority opinion on the constitutionality of the new national health care law.

I am personally skeptical of speculation that this is a sign that Roberts is shifting.  However, I am somewhat more compelled by Richard Posner’s argument that the reaction to his opinion by the Court’s most conservative justices, Republican members of Congress, and the right-wing media may itself lead Roberts to rethink his ingroup allegiances:

Because if you put [yourself] in his position … what’s he supposed to think? That he finds his allies to be a bunch of crackpots? Does that help the conservative movement? I mean, what would you do if you were Roberts? All the sudden you find out that the people you thought were your friends have turned against you, they despise you, they mistreat you, they leak to the press. What do you do? Do you become more conservative? Or do you say, ‘What am I doing with this crowd of lunatics?’ Right? Maybe you have to re-examine your position.

In an interesting interview with NPR, Posner explains how he himself has been influenced politically by a negative reaction to what he characterizes as a growing “goof[iness]” of the Republican Party.  Listen to the interview here.

Also, for those dedicated few interested in how Posner’s situation may have influenced his worldview, check out The Costs of Dispositionism: The Premature Demise of Situationist Law and Economics, in which Jon and I compare the situations of two founders of the law and economics movement, Posner and Guido Calabresi.

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Posted in Ideology, Law, Politics, Situationist Contributors | 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.

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

 
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