The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, Mark Sanford, Chris Lee, and Now Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on June 8, 2011

During the summer of 2007, we published the post below in response to the sex scandal du jour involving U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). We republished it in the wake of former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s (D) “indiscretions.”  Former U.S. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee John Edwards’ confession had us dusting off this post yet again.  We published it again when Senator Jon Ensign (R-NV)–who in 1998 urged President Clinton to resign following the Monica Lewinsky scandal–was added to the list and then again in response to the Mark Sanford scandal and for Chris Lee’s Craig’s List shenanigans.  We’ve decided to republish the post yet again in recognition of the recent revelations regarding Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner.  (We have omitted many smaller scandals from our list, and we have little doubt that we’ll be posting it again, which is part of our point.)

Here is the original Vitter story.

* * *

Senator David Vitter achieved much of his success by professing steadfast allegiance to “traditional family values” and punitive intolerance for those who violate them. Consider, for instance, his campaign statement on protecting the “sanctity of marriage”:

This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won’t do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage. I am the only candidate proposing changes to the senate rules to stop liberal obstructionists from preventing an up or down vote on issues like this, judges, energy, and on and on.

Similarly, Vitter once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families.” That’s extraordinarily serious, says Vitter, because “marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

In part because of his squeaky-clean, straight-arrow, red-state-values image, Rudolph Giuliani selected Vitter as his Southern campaign chairperson. Vitter was to be the personifying proof that social conservatives could trust Giuliani. Vitter was even seen by some Republicans as a future presidential candidate himself.

As recent revelations make clear, Vitter was more committed to family values in his preaching than in his practicing. According to CBS News:

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam [Deborah Palfrey], hours after Hustler magazine told him his telephone number was among those she disclosed. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans [Jeanette Maier] and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

Vitter’s apology read as follows: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.”

With his public admission coming only after the his dirty laundry was about to be aired publicly, Vitter comes off looking like quite the scoundrel. Many commentators see him, not simply as unfaithful to his family but, worse, hypocritical regarding his purported family values.

We Americans like to see people in terms of their dispositions, and we despise those who pretend to have one disposition when in fact they have another. We can’t stand hypocrites! And Vitter is nothing if not a hypocrite.

Although we share the indignation, there are two related problems with this reaction. First off, it misses the fact that, in important ways, most of us are hypocrites.

Surely many of our leaders are. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to preach fidelity while practicing “philandery.” Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are good examples of the political balance. Moreover, “sinning against God” seems all too common even among the anointed — from Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker to untold numbers of Catholic Priests.

In all cases, the critics relish the opportunity to point to the flaws of their opponents. And, true to form, it seems that no one in this case is eager to attribute blame or responsibility to anyone other than Vitter — and everyone sees his use of “escorts” as a reflection of nothing other than his true disposition. As we’ve suggested, most commentators, and particularly those who are not close to him politically, portray him as a hypocrite. But even politicians closer to him are noticeably dispositionist in their reactions.

Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, responded to questions about his Southern campaign chairperson by emphasizing that the revelations reflected something about Vitter, but nothing about Giuliani: “Some people are flawed.” “I think you look at all the people I appointed — a thousand or so – sure, some of them had issues, some of them had problems, the vast majority of them were outstanding people.” The implication is that Vitter is among the minority of Giuliani appointees who are flawed and are not “outstanding people.”

It’s a strange distinction coming from Giuliani, who, if the measure is adultery, seems similarly “flawed” and less than “outstanding.” There is, in other words, hypocrisy among those who seek to distance themselves from this hypocrite.

Many of us, upon close examination might discover a similar tension. American attitudes toward adultery are sort of like American attitudes toward unhealthy, highly-caloric food. We claim to not want that “junk,” and sometimes manage to avoid it; still, most of us find ourselves eating something we wish we hadn’t from time to time — perhaps most of the time. In America, we curse our cake and eat it too. And also in America, we blame the obesity epidemic on the bad choices and dispositions of the obese.

Poll Americans and you’re likely to find that roughly 90 percent believe adultery is morally wrong. Meanwhile, ask Americas about whether they have engaged in an extramarital affair, and you’ll discover that many more than 10 percent have. In fact, according to one study, 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have extramarital intercourse. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what many people say is morally wrong and what many people do.

There’s another way of illustrating how we overestimate our own sexual righteousness. Numerous studies have shown that people are far less able to act according to their own explicit attitudes, goals, and standards when confronted with fairly intense drive states such as hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, moods, emotions, physical pain and sexual desire. According to George Loewenstein, such “visceral factors” tend to “crowd out” all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factors themselves. As summarized elsewhere:

If you find that difficult to understand, try holding your breath for two minutes or dropping an anvil on your toe, and see what significance your other goals and attitudes have in your behavior before the pain subsides.

Of course, responding to such intense bodily reactions makes perfect sense and is not, in itself, problematic. People should prioritize the acquisition of oxygen when it is scarce. And people should attend to their acute injuries before checking to make sure the anvil is ok. The problem stems from the fact that people often behave, in response to visceral cues, in ways that contradict their view of how they should behave, and sometimes even their own volition. And that problem occurs, according to Loewenstein, because of the second key feature of visceral factors, which is that “people underestimate the impact on their own behavior of visceral factors they will experience in the future”: “Unlike currently experienced visceral factors which have a disproportionate impact on behavior, delayed visceral factors tend to be ignored or to be severely underweighted in decision making. Today’s pain, hunger, anger, and so on are palpable, but the same sensations anticipated in the future receive little weight.”

In one experiment, for example, two groups of male subjects were shown photographs and then asked to imagine how they would behave in the context of a date-rape scenario. The group that had been shown sexually arousing photographs reported a much greater likelihood of behaving aggressively than the group that had been shown non-arousing photos. Without being aroused by the photographs, the second group seemed less able to imagine what they would do when aroused on a date.

There is plenty more evidence we could offer to make this point, but more details are unnecessary. Our goal is not to excuse Vitter’s behavior or justify Vitter’s policy positions (at least some of which, frankly, make us proud to be from Massachusetts). Instead, we hope simply to suggest that few of us are without similar “flaws” — or put differently, none of us are moved solely by disposition, much less our professed values.

And that brings us to a larger point. The human tendency to see hypocrisy will often reflect the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation — as well as our own motivations to see hypocrisy in the “others” that we would not be motivated to see in ourselves or in our in-groups.

Situations commonly lead us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our expectations, ambitions, attitudes, principles, and self-image. A basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that, just as the spirit is often weaker than the flesh, the disposition is often weaker than the situation.

By attacking Vitter’s disposition, many of his critics may be missing an opportunity to make a bigger point to the sorts of conservative politicians who Vitter typifies. It is the hard-core conservatives who too much of the time are attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. “Tough on crime,” for instance, means “tough on criminals,” not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. “Personal responsibility” means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. “Common sense” means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played. And so on.

We want to see sinister motives and evil intent in our enemies, just as we are subconsciously eager to see deficient character or lack of merit in those who are worse of than ourselves. Too often, though, the distinctions between “us” and “them” are more or less group- and system-affirming fabrications.

Instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint politician after politician after politician with the brush of hypocrisy, perhaps these instances might be used as teaching tools — examples to the Vitters of the world that although the disposition may be strong, the situation is often stronger. If we could stop pretending that people’s behavior and their condition in life is a product solely of their character or preferences, then perhaps we could begin to have more meaningful debates about topics that really matter.

Put differently, the dispositionist search for bad apples and hypocrites harmfully eclipses a deeper discussion that we could be having if we were to acknowledge the extent to which we are all situational characters rather than dispositional actors. With a different mindset, perhaps citizens and politicians would begin to take seriously ways of examining and altering the situation that is otherwise altering us.

* * *

Some Situationist posts on the power, causes, and consequences of sexual attraction and love:

 

 

Posted in Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Life, Morality, Politics, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Jon Hanson

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 26, 2011

From Harvard Law School Website:

Professor Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law, is this year’s winner of the prestigious Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence, an honor bestowed each spring by the Harvard Law School graduating class. The award recognizes teaching ability, attentiveness to student concerns and general contributions to student life at the law school.

This is the second time Hanson has received the recognition. He won the Sacks-Freund award in 1999, and he was a finalist in 2000 and again in 2006.

Class Marshall Sameer Singh Birring ’12 introduced Hanson at Class Day exercises on May 25. He called Hanson a pioneer in the movement to apply insights from psychology to the analysis of law and policy. A student in Hanson’s Corporations class this spring, he said he found Hanson’s teaching to be transformative. “Jon Hanson impacted my thinking more than any other professor at Harvard and his class changed my life,” he said. “Learning about psychological phenomena and how they affect our choices, our thinking and our policy gave me an entirely new perspective with which to view the law and the greater world around us.”

In his remarks, Hanson talked about his own journey to Harvard Law School. “I wasn’t actually supposed to become a Harvard Law School professor. Just ask anyone who knew me before I was one.”

* * *

Read more here.

Posted in Education, Life, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of a Winning Attitude

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 24, 2011

From Triangle Business Journal:

* * *

According to new research, motivation to succeed actually can decrease in people who see others succeed.

In an experiment, participants observed others trying to solve a series of word puzzles. On video monitors, some observers viewed the group completing a word puzzle, others observed the group attempt but not complete the puzzle. A control group didn’t view any puzzle-solving at all. All observers were then asked to complete word puzzles of their own.

Observers who watched the puzzles being completed were less successful with their own puzzles than those who saw the incomplete puzzles or the control group.

The researchers called this phenomenon “vicarious goal fulfillment.” If we see someone else complete a task, we transfer that fulfillment to ourselves and when we see someone else fail, our sense of fulfillment is not met, according to researchers.

“Our findings have important functional implications for the workplace,” according to [Situationist Contributor] Grainne Fitzsimons, a professor at Fuqua. “In staff meetings, employees may mistake a discussion of what needs to be done for actual progress toward a goal. Similarly, one employee’s success might actually de-motivate others to work hard. If we are aware of this pitfall, managers can try to avoid it by making it clear that positive feedback is directed at the individual and not shared by others who didn’t take part in the success.”

* * *

More.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Holder on the Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2011

In 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the launch of the “Defending Childhood” initiative to help prevent children’s and young people’s exposure to violence, mitigate its effects and put an end to cycles of violence that undermine the public’s health. During this webcast, he described his vision for this initiative and its progress so far.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Education, Emotions, Life, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Shared Human Experiences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2011


Matt Motyl and his co-authors recently posted their excellent article, titled “Subtle Priming of Shared Human Experiences Eliminates Threat-Induced Negativity Toward Arabs, Immigrants, and Peace-Making” on SSRN (forthcoming  (April 20, 2011). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

* * *

Many studies demonstrate that mortality salience can increase negativity toward out-groups but few have examined variables that mitigate this effect. The present research examined whether subtly priming people to think of human experiences shared by people from diverse cultures increases perceived similarity of members of different groups, which then reduces MS-induced negativity toward out-groups. In Study 1, exposure to pictures of people from diverse cultures engaged in common human activities non-significantly reversed the effect of MS on implicit anti-Arab prejudice. In Study 2, thinking about similarities between one’s own favorite childhood memories and those of people from other countries eliminated MS-induced explicit negative attitudes toward immigrants. In Study 3, thinking about similarities between one’s own painful childhood memories and those of people from other countries eliminated the MS-induced reduction in support for peace-making. Mediation analyzes suggest the effects were driven by perceived similarity of people across cultures. These findings suggest that priming widely shared human experiences can attenuate MS-induced inter-group conflict.

* * *

Download the article for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Implicit Associations, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Gingerism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 1, 2011

B. Greaney wrote this post for the Law & Mind Blog

Well brunettes are fine man
And blondes are fun
But when it comes to getting a dirty job done
I’ll take a red headed woman

~ Bruce Springsteen – Red Headed Woman

While my hair is now shade of auburn, I was admittedly a redhead for most of my adolescent life. With that privilege came the onslaught of nicknames: ginger, carrot top, big red, and more recently, Weasley. Then of course there was that oh-so-famous South Park episode that taught the American public that redheads simply have no souls. Pair these nicknames with expressions like “better dead than red on the head” and the Facebook event “Kick a Red Head Day,” and as you can imagine, there is plenty of material with which to tease a redhead.

To be honest, I, like many of my redheaded friends, are not offended by many of the redhead nicknames for they are often used as terms of endearment by family and friends. Not to mention, blondes do not have it too easy either—I bet every fair-haired individual has been called a “dumb blonde” at least once in his or her life.

However, the teasing of redheads goes one step further. Nowadays, almost no redhead can get by without some degree of sexualization. I can remember back in middle school when a group of boys approached me at the lunch table. One of them finally mustered up the courage to ask, “Do the curtains match the carpet?” All of the boys burst into laughter, so while I had absolutely no idea what they meant, I knew that the jokes had just entered a new terrain—the terrain of sexuality. From that point further, the nicknames expanded to fire crotch, red hair everywhere, ruby pubes, and burning bush, to name a few. I learned to laugh, like most people do, but I am still left wondering about the repercussions of it all.

In doing some research about perception of redheads on the internet, I found this description of a “Ginger”:

A Ginger is the medical term for a “person” affected by the bizarre disfiguring disease known as Gingervitus. Ghoulish symptoms include hair color ranging from an eerie light copper-tone to deep blood red, as well as a translucent to pallid skin tone. Much adversity has been attributed to gingers’ existence throughout history, and while female gingers can be considered attractive, most males of the ginger persuasion seem to resemble animated clowns… Gingers have no soul; This is the underlining cause of their Gingerness. Being tools of the devil, they are marked with the colour of their master.

While that description is obviously in jest, the line between joking and true prejudice is becoming far less clear. In the UK, for example, there are noted accounts of “gingerism” (prejudice against redheads) and “gingerphobia” (hatred towards redheads). It has been speculated that the dislike of red hair in Britain may be a result of the historical British sentiment that individuals of Irish or Celtic decent were ethnically inferior.

Some recent accounts of this prejudice include:

  • An English family that was forced to move twice after being targeted for abuse and hate crime on account of their red hair
  • In 2003, a 20 year old was stabbed in the back for “being ginger”
  • In May 2009, a British schoolboy committed suicide after being bullied for having red hair

Furthermore, in 2007, a UK woman was awarded nearly £18,000 for being sexually harassed at the workplace because of her red hair. In a news report, the woman explained,

“They asked if my head hair was the same colour as the rest of my body hair. They thought it was funny and liked to see me going red in the face with embarrassment.”

As this case shows, what is so interesting about gingerism is that it often manifests as a form of ethnic racism and sexual harassment. Yet, it is a widely accepted form of “joking” in our country, and there are few incidents I could find of reported school bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace. I believe that the reason for this is that society conditions the victims to accept it as normal and not harmful. However, what if we replaced the word “ginger” in the description above with “African American”:

An African American is the medical term for a “person” affected by the bizarre disfiguring disease known as blackivitus. Ghoulish symptoms include skin tone ranging from an eerie light copper-tone to deep brown. Much adversity has been attributed to African Americans’ existence throughout history, and while female African Americans can be considered attractive, most males of the black persuasion seem to resemble animated clowns. African Americans have no soul; This is the underlining cause of their blackness. Being tools of the devil, they are marked with the colour of their master.

If a description such as this were on the internet, I don’t think anyone would considered it a joke. Instead, most of us would agree that those were words of extreme hate. I was disgusted even typing it. So why is it that when the word “Ginger” is used instead of “African American” it all of a sudden becomes so funny?

I could not find any psychological and sociological research that focuses on the topic of gingerism. However, some concepts derived from these fields, such as ingroup/outgroup mentality, perhaps can help explain the abundance of redhead harassment. History and folklore have certainly laid the foundation of redheads being viewed in negative contexts (e.g. redheads were often portrayed as overly sexualized individuals or as witches, devil worshippers, and vampires). This perhaps primes the public to view redheads as the “outgroup,” with blondes, brunettes, and black haired individuals forming the “ingroup.” What other psychological theories do you think can help explain why redheads are harassed, especially in light of high incidence of sexual harassment?

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life | 5 Comments »

On Money and Motivation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2011

This lively RSAnimate, adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA, examines some the ways that money doesn’t always buy motivation.

Related Situationist posts:

To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Ideology, Illusions, Life, Marketing, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

An Inspiring Story or Another Distorted Messages on Obesity?

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 27, 2011

Earlier in the week, I wrote about the problems I saw with Joe D’Amico’s all-McDonald’s diet “experiment” leading up to the L.A. Marathon.

It turns out that that was not the only potentially troubling obesity-related story coming out of the marathon.

The media was also very excited to report on Kelly Gneiting becoming the heaviest person to ever finish a marathon.

He is a 405-pound sumo wrestler and ran the race in 9 hours, 48 minutes, and 52 seconds.

At first, I thought that this might have a net positive influence on the obesity epidemic, encouraging the overweight and obese to see exercise as a positive and realistic pursuit.  But as I gave it more consideration, I became more concerned.

Might this story and others like it actually be sending a very different message: that obesity — even morbid obesity in Kelly’s case — can be healthy?  As Kelly explained to the L.A. Times,  “I honestly think I’m one of the best athletes in the world.”

There is sound research by Steven Blair and others that shows that some people who are overweight can also be fit, but I think there is a real danger in celebrating Kelly’s accomplishment — or, at least, in failing to capture the nuances to the story.  For many people, carrying around an extra 200 pounds (Kelly was 205 pounds when he married his wife) is a major threat to their health and although Kelly himself appears to be relatively healthy now, in the long term, maintaining his current weight is likely to greatly increase his risk of a number of serious conditions.

In a world in which the obese face considerable discrimination and abuse (just read the L.A. Times article to learn about some of Kelly’s own experiences), there is part of me that sides with Kelly’s desire to show the world that “[b]ig people can do the unimaginable.”  But I expect that the overall effect of publicizing his accomplishment may be negative.

What do you think?

* * *

Related Situationist posts:


 

Posted in Life | 2 Comments »

If It’s Evitable, I Don’t Like It!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2011

Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay as well as Peter A. Ubel and Gavan Fitzsimons wrote the following editorial for the Detroit Free Press.:

This week it will be one year since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. Despite all the controversy that preceded the bill’s passage, most health policy experts confidently predicted that the public would soon embrace the legislation.

To back up these predictions, they pointed out that Medicare was quite controversial when it was established in the 1960s, but rapidly grew in popularity. Much the same happened more recently with Medicare Part D, the law championed by President George W. Bush to extend Medicare coverage to medications.

Recent polls belie these predictions, however, as support for health care reform has hit an all-time low. Why has the ACA failed to capture public support? Our research provides a novel explanation, one that pundits have failed to recognize to date.

Obama’s health reform bill is unpopular not simply because it is complicated, nor simply because it costs government money at a time when people are in a mood to balance the budget. Instead, it is unpopular in large part because it no longer feels inevitable.

And the key to gaining widespread support for Obama’s signature piece of domestic legislation is not to help the public better understand the intricacies of the bill, but instead to convince the public that the bill is here to stay.

Uncertainty can play a large role in reducing support for legislative actions. Consider a study we conducted, in which we asked people to imagine their local government had recently passed a bill to lower the speed limit, legislation spurred on by new evidence that such a law would save lives. The people we surveyed embraced the new rule, feeling thankful that legislators were paying attention to public safety.

However, in assessing public attitudes toward this bill, we conducted an experiment in which we told some of the people we surveyed that the legislature was about to pass the law but hadn’t yet voted on it – that is, it wasn’t officially a law yet. These people, in contrast to the first group, felt strongly that such legislation would be heavy-handed and paternalistic.

The same bill, when passed into law, was viewed more favorably than when it was merely pending legislation.

What about health care reform then? It has passed into law. Shouldn’t it be gaining in popularity?

Not if people don’t believe the bill is the law of the land. When the Republican-led House voted to repeal the bill, Washington insiders recognized the action as a symbolic gesture with no legislative consequence.

But many Americans thought this vote had actual legal implications. In fact, recent polls show that a fifth of the American public currently believe the ACA has been repealed, and another fifth is unsure if the bill still stands as law. This misperceived state of affairs provides no reason for these Americans to embrace a law they believe no longer stands.

Recent court rulings have created even greater uncertainty about the legal standing of the ACA. While most rulings have focused solely on the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate, one judge went as far as to opine that the entire law should be voided. This has left even more people wondering where the bill stands: as current law, pending law or past law?

Behavioral science has shown us that most people find uncertainty to be a very difficult pill to swallow, especially when it surrounds a proposed change to their lives. Half-hearted attempts at change often produce knee-jerk, negative reactions; people are not inclined to adapt to a change that may never occur or seems unlikely to stick. These are the types of situations most likely to breed backlash.

But when the uncertainty is removed, backlash reactions tend to dissipate and sometimes even reverse. When people know what cards they have been dealt – when they feel confident about what to expect in the future – people tend to begin the process of rationalizing the change and adapting to it.

The real battle over health care reform in the next few months will extend beyond the specifics of budget debates and regulatory wranglings. Instead the fate of health care reforms stands mainly on how soon, if ever, the public comes to feel that the legislation is enduring. If the permanence of the Affordable Care Act continues to feel unsettled, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Law, Life, Politics, Situationist Contributors, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of “Natural Talent”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 6, 2011

From Harvard Gazette:

Fields such as music, math, and chess have had a predilection for a long time to seek out the youngest and most accomplished among them. According to Chia-Jung Tsay, this is because “we want to seek something that’s inherent to us. We associate accomplishment at a young age with something that comes effortlessly.” But does this desire to seek out “natural” talent eventually skew our view of what talent is?

* * *

Tsay and her adviser, [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, began looking at different domains, considering which fields more strongly emphasize natural talent over hard work and experience. They found that music was the most often cited for natural talent, and business was most cited for hard work.

“Venture capitalists recognize that hard work and background knowledge in the field matter a lot,” said Tsay. “It’s the same for a doctor or a lawyer, where hard work and years of experience are what make us successful. But I think there’s a little more subjectivity in evaluation in artistic fields.”

To test this, Tsay and Banaji brought in more than 100 professionally trained musicians. Each participant was presented with two profiles of two professional musicians, and a sample musical clip to listen to from each musician. The participants were then asked questions about how talented and successful they perceived the performer to be, and how willing they might be to hire this person.

In fact, both clips were the same musical excerpt, and the profiles differed only in their mention of whether the musician had natural or learned talent. The results ultimately showed two effects: “We found even in experts and ostensibly professionally trained musicians, most of them could not tell that the recordings were the same. And on average, people seemed to prefer the ‘naturally’ talented individual, even when they said they believed hard work was more important than natural talent.”

The dramatic results suggest, according to Banaji, “a crucial disparity between what experts espouse, and perhaps even consciously believe, is the best indicator of talent, and how they actually behave.”

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Legal Socialization and the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

SB-1070

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Board Meetings & the Open Access Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Question

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

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

David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, Mark Sanford, and Now Chris Lee: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on February 14, 2011

During the summer of 2007, we published the post below in response to the sex scandal du jour involving U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). We republished it in the wake of former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s (D) “indiscretions.”  Former U.S. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee John Edwards’ confession had us dusting off this post yet again.  We published it again when Senator Jon Ensign (R-NV)–who in 1998 urged President Clinton to resign following the Monica Lewinsky scandal–was added to the list and then again in response to the Mark Sanford scandal.  For Chris Lee’s Craig’s List shenanigans (video below), we’ve decided to republish the post yet again.  (We have omitted many smaller scandals from our list, and we have little doubt that we’ll be posting it again, which is part of our point.)

Here is the original Vitter story.

* * *

David and Wendy VitterSenator David Vitter achieved much of his success by professing steadfast allegiance to “traditional family values” and punitive intolerance for those who violate them. Consider, for instance, his campaign statement on protecting the “sanctity of marriage”:

This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won’t do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage. I am the only candidate proposing changes to the senate rules to stop liberal obstructionists from preventing an up or down vote on issues like this, judges, energy, and on and on.

Similarly, Vitter once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families.” That’s extraordinarily serious, says Vitter, because “marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

In part because of his squeaky-clean, straight-arrow, red-state-values image, Rudolph Giuliani selected Vitter as his Southern campaign chairperson. Vitter was to be the personifying proof that social conservatives could trust Giuliani. Vitter was even seen by some Republicans as a future presidential candidate himself.

As recent revelations make clear, Vitter was more committed to family values in his preaching than in his practicing. According to CBS News:

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam [Deborah Palfrey], hours after Hustler magazine told him his telephone number was among those she disclosed. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans [Jeanette Maier] and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

Vitter’s apology read as follows: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.”

With his public admission coming only after tJeanette Maier by Alex Brandon for APhe his dirty laundry was about to be aired publicly, Vitter comes off looking like quite the scoundrel. Many commentators see him, not simply as unfaithful to his family but, worse, hypocritical regarding his purported family values.

We Americans like to see people in terms of their dispositions, and we despise those who pretend to have one disposition when in fact they have another. We can’t stand hypocrites! And Vitter is nothing if not a hypocrite.

Although we share the indignation, there are two related problems with this reaction. First off, it misses the fact that, in important ways, most of us are hypocrites.

Surely many of our leaders are. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to preach fidelity while practicing “philandery.” Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are good examples of the political balance. Moreover, “sinning against God” seems all too common even among the anointed — from Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker to untold numbers of Catholic Priests.

clinton-cartoon.jpg

In all cases, the critics relish the opportunity to point to the flaws of their opponents. And, true to form, it seems that no one in this case is eager to attribute blame or responsibility to anyone other than Vitter — and everyone sees his use of “escorts” as a reflection of nothing other than his true disposition. As we’ve suggested, most commentators, and particularly those who are not close to him politically, portray him as a hypocrite. But even politicians closer to him are noticeably dispositionist in their reactions.

Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, responded to questions about his Southern campaign chairperson by emphasizing that the revelations reflected something about Vitter, butRudy Giuliani Judith Nathan David Vitter nothing about Giuliani: “Some people are flawed.” “I think you look at all the people I appointed — a thousand or so – sure, some of them had issues, some of them had problems, the vast majority of them were outstanding people.” The implication is that Vitter is among the minority of Giuliani appointees who are flawed and are not “outstanding people.”

It’s a strange distinction coming from Giuliani, who, if the measure is adultery, seems similarly “flawed” and less than “outstanding.” There is, in other words, hypocrisy among those who seek to distance themselves from this hypocrite.

Many of us, upon close examination might discover a similar tension. American attitudes toward adultery are sort of like American attitudes toward unhealthy, highly-caloric food. We claim to not want that “junk,” and sometimes manage to avoid it; still, most of us find ourselves eating something we wish we hadn’t from time to time — perhaps most of the time. In America, we curse our cake and eat it too. And also in America, we blame the obesity epidemic on the bad choices and dispositions of the obese.

Poll Americans and you’re likely to find that roughly 90 percent believe adultery is morally wrong. Meanwhile, ask Americas about whether they have engaged in an extramarital affair, and you’ll discover that many more than 10 percent have. In fact, according to one study, 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have extramarital intercourse. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what many people say is Marital Problemsmorally wrong and what many people do.

There’s another way of illustrating how we overestimate our own sexual righteousness. Numerous studies have shown that people are far less able to act according to their own explicit attitudes, goals, and standards when confronted with fairly intense drive states such as hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, moods, emotions, physical pain and sexual desire. According to George Loewenstein, such “visceral factors” tend to “crowd out” all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factors themselves. As summarized elsewhere:

If you find that difficult to understand, try holding your breath for two minutes or dropping an anvil on your toe, and see what significance your other goals and attitudes have in your behavior before the pain subsides.

Of course, responding to such intense bodily reactions makes perfect sense and is not, in itself, problematic. People should prioritize the acquisition of oxygen when it is scarce. And people should attend to their acute injuries before checking to make sure the anvil is ok. The problem stems from the fact that people often behave, in response to visceral cues, in ways that contradict their view of how they should behave, and sometimes even their own volition. And that problem occurs, according to Loewenstein, because of the second key feature of visceral factors, which is that “people underestimate the impact on their own behavior of visceral factors they will experience in the future”: “Unlike currently experienced visceral factors which have a disproportionate impact on behavior, delayed visceral factors tend to be ignored or to be severely underweighted in decision making. Today’s pain, hunger, anger, and so on are palpable, but the same sensations anticipated in the future receive little weight.”

In one experiment, for example, two groups of male subjects were shown photographs and then asked to imagine how they would behave in the context of a date-rape scenario. The group that had been shown sexually arousing photographs reported a much greater likelihood of behaving aggressively than the group that had been shown non-arousing photos. Without being aroused by the photographs, the second group seemed less able to imagine what they would do when aroused on a date.

There is plenty more evidence we could offer to make this point, but more details are unnecessary. Our goal is not to excuse Vitter’s behavior or justify Vitter’s policy positions (at least some of which, frankly, make us proud to be from Massachusetts). Instead, we hope simply to suggest that few of us are without similar “flaws” — or put differently, none of us are moved solely by disposition, much less our professed values.

And that brings us to a larger point. The human tendency to see hypocrisy will often reflect the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation — as well as our own motivations to see hypocrisy in the “others” that we would not be motivated to see in ourselves or in our in-groups.

Situations commonly lead us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our expectations, ambitions, attitudes, principles, and self-image. A basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that, just as the spirit is often weaker than the flesh, the disposition is often weaker than the situation.

By attacking Vitter’s disposition, many of his critics may be missing an opportunity to make a bigger point to the sorts of conservative politicians who Vitter typifies. It is the hard-core conservatives who too much of the time are attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. “Tough on crime,” for instance, means “tough on criminals,” not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. “Personal responsibility” means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. “Common sense” means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played. And so on.

Bill O’Reilly and Homelessness

We want to see sinister motives and evil intent in our enemies, just as we are subconsciously eager to see deficient character or lack of merit in those who are worse of than ourselves. Too often, though, the distinctions between “us” and “them” are more or less group- and system-affirming fabrications.

Instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint politician after politician after politician with the brush of hypocrisy, perhaps these instances might be used as teaching tools — examples to the Vitters of the world that although the disposition may be strong, the situation is often stronger. If we could stop pretending that people’s behavior and their condition in life is a product solely of their character or preferences, then perhaps we could begin to have more meaningful debates about topics that really matter.

Put differently, the dispositionist search for bad apples and hypocrites harmfully eclipses a deeper discussion that we could be having if we were to acknowledge the extent to which we are all situational characters rather than dispositional actors. With a different mindset, perhaps citizens and politicians would begin to take seriously ways of examining and altering the situation that is otherwise altering us.

* * *

Some Situationist posts on the power, causes, and consequences of sexual attraction and love:

Posted in Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Life, Morality, Politics, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Negotiating the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2011

Lu-in Wang,  has posted an intriguing situationist paper, titled “Negotiating the Situation: The Reasonable Person in Context ” (forthcoming Lewis & Clark Law Review, Vol. 14, p. 1285, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

This Essay argues that our understanding of the reasonable person in economic transactions should take into account an individual’s race, gender, or other group-based identity characteristics – not necessarily because persons differ on account of those characteristics, but because of how those characteristics influence the situations a person must negotiate. That is, individuals’ social identities constitute features not just of themselves, but also of the situations they inhabit. In economic transactions that involve social interaction, such as face-to-face negotiations, the actor’s race, gender, or other social identity can affect both an individual actor and those who interact with him or her, because those characteristics often create expectations, based largely on group-based stereotypes, that influence the parties on both sides of the transaction. Individuals’ social identities thereby can influence their constraints and incentives, and accordingly their choices, behavior, and outcomes.

This Essay offers a couple of well-known examples of the influence of social stereotypes on individuals’ choices, behavior, and outcomes in economic transactions. It then provides a more extended examination of the effect of social identity on economic transactions by drawing upon a recent, growing, and fascinating area of social psychological research into the effect of gender on negotiations. The findings of this research are both disturbing and promising: disturbing because they show that stereotypes can influence the behavior of both women and men in negotiations, to the detriment of women, even if the individuals do not believe the stereotypes to be true, and that stereotypes can interact with other features of the situation to aggravate their tendency to promote unequal outcomes. The findings are promising as well, however, because they also show that gender stereotypes can be moderated or even counteracted by yet other features of the situation. Appreciating the situation-altering yet situation-sensitive influence of social identities such as gender provides us with a richer understanding of the circumstances in which people interact and shows that, sometimes, common economic transactions take place in different places for different people.

* * *

Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Tiger Mother

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 8, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, several Harvard Law students have been blogging about about system justification theory.  Here is one of those posts, written by first -year student Marty Ehlenbach.

Yale Law Professor Amy Chua’s recently published book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has become a seemingly endless source of fodder for Internet blogs and discussion groups. The book, largely meant to be a memoir, recounts the author’s methods of raising her two daughters; she allowed them limited time for playdates or TV, and describes grueling methods for both study and music practice. When a short excerpt was published in the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper fielded an enormous number of comments (7670 at this writing) expressing a wide variety of opinions on the topic. Even The Onion has weighed in on the subject.

Why does this book seem to resonate with so many people? One possible explanation is that it makes a distinction between a “Western” and “Chinese” parent in a time when many people seem to be particularly sensitive to any sort of cultural comparison. Chua’s stereotypical model of “Western” parenting describes a childhood lacking in any discipline and in some ways signifying a lack of commitment by parents to make their children into the most successful people possible. A New York Times article underscored the idea that there are many different types of skills needed to be a success, and believes that Professor Chua’s parenting style does not appropriately develop “soft skills” like communication and teamwork necessary in most business environments.

Blasi and Jost’s chapter on System Justification Theory (“SJT”) can serve to illuminate certain biases present in the story and in reactions to Chua’s assertions. The author, as a Yale professor, is admittedly a fairly elite member of our society, so she is not looking at the system from a position of disadvantage. The story clearly prescribes a particular path to success and shows an ultimate belief in the “winner’s” mantra as described by Jost:

I am deserving. My group is deserving. And, fortunately, we live in a system that has the wisdom and justice to reward deserving people.

Chua writes that “tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence,” but this idea necessarily presupposes that with excellence will come success. It doesn’t really address the differences in educational opportunities available to many children, but seems to have faith that the current system will treat people fairly by recognizing hard work. Losers in the system are clearly “lazy, unintelligent, poorly educated, or irresponsible” as described by Jost. Jost and Blasi recognize that system justification theory can be used to analyze ideologies like the Protestant work ethic and a belief in a meritocracy: Chua’s entire child-rearing method has aspects of both.

Another interesting connection between Jost’s theory and Chua’s book is the possibility that Chua could be providing ultimate justification for the type of upbringing that she experienced. The article on SJT shows that even on a micro-level, within a particular family, people still use methods of ego and system justification to perpetuate particular social arrangements. Chua herself was clearly raised by fairly strict Asian parents; she describes her father calling her “garbage” at one point when she was disrespectful. One wonders if this book is simply a way to legitimize her own upbringing and defend her willingness to create a similar type of relationship with her own daughters. Chua’s daughter Sophia, in an open letter defending her mother’s treatment, says that she “decided to be an easy child to raise”: the fact that she called it a “decision” could be an early justification for her own upbringing, and might show an early willingness to conform to her parents’ expected behaviors. Many of those commenting on the articles who described themselves as being being raised by parents similar to the “Tiger Mother” also spoke about how much they appreciated their parents’ tough love.

Chua’s story has important implications, I believe, for our legal system as pertains to victims of abuse. I do not mean to suggest that Chua’s methods constitute abuse; her goal was clearly to help her children be successful, and as one article described, shows a fear that success is becoming difficult to obtain in a world of increasing competition and a less than robust job market. This is a legitimate worry. Furthermore, I cannot pretend to understand the complex relationship between another parent and child, because they are quite unique and often complicated. However, recognizing that this justification can satisfy “needs for consistency, coherence, and certainty” as described by Blasi and Jost, and analyzing one woman’s story through this lens, leads one to wonder how the legal system could account for a demonstrable bias towards the status quo. Before a real abuse victim can come forward, she or he must be able to recognize that she does not actually deserve the behavior to which she is being subjected, and SJT posits that this recognition is not automatic. Furthermore, we don’t want to believe that our system is corrupt, but in many cases it is not the most hardworking who become successful, and frequently injustice is neither obvious nor easily corrected.

* * *

Read the students’ discussion of the chapter here.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Book, Conflict, Education, Life, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Costs of Unemployment

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 4, 2011

It’s week four of my Law and Mind Sciences Seminar, which means students are reading articles about hedonic adaptation.

In reviewing the assigned papers, I was reminded (in a footnote!) of an interesting study by Richard E. Lucas, Andrew Clark, Yannis Georgellis, and Ed Diener from several years ago on how becoming unemployed can alter the set point for life satisfaction.  As the authors explain in the abstract:

According to set-point theories of subjective well-being, people react to events but then return to baseline levels of happiness and satisfaction over time. We tested this idea by examining reaction and adaptation to unemployment in a 15-year longitudinal study of more than 24,000 individuals living in Germany.  In accordance with set-point theories, individuals reacted strongly to unemployment and then shifted back toward their baseline levels of life satisfaction.  However, on average, individuals did not completely return to their former levels of satisfaction, even after they became reemployed.  Furthermore, contrary to expectations from adaptation theories, people who had experienced unemployment in the past did not react any less negatively to a new bout of unemployment than did people who had not been previously unemployed.  These results suggest that although life satisfaction is moderately stable over time, life events can have a strong influence on long-term levels of subjective well-being.

The research is, of course, particularly troubling given our current economic climate.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from December 2010, 14.5 Americans are currently unemployed — 9.4% of the U.S. labor force. And certain populations are being hit particularly hard, with 15.8% of blacks unemployed and 13.0% of Hispanics.  (As an aside, Google has an impressive charting function that allows you to graph unemployment data by state over time for comparison purposes.  Check it out here.)

What’s to be done?

I hope my students have some answers, but with a largely 3L class trying desperately to line up post-graduation jobs in a terrible legal job market, their minds may be elsewhere.

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Distribution, Life | 1 Comment »

Pause.

Posted by Adam Benforado on January 24, 2011

I find it very hard to do nothing.

I think I’ve always been this way to some extent,  but each year it seems to get a little worse.

Part of the story is simply about how our lives seem to get busier and busier as we age.

Another factor in the activity narrative is the constant flow of novel technologies that promise productivity and entertainment at any time and in any place in a dozen ways at once.

I love wireless Internet, my laptop, my iPhone, my dual computer screens at work, but they do take a toll.  I feel constantly compelled to use them.

Didn’t I use to be able to sit and watch a football game without writing a blog post?  Wasn’t I once able to walk to the bathroom at a restaurant without scanning through emails on my phone or wait at a subway stop without reading op-eds or phoning a friend or listening to music?

Enter Alex Tew’s new website “Do Nothing for 2 Minutes.”

As the Huffington Post reports,

The new site shows a photograph of the ocean at sunset and plays the sound of waves crashing on a beach.  “Just relax and listen to the waves,” it instructs.  “Don’t touch your mouse or keyboard.”  If you don’t follow the instructions and begin to fidget, type, scroll, or move your mouse, the two-minute timer resets itself and a red “FAIL” appears on the screen.

It’s depressing to think that I need the help of a website and a timer to take two minutes out of my day to contemplate, but perhaps I should just face up to the fact that I’m sick, sick man.  And maybe with a little practice, I can build in a few spontaneous pauses into my routine . . .

Try the new site out for yourself right here.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Life | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Retail Discrimination

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 13, 2011

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

* * *

* * *

To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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

Barry Schwartz on Using Our Practical Wisdom

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 4, 2011

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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

The Situation of Healthy Aging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 1, 2011

An informative, scholarly collection of presentations about recent research on the situation of healthy aging.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Distribution, Emotions, Life, Social Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

The Inherited Situation of Racial Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2010

Professor Palma Joy Strand recently posted her important paper, “Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race, and the Laws of Succession” (forthcoming in the Oregon Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

The article begins by documenting deep inequality in the form of Black-White wealth disparities: While the overall wealth distribution in the United States is highly unequal from both historical and international perspectives, racial wealth disparities are particularly acute, with median Black net worth approximately a tenth of median White net worth (as compared to median Black income that is approximately two-thirds of median White income). Next, the article ties the perpetuation of this inequality to current inheritance law. It then confronts this inequality as a civil rights issue in terms of its social effects, its historical causes, and legal avenues for attacking it. Finally, the article proposes two changes in our laws of succession to address this contemporary manifestation of White advantage and Black disadvantage. First, the article explains how civil rights considerations support existing proposals that inheritances be taxed as windfall income to those who receive them (as are lottery winnings currently). Second, the article identifies a need for revising intestacy law to provide heirs with clear title to assets, especially homes belonging to families of modest wealth whose wealth is primarily the value of those homes.

* * *

Download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Consuming Merit, Gatekeeping, and Reproducing Wealth,” “Black History is Now,Examining Why Estimated “Costs” of Racial Inequality Vary by Race,” Even monkeys know when they’re being treated unfairly,” A Discussion about (In)Equality,” “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality,”The Situation of Mortgage Defaults,” The Situation of the Mortgage Crisis,” and “The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty.”

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Distribution, History, Ideology, Law, Life | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 850 other followers

%d bloggers like this: