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Mahzarin Banaji on B.F. Skinner

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 19, 2012

Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji on B.F. Skinner, “the preeminent psychologist of the 20th century.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Situationist Contributors, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Intergenerational Equity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2012

Four Generations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Situationist posts:

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

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

Social Status Loss Situations Drive Ethicality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 10, 2012

green crimson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Situationist posts:

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

A New Situationist Contributor – Julia Puaschunder

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 7, 2012

We are thrilled to introduce a new Situationist Contributor, Dr. Julia Puaschunder.

Julia M. Puaschunder is an Associate of the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences. At the Harvard University Center for the Environment, she conducts research on intergenerational equity. Trained as a behavioral economist with Doctorates in Social and Economic Sciences as well as Natural Sciences and Masters in Business, Public Administration and Philosophy/Psychology, she has 12 years of experience in applied social sciences empirical research.

Julia Puaschunder has launched and administered research projects in Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Germany, Indonesia, Switzerland and the United States. She has conducted international and interdisciplinary research projects for the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, European Commission, Fulbright Commission, Max Kade Foundation New York, and the U.S. Department of Education. Julia Puaschunder was a scholar at The Australian National University, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich and The Open Society Institute & Soros Foundation NY.  Her invited presentations included Harvard University and Princeton University. In 2011, she served as a participant in a U.S. White House conference call on environmental justice.

Julia Puaschunder is a long-term reader of The Situationist, and we are delighted that she will now be a Contributor too.

Posted in Situationist Contributors | Tagged: | Leave a 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 »

Warmth or Competence – Not Both

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

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

Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji Speaks at HLS

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 10, 2012

Dr. Mahzarin Banaji
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

Friday, October 12 at 5:00 pm
Wasserstein Hall, Room 2019
Harvard Law School
1585 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA

Followed by a public reception at 7:00 pm

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People*
Mahzarin R. Banaji , Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics  at Harvard University

Most human beings take seriously the idea that their behavior ought to be consistent with their stated beliefs and values. The last fifty years of research in psychology has challenged that possibility by revealing that our minds operate, much of the time, without conscious awareness. Professor Banaji will speak to the question of how well-intentioned people behave in ways that deviate from their own intentions, and how this state of affairs compromises our decisions in legal, medical, financial, and political contexts.

*Book to be published February 2013

This is the keynote address of our Cooper v. Aaron conference. Please RSVP here if you plan to attend this talk.

Posted in Illusions, Implicit Associations, Life, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the 53 Percent

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2012

Situationist Contributor Eric Knowles recently published this excellent piece on Huffington Post:

What has crystallized in the last few weeks of the 2012 presidential campaign is nothing less than a battle between two competing theories of success — about where success comes from and the role of government in fostering it.

However, this question, which both campaigns have signaled will feature prominently in the upcoming presidential debates, is not one of competing values, personal philosophies, or party platforms. In fact, it has a right and a wrong answer, and social science can tell us which is which.

Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments reveal the governor’s belief in two alternative paths to success. On the one hand, some people achieve their goals because they possess the “right stuff” — talent, intelligence, and drive. Alternatively, people can get help from external sources — including, of course, the government. For Romney, aptitude and aid are inversely related: the more of one you have, the less of the other you need.

President Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remarks express a theory of success very different from Mr. Romney’s. According to Mr. Obama’s theory, success is most likely when individuals and the environment, including the government, both bring something to the table. For Obama, good environments are no substitute for aptitude and hard work — rather, they allow these qualities to most fully reveal themselves.

The scientific literature speaks clearly to the debate between these two theories of success, and it tells us that Mr. Obama is right.

Consider a recent study in which a team of researchers examined how genes and socioeconomic status combine to foster the development of cognitive abilities in young children.

The authors followed 750 pairs of identical and fraternal twins from the ages of 10 months to two years, measuring the growth in each child’s cognitive abilities over this period. By examining the relationship between cognitive development and the twins’ varying degrees of genetic similarity, the researchers were able to estimate the extent to which cognitive ability is genetically determined. The socioeconomic status (SES) of the children was judged through a combination of measures, including parental educational attainment and household income.

What the researchers found was striking. Among high-SES children, genes were strongly predictive of age-related increases in cognitive ability. In other words, children from relatively well-to-do families performed better or worse depending on their genes. These kids developed up to their intrinsic potential. Yet at the lowest levels of SES, genetic variation wasn’t related to cognitive development at all. This means that, if you’re poor, even having the right stuff doesn’t guarantee good developmental outcomes.

This research indicates that poor environments limit children’s opportunity to develop aptitudes that they are, in a sense, genetically “destined” to acquire. Like a good seed planted in poor soil, even the best equipped of us cannot be expected to thrive in impoverished circumstances. This, in a nutshell, is Mr. Obama’s theory of success.

The implications of this theory are clear: if we want the so-called 47 percent to succeed or fail on its merits — a requirement from which Mr. Romney believes they are currently spared — then the solution is more government assistance, not less.

Mr. Obama’s theory of success also gains credence from psychological research on “stereotype threat,” the experience of anxiety that results from awareness of being negatively stereotyped by others. Members of stigmatized groups often experience such threat in contexts where they know they are expected to do poorly, as when an African American student takes a test of verbal reasoning skills.

Owing to the anxiety caused by stereotype threat, students of color routinely underperform relative to their abilities — a self-fulfilling pattern that only serves to bolster the negative stereotypes that give rise to threat.

Fortunately, recent research by Stanford University’s Gregory Walton and [Situationist Contributor] Geoffrey Cohen has identified simple interventions that inoculate students from the experience of stereotype threat. For example, simply by increasing students’ sense of “belongingness” in academic settings, the researchers drastically reduced racial gaps in academic performance. Protected from the effect of a threatening stereotype environment, minority students’ true abilities shone through.

This work shows that inherent gifts and helpful environments are not inversely related routes to achievement, as Mr. Romney’s theory of success would have us believe. Rather, as Mr. Obama asserts, creating a good environment is the only way of ensuring that individuals’ aptitudes see the light of day.

If this is so, perhaps the government should be in the business of helping people after all — through, for instance, progressive taxation that reduces financial burdens on poor families or affirmative action policies that might help change our stereotypes of minority and women professionals.

Studies like ones I’ve described repudiate the notion that ability and help are interchangeable routes to achievement (the Romney theory of success). Rather, social science corroborates Mr. Obama’s contention that the government has a role to play in enabling its citizens to express whatever talents and aptitudes they possess to the greatest possible degree.

Eric D. Knowles is a Situationist Contributor and assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology. He studies the psychological factors that influence people’s political choices.

Chart from here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Situationist Contributors | 2 Comments »

SALMS Announces Fall 2012 Schedule

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 20, 2012

SALMS is excited to announce its Speakers Series slate for Fall 2012 all to be held at Harvard Law School. The following talks will take place at noon in Austin North unless otherwise noted.

  • [Situationist Contributor] 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 — 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, Psychology and the 2012 Election, cosponsored by the HLS Republicans and the HLS American Constitution Society.

Posted in Events, Politics, SALMS, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a 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 »

Another Review of “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 27, 2012

At PsychCentral, Dan Berkowitz wrote a terrific review of Jon Hanson’s 2012 volume, Ideology, Psychology, and LawHere are some excerpts:

Ideology, Psychology, and Law is a wonderful collection of essays edited by Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law and Director of The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School. This is the first book edited by Hanson, whose work has appeared in six other books and many periodicals. Hanson also cofounded The Situationist blog in 2005, and in 2011 it won the Media Prize from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Spanning 21 essays, the first of which Hanson wrote (as well as four others which he cowrote), Ideology, Psychology, and Law is an academic book that belongs either on a classroom desk or a library shelf. It’s not really the kind of book you bring to the beach for light reading. That said, for students and academics looking to examine the intersection of the three titular areas, Hanson’s new contribution is nothing short of a marvel.

Each of its essays is distinct, coherently argued, well written and worthy of reading. Hanson starts the book with his own essay, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law.” In it, he lays the groundwork for the remaining essays and gives some background on and context to the meaning of the three terms under discussion. He does not aim to define them, leaving that task to the essays that follow. Rather, Hanson provides the reasoning behind the book’s composition:

It should not be obvious what a volume titled Ideology, Psychology, and Law is actually about. After all, each category—ideology, psychology, and law—has numerous definitions and covers a vast domain. Furthermore, the concepts are not commonly understood as closely linked. One goal of this volume, however, is to help delineate the sizable overlap between the categories of ideology, psychology, and law and to show that the links between them are tighter and stronger than conventionally perceived.

Hanson’s other goal is to, in a sense, create a new field of study—or rather, to look at preexisting fields in new ways. He writes:

In bringing together some of the world’s most illustrious scholars in law, political science, political psychology, and social psychology, my aspiration for this book has been not only to illuminate the intersections among those disciplines but also to expand the ties between those fields in the hope of encouraging more interdisciplinary collaboration, research, and insight in the future.

Hanson is almost calling for some quasi-revolution in how we study these three fields. Human behavior is not only dynamic, but also largely misunderstood. In this way, the implications contained in Hanson’s book can result in profoundly new ways of conceiving of these disciplines. And by attempting to reorient the reader’s world and renegotiate his perception of reality, Hanson is implicitly catalyzing the evolution of our studies. Are there arguments in Ideology, Psychology, and Law that will be contested? Of course. But they are rooted in such substantive theory and testimony that it is not easy simply to dismiss them.

Moreover, Ideology, Psychology, and Law does not have one single or even several themes that abstractly bind the book together. Instead, Hanson gave his contributors free rein to write and argue as they pleased. In this way, readers will surely agree with certain arguments and disagree with others, and they will surely favor certain essays over others.

My personal favorites are the first section of Hanson’s introduction from which I quoted above, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law;” “Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict” by Kathleen A. Kennedy and Emily Pronin; “Backlash: The Reaction to Mind Sciences in Legal Academia” by Adam Benforado and Hanson; and “Crowding Out Morality: How the Ideology of Self-Interest Can Be Self-Fulfilling” by Barry Schwartz.

* * *

Given its timeliness, thought-provoking nature and ability to elucidate key and heavy ideas, Ideology, Psychology, and Law should without question be studied by those interested in its subjects. As well, Hanson should be commended for his staggering efforts.

Read the entire review here.

Read more about or purchase Ideology, Psychology, and Law here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Firstiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 25, 2012

From Haas Newswroom (UC Berkeley) (a press release regarding an article co-authored by Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji and Situationist friend Dana Carney):

How people make choices depends on many factors, but a new study finds people consistently prefer the options that come first: first in line, first college to offer acceptance, first salad on the menu – first is considered best.

The paper, “First is Best,” recently published in PLoS ONE by Dana R. Carney, assistant professor of management, University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, and co-author Mahzarin R. Banaji, professor of psychology, Harvard University.

In three experiments, when making quick choices, participants consistently preferred people (salespersons, teams, criminals on parole) or consumer goods presented first as opposed to similar offerings in second and sequential positions. The authors say their findings may have practical applications in a variety of settings including in consumer marketing.

“The order of individuals performing on talent shows like American Idol. The order of potential companies recommended by a stockbroker. The order of college acceptance letters received by an applicant. All of these firsts have privileged status,” says Carney. “Our research shows that managers, for example in management or marketing, may want to develop their business strategies knowing that first encounters are preferable to their clients or consumers.”

The study found that especially in circumstances under which decisions must be made quickly or without much deliberation, preferences are unconsciously and immediately guided to those options presented first. While there are sometimes rational reasons to prefer firsts, e.g. the first resume is designated on the top of the pile because that person wanted the job the most, Carney says the “first is best” effect suggests that firsts are preferred even when completely unwarranted and irrational.

The study’s first experiment asked 123 participants to evaluate three groups: (a) two teams, (b) two male salespersons, and (c) two female salespersons. First, participants were asked to join one of the two teams and were introduced to the Hadleys and the Rodsons. Immediately following the introduction, they decided which team to join. Next, participants were told they were buying a car and introduced to two male salespersons: Jim and Jon. Immediately following the introduction, they selected the salesperson from whom they preferred to buy a car. Finally, participants were told they needed to re-make their car-buying decision and that they would be introduced to two new salespersons; this time, female: Lisa and Lori. After sequential introduction they, again, decided which person they’d like to buy a car from.

When asking participants about their choices, the researchers asked about choice in two ways: conscious/deliberate choice, which was self-reported (i.e.., “I prefer Lisa to Lori”), or they completed a reaction-time task adapted from cognitive psychology in which participants’ automatic, unconscious preference for each option was assessed (i.e. “good,” “better,” “superior”).  Regardless of whom people said they preferred, on the unconscious, cognitive measure of preference, participants always preferred the first team or person to whom they were introduced.

To test the choice preferences of consumer goods, the researchers asked 207 passengers at a train station to select one of two pieces of similar bubble gum in a “rapid decision task” or choosing within a second of seeing the choices (using psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s theory on ‘thinking, fast and slow’). Once again, the result was the same: when thinking fast, the bubble gum presented first was the preferable choice in most cases.

Researchers considered the salespeople and the gum relatively positive stimuli, without controversy. In order to test their theory with negatively charged options, Carney and Banaji asked another group of 31 participants to choose between pairs of convicted criminals and decide which one was more worthy of parole instead of prison. After viewing mug shots of two 29 year-old criminals known to have committed the same violent crimes with similar features and facial expressions, again, when “thinking fast,” participants judged the first criminal presented as more worthy of parole.

If order matters, why? Carney contends the proven “primacy has power” theory may provide the best answers. The paper cites, “a preference for firsts has its origins in an evolutionary adaptation favoring firsts …” For example, in most cases, humans tend to innately prefer the first people they meet: a mother, family members. In addition, those preferences are associated with what’s safe. Carney says the historic concept of the established “pecking order” also supports their findings that people find “first is best.”

From The Economist(some discussion of the marketing implications of these findings):

The order in which people experience things affects their opinion of them: they tend to like the first option best.

This is the result of a new study by Dana Carney of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard University. To test their hypothesis, the researchers conducted a series of experiments. In one volunteers were shown pictures of two violent criminals and then asked which one deserved parole. Most felt more merciful towards the first mugshot they were shown (different volunteers saw different villains first).

This bias affects commercial decisions, too. Asked which type of chewing gum they preferred, 68% of respondents at a railway station in Boston picked the first stick they were offered. In another experiment, volunteers more often wanted to buy a car from the first salesperson they met rather than the second.

In their paper, entitled “First is Best”, the authors contend that the first option in a series will be “consistently preferred” if the chooser is under time pressure or slightly distracted. Thanks to mobiles, meetings and toddlers that pretty much describes modern life for many people.

Clever companies have noticed, and compete to bump whatever they are selling to the front of the queue. That is why the first slot in an advertisement break on television costs more than the second; it’s roughly 10-15% pricier, according to Jonathan Allan, sales director at Channel 4, a British broadcaster. It is also why an ad that introduces a rival’s product first, even in order to disparage it, may well backfire. Advertising firms themselves like to go first when pitching for an account. “It sets the benchmark for everybody else,” says Bridget Angear of AMV BBDO, an advertising agency.

Read the entire Economist article here.

See the full paper.

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Choice Myth, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

Wegstock 2011

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 3, 2012

In 2011, a conference honoring Dan Wegner, “Wegstock,” was held at Harvard University.  Videos of the talks are available online here.

Speakers include Dan Gilbert, Susan Fiske, Tim Wilson, Jon Haidt, Henk Aarts, Nick Epley, Bill Swann, Todd Heatherton, Thalia Wheatley, Ap Dijksterhuis, Jon Krosnick, Jerry Clore, Bill Crano, Robin Vallacher, Jamie Pennebaker, Jonathan Schooler and Dan Wegner.

The talks are brief (roughly 15 minutes each) and are well worth watching.  Here’s a sample by Situationist friend Dan Gilbert and Situationist Contributors Susan Fiske and Timothy Wilson.

To review a collection of Situationist posts discussing Dan Wegner’s research, click here.

Posted in Situationist Contributors, 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).

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

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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Independence Day: Celebrating Courage to Challenge the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 3, 2012

First Published on July 3, 2007:

Battle of Lexington

With the U.S. celebrating Independence Day — carnivals, fireworks, BBQs, parades and other customs that have, at best, only a tangential connection to our “independence,” — we thought it an opportune moment to return to its source in search of some situationism. No doubt, the Declaration of Independence is typically thought of as containing a dispositionist message (though few would express it in those terms) — all that language about individuals freely pursuing their own happiness. Great stuff, but arguably built on a dubious model of the human animal.

Declaration of IndependenceThat’s not the debate we want to provoke here. Instead, we are interested in simply highlighting some less familiar language in that same document that reveals something special about the mindset and celebrated courage of those behind the colonists’ revolt. Specifically, as Thomas Jefferson penned, “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Part of what made the July 4th heroes heroic, in our view, was their willingness to break from that disposition to suffer evils. They reacted, mobilized, strategized, resisted, and fought because they recognized that their suffering was not legitimate — a conclusion that many in the U.S. and abroad vehemently rejected.

Situationist contributor John Jost has researched and written extensively about a related topic — the widespread tendency to justify existing systems of power despite any unfair suffering that they may entail. As he and his co-authors recently summarized:

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.”

If we truly want to emulate and celebrate the “founding fathers” of this republic, perhaps we should begin by taking seriously the possibility that what “is” is not always what “ought to be.”

Happy Fourth!

* * *

To read a couple of related Situationist posts, see “Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?” and “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!

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

Prejudiced at Age 3?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 27, 2012

Excerpts from a recent Boston Globe article about recent work Situationist Contributor, Mahzarin Banaji:

For more than four decades, the notion that racism and physical prejudice don’t fully develop in humans until the teen or adult years has been at the root of research into racism. Popular scientific belief had been that children, who only develop the ability to express racial preferences at around age 3, gradually develop those preferences over time and only cement them well into their teen years.

But new research not yet published by Mahzarin Banaji, a renowned Harvard University psychologist, brain researcher, and racism and physical prejudice expert, and colleagues suggests that even though they may not understand the “why’’ of their feelings, children exposed to racism tend to accept and embrace it as young as age 3, and in just a matter of days.

“We have known for a very long time that children process information differently than adults. That is a given,’’ says Banaji. “But what has changed, where racism and other prejudice are concerned, is that we had far over-calculated how long it takes for these traits to become imbedded in a child’s brain. It’s quite shocking really, but the gist of it is that 3- and 4-year-olds demonstrate the same level and type of bias as adults. This tells us that children ‘get it’ very, very quickly, and that it doesn’t require a mature level of cognition to form negative biases.’’

Banaji’s study, conducted with two Harvard peers, examined how children and adults identified ambiguously featured faces as happy (smiling) or angry (frowning). They showed 263 white children, between the ages of 3 and 14, a number of graphically drawn facial images in different skin tones from very light tan to brown, and asked them to describe them as happy or angry.

One part of the test showed the children a set of faces that were an “inconclusive’’ light tan color that could have represented a white person or a black person. In that segment, most of the children, without prompting, described the faces as black, and also, no matter the facial expression in the drawing, as angry.

Conversely, those faces the children said they believed to be white – even the faces bearing frowns – were almost exclusively described as happy.

When the white children were asked to compare white faces with Asian faces, the outcome was the same . . . .

A group of black children tested in the study revealed equal favorability and negativity biases, regardless of whether they perceived the test faces to be black or white. . . .

More.

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Image from Flickr.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Implicit Bias in the Law Conference – This Thursday

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 12, 2012

Date: Thursday, June 14, 2012, 9:00 AM
Location: Austin Hall, Ames Courtroom, Harvard Law School
Address: 1515 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Presenters include Situationist Contributors Mahzarin Banaji, Jon Hanson, Jerry Kang.

From the conference web page:

Despite cultural progress in reducing overt acts of racism, stark racial disparities continue to define American life. This conference considers what emerging social science can contribute to the discussion of race in American law, policy, and society. The conference will explore how scientific evidence on the human mind might help to explain why racial equality is so elusive. This new evidence reveals how human mental machinery can be skewed by lurking stereotypes, often bending to accommodate hidden biases reinforced by years of social learning. Through the lens of these powerful and pervasive implicit racial attitudes and stereotypes, the conference, designed to coincide with the launch of the book “Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law”, examines both the continued subordination of historically disadvantaged groups and the legal system’s complicity in the subordination.

The conference will bring together scholars, judges, practitioners, and community leaders to explore the issues surrounding implicit racial bias in law and policy. It will begin with a compelling overview of the social science. What does science teach us about automatic biases? And what do we still not know? Leaders in the areas of criminal justice, housing law and policy, education, and health care will then present overviews of the impact of implicit bias in their fields. Attendees will hear federal judges’ and leading scholars’ perspective on implicit bias claims in the courtroom and hear experts’ assessment of the future of implicit bias in the law. A lively afternoon session will include simultaneous break-out sessions and roundtable discussions of specific implicit bias related topics. Audience participation will be welcomed and encouraged. The conference will close with a discussion of setting a forward looking and collaborative implicit bias agenda.”

RSVP for the conference here.

Here is the conference agenda.

Posted in Events, Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Review of “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 30, 2012

Over at The Jury Expert, You can read an insightful review (by Rita R. Handrich, PhD) of Jon Hanson’s recent book, Ideology, Psychology, and Law” (Oxford University Press). [Introductory chapter available, here].

It opens this way:

Trial consultants, and the very best trial lawyers, practice with an awareness of the law, the domain of the case facts, and the way jurors are likely to understand and misunderstand all of it. If these avenues of thought had a single intersection, you would find that Jon Hanson has been living on that corner for 25 years. As a Harvard Law School professor and prolific writer, he has done much to keep me and many others informed of the traffic coming from these diverse directions. . . .

Read the entire review here.

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Posted in Book, Ideology, Law, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Racial Situation of 2012 Election

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 8, 2012

From University of Washington Newswire:

After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, many proclaimed that the country had entered a post-racial era in which race was no longer an issue. However, a new large-scale study shows that racial attitudes have already played a substantial role in 2012, during the Republican primaries. They may play an even larger role in this year’s presidential election.

The study, led by psychologists at the University of Washington, shows that between January and April 2012 eligible voters who favored whites over blacks – either consciously or unconsciously – also favored Republican candidates relative to Barack Obama.

“People were saying that with Obama’s election race became a dead issue, but that’s not at all the case,” said lead investigator Anthony Greenwald, a UW psychology professor.

The study’s findings mean that many white and non-white voters, even those who don’t believe they tend to favor whites over blacks, might vote against Obama because of his race. These voters could cite the economy or other reasons, but a contributing cause could nevertheless be their conscious or unconscious racial attitudes.

“Our findings may indicate that many of those who expressed egalitarian attitudes by voting for Obama in 2008 and credited themselves with having ‘done the right thing’ then are now letting other considerations prevail,” said collaborator Mahzarin Banaji, a psychology professor at Harvard University.

In the study, a majority of white eligible voters showed a pattern labeled “automatic white preference” on a widely used measure of unconscious race bias. Previous studies indicate that close to 75 percent of white Americans show this implicit bias.

In a study done just prior to the 2008 presidential election, Greenwald and colleagues found that race attitudes played a role in predicting votes for the Republican candidate John McCain.

The 2012 data, collected from nearly 15,000 voters, show that race was again a significant factor in candidate preferences.

In an online survey, Greenwald asked survey-takers about their political beliefs, how “warmly” they felt toward black and white people, and which presidential contender they preferred. Because the survey was conducted in the first four months of 2012, it included the five main Republican hopefuls – Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum – as well as Obama.

Greenwald also measured unconscious race attitude using the Implicit Association Test, a tool he developed more than a decade ago to gauge thoughts that people don’t realize they have. Different variations of the test measure implicit attitudes about race, gender, sexuality, ethnicities and other topics.

Greenwald found that favoritism for Republican candidates was predicted by respondents’ racial attitudes, both their self-reported views and their implicit biases measured by the IAT. Greenwald emphasized that the study’s finding that some candidates are more attractive to voters with pro-white racial attitudes does not mean that those candidates are racist.

“The study’s findings raise an interesting question: After nearly four years of having an African-American president in the White House, why do race attitudes continue to have a role in electoral politics?” Greenwald said.

He suspects that Obama’s power as president in 2012, compared with his lesser status as candidate in 2008, may have “brought out race-based antagonism that had less reason to be activated in 2008.”

Another possibility is that Republican candidates’ assertions that their most important goal is to remove Obama from the presidency “may have strong appeal to those who have latent racial motivation,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald and his research team will continue to collect people’s attitudes about the 2012 presidential candidates as part of their Decision 2012 IAT study. Now that Mitt Romney has emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee, the researchers are modifying their survey to focus on voters’ comparisons of Romney with Obama.

They plan to post summaries of the data each month until the November election. Anyone can take the test online: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/featuredtask.html

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Implicit Associations, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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