The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What Is Our Gross National Product?

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 17, 2011

On Wednesday, I walked over to Wharton for an interesting lecture by Temple law professor Peter Huang drawing together several strands of his work.

In the hour and a half, Peter spoke about happiness, memory, behavioral law and economics, and a host of other things, but one of the elements of his presentation that really caught my attention was this two minute clip from a speech by Robert F. Kennedy.

Some Situationist readers may be familiar with the contents, but it was totally new to me and it really struck a cord.  It stands as a strong articulation of our core American values, as well as — in my estimation — a powerful indictment of neoclassical economic analysis and traditional cost-benefit type calculations.

Take the time to listen; it’s worth it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Lining Them Up, and Knocking Them Down

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 17, 2011

A couple weeks ago, I published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the situation of the dreaded airport security line after I contacted the TSA with a few questions about their operations.  The text of the op-ed appears here and below:

Hate Airport Security?  Get in Line.

What is the single most frustrating thing about the airport? Most people would agree that it’s the security line, which presents us with a terrible tandem of unpredictability and uncontrollability.

Each airport is different. Some separate expert travelers from novices; others provide priority lines for those with first-class tickets. Latecomers who are going to miss their flights will be readily shuttled to the front at a few airports, while many others stand firm in the face of tears and tantrums.

Even at a single airport, you never know what you’re going to get. I recently flew out of Philadelphia on US Airways on consecutive Thursday evenings. The first time, I was through security in 10 minutes and had time for a drink. The second, it took more than an hour and I nearly missed my flight.

As another summer travel season begins, it’s time for travelers to take a stand. The system is broken, and it needs to be fixed.

Before we get to a solution, it’s useful to understand how the current system works. Most people assume that the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for the security lines, but the agency has generally deferred to the authority of airports and airlines when it comes to managing the queue before the checkpoint. As a result, a hodgepodge of practices has developed, many of which serve the interests of the carriers rather than the travelers – for example, special lines for customers who pay extra fees.

It has never made sense for the security line to have more than one master. It’s time to put it firmly in the hands of the TSA, which is most likely to have the right priorities: security, fairness, and efficiency. And once the entire process is the responsibility of that agency, there are many ways it could improve the speed and civility of the system without compromising safety.

Any effective system would provide fliers with more information and choice. As just one example, imagine an airport with three security lines: general, priority, and express. At the beginning of each line is a constantly updated sign that shows the anticipated wait time and a price to enter that line. Just as a person mailing a package is provided with an array of estimated delivery dates and corresponding prices at the post office, a traveler at the airport could be provided with similar facts to facilitate a free, informed choice.

Always arrive early for your flight and want to travel at the lowest possible cost? Choose the free “general” line. Get caught up at a meeting and arrive at the airport 25 minutes before departure? Swipe your credit card and join the “express” line.

To keep the lines moving optimally, computer programs could regularly alter the prices of the priority lines, much as the fees for using express toll lanes on certain highways can be varied according to congestion. The necessary technology already exists.

In our current, inflexible system, the late-arriving passenger is often out of luck. At the same time, other passengers collectively shell out millions of dollars in fees for access to priority lines that they turn out not to need. These problems could be eliminated with an approach that allows customers to decide what is best for them at the moment it matters.

Moreover, all the money paid into such a system would go to the TSA instead of airline executives. That would reduce the tax burden borne by those who fly as well as those who don’t, at a time when the government is trying to tighten its belt.

Airline and airport lobbyists are likely to strongly oppose this sort of sensible proposal, but its time has come. We weary travelers deserve better.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Claude Steele Returns to Stanford

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 14, 2011

From Stanford News:

Claude Steele, provost of Columbia University and a preeminent scholar of social psychology, will be the next dean of Stanford University’s School of Education, President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy announced today.

Steele was a member of the Stanford faculty from 1991 to 2009, when he assumed the position as chief academic officer at Columbia, where he is responsible for assuring the quality of all academic programs and faculty. He will succeed Deborah Stipek, who will be stepping down after 10 years as dean. Steele’s appointment is effective September 1.

“For nearly two decades, Claude Steele was an integral part of Stanford University and it will be a pleasure to welcome him back in this capacity,” Hennessy said. “His academic expertise and his demonstrated leadership will serve not only the School of Education, but the university as a whole.”

Etchemendy, who served as co-chair of the search committee, praised Steele’s academic and administrative credentials.

“Claude was the enthusiastic recommendation of the Search Committee.  He brings to the position an extraordinary combination of academic excellence and administrative experience,” Etchemendy said. “We are confident that under Claude’s leadership, our already wonderful School of Education will achieve new levels of excellence.”

Steele said he is looking forward to his return to Stanford, where during his tenure he held appointments as the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, as director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and as the director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

“I am thrilled to be joining Stanford’s School of Education. It has such an important role to play in one of our society’s most important areas – education,” Steele said.  “It will be an honor to help the school sustain its greatness and extend its reach at a time when its scholarship and insights are so badly needed. And with this move, there is the added pleasure for my wife Dorothy and me of returning to our Stanford community of friends and colleagues.” Members of the search committee praised Steele’s dedication to improving the quality of schools and the educational outcomes for students.

“Claude Steele is an outstanding choice as the next dean for the School of Education. He is among the most distinguished social scientists of his generation,” said Professor Eamonn Callan, co-chair of the search committee and associate dean of student affairs in the School of Education. “He has a brilliant record of educational leadership and an abiding interest in improving America’s schools.”

At Columbia, Steele has been responsible for directing and implementing academic plans and policies for the 27,000-student Ivy League institution, and he supervises the work of the university’s faculties, departments, centers and institutes. He is responsible for faculty appointments and tenure recommendations and oversees the financial planning and budget for the university.

Steele taught at the University of Utah, the University of Washington, and the University of Michigan prior to joining Stanford.  He was educated at Hiram College and at Ohio State University, where he received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1971.  He has received honorary degrees from the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, Yale University, Princeton University, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Steele has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He is a member of the Board of the Social Science Research Council and of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Board of Directors.

Steele is recognized as a leader in the field of social psychology and for his commitment to the systematic application of social science to problems of major societal significance.  His research focuses on the psychological experience of the individual and, particularly, on the experience of threats to the self and the consequences of those threats.  His early work considered the self-image threat, self-affirmation and its role in self-regulation, the academic under-achievement of minority students, and the role of alcohol and drug use in self-regulation processes and social behavior. While at Stanford, he and his students further developed the theory of stereotype threat, a common process that can significantly affect both the experiences and performance of people from different groups due to social stereotypes associated with those groups. This work has been used extensively by educators to understand group differences in school and test performance, and has led to a variety of interventions in educational settings that improve these performances.

He has published articles in numerous scholarly journals, including the American Psychologist, The Journal of Applied Social Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.  His recent book, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, was published in 2010.

He was the recipient of the Dean’s Teaching Award from Stanford University.  The American Psychological Association has bestowed on him the Senior Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1998).  The American Psychological Society presented him with the William James Fellow Award for Distinguished Scientific Career Contribution (2000).  The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues awarded him the Gordon Allport Prize in Social Psychology (1997) and the Kurt Lewin Memorial Award (1998).  He received the Donald Campbell Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2001).

The Stanford University School of Education, with an enrollment of more than 400 graduate students, is a leader in groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary research that helps to shape educational practice and policy. The school’s faculty members integrate practice and research by working collaboratively with education administrators, teachers and policy leaders around the world, and they contribute to theoretical and methodological innovations in the social sciences.

Graduates of the Stanford School of Education hold leadership positions as teachers, researchers, administrators, and policymakers. The school’s philosophy is to expose students to real-world challenges and involvement in problem-solving collaborations with practitioners and policymakers. The school operates the East Palo Alto Academy, a public charter high school in the neighboring East Palo Alto community. The school also has sustained collaborations with organizations serving youth in several Bay Area communities and ongoing partnerships with public school districts.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Gendered Situation of Decision-Making Under Stress

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2011

From Science Daily:

Stress causes men and women to respond differently to risky decision making, with men charging ahead for small rewards and women taking their time, according to a new study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, published by Oxford University Press. Under stress, men and women also have different brain activation patterns during decision making.

There might be advantages to both stress responses, especially in areas with the need to weigh short-term gain and long-term benefits, such as the stock market, health decisions or retirement planning, according to lead author on the study Nichole Lighthall, a USC doctoral student.

The experiment might also have implications for daily life and relationships, Lighthall said.

Stress caused men and women to make decisions differently, but when stress was absent their behavior and brain activation was much more similar, Lighthall said. Men and women faced with tough decisions might improve their communication by waiting until a stressful situation has passed, Lighthall said. “Men and women appear to think more similarly when they are not stressed,” Lighthall said. “You should be aware of the way you are biased in your decisions.”

After being subjected to stress, men appeared to be more motivated to act quickly while women would slow down, Lighthall said.

For men under stress, playing a risk-taking game stimulated areas in the brain that are activated when one gets a reward or satisfies an addiction. The same experiment found diminished brain activity for women in the same areas when they were stressed.

“It appears women do not feel the drive to get a reward as much under stress,” Lighthall said.

Participants were given a task of filling up a computer-simulated balloon with as much air as possible without popping the balloon.

Subjects earned from $4 to $45 based on their performance, with the men earning much more cash under stress.

Lighthall said that although men performed this task better, the more important conclusion may be that important decisions made under stress should include input from both genders.

“It might be better to have more gender diversity on important decision because men and women offer differing perspectives,” Lighthall said. “Being more cautious and taking the time to make a decision will often be the right choice.”

Mara Mather, director of the Emotion and Cognition Lab at USC and associate professor of psychology at USC Dornsige College and gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, Michiko Sakaki, Sarinnapha Vasunilashorn, Lin Nga, Sangeetha Somayajula, Eri Y. Chin and Nicole Samii, also of the USC Davis School, were co-authors of the study.

Last year Lighthall authored a study in the journal PLoS One that showed that men under stress may be more likely to take risks, correlating to such real-life behavior as gambling, smoking, unsafe sex and illegal drug use.

More.

Related Situationist posts:

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Power of Word Choice: “Lifestyle” Diseases

Posted by Adam Benforado on April 23, 2011

As readers will note, I’ve been blogging a lot about the situation of obesity recently and so I read Mark Bittman’s recent op-ed in the New York Times,  “How to Save a Trillion Dollars,” with special attention.

I agreed with a lot of what Bittman said about how changing our diets is one of the keys to reducing healthcare costs in the United States, including his ultimate conclusion:

The best way to combat diet-related diseases is to change what we eat. And if our thinking is along the lines of diet improved = deficit reduced, so much the better. If a better diet were to result only in a 10 percent decrease in heart disease (way lower than [Dr. David] Ludwig[, author of "Ending the Food Fight,] believes possible), that’s $100 billion project savings per year by 2030.

This isn’t just fiscal responsibility, but social responsibility as well. And the alternative is not only fiscal catastrophe but millions of premature deaths.

However, I thought that Bittman seriously undermined his message by referring to obesity-related afflictions, like diabetes and heart disease, as “lifestyle diseases.”

It seems like a minor point — and it’s true that the term has been adopted by certain individuals in the public health sphere — but I think we all need to be more careful about our word choices because the terms we use can have a powerful impact on our policy debates (e.g., are they “freedom fighters” or “terrorists”?  are they “taxes” or “dues”?).

The term “lifestyle disease” implies that obesity boils down to personal choice—people choose to be skinny, just as they choose to live by the beach or own dogs.

This has been the mantra of big food companies trying to avoid regulation and litigation for over a decade, but it is contradicted by a growing mountain of evidence that our obesity epidemic is the product of a toxic food environment.  If the incidence of Type 2 diabetes is characterized as the product of bad lifestyle choices then it is hard to advance the case for intervention at the societal level: people should just exercise personal responsibility and if they chose not to, they get what they deserve.

By way of comparison, imagine if Bittman had written an op-ed calling malaria and Guinea worm “lifestyle diseases.”  Technically, he would have been right: “they’re preventable, and you prevent them the same way you cause them: lifestyle.”  If you don’t want to get malaria, you should choose to live in an area of the world that doesn’t have malaria-carrying mosquitoes or you should choose to never venture out of your air conditioned home.  If you don’t want to get Guinea worm, you should only drink water that has been piped from fresh sources.   Change you lifestyle and you can greatly reduce your likelihood of getting these debilitating diseases.

But, of course, that frame is misleading and problematic.  Many of the people who suffer from malaria and Guinea worm have no meaningful control over their situations — they are trapped in communities where clean water and mosquito nets are in short supply.

Could the same be said for many obese people in the United States who suffer from heart disease and diabetes?

Don’t they, too, face significant situational constraints?  And if we actually want to reduce the incidence of obesity-related diseases shouldn’t we acknowledge that fact?

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Cut the “Natural-Cut”

Posted by Adam Benforado on April 12, 2011

Wendy’s has a new product: french fries. 

Okay, sure, technically fries have been around a while . . . but, according to Wendy’s, not like this.  Meet “Natural-Cut French Fries”:

Let’s face it—everybody’s got fries. Wendy’s has got something special. Naturally-cut from whole Russet potatoes, cooked skin-on, and served hot and crispy with a sprinkle of sea salt for a taste as real as it gets.

Wow!  Finally, healthy, all-natural French fries!

Sound too good to be true?

It is.

A large serving of the new product packs in 25 grams of fat, 630 mg of sodium, and 520 calories.

But wait, you said they came from whole Russet potatoes . . . you said that they had their skins on . . . you told me they were naturally-cut . . . you said sea salt!

These sounded “good” for me.  Or at least healthier than the McDonald’s alternative.  But are they?

Nope.  A large fries at McDonald’s has 25 grams of fat and 500 calories.  Moreover, that “sprinkle” of sea salt at Wendy’s dwarfs McDonald’s 350 mg of sodium.

And so begins yet another food scam from our friends in the fast food industry: creating a profitable perception in consumers that they know to be both inaccurate and potentially harmful to health.

I dream that one day there will be regulators with the resources, authority, and backbone to crack down on exactly this type of corporate behavior, but I fear that that day is a long way off.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Table of Contents

Posted by sandraroseray on March 9, 2011

Psychology and Marketing, Volume 28, Issue 3 (March 2011)

Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company

Research Articles

Autotelic need for touch, haptics, and persuasion: The role of involvement, Joann Peck, Jennifer Wiggins Johnson

The impact of 3d virtual haptics in marketing, Seung-A Annie Jin

To touch or not to touch; that is the question. Should consumers always be encouraged to touch products, and does it always alter product perception? Nigel Marlow, Cathrine V. Jansson-Boyd

Multisensory design: Reaching out to touch the consumer, Charles Spence, Alberto Gallace

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Feminism in 1L Curriculum

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 7, 2011

Looking for an opportunity to process and discuss your 1L experience? Curious about what a feminist analysis of the 1L curriculum might offer? Join [Situationist Contributor] Professor Jon Hanson and Lecturer Diane Rosenfeld of HLS and Professor Jenny Wriggins of the University of Maine for a panel on feminist perspectives of the 1L courses.

Today (Monday) in Pound 107. at noon.  Lunch served.

* * *

Sample of elated Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Events, Law, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Uncovering the Situation With Technology

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 11, 2011

I have a distinct memory of coming home from school one day in seventh grade and announcing to my parents that the Fairfax County Public School System had gone off the deep end.  Why?

They were forcing all students to learn how to touch-type!

How utterly useless!  I was never, ever going to need this skill — being perfectly happy using a pen or pencil.  What a waste of time!  And computers?  Please — like those were ever going to catch on.

Fast forward to the present.  Of the skills that I developed in my K-12 education that I use the most in my life, touch-typing is near the very top of the list.  And every day I find my world changed, infiltrated, and dominated by computer technology.

That sounds bad, but, really, it can be amazing and wonderful.

Indeed, it can be situationalizing.

Take three new Internet offerings that show the future promise of technology to reveal worlds that have, to this point, remained hidden to most, if not all, of us.  I strongly encourage readers to check them out:

1.  The idea behind the Google Art Project is to create an interactive environment allowing visitors to “[e]xplore museums from around the world, discover and view hundreds of artworks at incredible zoom levels, and even create and share [their] own collection[s] of masterpieces.”  Say that you are an art lover living in a small town in Latvia and lack the resources to travel to the United States.  You can still visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and “virtually” stroll through the different galleries, stopping at works that catch your eye.  Have a look around by clicking here.

2.  The Guardian’s football section is my go-to for news about the Premiership and one of my favorite offerings is the Chalkboards section.  Within 30 minutes of the final whistle in a match every shot, pass, tackle, clearance, foul, and goal (among other events) is mapped onto the system for each player in the game.  With great ease, an interested fan can then analyze player performance across matches or compare players.  It’s an eye opening tool that has shown me how much of each game I miss.  For an example of the types of insights the chalkboards can provide, click here; to give it a whirl yourself, click here.

3.  President Obama has made it a priority to increase the “effectiveness and efficiency” of the government by bringing more information about the regulatory state to the American public.  As he explained in a recent memorandum to agency heads, the idea is to “make readily accessible to the public, information concerning . . . regulatory compliance and enforcement activities, such as information with respect to administrative inspections, examinations, reviews, warnings, citations, and revocations (but excluding law enforcement or otherwise sensitive information about ongoing enforcement actions).”  As a result, the EPA has set up Enforcement Compliance History Online (ECHO), which allows visitors to  search EPA and state data of nearly a million regulated facilities.  Want to know if there have been any violations of the Clean Water Act or hazardous waste laws within a ten block radius of your home?  Check out the site here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Color Conscious Situation of Neighborhood Choice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 30, 2010

From University of Michigan:

Race is a powerful factor in white decisions about where to live, according to an innovative video experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan.

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race.

“We sought to determine whether whites are colorblind in their evaluations of neighborhoods, or whether racial composition still matters—even when holding constant the quality of the neighborhood,” said the report’s lead author, UIC sociologist Maria Krysan.

Krysan co-authored the study with Reynolds Farley, research professor emeritus at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), and Mick Couper, research professor at the ISR.

Their survey-based experiment involved more than 600 randomly selected white adults aged 21 and older living in the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas.

Participants were shown videos of various neighborhoods—lower working class to upper class—with actors posing as residents. Each resident was portrayed doing exactly the same activities in each kind of neighborhood, such as picking up mail or talking to neighbors.

While the survey participants viewed the same neighborhoods in the videos, they were randomly assigned to see either white residents, black residents, or a mix of both. Participants were then asked to evaluate the neighborhoods in terms of housing cost, property upkeep, school quality, safety, and future property values.

Whites who saw white residents in the video rated neighborhoods significantly more positive in four of the five dimensions compared to whites who saw black residents in the identical neighborhood. Racially mixed neighborhoods fell in between.

“These findings demonstrate that ‘objective’ characteristics such as housing are not sufficient for whites to overcome the stereotypes they have about communities with African-American residents,” said Krysan, who is also affiliated with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Participants were also questioned about their endorsement or rejection of racial stereotypes. Whites who held negative stereotypes about blacks as a group were more likely to produce disapproving neighborhood evaluations.

According to the researchers, property value stagnation is one consequence of whites excluding neighborhoods solely due to the presence of black residents.

“Residential segregation limits occupational opportunities for blacks, ensures that blacks and whites will seldom have the chance to attend school together, and seriously limits the acquisition of wealth by African-Americans,” said Farley, who noted that racial segregation remains common in the older metropolises of the Midwest and Northeast.

“It is rare to find research that combines high quality, new data, with such grounded, real world issues,” said Lawrence Bobo, Harvard University sociologist and editor of the Du Bois Review. “Thanks to this highly innovative piece of research, we now understand far better than ever before the factors that create and sustain racial segregation of neighborhoods in America.”

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

A “Main Street” Perspective?

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 16, 2010

Elizabeth Warren Meeting with Rep. Spencer Bachus

Last month, I did a short blog post on a new article that I wrote looking at the attributional proclivities driving the recent battle over the creation of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.  The article builds on earlier Situationist work and was penned for a symposium at Ohio State last spring in which I was asked to comment on the psychology informing the relationship between the government, business, and private citizens.

I opened the article with two quotations: one from Milton Friedman and one from Richard Nixon (who oversaw the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission upon which the CFPB was modeled).

Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.

~ Milton Friedman

I don‘t give a good goddamn what Milton Friedman says.

~ Richard Nixon

At the time, I was pleased with the opening, but I now regret that the article went to the printers before Representative Spencer Bachus’s (R-Alabama) provided this gem during an interview last Wednesday:

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

Bachus, I should remind readers, is the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which governs matters relating to banks, consumer credit, and numerous other financial matters.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Situationist Named Among the Top 100 Legal Blogs by the ABA Journal

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 1, 2010

The ABA Journal, the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, has just announced this year’s 100 best legal blogs . . .  and The Situationist has been included on the list!

The Situationist is one of twelve blogs honored in the category “Law Prof Plus,” focused on legal academic blogs.

As The ABA Journal “is read by half of the nation’s 1 million lawyers every month,” this is exciting news for The Situationist as it continues to seek a broader audience and bring cutting edge insights from the mind sciences to practicing attorneys (as well as to our other avid readers!).

The ABA Journal has encouraged readers to vote on their favorites within each category and you can vote for The Situationist here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

You Spoke. We Ignored It.

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 9, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post in which I questioned the practice of corporations (1) selling a narrative that the American public is made up of rational actors, exercising free choice, in an open market, while, at the same time, (2) working hard to “limit choice and confuse or reduce the knowledge of potential buyers.”

This morning, while cleaning up my office, I came across the following excerpt that I’d clipped from an article by Barry Berman, the Walter H. “Bud” Miller distinguished professor of business and director of the Executive M.B.A. program at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business:

If you ask customers whether they want more variety, I can tell you right now what they’re going to say: Yes.  After all, who doesn’t think they want a lot of choices?  And it’s common for consumers to be both sad and angry when a product they like is discontinued.

So don’t bother asking.  It’s better to depend on data, rather than what is often a mistaken emotional response.

Gather information from point-of-sale systems and loyalty programs, analyze product data such as sales per square foot, and conduct field experiments to determine what effect offering a wide selection of similar goods—say, 16 similar black-and-white laser printers—really has on total sales in certain product categories.

Use the findings to identify products that don’t sell well, products with high revenue but low profitability and/or high inventory carrying costs, and products plagued by production problems. Consider targeting them for elimination.

As various posts on the Situationist have chronicled, the evidence provided by psychologists and others who study “choice” suggests that Professor Berman is right.  And, if your goal is solely to increase the profitability of your company, you’d do well to heed his advice.

However, as a consumer, I think that the broader message in Professor Berman’s comments is troubling primarily because corporations go to such lengths to convince us that they are listening to the wants, desires, and ideas that we voice.  Indeed, it’s a major part of many corporate strategies.

Think about all of the advertisements and marketing campaigns that you come across in your day-to-day routine that emphasize the theme of customers speaking out and corporations listening and responding.  As Best Buy explains, “You Spoke.  We Listened.  Thanks to your ideas, we’re continuing to create future technology designed just for you.”  Moss Adams LLP, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the United States, offers the identical statement on its website: “You Spoke.  We Listened.”  Whole Foods serves up a subtle variation: “You Talked, We Listened.”  It turns out, “Whole Foods Market has been listening to its customers for over 30 years.”

Why do all of these companies sing the same song?  The answer, in part, is because it’s music to our ears.  We like to feel in control.  And encouraging this perception allows companies to engrain the idea that corporate entities merely respond to our preferences.  That is, they do not create preferences, or steer individuals toward harmful, but profitable, products—actions that would make the case for significant regulation or legal liability.  They are our passive pals—dutifully hanging on our every word.

Perhaps I’m out to sea, but if corporations aren’t in fact listening to what I say—if they know, as Professor Berman suggests, that I exhibit “mistaken emotional responses” and am a situational character, rather than a rational actor—I don’t want them telling me how valuable my feedback is and how clever, smart, and capable a consumer I am.

I’d prefer the cold, hard truth.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Tamara Piety on Market Manipulation,” and Taking Behavioralism Seriously (Part I) – Abstract and Top Ten List.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post in which I questioned the practice of corporations (1) selling a narrative that the American public is made up of rational actors, exercising free choice, in an open market, while, at the same time, (2) working hard to “limit choice and confuse or reduce the knowledge of potential buyers.”

This morning, while cleaning up my office, I came across the following excerpt that I’d clipped from an article by Barry Berman, the Walter H. “Bud” Miller distinguished professor of business and director of the Executive M.B.A. program at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business:

If you ask customers whether they want more variety, I can tell you right now what they’re going to say: Yes.  After all, who doesn’t think they want a lot of choices?  And it’s common for consumers to be both sad and angry when a product they like is discontinued.

So don’t bother asking.  It’s better to depend on data, rather than what is often a mistaken emotional response.

Gather information from point-of-sale systems and loyalty programs, analyze product data such as sales per square foot, and conduct field experiments to determine what effect offering a wide selection of similar goods—say, 16 similar black-and-white laser printers—really has on total sales in certain product categories.

Use the findings to identify products that don’t sell well, products with high revenue but low profitability and/or high inventory carrying costs, and products plagued by production problems. Consider targeting them for elimination.

As various posts on the Situationist have chronicled, the evidence provided by psychologists and others who study “choice” suggests that Professor Berman is right.  And, if your goal is solely to increase the profitability of your company, you’d do well to heed his advice.

However, as a consumer, I think that the broader message in Professor Berman’s comments is troubling primarily because corporations go to such lengths to convince us that they are listening to the wants, desires, and ideas that we voice.  Indeed, it’s a major part of many corporate strategies.

Think about all of the advertisements and marketing campaigns that you come across in your day-to-day routine that emphasize the theme of customers speaking out and corporations listening and responding.  As Best Buy explains, “You Spoke.  We Listened.  Thanks to your ideas, we’re continuing to create future technology designed just for you.”  Moss Adams LLP, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the United States, offers the identical statement on its website: “You Spoke.  We Listened.”  Whole Foods serves up a subtle variation: “You Talked, We Listened.”  It turns out, “Whole Foods Market has been listening to its customers for over 30 years.”

Why do all of these companies sing the same song? 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post in which I questioned the practice of corporations (1) selling a narrative that the American public is made up of rational actors, exercising free choice, in an open market, while, at the same time, (2) working hard to “limit choice and confuse or reduce the knowledge of potential buyers.”

This morning, while cleaning up my office, I came across the following excerpt that I’d clipped from an article by Barry Berman, the Walter H. “Bud” Miller distinguished professor of business and director of the Executive M.B.A. program at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business:

If you ask customers whether they want more variety, I can tell you right now what they’re going to say: Yes.  After all, who doesn’t think they want a lot of choices?  And it’s common for consumers to be both sad and angry when a product they like is discontinued.

So don’t bother asking.  It’s better to depend on data, rather than what is often a mistaken emotional response.

Gather information from point-of-sale systems and loyalty programs, analyze product data such as sales per square foot, and conduct field experiments to determine what effect offering a wide selection of similar goods—say, 16 similar black-and-white laser printers—really has on total sales in certain product categories.

Use the findings to identify products that don’t sell well, products with high revenue but low profitability and/or high inventory carrying costs, and products plagued by production problems. Consider targeting them for elimination.

As various posts on the Situationist have chronicled, the evidence provided by psychologists and others who study “choice” suggests that Professor Berman is right.  And, if your goal is solely to increase the profitability of your company, you’d do well to heed his advice.

However, as a consumer, I think that the broader message in Professor Berman’s comments is troubling primarily because corporations go to such lengths to convince us that they are listening to the wants, desires, and ideas that we voice.  Indeed, it’s a major part of many corporate strategies.

Think about all of the advertisements and marketing campaigns that you come across in your day-to-day routine that emphasize the theme of customers speaking out and corporations listening and responding.  As Best Buy explains, “You Spoke.  We Listened.  Thanks to your ideas, we’re continuing to create future technology designed just for you.”  Moss Adams LLP, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the United States, offers the identical statement on its website: “You Spoke.  We Listened.”  Whole Foods serves up a subtle variation: “You Talked, We Listened.”  It turns out, “Whole Foods Market has been listening to its customers for over 30 years.”

Why do all of these companies sing the same song?  The answer, in part, is because it’s music to our ears.  We like to feel in control.  And encouraging this perception allows companies to engrain the idea that corporate entities merely respond to our preferences.  That is, they do not create preferences, or steer individuals toward harmful, but profitable, products—actions that would make the case for significant regulation or legal liability.  They are our passive pals—dutifully hanging on our every word.

Perhaps I’m out to sea, but if corporations aren’t in fact listening to what I say—if they know, as Professor Berman suggests, that I exhibit “mistaken emotional responses” and am a situational character, rather than a rational actor—I don’t want them telling me how valuable my feedback is and how clever, smart, and capable a consumer I am.

The answer, in part, is because it’s music to our ears.  We like to feel in control.  And encouraging this perception allows companies to engrain the idea that corporate entities merely respond to our preferences.  That is, they do not create preferences, or steer individuals toward harmful, but profitable, products—actions that would make the case for significant regulation or legal liability.  They are our passive pals—dutifully hanging on our every word.

Perhaps I’m out to sea, but if corporations aren’t in fact listening to what I say—if they know, as Professor Berman suggests, that I exhibit “mistaken emotional responses” and am a situational character, rather than a rational actor—I don’t want them telling me how valuable my feedback is and how clever, smart, and capable a consumer I am.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Marketing, Public Relations, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Breaking Up Is Easy to Do: When Corporations Dump Consumers

Posted by Adam Benforado on September 16, 2010

As Jon Hanson and a number of other Situationist contributors (including yours truly) have profiled over the years, corporations go to great lengths to convince us that we are rational market actors, exercising free choice.  By using advertizing, marketing, and other means to encourage consumers to believe that they are in control, corporate entities can effectively evade liability and regulation.  When someone becomes obese from eating too much fast food or develops cancer from smoking too many cigarettes, the “choice myth” acts as a great shield.  How can the corporation be deemed blameworthy when individuals exercised free choice to buy the problematic products in copious quantities?

The great injustice, of course, is that at the same time that corporations are selling the narrative that the American public is in the driver’s seat, navigating an open market, they are actively working to ensure that that is not the case.

Take a recent article by Detlef Schoder and Alex Talalayevsky in the Wall Street Journal’s Executive Adviser on how companies can regain control of pricing power on the Internet.  What is fascinating about the piece is that Schoder and Talalayevsky portray consumers seeking to become well informed and exercising free choice as “taking advantage”—that is, not playing fair.  And the authors offer specific tactics to limit choice and confuse or reduce the knowledge of potential buyers.

For example, Schoder and Talalayevsky provide advice on decreasing “price transparency.”  As they explain, “Packaging, or bundling, a product with other products and/or services, makes it difficult for buyers to ascertain the specific cost of each single item within the bundle.”  Likewise, they recommend tracking online customers by delivery address and credit-card number and then banning “customers who repeatedly eat into [the] profit margin.”

Do companies actually do these things?

You bet.  Indeed, I have a friend who was banned from Bluefly.com after she was deemed to be too savvy and not profitable enough.  Bluefly broke the news in a letter canceling her most recent order: “While we understand that you may be upset by this situation, please understand that, by choosing not to accept your order, we are not saying that you have done anything wrong.  We are simply recognizing that based on our mutual past transaction history, we are not a good match to continue to do business together.”

When my friend forwarded me the “it’s not you, it’s me” email, my first instinct was to laugh, but as I thought more about it, it all seemed pretty underhanded.  There is something seemingly unjust about corporations celebrating the autonomous, rational consumer, while actively working to undermine autonomy and rationality, and to cull the most autonomous and rational individuals from the herd.

What do you think?

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Taking the Situation of Consumers Seriously,” Hey Dove! Talk to YOUR parent!,” The Changing Face of Marketing?,” “The Situation of Credit Card Regulation,” The Financial Squeeze: Bad Choices or Bad Situations?” “The Situation of the American Middle Class,” “Are Debtors Rational Actors or Situational Characters?,” and “The Situation of College Debt” – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Posted in Choice Myth, Marketing, Situationist Contributors, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

The Character Project

Posted by Thomas Nadelhoffer on September 10, 2010

The Templeton Foundation has recently funded The Character Project–which is being run by Christian Miller (Wake Forest).  Given the focus of The Situationist and the relevance of the literature on the situational roots of behavior to character-based accounts of virtue (e.g., see here), readers of this blog should drop by and check out the details of the project.  Here is a brief overview from their homepage:

The past 30 years have seen a resurgence of interest in character, particularly in the areas of psychology, philosophy, and theology. This work has given rise to a number of challenging questions, such as:

  • (i) Do character traits such as honesty or compassion really exist?
  • (ii) If they do exist, how prevalent are they, and what is their underlying psychological nature?
  • (iii) Should character traits such as the virtues be the centerpiece of our best ethical theory?
  • (iv) How should we go about improving our characters and overcoming our character flaws?
  • (v) For those working in theology, should thinking about human and divine character be central to theological ethics?

The goal of the Character Project is to address these and a host of related questions, and thereby foster new advances in the study of character.

They recently posted the first RFP for the Psychology of Character:

Psychology of Character

A $1.5 million dollar RFP entitled “New Frontiers in the Psychology of Character” has been issued for work in psychology on the existence and nature of character and the relationship between character traits and beliefs, desires, identities, emotions, behavior, and situations. Full proposal requests would range between $50,000 and $200,000 for projects not to exceed two years in duration. We anticipate making 6-10 awards.

Full details about applying for the Psychology of Character funding competition can be found in PDF format here.

Hopefully, some of the readers of The Situationist will apply!

Posted in Education, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The Deeply Captured Situation of Spilling Oil

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 19, 2010

From TED.com:  The Gulf oil spill dwarfs comprehension, but we know this much: it’s bad. Carl Safina scrapes out the facts in this blood-boiling cross-examination, arguing that the consequences will stretch far beyond the Gulf — and many so-called solutions are making the situation worse.

* * *

* * *

The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” “Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,” “Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” “The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Reclaiming Corporate Law in a New Gilded Age – Abstract,” The Illusion of Wall Street Reform,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “The Situation of Talk Radio,” “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Profits and Perils of Public Engagement

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 24, 2010

In my last post, I asked whether it was a threat to academia for academics to make a concerted effort to engage the public with their work.

Tamara Piety had a thoughtful response (see here).  She made a number of interesting points about the value of reaching out to non-academics and of risking being wrong.  As she explained, “I think the argument that speaking to the general public somehow undermines your scholarly credentials is often just used as a weapon to try to intimidate and silence those with novel ideas (or ones the critic disagrees with).”

Overall, I think Tamara and I are in agreement that the benefits of academics striving to translate their research for a popular audience are worth the (not insignificant) costs.  (I, or course, welcome comments from those who disagree!)

But what about mind scientists and legal scholars who go beyond penning blog posts, magazine articles, and books to actually lobbying for changes (to the legal system or elsewhere), testifying as experts in court cases, or working for corporations eager to increase profits.

Certainly, there is a long history of those interested in human psychology working with marketers and advertisers.  (Indeed, reading over an old issue of the Monitor on Psychology this weekend, I was reminded of the efforts of Edward L. Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, on behalf of Lucky Strike to convince women to smoke.)  On a different note, psychologists and law professors were instrumental, back in 1999, in producing an 8,000-word national guide for the U.S. Department of Justice on collecting and preserving eyewitness evidence.  And, just last week, the Washington Post had a story on how Emory’s Drew Westen has taken on a more formal role advising Democrat leaders in the Senate and House in anticipation of the fall elections.

Should we think about these activities differently than we think about writing for a popular audience?  What is it that makes us uncomfortable in certain cases—the possibility that money might alter judgments; that consumers, voters, or juries might be manipulated?  Isn’t it beneficial to have people with actual expertise exercising more real world decision-making authority?

* * *

To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Heart, Brain, or Wallet…How Do You Vote?,” “Drew Westen on the Political Brain, Part I, and Part II,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “The Century of Dipositionism – Part I, Part II, and Part III,” “Mass Marketing,” and “Deep Capture – Part VII.”

Posted in Ideology, Marketing, Politics, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Spatial Situation of Crime and Criminal Law

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 13, 2010

No pressure (except for you, grandma — loyal reader number 1), but I have a new article out in the most recent issue of the Cardozo Law Review.  The abstract for The Geography of Criminal Law is below.

* * *

When Westerners explain the causes of actions or outcomes in the criminal law context, they demonstrate a strong tendency to overestimate the importance of dispositional factors, like thinking, preferring, and willing, and underestimate the impact of interior and exterior situational factors, including environmental, historical, and social forces, as well as affective states, knowledge structures, motives, and other unseen aspects of our cognitive frameworks and processes. One of the situational factors that we are particularly likely to overlook is physical space—that is, landscapes, places, natures, boundaries, and spatialities. Our shortsightedness comes at a great cost. Spatial concerns shape legal structures, order interactions, and influence behavior.

To understand these dynamics, this Article establishes the foundation for a new spatial analysis of criminal law. By casting a wide net and capturing data across a diverse set of fields, this Article uncovers unappreciated but vital parallels, connections, and patterns concerning the ways in which physical space—and the meanings that we attach to spatial elements—affect (1) the proximate decision to commit a crime, (2) the likelihood a given person will become a criminal, (3) the experience of victimization, (4) the way in which policing is conducted, (5) what a crime is and how it is prosecuted, and (6) the consequences of being convicted.

As the first Article in a broader project, this systematic spatial analysis provides the basis for future work dedicated to understanding the origins of our criminal system and assessing whether our current legal structures—from the laws on the books to the practices of police officers to our approaches to punishment—align with our societal needs and values, and, thus, whether the structures we have in place ought to be changed. Instead of building its normative conclusions on geographical analysis alone, the project employs the lens of the mind sciences—including social psychology, social cognition, evolutionary psychology, and related fields—to investigate and explain identified spatial dynamics. This research offers the best hope for unlocking, among other concerns, why our justice system has focused on physically isolating criminals from society; why laws are frequently structured around protecting the physical boundaries of the body, home, and community; why more police shootings occur in certain areas than others; and why we have spatially-embedded laws that become inoperative when an individual leaves a jurisdiction.

* * *

Click here for the full article on SSRN.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Looting,” “The Situation of Suspicion,” The Legal Situation of the Underclass,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,”Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” Why Criminals Obey the Law – Abstract,” and “The Situation of Criminality – Abstract.”

Posted in Abstracts, Geography, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Bystanders

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2010

ABC News‘s “What Would You Do?” series recently conducted a series of experiments testing the bystander effect.

* * *

* * *

Most readers of The Situationist have likely seen the grainy video of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax‘s final moments on a street in Jamaica, Queens.  He was stabbed while saving a woman from a knife-wielding attacker and fell to the sidewalk, where he lay dying in a pool of his own blood for more than an hour while dozens of pedestrians passed by without calling for help.

A.G. Sulzberger and Mick Meenan wrote an excellent piece, titled “Questions Surround a Delay in Help for a Dying Man” last week in The New York Times.  The article quotes Situationist Contributor John Darley whose now classic research on the bystander effects which, unfortunately, remains as relevant today as ever.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

It will probably never be clear how many people realized that Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax was dying.

One man bent down to the sidewalk to shake the man, lifting him to reveal a pool of blood before walking away. Two men appeared to have a conversation about the situation, one pausing to take a photo of the body before departing. But the rest merely turned their heads toward the body, revealing some curiosity as they hurried along.

* * *

On Sunday, a week after the killing, people in the area seemed mostly unshaken by its circumstances. Many were unaware that someone had died on 144th Street in Jamaica, near 88th Road, in a hardscrabble neighborhood with large populations of Central American immigrants and of homeless men.

But to the question of obligation — whether those who encountered the body should have stopped and helped the man — the answers came quickly.

Perhaps the passers-by thought he was just drunk. Perhaps they were illegal immigrants themselves, too nervous to contact the authorities. Or perhaps they had just learned a lesson that Mr. Tale-Yax so clearly had not: better to keep to oneself than to risk the trouble that comes from extending a helping hand.

“It’s bad,” said Alexis Perez, 29, the superintendent of two buildings on the block where the stabbing occurred. “But I live here, so I know what it’s like. There are a lot of alcoholics who drink and then they fall down and they’re laying on the ground. People say to themselves, ‘I don’t know them so I won’t get involved.’ ”

At the Iglesia Cristo Peniel, a small brick assembly hall bursting with Spanish hymns, Uber Bautista, 37, a heavy-machinery operator who identified himself as a church elder, said that he believed the inaction might have stemmed from illegal immigrants’ trying to escape detection.

“So they’re going to be very afraid to call the authorities if they see something,” he said. “It’s not that people don’t care.”

Juan Cortez, himself the victim of several assaults, offered another theory as he collected cans from the trash nearby. “People mind their own business,” he said.

Regardless of the explanation, the death has become another unfortunate case study in bystander behavior in emergencies, a psychological field that developed after the notorious 1964 killing of Kitty Genovese. She was stabbed to death at an apartment building in Kew Gardens, Queens, where a large number of neighbors heard her screams but did not call the police.

The death of Mr. Tale-Yax is all the more dramatic because police say that he was stabbed as a result of his apparently trying to help a stranger.

“I’m afraid what we’ve got here is a situation of people failing to help, and the failure appears to be a moral failure,” said John Darley, a professor of psychology at Princeton University who has written about bystander response to emergencies. “He did what you’re supposed to do, and we let the person, who did what he was supposed to do, die.”

* * *

To read the article in its entirety, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Busker or Virtuoso? Depends on the Situation,” “Thinking the Situation into Legal Theory: The Promise of Experimental Parable,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” “The Situation of Helping,” and “The Situation of Gang Rape.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Harvard Law Spotlights Situationism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 29, 2010

The Harvard Law School website last week spotlighted  “a recent interview on the website Big Think.”  Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and Director of  The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School, delves into an exploration of psychology, ideology and law.”

To read more, click here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 850 other followers

%d bloggers like this: