The Situationist

Posts on the Situation of Evil

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2013

Evil Disposition

For readers interested in previous posts about the situation of evil behavior, here are links to a sample:

Posted in Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Confronting Evil Conference – postponed

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2013

Confronting Evil_0

In what is horrible irony, today’s session of the Confronting Evil Conference has been postponed until tomorrow morning at 8:30. Harvard University is itself closed because of the ongoing public safety situation. Regarding the conference, please check here for further updates.

Confronting Evil Poster

Confronting Evil Poster

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The Boston Bombings and the Cognitive Limits of Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

From Situationist friend and Harvard Law School 3L, Kate Epstein, an essay about Monday’s tragedy:

As I hear reactions to the bombings at the marathon on Monday, I find myself agreeing with Glenn Greenwald’s column in The Guardian, titled “The Boston bombing produces familiar and revealing reactions: As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge.” Particularly interesting to me are our cognitive limits, as humans, when it comes to empathy. Greenwald writes:

The widespread compassion for yesterday’s victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid.

I felt the same way in the aftermath of Monday’s events, but I can also empathize with those who do care more–or at least feel it in a more real way–when the victims of a random act of violence are white, close to home, and so obviously innocent. “They, unlike the countless non-white, non-American casualties of the War on Terror, are– for me and many around me–part of our in-group, and our minds actually function in a way that makes us much more easily empathize with them.”

Studies have shown that parts of our brain associated with empathy and emotion are more likely to be activated when we observe someone of our own race, as opposed to an out-group member, in pain. This makes sense given research on unconscious bias using implicit association tests, which have been shown to predict real-life behavior outside of the lab.

The good news is that our automatic attitudes are sometimes malleable. Awareness of the differences between our egalitarian values and our implicit attitudes can induce emotional reactions that can motivate behavioral changes and help us be the empathetic and altruistic people we hope to be. On the other hand, lack of awareness combined with an inundation of negative images and stereotypes from commercial media and popular culture can reinforce implicit biases, underscoring the need for education and self-awareness.

In a world with so much violence and pain, it makes sense that we simply could not feel deeply empathetic every time a human being is injured or killed. We rightly feel intense moral outrage that someone would senselessly harm innocent people gathered in Boston yesterday, and yet we do not so easily empathize with victims of drone strikes in Pakistan, most of whom see the bombings as just as random and senseless, against victims just as innocent.

We should forgive ourselves for exhibiting these cognitive limits–after all, we are only human. But we should recognize, in these moments when we do so easily feel sorrow, anger, and compassion, those events which do not normally elicit those emotions, and force ourselves to grapple with the consequences of that fact. When we read dry, mundane news reports about human suffering, when we (rarely) hear body counts of the War on Terror (such as the estimated 122,000 violent, civilian deaths in Iraq thus far), when we are made aware of the latest unnamed drone victims in North Waziristan, let’s try to channel the empathy events like this make us feel, and then let’s turn that empathy into action.

Related Situationist posts:

The Situationist has a series of posts devoted to highlighting some of situational sources of war. Part I and Part II of the series included portions of an article co-authored by Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon, titled “Why Hawks Win.” Part III reproduced an op-ed written by Situationist friend Dan Gilbert on July 24, 2006. Part IV and Part V in this series contained the two halves of an essay written by Situationist Contributor, Jon Hanson within the week following 9/11. Part VI contains an op-ed written by Situationist Contributor John Jost on October 1, 2001, “Legitimate Responses to Illegitimate Acts,” which gives special emphasis to the role of system justification. Part VII includes a video entitled “Resisting the Drums of War.” The film was created and narrated by psychologist Roy J. Eidelson, Executive Director of the Solomon Asch Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

To review a larger sample of posts on the causes and consequences of human conflict, click here.

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Emotions, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | 2 Comments »

Frontier Tort – Selling Beer in Whiteclay

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 15, 2013

Alcoholism Cover Small

At Harvard Law School in the fall of 2012, the 80 students in Professor Hanson’s situationist-orient torts class participated in an experimental group project in their first-year torts class. The project required students to research, discuss, and write a white paper about a current policy problem for which tort law (or some form of civil liability) might provide a partial solution.  Their projects, presentations, and white papers were informed significantly by the mind sciences. You can read more about those projects, view the presentations, and download the white papers at the Frontier Torts website.

One of the group projects involved the sale of alcohol to members of the Oglala Sioux in Whiteclay Nebraska outside the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Here’s the Executive Summary of the white paper.

Native American Alcoholism: A Frontier Tort

Executive Summary


Since its introduction into Native American communities by European colonists, alcohol has plagued the members of many tribes to a disastrous extent. The Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge have especially suffered from alcoholism, enabled and encouraged by liquor stores just outside the reservation’s borders. Despite the complexities of this situation, media outlets have often reduced it to a pitiable image of dirty, poor Native Americans, degraded by the white man’s vice.

Upon further analysis, however, it becomes evident that there are a variety of factors influencing the situation of Native American alcoholism. While neurobiological, psychological, and genetic factors are often thought to offer plausible internal situational explanations as to why Native Americans suffer so much more potently from this disease than the rest of the nation, high levels of poverty in Native American communities, a traumatic and violent history, and informational issues compound as external situational factors that exacerbate the problem.

Unfortunately, the three major stakeholders in this situation (the alcohol industry, the State of Nebraska, and the Native Americans) have conflicting interests, tactics, and attribution modes that clash significantly in ways that have prevented any meaningful resolution from being reached. However, there are a variety of federal, state, and tribal programs and initiatives that could potentially resolve this issue in a practical way, so long as all key players agree to participate in a meaningful, collaborative effort.

The key to implementation of these policy actions is determining who should bear the costs they require: society as a whole through the traditional federal taxes, the alcohol companies through tort litigation, or the individuals who purchase the alcohol through an alcohol sales tax. Ultimately, an economic analysis leads to the conclusion that liability should be placed upon the alcohol companies and tort litigation damages should fund the suggested policy initiatives.

You can watch the related presentations and download the white paper here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, History, Marketing, Morality, Neuroscience, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Deep Capture Conference! – Tomorrow (Saturday)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2013

2013 Conference Header

On April 13, 2013 the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and the National Lawyers Guild are co-hosting a conference titled “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law” at Harvard Law School.  Details here.

Here is the information about our speakers:

noam

Noam Chomsky is the Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. He has not only made groundbreaking discoveries and insights in the field of linguistics, but has also become one of the most articulate and passionate critics of American foreign policy in the 20th and 21st centuries. He has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, propaganda, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy, and is the co-author with Edward S. Herman of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988). He has been called “the most important intellectual alive today,” one of the “makers of the 20th century,” and “the foremost gadfly of our national conscience.”

ewen

Stuart Ewen is the Distinguished Professor of History and Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center and of Film and Media Studies at Hunter College. He is the author of influential books on the history of consumer society, visual culture, propaganda and modernity, including PR! A Social History of Spin, All Consuming Images: On the Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture and, with Elizabeth Ewen, Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness and Typecasting: On the Arts & Sciences of Human Inequality.

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino is an associate professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. She is also formally affiliated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard. Her research focuses on judgment and decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, productivity, and creativity. Her studies have been featured in The Economist, The New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and The Wall Street Journal, and her work has been discussed on National Public Radio and CBS Radio.

S_Jhally

Sut Jhally is Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation (MEF). He is one of the world’s leading scholars looking at the role played by advertising and popular culture in the processes of social control and identity construction. The author of numerous books and articles on media (including The Codes of Advertising and Enlightened Racism), he is also an award-winning teacher. He is best known as the producer and director of a number of films and videos (including Dreamworlds: Desire/Sex/Power in Music Video; Tough Guise: Media, Violence and the Crisis of Masculinity; and Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire) that deal with issues ranging from gender, sexuality and race to commercialism, violence and politics. Born in Kenya, raised in England, educated in graduate studies in Canada, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Jon Hanson

Jon Hanson is the Alfred Smart Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he has taught since 1992 and won several teaching awards. His scholarship melds social psychology, social cognition, economics, history, and law. Ten years ago Hanson and David Yosifon identified the problem of “deep capture” in their article, The Situation: An Introduction to the Situational Character, Critical Realism, Power Economics, and Deep Capture, 152 U. Penn. L. Rev. 129 (2003) (download here). Hanson’s recent scholarship includes the 2012 book, Ideology, Psychology, and Law (Oxford University Press, website). Hanson is the Director of The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School and a co-creator and a contributor to The Situationist blog (both accessible at www.lawandmind.com).

linn

Susan Linn is an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She has written extensively about the effects of media and commercial marketing on children. Her articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post and her commentaries can be heard on NPR’s Marketplace. Her books include Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood and The Case for Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World. Dr. Linn is a co-founder and director of the national coalition Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In 2000, she was appointed to the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Advertising to Children. She has been featured on Sixty Minutes, Now with Bill Moyers, World News Tonight, Dateline, and in the acclaimed film, The Corporation.

mcgarity_thomas

Thomas McGarity is a leading scholar in the fields of administrative law, environmental law, and torts. He has written six influential books, including his most recent, Freedom to Harm: The Lasting Legacy of the Laissez Faire Revival (Yale University Press, 2013). While in academia, McGarity has served as a consultant and/or advisor to many federal and state agencies. Professor McGarity has been an active participant in efforts to improve health, safety and environmental quality in the United States. He has testified before many congressional committees on environmental, administrative law, preemption of state tort laws in cases involving medical devices, and occupational safety and health issues.

niman

Michael Niman is a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Buffalo State College and a syndicated columnist whose work has earned him two Project Censored awards. Niman, a trained ethnographer, is author of People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia, an ethnography of a nomadic utopian society stemming from qualitative research conducted in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Minnesota, Vermont, Missouri, New York, California and Quebec, Canada. Niman’s research agenda currently focuses on propaganda, the impact of consumer culture, temporary autonomous zones, nonviolent conflict resolution and nonhierarchical societies and movements. Niman formerly worked as a journalist based in Costa Rica and has conducted fieldwork around the world. Niman is the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Stauber

John Stauber is the founder of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the only public interest and journalism organization dedicated to exposing organized corporate and government propaganda and its impacts on democracy, public information and democratic social change. He is an independent investigative writer, activist and a consultant, and has co-authored six books, including his 1995 tour de force Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry and the 2003 New York Times bestseller Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq. He has begun or worked with many public interest and community groups over the past four decades.

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | 1 Comment »

Tom McGarity – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2013

McGarity

Posted in Events | 1 Comment »

Tony Greenwald Wins the William James Fellow Award

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2013

Anthony Greenwald by Joshua Besses

From the Washington Daily (an article about Situationist friend Tony Greenwald):

Even though a black man sits in the White House, and a gay woman legislates in the Senate, according to nearly two decades of research by a professor of psychology at the UW, Anthony Greenwald, most people are racially, ethnically, religiously, or sexually biased.

In 1995, Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and uncovered this disturbing truth.

Last week, for this contribution to the field of scientific psychology, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) announced they would present the William James Fellow Award to Greenwald at the APS’s 25th anniversary celebration.

When the test was first developed, Greenwald said he began administering the IAT on UW undergraduate students from psychology classes — and the results were shocking. The test revealed the majority of students, especially caucasians and asians, showed an “automatic white preference.”

Since then the test has been tweaked, improved, and used in contemporary instances. Greenwald analyzed election results with the IAT.

“We found that Obama suffered by being black,” Greenwald said. “He got fewer votes because of race biases.”

Greenwald explained the IAT tries to tease out hidden associations made by our unconscious. It accomplishes this by measuring the time it takes our brain to sort words and images.

Researchers can discover how closely a participant’s brain instinctively links various words with a particular set of images by measuring the average time it takes participants to sort these objects.

During the IAT, a computer flashes either a word or picture at subjects who are asked to either move the word or picture to the right or left.

The words that appear are either pleasant, like “Joy,” “Love,” and “Peace,” or unpleasant, like “Agony,” “Terrible,” and “Horrible”; depending on the social preferences researchers want to test, the pictures belong to either of two categories. In the race version of the experiment, the pictures depict either European American or African American faces.

In the first round of the race IAT, participants are asked to sort the photos of African Americans together with positive words to the right and European Americans with negative words to the left. In the second round, the test now prompts participants to group African American faces with negative words and European Americans with positive.

Participants perform the sorting that aligns with their implicit mental connections faster than the one that does not. So by measuring the time it takes participants to complete both rounds of the IAT, researchers can discover subject’s underlying mental racial biases.

Greenwald said at first even he was skeptical of the test and the consequences of its conclusions.

“It was quite a while before I was willing to say this is a measure that people have in their heads a stronger association between racial white and pleasant and racial black and pleasant,” Greenwald said.

But Greenwald cautioned an over-interpretation of the IAT.

“[The IAT] doesn’t measure prejudice or racism,” Greenwald said. “Those imply hostility and harmful behavior. But it does measure a racial preference, and we think that preference can be significant socially.”

Similarly, UW psychology professor Geoff Boynton clarified that the IAT cannot sniff out prejudiced people that harbor hatred or ill intent for minorities.

“These are just quick decisions that the brain makes based on prior information that have biases,” Boynton said.

Greenwald said this understanding of the mind goes against decades of traditional scientific wisdom. He said that 30 years ago most scientific psychologists figured human behavior was determined by explicit, conscious thought. The IAT helped to disprove this naive view of the mind.

However, the idea of a subconscious is not new. Sigmund Freud revolutionized the field of clinical psychology by breaking down the human mind into the id, ego, and super-ego. But Boynton said the way modern psychology views subliminal cognition “is not such a fluffy idea having to do with your mother or something like that.”

Rather, professor emeritus of psychology Earl Hunt explained that the contemporary view of cognition is more analogous to a man trying to ride an elephant.

“The rider is our conscious cognition, fairly slow, deliberate, considers things,” Hunt said. “The elephant is our unconscious, a very quick gut feeling that we may not even be aware of. The rider is trying to keep the elephant on task …  but the problem is the elephant is really stupid.”

Hunt said the elephant, or human unconscious, reacts to emotions or statistical associations. He said, “The genius of the IAT lies in its ability to put the rider and elephant in conflict.”

Greenwald borrowed the stroop effect from biological psychology to create this tension between the deliberate conscious and the implicit subconscious.

In a 1935 paper, American psychologist John Stroop described how it took longer for individuals to read the name of a color if the name and the color font did not match: for example, the word “red” written in blue font. This is called the stroop effect.

“What [Greenwald] did was very creative,” Hunt said. “He looked at occurrence and a logic that was developed for a completely separate field, and he realized it could be applied in the social-psychological realm. That’s creative.”

UW professor of psychology Geoffrey Loftus had more kind words to add about Greenwald’s attitude toward scientific research.

“I’ve known him for probably 30 years,” Loftus said. “He thinks a great deal about scientific methodology, statistics, and data analysis, and he’s very sophisticated in these areas. He’s extremely proficient and extremely highly regarded as both a researcher and a mentor to his graduate students.”

This hard work and scientific dedication has helped him win the William James Fellow Award.

Greenwald said he was grateful to receive the recognition but noted, “Oh, I’m too old to be excited by this.”

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Awards, Implicit Associations | Leave a Comment »

2013 PLMS Conference – Save the Date!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2013

2013 Conference Header

On April 13, 2013 the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and the National Lawyers Guild are co-hosting a conference titled “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law” at Harvard Law School. For more information, visit the conference website here.

Here’s a draft of the day’s schedule.

Tentative Schedule

9:30 am – Coffee, tea, and pastries

9:50 – 10:10 – Welcome

10:15 – 10:40 – Noam Chomsky

10:50 – 11:15 – Francesca Gino

“Getting Sidetracked: How we are vulnerable to manipulation”

Subtle and seemingly irrelevant factors often influence our behavior in ways we fail to anticipate. In this talk, Francesca Gino will discuss a few of these factors and explain how they could be used strategically by others to change people’s behavior.

11:20 – 11:45 – Susan Linn

“The Deepest Capture: Children, Commercialism and the Corporate Take Over of Childhood”

We are all vulnerable to marketing but given their immature judgment and developing brains, children are even more vulnerable. The consequences of screen-saturated, commercialized childhood are dire for the health of children, the environment, and democracy—marketing sells habits and behaviors as well as products. Susan Linn describes the depth and breadth of the “kids market” and why the movement to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers is so important.

11:50 – 12:05 Q&A

LUNCH

12:35 – 1:00 – Stuart Ewen

“The Phantom of Certitude: Public Relations and the Algorithmic Conception of Life”

In his 1948 essay, “The Engineering of Consent,” Edward Bernays wrote, “Freedom of speech and its democratic corollary, a free press, have tacitly expanded our Bill of Rights to include the right of persuasion.” In this statement, he was only echoing a view that he had been promoting for the preceding twenty-five years, that the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses” was essential to the functioning of a “democratic society.” In this presentation, Stuart Ewen will discuss the ways that compliance professionals’ ongoing efforts to guide and regulate the public mind have mirrored—and continue to mirror—parallel scientific efforts to “control chaos” in a variety spheres, and to produce mechanistic or computational models of life that seek to transform perception- and behavior-management into a predictive natural science. The profoundly anti-democratic intentions and consequences of these trends stand the heart of this presentation. So too stand the bedeviling questions: Is democracy still possible? and What is to be done?

1:05 – 1:30 – Michael Niman

“Journalism in a PR World”

Mike Niman discusses the future of journalism in a PR-dominated communication environment. In particular, he examines the migration of talent from journalism to the PR industry, the collapse of mainstream journalism and the role of an emergent alternative media as American journalism goes through metamorphosis from what it was to what it could become. Journalism is a social good that should equip people to understand and resist spin. Niman argues that mainstream American journalism, rather than rising to this challenge, has transparently succumbed to serving as an arm of the corporate PR industry, thus laying the groundwork for its own irrelevance and collapse. From these ashes, he argues, a new alternative media is emerging, combining the communication skills of the PR industry with a long stubborn tradition of critical inquiry and muckraking.

1:35 – 2:00 – Sut Jhally

“Public Relations and War”

2:05 – 2:20 – Q&A

2:20 – 2:35 – Break

2:35 – 3:00 – John Stauber

“Myth America: How the Ruling Elite – Red and Blue – Prevent Democracy”

The myth of American democracy keeps alive the two-party system wholly owned and operated by the ruling 1% whose primary objective is increasing their wealth and maintaining the status quo. Over the past ten years the liberal Democratic Party elite has copied the propaganda and political tactics of the right wing — think tanks, echo chamber media, rabid partisan grassroots and dark money SuperPacs. Rich Democrats and liberal foundations are just as committed to preventing democracy as are the Koch brothers. Seeing through this veil is crucial to organizing any independent, democratic movements for fundamental, structural change.

3:05 – 3:30 – Thomas McGarity

“Freedom to Harm: The Lasting Legacy of the Laissez Faire Revival”

Professor McGarity will tell the story of how the business community and the trade associations and think tanks that it created launched three powerful assaults during the last quarter of the twentieth century on the federal regulatory system and the state civil justice system to accomplish a revival of the laissez faire political economy that dominated Gilded Age America. Although the consequences of these assaults became painfully apparent in a confluence of crises during the early twenty-first century, the patch-and-repair fixes that Congress and the Obama Administration put into place did little to change the underlying laissez faire ideology and exploitative practices that continue to dominate the American political economy. In anticipation of the next confluence of crises, Professor McGarity offers suggestions for more comprehensive governmental protections for consumers, workers, and the environment.

3:35 – 4:00 – Jon Hanson

“Deep Capture: Attributions, Ideologies, and Policy”

4:05 – 4:20 – Q&A

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | Leave a Comment »

Adrian Raine on the Anatomy of Violence – SALMS Talk Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 4, 2013

Adrian Raine violence

The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime
When: Thursday 4/4/13 12-1pm
Where: WCC 1010

Why do some innocent kids grow up to become cold-blooded serial killers? Is bad biology partly to blame? Professor Adrian Raine (UPenn) will discuss his research on the biological roots of violence and neurocriminology, a new field that applies neuroscience techniques to investigate the causes and cures of crime.

Professor Raine has a book to be released on April 30, 2013 with the same title as well as a TV show inspired by his book!

Lunch will be provided.

Posted in Book, Events, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2013

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Social psychologists have launched an international campaign to save the life of Nalini Ambady, a Stanford University social psychologist and Situationist friend who is battling leukemia and urgently needs a bone marrow transplant. To find out what you can do, visit Help Nalini Now.  Please also read Sam Sommers post: Point. Click. Save this Woman’s Life.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment »

2013 PLMS Conference – Overview

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 29, 2013

2013 Conference Header

On April 13, 2013 the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and the National Lawyers Guild are co-hosting a conference titled “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law” at Harvard Law School. Here’s a quick

Economists have long recognized regulatory capture as a phenomenon that undermines the public interest.  There is also a growing awareness of the harmful effects of money in legislative and executive electoral politics and state judicial elections, suggesting that monied interests have captured our democracy through campaign spending on many levels.

Those scholars and many others, however, have largely missed the fact that the same actors have the motive and ability to capture all of the important institutions that promote or impede their interests, from the media and popular culture to universities and opinion leaders.

Public relations firms, working on behalf of both governments and market actors, manage public opinion for their clients through all of those channels, effectively capturing the institutions important to our democracy and tilting the playing field in favor of a more stratified distribution of wealth and power.

Through a series of speakers and discussions, we hope to illuminate some of the phenomena at the heart of “deep capture,” from the psychological tendencies and assumptions that render humans vulnerable to manipulation to the history of public relations in the U.S. and the industry’s strategies and tactics.  The conference will also highlight some examples of how those processes and actors shape various institutions and policies.

Visit the conference website for more information and to register here.

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | Leave a Comment »

Eliot Spitzer – Today at HLS

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 27, 2013

spitzer cover

Discussion with Eliot Spitzer on Corporations in America.  Wed., March
 27, 12 – 1 P.M.  Austin North.  Lunch served.

Courtesy of Professor Hanson’s Corporations class (aka “Like a Virgil”), please join us for a conversation with Governor Eliot Spitzer on Corporations in America.  A graduate of Harvard Law School, Eliot Spitzer has served as Governor and as Attorney General of New York, he conducted “The Wall Street Cases.”

Co-sponsored by ACS and the HLS Democrats.

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Events, Politics, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

An Interview with NYU’s Adam Alter

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 25, 2013

As detailed in a post last week, NYU marketing and psychology professor Adam Alter’s terrific new book, Drunk Tank Pink, is now out in bookstores around the country.  It is a thoroughly interesting and engaging read and well worth picking up (indeed, you can order a copy here on Amazon).

As part of what I hope will turn into a trend here at The Situationist, I interviewed Adam about his book.  My questions and his responses are found below:

1.  What led you to write a book for a trade press?

Adam:  The Boston Globe featured a piece on cognitive fluency, one of my main areas of academic interest, and several agents called me after reading the piece.  After reading the piece, which played up the striking relationship between cognitive processing and all sorts of important real-world outcomes, they were convinced that the research should be translated for the public.  I began writing a proposal, but felt that fluency alone wasn’t enough to fill an entire book, so broadened the book’s scope.  Fluency is still in there, but I also cover other drivers of behavior and thinking (e.g., names and linguistic labels, symbols, culture, the presence of other people, weather, etc.).  My agent sent the proposal to a number of publication houses, and I was delighted when Penguin Press decided to publish the book.      

2.  Had you ever written for a non-academic audience before?  What are the challenges of writing a popular book in psychology?

Adam:  I had and have since written shorter pieces for a number of non-academic sites—Psychology Today, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and Slate, for example.  I really enjoy writing for non-academic audiences, because that sort of writing forces you to think about what the research really means, to jettison the technical baggage that allows you to avoid thinking about the broader implications of the work.  Theory development is obviously critical, but it’s easy to get bogged down in minutiae, and over time you lose sight of the work’s broader importance.  When you write for a popular outlet, you’re constantly pushed to expose the broader practical implications of the work.  It’s never enough to describe, say, the fact that people prefer simpler names to complex names—you also have to explain why that’s important in a context that people find meaningful and personally relevant.

3.  What type of people do you hope will read the book?

Adam:  I wrote the book for an audience of intelligent laypeople who haven’t studied much (or any) psychology.  I’d be very happy to have psychologists and other academics read the book as well, but my aim was to describe the work with all its complexity while steering clear of arcane technical terms. 

4.  What is your favorite experiment in the book?

Adam:  One of my favorites is a study that overturned the widely held belief that the Müller-Lyer illusion is universal.  According to the illusion, people perceive the vertical line on the right, below, as longer than the vertical line on the left.  In fact the lines are identical in length, but it’s difficult for almost everyone in the world to shake the sense that they differ in length depending on the orientation of the shorter lines that extend from their ends.

Lines pic

The researchers presented the two lines to people from different cultural groups across the world, and found that it almost always held—except among African tribesmen and bushmen who had never lived in or encountered the hard geometric angles we associate with modern architecture.  If you look at the line on the left, it looks like the near edge of two walls (illustrated in Wall A, below).  In contrast, the line on the right looks like the far edge of two walls (Wall B, below).  When you look at the image below, you know that the edges at Wall A and Wall B are actually identical in height, and you automatically adjust by assuming that Wall A is relatively shorter than it appears, while Wall B is relatively taller in comparison.  Most people in the world today have learned to adjust for perspective, but the tribespeople in the study were immune to the illusion because they hadn’t been exposed to the sorts of visual scenes that train people to make these hard-to-detect mental adjustments.  The study illustrates a number of important ideas: that we’re quick to assume an effect is universal before we’ve tested it more broadly; that cultural experience shapes even the most basic perceptual processes (and not just which foods we like to eat or how we treat our elders); and that focusing our intellectual attention on a single cultural group occludes some very interesting results that aren’t clear until we venture into relatively remote cultural territory.

Room pic

5.  If you had the ability to take one insight from your book and use it to alter American policy at the local, state, or national level what would it be?

Adam:  There’s a great study showing that people donate more to hurricane relief charities when the hurricane name shares the first letter in their own first name.  So Matts, Marys, and Marks are more likely to donate to Hurricane Mitt relief than to Hurricane Katrina relief, but Kims, Kevins, and Kens are more likely to do the reverse.  The National Weather Service has named its hurricanes using a series of alphabetical lists for six or seven decades, but now that we know that people donate based on their initials, it might make sense to name hurricanes more systematically.  For example, more Americans have the first name initials J and M than the initials O and V, so perhaps we should remove Olga and Van from the 2013 list, replacing them with, say, James and Maria.  I conducted a rough simulation and calculated that, over the course of the last decade, hurricane relief agencies could have attracted $500 billion more in aid relief just by renaming hurricanes using this very simple approach.  Small tweaks like this—tweaks that are both inexpensive and non-invasive—sometimes bring about strikingly large real-world effects. 

Many thanks to Adam for doing the interview.  As I said, it’s a great book and I encourage readers to pick up a copy.

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2013 PLMS Conference – Save the Date!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 23, 2013

2013 Conference Header

On April 13, 2013 the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and the National Lawyers Guild are co-hosting a conference titled “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law” at Harvard Law School.  Please save the date.  You won’t want to miss it.  More details to be announced soon.

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Dive into Drunk Tank Pink Today!

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 21, 2013

NYU professor Adam Alter’s new book, Drunk Tank Pink, is out today!

As I mentioned in a post last week, we are trying out a new feature here at The Situationist of interviewing authors about their books and we’ll be publishing the interview with Adam in a few days.

In anticipation of that, here is one of Adam’s interesting recent papers, Fondness makes the distance grow shorter: Desired locations seem closer because they seem more vivid:

Do appealing locations seem nearer than unappealing locations merely because they are more desirable? We examine the possibility that people represent desirable locations as nearer than equidistant undesirable locations. In three studies, participants represented a variety of locations on a university campus (Study 1) and in the greater New York City area (Studies 2 and 3) as nearer the more positive they felt about those locations. The relationship between positivity and closeness was mediated by the tendency for participants to generate particularly vivid representations of the locations when they evaluated them more positively (Studies 2 and 3). We discuss the theoretical implications of these results for mental construal, motivated perception and metacognition.

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Mindfulness, Adolescence, and Depression

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2013

middle school meditation

From ScienceDaily:

Secondary school students who follow an in-class mindfulness programme report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms. The study, conducted by Professor Filip Raes (Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU Leuven), is the first to examine mindfulness in a large sample of adolescents in a school-based setting.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation therapy focused on exercising ‘attentiveness’. Depression is often rooted in a downward spiral of negative feelings and worries. Once a person learns to more quickly recognize these feelings and thoughts, he or she can intervene before depression sinks in.

While mindfulness has already been widely tested and applied in patients with depression, this is the first time the method has been studied in a large group of adolescents in a school-based setting, using a randomized controlled design. The study was carried out at five middle schools in Flanders, Belgium. About 400 students between the ages of 13 and 20 took part. The students were divided into a test group and a control group. The test group received mindfulness training, and the control group received no training. Before the study, both groups completed a questionnaire with questions indicative of depression, stress or anxiety symptoms. Both groups completed the questionnaire again directly after the training, and then a third time six months later.

Before the start of the training, both the test group (21%) and the control group (24%) had a similar percentage of students reporting evidence of depression. After the mindfulness training, that number was significantly lower in the test group: 15% versus 27% in the control group. This difference persisted six months after the training: 16% of the test group versus 31% of the control group reported evidence of depression. The results suggest that mindfulness can lead to a decrease in symptoms associated with depression and, moreover, that it protects against the later development of depression-like symptoms.

The study was carried out in cooperation with the Belgian not-for-profit Mindfulness and with support from the Go for Happiness Foundation.

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Posted in Positive Psychology | 3 Comments »

New Book: Drunk Tank Pink

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 17, 2013

Here at The Situationist, we are always excited to learn about new books bringing insights from the mind sciences to broader audiences, but we are particularly excited when the book in question happens to be written by one of our friends.  And when the author has a great name (more on that later), all the better.

As a result, the publication of Adam Alter’s Drunk Tank Pink has us downright giddy.  Adam is an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at NYU and his research engages behavioral economics, marketing, and the psychology of judgment and decision-making.

Curious about his newest endeavor?  Here are the details:

Drunk Tank Pink

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An illuminating look at the way the thoughts we have and the decisions we make are influenced by forces that aren’t always in our control

Why are people named Kim, Kelly, and Ken more likely to donate to Hurricane Katrina victims than to Hurricane Rita victims? Are you really more likely to solve puzzles if you watch a light bulb illuminate? How did installing blue lights along a Japanese railway line halt rising crime and suicide rates? Can decorating your walls with the right artwork make you more honest? The human brain is fantastically complex, having engineered space travel and liberated nuclear energy, so it’s no wonder that we resist the idea that we’re deeply influenced by our surroundings. As profound as they are, these effects are almost impossible to detect both as they’re occurring and in hindsight. Drunk Tank Pink is the first detailed exploration of how our environment shapes what we think, how we feel, and the ways we behave.

The world is populated with words and images that prompt unexpected, unconscious decisions. We are so deeply attracted to our own initials that we give more willingly to the victims of hurricanes that match our initials: Kims and Kens donate more generously to Hurricane Katrina victims, whereas Rons and Rachels give more openly to Hurricane Rita victims. Meanwhile, an illuminated light bulb inspires creative thinking because it symbolizes insight.

Social interactions have similar effects, as professional cyclists pedal faster when people are watching. Teachers who took tea from the break room at Newcastle University contributed 300 percent more to a cash box when a picture of two eyes hung on the wall. We’re evolutionarily sensitive to human surveillance, so we behave more virtuously even if we’re only watched by a photograph. The physical environment, from locations to colors, also guides our hand in unseen ways. Dimly lit interiors metaphorically imply no one’s watching and encourage dishonesty and theft, while blue lights discourage violent activity because they’re associated with the police. Olympic taekwondo and judo athletes are more likely to win when they wear red rather than blue, because red makes them behave aggressively and referees see them as more dominant. Drunk Tank Pink is full of revelatory facts, riveting anecdotes, and cutting-edge experiments that collectively explain how the most unexpected factors lead us to think, feel, and behave the way we do.

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If you happen to be in New York on March 27th, Malcolm Gladwell will be discussing Drunk Tank Pink with Adam at 7:00 PM at the Barnes and Noble at 2289 Broadway (at 82nd Street).

In the meantime, you can order a copy from Amazon here.

As a special treat for Situationist readers, I have interviewed Adam about his experience writing Drunk Tank Pink and will share his interesting responses in an upcoming post.

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Posted in Book, Marketing | Leave a Comment »

Witnessing a Murder?: What Would You Do?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 14, 2013

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Social Psychology, Video | 2 Comments »

Amy Cuddy on Power Posing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2013

From Time:

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

Related Situationist posts:

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

Carl Hart on The Drug War – SALMS Talk Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 12, 2013

drug war

The Drug War: A Psychological Problem-A Conversation with Carl Hart
Tuesday, March 12th, 12pm-1pm
Langdell South

Lunch talk featuring Dr. Carl Hart, Assistant Professor of Clinical Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, and author of the forthcoming book High Price. Dr. Hart was featured in the film “The House I Live In” where he discussed his research on the effects of meth on human subjects.carl hart high price

Non-pizza lunch served.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Politics, SALMS | 1 Comment »

 
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