The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘automaticity’

The Interior Situation of Honesty (and Dishonesty)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 4, 2009

PinocchioSeed magazine recently provided a terrific summary of fascinating research on the situation of honesty (here). Here are some excerpts.

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In a famous set of experiments in the 1970s, children were observed trick-or-treating in the suburbs. Some were asked their names and addresses upon arriving at a door, while some were asked nothing. All were instructed to take just one piece of candy from the bowl, but as soon as the owner of the home retreated into the kitchen, the children who hadn’t provided their names and addresses shoveled the candy into their bags, sometimes taking everything in the bowl. Psychologists posited that anonymity made the children feel safe from the repercussions of their actions, an effect they call deindividuation.

Moral psychologists have since constructed myriad experiments to probe the workings of human morality, studying how we decide to cheat or to play by the rules, to lie or to tell the truth. And the results can be surprising, even disturbing. For instance, we have based our society on the assumption that deciding to lie or to tell the truth is within our conscious control. But Harvard’s Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxton say this assumption may be flawed and are probing whether honesty may instead be the result of controlling a desire to lie (a conscious process) or of not feeling the temptation to lie in the first place (an automatic process). “When we are honest, are we honest because we actively force ourselves to be? Or are we honest because it flows naturally?” Greene asks.

Greene and Paxton have just published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that attempts to get at the subconscious underpinnings of morality by recording subjects’ brain activity as they make a decision to lie.

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[Using fMRI to examine the brain’s activity during lying and telling the truth, researchers Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxon] found that honesty is an automatic process—but only for some people.  Comparing scans from tests with and without the opportunity to cheat, the scientists found that for honest subjects, deciding to be honest took no extra brain activity. But for others, the dishonest group, both deciding to lie and deciding to tell the truth required extra activity in the areas of the brain associated with critical thinking and self-control.

Their findings—that honesty is automatic for some people—is part of a growing body of work that shows that many, if not most, of our daily actions are not under our conscious control. According to [Situationist Contributor] John Bargh, a Yale social psychologist who studies automaticity, even our higher mental processes are performed unconsciously in response to environmental cues.

“It could potentially be some of the most intriguing evidence for group selection,” Bargh speculates, adding that the results are reminiscent of the evolutionary idea that “cheaters” and “suckers” coexist in a specific ratio in the animal kingdom.

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To read the entire article, which is very interesting, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Trust,” The Situation of Lying,” “The Facial Obviousness of Lying,” “Denial,” Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of it?The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Morality, Neuroscience, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will Debate – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 9, 2009

Free Will Debate Image

We recently posted the fascinating video debate between Situationist Contributor John Bargh and Roy Baumeister regarding the study, meaning, and implications of free will.  That debate (which took place at the at the annual convention of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology last February in Tampa) has led to an illuminating exchange between Bargh and Baumeister that we’ll post in  parts on The Situationist.  Below you will find the first two pieces of that post-convention exchange (the first by Baumeister and the second by Bargh).

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Roy Baumeister & Kathleen Vohs, “Determinism Is Not Just Causality” (from Cultural Animal):

The recent debate on free will at SPSP led to the realization that some of the ostensible disagreement, and perhaps most of the surplus emotion swept along with it, stemmed from misunderstandings. Many psychologists say it is important to uphold determinism – yet they do not really know what determinism is.

Determinism is more than belief in causality. The defining feature of determinism is a belief in the inevitability of causality. The essence of determinism is that everything that happens is the only thing that could possibly happen (given the past) under those circumstances. The category of the possible and the category of the actual are exactly the same. If you knew everything about the world today and knew all the causal principles, you could calculate everything in the future and the past with 100% accuracy. To a determinist, the universe is just grinding along as a giant machine with no uncertainty whatsoever. The future and the past are both set in stone, so to speak. Check any textbook or handbook of philosophy.

Many psychologists defend determinism thinking that they are defending the notion of causality itself. They think, science studies causes, and if we abandon causation, we cannot do science. But these fears are irrelevant. Everyone believes in causes. The important difference is between probabilistic causation and deterministic causation.

Determinism might or might not be correct. Determinism is impossible to prove or disprove. It directly contradicts the everyday experience of making choices and having multiple options, but everyday experience could be mistaken. In a similar vein, belief in divine or supernatural forces is possibly true, despite inconsistency with daily experience.

We wish, however, to point out some of the mental gymnastics one must go through in order to practice psychological science while maintaining faith in determinism. Let us return for a moment to choice, which has been an important topic of study in social psychology for decades. To a determinist, there is no such thing as actual choice, in the sense of having more than one possible option and making a selection that makes one option come true and makes the others cease to be possible. To a determinist, choice (in this sense) is an illusion, because only one outcome is possible all along. You subjectively believe you might choose A or B or C, but this belief stems from your ignorance. Causal processes are in motion outside of your awareness that will lead inevitably to make you choose B. There was never a chance that you would actually choose A or C. Your belief that A, B, and C are all possible is a mistake; only B is actually possible.

Statistical probability presents a difficult challenge to determinists. The notion of probability entails that different outcomes are possible, which violates the central point of determinism. To a determinist, there are no probabilities in reality. Again, the determinist must say that the seeming indeterminacy simply reflects our ignorance. For example, suppose that when you flip a coin, the outcome is 100% inevitable once the coin is spinning through the air, given the physics of angular momentum, distance to the ground, and so forth. You simply do not know whether it will be heads or tails, so it seems indeterminate to you. The uncertainty is only in your mind.

Notice, however, that this is not how we talk about statistics in our textbooks, courses, and journal articles. We discuss the probability of an event occurring (e.g., by chance), not the gaps in our knowledge. In determinism there is no such thing as chance. To be true to faith in determinism, it would be necessary to alter the way we think about and discuss probabilities and perhaps even to alter the way we use them. (We apologize to determinists for using the word “perhaps,” which is itself incompatible with determinism.)

Counterfactual thinking is also incompatible with determinism. It is silly to think “If I had not said those things, we could have avoided the argument” if everything that happened was inevitable. To a determinist, people may think such things, indeed cannot avoid thinking them. Technically, such thoughts might be regarded as sound arguments from false premises. What the person said caused the argument, and so if the person had said something different, the argument might not have happened – but the person could not possibly have said something different, so the entire counterfactual thought process is an idle exercise in futility.

Laypersons often confuse determinism with fatalism, but this is a mistake. Fatalism means that the outcome would have been the same regardless of what you did. To a determinist, the outcome stemmed from what you did, and if you had acted differently, the outcome would have been different. (But, again, you could not possibly have acted differently.)

Some researchers say psychologists should believe in determinism in order to be like so-called real scientists. We believe this is also mistaken. Many natural scientists see the physical world as probabilistic, not deterministic. Quantum indeterminacy would entail that determinism is wrong, by definition. Indeed, as far as we know, there is no proof that there is any deterministic causation anywhere, in the sense that any event is 100% inevitable. Obviously, some causal events have extremely high probabilities, having been demonstrated over and over. But there is no way of knowing whether it is merely well above 99% or it is actually 100%.

The so-called “hidden variables” argument may paradoxically allow determinism to survive in psychology even if it becomes untenable in physics. Here is the issue. If we know everything (mass, velocity, etc.) about a tiny particle, we can predict with certainty where it will go. Every so often, empirical observation shows that it fails to go there. Is this because nature is indeterminate? Or is it because there are hidden variables affecting it, other than the variables we know?

In psychology it is easy to always assume hidden variables when a person’s behavior does not conform to predictions, because there are endless additional things that possibly could be known about someone. But with a tiny subatomic particle, there is not much else that could be known, and indeed the set of variables known to physics does not have any room for mysterious other variables.

In conclusion, we think it is possible to maintain a belief in determinism, but it should not be obligatory for psychologists. In fact, psychologists who retain a faith in determinism must keep this an abstract belief and violate it in practice: They must act as if people really make choices, as if multiple possibilities exist for future life, and as if statistical probabilities refer to different possible events. Determinism is not viable in practice but is an elegant theory that people may find appealing as an abstract article of faith. The main alternative to it is a probabilistic universe, in which multiple futures are really possible and causes operate by changing the odds that something will happen rather than guaranteeing it.

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DeterminismJohn Bargh & Brian Earp, “The Will is Caused, not ‘Free’” (from The Natural Unconscious):

We welcome the opportunity to summarize our main points from the SPSP debate; first though we will respond to the additional arguments by Baumeister and Vohs in this issue concerning determinism and causality. We see no problem with the assertions that psychologists need not be strict determinists to practice their science, and that determinism and causality are not the same thing. However, neither of these points is relevant to the basic question of free will. The ‘free’ in free will means freedom from causation, either by external forces (in the political sense of the term) or internal ones (in the psychological sense); and in our view it is just as problematic to claim that the will is uncaused as it is to argue it is not determined.

Free will may be defined as an agent’s ability to act on the world by its own volition, independently of purely physical (as opposed to metaphysical) causes and prior states of the world. The folk notion of free will is laden with the concept of a soul, a non-physical, unfettered, internal source of choice-making-in other words, an uncaused causer. “The soul” may have gone out of fashion, and “the mind” taken over many of its functions and connotations, but the intuitive notion of free will has stayed much the same: there is something inside each of us that allows us to make “real” choices–choices that even an omnipotent being, one who knew every environmental influence, and every physical fact leading up to the choice-making event, could not foretell with perfect confidence and accuracy. Determinism, if it were true, would indeed rule out this sort of free will, or shunt it into the realm of total redundancy. But indeterminism (of whatever flavor) isn’t any kinder to the notion. Just because some event is not strictly determined by prior physical data doesn’t mean it is caused by a free will. It may be simply indeterminately, probabilistically, or (to whatever degree) “randomly” caused by prior physical data. (If one wishes nonetheless to use the existence of error variance as evidence for the existence of free will, we can only point out that our business as scientists is to strive to reduce this unexplained variance by replacing it with explanation. Calling it ‘free will’ and walking away satisfied rather misses the point.)

But let us assume that there is a free, internal source of control that guides our behavior and is ultimately responsible for ‘real’ choices. To attribute human behavior to this mystical source is to place one’s bets on an increasingly shrinking sphere. The project of social psychology, after all, has been to identify (a) external-to-the-individual causes of judgment, motivation, and behavior, such as situational influences, and (b) internal-to-the-individual causes, which research has shown increasingly to operate outside of awareness and conscious intention-not “freely chosen” in any sense of the term. Are there some human behaviors that are possible only if free will exists and is a true causal source of action? There may be. But let’s not give up on the search for non-mystical causes just yet.

This brings us to an area of agreement revealed in the debate: that a belief in free will is important for human strivings. People cherish their sense of control over the world and their own behavior. In the debate, we noted recent empirical articles by Vohs and by Baumeister showing negative consequences (cheating, aggression) of informing participants that free will does not exist. Our response to these ‘new’ articles is that our field revealed the existence of such positive illusions decades ago, and we already know how essential they are to normal functioning. Clearly it is motivating for each of us to believe we are better than average, that bad things happen to other people, not ourselves, and that we have free-agentic control over our own judgments and behavior — just as it is comforting to believe in a benevolent God and justice for all in an afterlife. But the benefits of believing in free will are irrelevant to the actual existence of free will. A positive illusion, no matter how functional and comforting, is still an illusion.

And we must caution against drawing conclusions from such research findings (implicitly or explicitly) that we should either (a) not make findings against the existence of free will known to the public or (b) stop doing such research altogether. The belief in personal free will is a deeply rooted aspect of human phenomenal experience, and is so powerful that even those who do not subscribe to it intellectually still feel it in their personal lives as much as everyone else. It is not uncommon for one’s first-person experience to be at odds with physical reality: 500 years after Copernicus we still see a morning sunrise, not the earth (and ourselves) tilting towards the sun, even though we know better scientifically. As Dan Wegner, Paul Bloom, Dan Dennett, and others have argued, there are strong natural supports for the belief in supernatural entities, just as there are for free will — and sunrises too, for that matter. And if, as countless recent surveys show, the prodigious evidence in favor of evolutionary theory accumulated over the past 150 years has done little to erode the popular belief in a creator-god, then we can rest assured that the relatively nascent research on unconscious causes of motivation, judgment, and behavior will not result in anarchy or the collapse of social norms and moral behavior.

We should also not forget past social psychological research demonstrating that the belief in personal free will is selective: people routinely make self-serving attributions about the causes of their behavior. We take credit for the positive things we do (free will), but not for our misdeeds and failures ( “I had no choice”, “I was abused as a child”, “I was angry”). This suggests to us that much of the emotion surrounding the issue of free will is not about freedom per se but about self-esteem maintenance. We take personal pride in our ancestors, our blue eyes or rich brown skin, our height or birthday or name (as in the name-letter effect)-none of which we chose or had any control over. Accordingly, we analyzed hundreds of individuals’ spontaneous self-descriptions, and indeed 34% of their first-to-mind completions to the stem “I am _____” were such non-chosen aspects of self. It seems that people do not possess a consistent belief in free will so much as they strongly wish to take credit for the good things they are and do (regardless of whether they caused them), and to distance themselves from the bad things (even if they caused them). Evidently, the belief in free will is not principled, but socially strategic in nature.

So what, then, if one’s will is not ‘free’ of internal causation? It is still your will and my will and each is unique: a confluence of genetic heritage, early absorption of local cultural norms and values, and particular individual life experiences. After all, one can claim personal ownership of one’s will just as much as one claims ownership of one’s name, eye color, and birthday, and be as proud of one’s will and its products as one is proud of the exploits of great-great-Grandma the pioneer, even though one’s ‘free will’ played no role in any of these.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will Debate,” “The Death of Free Will and the Rise of Cheating,” Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” “Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”Interview of Eric Kandel,” and “Coalition of the Will-less.”

Posted in Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

The Situation of Snacking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 8, 2009

Big Mac WhopperSituationist Contributor John Bargh, with his co-authors Jennifer Harris and Kelly Brownell, recently published an interesting article, “Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior” (28 Health Psychology 404 (2009)) on the subconscious behavioral consequences of food advertising.  Here’s the abstract.

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Objective: Health advocates have focused on the prevalence of advertising for calorie-dense low-nutrient foods as a significant contributor to the obesity epidemic. This research tests the hypothesis that exposure to food advertising during TV viewing may also contribute to obesity by triggering automatic snacking of available food. Design: In Experiments 1a and 1b, elementary-school-age children watched a cartoon that contained either food advertising or advertising for other products and received a snack while watching. In Experiment 2, adults watched a TV program that included food advertising that promoted snacking and/or fun product benefits, food advertising that promoted nutrition benefits, or no food advertising. The adults then tasted and evaluated a range of healthy to unhealthy snack foods in an apparently separate experiment. Main Outcome Measures: Amount of snack foods consumed during and after advertising exposure. Results: Children consumed 45% more when exposed to food advertising. Adults consumed more of both healthy and unhealthy snack foods following exposure to snack food advertising compared to the other conditions. In both experiments, food advertising increased consumption of products not in the presented advertisements, and these effects were not related to reported hunger or other conscious influences. Conclusion: These experiments demonstrate the power of food advertising to prime automatic eating behaviors and thus influence far more than brand preference alone.

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You can download a pdf of the article here.

For a collection of related Situationist posts, see “The Benefit of Knowing Your Eating Sins,” “The Situation of Body Image,” “Big Calories Come in Small Packages,”The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

The situation of obesity is explored at length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Life, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Reason

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 15, 2009

pantyhose-displayIn the mid-1970s, Situationist contributor Timothy Wilson with Richard Nisbett conducted one of the best known social psychology experiments of all time. It was strikingly simple and involved asking subjects to assess the quality of hosiery. Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and David Yosifon have described the experiment this way:

Subjects were asked in a bargain store to judge which one of four nylon stocking pantyhose was the best quality. The subjects were not told that the stockings were in fact identical. Wilson and Nisbett presented the stockings to the subjects hanging on racks spaced equal distances apart. As situation would have it, the position of the stockings had a significant effect on the subjects’ quality judgments. In particular, moving from left to right, 12% of the subjects judged the first stockings as being the best quality, 17% of the subjects chose the second pair of stockings, 31% of the subjects chose the third pair of stockings, and 40% of the subjects chose the fourth—the most recently viewed pair of stockings. When asked about their respective judgments, most of the subjects attributed their decision to the knit, weave, sheerness, elasticity, or workmanship of the stockings that they chose to be of the best quality. Dispositional qualities of the stocking, if you will. Subjects provided a total of eighty different reasons for their choices. Not one, however, mentioned the position of the stockings, or the relative recency with which the pairs were viewed. None, that is, saw the situation. In fact, when asked whether the position of the stockings could have influenced their judgments, only one subject admitted that position could have been influential. Thus, Wilson and Nisbett conclude that “[w]hat matters . . . is not why the [position] effect occurs but that it occurs and that subjects do not report it or recognize it when it is pointed out to them.”

One of the core messages of more recent brain research is that most mental activity happens in the automatic or unconscious region of the brain. The unconscious mind is the platform for a set of mental activities that the brain has relegated beyond awareness for efficiency’s sake, so the conscious mind can focus on other things. In his book, “Strangers to Ourselves,” Timothy Wilson notes that the brain can absorb about 11 million pieces of information a second, of which it can process about 40 consciously. The unconscious brain handles the rest.

The automatic mind generally takes care of things like muscle control. But it also does more ethereal things. It recognizes patterns and construes situations, searching for danger, opportunities or the unexpected. It also shoves certain memories, thoughts, anxieties and emotions up into consciousness.

A lot has been learned about how what we think we know about what moves us is wrong. And much has also been learned about how what we don’t know we know can influence us. Psychologist Susan Courtney has an absolutely terrific article in Scientific American titled “Not So Deliberate: The decisive power of what you don’t know you know.” We excerpt portions of her article below.

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When we choose between two courses of action, are we aware of all the things that influence that decision? Particularly when deliberation leads us to take a less familiar or more difficult course, scientists often refer to a decision as an act of “cognitive control.” Such calculated decisions were once assumed to be influenced only by consciously perceived information, especially when the decision involved preparation for some action. But a //www.timrylands.com/blog/2007/02/recent paper by Hakwan Lau and Richard Passingham, “Unconscious Activation of the Cognitive Control System in the Human Prefrontal Cortex,” demonstrates that the influences we are not aware of can hold greater sway than those we can consciously reject.

Biased competition

We make countless “decisions” each day without conscious deliberation. For example, when we gaze at an unfamiliar scene, we cannot take in all the information at once. Objects in the scene compete for our attention. If we’re looking around with no particular goal in mind, we tend to focus on the objects most visually different from their surrounding background (for example, a bright bird against a dark backdrop) or those that experience or evolution have taught us are the most important, such as sudden movement or facial features — particularly threatening or fearful expressions. If we do have a goal, then our attention will be drawn to objects related to it, such as when we attend to anything red or striped in a “Where’s Waldo” picture. Stimulus-driven and goal-driven influences alike, then, bias the outcome of the competition for our attention among a scene’s many aspects.

The idea of such biased competition (a term coined in 1995 by Robert Desimone and John Duncan, also applies to situations in which we decide among many possible actions, thoughts or plans. What might create an unconscious bias affecting these types of competition?

For starters, previous experience in a situation can make some neural connections stronger than others, tipping the scales in favor of a previously performed action. The best-known examples of this kind of bias are habitual actions (as examined in a seminal 1995 article by Salmon and Butters and what is known as priming.

Habitual actions are what they sound like — driving your kids to school, you turn right on Elm because that’s how you get there every day. No conscious decision is involved. In fact, it takes considerable effort to remember to instead turn left if your goal is to go somewhere else.

Priming works a bit differently; it’s less a well-worn route than a prior suggestion that steers you a certain way. If I ask you today to tell me the first word that comes to mind that starts with the letters mot and you answer mother, you’ll probably answer the same way if I ask you the same thing again four months from now, even if you have no explicit recollection of my asking the question. The prior experience primes you to repeat your performance. Other potentially unconscious influences are generally emotional or motivational.

Of course, consciously processed information can override these emotional and experience-driven biases if we devote enough time and attention to the decision. Preparing to perform a cognitive action (“task set”) has traditionally been considered a deliberate act of control and part of this reflective, evaluative neural system. (See, for example, the 2002 review by Rees, Kreiman and Koch — pdf download.) As such, it was thought that task-set preparation was largely immune to subconscious influences.

We generally accept it as okay that some of our actions and emotional or motivational states are influenced by neural processes that happen without our awareness. For example, it aids my survival if subliminally processed stimuli increase my state of vigilance — if, for example, I jump out of the way before I am consciously aware that the thing at my feet is a snake. But we tend to think of more conscious decisions differently. If I have time to recognize an instruction, remember what that means I’m supposed to do and prepare to make a particular kind of judgment on the next thing I see, then the assumption is that this preparation must be based entirely on what I think I saw — not what I wasn’t even aware of.

Yet Lau and Passingham have found precisely the opposite in their study — that information we’re not aware of can more strongly influence even the most deliberative, non-emotional sort of decision even more than does information we are aware of.

Confusing cues

Lau and Passingham had their subjects perform one of two tasks: when shown a word on a screen, the subjects had to decide either a) whether or not the word referred to a concrete object or b) whether or not the word had two syllables. A cue given just before each word — the appearance of either a square of a diamond –lau06-fig1.jpg indicated whether to perform the concrete judgment task or the syllables task. These instruction cues were in turn preceded by smaller squares or diamonds that the subjects were told were irrelevant. A variation in timing between the first and second cues determined whether the participants were aware of seeing both cues or only the second.

As you would expect, the task was more difficult when the cues were the not same — that is, when a diamond preceded a square or a square a diamond. The surprising finding was that this confusion effect was greater when the timing between the cues was so close that the participants didn’t consciously notice the first cue. When the cues were mixed but the subjects were consciously aware of only the second instruction, their responses — and their brain activity as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — indicated that the “invisible” conflicting cue had made them more likely to prepare to do the “wrong” task. Although similar effects have been shown on tasks that involved making a decision about the appearance of the image immediately following the “invisible” image, this is the first time this effect has been demonstrated for complex task preparation.

It may not be surprising that we juggle multiple influences when we make decisions, including many of which we are not aware — particularly when the decisions involve emotional issues. Lau and Passingham, however, show us that even seemingly rational, straightforward, conscious decisions about arbitrary matters can easily be biased by inputs coming in below our radar of awareness. Although it wasn’t directly tested in this study, the results suggest that being aware of a misleading cue may allow us to inhibit its influence. And the study makes clear that influences we are not aware of (including, but not limited to, those brought in by experience and emotion) can sneak into our decisions unchecked.

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Susan Courtney is an associate professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins University, where she runs the Courtney Lab of Cognitive Neuroscience and Working Memory.  To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Confabulation,” “The Situation of Constitutional Beliefs - Abstract,” “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,”and “Unconscious Situation of Choice.”

This post was originally published in November of 2007.

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Illusions, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 24, 2008

The cognitive revolution of psychology in the 1970s began to give way to the early findings of automaticity in the 1980s, which were spearheaded by Situationist contributor John Bargh, whose dissertation on automatic social perception won the Dissertation Award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology in 1982. Since that time, the field of automaticity has grown from a few studies on social perception and judgment to encompass research across the social psychology spectrum, including research on emotions, attitudes, goal pursuit, relationships, and evaluations.

In Bargh’s latest book, Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes, he collects chapters from researchers working on automaticity within these varied contexts. Bargh makes clear in his introduction that the original assumption of a dichotomy between automatic and controlled mental processes is overly simple and reductive, and many of the essays deal with the interaction of these processes.

The first chapter gives an excellent introduction to the field of automaticity, covering many of the leading theories and models of automaticity, and setting up the interplay between automaticity and control that is woven throughout the book. Other chapters focus on the state of the art of automaticity in each of the subfields of social psychology in which the authors research.

Since each chapter focuses on a different subfield, the book is most valuable as a resource in its gestalt. However, for researchers interested in psychology and law, a few points stand out. First, the chapter assessing the current status and validity of the IAT will be useful, especially given the criticism it has received in the legal literature. Second, the chapter on automaticity of emotion sheds some light on crimes of passion. Finally, the last chapter, which focuses on Process Dissociation Procedure, uses the Amadou Diallo case as a jumping-off point for research on reactions to ambiguous objects (is it a gun or a tool?) in the presence of black faces and white faces. The article explains the theory’s attempts to separate intentional and unintentional contributions to the same behavior.

David Hamilton, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at University of California, Santa Barbara says, and we at The Situationist agree, that this “highly readable . . . book will be invaluable for researchers, teachers, and scholars throughout social psychology.”

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For a sample of previous, related Situationist posts, see “Unconscious Situation of Choice,” “The Situation of Hair Color,” The Situation of Reason,” “The Situation of “Winners” and “Losers,” and Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness.

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Public Policy, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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