The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Backlash’

Pushback from the Left

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 11, 2010

Situationist Contributor Jerry Kang recently posted his thoughtful essay, “Implicit Bias and the Pushback from the Left” (St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 54, p. 1139, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstrct.

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Over the past three decades, the mind sciences have provided remarkable insights about how our brains process social categories. For example, scientists have discovered that implicit biases – in the form of stereotypes and attitudes that we are unaware of, do not consciously intend, and might reject upon conscious self-reflection – exist and have wide-ranging behavioral consequences. Such findings destabilize our self-serving self-conceptions as bias-free. Not surprisingly, there has been backlash from the political Right. This Article examines some aspects of the more surprising pushback from the Left.

Part I briefly explains how new findings in the mind sciences, especially Implicit Social Cognition, are incorporated into the law, legal scholarship, and legal institutions, under the banner of “behavioral realism.” Part II describes the pushback from the Left. Part III responds by suggesting that our deepest understanding of social hierarchy and discrimination requires analysis at multiple layers of knowledge. Instead of trading off knowledge, for example, at the cognitive layer for the sociological layer (or vice versa), we should seek understanding at each layer, and then interpenetrate the entire stack.

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Download the essay for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Measuring Implicit Attitudes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2009

From University of Washington News

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Study supports validity of test that indicates widespread unconscious bias

In the decade since the Implicit Association Test was introduced, its most surprising and controversial finding is its indication that about 70 percent of those who took a version of the test that measures racial attitudes have an unconscious, or implicit, preference for white people compared to blacks. This contrasts with figures generally under 20 percent for self report, or survey, measures of race bias.

A new study (pdf here) validates those findings, showing that the Implicit Association Test, a psychological tool, has validity in predicting behavior and, in particular, that it has significantly greater validity than self-reports in the socially sensitive topics of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and age.

The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is an overview and analysis of 122 published and unpublished reports of 184 different research studies. In this analysis, 85 percent of the studies also included self-reporting measures of the type generally used in surveys. This allowed the researchers, headed by University of Washington psychology Professor Anthony Greenwald, to compare the test’s success in predicting social behavior and judgment with the success of self-reports.

“In socially sensitive areas, especially black-white interracial behavior, the test had significantly greater predictive value than self-reports. This finding establishes the Implicit Association Test’s value in research to understand the roots of race and other discrimination,” said Greenwald. “What was especially surprising was how ineffective standard self-report measurers were in the areas in which the test measures have been of greatest interest – predicting interracial behavior.”

Greenwald created the Implicit Association Test in 1998 and he and [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychology professor, and [Situationist Contributor] Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia associate professor of psychology, further developed it. Since then the test has been used in more than 1,000 research studies around the world. More than 10 million versions of the test have been completed at an Internet site where they are available as a self-administer demonstration.

The research looked at studies covering nine different areas – consumer preference, black-white interracial behavior, personality differences, clinical phenomena, alcohol and drug use, non-racial intergroup behavior, gender and sexual orientation, close relationships and political preferences.

Findings also showed that:

  • Across all nine of these areas, measures of the test were useful in predicting social behavior.
  • Both the test, which is implicit, and self-reports, which are explicit, had predictive validity independent of each other. This suggests the desirability of using both types of measure in surveys and applied research studies.
  • In consumer and political preferences both measures effectively predicted behavior, but self-reports had significantly greater predictive validity.

Studies in the research came from a number of countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Poland and the United States. They looked at such topics as attitudes of undecided voters one-month prior to an Italian election; treatment recommendations by physicians for black and white heart attack victims; and reactions to spiders before and after treatment for arachnophobia, or spider phobia.

“The Implicit Association Test is controversial because many people believe that racial bias is largely a thing of the past. The test’s finding of a widespread, automatic form of race preference violates people’s image of tolerance and is hard for them to accept. When you are unaware of attitudes or stereotypes, they can unintentionally affect your behavior. Awareness can help to overcome this unwanted influence,” said Greenwald.

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To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see What Are the Legal Implications of Implicit Biases?,” Confronting the Backlash against Implicit Bias,” “Do You Implicitly Prefer Markets or Regulation?,” Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,”  “Implicit Bias and Strawmen.”and “The Situation of Situation in Employment Discrimination Law – Abstract.”  For a list of Situationist posts discussing the research on implicit bias and the IAT, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

“Yuck!” “EWW!” and Other Conservative Expressions

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 30, 2009

DisgustAs many readers of this blog know, a number of Situationist contributors are interested in the connections between ideology, psychology, and law.  Working with Jon Hanson, my most recent focus has been on understanding how the motivations underlying ideologies may be connected to attributional proclivities that have a profound impact on legal policies.

Given the strong backlash that often accompanies attempts to characterize ideology as anything but a free “choice,” I always get a little nervous when I see summaries of research studies in this area in the popular media.  However, it also often leaves me a little excited that these ideas might be gaining some traction.

Although I urge readers to check out the actual research paper in the June copy of Cognition and Emotion, here is a nice summary by Bruce Fellman I came across this morning of work by Paul Bloom and his colleagues.

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Pus, maggots, vomit, feces, rotten food: in almost every human society, people share a knee-jerk revulsion for certain substances. Now, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom and his colleagues have found that the level of disgust a person feels can predict his or her political orientation. In a word: “We found that conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals.”

Using a standard political orientation scale and the Disgust Sensitivity Scale — also a standard psychological measuring tool, developed in 1994 to compare individuals’ reactions to such things as monkey meat, gore, and sex with animals — the researchers tested 181 adults across the country. They discovered a significant correlation between conservatism and strong feelings of being grossed out. The correlation also held among 91 Cornell undergraduates and was strongest when the political issues tested involved gay marriage or abortion. (The research appeared in June in Cognition and Emotion.)

Early in our evolution, disgust may have functioned as a way to ward us away from things that were bad to eat. Today it plays out in disagreements over policy. While Bloom finds disgust a “terribly corrosive emotion,” and wishes we could abandon it in favor of rationality, he feels there’s a risk in ignoring it. “Our findings reinforce the importance of the emotions in policy and morality. A lot of these issues are still driven by the gut.”

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “Unclean Hands” and “The Situation of Political Disposition” (which has links to still more related posts).

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Tierney’s Skepticism at the New York Times

Posted by Jerry Kang on November 19, 2008

Recently, John Tierney who writes a Science column in the New York Times has shown great skepticism about the concept of implicit bias, how it might be measured (through the Implicit Association Test), and whether it predicts real-world behavior. See, e.g.,  Findings column (Nov. 17, 2008).    I write to make provide praise, critique, and cultural commentary.

First, praise.  I praise Tierney’s skepticism, which is fundamental to critical inquiry generally and good science especially.  Serious, critical inquiry is why most of us got into academics, and it’s why you the reader are reading this blog.

Second, critique.  But skepticism should not be one-sided.  Tierney’s columns suggest that one side is just asking for good, skeptical science, whereas the other side is pushing along a politically correct agenda recklessly.  That is hardly fair and balanced.  To take one example, Tierney gives prominent weight to Prof. Phil Tetlocks’ criticisms of the implicit bias research.   But let’s probe further.  In an article by Tetlock and Prof. Gregory Mitchell (UVA Law) attacking the science, the authors suggest that one of the reasons that Whites may perform worse on the Black-White IAT is because of a phenomenon called “stereotype threat”.  They write that Whites “react to the identity threat posed by the IAT by choking under stress–and performing even worse on the IAT, thus confirming the researchers’ original stereotype of them.” 67 Ohio St. L.J. 1023, 1079 (2006).

For this “choke under threat” explanation, Tetlock and Mitchell cite a single study.  Moreover, they do not turn their powerful skepticism against this body of work, launched by Prof. Claude Steele at Stanford, which explains why negative stereotypes can depress test performance.  This body of work, if taken as seriously as Tetlock and Mitchell do in a throw-away line, challenges the use of standardized examinations in university admissions.  But I doubt that that’s what Tetlock and Mitchell would call for, as a matter of policy.  So why not be methodologically pure and go after the stereotype threat work with equal vigor and skepticism?  Instead, they deploy “stereotype threat” science without raising an eyebrow, since it fits their arsenal of critique of the “implicit bias” science.

The general point is that it’s facile to think that one side has the scientific purists — just seeking good data and good science, and the other side has the political hacks.  And self-serving reasoning no doubt infects us all, on both sides.  This is why we should trust long-run scientific equilibrium and be skeptical of both aggressive claims and their backlashes.

Third, cultural commentary.  The readers’ comments to the Tierney articles are fascinating because they largely give no deference to scientific expertise.  From the large N of 1, those who have taken the IAT conclude that the test must be nonsense and raise myriad confounds (without bothering to read the FAQs that explain how stimuli are randomized, etc.)  If geneticists were debating the meaning of some expressed sequence tags or if astrophysicists were debating new evidence of dark matter, I wonder if readers would bother to chime in aggressively with their views.  “I have plenty of genes, and that view about inheritability is nonsense!”  “I’ve seen stars, and if I can’t see ‘em they must not exist!”

I suggest that we feel so personally connected to race and to gender (most of the comments focus on race) and are so personally invested in not being biased that we feel compelled toward such participation.  Again, if some “coffee increases likelihood of ulcers” study came out, would people write in:  “I drink coffee, and I don’t have an ulcer!!!”  I don’t think so.   What does that say about our current cultural moment?  Perhaps it reveals a sort of intellectual prejudice­-a proclivity not to take race research seriously, as nothing more than personal opinion, regardless of the scientific and statistical bona fides.

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Look, science always involves conflict.  And in the long run, there’s no reason to think that this controversy won’t be resolved through the traditional scientific method and reach a long-run equilibrium consensus.  But getting there has already been rocky and will continue to be.   Maybe the implicit bias work, which is far more extensive than just the implicit association test (IAT), will turn out to be nothing more than “intelligent design”–just ideology (in that case religious) wrapped up in pseudo-science.  Or, and I think this is far more likely, it will be another inconvenient truth that is established, as global warming ultimately was:  We are not as colorblind as we hope to be, and on the margins, implicit associations in our brain alter our behavior in ways that we would rather they not.  Certainly the balance of peer-reviewed studies in number and quality point in that direction.

In the end, time truly will tell.  The real question is which side will maintain its scientific integrity when the results come in.

Full disclosure:  I’m a co-author of Mahzarin Banaji, whose work is discussed in Tierney’s pieces.  You can read my implicit bias work at:

http://jerrykang.net/Research/Race

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Naive Cynicism, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 20, 2008

Situationist contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have posted their latest article, Legal Academic Backlash: The Response of Legal Theorists to Situationist Insights (Emory Law Journal, Vol. 57, No. 5, 2008) on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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This article is the third of a multipart series. The first part, “The Great Attributional Divide,” argues that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on our attributional tendencies: the less accurate dispositionist approach, which explains outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, and the like), and the more accurate situationist approach, which bases attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen influences within us and around us.

The second part, “Naive Cynicism,” explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naive cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema – dispositionism – would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema – situationism – less easily and effectively attacked. Naive cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Naive cynicism often takes the form of a backlash against situationism that involves an affirmation of existing dispositionist notions and an assault on (1) the situationist attributions themselves; (2) the individuals, institutions, and groups from which the situationist attributions appear to emanate; and (3) the individuals whose conduct has been situationalized. If one were to boil down those factors to one simple naive-cynicism-promoting frame for minimizing situationist ideas, it would be something like this: Unreasonable outgroup members are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.

We predict that naive cynicism is a pervasive dynamic that shapes policy debates big and small. We argue that it can operate at a particular moment or over long periods of time, and that it is embraced and encouraged by both elite knowledge-producers and the average person on the street.

This Article examines the reactions of prominent academics to situationist scholarship. As we argue in this Article, na¿ve cynicism, operating as we predict above, has played a significant role in retarding the growth and influence of more accurate situationist insights of social psychology and related fields within the dominant legal theoretical frameworks of the last half-century.

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To download the article for free, click here. To read a collection of related Situationist posts, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Legal Theory, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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