The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Cultural Cognition’

Legal theory must incorporate discoveries from biology and behavioral sciences

Posted by Fábio Almeida on October 15, 2013

Some recent discoveries in evolutionary biology, ethology, neurology, cognitive psychology and behavioral economics impels us to rethink the very foundations of law if we want to answer many questions remain unanswered in legal theory. Where does our ability to interpret rules and think in terms of fairness in relation to others come from? Does the ability to reason about norms derive from certain aspects of our innate rationality and from mechanisms that were sculptured in our moral psychology by evolutionary processes?

Legal theory must take the complexity of the human mind into account

Any answer to these foundational issues demands us to take into consideration what these other sciences are discovering about how we behave. For instance, ethology has shown that many moral behaviors we usually think that are uniquely displayed by our species have been identified in other species as well.

Please watch this video, a lecture by primatologist Frans de Waal for the TED Talks :

The skills needed to feel empathy, to engage in mutual cooperation, to react to certain injustices, to form coalitions, to share, to punish those who refuse to comply with expected behaviors, among many others – abilities once considered to be exclusive of humans – have been observed in other animals. These traits have been observed in many animal species, especially those closer to our evolutionary lineage, as the great apes. In the human case, these instinctive elements are also present. Even small children around the age of one year old show great capacity for moral cognition. They know to identify patterns of relationships in distributive justice, even if they cannot explain why they came to a certain conclusion (because they even do not know how to speak by that age!).

In addition, several studies have shown that certain neural connections in our brains are actively involved in processing information related to capabilities typical of normative behavior. Think about the ability to empathize, for example. It is an essential skill that prevents us to see other people as things or means. Empathy is needed to respect the Kantian categorical imperative to treat the others as an end in themselves, and not means to achieve other ends. This is something many psychopaths can’t do, because they face severe reduction in their ability to empathize with others. Several researches using fMRI have shown year after year that many diagnosed psychopaths show deficiencies in areas of their brains that have been associated to empathy.

If this sounds like science fiction, please consider the following cases.

A 40 year old man, who had hitherto displayed absolutely normal sexual behavior, was kicked out by his wife after she discovered what he was visiting child porn sites and had even tried to sexually molest children. He was arrested and the judge determined that he would have to pass through a sexaholics rehabilitation program or face jail. But he soon got expelled from the program after inviting women at the program to have sex with him. Just before being arrested again for failing in the program, he felt a severe headache and went to a hospital, where he was submitted to an MRI exam. The doctors identified a tumor on his orbifrontal cortex, a brain region usually associated with training of moral judgment, impulse control and regulation of social behavior. After the removal of the tumor, his behavior returned to normal. Seven months later, he once more showed deviant behavior – and further tests showed the reappearance of the tumor. After the removal of the new cyst, his sexual behavior again returned to normal standards.

You could also consider the case of Charles Whitman. Until he was 24, he had been a reasonably normal person. However, on August 1st, 1966, he ascended to the top of the Tower of the University of Texas, where, armed to the teeth, he killed 13 people and wounded 32 before being killed by the police. Later it was discovered that just before the mass killings, he had also murdered both his wife and mother. During the previous day, he left a typewritten letter in which one could read the following:

“I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.”

In the letter, he also requested to be submitted to an autopsy after his death in order to verify if it there was something wrong with his brain.  Whitman’s brain was examined and … surprise! … the doctors found a glioblastoma tumor compressing the region of his amygdala, which is associated with the regulation of aggression and fear.

What does this mean for legal theory? At least this means that law, so far, has been based on a false metaphysical conception that t brain is a lockean blank slate and that our actions derive from our rational dispositions. Criminal law theory assumes that an offender breaks the law exclusively due to his free will and reasoning. Private law assumes that people sign contracts only after considering all its possible legal effects and are fully conscious about the reasons that motivated them to do so. Constitutional theory assumes that everyone is endowed with a rational disposition that enables the free exercise of civil and constitutional rights such as freedom of expression or freedom of religion. It is not in question that we are able to exercise such rights. But these examples show  that the capacity to interpret norms and to act accordingly to the law does not derive from a blank slate endowed with free will and rationality, but from a complex mind that evolved in our hominin lineage and that relies on brain structures that enables us to reason and choose among alternatives.

This means that our rationality is not perfect. It is not only affected by tumors, but also by various cognitive biases that affect the rationality of our decisions. Since the 1970s, psychologists have studied these biases. Daniel Kahneman, for example, won the 2002 Nobel prize in Economic Sciences for his research on the impact of these biases on decision-making. We can make really irrational decisions because our mind is based on certain heuristics (fast-and-frugal rules) to evaluate certain situations. In most situations, these heuristics help us to make the right decisions, but they also may influence us to make really dumb mistakes.

There are dozens of heuristics that structure our rationality. We are terrible on assessing the significance of statistical correlations, we discard unfavorable evidence, we tend to follow the most common behavior in our group (herd effect), and we tend to see past events as if they had been easily predictable. We are inclined to cooperate with whom is part of our group (parochialist bias), but not so with whom belongs to another group. And those are just some of the biases that have been already identified.

It is really hard to overcome these biases, because they are much of what we call rationality. These flaws are an unavoidable part of our rationality. Sure, with some effort, we can avoid many mistakes by using some techniques that could lead us to get unbiased and correct answers. However, using artificial techniques to do so may be expensive and demands lots of effort. We can use a computer and train mathematical skills in order to overcome biases that causes error in statistical evaluation, for instance. But how can we use a computer to reason about morality or legal issues “getting around” these psychological biases? Probably, we can’t.

The best we can do is to reconsider the psychological assumptions of legal theory, by taking into account what we actually know about our psychology and how it affects our judgement. And there is evidence that these biases really influence how judges evaluate judicial cases. For instance, a research done by Birte Englich, Thomas Mussweiler and Fritz Strack concluded that even legal experts are indeed affected by cognitive biases. More specifically, they studied the effects of anchoring bias in judicial activity, by submitting 52 legal experts to the following experiment: they required them to examine an hypothetical court case, which should determine the sentence in a fictitious shoplifting case. After reading the materials, the participants had to answer a questionnaire at the end of which they would define the sentence.

Before answering the questions, however, the participants should throw a pair of dice in order to determine the prosecutor’s demand. Half of the dice were loaded in order to show always the numbers 1 and 2. And the other half was loaded in order to indicate 3 and 6. The sum of the numbers should indicate the prosecutor’s sentencing demand. Afterwards, they should answer questions about legal issues concerning the case, including the sentencing decision. The researchers found that the results of the dice had an actual impact on their proposed sentence: the average penalty imposed by judges who had dice with superior results (3 + 6 = 9) was 7.81 months in prison, while the participants whose dice resulted in lower values ​​(1 +2 = 3) , proposed an average punishment of 5.28 months .

In another study, it was found that, on average, tired and hungry judges end up taking the easy decision to deny parole rather than to grant it. In the study, conducted in Israel, researchers divided the day’s schedule of judges into three sessions. At the beginning of which of them, the participants could rest and eat. It turned out that, soon after eating and resting, judges authorized the parole in 65% of cases. At the end of each session, the rate fell to almost zero. Okay, this is not really a cognitive bias, but a factual condition – however, it shows that a tired mind and energy needs can induce decisions that almost everyone would consider as intrinsically unfair.

And so on. Study after study , research shows that (1) our ability to develop moral reasoning is innate, (2) our mind is filled with innate biases that are needed to process cultural information in relation to compliance with moral/legal norms, and (3) these biases affect our rationality.

These researches raise many questions that will have to be faced sooner or later by legal scholars. Would anyone say that due process of law is respected when judges anchors judicial decision in completely external factors – factors about which they aren’t even aware of! Of course, this experiment was done in a controlled experiment and nobody expects that a judge rolls dice before judging a case. But judge might be influenced by other anchors as well, such as numbers inside a clock, a date on the calendar, or a number printed on a dollar banknote? Or would anyone consider due process was respected even if a parole hadn’t been granted because the case was judged late in the morning? These external elements decisively influenced the judicial outcome, but none of them were mentioned in the decision.

Legal theory needs to incorporate this knowledge on its structure. We need to build institutions capable to take biases into account and, as far as possible, try to circumvent them or, at least, diminish their influence. For instance, by knowing that judges tend to get impatient and harsher against defendants when they are hungry and tired, a Court could force him to take a 30 minute break after 3 hours of work in order to restore their capacity to be as impartial as possible. This is just a small suggestion about how institutions could respond to these discoveries.

Of course, there are  more complex cases, such as the discussion about criminals who always had displayed good behavior, but who were misfortunate to develop a brain tumor that influenced the commitment of a crime. Criminal theory is based on the thesis that the agent must intentionally engage in criminal conduct. But is it is possible to talk about intention when a tumor was one direct cause of the result? And if it hadn’t been a tumor, but a brain malformation (as it occurs in many cases of psychopathy)? Saying that criminal law could already solve these cases by considering that the criminal had no responsibility due to his condition wouldn’t solve the problem, because the issue is in the very concept of intention that is assumed in legal theory.

And this problem expands into the rest of the legal theory. We must take into account the role of cognitive biases in consumer relations. The law has not realized the role of these biases in decision making, but many companies are aware of them. How many times haven’t you bought a 750 ml soda for $2.00 just because it cost $0.20 more than a 500 ml one? Possibly, you thought that you payed less per ml than you would pay if you had bought the smaller size. But … you really wanted was 500 ml, and would pay less than you payed for taking extra soda that you didn’t want! In other words, the company just explores a particular bias that affects most people, in order to induce them to buy more of its products. Another example: for evolutionary reasons, humans are prone to consume fatty foods and lots of sugar. Companies exploit this fact to their advantage, which ends up generating part of the obesity crisis that we see in the world today. In their defense, companies say that consumers purchased the product on their own. What they do not say, but neurosciences and evolutionary theory say, is that our “free will” has a long evolutionary history that propels us to consume exactly these kinds of food that, over the years, affects our health. And law needs to take these facts into consideration if it wants to adequately protect and enforce consumer rights.

Law is still based on an “agency model” very similar to game theory’s assumption of rationality. But we are not rational. Every decision we make is influenced by the way our mind operates. Can we really think that it is fair to blame someone who committed a crime on the basis of erroneous results generated by a cognitive bias? And, on the other hand, would it be right to exonerate a defendant based on those assumptions? To answer these and other fringes questions, legal scholars must rethink the concept of person assumed by law, taking into account our intrinsic biological nature.

Related Situationist posts:

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Posted in Legal Theory, Morality, Neuroscience, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Value-Affirmation, and the Situation of Climate Change Beliefs

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2010

On NPR’s All Things Considered, Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan and Donald Braman were interviewed this week by Christopher Joyce regarding their important work on cultural cognition.  Here is an excerpt.

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Over the past few months, polls show that fewer Americans say they believe humans are making the planet dangerously warmer, and that is despite a raft of scientific reports that say otherwise. And that puzzles many climate scientists, but not social scientists.

As NPR’s Christopher Joyce reports, some of their research suggests that when people encounter new information, facts may not be as important as beliefs.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: The divide between climate believers and disbelievers can be as wide as a West Virginia valley, and that’s where two of them squared off recently at a public debate on West Virginia Public Radio.

Coal company president Don Blankenship is a doubter.

Mr. DON BLANKENSHIP (CEO, Massey Energy Company): It’s a hoax because clearly anyone that says that they know what the temperature of the earth is going to be in 2020 or 2030 needs to be put in an asylum because they don’t.

JOYCE: On the other side, environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr.

Mr. ROBERT KENNEDY JR. (Environmentalist): Ninety-eight percent of the research, climatologists in the world say that global warming is real, that its impacts are going to be catastrophic. There are 2 percent who disagree with that. I have a choice of believing the 98 percent or the 2 percent.

JOYCE: For social scientist and lawyer Don Braman, it’s not surprising that two people can disagree so strongly over science. Braman is on the faculty at George Washington University and a part of a research group called Cultural Cognition.

Professor DON BRAMAN (George Washington University Law School/The Cultural Cognition Project): People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook, their worldview.

JOYCE: Braman’s group has conducted several experiments to back that up. First, they ask people to describe their cultural beliefs. Some embrace new technology, authority and free enterprise – the so-called individualistic group. Others are suspicious of authority, or of commerce and industry. Braman calls them communitarians.

In one experiment, Braman then queried his subjects about something unfamiliar: nanotechnology, new research into tiny, molecule-sized objects that could lead to novel products.

Prof. BRAMAN: These two groups start to polarize as soon as you start to describe some of the potential benefits and harms.

JOYCE: The individualists tended to like nanotechnology; the communitarians generally viewed it as dangerous – all based on the same information.

Prof. BRAMAN: It doesn’t matter whether you show them negative or positive information, they reject the information that is contrary to what they would like to believe, and they glom on to the positive information.

JOYCE: So what’s going on here?

Professor DAN KAHAN (Yale University Law School/The Cultural Cognition Project): Basically, the reason that people react in a close-minded way to information is that the implications of it threaten their values.

JOYCE: That’s Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale University and a member of Cultural Cognition. He says people test new information against their preexisting view of how the world should work.

Prof. KAHAN: If the implication, the outcome, can affirm your values, you think about it in a much more open-minded way.

JOYCE: And if the information doesn’t, you tend to reject it.

In another experiment, people read a United Nations’ study about the dangers of global warming. Then the researchers said, okay, the solution is to regulate pollution from industry. Many in the individualistic group then rejected the climate science. But when more nuclear power was offered as the solution…

Prof. BRAMAN: They said, you know, it turns out global warming is a serious problem.

JOYCE: And for the communitarians, climate danger seemed less serious if the only solution was more nuclear power.

Then there’s the Messenger Effect. In an experiment dealing with the dangers versus benefits of a vaccine, the scientific information came from several people. They ranged from a rumpled and bearded expert to a crisply business-like one. And people tended to believe the message that came from the person they considered to be more like them – which brings us back to climate.

Prof. BRAMAN: If you have people who are skeptical of the data on climate change, you can bet that Al Gore is not going to convince them at this point.

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You can listen to, or read the rest of, the interview here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts related to cultural cognition, see The Situation of Scientific Consensus,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk.” For still more  Situationist posts discussing cultural cognition, click here.

For more Situationst posts on perceptions of climate change, see Global Climate Change and The Situation of Denial,” “Al Gore – The Situationist,” The Situation of Climate Change,” “Getting a Grip on Climate Change,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Denial,” The Need for a Situationist Morality,” “The Heat is On,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Legal Theory, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Scientific Consensus

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 15, 2010

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Donald Braman, have just posted another fascinating paper, “Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Why do members of the public disagree – sharply and persistently – about facts on which expert scientists largely agree? We designed a study to test a distinctive explanation: the cultural cognition of scientific consensus. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the tendency of individuals to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values. The study presents both correlational and experimental evidence confirming that cultural cognition shapes individuals’ beliefs about the existence of scientific consensus, and the process by which they form such beliefs, relating to climate change, the disposal of nuclear wastes, and the effect of permitting concealed possession of handguns. The implications of this dynamic for science communication and public policy-making are discussed.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Broader Situation: A Case Study of Cop Car Cameras,” Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk,” To still more  Situationist posts discussing cultural cognition, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Education, Ideology, Legal Theory, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Broader Situation: A Case Study of Cop Car Cameras

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 12, 2010

As part of my new commitment to posting more of my work on SSRN, I’ve just put up another forthcoming article that may be of interest to some readers.  It offers a law and mind sciences (situationist / critical realist) perspective on Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project (CCP) using a great recent article by CCP scholars Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman, and Donald Braman as a case study.  That article has been referenced in two recent New York Times pieces (including one that listed it as among the most important ideas of 2009).

If your interest is not yet piqued, I should also mention that the new SSRN post also has police chases and scandalous pictures of Angelina Jolie . . . or, well, at least one of those things.

The link is here; the abstract is found below.

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The Cultural Cognition Project (CCP) at Yale Law School and the Project on Law and Mind Sciences (PLMS) at Harvard Law School draw on similar research and share a similar goal of uncovering the dynamics that shape risk perceptions, policy beliefs, and attributions underlying our laws and legal theories.  Nonetheless, the projects have failed to engage one another in a substantial way.  This Article attempts to bridge that gap by demonstrating how the situationist approach taken by PLMS scholars can crucially enrich CCP scholarship.  As a demonstration, the Article engages the case of Scott v. Harris, 127 S. Ct. 1769 (2007), the subject of a recent CCP study.

In Scott, the Supreme Court relied on a videotape of a high-speed police chase to conclude that an officer did not commit a Fourth Amendment violation when he purposefully caused the suspect’s car to crash by ramming the vehicle’s back bumper.  Challenging the Court’s conclusion that “no reasonable juror” could see the motorist’s evasion of the police as anything but extremely dangerous, CCP Professors Dan M. Kahan, David A. Hoffman, and Donald Braman showed the video to 1,350 people and discovered clear rifts in perception based on ideological, cultural, and other lines.

Despite the valuable contribution of their research in uncovering the influence of identity-defining characteristics and commitments on perceptions, Kahan, Hoffman, and Braman failed to engage what may well be a more critical dynamic shaping the cognitions of their subjects and the members of the Supreme Court in Scott: the role of situational frames in guiding attributions of causation, responsibility, and blame.  As social psychologists have documented—and as PLMS scholars have emphasized—while identities, experiences, and values matter, their operation and impact is not stable across cognitive tasks, but rather is contingent on the way in which information is presented and the broader context in which it is processed.

In large part, the Scott video is treated—both by the Supreme Court and by Kahan, Hoffman, and Braman—as if it presents a neutral, unfiltered account of events.  This is incorrect.  Studies of viewpoint bias suggest that the fact that the video offers the visual and oral perspective of a police officer participating in the chase—rather than that of the suspect or a neutral third party—likely had a significant effect on both the experimental population and members of the Court.

Had the Supreme Court watched a different video of the exact same events taken from inside the suspect’s car, this case may never have been taken away from the jury.  Any discussion of judicial “legitimacy”—in both the descriptive and normative sense—must start here.  The real danger for our justice system may not ultimately be the “visible fiction” of a suspect’s version of events, as Justice Scalia would have it, or cognitive illiberalism as Kahan, Hoffman, and Braman would, but the invisible influence of situational frames systematically prejudicing those who come before our courts.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,”The Situation of Racial Profiling,” “The Situational Demographics of Deadly Force – Abstract,” and “The Situation of False Confessions.”

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 27, 2010

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan was recently interviewed for the National Science Foundation website.  In the interview, which you can watch the on the video below, Kahan discusses how people’s values shape perceptions of the HPV vaccine.  Here’s the abstract.

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The “cultural cognition thesis” argues that individuals form risk perceptions based on often-contested personal views about what makes a good society. Now, Yale University Law professor Dr. Dan Kahan and his colleagues reveals how people’s values shape their perceptions of one of the most hotly debated health care proposals in recent years: vaccinating elementary-school girls, ages 11-12, against human papillomavirus (HPV), a widespread sexually transmitted disease.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see  “Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk,” Construing ‘Acquaintance Rape’,” The Cultural Situation of the HPV Vaccine – Abstract,” “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition – Abstract,” “The Second National Risk and Culture Study – Abstract,” and “Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Food and Drug Law, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 18, 2009

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan posted his recent paper, “Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk,” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to form beliefs about societal dangers that reflect and reinforce their commitments to particular visions of the ideal society. Cultural cognition is one of a variety of approaches designed to empirically test the cultural theory of risk associated with Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky. This commentary discusses the distinctive features of cultural cognition as a conception of cultural theory, including its cultural worldview measures; its emphasis on social psychological mechanisms that connect individuals’ risk perceptions to their cultural outlooks; and its practical goal of enabling self-conscious management of popular risk perceptions in the interest of promoting scientifically sound public policies that are congenial to persons of diverse outlooks.

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You can download a copy of the paper here.  To review a sample or related Situationist posts, see “Construing ‘Acquaintance Rape’,” The Cultural Situation of the HPV Vaccine – Abstract,” “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition – Abstract,” “The Second National Risk and Culture Study – Abstract,” and “Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Negotiation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 1, 2009

John F. McCarthy, Carl A. Scheraga, and Donald E. Gibson, recently posted their interesting paper, titled “Culture, Cognition and Conflict: How Neuroscience Can Help to Explain Cultural Differences in Negotiation and Conflict Management” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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In negotiation and conflict management situations, understanding cultural patterns and tendencies is critical to whether a negotiation will accomplish the goals of the involved parties. While differences in cultural norms have been identified in the current literature, what is needed is a more fine-grained approach that examines differences below the level of behavioral norms. Drawing on recent social neuroscience approaches, we argue that differing negotiating styles may not only be related to differing cultural norms, but to differences in underlying language processing strategies in the brain, suggesting that cultural difference may influence neuropsychological processes. If this is the case, we expect that individuals from different cultures will exhibit different neuropsychological tendencies. Consistent with our hypothesis, using EEG measured responses, native German-speaking German participants took significantly more time to indicate when they understood a sentence than did native English-speaking American participants. This result is consistent with the theory that individuals from different cultures develop unique language processing strategies that affect behavior. A deliberative cognitive style used by Germans could account for this difference in comprehension reaction time. This study demonstrates that social neuroscience may provide a new way of understanding micro-processes in cross-cultural negotiations and conflict resolution.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Neuroscience and the Study of Racial Biases,” “Law & the Brain,” “The Situation of Risk Perceptions – Abstract,”and to review previous Situationist posts on cultural cognition, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Construing “Acquaintance Rape”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 26, 2009

date rape time coverSituationist Contributor Dan Kahan recently posted his fascinating paper, “Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in ‘Acquaintance Rape’ Cases.”  Here’s the abstract.

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This paper uses the theory of cultural cognition to examine the debate over rape-law reform. Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their perceptions of legally consequential facts to their defining group commitments. Results of an original experimental study (N = 1,500) confirmed the impact of cultural cognition on perceptions of fact in a controversial acquaintance-rape case. The major finding was that a hierarchical worldview, as opposed to an egalitarian one, inclined individuals to perceive that the defendant reasonably understood the complainant as consenting to sex despite her repeated verbal objections. The effect of hierarchy in inclining subjects to favor acquittal was greatest among women; this finding was consistent with the hypothesis that hierarchical women have a distinctive interest in stigmatizing rape complainants whose behavior deviates from hierarchical gender norms. The study also found that cultural predispositions have a much larger impact on outcome judgments than do legal definitions, variations in which had either no or a small impact on the likelihood subjects would support or oppose conviction. The paper links date-rape reform to a class of controversies in law that reflect symbolic status competition between opposing cultural groups, and addresses the normative implications of this conclusion.

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You can download the paper for free here.  To read a sample of related Situationist post see “The Situation of Blaming Rihanna,” “What Counts as Rape?,” “Unrecognized Injustice — The Situation of Rape,” The Cultural Situation of the HPV Vaccine – Abstract,” “Law, Chicken Sexing, Torture Memo, and Situation Sense,” “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition – Abstract,” “The Second National Risk and Culture Study – Abstract,” and “Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Biased? I know you are but what am I?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2009

Randy Dotinga, writing for the North County Times, quotes Situationist Contributor Peter Ditto on the bias of our media choices.

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If you’re a conservative, you’re more likely to listen to Rush Limbaugh than turn to National Public Radio. And if you’re liberal, you’re probably don’t spend your time tuned to Roger Hedgecock, Sean Hannity and Rick Roberts.

Pretty obvious, right? Yes, but now researchers have gone and confirmed what we think we know: People like to hear opinions that back up what they already think. In a study published this week in a journal called Psychological Bulletin, researchers say we do indeed turn to sources of information that confirm our biases, especially when it comes to things like politics and religion.

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Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology at UC Irvine, said there’s a bit more to it. We listen to, say, a conservative host because we believe he —- or in rare cases, she —- looks at the world through the correct prism.

“Republicans turn to Fox News not because they think it will confirm their beliefs, but because they believe they are the unbiased keepers of the truth —- and that MSNBC and CNN are biased toward the left,” Ditto said. “Liberals do exactly the opposite.”

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Read the entire article, including comments on social scientists’ tendency to find bias in conservatives, here.  For related Situationist The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “The Situation of Biased Perceptions,” and posts, see “I’m Objective, You’re Biased.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Entertainment, Ideology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Risk Perceptions – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 8, 2008

Gregory Mandel, Donald Braman, and Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan recently posted their paper, “Cultural Cognition and Synthetic Biology Risk Perceptions: A Preliminary Analysis,” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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We describe the results of a study to determine the synthetic-biology risk perceptions of a large and diverse sample of Americans (N = 1,500). The survey found that hierarchical, conservative, and highly religious individuals – one who normally are skeptical of claims of environmental risks (including those relating to global warming) – are the most concerned about synthetic biology risks. We offer an interpretation that identifies how selective risk-skepticism and risk-sensitivity can convey a cultural commitment to traditional forms of authority.

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Ideology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Cultural Situation of the HPV Vaccine – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 11, 2008

Situationist Contributors Dan Kahan, Geoffrey Cohen, and Paul Slovic and their coauthors Donald Braman, and John Gastil, recently posted a fascinating paper, “Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn’t, and Why? An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Cultural Cognition” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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The cultural cognition hypothesis holds that individuals are disposed to form risk perceptions that reflect and reinforce their commitments to contested views of the good society. This paper reports the results of a study that used the controversy over mandatory HPV vaccination to test the cultural cognition hypothesis. Although public health officials have recommended that all girls aged 11 or 12 be vaccinated for HPV – a virus that causes cervical cancer and that is transmitted by sexual contact – political controversy has blocked adoption of mandatory school-enrollment vaccination programs in all but one state. A multi-stage experimental study of a large and diverse sample of American adults (N = 1,500) found evidence that cultural cognition generates disagreement about the risks and benefits of the HPV vaccine. It does so, the experiment determined, through two mechanisms: biased assimilation, and the credibility heuristic. In addition to describing the study, the paper discusses the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.

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For a related set of Situationist posts on cultural cognition, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Ideology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Emotional Reactions to Law & Economics – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 17, 2008

Economics Books - Flickr

Peter Huang posted his latest manuscript, titled “Emotional Reactions to Law & Economics, Market Metaphors, & Rationality Rhetoric” (forthcoming in Theoretical Foundations of Law and Economics) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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This chapter makes three fundamental points about law and economics. First, although some people feel strong, negative emotional reactions to utilizing microeconomics to analyze non-business areas of law, others feel no such emotional reactions. This chapter advances the hypothesis that people who do not view the world exclusively through an economics lens are likely to experience negative feelings toward applying microeconomics to non-business law areas, while people who view the world primarily through an economics lens are unlikely to experience such emotional reactions. Second, although law and economics remains an uncontroversial subfield of applied microeconomics; it has become a dominant, yet still controversial field of scholarship in legal academia. This chapter proposes that differences in how most academic and professional economists perceive law and economics versus how most academic and professional lawyers perceive law and economics are due primarily to differences in how familiar they are with microeconomics presented in a mathematically rigorous fashion. Third, much research considerably and significantly qualifies many well-known and often quoted alleged benefits of competitive markets and unbounded rationality. People who are familiar with this research appreciate that the extent to which markets and rationality are socially desirable is more complicated than people do not understand this research suggest. This research involves not only traditional microeconomics, but also behavioral economics, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and neuroeconomics.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Cultural Cognition, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2008

Image by misterbisson - Flickr

Situationist contributor Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, John Gastil, Situationist contributor Paul Slovic, and C.K. Mertz, posted their fascinating paper, “Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect in Risk Perception” (forthcoming 4 Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 465-505, November 2007) on SSRN.

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Why do white men fear various risks less than women and minorities? Known as the white male effect, this pattern is well documented but poorly understood. This paper proposes a new explanation: identity-protective cognition. Putting work on the cultural theory of risk together with work on motivated cognition in social psychology suggests that individuals selectively credit and dismiss asserted dangers in a manner supportive of their preferred form of social organization. This dynamic, it is hypothesized, drives the white male effect, which reflects the risk skepticism that hierarchical and individualistic white males display when activities integral to their cultural identities are challenged as harmful. The article presents the results of an 1,800-person study that confirmed that cultural worldviews interact with the impact of gender and race on risk perception in patterns that suggest cultural-identity-protective cognition. It also discusses the implication of these findings for risk regulation and communication.

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The Second National Risk and Culture Study – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2008

Global Warming Image from by Buou - Flickr

Situationist contributor Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, Situationist contributor Paul Slovic, John Gastil, and Geoffrey Cohen posted their paper, “The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of – and Making Progress In – The American Culture War of Fact” on SSRN. We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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Cultural Cognition refers to the disposition to conform one’s beliefs about societal risks to one’s preferences for how society should be organized. Based on surveys and experiments involving some 5,000 Americans, the Second National Risk and Culture Study presents empirical evidence of the effect of this dynamic in generating conflict about global warming, school shootings, domestic terrorism, nanotechnology, and the mandatory vaccination of school-age girls against HPV, among other issues. The Study also presents evidence of risk-communication strategies that counteract cultural cognition. Because nuclear power affirms rather than threatens the identity of persons who hold individualist values, for example, proposing it as a solution to global warming makes persons who hold such values more willing to consider evidence that climate change is a serious risk. Because people tend to impute credibility to people who share their values, persons who hold hierarchical and egalitarian values are less likely to polarize when they observe people who hold their values advocating unexpected positions on the vaccination of young girls against HPV. Such techniques can help society to create a deliberative climate in which citizens converge on policies that are both instrumentally sound and expressively congenial to persons of diverse values.

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For related posts, click on the “Cultural Cognition” category in the right margin.

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Nuclear Power Makes Individualists See Green

Posted by Dan Kahan on March 7, 2008

[This post was first published in October. It is being re-published this week because of its relevance to this Saturday’s conference at Harvard Law School, hosted by the Project on Law & Mind Sciences (for details, go to the conference webpage here).]

expressively overdetermined flag!

A while back I posted an entry about the “cultural cognition of nanotechnology risks.” The entry described a study that members of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School had done that showed that exposure to just a small bit of information about nanotechnology — a subject the vast majority of Americans have heard nothing or little about — can instantly polarize people along cultural lines. I promised that I would post another entry describing techniques for ameliorating this type of cultural polarization on risk issues.

Well, I waited about 6 months or so, not just to let suspense build but also to gather some data so that it wouldn’t seem I was just engaged in wild-eyed conjecture (although truth be told, I’m pretty partial to that mode of exposition). Now I’m going to describe a framing technique for reducing cultural polarization that involves identity affirmation (a communication strategy based on the work of social psychologist and Cultural Cognition Project researcher Geoff Cohen). And I’m going to illustrate how it works with a study that relates to global warming.

Let me start with just a little bit of background. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the psychological disposition of people to form beliefs about risk that cohere with their values. People who hold relatively egalitarian and communitarian values, for example, worry about environmental risks (nuclear power accidents, global warming, air pollution, etc.), the abatement of which would justify regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize the unconstrained pursuit of individual self-interest. Persons who subscribe to relatively individualistic values, in contrast, reject claims of environmental risk precisely because they cherish markets and private orderings. They worry instead that excessive gun control will render individuals unable to defend themselves — a belief congenial to the association of guns with individualist virtues such as self-reliance, courage, and martial prowess. Persons who hold traditional or hierarchical values fret about the societal risks of drug use and promiscuous sex, and the personal risks associated with obtaining an abortion or smoking marijuana — forms of behavior that denigrate traditional social norms and roles.

One of the basic mechanisms behind the cultural cognition of risk is identity-protective cognition. As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values.

This process, though, can presumably be reversed or at least mitigated. If one can frame risk information in way that affirms rather than threatens persons’ defining commitments, then those persons should be able to process information more open-mindedly.

We (Don Braman, Situationist Contributor Paul Slovic, Geoff Cohen, John Gastil and I) decided to test this hypothesis in an experiment focusing on global warming. People with individualistic values tend to be skeptical of environmental risks like global warming because accepting such risks seems to imply that government should regulate commerce, an activity individualists like. But it turns out that one possible solution to global warming is to rely more on nuclear power, which doesn’t emit the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel energy sources. Cultural individualists like nuclear power, because it is a symbol of individual initiative, industry, and mastery over nature. Advised that nuclear power is one solution to the risks of global warming, then, individualists should be more receptive to information suggesting that global warming in fact presents genuine and serious risks.

nuke_vs_antipollution.pngIn our experiment, we divided subjects (whose cultural values we measured ahead of time with appropriate scales) into two groups. Both received a news report describing a scientific study on global warming. The study was described as finding conclusive evidence that the temperature of the earth is increasing, that humans are the source of this condition, and that this change in the earth’s climate could have disastrous environmental economic consequences. In one version of the news story, however, the scientific study was described as calling for “increased antipollution regulation,” whereas in another it was described as calling for “revitalization of the nation’s nuclear power industry.”

The results of the experiment showed that subjects receiving the “nuclear power” version of the news story were less culturally polarized than ones receiving the “anti-pollution” version. That is, individualists who received the “nuclear power” version were less inclined to dismiss the facts related by the described report — that the earth’s temperature is increasing, that humans are the cause, and that the consequences would be dire if global warming were not reversed — than were individualists who got the “antipollution” version, even though the factual information, and its source, were the same in both articles. Indeed, individualists who received the “antipollution” version of the news report were even more skeptical about these facts than were individualists in a control group that received no newspaper story — and thus no information relating to the scientific study that made these findings.individualists_polarization.png

In sum, anti-pollution measures make individualists see red. Nuclear power makes them see green!

This is just one of a variety of experimental findings that appear in a report, “The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of — and Progress in — the American Culture War of Fact,” released last week by the Cultural Cognition Project. The study discusses a variety of issues in addition to global warming, including domestic terrorism, school shootings, and vaccination of school-age girls for HPV. It also identifies other mechanisms for counteracting the divisive effects of cultural cognition on these and other issues. I’ll discuss some of these findings too in future posts – ones that will appear, I promise, in less than six months’ time.

But before I conclude this post, I do want to make one thing clear. The point of “identity affirmation” and like techniques for counteracting cultural cognition is not to induce people to believe any particular set of facts about climate change, gun control, anti-terrorism policies, or the like. Rather it’s to neutralize the tendency of people to polarize along cultural lines as they consider and discuss information about such matters. If society availed itself of risk-communication and regulatory strategies founded on “identity affirmation” and similar mechanisms, disagreements about facts would no doubt persist, but they would no longer take the form of battles between rival cultural factions. And we think that’s a good thing.

Posted in Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Nuclear Power Makes Individualists See Green

Posted by Dan Kahan on October 2, 2007

expressively overdetermined flag!A while back I posted an entry about the “cultural cognition of nanotechnology risks.” The entry described a study that members of the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School had done that showed that exposure to just a small bit of information about nanotechnology — a subject the vast majority of Americans have heard nothing or little about — can instantly polarize people along cultural lines. I promised that I would post another entry describing techniques for ameliorating this type of cultural polarization on risk issues.

Well, I waited about 6 months or so, not just to let suspense build but also to gather some data so that it wouldn’t seem I was just engaged in wild-eyed conjecture (although truth be told, I’m pretty partial to that mode of exposition). Now I’m going to describe a framing technique for reducing cultural polarization that involves identity affirmation (a communication strategy based on the work of social psychologist and Cultural Cognition Project researcher Geoff Cohen). And I’m going to illustrate how it works with a study that relates to global warming.

Let me start with just a little bit of background. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the psychological disposition of people to form beliefs about risk that cohere with their values. People who hold relatively egalitarian and communitarian values, for example, worry about environmental risks (nuclear power accidents, global warming, air pollution, etc.), the abatement of which would justify regulating commercial activities that generate inequality and legitimize the unconstrained pursuit of individual self-interest. Persons who subscribe to relatively individualistic values, in contrast, reject claims of environmental risk precisely because they cherish markets and private orderings. They worry instead that excessive gun control will render individuals unable to defend themselves — a belief congenial to the association of guns with individualist virtues such as self-reliance, courage, and martial prowess. Persons who hold traditional or hierarchical values fret about the societal risks of drug use and promiscuous sex, and the personal risks associated with obtaining an abortion or smoking marijuana — forms of behavior that denigrate traditional social norms and roles.

One of the basic mechanisms behind the cultural cognition of risk is identity-protective cognition. As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values.

This process, though, can presumably be reversed or at least mitigated. If one can frame risk information in way that affirms rather than threatens persons’ defining commitments, then those persons should be able to process information more open-mindedly.

We (Don Braman, Situationist Contributor Paul Slovic, Geoff Cohen, John Gastil and I) decided to test this hypothesis in an experiment focusing on global warming. People with individualistic values tend to be skeptical of environmental risks like global warming because accepting such risks seems to imply that government should regulate commerce, an activity individualists like. But it turns out that one possible solution to global warming is to rely more on nuclear power, which doesn’t emit the greenhouse gas emissions associated with fossil fuel energy sources. Cultural individualists like nuclear power, because it is a symbol of individual initiative, industry, and mastery over nature. Advised that nuclear power is one solution to the risks of global warming, then, individualists should be more receptive to information suggesting that global warming in fact presents genuine and serious risks.

nuke_vs_antipollution.pngIn our experiment, we divided subjects (whose cultural values we measured ahead of time with appropriate scales) into two groups. Both received a news report describing a scientific study on global warming. The study was described as finding conclusive evidence that the temperature of the earth is increasing, that humans are the source of this condition, and that this change in the earth’s climate could have disastrous environmental economic consequences. In one version of the news story, however, the scientific study was described as calling for “increased antipollution regulation,” whereas in another it was described as calling for “revitalization of the nation’s nuclear power industry.”

The results of the experiment showed that subjects receiving the “nuclear power” version of the news story were less culturally polarized than ones receiving the “anti-pollution” version. That is, individualists who received the “nuclear power” version were less inclined to dismiss the facts related by the described report — that the earth’s temperature is increasing, that humans are the cause, and that the consequences would be dire if global warming were not reversed — than were individualists who got the “antipollution” version, even though the factual information, and its source, were the same in both articles. Indeed, individualists who received the “antipollution” version of the news report were even more skeptical about these facts than were individualists in a control group that received no newspaper story — and thus no information relating to the scientific study that made these findings.individualists_polarization.png

In sum, anti-pollution measures make individualists see red. Nuclear power makes them see green!

This is just one of a variety of experimental findings that appear in a report, “The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of — and Progress in — the American Culture War of Fact,” released last week by the Cultural Cognition Project. The study discusses a variety of issues in addition to global warming, including domestic terrorism, school shootings, and vaccination of school-age girls for HPV. It also identifies other mechanisms for counteracting the divisive effects of cultural cognition on these and other issues. I’ll discuss some of these findings too in future posts – ones that will appear, I promise, in less than six months’ time.

But before I conclude this post, I do want to make one thing clear. The point of “identity affirmation” and like techniques for counteracting cultural cognition is not to induce people to believe any particular set of facts about climate change, gun control, anti-terrorism policies, or the like. Rather it’s to neutralize the tendency of people to polarize along cultural lines as they consider and discuss information about such matters. If society availed itself of risk-communication and regulatory strategies founded on “identity affirmation” and similar mechanisms, disagreements about facts would no doubt persist, but they would no longer take the form of battles between rival cultural factions. And we think that’s a good thing.

Posted in Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Law, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 13 Comments »

 
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