The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Mindfulness in School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 14, 2012

From On Point Radio (with Tom Ashbrook):

American children need reading, writing and arithmetic.  They need science, technology, engineering, art, literature.  They also, says a new movement, need a psychological tool kit filled with attention, perseverance, emotional control, “mindfulness.”  Some now call it character.

The habits of mind that make all else possible.  Taught in school.  Classrooms are now taking time out for meditative moments.  Getting centered.  Getting mindful.  The call it self-regulation.  Emotional learning.  Right alongside the “three-R’s”.

This hour, On Point:  teaching mindfulness at school.

Listen to the show here or by clicking on the following link: Mindfulness in School

Watch the TEDMED talk referenced in podcast below.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Education, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Power of Stereotypes and Need for “Affirmative Meritocracy”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 3, 2012

From Stanford University News:

When it comes to affirmative action, the argument usually focuses on diversity. Promoting diversity, the Supreme Court ruled in 2003, can justify taking race into account.

But some people say this leads to the admission of less qualified candidates over better ones and creates a devil’s choice between diversity and merit.

Not so, says Stanford psychologist Greg Walton. Diversity and meritocracy are not always at odds.

In fact, sometimes it is only by taking race and gender into account that schools and employers can admit and hire the best candidates, Walton argues in a paper slated for publication in the journal Social Issues and Policy Review with co-authors Steven J. Spencer of the University of Waterloo and Sam Erman of Harvard University.

Walton, an assistant professor of psychology, and Spencer plan to present their findings to the Supreme Court in an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case the justices are scheduled to hear next fall and that many court watchers believe threatens to upend affirmative action. (Supreme Court rules bar Erman, who was a recent Supreme Court clerk, from participating in the brief.)

“People have argued that affirmative action is consistent or is not consistent with meritocracy,” Walton said. “Our argument is not that it’s consistent or inconsistent. Our argument is that you need affirmative action to make meritocratic decisions – to get the best candidates.”

The researchers say that people often assume that measures of merit like grades and test scores are unbiased – that they reflect the same level of ability and potential for all students.

Under this assumption, when an ethnic-minority student and a non-minority student have the same high school grades, they probably have the same level of ability and are likely to do equally well in college. When a woman and a man have the same score on a math test, it’s assumed they have the same level of math ability.

The problem is that common school and testing environments create a different psychological experience for different students. This systematically disadvantages negatively stereotyped ethnic minority students like African Americans and Hispanic Americans, as well as girls and women in math and science.

“When people perform in standard school settings, they are often aware of negative stereotypes about their group,” Walton says. “Those stereotypes act like a psychological headwind – they cause people to perform worse. If you base your evaluation of candidates just on performance in settings that are biased, you end up discriminating.”

The conclusion comes out of research on what is called stereotype threat – the worry people have when they risk confirming a negative stereotype about their group. That worry prevents people from performing as well as they can, hundreds of studies have found.

As a consequence, Walton says, “Grades and test scores assessed in standard school settings underestimate the intellectual ability of students from negatively stereotyped groups and their potential to perform well in future settings.”

Walton gives an example of how stereotype threat relates to preferences in admissions or hiring.

A woman and a man each apply to an elite engineering program, he says. The man has slightly better SAT math scores than the woman. He gets accepted to the program, but she does not.

“If stereotype threat on the SAT undermined the woman’s performance and as a consequence caused her SAT score to underestimate her potential, then by not taking that bias into account, you have effectively discriminated against the woman,” Walton says.

Walton and his colleagues argue that schools need to take affirmative steps to level the playing field and to make meritocratic decisions. If the SAT underestimates women’s math ability or the ability of African American students, taking this into account will help schools both admit better candidates and more diverse ones.

While courts have ruled that diversity justifies taking race into account in admissions decisions, justices have not considered meritocracy as a reason for sorting by race.

“Our argument is that it is only by considering race that you can make meritocratic decisions,” Walton says. “It’s a separate argument from the diversity argument.”

Walton’s research provides the justices with another reason for upholding affirmative action.

But confronting legal questions is only part of the issue.

Walton says remedies need to be found in policy, as well. Environments need to be created that are fair and allow people to do well.

“The first step is for organizations to fix their own houses,” he says.

Testing officials should look at how they administer tests and ask what they can do to mitigate the psychological threats that are present in their settings that cause people to do poorly, Walton says.

Schools and employers, he continues, should look into their own internal environments and ask how they can make those environments safe and secure so everyone can do well and stereotypes are off the table.

But if stereotype threat was present in a prior environment, hiring and admissions decisions need to take that into account.

“In taking affirmative steps,” Walton, Spencer and Erman write, “organizations can promote meritocracy and diversity at once.”

The Citation: Walton, G. M., Spencer, S. J., & Erman, S. (in press). Affirmative meritocracy (pdf). Social Issues and Policy Review.

Related Situationist posts:

For a collection of previous Situationist posts discussing how situation influences standardized test scores, click here.

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Distribution, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Red Ink

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 4, 2010

Last week, NPR’s All Things Considered included a story by Guy Raz about California psychology professor Abraham Rutchick‘s study of how people use red and blue pens to grade papers. Rutchick tells host Raz that the red graders were way tougher than those who used blue pens.  Here are some excerpts from the interview (which you can listen at this link).

* * *

GUY RAZ, host: Tell me how you went about studying this theory.

Prof. RUTCHICK: The basic idea is that throughout our lives we get papers handed back to us from teachers with a bunch of corrections on them, and typically they’re in red ink.

* * *

Prof. RUTCHICK: That happens enough times over the course of our lives that the idea of red ink and red pens and error is in correction, you know, gets sort of lodged in our brains. And so it struck us that the very acts of picking up such a pen if you’re using a red pen would activate those ideas again when you go to create something later on.

To test this, what we did is we did a very simple experiment with two conditions. We randomly assigned people to either use a red pen or a pen of a different color. And they, in the first study, simply completed a series of words. So, for instance, F-A-I-blank…

* * *

Prof. RUTCHICK: It could be L if you’re using a red pen . . . that seems more likely.

* * *

Prof. RUTCHICK: And if you’re using, you know, perhaps a blue pen or you’re not having failure on the brain, you might write fair, right? And so it could be one or the other. And the degree to which people complete those words is sort of associated with the degree to which this concept has been activated in their brains.

RAZ: So people with red pens tended to write an L at the end of that word and people with blue pens would write an R?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Precisely.

RAZ: Did any of your subjects actually get to grade papers with different colored pens?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Yes. That was just our first study. And our second, they evaluated an essay that had a bunch of errors in it and they were told to mark as many mistakes as they found and they marked more errors using red pens than using blue pens.

RAZ: So when they used blue pens they found fewer errors in…

Prof. RUTCHICK: Fewer errors, yeah, about 19 in this particular essay versus about 24. And our third study, which was really the most striking one, this was one where the essays had no actual objective errors. There were no errors in grammar or spelling; just a bunch of sub-optimal word choices.

RAZ: Everybody had the same essay?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Precisely. So each person comes in they come in individually, of course they each get one essay to read. It’s the same essay for everyone. And just before they start, they’re given a pen with which to do the corrections and mark the grade and that pen is either red or blue. And we found in this third study that the people with red pens assigned lower grades than the people with blue pens.

RAZ: How wide was the gap between those who had the blue and those who had the red pens? I mean, how wide was the disparity?

Prof. RUTCHICK: It was about four-point to 100-point scale. So the difference between a B-minus and a C-plus.

RAZ: So it was that big simply because of the color of their pens?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Yeah, it is. I mean, these are subjective errors, in a sense. So people are reading this essay and they’re deciding kind of freely; there’s no obvious answer that this is right and this is wrong. They’re kind of deciding how good is this thing? When you have that kind of subjectivity in grading, all sorts of little things can influence you one way or another.

RAZ: What does this tell us about red pens?

Prof. RUTCHICK: Well, it tells us that they’re a source of influence that we’re usually unaware of. They certainly activate these ideas of failure and wrongness and correction.

RAZ: I mean, how much do you think this is about associations, really? Because to say, you know, all school districts in America all of a sudden said: Okay, all papers have to mark up papers in blue ink. After 20 years or so, wouldn’t kids start associating blue ink with marked up papers?

Prof. RUTCHICK: In my view, it is mostly due to the association that’s built up over time. It wouldn’t happen immediately, of course, but in a couple of decades, as you suggest, that’s what would happen. There are a few reasons to believe that maybe red is special in this regard.

They did a study a few years back in the journal Nature where Olympians in combat sports who were wearing red actually were more likely to win. And the author suggested that had to do with red activating aggression, dominance and testosterone.

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You can listen to the interview or read the entire transcript here.  It includes Professor Rutchick’s explanation for why he continues to use a red pen when grading his own students’ work.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Being Green,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Education, Embodied Cognition, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Poor Education

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 3, 2010

What is the cause of the educational disaster in central Africa?

Nicholas D. Kristof had an interesting take in his N.Y. Times column, Moonshine or the Kids?, published last week.

According to Kristof, “[I]f the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.”

In the article, Kristof profiles a Congolese family, the Obamzas (yes, you read that right).  The family is behind on its $6-a-month rent and cannot afford to send the three Obamza children to school at a cost of $7.50 a month.  The Obamzas do, however, spend $10 a month on cellphone usage and Mr. Obamza spends $12-a-month drinking at the village bar.

Kristof’s point is well taken—many poor families around the world spend more on alcohol, tobacco, and other “non-essential” goods than they do on educating their children.  However, he does not go far enough in searching for the roots of the problem.

Kristof does offer some situationally sensitive solutions: encouraging aid groups and U.N agencies to help women to take “more control over purse strings” and developing microsavings programs that can support a savings culture.  Yet, he ultimately seems to place blame on parents like Mr. Obamza.  Indeed, the column comes off as being about “personal responsibility” and making wise choices.

This seems particularly shortsighted given the main vices that Kristof mentions: cigarettes, alcohol, and cell phones.  These are not goods that people freely “choose” to consume.  The first two have been clearly established as addictive.  And all three are now actively marketed to people in the third world by various corporate interests eager to hook a new consumer base.

Ultimately, Kristof has identified something that we should all pay attention to—the dreadful state of education for the poorest people in Africa—but he’s asking the wrong questions.  He shouldn’t be asking why Mr. Obamza “prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids.”  He should be asking about Heineken’s efforts to market its beer and Altria’s efforts to market Marlboro cigarettes to young men and boys in the Congo Republic.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” “Missing the Situation Leads to Optimism Among Powerful,” “Should Addiction Be Criminalized?,” “The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food,” “Merchants of Discontent – Abstract,” “A “Healthy” Alternative or the Latest Trick?,” Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Without the Filter,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” and The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Marketing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Examining the Gendered Situation of Harvard Business School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 5, 2010

Julia Brau, Paayal Desai, Alexandra Germain, Akmaral Omarova, Jung Paik,  and Julie Sandler are all students at Harvard Business School (HBS) who last week published a thoughtful article in their student newspaper The Harbus.  With potential lessons and relevance for many institutions, the piece discusses recent efforts  to understand and address sources of gender discrepancies in academic performance at HBS.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Are men and women equal at HBS? It’s a question that has been front of mind at HBS in recent weeks. . . .

One of these many efforts is a field study that focuses on analyzing and addressing the current differences between the male and female academic experience at HBS. As The Harbus published in a Fall article, “WSA Academic Initiative Survey,” there is a marked discrepancy between male and female academic performance: though comprising 38% of the Class of 2010 student body, female students make up only 23% of first year honors recipients and an estimated 55% of the students asked to take leave from HBS after the RC [i.e., first] year in 2009. Females in past years with similar class compositions have comprised 11-14% of Baker Scholars.

This semester, a group of ECs partnered with faculty and HBS administration to understand some of the root causes driving these trends. The study was completed through three workstreams. First, a series of focus groups was conducted with a variety of students – men and women, honors recipients, sectionmates and non-sectionmantes – to try to identify root causes of grading inequities and generate a catalog of academic best practices that could be helpful to future students. Second, interviews with faculty explored academic root causes of underperformance from the faculty’s perspective and identified potential areas for improvement. Finally, all these efforts coincided with a data-focused workstream that included analysis of publicly available honors, class card and other information to understand if certain factors such as relationship status, age or work background play a part in determining male and female performance.

Preliminary findings on root causes have been grouped into five areas to be examined in another field study this fall.

Comment Frequency and Delivery
Survey and focus group results, along with faculty feedback, confirmed previous findings that women feel less comfortable speaking in class. Women also speak less frequently and with less confidence. Most notably, they are less willing to potentially offend or challenge classmates than their male peers are.

Section Dynamics
Some sections reported better female performance (i.e. many more female honors recipients, fewer females asked to take leave) than others, suggesting that the social and academic tone of a given section could impact men and women differently. Data analysis also showed that a much higher percentage of female honors students than average are married, suggesting further underlying social dynamics at work. Given this information, directed focus groups attempted to illuminate the role of social dynamics in predicting performance across genders. It seemed clear from focus groups that students take into account their social relationships with section peers when deciding whether to speak and what to say. Furthermore, focus group feedback indicated that dramatic in-class bonding experiences, Skydecks that avoided personal attacks, and engaged officers (leadership & values representatives, education representatives and presidents) all played a role in setting the tone for a positive learning environment for both men and women.

Potential Unconscious Faculty Biases
There is a body of research that shows that male and female comments are unconsciously processed differently. Focus group and Fall survey data further suggest that people perceive that women are raising their hands less and consequently getting called on less than men. Professor interviews exposed a wide range of faculty opinions on this unconscious bias issue; some professors care deeply about performance of different minorities and actively manage calling patterns and in-class interactions, while other professors feel they do not have any biases to manage. Faculty, for the most part, admitted that unconscious biases may exist and in turn asked for help in identifying these biases.

Admissions Differences:
Focus group feedback showed some students thought differences in grades might be explained by differences between men’s and women’s backgrounds and admissions profiles. Admissions data cannot be used for purposes other than admissions, but preliminary analysis using the classcards and honors list statistics of four representative sections yielded some interesting results. People with backgrounds in consulting and/or finance made up 84% of the honors list. In the four sections studied, women were actually more likely than men (70% women versus 60% men) to come from these finance or consulting backgrounds. On the flip side, first year honors recipients from the sections studied had a little more work experience than average while women across the four sections on average had fewer years’ work experience than men. Follow-up research in the fall will look into this issue further.

Lack of Female Role Models
Fall survey and focus group data highlighted female discomfort with the current lack of female professors and case protagonists. Psychology research supports the notion that women could be at a disadvantage from not seeing more female role models at HBS.

Summary of Findings and Next Steps
While HBS is still a long way from achieving grading parity, much has been accomplished through this field study and other ongoing efforts around this issue. Detailed analysis of grade and classroom data is helping the administration to better understand what factors contribute to performance. This May, HBS professors will have the opportunity to attend one of two sessions with Harvard psychologist [and Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji to understand how implicit biases affect how males and females are perceived differently in class settings. Efforts are underway to have next year’s RCs see a case that directly addresses gender dynamics in the workplace. In addition, extra sessions on class participation with Professor Frances Frei will be opened up to all students. Future students will receive a Survival Guide with updated information on difference between male and female academic performance. In addition, a series of recommendations ranging from opening analytics to all students to sharing EC exam grades and more detailed mid-semester RC participation feedback has been presented to the HBS administration.

Finally, a large part of this effort has been focused on keeping a dialogue open on issues surrounding female academic performance. An important study (Shih, Pittinsky & Ambady, Psychological Science, 1999) showed that Asian women performed better on math exams when their ethnic identities were activated than when their gender identities were activated by a series of questions at the start of the test. There was an internal implicit bias that made these women do worse when they self-identified as women than when they self-identified as Asian. A second study (Kray, Thompson & Galinsky, Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 2001) showed that when this tendency to underperform was made explicitly known to test-takers in advance, the effect completely disappeared. One of the most important goals of the ongoing Women’s Initiative is to make explicit the underlying factors that can lead to grade disparity at HBS so that women can knowingly work to overcome them.

While there is some question as to whether or not HBS prepares women best for the “real world” by mirroring existing social conditions or by implementing changes to be “better” than the norm, the administration tends to come down on the side that says HBS should be a leader in the business community that sets, rather than follows, the larger social tone. The question for the HBS administration seems to be not whether to do anything, but what can be done to best ensure equality in grading. In the meantime, student movements like the Women’s Initiative will seek to help women understand the existing issues and try to give all students better tools to succeed both at HBS and in the workplace.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “A Rose by any other Name Might Become a Judge,” “Not Just Whistling Vivaldi,” The Nerdy, Gendered Situation of Computer Science,” The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,”Women’s Situational Bind,” The Situation of Gender and Science,Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Education, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Law Students Flock to Situationism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 22, 2009

SALMS Logo Small 2 for WebsiteHere is Anthony Kammer’s fine article, titled “Meeting of the Minds: Law Students Flock to Psychology Lectures,”  in the latest edition of The Harvard Law Record.

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In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks described psychology as a field that was taking off among young people, who were interested in probing for more accurate answers to the mysteries of human behavior. That might help explain why audiences packed the lectures of two Harvard psychologists who presented their research at the law school this September. Both talks, sponsored by the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS), raised intriguing questions about the way our psychological intuitions are formalized in the law.

On September 8th, Daniel Wegner,  author of The Illusion of Conscious Will, presented several recent studies that examine the mechanism by which individuals come to identify their own and others’ behavior as intentional during his talk “Psychological Studies of the Guilty Mind.”

Wegner’s experiments suggest that people involved in a common activity, such as using an ouija-board, are often unable to discern which actions they produced themselves and which were caused by someone else. He described several other studies in which people misidentify behaviors as their own.  It has been shown in cases of facilitated communication, for example, in which a therapist helps an autistic patient type out answers to a question, that the messages communicated actually originate from the therapist and not the autistic patient, although the therapist reports no awareness that he or she actually produced the responses. This work suggests that while people feel as if they are the authors of their choices, this process is an evolved sensation and not the most descriptively accurate account for our behaviors.

On September 21st, Fiery Cushman, a newly-minted PhD recipient and post-doctoral fellow at Harvard’s Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative, presented some of his recent research at an event titled “Outcome vs. Intent: Which Do We Punish, and Why?” Cushman’s work suggests that at a gut-level, people assess whether a behavior was morally right or wrong by looking at the actor’s intentions, but when assigning punishment, people are overwhelmingly interested in outcomes, even if an outcome was accidental.

Cushman described several experiments where he was able to look at a participant’s intentions in isolation from the actual outcome of the participant’s actions. In one case, participants were given the choice of dice that would later be rolled to assign rewards to a second, receiving party. When given the opportunity, the recipient would consistently punish more often when the dice produced less favorable rewards, even if the initial participant intended to provide rewards generously. This work has interesting implications for tort law, explaining in part why findings of negligence lead to large compensatory rewards even in the absence of any intentional action.

As this article went to press, SALMS was planning further events, including an October 22nd, discussion by [Situationist Fellow] Goutam Jois ’07 entitled “Stare Decisis is Cognitive Error”.

Founded in the late spring of 2009, The Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences (SALMS) is the outgrowth of Professor [& Situationist Contributor] Jon Hanson’s Ideology, Psychology and Law seminar course as well as his Project on Law and Mind Sciences.  SALMS is the first student group at any law school merging law and mind and sciences and is already working with students at other law schools to create similar organizations around the country. Its speaker  series is intended to both introduce the legal community to relevant work in psychology and the related mind-sciences and to encourage mind scientists to explore the implications of their work for law and policy-making.

In recent years, the number of law review articles citing to prominent mind sciences research has skyrocketed, and  most top-tier law schools now  offer courses emphasizing relevant insights from social psychology and related fields.  In fact, the course descriptions of nine courses in the 2009-2010 HLS course catalog explicitly mention psychology. And in the wake of the recent financial crisis, economists and lawyers have turned increasingly to behavioral economics and social psychology to understand the underlying cognitive mechanisms that shape and influence our institutions. Psychology and neuroscience are increasingly informing and challenging some of the assumptions of the criminal justice system, and the mind science promise to help sharpen and clarify legal concepts.

In addition to co-sponsoring events with other HLS student groups, SALMS has already begun to forge close relationships with organizations across the University, including graduate and undergraduate students affiliated with the Harvard Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative.

The group is hoping to start a journal next fall to explore further interdisciplinary work in law and the mind sciences.  It would be the first academic journal of its kind in the world.

Posted in Education, Events, Law, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 5, 2009

Poverty Generations Stress - from Shavar's photostream, Flickr From The Economist, here are some excerpts of a summary of research exploring the interior situation of how poverty is passed from one generation to the next.

* * *

That the children of the poor underachieve in later life, and thus remain poor themselves, is one of the enduring problems of society. . . . But nobody has truly understood what causes it. Until, perhaps, now.

The crucial breakthrough was made three years ago, when Martha Farah of the University of Pennsylvania showed that the working memories of children who have been raised in poverty have smaller capacities than those of middle-class children. Working memory is the ability to hold bits of information in the brain for current use—the digits of a phone number, for example. It is crucial for comprehending languages, for reading and for solving problems. Entry into the working memory is also a prerequisite for something to be learnt permanently as part of declarative memory—the stuff a person knows explicitly, like the dates of famous battles, rather than what he knows implicitly, like how to ride a bicycle.

Since Dr Farah’s discovery, Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg of Cornell University have studied the phenomenon in more detail. As they report in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they have found that the reduced capacity of the memories of the poor is almost certainly the result of stress affecting the way that childish brains develop.

* * *

For all six [measures of stress], a higher value indicates a more stressful life; and for all six, the values were higher, on average, in poor children than in those who were middle class. Moreover, because Dr Evans’s wider study had followed the participants from birth, the two researchers were able to estimate what proportion of each child’s life had been spent in poverty. . . .

The capacity of a 17-year-old’s working memory was also correlated with [stress levels]. Those who had spent their whole lives in poverty could hold an average of 8.5 items in their memory at any time. Those brought up in a middle-class family could manage 9.4, and those whose economic and social experiences had been mixed were in the middle.

. . . Dr Evans and Dr Schamberg . . . were able [statistically] . . . to remove the effect of [stress levels] on the relationship between poverty and memory discovered originally by Dr Farah. When they did so, that relationship disappeared. In other words, the diminution of memory in the poorer members of their study was entirely explained by stress, rather than by any more general aspect of poverty.

* * *

That stress, and stress alone, is responsible for damaging the working memories of poor children thus looks like a strong hypothesis. It is also backed up by work done on both people and laboratory animals, which shows that stress changes the activity of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another in the brain. . . .

Children with stressed lives, then, find it harder to learn. Put pejoratively, they are stupider. It is not surprising that they do less well at school, end up poor as adults and often visit the same circumstances on their own children.

. . . . The main reason poor people are stressed is that they are at the bottom of the social heap as well as the financial one.

Sir Michael Marmot, of University College London, and his intellectual successors have shown repeatedly that people at the bottom of social hierarchies experience much more stress in their daily lives than those at the top—and suffer the consequences in their health. Even quite young children are socially sensitive beings and aware of such things.

So, it may not be necessary to look any further than their place in the pecking order to explain what Dr Evans and Dr Schamberg have discovered in their research into the children of the poor. . . .

* * *

To read the entire article, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,” and “Infant Death Rates in Mississippi.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Education, Emotions, Life | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

What Stigma? – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 8, 2008


Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Emily Houh, and Mary Campbell have posted an intriguing article, “Cracking the Egg: Which Came First – Stigma or Affirmative Action?” (forthcoming 96 California Law Review (2008)) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This Article examines the strength of arguments concerning the causal connection between racial stigma and affirmative action. In so doing, this article reports and analyzes the results of a survey on internal stigma (feelings of dependency, inadequacy, or guilt) and external stigma (the burden of others’ resentment or doubt about one’s qualifications) for the Class of 2009 at seven public law schools, four of which employed race-based affirmative action policies when the Class of 2009 was admitted and three of which did not use such policies at that time.

Specifically, this Article examines and presents survey findings of 1) minimal, if any, internal stigma felt by minority law students, regardless of whether their schools practiced race-based affirmative action; 2) no statistically significant difference in internal stigma between minority students at affirmative action law school and non-affirmative action law schools; and 3) no significant impact from external stigma.

Posted in Abstracts, Education | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Marc Hauser on the Situation of Morality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 1, 2008

On the heals of yesterday’s post about Marc Hauser’s research, we thought the following videos would be of interest to our readers (viewers).

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From TheTechMuseum: Understanding Genetics – An interview with Marc Hauser at the Future of Science Conference in Venice, Italy September 2006.

Part 1 (3:40): You’ve written that the human sense of right and wrong has evolved. If we have a moral instinct, why did it evolve? What are the advantages?.

* * *

Part 2 (1:52): So the ramifications here are enormous, for parenting, school, religion. Isn’t that where most people think they get their sense of right and wrong from?

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Part 3 (2:52): If our moral instinct, and guilt along with it, are inherited, do you foresee a way in the future to pinpoint that this gene does this, or this gene does that?

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Part 4 (3:18): Are we still evolving? If so, is our moral instinct evolving as well?

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Part 5 (3:07): Some think we’re not evolving anymore, that natural selection requires isolation. You don’t share that view?

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Part 6 (4:14): Let’s talk about evolution in the United States. If you don’t accept evolution, how can you learn biology? Or genetics?

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Part 7 (2:28): How do you see the issue of evolution and education?

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For some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Innate Morality,” “Moral Psychology Primer,” “Pinker on the Situation of Morality,” and “The Science of Morality.”

Posted in Education, Morality, Neuroscience, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Engines of Inequality: Class, Race, and Family Structure – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 18, 2008

Amy Wax posted her latest manuscript, “Engines of Inequality: Class, Race, and Family Structure” (forthcoming in 41 Family Law Quarterly 567 (2007) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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The past 30 years have witnessed a dramatic divergence in family structure by social class, income, education, and race. This article reviews the data on these trends, explores their significance, and assesses social scientists’ recent attempts to explain them. The article concludes that society-wide changes in economic conditions or social expectations cannot account for these patterns. Rather, for reasons that are poorly understood, cultural disparities have emerged by class and race in attitudes and behaviors surrounding family, sexuality, and reproduction. These disparities will likely fuel social and economic inequality and contribute to disparities in children’s life prospects for decades to come.

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