The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘naive realism’

Kennedy and Pronin on the Spiral of Conflict

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 16, 2011

A group of  Harvard Law students are blogging over at the Law & Mind Blog.  Here is one of their posts about a chapter by Situationist Contributor Emily Pronin and Kathleen Kennedy (forthcoming in from Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson’s  book, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”).  The post is authored by HLS student Michael Lieberman.

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In their chapter, Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict, Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin examine what they see as a major cause of breakdowns in negotiation, both small- and large-scale: a tendency of each side to view the other side’s position as biased and preference-driven (rather than based on objective facts). Kennedy and Pronin explain that we tend to see signs of bias all around us – some even posit that United States Supreme Court justices fall short of impartiality in their decisions. The only place, it seems, where the tendency to detect bias is weak is in ourselves: people have a tendency to perceive others as susceptible to the influence of biases while at the same time viewing themselves as relatively unaffected by those biases. That asymmetry has been referred to as a bias blind spot. One example of this bias blind spot with particular relevance to those of us in law school is the widespread disagreement over the validity of high-stakes standardized tests, such as the LSAT. High performers are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of poor performers who claim that the test is invalid and should not be used; poor performers, by contrast, are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of high performers who champion the tests’ use.

The first component of Kennedy and Pronin’s bias-perception conflict spiral is that disagreement leads to an even stronger perception that the other side is biased. That is, when people disagree, they view those with whom they disagree as biased or, more specifically, as unable or unwilling to view things as they are in “objective reality.” The reason is clear: “people generally have complete faith in the veridicality of their perceptions, and thus are suspicious of those who fail to share their perceptions.” Kennedy and Pronin offer support for this component with a review of several experimental and real-world cases of the tendency to perceive bias in action, including an experiment conducted among partisans involved in the struggle between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, in the wake of the “Good Friday Agreement” that established the conditions for peace in that region. Consistent with their hypothesis, partisans in the conflict tended to feel that those who led the opposing side were more prone to these biases than were those who led their own side.

The second component of the model is that the perception of the other side as biased leads to competitive and aggressive action, as opposed to cooperative and peaceful action. When dealing with an opponent whom one views as unable or unwilling to see things objectively, one may conclude that cooperative efforts (such as sitting down to talk things out, or providing relevant facts and arguments) are unlikely to be successful. The authors again cite several studies supporting the idea that people are likely to choose their responses to their opponents based at least in part on their assessment of the other side’s capacity for objectivity versus inclination towards bias.

Having outlined the framework of the bias-perception conflict spiral, Kennedy and Pronin proceed to apply their concept to the field of negotiation, both explaining when and how the spiral rears its ugly head and offering potential ways to stop it in its tracks. As the above outline would suggest, people seem to view their adversaries in negotiation as prone to bias, and that perception of bias leads them to act competitively in a way that interferes with efficient dispute resolution. After reviewing the weaknesses of strategies suggested by past research (perspective taking, epistemic motivation, and social grouping) Kennedy and Pronin suggest three strategies of their own to help achieve increased success in negotiations (strategies that may require bringing in a third-party mediator):

1. Non-counterarguing listening – Counterarguing listening, which the authors suggest most people engage in, involves thinking about ways in which one’s own position is superior and preparing counterarguments while an opponent is speaking. that can be leveled against the opposition when it is one’s chance to reply. An alternative to that listening approach would allow individuals to truly hear the other person by suppressing impulses to counterargue that content, so that individuals might reach a better understanding of their opponent’s actual position and of its underlying subtleties.

2. Introspective education – This strategy works to induce individuals to see themselves as less objective. By recognizing their own capacity for bias, individuals might be better equipped to resolve their conflicts peacefully once they realize that the other side, while biased, is no more biased than oneself and, therefore, likely has some rational reasons for believing what they believe. A mediator can implement this strategy by educating individuals on the psychology of implicit biases and providing them with concrete demonstrations of their own implicit attitudes (by administering the IAT, for example).

3. Temporal distance – Kennedy and Pronin explain: “Manipulating adversaries’ temporal distance from a conflict situation may also work to alleviate the bias-perception conflict spiral. Temporal distance (how far into the future an event is), as well as physical and social distance (how geographically distant or socially removed an event is), can increase the extent to which individuals see events in more global, indirect, or abstract terms,” which allows adversaries to adopt a cooler perspective toward the situation, including toward the disagreement itself and the opposing party. which might lead them to be more open to acknowledging both their own biases and their adversaries’ objectivity. Resulting reductions in individuals’ perceptions of either the size of their disagreement or the extent to which they are uniquely objective could interrupt or prevent the bias-perception conflict spiral.

In sum, Kennedy and Pronin’s framework focuses on the tendency of individuals to impute bias to others, especially others who disagree with them, and on the consequences of that tendency for conflictual behavior. Their examination of the psychological forces behind the conflict spiral, as well as their suggestions for overcoming it, offers valuable insight to the field of negotiation and mediation, which is particularly useful in a world that is so often divided into opposing interests and groups.

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Go to the Law and Mind Blog here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Conflict, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Judicial Ideology – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 29, 2008

Judicial PoliticsBryan D. Lammon has posted his paper “What We Talk about When We Talk about Ideology: Judicial Politics Scholarship and Naive Legal Realism (forthcoming 83 St. John’s Law Review (2009)) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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A large and growing body of law and psychology scholarship has posed new challenges to traditional assumptions about the behavior of legal actors. While mainstream legal thought has often treated individuals as more or less rational, autonomous actors, scholars in a variety of fields are presenting a new, empirically based, and more formal challenge to the law’s traditional conceptions of human behavior. One area with especially great potential is the use of psychology to improve our understanding of one of the more persistent questions of legal theory: How do judges decide cases? While law and psychology scholars are changing the way we think about the behavior of legal actors, the psychology of judicial behavior has gone relatively unexplored.

However, another school of thought on judicial behavior has made recent inroads into legal scholarship. In a field commonly known as “judicial politics,” political scientists (and more recently, legal scholars) have endeavored to uncover the determinants of judicial behavior using the tools of statistical analysis. While a few legal scholars outside of judicial politics have suggested that it should inform legal theory judicial politics as a field of study has been embraced by a few, regarded as unremarkable or obvious by some, and rejected by others. I suspect that this mixed reception is due in part to much of the scholarship being somewhat unclear in what it exactly means. That is, much of political science scholarship quite clearly suggests that judging is ideological. What “ideological” means, however, is much less clear. A bit of reading between the lines reveals that much of judicial politics scholarship conceives of ideology predominantly as partisan politics. Along these lines, much of the scholarship presents an image of judges as consciously and actively promoting a political agenda.

This conception of ideology and ideological judicial decisionmaking, however, is quite unsatisfying. It conceives of ideology predominantly in political or partisan terms, and, bearing the influence of traditional notions of individual rationality and autonomy, it portrays judges as rational actors that can consciously impose their policy preferences through their decisions. This portrayal reflects the same conception of rational, wholly autonomous individual behavior that law and psychology is challenging. However, even if one rejects judicial politics’ conception of ideology and its influence, one still must contend with the reams of empirical research that judicial politics scholars have amassed.

This lack of clarity coupled with scores of empirical studies that one cannot easily dismiss creates a number of problems for legal scholars. First, judicial politics effectively characterizes judicial decisionmaking as party politics. In so doing, it misunderstands the human side of judging and perverts our understanding of judicial behavior. Second, as noted above, some legal scholars are calling for the incorporation of judicial politics scholarship into legal scholarship. Yet, before turning to the normative implications of judicial politics scholarship, it is important to clarify what exactly this scholarship means. Finally, the language and conclusions of judicial politics scholarship enflame the myth of judicial activism.

In this Article, I look to the social psychological theory of naive realism in order to understand the empirical findings of judicial politics scholarship. Naive realism begins with the social psychological truism that all perception is subjective. However, we often fail to recognize the subjectivity of our own perception, instead believing that we are privy to the objective realities of the outside world. The problem of this disparity between how we think we see the world (objectively) and how we really see the world (subjectively) is that we often fail to appreciate the subjectivity of both our own and others’ perception. An appreciation of the subjectivity of perception central to naive realism indicates that what might appear to be political or partisan or “ideological” decisionmaking is instead the result of the inevitable influence of human decisionmakers perceiving their world subjectively.

This Article, however, is not confined to an internal debate between two approaches to judicial behavior – one based in psychology and one based in political science. In this Article, I also hope to show how the study of judicial behavior can inform legal theory. Throughout this piece, I hope to show how modern psychology can inform wider perspectives on judicial decisionmaking and legal theory in general.

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 20, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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