The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

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:

Image from Flickr

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

The Situation of Emotion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 27, 2012

From by :

Robert Levenson, UC Berkeley Department of Psychology, explores the changes in emotion that occur with age. Much of his research focuses on the nature of human emotion, in terms of its physiological manifestations, variations in emotion associated with age, gender, culture, and pathology, and the role emotion plays in interpersonal interactions.

A sample of related Situationist posts:

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Ideology, Psychology, and Law – Introduction

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 29, 2012

On SSRN, you can now download the introductory chapter of Ideology, Psychology, and Law (published in 2012 by Oxford University Press and containing chapters from numerous Situationist Contributors and edited by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson).

Here’s a quick description.

Formally, the law is based solely on reasoned analysis, devoid of ideological biases or unconscious influences. Judges claim to act as umpires applying the rules, not making them. They frame their decisions as straightforward applications of an established set of legal doctrines, principles, and mandates to a given set of facts. As most legal scholars understand, however, the impression that the legal system projects is largely an illusion. As far back as 1881, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. made a similar claim, writing that “the felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.”

More than a century later, we are now much closer to understanding the mechanisms responsible for the gap between the formal face of the law and the actual forces shaping it. Over the last decade or so, political scientists and legal academics have begun studying the linkages between ideologies, on one hand, and legal principles and policy outcomes on the other. During that same period, mind scientists have turned to understanding the psychological sources of ideology. This book is the first to bring many of the world’s experts on those topics together to examine the sometimes unsettling interactions between psychology, ideology, and law, and to better understand what, beyond and beneath the logic, animates the law.

This introductory chapter describes why this volume came together when it did and provides an overview of the general sections and the individual chapters and comments in the book. It begins with a brief, loose, and highly stylized history of the relationships between ideology, psychology, and law—a history premised on the oversimplifying assertion that something changed around the year 2000.

Download the chapter for free here.

Learn more about the book here.

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

Iain Couzin Speaks Tomorrow on the Situation of Collective Behavior

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2012

“From Democratic Consensus to Cannibalistic Hordes: The Principles of Collective Behavior”

Lecture by Iain Couzin

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 6:00 PM

Why do billions of locusts suddenly break into motion? How do ants carry heavy loads and march with orderly precision along densely packed trails? How do flocks of birds and schools of fish select their navigators? And how do we—humans—make decisions as citizens, drivers, and numerous other social situations? Iain Couzin, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton, has made major contributions to understanding the dynamics and evolution of collective animal behavior.

  • Free and open to the public, Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford Street.
  • Free parking available in the 52 Oxford Street garage.
  • Part of the Evolution Matters lecture series. Supported by a generous gift from Drs. Herman and Joan Suit.

You can watch an earlier version of Professor Couzin’s lecture below.

Sample of related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

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Ideology, Psychology, and Law – Available Now!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2012

Edited by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson, Ideology, Psychology, and Law examines the sometimes unsettling interactions between psychology, ideology, and law and elucidates the forces, beyond and beneath the logic, that animate the law.

Here is some of the glowing praise for the volume from, among others, several Situationist Contributors:

“Ideology, Psychology, and Law is a revolution in the making. Encyclopedic in its breadth, this volume captures a moment – like the early heady days of the law and economics movement – when bold, new inquiries are suddenly possible.  For those who still cling to the centrality of preferences and incentives, thisbook will be usefully threatening.”

~ Ian Ayres, William K. Townsend Professor, Yale Law School, and author of Carrots and Sticks: Unlock the Power of Incentives to Get Things Done

“This volume is the first of its kind, employing the latest mind science research to illuminate the motivated and unconscious inspirations for ideology, law, and policy. The superbly edited and timely volume is a highly accessible, interdisciplinary collection, bringing together the perspectives and insights of many of the world’s most thoughtful and influential social psychologists, political scientists, and legal scholars. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to better understand the psychological winds buffeting our institutions of collective governance.”

~ Philip G. Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University

“With this collection, Jon Hanson and the contributors to this volume have gone a long way towards breaking the iron grip that Law and Economics have held on serious legal policy analysis. By incorporating insights from psychology and other behavioral and mind sciences, this volume maps animportant and inspiring interdisciplinarity that will guide path breaking work in the future.”

~ Gerald Torres and Lani Guinier, co-authors of The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy

“This volume shows what ideology is and does. The chapters written by psychologists demonstrate that there is little about the mind’s work that can be called ‘neutral.’ The legal scholars who contribute to this volume push forward to ask how the law must itself bend toward justice, if such is the case. This compendium contains facts and ideas that, if heeded, may bring the law closer to the aspiration that everybody be equal before the law.”

~ Mahzarin R. Banaji, Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University

“Insightful, comprehensive, boundary-spanning. Hanson pulls together research and ideas from multiple disciplines to create a new way of looking at the most important legal questions of our time.”

~ Sheena S. Iyengar, S.T. Lee Professor of Business, Columbia Business School and author of The Art of Choosing

Purchase information here.

Posted in Book, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

A Reminder: Smile

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 11, 2011

Your mom was right: turn that frown upside down.

She may not have had science to back up her suggestion, but Ron Gutman does (watch the video above)!

A number of studies in Gutman’s short talk may be familiar to readers, but putting them altogether in a nice little package is the payoff here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Emotions, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Pinker on the Changing Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 21, 2011

From the Harvard Gazette:

Steven Pinker wants you to know that violence has declined.

Despite civil wars in Africa and the Mideast, ongoing strife in Afghanistan, and the barrage of local and national crimes reported on the nightly news, people are living in a much more peaceful era than they might think.

“During the thousands of years humans spent as hunter-gatherers, the average rate of violent death was higher than the worst years of World War II, and about five times higher than the rate of death from all wars, genocides, and human-made famines in the 20th century,” said Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology and Harvard College Professor.

“Believe it or not … today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” wrote Pinker in his latest book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” which takes its title from that age-old dichotomy: the devil on one shoulder, whispering temptation, enticing us to act on sinister urges, and the angel on the other shoulder, holding us back with caution and consequence.

“Human nature is extraordinarily complex, and includes both bellicose and peaceable motives. Outbreaks of violence or peace depend on which is more engaged in a given time and place,” said Pinker. “Among the better angels of our nature — the psychological faculties that caused violence to decline —  are self-control, empathy, and a sense of fairness.”

But, Pinker added, “My most surprising discovery was that the most important better angel may be reason: the cognitive faculties with which we understand the physical and social world. It was an ironic discovery, given that cognition and language are my research specialty.”

What historical forces have been engaging these better angels? Pinker cites “the outsourcing of deterrence and revenge to a disinterested third party, including the police and court system; the growth of commerce, which replaces zero-sum plunder with positive-sum trade and reciprocity; the forces of cosmopolitanism, such as mobility and literacy, which encourage people to take other vantage points and hence consider their interests; and the growth of education, public discourse, science, and abstract reasoning, which discourage parochial tribalism and encourage people to treat violence as a problem to be solved rather than as a contest to be won.”

To put this all in context, Pinker shows that homicide rates in Europe have declined 30-fold since the Middle Ages. Human sacrifice, slavery, punitive torture, and mutilation have been abolished around the world. And, he said, “Great powers and developed countries have stopped going to war. And in the world as a whole, deaths in warfare may be at an all-time low.”

In his research, Pinker’s favorite discovery was learning that “every category of violence — from deaths in war to the spanking of children to the number of motion pictures in which animals were harmed — had declined.” That, he admitted, “makes the present less sinister, the past less innocent.”

He believes that “forms of institutionalized violence that can be eliminated by the stroke of a pen — such as capital punishment, the criminalization of homosexuality, the callous treatment of farm animals, and the corporal punishment of children in schools — will continue to decline, because decision-making elites will continue to be swept by the humanitarian tide that has carried them along for centuries.”

* * *

“. . . . ‘Better Angels’ made me appreciate the forces of civilization and enlightenment which have made our lives so much more peaceable than those of our ancestors: the police, a court system, democracy, education, literacy, commerce, science, the Enlightenment, and the forms of secular humanism that grew out of it — which are easy to take for granted.”

More.

Related Situationist posts:

One series of posts was devoted to the situational sources of war.

To review a larger sample of posts on the causes and consequences of human conflict, click here.

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Education | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Michael S. Gazzaniga

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 15, 2011

From The New York Times, a terrific article about Michael Gazzaniga:

The scientists exchanged one last look and held their breath.

Everything was ready. The electrode was in place, threaded between the two hemispheres of a living cat’s brain; the instruments were tuned to pick up the chatter passing from one half to the other. The only thing left was to listen for that electronic whisper, the brain’s own internal code.

The amplifier hissed — the three scientists expectantly leaning closer — and out it came, loud and clear.

“We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine ….”

“The Beatles’ song! We somehow picked up the frequency of a radio station,” recalled Michael S. Gazzaniga, chuckling at the 45-year-old memory. “The brain’s secret code. Yeah, right!”

Dr. Gazzaniga, 71, now a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is best known for a dazzling series of studies that revealed the brain’s split personality, the division of labor between its left and right hemispheres. But he is perhaps next best known for telling stories, many of them about blown experiments, dumb questions and other blunders during his nearly half-century career at the top of his field.

Now, in lectures and a new book, he is spelling out another kind of cautionary tale — a serious one, about the uses of neuroscience in society, particularly in the courtroom.

Brain science “will eventually begin to influence how the public views justice and responsibility,” Dr. Gazzaniga said at a recent conference here sponsored by the Edge Foundation.

And there is no guarantee, he added, that its influence will be a good one.

For one thing, brain-scanning technology is not ready for prime time in the legal system; it provides less information than people presume.

For another, new knowledge about neural processes is raising important questions about human responsibility. Scientists now know that the brain runs largely on autopilot; it acts first and asks questions later, often explaining behavior after the fact. So if much of behavior is automatic, then how responsible are people for their actions?

Who’s driving this submarine, anyway?

In his new book, “Who’s in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain,” being published this month by Ecco/HarperCollins, Dr. Gazzaniga (pronounced ga-ZAHN-a-ga) argues that the answer is hidden in plain sight. It’s a matter of knowing where to look.

* * *

He began thinking seriously about the nature of responsibility only after many years of goofing off.

Mike Gazzaniga grew up in Glendale, Calif., exploring the open country east of Los Angeles and running occasional experiments in his garage, often with the help of his father, a prominent surgeon. It was fun; the experiments were real attempts to understand biochemistry; and even after joining the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity at Dartmouth (inspiration for the movie “Animal House”), he made time between parties and pranks to track who was doing what in his chosen field, brain science.

In particular, he began to follow studies at the California Institute of Technology suggesting that in animals, developing nerve cells are coded to congregate in specific areas in the brain. This work was captivating for two reasons.

First, it seemed to contradict common wisdom at the time, which held that specific brain functions like memory were widely — and uniformly — distributed in the brain, not concentrated in discrete regions.

Second, his girlfriend was due to take a summer job right there near Caltech.

He decided to write a letter to the director of the program, the eminent neurobiologist Roger Wolcott Sperry (emphasizing reason No. 1). Could Dr. Sperry use a summer intern? “He said sure,” Dr. Gazzaniga said. “I always tell students, ‘Go ahead and write directly to the person you want to study with; you just never know.’ ”

At Caltech that summer after his junior year, he glimpsed his future. He learned about so-called split-brain patients, people with severe epilepsy who had surgery cutting the connections between their left and right hemispheres. The surgery drastically reduced seizures but seemed to leave people otherwise unaffected.

Read the article here.

Related Situationist posts:

Mike Gazzaniga on the Split Brain

Posted in Classic Experiments, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Penn State Bystanders

Posted by Jon Hanson on November 14, 2011

Many blame-laden fingers have been pointed at those who didn’t act immediately and decisively to stop the sexual atrocities that took place at Penn State.  We all know what the right thing to do was, and we are all confident that we would have done it.

But should we be?

To state the obvious, what transpired within the Penn State football system was wrong on many levels.  We know that rape is wrong, that rape should never happen, that if a rape does occur, it should be stopped from happening again.   We know that pedophilia is wrong, that using power to exploit the vulnerable is wrong, that turning a blind eye to misdeeds is wrong. Still, wrong happens.

Perhaps going forward many of us may be more likely to “do the right thing” after this media frenzy than we would have been had we never been confronted with this story.  But I’m interested in a slightly different question:  would we ourselves, in the precise situation of those we are judging, really have acted so differently?  Would we have immediately, vocally, and publicly intervened, protested, and contacted the police?

As this blog routinely highlights, for more than a half century, social psychology has been dismantling the notion that we can accurately predict our own behavior in strange situations.   The names of Solomon Asch, Stanley Milgram, and Phil Zimbardo are all familiar because of what their research reveals: We often fail where we expect we would succeed.

And yet that lesson doesn’t stick; the illusion of our own imagined heroism remains robust.  Even many of us familiar with the countless experiments illustrating the power of situation and the illusion of disposition manage to exempt ourselves from those lessons and assign blame to those who did not measure up to our standards.

We easily assign blame when they found ways to diffuse responsibility.  We see with clarity where they saw ambiguity.   We wonder how could they be so blind and so immoral and conclude that they are not like us.

To reach such a conclusion, we  place more faith in our rage than we do in the lessons of social science.  A mountain of research shows that we  have much more in common with those we judge harshly than we want to believe.  Among those similarities is the motive to see ourselves, our groups, our systems, and our world in affirming ways.  The tendency to see “them” as different and ourselves as superior is a symptom of the same nonconscious motivational force that allowed “them” to see themselves as doing enough.

We should resolve to do the right thing both when we encounter wrongdoing and when we judge others who encounter wrongdoing.  That is not only the honest and empathetic approach, it is our best hope to gird ourselves against the strong currents of our own situation.

* * *

The following 37-minute video was assembled hastily to introduce a small group of my students to the events unfolding at Penn State.  It contains video clips that depict, among other things, the integral role that football has long played at Penn State, the legendary and iconic status of Joe Paterno at that university, the different perspectives taken of those events and of Joe Paterno, and the various ways in which public and private law and the media have shaped the coverage and the reaction to the unfolding events.  The video also includes several clips from ABC’s “What Would You Do?” series hosted by John Quiñones.  Those clips might help remind viewers of some of the ways in which we tend to overestimate our own propensity to speak up, to resist, to get involved, or to fight back and underestimate our readiness to sit on our hands, to turn away, to opt for rose-tinted spectacles, or to go with the flow.

The video, be warned, has many problems (e.g., quality, editing, organization, redundancies); it did, however, provide useful fodder for what I thought was an illuminating discussion.  Because of that, I decided to include it here in case others might find it useful.  Though credits are not included, the vast majority of the videos can be found on Youtube.

A Sample of related Situationist posts:

 

Posted in Conflict, Education, Emotions, Life, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Embodied Situation of our Cognitions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 7, 2011

From Scientific American:

Embodied cognition, the idea that the mind is not only connected to the body but that the body influences the mind, is one of the more counter-intuitive ideas in cognitive science. In sharp contrast is dualism, a theory of mind famously put forth by Rene Descartes in the 17th century when he claimed that “there is a great difference between mind and body, inasmuch as body is by nature always divisible, and the mind is entirely indivisible… the mind or soul of man is entirely different from the body.” In the proceeding centuries, the notion of the disembodied mind flourished. From it, western thought developed two basic ideas: reason is disembodied because the mind is disembodied and reason is transcendent and universal. However, as George Lakoff and Rafeal Núñez explain:

Cognitive science calls this entire philosophical worldview into serious question on empirical grounds… [the mind] arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experiences. This is not just the innocuous and obvious claim that we need a body to reason; rather, it is the striking claim that the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment… Thus, to understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system, our motor system, and the general mechanism of neural binding.

What exactly does this mean? It means that our cognition isn’t confined to our cortices. That is, our cognition is influenced, perhaps determined by, our experiences in the physical world. This is why we say that something is “over our heads” to express the idea that we do not understand; we are drawing upon the physical inability to not see something over our heads and the mental feeling of uncertainty. Or why we understand warmth with affection; as infants and children the subjective judgment of affection almost always corresponded with the sensation of warmth, thus giving way to metaphors such as “I’m warming up to her.”

Embodied cognition has a relatively short history. Its intellectual roots date back to early 20th century philosophers Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and John Dewey and it has only been studied empirically in the last few decades. One of the key figures to empirically study embodiment is University of California at Berkeley professor George Lakoff.

Lakoff was kind enough to field some questions over a recent phone conversation, where I learned about his interesting history first hand. After taking linguistic courses in the 1960s under Chomsky at MIT, where he eventually majored in English and Mathematics, he studied linguistics in grad school at Indiana University. It was a different world back then, he explained, “it was the beginning of computer science and A.I and the idea that thought could be described with formal logic dominated much of philosophical thinking. Turing machines were popular discussion topics, and the brain was widely understood as a digital computational device.” Essentially, the mind was thought of as a computer program separate from the body with the brain as general-purpose hardware.

Chomsky’s theory of language as a series of meaningless symbols fit this paradigm. It was a view of language in which grammar was independent of meaning or communication. In contrast, Lakoff found examples showing that grammar was depended of meaning in 1963. From this observation he constructed a theory called Generative Semantics, which was also disembodied, where logical structures were built into grammar itself.

To be sure, cognitive scientists weren’t dualists like Descartes – they didn’t actually believe that the mind was physically separate from the body – but they didn’t think that the body influenced cognition. And it was during this time – throughout the 60s and 70s -Lakoff realized the flaws of thinking about the mind as a computer and began studying embodiment.

The tipping point came after attending four talks that hinted at embodied language at Berkeley in the summer of 1975. In his words, they forced him to “give up and rethink linguistics and the brain.” This prompted him and a group of colleagues to start cognitive linguistics, which contrary to Chomskyan theory and the entire mind as a computer paradigm, held that “semantics arose from the nature of the body.” Then, in 1978, he “discovered that we think metaphorically,” and spent the next year gathering as many metaphors as he could find.

Many cognitive scientists accepted his work on metaphors though it opposed much of mainstream thought in philosophy and linguistics. He caught a break on January 2nd 1979, when he got a call from Mark Johnson . . . .  What came next was one of the more groundbreaking books in cognitive science. After co-writing a paper for the journal of philosophy in the spring of 1979, Lakoff and Johnson began working on Metaphors We Live By, and managed to finish it three months later.

Their book extensively examined how, when and why we use metaphors. Here are a few examples. We understand control as being UP and being subject to control as being DOWN: We say, “I have control over him,” “I am on top of the situation,” “He’s at the height of his power,” and, “He ranks above me in strength,” “He is under my control,” and “His power is on the decline.” Similarly, we describe love as being a physical force: “I could feel the electricity between us,” “There were sparks,” and “They gravitated to each other immediately.” Some of their examples reflected embodied experience. For example, Happy is Up and Sad is Down, as in “I’m feeling up today,” and “I’m feel down in the dumbs.” These metaphors are based on the physiology of emotions, which researchers such as Paul Eckman have discovered. It’s no surprise, then, that around the world, people who are happy tend to smile and perk up while people who are sad tend to droop.

Metaphors We Live By was a game changer. Not only did it illustrate how prevalent metaphors are in everyday language, it also suggested that a lot of the major tenets of western thought, including the idea that reason is conscious and passionless and that language is separate from the body aside from the organs of speech and hearing, were incorrect. In brief, it demonstrated that “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.”

After Metaphors We Live By was published, embodiment slowly gained momentum in academia. In the 1990s dissertations by Christopher Johnson, Joseph Grady and Srini Narayanan led to a neural theory of primary metaphors. They argued that much of our language comes from physical interactions during the first several years of life, as the Affection is Warmth metaphor illustrated. There are many other examples; we equate up with control and down with being controlled because stronger people and objects tend to control us, and we understand anger metaphorically in terms of heat pressure and loss of physical control because when we are angry our physiology changes e.g., skin temperature increases, heart beat rises and physical control becomes more difficult.

* * *

As Lakoff points out, metaphors are more than mere language and literary devices, they are conceptual in nature and represented physically in the brain. As a result, such metaphorical brain circuitry can affect behavior. For example, in a study done by Yale psychologist John Bargh, participants holding warm as opposed to cold cups of coffee were more likely to judge a confederate as trustworthy after only a brief interaction. Similarly, at the University of Toronto, “subjects were asked to remember a time when they were either socially accepted or socially snubbed. Those with warm memories of acceptance judged the room to be 5 degrees warmer on the average than those who remembered being coldly snubbed. Another effect of Affection Is Warmth.” This means that we both physically and literary “warm up” to people.

The last few years have seen many complementary studies, all of which are grounded in primary experiences:

• Thinking about the future caused participants to lean slightly forward while thinking about the past caused participants to lean slightly backwards. Future is Ahead

• Squeezing a soft ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as female while squeezing a hard ball influenced subjects to perceive gender neutral faces as male. Female is Soft

• Those who held heavier clipboards judged currencies to be more valuable and their opinions and leaders to be more important. Important is Heavy.

• Subjects asked to think about a moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth after the experiment than those who had thought about good deeds. Morality is Purity

Studies like these confirm Lakoff’s initial hunch – that our rationality is greatly influenced by our bodies in large part via an extensive system of metaphorical thought. How will the observation that ideas are shaped by the body help us to better understand the brain in the future?

* * *

More.

Related Situationist posts:

 

 

 

Posted in Classic Experiments, Embodied Cognition | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison and Kingsfield’s Harvard Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 31, 2011

Last week, Phil Zimbardo delivered another remarkable lecture at Harvard Law School — this time tracing his journey from studying evil to inspiring heroism.  We hope to post that video in several weeks.  For his introduction, Situationist Editor Jon Hanson assembled this short video comparing Professor Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment and Professor Kingsfield’s Harvard Law School (The Paper Chase), both of which reached their 40th anniversary this year.

Related Situationist posts:

 

Posted in Classic Experiments, Education, Events, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Juror Bias

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 30, 2011

Jessica West recently posted her article, “12 Racist Men: Post-Verdict Evidence of Juror Bias” (Harvard Journal of Racial & Ethnic Justice, Vol. 27, p. 165, 2011) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Federal Evidence Rule 606(b) and similar state rules prohibit post-verdict admission of juror statements, including racist or biased remarks, made during deliberations. The roots of the evidentiary prohibition are historically deep and the interests underlying the Rule implicate the very existence of the jury system. Constitutionality of the post-verdict evidentiary exclusion is based upon the presumption that pre-trial and trial mechanisms exist to discern juror bias prior to deliberations. Empirical studies and recent cases indicate, however, that these mechanisms do not currently operate to adequately expose or remove juror biases. This article argues that the expansion of these mechanisms, including more diverse jury venires, more robust and effective juror voir dire, less discretion for parties to remove jurors on the basis of race, and the development of jury admonitions directly addressing bias, will reduce juror expressions of bias during deliberations. Even with these reforms, however, not all juror bias will be disclosed and, whether for reasons of embarrassment, inattention or intent, some jurors will misrepresent material biases during voir dire. To address juror misrepresentations during voir dire, the article proposes a narrow exception to Rule 606(b) permitting inquiry into juror bias for the purpose of showing juror misrepresentation. The article’s unique approach of combining enhanced pre-trial and trial mechanisms with a narrow exception to the rule to address juror misrepresentations strikes a balance between upholding the goals underlying Rule 606(b) and the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.

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Download the paper for for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Milgram Experiment Yet Again (Again!)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 29, 2011

The Discovery channel’s CURIOSITY asks “How Evil Are You?” and replicates the Milgram experiment on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 9PM e/p.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Zimbo at HLS Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 26, 2011

Posted in Events, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Selfishness versus Altruism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 21, 2011

From the Stanford Daily:

Individuals who act in their own self-interest are more likely to gain prestige and leadership recognition than those who exhibit altruistic characteristics, according to a recent study.

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) collaborated with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business on the report, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Robert Livingston, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at Kellogg, wrote in an email to The Daily that the collaboration between these three business schools sprung out of personal friendships and similar academic interests. He said the researchers conducted all of their three experiments at the behavioral lab at Stanford’s GSB.

“One might think that generosity would be a virtue (and selfishness a bane) for people who are aspiring to be elevated to high positions of authority and power by others,” Livingston wrote. Instead, the study found the opposite was true.

According to Livingstone, their research sought to explore how an individual’s contribution to a group would affect teammates’ perceptions of him or her. He said that individuals who more frequently acted in their self-interest achieved a greater sense of prestige within the group — even over those who contributed often to the team.

The study also asked participants — called intergroup members — to choose a leader whom they felt would be best in one of two different situations. According to the report, the situations were designed to be either more “cooperative” or “competitive” in nature.

The “cooperative” test asked intergroup members to choose a leader who would allocate resources while the “competitive” test asked the members to choose a leader who would help them in competition against a rival out-group.

“These experiments demonstrate that the leaders that people want vary as a function of the intergroup situation,” wrote Nir Halevy, co-author of the study and GSB assistant professor, in an email to The Daily. He said that the qualities teammates seek in a leader change depending on the circumstance.

Halevy also said that these findings are universally applicable and could shine more light on how a system of leadership develops, whether in offices or on the reality show “Survivor.”

He said the study also explored the relationship between those who are in an in-group and those who are in an out-group within a society.

“One interesting finding was that generosity toward out-group members does not lead to respect and admiration in the eyes of others,” Halevy said. “In fact, it led to lower levels of prestige compared to showing generosity toward in-group members only.”

Halevy added that these findings should by no means discourage people in the process of climbing the ladder to show generosity — they simply explain the behavioral tendencies of individuals operating in a competitive atmosphere.

According to Halevy, the study’s co-authors have many ideas about where to take their research next. For instance, he said the study leaves areas open for examination, such as the extent to which “aspiring leaders strategically display behaviors that can boost their prestige or dominance, depending on the group context.”

More.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blood & Race

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 21, 2010

From the Harvard Gazette:

The centuries-old “one-drop rule” assigning minority status to mixed-race individuals appears to live on in our modern-day perception and categorization of people like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Halle Berry.

So say Harvard University psychologists, who’ve found that we still tend to see biracials not as equal members of both parent groups, but as belonging more to their minority parent group. The research appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Many commentators have argued that the election of Barack Obama, and the increasing number of mixed-race people more broadly, will lead to a fundamental change in American race relations,” says lead author Arnold K. Ho, a Ph.D. student in psychology at Harvard. “Our work challenges the interpretation of our first biracial president, and the growing number of mixed-race people in general, as signaling a color-blind America.”

In the United States, the “one-drop rule” — also known as hypodescent — dates to a 1662 Virginia law on the treatment of mixed-race individuals. The legal notion of hypodescent has been upheld as recently as 1985, when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as “white” on her passport.

“One of the remarkable things about our research on hypodescent is what it tells us about the hierarchical nature of race relations in the United States,” says co-author James Sidanius, professor of psychology and of African and African-American studies at Harvard. “Hypodescent against blacks remains a relatively powerful force within American society.”

Ho and Sidanius, along with co-authors Mahzarin R. Banaji (Situationist Contributor) at Harvard and Daniel T. Levin at Vanderbilt University, say their work reflects the cultural entrenchment of America’s traditional racial hierarchy, which assigns the highest status to whites, followed by Asians, with Latinos and blacks at the bottom.

Ho and colleagues presented subjects with computer-generated images of black-white and Asian-white individuals, as well as family trees showing different biracial permutations. They also asked people to report directly whether they perceived biracials to be more minority or white. By using multiple approaches, their work examined both conscious and unconscious perceptions of biracial individuals, presenting the most extensive empirical evidence to date on how they are perceived.

The researchers found, for example, that one-quarter-Asian individuals are consistently considered more white than one-quarter-black individuals, despite the fact that African Americans and European Americans share a substantial degree of genetic heritage.

Using face-morphing technology that presented a series of faces ranging from 5 percent white to 95 percent white, they also found that individuals who were a 50-50 mix of two races, either black-white or Asian-white, were almost never identified by study participants as white. Furthermore, on average, black-white biracials had to be 68 percent white before they were perceived as white; the comparable figure for Asian-white biracials was 63 percent.

“The United States is already a country of ethnic mixtures, but in the near future it will be even more so, and more so than any other country on earth,” says Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard. “When we see in our data that our own minds are limited in the perception of those who are the products of two different ethnic groups, we recognize how far we have to go in order to have an objectively accurate and fair assessment of people. That’s the challenge for modern minds.”

The team found few differences in how whites and non-whites perceive biracial individuals, with both assigning them with equal frequency to lower-status groups. The researchers are conducting further studies to examine why Americans continue to associate biracials more with their minority parent group.

“The persistence of hypodescent serves to reinforce racial boundaries, rather than moving us toward a race-neutral society,” Ho says.

* * *

Arnold Ho is one of the confirmed presenters at the 2011 PLMS conference on “The Psychology of Inequality.”

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Fifth Annual PLMS Conference – Save the Date,” “Jim Sidanius ‘Terror, Intergroup Violence, and the Law’,” “The Palliative Function of Ideology,” The Blame Frame – Abstract,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?,” Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “Wages Are Only Skin Deep – Abstract,” Colorblinded Wages - Abstract,” Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice,” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

John Jost on Studying Psychology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 13, 2009

This is Part II of an interview of Situationist Contributor John Jost by the Association for Psychological Science Student Caucus.    Part I is here.  This portion of the interview focuses on John’s experience, and advice about, studying psychology.

* * *

APSSC: What suggestions do you have for choosing an area of study within a field as large and diverse as psychology?

Jost: . . . Study something that you are passionate about. It can be something about human behavior that inspires you (like language or creativity or wisdom) or worries you (like our capacity for self-destruction) or simply fascinates you. It should be a fairly big issue or set of questions, but not so big as to be intractable. To sustain yourself over the years, it seems to me that you cannot be working on something just because it hasn’t quite been done yet, nor should it be something that you can imagine being bored by. It may not be part of the stereotype of a scientist, but I think that passion is crucial. My colleague, Yaacov Trope, calls it “fire in the belly.”

APSSC: How did you go about selecting a graduate program?

Jost: Well, that was fairly haphazard. I was an undergraduate student at Duke University at a time (the late 1980s) when there were very good clinical, cognitive, and developmental psychologists but virtually no social psychologists. So I had to rely on pretty indirect advice, and I was only 20 years old when I applied for graduate school. Given all of that, I was tremendously fortunate to have been accepted for admission at Princeton, Yale, Michigan, and Cornell.

Most faculty members I knew at the time advised me to go to Princeton or Michigan, and they had very good reasons for giving that advice. But I felt something especially exciting and worldly and hungry and, yes, passionate when I visited Yale, so I decided to go there, and I’m so glad that I did! In terms of senior faculty, I studied with Bill McGuire (who eventually became my dissertation advisor), Bob Abelson, Leonard Doob, and Bill Kessen, all of whom provided tremendous historical as well as scientific grounding for my thinking. They were brilliant teachers and very different from one another. And the junior faculty at the time included Mahzarin Banaji and Peter Salovey, both of whom were so inspiring, even as assistant professors!

APSSC: What were the most rewarding aspects of graduate school for you?

Jost: There were so many things. It turned out to be a fantastic time to be at Yale in social psychology, although it might not have seemed that way from the outside. The particular constellation of faculty was well-suited to my interests; for instance, there was an interdisciplinary group of political psychologists that met almost weekly for talks, discussions, and group projects.

I was told before going to graduate school that I would learn almost as much from my fellow graduate students as from my professors, and that turned out to be true. At Yale, I “overlapped” with Curtis Hardin, Alex Rothman, Irene Blair, Chris Hsee, Buju Dasgupta, and Jack Glaser, among many others who have gone on to have very successful careers. During the summers (when we were not playing softball), we organized our own reading groups to absorb and discuss 19th and 20th century classics in psychology and philosophy. I think that we were all trying to figure out how we could contribute something lasting.

APSSC: How does a graduate student work toward becoming a first-rate researcher?

Jost: I suppose that it’s some elusive, sublime combination of following the best and most heartfelt advice of one’s mentors; trusting one’s own abilities and insights, even when others do not (yet); asking for help when necessary; identifying interesting and worthwhile problems; persisting stubbornly in a prolonged attempt to solve those problems; and just plain luck.

APSSC: What are some of the common mistakes you see graduate students and young professionals making?

Jost: I would say chasing disciplinary fads instead of engaging a truly interesting and important problem, taking on too many projects before they are ready, discounting the advice of mentors because it differs from their own intuitions or from the advice of fellow students, and thinking they know it all already. I suffered from a few of those mistakes myself.

APSSC: What advice would you give to graduate students who want to have careers in academia?

Jost: Choose research topics that you think will be interesting to you in 5, 10, or 20 years, because it might take that long to obtain profoundly satisfying answers. And prepare yourself to withstand withering criticism until then. Above all, hang in there when you do receive criticism, and figure out what it is that you have to say to the world and how to say it so that people will listen.

APSSC: Writing and publishing are often anxiety provoking events for graduate students. You already have a lot of experience as a writer, editor, and reviewer; what do you know now about this process that you wish you would have known earlier in your career?

Jost: That the first draft is usually the hardest one, that you are not incompetent or necessarily even wrong just because a paper gets rejected, and that persistence and tenacity really pay off in the long run.

* * *

Tomorrow we’ll post a third portion of the interview, including Jost’s discussion of his own pathbreaking research .  If you’d like to read the entire interview right away, click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking,” “Mahzarin Banaji’s Situation,” and “Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part I, Part II, and Part III,” andThe Bar Exam Situation.”

Posted in Education, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

A Situationist View of Criminal Prosecutors

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 2, 2009

ScalesBarbara O’Brien has recently posted her interesting article, “A Recipe for Bias: An Empirical Look at the Interplay between Institutional Incentives and Bounded Rationality in Prosecutorial Decision Making” (forthcoming in Missouri Law Review, 2009) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Prosecutors wield tremendous power, which is kept in check by a set of unique ethical obligations. In explaining why prosecutors sometimes fail to honor these multiple and arguably divergent obligations, scholars tend to fall into two schools of thought. The first school focuses upon institutional incentives that promote abuses of power. These scholars implicitly treat the prosecutor as a rational actor who decides whether to comply with a rule based on an assessment of the expected costs and benefits of doing so. The second school focuses upon bounded human rationality, drawing on the teachings of cognitive science to argue that prosecutors transgress not because of sinister motives, but because they labor under the same cognitive limitations that all humans do. In this article, I begin to unify these two schools of thought into a comprehensive approach. I apply the lessons of cognitive science to identify the ways in which prosecutors’ distinctive institutional environment may undermine not just their willingness to play fair, but their ability to do so. Research on the psychological effects of accountability demonstrates that when people are judged primarily for their ability to persuade others of their position, they are susceptible to defensive bolstering at the expense of objectivity. I argue that prosecutors operate under precisely such a system, and are therefore particularly susceptible to biases that undermine their ability to honor obligations that require some objectivity on their part. In support of this claim, I present the results of two original experiments demonstrating that holding people accountable for their ability to persuade others of a suspect’s guilt exacerbates common cognitive biases relevant to prosecutorial decision making, and discuss the implications of this research for reform.

* * *

To download the paper for free, click here.   To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Leaving the Past,” Behavioral Criminal Law and Economics – Abstract,” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” “The Racial Situation of Criminal Juries and the Consequences,” “The Situation of “Justice” in Tulia Texas,” Jena 6 – Part I,” and “Jena 6 – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Law | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Legal Judgments – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 28, 2009

Scales of JusticeBarbara O’Brien and Daphna Oyserman recently posted a draft of their paper, “It’s Not Just What You Think But Also How You Think About it: The Effect of Situationally Primed Mindsets on Legal Judgments and Decision Making” (forthcoming in 92 Marquette L. Rev. (2008)) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Lawyers intuitively understand that individual differences matter for legal judgments and decision making, and that calling forth certain concepts can affect how people interpret and judge evidence. But they generally overlook the influence of mindset on those very same judgments–that is, they fail to consider how situational cues can prime a way of making sense of the world that affects how people perceive evidence and receive arguments. We present two studies demonstrating the effect of priming a particular type of mindset–a focus on either achieving success or avoiding failure–on attitudes about criminal justice policy and willingness to take action based on limited evidence in a criminal case. We then discuss other mindsets that are potentially relevant to legal judgments and decision making, offering hypotheses about their likely effects and highlighting the need for further empirical research.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Emotions, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Intuition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 8, 2009

In Part I of his 2007 Hitchcock Lectures (titled “Explorations of the Mind – Intuition: The Marvels and the Flaws“), Daniel Kahneman explores the idea of intuition:

For a sample of other Situationist posts related to Kahneman’s work, see “Dan Kahneman’s Situation,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part II.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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