The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Social Psychology’

The Situation of Poor Choices

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 5, 2012

Social psychologist and Situationist friend Dave Nussbaum has another outstanding situationist post over on Random Assignments.  Here’s how it starts.

One of the obstacles that keeps the poor from rising out of poverty is the tendency to make costly financial decisions – like buying lottery tickets, taking out high interest loans (PDF), and failing to enroll in assistance programs – that only make their situation worse. In the past, these poor decisions have been attributed either to low income individuals’ personalities or issues in their environment, such as poor education or substandard living conditions. New research published this month in Science by Booth Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science Anuj Shah points to a new answer: living with scarcity changes people’s psychology.

The basic idea is that when resources are scarce – when people are short on time, or money, or food – each decision about how best to use those resources takes on greater urgency than when resources are abundant. This focus can have positive effects in the short term, but it comes at the expense of neglecting other, less urgent demands. For example, when they are under the press of urgent expenses like rent and groceries, people may neglect to do routine maintenance on their car and end up with costly (and avoidable) repairs down the road.

Shah, along with colleagues Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard and Eldar Shafir of Princeton, published five studies in which he studied the effects of scarcity on decision making in various games in which people were paid according to their performance. In each of the studies some people received ample resources with which to play, while others received very few. Moreover, in some studies the players had the opportunity to borrow additional resources with interest. The researchers then observed how scarcity affected the players’ borrowing behavior, their performance, and the psychological processes at play.

Across the studies Shah found that for people who had very few resources, the games took on more urgency. They became more focused on the task at hand in order to make the best use of their scarce resources, but that this added focus came at a price, including mental fatigue, costly borrowing decisions, and poor overall performance.

For example, in an Angry Birds-type of game, in which the object was to knock down as many targets as possible, players who could take only three shots per round spent more time aiming each shot than players who had fifteen shots. This added focus improved performance, but it had downsides. When players were given the opportunity to “borrow” a shot, by giving up two shots in a later round of the game, players who had fewer in shots made counterproductive borrowing decisions that hurt their overall performance.

Read the rest of Dave’s post, discussing possible implications of the research, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Blogroll, Choice Myth, Distribution, Marketing, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Self-Control and Crime

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 1, 2012

Rebecca E. Hollander-Blumoff has recently posted her excellent paper, “Crime, Punishment, and the Psychology of Self-Control” (Emory Law Journal, Vol. 61, No. 501, 2012) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract:

Criminal law rests on the assumption that individuals — most of the time — have free will. They act in ways that they choose to act, exercising control over their own behavior. Despite this central role of free will and self-control in the conceptualization of criminal responsibility, criminal law scholars have not, to date, considered the implications of decades of research in social psychology on the mechanisms of self-control. This article suggests that examining current social psychology research on self-control offers a novel way to amplify our thinking about crime and punishment, helping to make sense of the way that the law has developed, casting doubt on the descriptive validity of legal perspectives on self-control and crime, and offering potential guidance as we think about appropriate levels of culpability and punishment.

Two important broad insights come from examining this psychological research. First, by considering self-control failure at the micro level — in a particular moment of action or inaction — psychological research on self-control helps uncouple self-control questions from broader questions about the existence of free will. The roots of failure to control one’s behavior, important though they may be, are separate from the question of an individual’s ability to do so at a specific time and place. Psychology’s robust findings on the fine-grained aspects of self-control suggest that self-control is a concept with meaning and usefulness for the law, regardless of one’s viewpoint about the existence of free will. Second, taking psychological research on self-control seriously indicates that criminal law may vastly underdescribe the scope of situations in which an individual lacks the ability to control her actions. That is, acts that the law calls “uncontrolled” are a mere subset of the behavior that psychology would call “uncontrolled.” The mismatch between the scope of self-control as described by psychology and criminal law helps to highlight that notions of self-control in the law are inherently constructed by the law itself, rather than reflecting some empirical reality, and that any efforts to define and understand the concept and role of self-control in law as purely positive, rather than normative, are misguided.

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Image from Flickr.

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Success

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 20, 2012

Dave Nussbaum has an excellent new post over on Random Assignments.  Here’s how it starts.

I don’t think Michael Lewis was trying to make a political point when he gave the commencement address at Princeton University last month (watch the whole thing here). Lewis, the author of several bestselling books including MoneyballLiar’s Poker, and The Big Short, knows a thing or two about the interdependence of luck and success and he was sharing his thoughts on the matter with the about-to-be Princeton graduates. Here’s a taste of what he told them:

Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them. Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky. I make this point because — along with this speech — it is something that will be easy for you to forget.

He’s right about that last point; it is easy to forget. It’s also convenient, Lewis told Jeffrey Brown in a follow-up interview on PBS’ NewsHour. Most people would acknowledge that both luck and merit are important ingredients to success. It’s just that people often like to feel like they are the authors of their accomplishments and ignore everything and everyone else who played a role. “As they age, and succeed,” Lewis told the graduates, “people feel their success was somehow inevitable.”

Now Lewis isn’t trying to deny Princeton graduates (or anyone else) credit for their success. He just wants them to take a minute to “dwell on just how fortunate they are.” His hope is simply that they have some compassion for people who worked just as hard they did but were less fortunate. As it turns out, there’s some research that suggests that taking a minute to dwell on your good fortune might have exactly that effect.

Way over on the other side of the country, on the campus of another elite university, Chris Bryan and his colleagues (PDF) asked Stanford University students to take a minute (or ten) to tell the story of how they got into the prestigious college. Not all the students got the same instructions, though. Half of the students were asked to focus on the role that “hard work, self-discipline and wise decisions played in helping you get here.” The other half were told to focus on the role of “chance, opportunity and help from others.” Neither group had any difficulty writing the essay. As Bryan, who will be joining the faculty at UC San Diego this fall, explained to me in an email:

People writing about merit would tell the story most successful people probably tell themselves by default–reminiscing about the long hours they spent studying, the times they made the “tough choice” they knew to be right, or how they skipped nights out with friends to stay home and work on an important paper. In some ways, the most interesting thing was that most people who got the good fortune instructions had no trouble acknowledging the lucky breaks they had gotten. Many said things like “I definitely worked hard to get where I am but I realize how fortunate I was to be born into a family that could afford to give me the support and resources I needed to succeed.”

So it seems that people are capable of seeing the role of luck and merit in contributing to their success. What Lewis might be particularly pleased to see, though, is how dwelling on luck, and the help they’d received from others, changed people’s attitudes. Compared to the students who wrote about their own merit, students who wrote about the role of good fortune in their success were, on average, more strongly in favor of policies like universal healthcare and access to unemployment benefits, which presumably helps with one’s obligation to the less fortunate. In addition to increasing support for liberal policies, thinking about one’s luck decreased support for conservative policies like building more prisons and instituting a flat tax. As Bryan explained to me, “it’s not that people’s ideology doesn’t matter, it’s just that their views on important issues can move around significantly depending on how they think about their own success. When they’re focused on their own talent and effort, they’re much less willing to contribute to the common good than when they pause to recognize that luck and help from other people played a big part in their ability to succeed.”

Read the rest of the post, which examines the relevance of Lewis’s remarks and Bryan’s research for politics, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Blogroll, Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

The Exaggerated Situation of Polarization

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 14, 2012

Situationist friend Dave Nussbaum has more terrific posts over at, Random AssignmentsBelow, we have re-blogged portions of his timely piece about how “extremists exaggerate polarization.”

Why have American politics become so polarized? Maybe they haven’t – maybe it’s just you? New research reveals that partisans, especially those on the extremes, overestimate the amount of polarization that actually exists. The phenomenon, called polarization projection,helps us to understand how it is that people on both ends of the political spectrum mistakenly assume that there is a much wider gap between the two sides than there actually is.

Making the problem worse, people at the political extremes – those who have exaggerated views of how polarized the country is – are also the ones who are most politically active. This can end up translating extreme partisans’ mistaken views into the election of politicians who are more extreme than the people they represent, particularly in the context of intra-party primaries (Nate Silver recently documented this effect among Senate Republicans).

When the gap between the two parties appears to be enormous, compromise becomes difficult. We become less likely to see our political adversaries as having the same basic goals as us (like improving the country and the lives of its citizens) while having different opinions of how to achieve those goals. Instead, they become the enemy. And compromising with the enemy is not pragmatic, it’s disloyal.

Just ask Richard Mourdock who recently ousted six-term Republican senator Dick Lugar in the Indiana GOP primary. He told Brian Howey of the Evansville Courier and Press:

“I recognize there are times when our country is incredibly polarized in that political sense. Right now is one of those times. The leadership of the Republican Party and the leadership of the Democratic Party are not going to be able to reach compromise on big issues because they are so far apart in principle. My idea of bipartisanship going forward is to make sure that we have such a Republican majority in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate and in the White House, that if there’s going to be bipartisanship, it’s going to be Democrats coming our way, instead of them trying to pull Republicans their way.”

Dick Lugar’s biggest sin, it seems, is that he was occasionally willing to side with Obama and the Democrats. He worked with then-Senator Obama on a bill that to secure nuclear material abroad, and voted to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. As Obama himself said in a statement released after Lugar’s defeat, “While Dick and I didn’t always agree on everything, I found during my time in the Senate that he was often willing to reach across the aisle and get things done.” A willingness to compromise meant the end of Senator Lugar, or, as Tea Partiers in Indiana liked to refer to him, “Obama’s favorite Republican.” Another moderate Republican Senator, Maine’s  Olympia Snowe, also decided not to seek re-election, saying that she does “not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term.”

But let’s get back to the research – what’s the evidence that suggests that it’s the extremists that overestimate the amount of political polarization? . . . [continued]

Read the entire post on Random Assignments.

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

The Political Situation of Support and Opposition to Gay Marriage

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2012

Situationist friend Dave Nussbaum continues to write terrific posts over at, Random AssignmentsBelow, we have re-blogged portions of his recent post about how President Obama’s support of gay marriage led Republicans to become more opposed to it.

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan posted a new Washington Post/ABC News poll tracking changes in approval for legalizing same sex marriage. Sullivan noted that following Obama’s announcement this month that his support of equal rights for same sex couples has “evolved” into support for marriage, there has been a rise in support for legalizing gay marriage among Democrats and Independents. Meanwhile, among Republicans the reverse is true:

“As the country as a whole grows more supportive of gay equality, the GOP is headed in the other direction. Republican support for marriage equality has declined a full ten points just this year – a pretty stunning result. Have they changed their mind simply because Obama supports something? In today’s polarized, partisan climate, I wouldn’t be surprised.

I wouldn’t be surprised either. This is how partisans often react to anything coming from the other side: whatever it is, they don’t like it. Partisans will argue that they are opposed to whatever it is the other side is proposing purely on its merits. We all like to believe that when we evaluate a policy we are responding to the policy’s content, but very often we’re far more influenced by who is proposing it.

For example, in a pair of studies published in 2002, Lee Ross and his colleagues asked Israeli participants to evaluate a peace proposal that was an actual proposal submitted by either the Israeli or the Palestinian side. The trick they played was that, for some participants, they showed them the Israeli proposal and told them it was the Palestinian one, or they showed them the Palestinian proposal and told them it came from the Israeli side (the other half of participants saw a correctly attributed proposal). What they found was that the actual content of the plan didn’t matter nearly as much as whose plan they thought it was. In fact, Israeli participants felt more positively toward the Palestinian plan when they thought came from the Israeli side than they did toward the Israeli plan when they thought it came from the Palestinians. Let me repeat that: when the plans’ authorship was switched, Israelis liked the Palestinian proposal better than the Israeli one.

The same is true when it comes to Democrats and Republicans. In a series of studies published by Geoffrey Cohen in 2003 (PDF), he asked liberals and conservatives to evaluate both a generous and a stringent proposed welfare policy. Although liberals tend to prefer a generous welfare policy and conservatives tend to prefer a more stringent one, the actual content of the policy mattered far less than who proposed it. Not only were liberal participants perfectly happy to support a stringent policy when it was proposed by their own party (while the reverse was true for conservative participants), neither side was aware of the influence of the source of the policy proposal. So even though their partisan affiliations were more important than the content of the policy, both liberal and conservative participants claimed that they were basing their evaluations of the welfare policy strictly on its content. New research by Colin Tucker Smith and colleagues, published in the current issue of the journal Social Cognition (4), suggests that the influence of the policy’s source on our evaluation of the policy’s content happens at an automatic level and can happen without our awareness.

So perhaps it should not be terribly surprising that President Obama’s support for marriage equality has led to increased support among Democrats and more opposition from Republicans. . . . [continued]

Read the entire post on Random Assignments.

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Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, Emotions, Ideology, Morality, Naive Cynicism, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a 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 »

Review of “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 30, 2012

Over at The Jury Expert, You can read an insightful review (by Rita R. Handrich, PhD) of Jon Hanson’s recent book, Ideology, Psychology, and Law” (Oxford University Press). [Introductory chapter available, here].

It opens this way:

Trial consultants, and the very best trial lawyers, practice with an awareness of the law, the domain of the case facts, and the way jurors are likely to understand and misunderstand all of it. If these avenues of thought had a single intersection, you would find that Jon Hanson has been living on that corner for 25 years. As a Harvard Law School professor and prolific writer, he has done much to keep me and many others informed of the traffic coming from these diverse directions. . . .

Read the entire review here.

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Posted in Book, Ideology, Law, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sapna Cheryan on Stereotypes as Gatekeepers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2012

on Apr 27, 2010 Stereotypes as Gatekeepers -

Sapna Cheryans research broadly examines how cultural stereotypes impact peoples choices and behaviors. She is particularly interested in the role that stereotypes play in determining peoples sense of belonging to important social groups.

In this talk, she asks why do women consider a future in computer science to a lesser extent than men? Might this be because the powerful image of the male computer geek makes women feel like they do not belong in the field?

A sample of related Situationist posts:

Posted in Ideology, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of “Who We Help”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 19, 2012

Michaela Huber, Leaf  Van Boven, Peter McGraw, and Laura Johnson-Graham recently posted their intriguing article “Whom to Help? Immediacy Bias in Judgments and Decisions About Humanitarian Aid” (Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 115, pp. 283-293, 2011) on SSRN.

People exhibit an immediacy bias when making judgments and decisions about humanitarian aid, perceiving as more deserving and donating disproportionately to humanitarian crises that happen to arouse immediate emotion. The immediacy bias produced different serial position effects, contingent on decision timing (Experiment 1). When making allocation decisions directly after viewing to four emotionally evocative films about four different humanitarian crises, participants donated disproportionately more to the final, immediate crisis, in contrast, when making donation decisions sequentially, after viewing each of the four crises, participants donated disproportionately to the immediate crisis. The immediacy bias was associated with “scope neglect.” causing people to take action against relatively less deadly crises (Experiments 2 and 3). The immediacy bias emerged even when participants were warned about emotional manipulation (Experiment 3). The immediacy bias diminished over time, as immediate emotions presumably subsided (Experiment 2). Implications for charitable giving, serial position effects, and the influence of emotion on choice are discussed.

Download the article for free here.

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The Situation of Gender in the Workplace

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 18, 2012

From Harvard Business Review (part of an op-ed written by Lauren Stiller Rikleen):

The new millennium has not brought much progress for women seeking top leadership roles in the workplace. Although female graduates continue to pour out of colleges and professional schools, the percentages of women running large companies, or serving as managing partners of their law firms, or sitting on corporate boards have barely budged in the past decade.

Why has progress stalled? A recent study suggests the unlikeliest of reasons: the marriage structure of men in the workplace.

A group of researchers from several universities recently published a report on the attitudes and beliefs of employed men, which shows that those with wives who did not work outside the home or who worked part-time were more likely than those with wives who worked to: (1) have an unfavorable view about women in the workplace; (2)think workplaces run less smoothly with more women; (3) view workplaces with female leaders as less desirable; and (4) conside female candidates for promotion to be less qualified than comparable male colleagues.

The researchers also found that the men who exhibited resistance to women’s advancement were “more likely to populate the upper echelons of organizations and thus, occupy more powerful positions.”

Their conclusion? “Marriage structures play an important role in economic life beyond the four walls of the house.” They affect how people view gender roles and how they categorize others. And, as Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji has documented in her work, using the Implicit Association Test, this can happen even unconsciously.

So even if a male boss explicitly states — and believes — he supports women in leadership, he might still exhibit contradictory behavior or remain oblivious to the obstacles that female colleagues face. Indeed, according to this HBR Research Report from the Center for Work-Life Policy, only 28% of men, compared with 49% of women, see gender bias as still prevalent in the workplace.

I saw this in my own research for Ending the Gauntlet: Removing Barriers to Women’s Success in the Law. Many of the women partners I interviewed described a lack of support and sponsorship from key men in their firms. Several talked to male colleagues who admitted that the success of married women as equity partners invalidated the choices they and their wives had made about how to divide the responsibilities of work and family.

These biases are understandable. It’s natural to seek validation for the choices, and particularly the sacrifices, you have made. But when this expresses itself in attitudes and actions that make it difficult for talented individuals whose choices have been different to advance, it is critical for workplace leaders to intervene.

More.

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Posted in Distribution, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

APS 2012 Convention

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 17, 2012

Transparent 2012 logo

24th APS Annual Convention

Summary

The Association for Psychological Science is committed to providing scientists with opportunities essential to achieving excellence in research. That’s why APS holds the premiere international meeting exclusively dedicated to psychological science. The meeting is a great opportunity to network, present your latest findings, and learn about other cutting-edge work being done in your area and in related areas.

Some of the highlights of the convention include the Opening Ceremony and Keynote Address, the Presidential Symposium, the Bring the Family Address, and numerous educational and poster sessions. More information can be found online.

In addition to the Annual Convention, APS is proud to offer the APS-STP 19th Annual Teaching Institute, and several educational workshops. (Additional registration is required for these sessions). The Teaching Institute workshop will take place on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. Subsequent Teaching Institute programming, including a poster session, concurrent educational sessions, and plenary addresses will take place on Thursday, May 24, 2012.

When

  • Thursday, May 24, 2012 – Sunday, May 27, 2012
    6:00 PM – 12:00 PM

Where

  • Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers
  • 301 East North Water Street
    Chicago, Illinois 60611
    USA
    +1 312.464.1000

Websites

This year’s program features:

  • Keynote Address by James S. Jackson, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Presidential Symposium “Diverse Perspectives: Who Owns Science?” chaired by APS President Douglas L. Medin, Northwestern University
  • Bring the Family Address “Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing” by Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore College
  • Theme Programs:
    • Biological Beings in Social Context
    • Disaster, Response and Recovery
    • Music, Mind and Brain including a special concert featuring Victor Wooten, Five-Time Grammy Award Winner and Bassist for Béla Fleck & The Flecktones
  • There are also workshops, award addresses, special events, and other invited talks, addresses, and symposia by the field’s most distinguished leaders.

To register online, follow this link.

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The Facial Situation of Presidential Candidates

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2012

From InMind (an outstanding article by Dr. Theresa DiDonato from a few years ago):

If your citizenship comes with the responsibility – and privilege – of voting, then every few years you face an interesting challenge. Who will you vote for? Whether you choose to support an incumbent, a celebrated war hero, an experienced government official, or a new face on the political scene, psychologists are incredibly curious about the process by which you come to that decision. There is reason to believe that, coming from a thoughtful and prepared voter, your ballot will reflect an objective assessment of candidate qualifications. You may, for example, use the time before an election to analyze debates, weigh social policies, and scrutinize performance records. With a wealth of political information at the tip of your fingers, only careful, deliberative thinking will contribute to your final decision…right?

Recent research in political psychology tells us that conscious deliberation is only part of the story when it comes to the voter-decision process. Information about candidates is further gathered using no mental effort, through processes operating completely outside of our awareness. Visual cues, for example, such as physical appearance, are instrumental in shaping our impressions of political candidates. Consider the case of Richard Nixon, a United States’ presidential hopeful back in September of 1960. Coming off of a hospital visit and sporting a five-o’clock shadow, Nixon participated in the first-ever televised presidential debate against John F. Kennedy, whose recent return from sunny California left him well-rested and tan. There is reason to believe that Nixon’s arguments were superior: radio listeners thought he won the debate. The estimated 70 million TV viewers, however, overwhelmingly preferred Kennedy. Visual information, i.e. Kennedy’s clean-cut confidence versus Nixon’s haggard appearance, is presumed to have influenced the TV viewers, ultimately shaping their global impressions of both candidates (Kraus, 1988).

Fast forward almost fifty years and researchers are just beginning to understand how physical appearance, particularly facial appearance, factors into voter choice. Nixon’s and Kennedy’s facial expression may certainly have evoked emotional reactions from television viewers during that critical debate. Accordingly, research suggests that feelings, like warmth or happiness, in response to a candidate’s facial gestures can influence voters’ attitudes and subsequent decisions (Sullivan & Masters, 1988). Of particular interest to social-cognitive researchers who study person-perception is how the mind translates facial appearance into beliefs about a candidate’s suitability for office. We now know that in the instant we see a person’s face, an array of fast and implicit cognitive processes take place. In that split second, we unconsciously construct ideas about a person’s personality (Bar, Neta & Linz, 2006). We may think a person is kind, strict, or honest, based only on his appearance. As you might imagine, because we make these personality inferences so easily, they can have important implications for a political candidate seeking election. Indeed, early research had found that a candidate’s photograph can communicate a clear image of his “congressional demeanor,” and fitness for office, affecting his voter appeal (Rosenberg, Bohan, McCafferty, & Harris, 1986). But what is it exactly about a politician’s face that influences his popularity? And which trait inferences matter when it comes to our voting decisions?

As most politicians know, people generally favor familiar faces over unfamiliar faces. What they may not be aware of is people also tend to prefer faces that are similar to their own. Such an idea is firmly grounded in evolutionary theory. Our faces tend to be similar to our family members’ faces, and we also generally share genetic material with them. The evolutionary perspective argues that we are fundamentally wired to protect and spread our genes, so it makes sense that we might be biologically-biased to prefer similar faces. Is this preference sufficiently ingrained so that we might actually prefer candidates who resemble us?

Bailenson, Iyengar, Yee, and Collins (in press) used a creative method to test this idea. Building on their previous work (Bailenson, Garland, Iyengar, & Yee, 2006), they examined the influence of facial similarity on voting behavior by actually manipulating the degree of facial similarity between participants and candidates. How? By digitally morphing images of participants’ faces with photographs of current candidates! Essentially, they screened out participants with glasses and facial hair, and used only high-quality photographs. They then used a computer program to morph, or blend, participants’ faces into the faces of real-life United States’ politicians, such as Hillary Clinton. Participants were unaware of the image modifications.

The researchers conducted three experiments in which they showed participants candidate photos that had been morphed with themselves (self-morph) and/or with a random other participant (other-morph). In some cases, these images were of widely-known politicians, like John Edwards or Rudy Giuliani, while other times they were of unfamiliar candidates. Participants rated each candidate on a set of ten positive personality traits (i.e. moral, intelligent, and friendly), reported their party affiliation (Democrat or Republican), and indicated the strength of that affiliation. In the final experiment, participants also saw a brief description of the candidates’ positions on issues like the Iraq War along with their picture.

The intrigue and appeal of these findings are further enhanced by the researchers’ discovery that judgment speed mattered. They found that immediate, first impressions of competence, made after seeing an image for only 100 milliseconds, were superior to deliberative judgments in anticipating the winner of an election (Ballew & Todorov, 2007). This finding seems counterintuitive: how could gut feelings outperform reflective thinking? At the same time, it fits well with one research study focused not on candidate preferences, but on strawberry jam. Wilson and Schooler (1991) asked participants to taste and rate the quality of different jams, and then tested the “accuracy” of these ratings by comparing them with evaluations offered by trained tasting experts. Results showed that when participants were instructed to reflect on why they liked or disliked the jams, they produced ratings that did not corresponded with the experts’ ratings as well as those who simply rated the jams without reflection.

What is it about judging unfamiliar candidates and unfamiliar jams that champions intuition over careful reflection?

Find out and to read the rest of the superb article, here.

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More posts on the situation of politics here.

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Elizabeth Loftus on False Memories

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 15, 2012

From Beyond Belief Conference in 2006 (includes discussion of the role of litigation in altering people’s memories):

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Random Assignments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2012

Social Psychologist Dave Nussbaum recently launched his blog, Random Assignments.

The blog already contains several posts worth reading, including a series on the important topic of replication in social science.  The first two parts are “Replicating Dissonance” and “Conceptual Replication.”

Here’s a sample of Nussbaum’s writing:

The 1950s were a bleak time if you were a social psychologist interested in the empirical study of thoughts and feelings and how they affect human behavior. At that time, experimental psychology was dominated by behaviorism, an approach which focused exclusively on observable behavior, exiling ephemeral concepts like beliefs and emotions outside the boundaries of proper science. But things were about to change.

The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, published by Leon Festinger in 1957, was one of those things. The theory was based on the simple idea that when a person simultaneously holds two conflicting beliefs he will experience a feeling of discomfort – cognitive dissonance – and that he will be motivated to end that discomfort by reducing the conflict between the beliefs, often by changing one of them.

Today, the term cognitive dissonance has entered our vernacular and the idea that we change or discard beliefs that don’t suit us seems like common sense. Research on how people rationalize their beliefs has spread to political science, medicine, neuroscience, and the law, and is one of the cornerstones of our understanding of human psychology. But in 1957, at a time when the field of psychology was dominated by behaviorism, the notion was far more controversial. Luckily, Leon Festinger and his colleagues and students conducted numerous experiments that tested predictions derived from Cognitive Dissonance Theory that could not be accounted for by behaviorist principles.

One of my favorite of these experiments (PDF), published by Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills in 1959, had college women reading obscene words out loud (words so obscene that I don’t feel comfortable writing them here myself, but the F word is in there, as is a four-letter word that also means rooster, and remember, this was 1959!). The women were reading these words as an initiation to get into a discussion group about the psychology of sex – they had to prove they were not going to be too embarrassed to take part in the conversation. This was the “severe initiation” condition. Another group of women recited a milder list of words (e.g., prostitute, virgin); this was the “mild initiation” condition. The women then heard a recording of a discussion by the group to which they had gained entry – as it turned out, the discussion was, according to the study’s authors, “one of the most worthless and uninteresting discussions imaginable.”  The question was which group of women would like the psychology of sex discussion group more, the ones who had to undergo the severe initiation or the mild one?

To find out, pay a visit to Nussbaum’s blog.

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Money Feelings

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 10, 2012

Hyun Young Park and Tom Meyvis, recently posted their paper, “Feeling Immoral About Money: How Moral Emotions Influence Spending Decisions” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract:

Prior literature suggests that consumers who feel negative moral emotions engage in a moral compensation process that is generalized and flexible. In contrast, the current research demonstrates that consumers who feel guilty or angry about money seek compensation in a strikingly specific way. We find that feeling guilty about money increases pro-social spending, but not volunteering of time or spending on personal virtues. Moreover, this increase in pro-social spending only occurs when the guilt is moral in nature and the money being spent is the money consumers feel guilty about. The specific nature of this effect suggests that consumers who feel guilty about money try to cleanse the money rather than try to redeem themselves. Feeling angry about money, on the other hand, is shown to decrease pro-social spending, highlighting the need to distinguish between specific emotions when examining how feelings about money affect consumer spending decisions.

Download the paper for free here.

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The Racial Situation of 2012 Election

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 8, 2012

From University of Washington Newswire:

After the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, many proclaimed that the country had entered a post-racial era in which race was no longer an issue. However, a new large-scale study shows that racial attitudes have already played a substantial role in 2012, during the Republican primaries. They may play an even larger role in this year’s presidential election.

The study, led by psychologists at the University of Washington, shows that between January and April 2012 eligible voters who favored whites over blacks – either consciously or unconsciously – also favored Republican candidates relative to Barack Obama.

“People were saying that with Obama’s election race became a dead issue, but that’s not at all the case,” said lead investigator Anthony Greenwald, a UW psychology professor.

The study’s findings mean that many white and non-white voters, even those who don’t believe they tend to favor whites over blacks, might vote against Obama because of his race. These voters could cite the economy or other reasons, but a contributing cause could nevertheless be their conscious or unconscious racial attitudes.

“Our findings may indicate that many of those who expressed egalitarian attitudes by voting for Obama in 2008 and credited themselves with having ‘done the right thing’ then are now letting other considerations prevail,” said collaborator Mahzarin Banaji, a psychology professor at Harvard University.

In the study, a majority of white eligible voters showed a pattern labeled “automatic white preference” on a widely used measure of unconscious race bias. Previous studies indicate that close to 75 percent of white Americans show this implicit bias.

In a study done just prior to the 2008 presidential election, Greenwald and colleagues found that race attitudes played a role in predicting votes for the Republican candidate John McCain.

The 2012 data, collected from nearly 15,000 voters, show that race was again a significant factor in candidate preferences.

In an online survey, Greenwald asked survey-takers about their political beliefs, how “warmly” they felt toward black and white people, and which presidential contender they preferred. Because the survey was conducted in the first four months of 2012, it included the five main Republican hopefuls – Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum – as well as Obama.

Greenwald also measured unconscious race attitude using the Implicit Association Test, a tool he developed more than a decade ago to gauge thoughts that people don’t realize they have. Different variations of the test measure implicit attitudes about race, gender, sexuality, ethnicities and other topics.

Greenwald found that favoritism for Republican candidates was predicted by respondents’ racial attitudes, both their self-reported views and their implicit biases measured by the IAT. Greenwald emphasized that the study’s finding that some candidates are more attractive to voters with pro-white racial attitudes does not mean that those candidates are racist.

“The study’s findings raise an interesting question: After nearly four years of having an African-American president in the White House, why do race attitudes continue to have a role in electoral politics?” Greenwald said.

He suspects that Obama’s power as president in 2012, compared with his lesser status as candidate in 2008, may have “brought out race-based antagonism that had less reason to be activated in 2008.”

Another possibility is that Republican candidates’ assertions that their most important goal is to remove Obama from the presidency “may have strong appeal to those who have latent racial motivation,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald and his research team will continue to collect people’s attitudes about the 2012 presidential candidates as part of their Decision 2012 IAT study. Now that Mitt Romney has emerged as the presumptive Republican nominee, the researchers are modifying their survey to focus on voters’ comparisons of Romney with Obama.

They plan to post summaries of the data each month until the November election. Anyone can take the test online: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/featuredtask.html

More.

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Haidt on “The Righteous Mind”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2012

From Wired:

Jonathan Haidt is a professor in social psychology and author of The Righteous Mind, an examination of the intuitive foundations of morality and its consequences. He has some disgusting stories for you.

Imagine, if you will, a man going to a supermarket, buying a ready-to-cook chicken, taking it home, and having sexual intercourse with it. He then cooks it and eats it.

Or imagine a brother and sister who go on holiday, and end up sleeping together. They feel that it brings them closer, and are very careful with birth control so there’s no absolutely chance of pregnancy.

Don’t worry if you found these stories sick and wrong — most people do. But trying to pin down what exactly is wrong with these stories can be tricky. No one is harmed, the food isn’t wasted, the siblings are happy, yet it’s somehow still wrong. This is “moral dumbfounding’, the strong feeling that something is wrong without clear reasons as to why that is. According to Haidt, this offers a deep insight into human morality, and has profound implications for politics and religion.

Haidt’s studies bear out his message is that for every one of us, however rational we think we are, intuition comes first, and strategic reasoning second. That is, we rationalise our gut instincts, rather than using reason to reach the best conclusion. So, with the chicken story, you’re left scrabbling around for reasons to explain why something is wrong when you just know that it is. For Haidt, this is something that modern thinking has failed to recognise. “In America there was a long period where we were trying to teach kids critical thinking, and you never hear about it anymore because it didn’t work,” says Haidt.

Haidt sees our reasoning mind and intuition as a rider on top of an elephant, with the rider (reason) serving the elephant (intuition). But he doesn’t necessarily see this as a flaw. “You need to learn how to get the rider and elephant to work together properly. Each have their separate skill, and if if you think that the rider is both in charge and deserves to rule, you’re going to find yourself screwing up, and wondering why you keep screwing up. I think maturity and wisdom occur when someone gets good integration between the rider and the elephant — and I picked an elephant rather than a horse because elephants are really big and really smart. If you see a trainer and an elephant working together it’s a beautiful sight.”

Not only do we start with a conclusion and work backwards when making moral judgements, the different moral tenets you use define where you lie on the political spectrum. Broadly, the left makes moral judgements mostly based on harm and fairness, while the right has a broader palette — harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

So when, for example David Cameron suggests children should be more deferential, Haidt sees this as textbook: “That’s the authority foundation right there. Respect for authority is an offensive idea to people on the left, but it is quite sensible to social conservatives. It’s speaking directly to the elephant. Did he suggest this because he has really long been upset about the decline of authority, or is he maybe doing this to appeal to the more working-class traditionalist voters, those who vote Labour but are socially conservative at heart?”

But isn’t this simply another typical liberal college professor finding yet another way to attack the right? Haidt says that his work into morality has changed his politics, making him less of a liberal, and more of a centrist: “I’ve really become less enamoured of liberalism and more enamoured of conservatism. I think both are important. It’s a yin-yang thing, you need both and if you let either side run things they’re going to screw it up in very predictable ways.”

Our flawed post-hoc reasoning, our cherry-picking of evidence to suit our instincts, makes us poor policy makers, and creates politics that is tribal, confrontational and ill-suited to solving the world’s problems. “Our reasoning is very good as a press agent and lawyer,” says Haidt, “But we’re so biased, no individual can design social policy just using reason. But once you can accept what reasoning is and what it is designed to do, you can start to design groups and institutions that can do a pretty good job of it. When you put people together, you can think of each person as being like a neuron, and if you put us together in the right way then you can get some very good reasoning coming out of it.”

Haidt’s plea is for us to avoid the demonisation of those we see as morally suspect by understanding the way we reach these moral judgements. Like any evolved mechanism, our brain is a hotchpotch of compromises rather than a perfectly designed machine. Our understanding of others starts with understanding ourselves.

“It’s easy to see how flawed and biased and post-hoc everyone else is. If you realise that it’s true about you too, at least you’ll be a little more modest, and if you’re a little more modest then you’ll at least be a little bit more open to the possibility that you might be wrong. There is some wisdom to be found on all sides, because nobody can see the whole problem.”

Watch Haidt’s TED talk on “the real difference between liberals and conservatives” below:


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The Religious Situation of Compassion and Generosity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2012

From UC Berkeley:

“Love thy neighbor” is preached from many a pulpit. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people.

In three experiments, social scientists found that compassion consistently drove less religious people to be more generous. For highly religious people, however, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were, according to the findings which are published in the most recent online issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said. In the study, the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious.

“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

Compassion is defined in the study as an emotion felt when people see the suffering of others which then motivates them to help, often at a personal risk or cost.

While the study examined the link between religion, compassion and generosity, it did not directly examine the reasons for why highly religious people are less compelled by compassion to help others. However, researchers hypothesize that deeply religious people may be more strongly guided by a sense of moral obligation than their more non-religious counterparts.

“We hypothesized that religion would change how compassion impacts generous behavior,” said study lead author Laura Saslow, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at UC Berkeley.

Saslow, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Francisco, said she was inspired to examine this question after an altruistic, nonreligious friend lamented that he had only donated to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti after watching an emotionally stirring video of a woman being saved from the rubble, not because of a logical understanding that help was needed.

“I was interested to find that this experience – an atheist being strongly influenced by his emotions to show generosity to strangers – was replicated in three large, systematic studies,” Saslow said.

In the first experiment, researchers analyzed data from a 2004 national survey of more than 1,300 American adults. Those who agreed with such statements as “When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them” were also more inclined to show generosity in random acts of kindness, such as loaning out belongings and offering a seat on a crowded bus or train, researchers found.

When they looked into how much compassion motivated participants to be charitable in such ways as giving money or food to a homeless person, non-believers and those who rated low in religiosity came out ahead: “These findings indicate that although compassion is associated with pro-sociality among both less religious and more religious individuals, this relationship is particularly robust for less religious individuals,” the study found.

In the second experiment, 101 American adults watched one of two brief videos, a neutral video or a heartrending one, which showed portraits of children afflicted by poverty. Next, they were each given 10 “lab dollars” and directed to give any amount of that money to a stranger. The least religious participants appeared to be motivated by the emotionally charged video to give more of their money to a stranger.

“The compassion-inducing video had a big effect on their generosity,” Willer said. “But it did not significantly change the generosity of more religious participants.”

In the final experiment, more than 200 college students were asked to report how compassionate they felt at that moment. They then played “economic trust games” in which they were given money to share – or not – with a stranger. In one round, they were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, and that they were free to reward them by giving back some of the money, which had since doubled in amount.

Those who scored low on the religiosity scale, and high on momentary compassion, were more inclined to share their winnings with strangers than other participants in the study.

“Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” Willer said.

More.

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How Much Choice Would You Choose?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2012

From Harvard Gazette:

Undergraduates packed Science Center E on Monday to hear two of Harvard’s leading social scientists discuss the way that humans make decisions, and whether having more choices really makes us happier.

The event, “What is Your N? A Personality Test for 4 AM Philosophers,” featured a conversation between social psychologist Dan Gilbert and economist N. Gregory Mankiw, and was sponsored by the Harvard University Initiative on the Foundations of Human Behavior. The discussion was moderated by professors Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and the Department of Sociology and David Laibson of the Department of Economics.

Laibson began the debate with the following thought experiment:

“We have pre-selected 100 different bottles of alcohol, covering all popular categories — beer, wine, rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, etc. Another person (who remains anonymous) is going to take one (regular-sized) drink, poured from one of the 100 bottles. Call him/her the recipient.

You will pick the number of bottles that the recipient will be able to choose among. To give the recipient complete choice, you would pick N = 100. To simplify the recipient’s decision, you would pick N < 100. You can pick any N value from 1 to 100.

If you pick N < 100, a robot will randomly determine which of the original 100 bottles the recipient will receive (with no repeats). You don’t get to pre-select the specific bottles the robot will choose. The N bottles will be presented to the recipient in categories (like whiskeys or vodkas), so the recipient can easily sort through them.

Your job is to pick N so as to maximize the happiness of the recipient.”

Next, Laibson asked the group to choose the number of bottles that they would send to the recipient under two different scenarios. In the first, the recipient would never know that there were 100 bottles to begin with. In the second scenario, he or she would.

As the students tapped on their laptops to submit their responses to the question online, Mankiw and Gilbert had at it. Mankiw kicked off the discussion by saying that the answer was easy for him and, he hoped, for anyone who had taken his introductory economics class. He would send the anonymous stranger all 100 bottles. Without any knowledge of the recipient’s tastes, it made sense to send as many bottles as possible in order to increase the chance that the stranger would get a drink that they would like.

“My wife and I [recently] went to a bar and had a drink and dinner,” he explained. “The bar had a big selection. I had no trouble at all. I said ‘I want a Tanqueray martini on the rocks with a twist.’ If the bartender had said ‘We randomly reduced the number of selections, so we don’t have Tanqueray tonight. We have Bombay Sapphire,’ I would have been a little disappointed. If they had said ‘We only have Gordon’s gin tonight,’ I would have been really upset. And if they had said ‘All we have is Kahlua, and crème de menthe,’ I would have walked out. So it was very clear to me that more selection is good.”

Gilbert said that Mankiw’s answer was not surprising. Americans like choices; the more the better. We want to choose what we want, even if the options are so great that our decision becomes essentially random. But Gilbert said there is more to choice than simply matching selection with preferences, and that there are costs associated with decision making, particularly when the options are too great. To illustrate his point, Gilbert described a study by Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir.

Shafir presented doctors with a pink pill that was said to treat osteoarthritis. The physicians learned about the drug, and then were asked whether or not they would be likely to prescribe it. Most said that they would.

Shafir then went to another group of physicians, this time with a pink and blue pill. He told the group that both would treat osteoarthritis and that the drugs were similar in their effects, aside from their color. He asked this group of doctors whether they would prescribe the pink pill, the blue pill, or neither. Fewer doctors said that they would give patients a pill — either pink or blue — than the group that had been presented with only one pill.

“You should get at least the same number prescribing one of the pills,” said Gilbert. “Or even more, because some will only like blue pills. However, the actual number goes down. Why? Because the physicians say ‘Well, I could do nothing, or choose between one of these two similar pills and I really can’t decide between them, so I’ll do nothing, because nothing looks really different than the pill.”

In terms of Laibson’s thought exercise, Gilbert noted that more bottles and more types of liquor could make the decision more difficult for the recipient. If you offer the drinker wine or beer, and the drinker likes wine, the choice is easy. But if the drinker likes wine and gets four different bottles to choose from versus one type of beer, they might actually choose the beer, even though they prefer wine.

“Because I’ve given you extra choices, you have now gone to the thing you like less, because you can’t think of a good reason to pick among the wines that are so similar,” Gilbert said.

After some waffling, Gilbert, half seriously, gave the number of bottles he would send to the stranger: two.

“Then you have only Kahlua and crème de menthe!” laughed Mankiw.

After Gilbert and Mankiw held forth, Laibson revealed the results of the online poll. Under conditions where the recipient would not be informed if their choices were narrowed, there was a barbell-shaped distribution. A large group of the 220 student respondents said that they would send between zero and 30 bottles to the drinker, with another group up at 100 bottles. In the second scenario, however, where the recipient would know if the selection had been pared, undergraduates overwhelmingly voted to send all 100 bottles to the drinker.

The results were fascinating to Laibson, who has studied employee participation in retirement plans and discovered that enrollment increases dramatically when workers are automatically enrolled and must voluntarily opt out. Given that the criticism for making auto enrollment the default in business is often that the policy is paternalistic, the results of the survey shed light on when people are OK with “Big Brother” and when they are not.

“The message here seems to be ‘Be a paternalist, but keep it a secret,’” Laibson said, eliciting laughter from the students. “The minute the recipient knows [his or her choices have been narrowed], this community gives a different answer [to the thought experiment]. Paternalism is bad when the recipient understands that paternalistic motives organize what happens to them.”

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Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Events, Food and Drug Law, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

Low-Effort Cognition and Political Ideology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 25, 2012

From University of Arkansas Newswire:

When people use low-effort thought, they are more likely to endorse conservative ideology, according to psychologist Scott Eidelman of the University of Arkansas. Results of research by Eidelman and colleagues were published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“People endorse conservative ideology more when they have to give a first or fast response,” Eidelman said. “This low-effort thinking seems to favor political conservatism, suggesting that it may be our default ideology. To be clear, we are not saying that conservatives think lightly.”

While ideology – either conservative or liberal – is a product of a variety of influences, including goals, values and personal experiences, Eidelman said, “Our data suggest that when people have no particular goal in mind, their initial cognitive response seems to be conservative.”

Eidelman collaborated with Christian Crandall of the University of Kansas; Jeffrey A. Goodman of University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire; and John C. Blanchar, a University of Arkansas graduate student, on studies reported in “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism.”

The researchers examined the effect of low-effort thought on the expression of ideology in several situations. In a field study, bar patrons were asked their opinions about several social issues before blowing into a Breathalyzer. Whether the individual self-identified as liberal or conservative, higher blood alcohol levels were associated with endorsement of more conservative positions. The results indicated that this was not because the conservatives drank more than the liberals.

The results were not just the alcohol talking: In one lab experiment, some participants were asked to respond quickly to political ideas, while others had ample time to respond. In another, some participants were able to concentrate while responding to political statements, while others were distracted. In both cases, participants with less opportunity to deliberate endorsed conservative ideas more than those who were able to concentrate.

In a fourth study, deliberation was manipulated directly. Some participants gave their “first, immediate response” to political terms, while others gave “a careful, thoughtful response.” Those instructed to think in a cursory manner were more likely to endorse conservative terms, such as authority, tradition and private property, than those who had time to reflect.

The researchers stressed that their results should not be interpreted to suggest that conservatives are not thoughtful.

“Everyone uses low-effort thinking, and this may have ideological consequences,” they write. “Motivational factors are crucial determinants of ideology, aiding or correcting initial responses depending on one’s goals, beliefs and values. Our perspective suggests that these initial and uncorrected responses lean conservative.”

More.

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