The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Social Psychology’

John Bargh on Situational Behavioral Influences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 8, 2011

Situationist Contributor, John Bargh describes his remarkable research on “unsconscious behavioral guidance systems.”

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The Fundamental(ist) Attribution Error

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 4, 2011

Situationist Contributor Eric Knowles and his co-authors (Yexin Jessica Li, Kathryn Johnson, Adam Cohen, Melissa Williams, and Zhansheng) recently published a terrific situationist article, “Fundamental(ist) attribution error: Protestants are dispositionally focused, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Nov 14, 2011.  Here’s the abstract:

Attribution theory has long enjoyed a prominent role in social psychological research, yet religious influences on attribution have not been well studied. We theorized and tested the hypothesis that Protestants would endorse internal attributions to a greater extent than would Catholics, because Protestantism focuses on the inward condition of the soul. In Study 1, Protestants made more internal, but not external, attributions than did Catholics. This effect survived controlling for Protestant work ethic, need for structure, and intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity. Study 2 showed that the Protestant–Catholic difference in internal attributions was significantly mediated by Protestants’ greater belief in a soul. In Study 3, priming religion increased belief in a soul for Protestants but not for Catholics. Finally, Study 4 found that experimentally strengthening belief in a soul increased dispositional attributions among Protestants but did not change situational attributions. These studies expand the understanding of cultural differences in attributions by demonstrating a distinct effect of religion on dispositional attributions.

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Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Ideology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Creative Situation of Cheating

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 2, 2011

From the American Psychological Association:

Creative people are more likely to cheat than less creative people, possibly because this talent increases their ability to rationalize their actions, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Greater creativity helps individuals solve difficult tasks across many domains, but creative sparks may lead individuals to take unethical routes when searching for solutions to problems and tasks,” said lead researcher Francesca Gino, PhD, of Harvard University.

Gino and her co-author, Dan Ariely, PhD, of Duke University, conducted a series of five  experiments to test their thesis that more creative people would cheat under circumstances where they could justify their bad behavior. Their research was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers used a series of recognized psychological tests and measures to gauge research subjects’ creativity. They also tested participants’ intelligence. In each of the five experiments, participants received a small sum for showing up. Then, they were presented with tasks or tests where they could be paid more if they cheated. For example, in one experiment, participants took a general knowledge quiz in which they circled their answers on the test paper. Afterward, the experimenter told them to transfer their answers to “bubble sheets” – but the experimenter told the group she had photocopied the wrong sheet and that the correct answers were lightly marked. The experimenters also told participants they would be paid more for more correct answers and led them to believe that they could cheat without detection when transferring their answers. However, all the papers had unique identifiers.

The results showed the more creative participants were significantly more likely to cheat, and that there was no link between intelligence and dishonesty – i.e., more intelligent but less creative people were not more inclined toward dishonesty.

In another experiment, test subjects were shown drawings with dots on two sides of a diagonal line and asked to indicate whether there were more dots on the left side or right side. In half of 200 trials, it was virtually impossible to tell whether there were more dots on one side or another. However, participants were told they’d be paid 10 times as much (5 cents vs. 0.5 cents) for each time they said there were more dots on the right side. As predicted, the more creative participants were significantly more likely to give the answer that paid more.

“Dishonesty and innovation are two of the topics most widely written about in the popular press,” the authors wrote. “Yet, to date, the relationship between creativity and dishonest behavior has not been studied empirically. … The results from the current article indicate that, in fact, people who are creative or work in environments that promote creative thinking may be the most at risk when they face ethical dilemmas.”

The authors concede some important limitations in their work, most notably that they created situations in which participants were tempted by money to cheat. They suggested that future research should investigate whether creativity would lead people to satisfy selfish, short-term goals rather than their higher aspirations when faced with self-control dilemmas, such as eating a slice of cake when trying to lose weight.

More.

The Dark Side of Creativity (PDF, 185KB)

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Rationalize or Rebel?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 19, 2011

From APS:

Psychological studies have found two contradictory results about how people respond to rules. Some research has found that, when there are new restrictions, you rationalize them; your brain comes up with a way to believe the restriction is a good idea. But other research has found that people react negatively against new restrictions, wanting the restricted thing more than ever.

Kristin Laurin of the University of Waterloo thought the difference might be absoluteness — how much the restriction is set in stone. “If it’s a restriction that I can’t really do anything about, then there’s really no point in hitting my head against the wall and trying to fight against it,” she says. “I’m better off if I just give up. But if there’s a chance I can beat it, then it makes sense for my brain to make me want the restricted thing even more, to motivate me to fight” Laurin wrote the new paper with [Situationist Contributor] Aaron Kay and Gavan Fitzsimons of Duke University.

In an experiment in the new study, participants read that lowering speed limits in cities would make people safer. Some read that government leaders had decided to reduce speed limits. Of those people, some were told that this legislation would definitely come into effect, and others read that it would probably happen, but that there was still a small chance government officials could vote it down.

People who thought the speed limit was definitely being lowered supported the change more than control subjects, but people who thought there was still a chance it wouldn’t happen supported it less than these control subjects. Laurin says this confirms what she suspected about absoluteness; if a restriction is definite, people find a way to live with it.

This could help explain how uprisings spread across the Arab world earlier this year. When people were living under dictatorships with power that appeared to be absolute, Laurin says, they may have been comfortable with it. But once Tunisia’s president fled, citizens of neighboring countries realized that their governments weren’t as absolute as they seemed — and they could have dropped whatever rationalizations they were using to make it possible to live under an authoritarian regime. Even more, the now non-absolute restriction their governments represented could have exacerbated their reaction, fueling their anger and motivating them to take action.

And how does this relate to unrequited love? It confirms people’s intuitive sense that leading someone can just make them fall for you more deeply, Laurin says. “If this person is telling me no, but I perceive that as not totally absolute, if I still think I have a shot, that’s just going to strengthen my desire and my feeling, that’s going to make me think I need to fight to win the person over,” she says. “If instead I believe no, I definitely don’t have a shot with this person, then I might rationalize it and decide that I don’t like them that much anyway.”

Click here for PDF.

Image from Flickr.

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The Situation of Skin

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 14, 2011

From Psych Central (an article about the recent work of Situationist friend, Kurt Gray):

A new study finds that when men or women look at someone wearing revealing attire they perceive the individual as being more sensitive, yet not as smart.

University of Maryland psychologist Kurt Gray and colleagues from Yale and Northeastern University have published their study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In the article the researchers acknowledge the obvious — that it would be absurd to think people’s mental capacities fundamentally change when they remove clothing.

“In six studies, however, we show that taking off a sweater, or otherwise revealing flesh, can significantly change the way a mind is perceived.”

The study is unique as past research, feminist theory and parental admonishments all have long suggested that when men see a woman wearing little or nothing, they focus on her body and think less of her mind.

In the new study, the researchers show that paying attention to someone’s body can alter how both men and women view both women and men.

“An important thing about our study is that, unlike much previous research, ours applies to both sexes. It also calls into question the nature of objectification because people without clothes are not seen as mindless objects, but they are instead attributed a different kind of mind,” says UMD’s Gray.

“We also show that this effect can happen even without the removal of clothes. Simply focusing on someone’s attractiveness, in essence concentrating on their body rather than their mind, makes you see her or him as less of an agent [someone who acts and plans], more of an experiencer.”

Traditional psychological theory suggests that we see the mind of others on a continuum between the full mind of a normal human and the mindlessness of an inanimate object.

This paradigm, termed objectification, suggests that looking at someone in a sexual context — such as in pornography — leads people to focus on physical characteristics, turning them into an object without a mind or moral status.

However, recent findings indicate that rather than looking at others on a continuum from object to human, we see others as having two aspects of mind: agency and experience.

Agency is the capacity to act, plan and exert self-control, whereas experience is the capacity to feel pain, pleasure and emotions. Various factors – including the amount of skin shown – can shift which type of mind we see in another person.

During the study multiple experiments provided support for the two kinds of mind view. When men and women in the study focused on someone’s body, perceptions of agency (self-control and action) were reduced, and perceptions of experience (emotion and sensation) were increased.

Gray and colleagues suggest that this effect occurs because people unconsciously think of minds and bodies as distinct, or even opposite, with the capacity to act and plan tied to the “mind” and the ability to experience or feel tied to the body.

According to Gray, their findings indicate that the change in perception that results from showing skin is not all bad.

“A focus on the body, and the increased perception of sensitivity and emotion it elicits might be good for lovers in the bedroom,” he says.

Researchers also found that a body focus can actually increase moral standing. Although those wearing little or no clothes –or otherwise represented as a body – were seen to be less morally responsible, they also were seen to be more sensitive to harm and hence deserving of more protection.

“Others appear to be less inclined to harm people with bare skin and more inclined to protect them. In one experiment, for example, people viewing male subjects with their shirts off were less inclined to give those subjects uncomfortable electric shocks than when the men had their shirts on,” Gray says.

Practically, the researchers note that in settings where people are primarily evaluated on their capacity to plan and act, a body focus clearly has negative effects.

Seeing someone as a body strips him or her of competence and leadership, potentially impacting job evaluations.

More.

Image from Flickr.

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The Bystander Effect at Penn State

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 12, 2011

From Time:

The grand jury investigation that resulted in 40 counts of child abuse against Penn State’s former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, has raised profoundly unsettling psychological and moral questions about the actions — or lack thereof — of others involved in the case.

Head football coach Joe Paterno was fired by the university on Wednesday for his failure to intervene upon learning about the alleged long-running abuse. But many more questions center on Mike McQueary, who is still employed by Penn State; he witnessed child rape firsthand in 2002, when he was a graduate assistant coach, but did not alert the police.

How is it that a powerfully built ex-quarterback could watch the rape of a 10-year-old boy and do nothing to stop it? Why did he neglect to report what he saw to legal authorities for nearly a decade, even knowing that the perpetrator spent much of his time with at-risk youth? And why did the team and the university fail to act at every possible step?

McQueary, who is now a wide receivers coach at Penn State, did tell his superior, Paterno, about the attack he witnessed eight years ago, but he did not call the police or get help for the boy at the time. (Now reportedly the focus of death threats, McQueary won’t be coaching Saturday’s game against Nebraska.) McQueary isn’t the only alleged witness to do nothing: a Penn State janitor witnessed a separate assault on a child two years earlier, and similarly failed to contact police.

The rest of us would like to believe that no matter how small or scared we were, if we saw a child being raped, we’d step in and stop it, or at the very least call 911 immediately. But social psychology research on “bystander” behavior suggests that many of us might actually turn away.

* * *

. . . Mark Levine, a social psychologist at Lancaster University in the U.K., * * * says that group dynamics do influence our actions, but not exactly the way we think. His own research has shown that being with others doesn’t always — or even typically — reduce altruistic behavior. However, the type of group we’re in and the relationships we have with its members, and with outsiders, do tend to influence how likely or unlikely we may be to help.

When the actions of a group are public and visible, insiders who behave in an unacceptable way — doing things that “contravene the norms of the group,” Levine says — may actually be punished by the group more harshly than an outsider would be for the same behavior. “It’s seen as a threat to the reputation of the group,” says Levine.

In contrast, when the workings of a group are secretive and hidden — like those of a major college football team, for instance, or a political party or the Catholic priesthood — the tendency is toward protecting the group’s reputation by covering up. Levine suggests that greater transparency in organizations promotes better behavior in these situations.

“It’s the norms and the values of the group that are important,” Levine says, noting that this fact doesn’t reflect very well on Penn State. Indeed, the riot that broke out after the firing of revered coach Paterno — who appears to have covered up for his former colleague, Sandusky, or at least looked the other way, rather than reporting him to the police — suggests that group solidarity with the football team still takes priority over support for abused children at the school.

Another factor that may have prevented action by McQueary and others is denial. Social psychologist Stanley Cohen identified several forms of denial that may cause people to ignore atrocities. There’s the denial that commonly occurs in response to difficult situations like receiving a cancer diagnosis or becoming addicted to drugs: the simple repressing of information and refusal to admit that the problem exists or has occurred.

In McQueary’s case, however, there seems to have been another type of denial at play, which Cohen labeled “interpretative.” “You don’t deny that something happened, but try to transform the meaning of it,” says Levine, explaining that a witness might minimize the significance of a crime or try to see it as something other than it was.

McQueary may well have been psychologically unable to accept that a man like Sandusky, someone he admired, had actually committed the abhorrent crime he witnessed. Research suggests that when people are faced with situations that threaten their view of the world as relatively fair and decent, rather than revising their own perspective, they often create accounts that deny reality, blame the victim or otherwise rationalize the situation.

* * *

A third factor that influences the likelihood that people will intervene in violence is whether they feel their actions will be supported by others in the community around them. Levine studied the case of James Bulger, a 2-year-old who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered by two older boys in 1990 in Liverpool. Many witnesses saw the boys with the bleeding toddler, but since the boys claimed to be the victim’s brothers, no one confronted them.

* * *

While it is not clear exactly how the norms or values of Penn State may have affected the lack of action by its leadership in response to such vile abuse, it is clear that something went very wrong. A pedophile should not have been allowed to operate with impunity, especially after having been caught in the act twice.

Understanding the psychology of these situations can help increase the chances that bystanders will step up when people need assistance, but it does not excuse the failures of those who do nothing.

More.

Posted in Education, Illusions, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The obedience experiments at 50

Posted by Thomas Blass on November 9, 2011

This essay was published originally in the online version of the APS Observer:

This year is the 50th anniversary of the start of Stanley Milgram’s groundbreaking experiments on obedience to destructive orders — the most famous, controversial and, arguably, most important psychological research of our times. To commemorate this milestone, in this article I present the key elements comprising the legacy of those experiments.

Milgram was a 28-year-old junior faculty member at Yale University when he began his program of research on obedience, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which lasted from August 7, 1961 through May 27, 1962.

As we know, in his obedience experiments Milgram made the startling discovery that a majority of his subjects — average and, presumably, normal community residents — were willing to give a series of what they believed were increasingly painful and, perhaps, harmful electric shocks to a vehemently protesting victim simply because they were commanded to do so by an authority (although no shock was actually given). They did this despite the fact that the experimenter had no coercive powers to enforce his commands and the person they were shocking was an innocent victim who did nothing to merit such punishment. Although Milgram conducted over 20 variations of his basic procedure, his central finding obtained in several standard, or baseline, conditions was that about two-thirds of the subjects fully obeyed the experimenter, progressing step-by-step up to the maximum shock of 450 volts.

First and foremost, the obedience experiments taught us that we have a powerful propensity to obey authority. Did we need Milgram to tell us this? Of course, not. What he did teach us is just how strong this tendency is — so strong, in fact, that it can make us act in ways contrary to our moral principles.

Milgram’s findings provided a powerful affirmation of one of the main guiding principles of contemporary social psychology: That often it is not the kind of person we are that determines how we act, but rather the kind of situation we find ourselves in. To perceive behavior as flowing from within — from our character or personality — is to paint an incomplete picture of the determinants of our behavior. Milgram showed that external pressures coming from a legitimate authority can make us behave in ways we would not even consider when acting on our own.

Foreshadowing the widespread attention the obedience experiments were to receive  was an early article appearing in the New York Times, titled “Sixty-five Percent in Test Blindly Obey to Inflict Pain,” right after the publication of Milgram’s first journal report. Although Milgram had just begun his academic career and he would go on to do other innovative research studies — such as “The small-world problem” and “The lost letter technique” — they would always be overshadowed by the obedience work. Of the 140 or so talks he gave during his lifetime, more than a third dealt with obedience. His book Obedience to authority: An experimental view has been translated into 11 languages.

I believe that one of the most important aspects of Milgram’s legacy is that, in demonstrating our extreme readiness to obey authorities, he has identified one of the universals, or constants, of human behavior, straddling time and place. I have done two analyses to support this contention. In one, I correlated the results of Milgram’s standard obedience experiments and the replications conducted by others with their date of publication. The results: There was absolutely no relationship between when a study was conducted and the amount of obedience it yielded. In a second analysis, I compared the outcomes of obedience experiments conducted in the United States with those conducted in other countries. Remarkably, the average obedience rates were very similar: In the U.S. studies, some 61 percent of the subjects were fully obedient, while elsewhere the obedience rate was 66 percent.

A more recent, modified replication of one of Milgram’s conditions (Exp.#5, “A new base-line condition”) conducted by Jerry Burger, a social psychologist at the Santa Clara University supports the universality argument. Burger’s replication added safeguards not contained in Milgram’s original experiment. Although carried out 45 years after Milgram conducted the original Exp. #5, Burger’s findings did not differ significantly from Milgram’s.

From the beginning, the obedience studies have been embroiled in controversy about its ethics. They were vilified by some and praised by others. A well-known ethicist commented rhetorically: “Is this perhaps going too far in what one asks a subject to do and how one deceives him?” A Welsh playwright expressed his disdain by arguing that many people “may feel that in order to demonstrate that subjects may behave like so many Eichmanns, the experimenter had to act the part, to some extent, of a Himmler.” On the other hand, Milgram received supportive letters from fellow social psychologists such as Elliot Aronson and Philip Zimbardo. And in 1964, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) awarded him its annual social psychology award for his most complete report on the experiments up to that time, “Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority.”

The furor stirred up by the obedience experiments, together with a few other ethically problematic studies, has resulted in a greater sensitivity to the well-being of the human research participant today. More concretely, the obedience experiments are generally considered one of the handful of controversial studies that led Congress to enact the National Research Act in 1974, which mandated the creation of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). Harold Takooshian, one of Milgram’s outstanding students at CUNY, recalls him saying that “IRBs are an impressive solution to a non-problem.”

A distinctive aspect of the legacy of the obedience experiments is that they can be applied to real life in a number of ways. They provide a reference point for certain phenomena that, on the face of it, strain our understanding — thereby, making them more plausible. For example, Milgram’s findings can help us fathom how it was possible for managers of fast-food restaurants throughout the United States to fall for a bizarre hoax over a nine-year period between 1995 and 2004. In a typical case, the manager of an eatery received a phone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, who ordered him to strip-search a female employee who supposedly stole a pocketbook. In over 70 instances, the manager obeyed the unknown caller.

The implications of Milgram’s research have been greatest for understanding the Holocaust. In his book “Ordinary Men,” Christopher Browning, a historian, describing the behavior of a Nazi mobile unit roaming the Polish countryside that killed 38,000 Jews in cold blood at the bidding of their commander, concluded that “many of Milgram’s insights find graphic confirmation in the behavior and testimony of the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101.”

Legal scholarship and practice has made wide use of the obedience studies. Several Supreme Court briefs, as well as over 350 law reviews have referenced them. The U.S. Army also has taken the lessons of Milgram’s research to heart. In response to a letter-writer’s question in December 1985, the head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point wrote: “All cadets…are required to take two psychology courses…. Both of these courses discuss Milgram’s work and the implications of his findings.”

There is typically a gray cloud of gloom hovering over any discussions of Milgram’s research. This is not surprising since Milgram himself repeatedly and almost exclusively drew troubling implications. So let me end on a more positive note.

Milgram recognized that obedience is a necessary element of civilized society. As he once wrote: “We cannot have society without some structure of authority, and every society must inculcate a habit of obedience in its citizens.” So, once he felt that he had probed the destructive side of obedience in sufficient detail, he was ready to turn his attention to its positive aspects.

Milgram submitted a continuation grant proposal to NSF in early 1962, after he had completed almost all of the experimental conditions dealing with destructive obedience. One of the proposed experiments he listed in that grant proposal was titled “Constructive Obedience.” The grant proposal was only approved in modified form with reduced funding, so Milgram never did carry out such an experiment. But, nonetheless, the fact that he planned such an experiment is informative, because it implied that Milgram apparently thought that the unexpected strength of the obedient tendencies he had discovered so far was just one part of a more general, full-spectrum predisposition.

You can read much more about Stanley Milgram and his experiments at my website:  www.stanleymilgram.com.

* * *

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Lee Ross on the Power of Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 19, 2011

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Whitey Bulger’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2011

From Northeastern News:

Notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger — who eluded authorities for more than 16 years — is accused of murdering 19 people. Here, David DeSteno, associate professor of psychology at Northeastern University, who studies the role of emotion in social cognition and social behavior, assesses the mind of crime figures like Bulger and those who exalt them as heroes.

What drives immoral behavior?

We cannot assume that Whitey Bulger, Anthony Weiner, or other “fallen” individuals were flawed from the start. After all, Whitey’s brother, William Bulger, was raised in the same environment but followed a different trajectory; he ended up becoming the president of the University of Massachusetts. 
The answer, then, to what makes someone “bad?” is found in understanding how character really works. Character, as it turns out, isn’t established early in life and fixed thereafter. It’s always in flux. Our moral behaviors are determined moment to moment by situational influences on the competing mechanisms in our mind. One class of mechanisms focuses on what’s good in the short term. The other class is focused on the long term — what actions, even if they sacrifice short-term benefits, will lead to long-term gain. Cheating or lying, for example, may offer a short-term gain. Cheating or lying too much, however, could lead to getting caught and ostracized, which carries long-term losses.

The more power that an individual possesses, the greater the disconnect between short-term and long-term impulses. With increased power, politicians, corporate CEOs, or mob bosses, for example, tend to view themselves as invulnerable and begin to favor short-term, expedient actions like cheating or aggression. Such power, then, allows the scale of character to tip toward self-serving, and possibly criminal, actions. The potential for vice and virtue resides in each of us. If we forget that, we’re much more likely to act immorally as well.

Some South Boston residents appear to be rooting for Bulger. Why do so many still look at him as a local hero and turn a blind eye to his criminal record?

How we judge a person’s character often has to do with how he “related” to us. Work in my lab shows that whether we’re willing to condemn someone for committing a transgression doesn’t depend solely on the objective facts. For one study, we asked participants to put on one of two different colored wristbands and then watch a staged interaction between two actors, which participants thought was real. In the scenario, one actor cheated on a task that left the other with more work to complete. We then asked our research participants to judge how fairly the cheater acted. What we found was quite astonishing: If the actor who cheated was wearing the same color wristband as a participant, then the participant viewed his actions as much less objectionable than did participants wearing a different color wristband. Feeling some level of similarity with the perpetrator leads one to excuse his behavior.

This simple example shows how deeply social bonds can alter moral judgments. The people in Southie who still look at Whitey as a hero would probably condemn another individual from New York who committed the same crimes.

For 16 years, Bulger lived life on the lam with his partner Catherine Greig, whom he must have trusted not to turn him in to the authorities. What role may trust have played in their relationship?

Trust is a fundamental part of the human condition. We have to trust people because we need others to survive. Trusting another person presents an interesting dynamic because it offers the potential for joint gain, or asymmetric loss. If both individuals are trustworthy, both can benefit. If, on the other hand, one “sells out,” then he or she can gain at the other’s expense. How much we’re willing to trust another person depends on several factors, but a primary one is the extent to which outcomes are joined.

In the case of Whitey Bulger and Catherine Greig, both faced prison sentences if the other broke ranks. Each knew enough of the other’s secrets, habits and finances that if one didn’t support the other, he or she would have a lot to loose. Having said that, work in our lab shows that trustworthiness is changeable. We can be very trustworthy with one person in one situation, but completely untrustworthy with another. Just because Whitey Bulger and Catherine Greig appear to have acted in a trustworthy manner with each other, does not indicate how they might deal with someone else.

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The Situation of Donations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2011

From BBC:

We give more to a drought victim than a war victim because we suspect the latter may be partly to blame for their plight, the authors say.

It could explain why the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami sparked a huge response but the Darfur appeal received less.

The study was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

“These conclusions are borne out by our experience,” said Brendan Paddy of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a UK body that co-ordinates aid appeals.

“Appeals for a humanitarian disaster arising from conflict tend to get significantly less response than natural events.”

* * *

In the study, the psychologists invented a fictitious famine.

They then told test groups the famine was caused either by a “drought” or “armed conflict” and invited them to contribute to an appeal for funds.

People routinely gave more to the victims of the “drought” because when they saw victims of a man-made disaster they tended to think they must have something to do with their plight, the authors concluded.

This response was due to a “blame game” based on what was known as the “just world belief”, said lead author Hanna Zagefka of the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Under this belief, she said, we all wanted to think the world was fair and just, “because the alternative could mean that all sorts of random and horrible things could happen to us”.

“In this fair and just world that we want, the innocent do not suffer,” Ms Zagefka said.

“So if we see someone suffering, we assume they can’t be completely innocent – this is the way we defend our belief in a just world.”

In the case of famine caused by conflict, we might subconsciously think that the victims were somehow complicit, the researchers said.

But in a natural disaster, they added, our instinct told us the story was simple – the earthquake struck, or the huge wave arrived, and it could not be the fault of the victims.

* * *

More.

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Introduction to Social Psychology and Social Cognition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 27, 2011

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Richard Hackman on “What Makes for a Great Team”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2011


Harvard University professor Richard Hackman spoke in March at Harvard Law School.Professor Hackman has studied the secrets of effective teams ranging from airplane cockpit crews to musical ensembles. In his talk, sponsored by the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences, Professor Hackman summarized the conditions that increase the likelihood of creating teamwork “magic.” For a brief introduction to Professor Hackman’s recent research on teamwork, check out this Harvard Business Review article on “sand dune teams.”

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Negotiating the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 9, 2011

Lu-in Wang,  has posted an intriguing situationist paper, titled “Negotiating the Situation: The Reasonable Person in Context ” (forthcoming Lewis & Clark Law Review, Vol. 14, p. 1285, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This Essay argues that our understanding of the reasonable person in economic transactions should take into account an individual’s race, gender, or other group-based identity characteristics – not necessarily because persons differ on account of those characteristics, but because of how those characteristics influence the situations a person must negotiate. That is, individuals’ social identities constitute features not just of themselves, but also of the situations they inhabit. In economic transactions that involve social interaction, such as face-to-face negotiations, the actor’s race, gender, or other social identity can affect both an individual actor and those who interact with him or her, because those characteristics often create expectations, based largely on group-based stereotypes, that influence the parties on both sides of the transaction. Individuals’ social identities thereby can influence their constraints and incentives, and accordingly their choices, behavior, and outcomes.

This Essay offers a couple of well-known examples of the influence of social stereotypes on individuals’ choices, behavior, and outcomes in economic transactions. It then provides a more extended examination of the effect of social identity on economic transactions by drawing upon a recent, growing, and fascinating area of social psychological research into the effect of gender on negotiations. The findings of this research are both disturbing and promising: disturbing because they show that stereotypes can influence the behavior of both women and men in negotiations, to the detriment of women, even if the individuals do not believe the stereotypes to be true, and that stereotypes can interact with other features of the situation to aggravate their tendency to promote unequal outcomes. The findings are promising as well, however, because they also show that gender stereotypes can be moderated or even counteracted by yet other features of the situation. Appreciating the situation-altering yet situation-sensitive influence of social identities such as gender provides us with a richer understanding of the circumstances in which people interact and shows that, sometimes, common economic transactions take place in different places for different people.

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Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tom Tyler on “Moving away from Instrumentalism”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2010

Here is an informative interview of Situationist Contributor Tom Tyler by Harvard Law student (now alum) Michal Rosenn. The interview lasts 24 minutes. It was conducted as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard taught by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson.

Biography

Professor Tyler is the University Professor of Psychology and Chair of Psychology at NYU.  He received his B.A. in Psychology from Columbia in 1973, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in social psychology from UCLA in 1974 and 1978.  At NYU, he heads the Tyler Lab, where he and his students research the dynamics of authority and motivations within groups, organizations, and societies.  Much of Prof. Tyler’s work centers on social justice and the psychology of procedural justice — the topics addressed in this interview.

Table of Contents

0:17 — Tell us a little about your general research interests.

1:11 — Can you tell us about your research methods?

2:23 — Can you tell us about your work on procedural justice?

4:24 — What is your argument about an instrumentalist versus a values-based system as it applies to criminal law?

7:21 — What do you see as the reasons behind America’s move away from rehabilitation in the prison context?

9:43 — How do you see a values-based approach being implemented in the criminal justice system?

11:19 — How does your research on instrumentalism apply to anti-terrorism efforts?

13:18 — How does neuroimaging research complement your research findings?

14:09 — How does a values-based approach account for differences in values among a population?

18:33 — Is an over-reliance on instrumentalism a distinctly American phenomenon, or is it more universal?

19:04 — Does the relevance of your work extend beyond the context of criminal law?

20:34 — Do you have any recommendations to lawyers based on the research you’ve done?

22:29 — How do you see the relationship between law and psychology developing in the future?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Andrew Papachristos Explains Why Criminals Obey the Law – Video,” The Legal Situation of the Underclass,”The Situation of Criminality – Abstract,” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” “Why Criminals Obey the Law – Abstract,” and Tom Tyler on “Strategies of Social Control” – Video.”

Posted in Law, Legal Theory, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sam Sommers on “Empirical Perspectives on Jury Diversity”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2010

Tufts Psychology Professor Sam Sommers speaks at Harvard Law School about his research on the interaction between the legal system and the psychology of race, stereotyping, and diversity.

Watch the video here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sam Sommers at Harvard Law School” or click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Effects of Counterfactuals

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 19, 2010

From UCBerkeleyHaas:

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According to new research by management professors Laura Kray and Philip Tetlock, at the Haas School, UC Berkeley, counterfactual thinking — considering a turning point moment in the past and alternate universes had it not occurred — heightens ones perception of the moment as significant, and even fated. Armed with a sense that life may not be arbitrary, counterfactual thinkers, the study suggests, are more motivated and analytical in organizational settings.

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For a sample of related Situationst posts, see “The Situation of Regret,” Why You Bought That,” and “Behavioral Economics and Policy.”

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Palliative Function of Ideology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2010

Jaime Napier is an Assistant Professors of Psychology at Yale University. Her primary research interest is the effects of societal injustice, including how members of advantaged and disadvantaged groups diverge in their perceptions and explanations of injustice; how political and religious ideologies may ameliorate the outrage associated with perceived injustice; and the consequences of accepting or rationalizing injustice on individual subjective well-being and self-esteem.

At the third annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place in March of 2009, Napier’s fascinating presentation was titled “The Palliative Function of Ideology.” Here’s the abstract:

In this research, we drew on system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. Specifically, in three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.

You can watch her presentation on the two (roughly 9-minute) videos below.

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For more information about the Project on Law and Mind Sciences, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Blame Frame – Abstract,” “The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Conference on the Free Market Mindset,” “Sam Gosling on the Meaning of the Stuff in our Situation,” Ideology is Back!,” Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” John Jost on System Justification Theory,” John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,” The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Ideology, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Sheena Iyengar’s Situation and the Situation of Choosing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 7, 2010

Last week, Situationist friend, Sheena Iyengar, was interviewed on the Diane Rehm Show (American University Radio) about her new book, “The Art of Choosing.”

The show’s description is as follows:  “The power of choice: Understanding the motivations, biases, and cultural influences that determine the choices, large and small, we make in our lives.”  As interesting as those issues are, the interview itself is at its best when Sheena discusses her own remarkable situation and how that influenced her research.

You can listen to the entire podcast here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sheena Iyengar on ‘The Multiple Choice Problem,'”Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It! “  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.


Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Life, Podcasts, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Need for Situationism in the Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 5, 2010

Dr. William Woody spoke at the University of Northern Colorado about why Psychologists should be involved in the legal system.  Here’s a ten-minute video of that event.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of False Confessions,” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” “The Lucifer Effect Lecture at Harvard Law School,” and “Law & the Brain.”

Posted in Education, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Looting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 4, 2010

Stephen Mulvey for BBC News had an illuminating article earlier this article, asking “Why Do People Loot?”  Here are some excerpts.

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Chile could be mistaken for being in the throes of a political uprising rather than the aftermath of a natural disaster.

“We understand your urgent suffering, but we also know that these are criminal acts that will not be tolerated,” President Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday, condemning the “pillage and criminality”.

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Social psychologists accept both that looting is criminal behaviour, and that it is natural when the forces of law and order disappear.

They distinguish different types of looting, including:

  • Looting of goods needed for survival
  • Opportunistic theft of good such as TV sets
  • Collective action, conditioned by the political environment

It’s the third category that is of most interest to psychologists.

Steve Reicher, Professor of Social Psychology at St Andrews University in the UK, quotes approvingly Martin Luther King’s adage “a riot is the language of the unheard”.

In his view, a mass outbreak of looting can follow precise patterns, which express the community’s sense of right and wrong.

During the riots in the St Pauls area of Bristol in 1980, some shops were untouched because they were regarded as part of the community. A bank, on the other hand, came under heavy attack because it was perceived as a symbol of authority.

“People joined in spontaneously,” he says. “The number of people who told me they had attacked the bank in St Pauls was remarkable.”

During food riots in Britain at the turn of the 18th Century, there were cases where grain was seized from merchants and sold to the needy at a fair price – and then the money and the empty sacks were handed back to the merchant.

“In Chile, the questions I would want to ask are, ‘Let’s look closely at the patterns of behaviour, the grievances, the sense of right and wrong of those involved,'” he says.

“It’s not ‘What happened to me?’ but ‘What happened to us?’ How are ‘We’ as a group treated by ‘Them’? How much is this due to the fact that they ignored us?”

At the same time, he acknowledges that individuals do use the cover of the riot for straightforward cases of theft – and that distinguishing collective action from cases of individual opportunism is not always easy.

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To read the entire article, including a section discussing the role of anger, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “A System-Justification Primer,” “Independence Day: Celebrating Courage to Challenge the Situation,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “March Madness,”

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Morality, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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