The Situationist

Archive for July 25th, 2007

Some Groups Affect Kids More Than Others

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 25, 2007

Saved by the BellAccording to the old expression, one bad apple can spoil the bunch. But people aren’t apples. If they were, there would be another expression: a barrel of good apples can sometimes revive a rotten one.

To change metaphors: if it is true that birds of a feather flock together, isn’t it also true that flocking with certain kinds of birds changes one’s feathers?

It is widely understood that the groups we belong to influence who we are or what we do. But little is known about exactly how and how much different kinds of groups influence their members.

Wendy Ellis and Lynne Zarbatany of the University of Western Ontario recently set out to examine those questions among children. Science Daily reports on the press release.

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Status of Adolescent Peer Groups Plays Role in Understanding Groups Influence on Early Teen Behavior

Researchers found that the peer group a child belongs to has differential effects on deviant, aggressive, and prosocial behavior. A study of 526 children in grades 5 through 8 revealed that children in the “cool” group were more likely influenced by their friends than children in groups that are well-liked.

The findings imply that being a part of the popular group may have some benefits, but also may increase risky behavior and social aggression. Children who are part of the cool group are more likely to be influenced by their friends than children who are friends with peers who are kind, nice, and well-liked.

Acknowledging that by early adolescence, peer groups have a significant influence on children’s behavior, researchers at the University of Western Ontario sought to determine whether some peer groups are more influential than others. Specifically, they contrasted the effects of two types of peer group status on youngsters’ deviant, aggressive, and prosocial behavior. The first type of group (group centrality) had children who were cool and popular. The second type (group liking) was made up of the kind, nice children everyone likes.

The researchers looked at 526 Canadian children in grades 5 through 8 who reported on their deviant behavior (such as theft and skipping school) and identified peer groups in their grade. The children also were asked to nominate classmates in their grade who were physically aggressive (children who started fights), social aggressive (children who excluded others), prosocial (children who were kind to others), and whom they liked the most and the least. The children, whose average age was 12, identified 116 peer groups.

Over a three-month period, the researchers found that the children generally tended to become more similar in behavior to the others in their group. However, this occurred to a much greater extent in popular groups than in well-liked groups. Children’s strong desire to belong to a popular group, together with pressure from group members to conform to group norms, may account for the profound influence of such groups. Group liking affected adolescents’ behavior only when groups were disliked; members of deviant disliked groups became more deviant over time, the researchers found.

“Our results have important practical implications,” suggested Wendy E. Ellis, assistant professor of psychology at King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario and the study’s lead author. “Although being a member of a popular group may bring benefits such as positive social behavior and esteem, potential costs include higher rates of risky behavior and social aggression. Preservation of popular status may propel group members beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior, and high motivation to belong to popular groups may cause group members to resist adult intervention attempts.

“In the long-term, however, popular group members may fare better than disliked children in deviant groups who have little exposure to prosocial behavior models and poor social relationships.”

South Park

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Follow this link to read more about Ms. Ellis and Zarbatny’s research. This post is one in a series tracing the influence of situaitonal influences on the development of children from youth into adolescence. To read other posts on this topic, go to “Role-Playing Helps Adolescent Emotional Learning,” “Jock or Nerd?: Where Do You Sit at the Dinner Table?,” “Biology and Environment Affect Childhood Behavioral Development,” or “Growing up in a Sexualizing Situation.”


Posted in Life, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Judging – Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 25, 2007

Former Justice Sandra Day O’ConnorOn Monday, Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke at the National Governors Association Conference (held in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan). She called on the state executives to help do something to protect and reinforce judicial independence. “Judicial independence does not happen all by itself,” she said. “It’s tremendously hard to create and easier than most people imagine to damage or destroy.”

This is a cause that Justice O’Connor has championed for years — not just for U.S. courts but also for the courts of other nations. Independent Judges, she has argued, are going to disappoint and anger some people or some institutions almost all of the time. Some of those individuals or entities will be very powerful. Lest the judges wind up serving the powerful, judicial independence is necessary. As O’Connor once put it: “We have the power to make the president or Congress really, really angry. . . . In fact, if we do not make them mad some of the time, we probably aren’t doing our jobs. Our effectiveness, therefore, relies on the knowledge that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our acts.”

At yesterday’s conference, the former justice indicated that the solution was in education — in teaching American kids to respect the judiciary. She pointed out that, according to some surveys, more young people can name the three stooges than can name the three branches of the federal government.

Three StoogesNo doubt, improving our education system is in order. Our own sense, however, is that the troubles are deeper than educational; they are situational (and we suspect that Justice O’Connor would agree).

In 2006, Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and Adam Benforado wrote an article, “The Drifters” for the Boston Review. In broadest terms, the essay’s thesis was that the situation of judging matters. One point it made was that the methods by which judges take the bench, or maintain their position on it, influences what and how they judge:

For example, . . . . most judges on state courts—which handle the vast majority of America’s judicial traffic—are elected, which leaves them more vulnerable to external influence than federal judges. As the legal historian Jed Shugerman has written, “Judicial elections clash with the basic—and perhaps naive—notion that judges are supposed to interpret the law and pursue justice, regardless of party or public opinion.” Instead, they have “injected popular and partisan politics into legal deliberations” since “the slavery debates and the class struggles of the nineteenth century.”

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There is also recent evidence that state courts to which judges are elected rather than appointed have been powerfully transformed by campaign financing. A study by Texans for Public Justice, for example, found that the ten Texas Supreme Court justices elected or reelected between 1994 and 1998 raised over half of their $12.8 million in campaign money “from lawyers, law firms and litigants who filed appeals with the high court during this same period.” The study also found that, although the Texas Supreme Court declines to hear nearly 90 percent of the cases for which appeal petitions are filed, “the more money that a petitioner contributed to the justices, the more likely they were to accept a given petition.” For example, the court was ten times more likely to accept the petitions from petitioners who made campaign contributions of more than $250,000 than they were of those of non-contributing petitioners. Trends in decisions have also shifted over the same time period decidedly in favor of corporate defendants, and it seems likely that a major factor in that drift is the lack of the same independence-bolstering structures enjoyed by judges in the federal system.

If the states want to do something to enhance judicial independence, they might begin by revisiting the process by which their judges obtain their robes.

For a PBS Frontline website on “Justice for Sale,” click here. To download the “New Politics for Judicial Elections Report for 2006,” by the Justice at Stake Campaign, click here. For an NPR interview (audio) of Justice O’Connor about judicial independence by Nina Totenberg, click here. For a PBS interview (transcript, audio, or streaming video) of Justices O’Connor and Breyer on the topic of judicial independence, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Law | 1 Comment »

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