The Situationist

Archive for December, 2007

Deep Capture – Part IV

Posted by J on December 4, 2007


This is the fourth of a multi-part series on what Situationist Contributor David Yosifon and I call “deep capture.” This post, like Part I, Part II, and Part III, is drawn from our 2003 article, “The Situation” (downloadable here).

The most basic prediction of the “deep capture” hypothesis is that there will be a competition over the situation (including the way we think) to influence the behavior of individuals and institutions and that those individuals, groups, entities, or institutions that are most powerful will win that competition.

Part I of this series explained that our “deep capture” story is analogous to the (shallow) capture story told by economists (such as Nobel laureate George Stigler) and public choice theorists for decades regarding the competition over prototypical regulatory institutions. Part II looked to history (specifically, Galileo’s recantation) for another analogy to the process that we claim is widespread today — the deep capture of how we understand ourselves. Part III picked up on both of those themes and explains that Stigler’s “capture” story has implications far broader and deeper than he or others realized. This Part examines the relative power (measured as the ability to influence situation) of large commercial interests today, much like the power of the Catholic Church in Galileo’s day.

(Situationist artist Marc Scheff is providing the remarkable images at the top of each post in this series.)

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Learning from History

For some of the same reasons that it is difficult to convince people that they would have been influenced by the situational cues in the Milgram experiment, it is nearly impossible to convince people that they live in, and are part of, a deeply captured world. To make our preliminary case, therefore, we will attempt to demonstrate that the situation today is very similar to the situation that existed in Galileo’s Italy. Because the existence of deep capture is easy to see and accept there, by observing it, we may be better able to see and accept deep capture now. Perhaps by seeing that we are subject to a parallel influence over a parallel issue, we may be able to more clearly see ourselves, not in the heroic Galileo, but in the complacent and complicit adherents of the common sense of his day, or even in the reactionary Bellarmine.

a. Institutions to deeply capture

The first parallel is the existence of an institution or collection of institutions with immense wealth and power and, thus, both the ability and desire to influence exterior and interior situations to enhance those advantages. In the Galileo story, that collection of institutions is, for the sake of simplicity, often treated as an individual actor under the heading of “the Catholic Church” or “the Vatican.” Today, we hypothesize that the institutions with the means and the motive to engage in deep capture are large corporations. In virtually any present metric and manner of understanding power, corporations easily qualify as immensely powerful.

Let us start with corporations’ immense wealth, a fundamental component of power in our market economy. As is so often emphasized by legal economists, resources have a tendency through market processes to move to those who value them most, as measured by relative willingness to pay. Willingness to pay, of course, is heavily determined by ability to pay. No institutional actor controls as much wealth in so concentrated a fashion in our society today as do corporations and those individuals with an important stake in promoting the power of corporations. Thus, valuable resources (including influence over the situation) tend toward those with the greatest ability to pay–that is, corporations.

Large corporate interests have several other power advantages beyond their wealth–advantages that likely help them to amass that wealth in the first place. For instance, like Stigler’s beekeepers [described here], they enjoy a common single interest and thus an advantage in the competition to influence–an assertion that finds considerable support in the shallow capture literature. Insofar as each corporation is devoted to the single goal of profit maximization, they are, even as they compete in theBusiness Week (2000):  Too Much Corporate Power? marketplace, collectively committed to a uniform regulatory end: the creation and maintenance of a world that maximizes profit opportunities.

Moreover, corporations are–in part because of market processes–profoundly effective at uncovering and exploiting the most efficient and reliable means of influencing people and institutions, a pursuit that will extend through situational influences. Advertising, marketing, lobbying, and public relations are only the most obvious activities that corporations have refined in their profit-maximizing pursuits. Even those practices are largely obscured by our dispositionism and largely invisible in our theories–an obscurity that renders them all the more effective. In future work, we hope to describe those practices in more detail. For now, our point is that the situation of market competition has led corporations to become far more expert at manipulating situational factors than other institutions or individuals have had the need or wherewithal to accomplish.

Finally, the livelihood or economic well-being of the majority of our population is perceived to depend directly or indirectly on the health of corporations–individually and collectively. For example, many people work for corporations, many people invest in corporations, and, more generally, the overall health of the economy, in which most of us feel we have a significant stake, is perceived to depend on the collective health of corporations. Corporate scholars Henry Hansmann and Reinier Kraakman, for instance, recently described the expanding base of shareholders as follows:

Stock ownership is becoming more pervasive everywhere. No longer is it confined to a small group of wealthy citizens. In the United States, this diffusion of share ownership has been underway since the beginning of the twentieth century. In recent years, however, it has accelerated substantially. Since the Second World War, an ever-increasing number of American workers have had their savings invested in corporate equities through pension funds. Over the same period, the mutual fund industry has also expanded rapidly, becoming the repository of an ever-increasing share of nonpension savings for the population at large.

This is not just an academic point. President George W. Bush has been emphasizing this theme repeatedly in the wake of corporate debacles since he took office. In response to Enron revelations, for instance, he explained:

The reason that a single bankruptcy can cause so much concern in America is that more Americans than ever have invested their money in public corporations. Today, about 80 million Americans own stock, either individually or through their pension plans. This is one of the causes for the expansion in personal wealth over the past 20 years. This has been an incredibly positive development for America. Stock ownership allows citizens from all walks of life to own a part of the economy and to share in its growth. The people who run public companies owe a special obligation to these investors, many of whom have put their savings and future security on the line.

The widespread sense that our collective welfare turns importantly on the wealth and success of corporations empowers corporations. It Deep Capture IV quotationdoes so by giving the general population a stake in the health of those institutions that are already the most wealthy and influential in our culture. As Hansmann and Kraakman put it:

No longer do labor and capital constitute clearly distinct interest groups in society. Workers, through share ownership, increasingly share the economic interests of other equity-holders. Indeed, in the United States, union pension funds are today quite active in pressing the view that companies must be managed in the best interests of their shareholders.

In this way, according to Hansmann and Kraakman, “a public shareholder class” has developed into “a broad and powerful interest group in both corporate and political affairs across jurisdictions” promoting corporate interests.

b. Fundamental attribution errors

The second major parallel between our world and Galileo’s is the existence of a widely held attributional intuition that is false, but generally viewed as a “truth”–and an obvious one at that. At that time, it was about what, if anything, moved the Earth and the celestial bodies “above” it. Now, it is about what moves us and our institutions.

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Part V of this series examines the third parallel between Galileo’s world and ours is that, in both, those in power have a stake in maintaining the apparent veracity of that “truth” and, thus, in heavily promoting it.


Posted in Deep Capture, History, Politics | 7 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere in November 2007

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 2, 2007

Josh Radovan & Digital Methods Initiative

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during November. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From Cognitive Daily: “Just smile, you’ll feel better!” Will you? Really?

“But the notion that ‘smiling will make you feel better’ has actually been confirmed by research. There are several studies demonstrating that people are happier when they smile, at least in certain circumstances.”

From Developing Intelligence: Google in Your Brain? PageRank As a Semantic Memory Model

“The world wide web can be understood as a giant matrix of associations (links) between various nodes (web pages). At an abstract level, this is similar to human memory, consisting of a matrix of associations (learned relationships, or neuronal connections) between various nodes (memories, or the distributed representations constituting them). In the new issue of Psych. Science, Griffiths et al. ask whether Google’s famously accurate and fast PageRank algorithm for internet search might behave similarly to the brain’s algorithm – whatever that might be – for searching human memory.”

From The Phineas Gage Fan Club: Evidence for shallow voters, or mere exposure?

“In the latest issue of PNAS, Ballew and Todorov (2007) report that election outcomes can be predicted from fast face judgements in participants who know neither of the candidates. In other words, to some extent voting behaviour is influenced by quick judgments of appearance – maybe the guy with the better hair really does win. Although this study is very interesting, there are a few shortcomings that will be discussed at the end of this post.”

From PsyBlog: Why We do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies

“Over the past few months I’ve been describing 10 of the most influential social psychology studies. Each one tells a unique, insightful story relevant to all our lives, every day. But, the question is which one has the most to teach us about human nature? Which one gives us the most piercing insight into how our thoughts and actions are affected by other people? Have a read and then vote: . . .”

From Psychology and Crime News: An ethnographic account of violent careers

“[T]he narratives that young repeat offenders tell indicate that their violent acts ‘are interconnected and integrated into a recognizable developmental process as opposed to being isolated events. This type of developmental process… is not dominated by causal necessity. Rather, violent careers depend on contingent events and consequences of action, which function as direction-setters and social barriers in an individual’s life.'”

From We’re Only Human: Wisdom and Wizardry

“Reading is one of the mental activities that can decline with age, as basic mechanics like word processing and memory slow down. But it doesn’t have to, and Stine-Morrow has shown that sharp elderly readers actually read differently than poor readers. They are much more likely, for example, to create a mental model of a book when they first start reading—getting all the characters straight, the setting clear, and so forth. They also pause more, often mid-sentence, to integrate new information into their understanding of a story.”

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Women’s Situational Bind

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 1, 2007

we-can-do-it.pngLast month, Lisa Belkin wrote a terrific summary (in the New York Times) of recent findings regarding the role of stereotypes in creating double binds, glass ceilings and other situational impediments to their success in upper echelons of the workforce. The name of her piece was “The Feminine Critique,” portions of which we excerpt below.

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DON’T get angry. But do take charge. Be nice. But not too nice. Speak up. But don’t seem like you talk too much. Never, ever dress sexy. Make sure to inspire your colleagues — unless you work in Norway, in which case, focus on delegating instead.

Writing about life and work means receiving a steady stream of research on how women in the workplace are viewed differently from men. These are academic and professional studies, . . . and each time I read one I feel deflated. . . .

“It’s enough to make you dizzy,” said Ilene H. Lang, the president of Catalyst, an organization that studies women in the workplace. “. . . [W]e still don’t have a simple straightforward answer as to why there just aren’t enough women in positions of leadership.”

Catalyst’s research is often an exploration of why, 30 years after women entered the work force in large numbers, the default mental image of a leader is still male. Most recent is the report titled “Damned if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t,” which surveyed 1,231 senior executives from the United States and Europe. It found that women who act in ways that are consistent with gender stereotypes — defined as focusing “on work relationships” and expressing “concern for other people’s perspectives” — are considered less competent. But if they act in ways that are seen as more “male” — like “act assertively, focus on work task, display ambition” — they are seen as “too tough” and “unfeminine.”

Women can’t win.

In 2006, Catalyst looked at stereotypes across cultures . . . and found that while the view of an ideal leader varied from place to place . . . whatever was most valued, women were seen as lacking it.

Respondents in the United States and England, for instance, listed “inspiring others” as a most important leadership quality, and then rated women as less adept at this than men. In Nordic countries, women were seen as perfectly inspirational, but it was “delegating” that was of higher value there, and women were not seen as good delegators.

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While some researchers . . . tend to paint the sweeping global picture — women don’t advance as much as men because they don’t act like men — other researchers narrow their focus.

Victoria Brescoll, a researcher at Yale, made headlines this August with her findings thatangry-woman.jpg while men gain stature and clout by expressing anger, women who express it are seen as being out of control, and lose stature. Study participants were shown videos of a job interview, after which they were asked to rate the applicant and choose their salary. The videos were identical but for two variables — in some the applicants were male and others female, and the applicant expressed either anger or sadness about having lost an account after a colleague arrived late to an important meeting.

The participants were most impressed with the angry man, followed by the sad woman, then the sad man, and finally, at the bottom of the list, the angry woman. The average salary assigned to the angry man was nearly $38,000 while the angry woman received an average of only $23,000.

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Also this summer, Linda C. Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, looked at gender and salary in a novel way. She recruited volunteers to play Boggle and told them beforehand that they would receive $2 to $10 for their time. When it came time for payment, each participant was given $3 and asked if that was enough.

Men asked for more money at eight times the rate of women. . . .

There are practical nuggets of advice in all this data. . . . “Some of what we are learning is directly helpful, and tells women that they are acting in ways they might not even be aware of, and that is harming them and they can change,” said Peter Glick, a psychology professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.

He is the author of one such study, in which he showed respondents a video of a womanwardrobe-comparison.jpg wearing a sexy low-cut blouse with a tight skirt or a skirt and blouse that were conservatively cut. The woman recited the same lines in both, and the viewer was either told she was a secretary or an executive. Being more provocatively dressed had no effect on the perceived competence of the secretary, but it lowered the perceived competence of the executive dramatically. (Sexy men don’t have that disconnect, Professor Glick said. While they might lose respect for wearing tight pants and unbuttoned shirts to the office, the attributes considered most sexy in men — power, status, salary — are in keeping with an executive image at work.)

But Professor Glick also concedes that much of this data — like his 2000 study showing that women were penalized more than men when not perceived as being nice or having social skills — gives women absolutely no way to “fight back.” “Most of what we learn shows that the problem is with the perception, not with the woman,” he said, “and that it is not the problem of an individual, it’s a problem of a corporation.”

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To read all of Lisa Belkin’s excellent piece, click here.   

Several Situationist contributors are doing pathbreaking work related to the topics discussed in this post, including Susan Fiske (e.g., Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J. C., & Glick, P. (2007). Universal dimensions of social perception: Warmth and competence. Trends in Cognitive Science, 11, 77-83) and Geoffrey Cohen (e.g.,. Uhlmann, E., & Cohen, G. L. (2005). Constructed criteria: Redefining merit to justify discrimination. Psychological Science, 16, 474-480). For related Situationist posts, see “Being Smart about ‘Dumb Blonde’ Jokes,” “Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situaiton in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

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