The Situationist

Archive for April, 2008

B.F. Skinner’s Turning Pigeon

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2008

In this 85-second video, B.F. Skinner conditions a pigeon to make a complete turn (narrated by B.F. Skinner).

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The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2008

The military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to over 4,700 deaths of U.S. soldiers (in addition to over 1.2 million deaths of Iraqi and Afghan people) and tens of thousands of physical injuries to U.S. soldiers. As we know too well, some of those injuries are catastrophic.

The mental health of returning soldiers has received much less attention, no doubt in part because those injuries are less apparent, because many people still view mental illness as less serious than physical illness, and because of choice myth in the context of mental illness: there is a common presumption that mental illness reflects a weak will (as opposed to biological impairment) of the person and that it can be corrected by the person, if the person so chooses.

Given the horrific conditions of warfare, however, perhaps the mental illness of soldiers will receive more credibility. New revelations about the number of veterans attempting suicide will certainly draw attention to the issue: although the Veterans Health Administration recently claimed that 800 veterans are attempting suicide each year, newly-uncovered e-mails from government officials indicate the actual number of veterans attempting suicide each year is closer to 12,000.

Just released data about the number of soldiers who have returned, and will return, from Iraq and Afghanistan with very serious mental health-related problems should also raise public consciousness. A new study by the RAND Corporation entitled “Invisible Wounds of War,” indicates a truly jaw-dropping figure: 1 out of every 5 returning soldiers–or about 300,000 total soldiers to date–suffers from either post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. Below we excerpt an article by Lizette Alvarez of the International Herald Tribune on this topic.

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One in five service members who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, but little more than half of them have sought mental health treatment, according to an independent study of United States troops.

The service members and veterans who reported these symptoms represented about 19 percent of the 1.6 million service members who have deployed to war in the last five years, a figure consistent with the most recent findings by military researchers. A 2007 survey of combat army soldiers who had been home for several months found that 17 percent of active-duty troops and 25 percent of reservists had screened positive for symptoms of stress disorder.

The study, released on Thursday by the RAND Corporation, reported that about 19 percent of the troops said they might have experienced a traumatic brain injury, usually the result of powerful roadside bombs, yet a majority of those troops had never been evaluated for such an injury.

The 500-page study is the first exhaustive, private analysis of the psychological and cognitive injuries suffered by service members. The study sought to determine the prevalence of these injuries, gaps in treatment and the costs of treating, or failing to treat, the conditions.

RAND researchers conducted a telephone survey from last August to January 2008 with 1,965 service members, reservists and veterans who had deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in the last five years. Some respondents had deployed more than once. The researchers also gathered data from focus groups. The survey was conducted in 24 communities with high concentrations of service members, reservists and veterans.

The Defense Department said that it was heartened that the data reflected its own findings on the prevalence of mental injuries, and that the study helped highlight the hurdles the military faces in helping veterans.

“We’re on a long journey, and we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Colonel Loree Sutton of the army, head of the new Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Lisa Jaycox, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND and a co-author of the new study, “Invisible Wounds of War,” said the findings also served to underscore the barriers, some of them self-imposed, that troops face in getting help. War veterans say they are often reluctant to seek treatment, in part out of fear that their medical information will be used to derail their careers. Commanders typically have access to a service member’s military medical records.

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For the rest of the article, click here. To access “Invisible Wounds of War,” click here. For related Situationist posts on the military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, see The Situation of Soldiers, Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” and “Looking for the Evil Actor.” For related Situationist posts on mental health, see “The Situation of Racial Health Disparities” and “Guilty or Not Guilty? Law & Mind Meet Hamlet.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – March 2008 (Part III)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 30, 2008

Josh Radovan & Digital Methods Initiative

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

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From Neuromarketing: “B2B Marketing: Play Fair, Maximize Profit

“Businesses are often portrayed as rapacious partners, seeking to squeeze every penny out of their deals. Indeed, some are… the result is often a relationship between defined by a fat contract that seeks to protect both parties against bad behavior by the other. New research, which draws on both conventional research and brain-scan driven neuroeconomics studies, reaches the surprising conclusion that fairness is the key to maximizing profits.” Read more . . .

From Overcoming Bias: “Ancient Political Self-Deception

“I’ve been saying for years that people prefer democracy mainly because they think it raises their social status – being ruled by a king makes you lower status relative to people who “rule themselves.” We can’t quite fool ourselves into thinking a king is just a “steward”, but we apparently can think we really rule because we elect our rulers. . . . Nazi Hermann Göring: ‘Oh, [democracy] is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.'” Read more . . .

From PsyBlog: “Whistlestop Tour of Research on the Psychology of Money

“In recent years psychologists have uncovered all kinds of fascinating and strange new things about the psychology of money. It is a huge and ever-growing topic with new research coming out all the time, so let’s take a quick look around and spot some of the major themes and headline findings.” Read more . . .

From PsyBlog: “The Attitude-Behavior Gap

“It’s only natural to think a person’s attitudes and behaviours are directly related. If someone says, while truly believing it, that they’re not a racist, you’d expect them to behave consistently with that statement. Despite this, psychologists have found that the link between a person’s attitudes and their behaviours is not always that strong. In fact people have a nasty habit of saying one thing then doing the opposite, even with the best of intentions.” Read more . . .

From PsyBlog: “Why Psychology is Not Just Common Sense

“If you want to see a psychologist’s head explode, tell them psychology is just common sense. It’s not that surprising as it’s like saying that they’ve been wasting their time all these years and needn’t have bothered studying all that claptrap in the textbooks. While psychology is, of course, more than common sense, there is certainly an intersection between the two, and anyone denying it should have their head examined.” Read more . . .

From The Splintered Mind: “Situationism and the Self-Centeredness of Virtue Ethics

“Most philosophers have been concerned whether situationism discredits virtue ethics, a recently popular ethical theory which underscores the importance of character traits to structure guide one’s conduct and lead to a flourishing moral life. Situationism, by contrast, claims that character traits are rather inefficacious when compared to the influence of external, situational variables. . . . To me, the real lesson of situationism lies in how it shows, in striking fashion, that no person is an island–that all our behavior is heavily interconnected, and that what I do really affects what you do, and vice-versa.” Read more . . .

From Of Two Minds: “Are Mac Owners More Pretentious?

“. . . it is with great interest that I read a provocative report by Mindset Media comparing the behavior of Mac-owners vs. PC-owners–specifically, who was snobbier? Mindset surveyed 7500 Mac and PC-owners and found that Mac users were more self-important, intellectually curious, and felt themselves to be extraordinary and superior.” Read more . . .

From We’re Only Human: “Slicing the Economic Pie

“the brain finds self-serving behavior emotionally unpleasant, but a different bundle of neurons also finds genuine fairness uplifting. What’s more, these emotional firings occur in brain structures that are fast and automatic, so it appears that the emotional brain is overruling the more deliberate, rational mind. Faced with a conflict, the brain’s default position is to demand a fair deal.” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

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The Great Attributional Divide – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2008

Image by aaardvaark - FlickrSituationist Contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have posted their recent article, “The Great Attributional Divide: How Divergent Views of Human Behavior are Shaping Legal Policy” (57 Emory Law Journal (2008)) on SSRN. The paper was recently listed on SSRN’s Top Ten download list for LSPLDL: Political Process, and is a featured article on the Emory Law Journal Website. The abstract is pasted below.

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This article, the first of a multipart series, argues that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on our attributional tendencies: the less accurate dispositionist approach, which explains outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, and the like), and the more accurate situationist approach, which bases attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen influences within us and around us. Given that situationism offers a truer picture of our world than the alternative, and given that attributional tendencies are largely the result of elements in our situations, identifying the relevant elements should be a major priority of legal scholars. With such information, legal academics could predict which individuals, institutions, and societies are most likely to produce situationist ideas – in other words, which have the greatest potential for developing the accurate attributions of human behavior that are so important to law. (To download a copy, click here.)

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Legal Theory, Life, Naive Cynicism, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

B.F. Skinner’s Pigeon Ping-Pong

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2008

B.F. Skinner trains two pigeons to perform a chain of behaviors for the classroom demonstration. As a result, pigeons engage in a competition, the so-called “pigeon Ping Pong” (narrated by B.F. Skinner).

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Posted in Classic Experiments, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Conversation with Dan Gilbert

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2008

Claudia Dreifus published her interview of Situationist friend, Dan Gilbert in The New York Times last week. It’s a fascinating exchange. Here’s a sample.

* * *

At Harvard, the social psychologist Daniel Gilbert is known as Professor Happiness. That is because the 50-year-old researcher directs a laboratory studying the nature of human happiness. Dr. Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness” [see book cover in right margin] was a New York Times paperback best seller for 23 weeks and won the 2007 Royal Society Prize for Science Books.


A. It was something that happened to me roughly 13 years ago. I spent the first decade of my career studying what psychologists call “the fundamental attribution error,” which is about how people have the tendency to ignore the power of external situations to determine human behavior.

* * *

I’d have been content to work on this for many more years, but some things happened in my own life.

Within a short period of time, my mentor passed away, my mother died, my marriage fell apart and my teenage son developed problems in school. What I soon found was that as bad as my situation was, it wasn’t devastating. I went on.

One day, I had lunch with a friend who was also going through difficult times. I told him: “If you’d have asked me a year ago how I’d deal with all this, I’d have predicted that I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.”

He nodded and added, “Are we the only people who could be so wrong in predicting how we’d respond to extreme stress?”

That got me thinking. I wondered: How accurately do people predict their emotional reactions to future events?


A. Because if we can’t predict how we’d react in the future, we can’t set realistic goals for ourselves or figure out how to reach to them.

What we’ve been seeing in my lab, over and over again, is that people have an inability to predict what will make us happy — or unhappy. If you can’t tell which futures are better than others, it’s hard to find happiness. The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either.

So the good news is that going blind is not going to make you as unhappy as you think it will. The bad news is that winning the lottery will not make you as happy as you expect.


A. As a species, we tend to be moderately happy with whatever we get. If you take a scale that goes from zero to 100, people, generally, report their happiness at about 75. We keep trying to get to 100. Sometimes, we get there. But we don’t stay long.

We certainly fear the things that would get us down to 20 or 10 — the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, a serious challenge to our health. But when those things happen, most of us will return to our emotional baselines more quickly than we’d predict. Humans are wildly resilient.


A. Inaccurate, flawed ideas. Few of us can accurately gauge how we will feel tomorrow or next week. That’s why when you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you’ll buy too much, and if you shop after a big meal, you’ll buy too little.

Another factor that makes it difficult to forecast our future happiness is that most of us are rationalizers. We expect to feel devastated if our spouse leaves us or if we get passed over for a big promotion at work.

But when things like that do happen, it’s soon, “She never was right for me,” or “I actually need more free time for my family.” People have remarkable talent for finding ways to soften the impact of negative events. Thus they mistakenly expect such blows to be much more devastating than they turn out to be.


A. There may be something to that. People who are clinically depressed often seem to lack the ability to reframe events. That suggests that if the rest of us didn’t have this, we might be depressed as well.

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For a list of other Situationist posts discussing Dan Gilbert’s work on happiness, click here.

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Emotions, Life, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors

Posted by Philip Zimbardo on April 28, 2008

Image by Ahmed alRawi - FlickrOn April 28, 2004, four years ago, our nation, and the world, was shocked by the revelation of the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. More surprising than the fact of the abuse, for soldiers often abuse their enemies in wartime, was the nature of the “trophy photos.” Both male and female Military Police posed smilingly, giving high fives over a pyramid of naked detainees; dragging some around on dog leashes; and forcing others into sexually degrading poses. An iconic image of torture emerged from the digitally documented depravity which was shown in a helpless prisoner standing on a cardboard box, head hooded, electrodes attached to his fingers, fearing that when his body weakened and he fell off the stress box, he would electrocute himself.

Recall that the immediate response of the top military command and the Bush civilian command pronounced these acts as the work of a “few rogue soldiers,” as the moral failures of a few “Bad Apples.” General Richard Myers, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added in his televised interview that he was certain such abuses were not “systemic,” but should be blamed entirely on the immorality of those few culprits. Donald Rumsfeld, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “These abuses happened on my watch. As Secretary of Defense, I am fully responsible.” Without a full scale investigation it was not possible at that time to determine whether such abuse was limited to Tier 1A Abu Ghraib, or was in fact, more widespread. The statements were simply urgent damage control to protect the reputation of America’s military and Bush’s war on terrorism. Rumsfeld’s acknowledgment of responsibility did not extend to a recognition of accountability or personal liability – for him or subsequently for any senior military staff: i.e., those who should have borne Command Responsibility for abuses, of which they should have been aware, that were inflicted by their subordinates given they occurred nightly over three long months.

Indeed, the bad apple refrain is played over and over again whenever there is a scandal in our police departments, prisons, and the military, or corporate worlds. Such attribution of evil deeds to the moral disposition of those who commit them fueled the feverish search for infidels in the decades of the Inquisition in many Catholic nations around the world. Focusing entirely on personal defects in the make-up of the culprits ignores the contextual circumstances in which the abuses occurred. However, proper understanding of any complex human behavior involves examination of the dynamic interplay between what actor brings into the behavioral setting and what the social-situational forces operating upon them bring out of those actors. Moreover, the crucial question that must be asked is what is the nature of the system of power that creates, maintains, and justifies situations that produce evil behavior and it also involves an awareness that the line between good and evil is not fixed, but sufficiently permeable to allow ordinary, even good, people to cross over and do really bad deeds at a given time in a particular setting.

As “Superintendent” of the mock Stanford Prison that I created as a simulation to be used in an experiment, I witnessed college student participants, purposely selected “good apples,” become corrupted by the situational forces operating in the “bad barrel” that I had designed. Normal, healthy students role-playing guards quickly began to abuse their prisoners so much so that many role-playing prisoners suffering from acute, extreme stress reactions had to be released. Our planned two-week study had to be terminated after only six days because the whole situation was running out of control. Sensing a similar scenario at work in the Abu Ghraib prison, I accepted the task of being an expert witness for the defense of the Army Reserve sergeant in charge of the MP battalion on the night shift of Tier 1A. As such, I had access to all the investigative reports issued by high-ranking generals and civilian officials, access to the infamous disks that were filled with a thousand trophy photos, and also direct access to the soldier himself by means of personal interviews, psychological testing, and a detailed investigation of his background. After reviewing all this material as well as interviewing military criminal investigators and knowledgeable officers, I concluded in the testimony I gave at his military trial, that although he was guilty as charged, the severity of his sentence should be mitigated both because of his exemplary character and the horrendous situational circumstances in which he and his buddies were forced to work and live.

Before his dungeon tour of duty Chip Frederick had been a remarkably patriotic, honored soldier, and a model citizen. The psych evaluation by a military psychologist concluded that he was normal on all measures; there was no evidence of any sadistic tendencies. Hardly the stuff of a bad apple.

But the situation in which he had to work could not have been worse. The prison was filthy and chaotic. It was subject to frequent blackouts and under almost constant bombardment. Prisoners were attempting to escape. There were no established standard operating procedures, and there was never any oversight or surveillance by officers. This young soldier was forced to work 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week for 40 consecutive nights without a break. When the unexpected insurgency burst out in Fall 2003, large scale arrests of suspected Iraqi men and boys swelled the prison population on Tier 1A from 200 to 1000 prisoners, without increase in the number of the 9 guards under his charge—none of whom had any mission-specific training. The massive assault of negative social psychological forces that had been at work in the Stanford mock Prison was overwhelmingly present in that all too real military prison.

How is the System implicated in these abuses? Tier 1A was under the control of Military Intelligence to be used as their interrogation site. The CIA backed up the control and civilian contract interrogators also conducted interrogations there. When their interrogations failed to elicit “actionable intelligence” (because most detainees had none to give), these authorities pressured the Army Reserve MPs to help them “soften up” the detainees, “take the gloves off,” do whatever was necessary to get them to spill the beans. The intentional absence of surveillance by senior officers during the night shift, coupled with praise of the MPs for breaking prisoners who did talk, and protected by the assurance of deniability for any specific abuses, the System that operated that dungeon provided an open-ended license for torture and abuse.

Many of the official investigative reports indict the system for the failure or absence of leadership, for conflicting leadership, and for the recruitment of these untrained MPs to abuse prisoners. The report by Brig. Gen. Antonio Taguba went further to identify specific officers whom he found guilty of dereliction of duty. Because he openly blamed the system, General Taguba was forced to resign prematurely; essentially he was fired for doing his job too conscientiously.

Chip’s sentence: dishonorable discharge, an 8-year prison term and forfeiture of 22 years of retirement income; he was also stripped of the 9 medals and awards he had earned. Cpl. Charles Garner got 10 years and Lynddie England 3 years; there were lesser sentences for the other MPs staffing that little shop of horrors in Tier 1A. Blame therefore was deflected onto the grunts to enable the big shots running any system to get away with murder and to avoid the vital messages about changing behavioral contexts that breed abuse, inhumanity, and criminal action. Errol Morris’s film, “Standard Operating Procedure,” released on the anniversary of the exposure of abuse at Abu Ghraib, confirms my thesis.

Such transgressions do not occur where military discipline is clear and oversight is practiced, where there is censure for violations and praise for honorable conduct. Rather, most systems of governance are veiled in secrecy; transparency is their enemy. Evil is a slippery slope that always starts with small transgressions and escalates gradually when human character is transformed by the power of social situations — while most good people observe and do nothing, thereby are guilty of the evil of inaction.

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For a collection of posts by or about Situationist contributor, Phil Zimbardo, click here. For other Situationist posts discussing The Lucifer Effect, click here. To buy the paperback version of the book, click here.

Posted in Book, Classic Experiments, History, Morality, Politics, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Public-Political Discourse

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 27, 2008

Image by mharrsch - FlickrYesterday, Hillary Clinton challenged Barack Obama to a debate with no moderators, in the spirit of Lincoln-Douglas.

This month’s Harper’s contains an eloquent essay (based on a lecture) by Marilynne Robinson, which among other things suggests that such an event–were the Lincoln-Douglas exchange truly the model–would not be well received.

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[T]he old dream of integrating the highest levels of thought and learning into a life of humane labor in which everyone has a part, the ideal of equality without condescension, this is what we have lost. Every aspect of contemporary life assumes a lowest common denominator that is very low indeed. What politician would be so bold as to refine a point, confess to an ambivalence, allude to literature or history? We have been at great pains to winnow thoughtful language out of public life, so perhaps we would all have to get used to the sound of it again. We would have to persuade the press not to bullyrag any utterance hat seems to them too complex for the common mind. One of the Lincoln-Douglas debates was held on the lawn of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, one of the oldest and most important of the abolitionist schools. Thousands of people stood in the open air to hear a very lengthy, unamplified debate. Lincoln’s own few months of education might not have been unusual in that crowd. But no one now would dare speak to any crowd as substantively and respectfully as he spoke to them, and no one now would expect that patient attention they gave to Douglas and to him. Lincoln was well prepared by his own history to know that intelligence, eloquence, intuition, and sensitivity could emerge despite obstacles, and that they could be quietly present where no one might expect them.

. . . . We praise democracy most of the time, but we practice it as if we had accepted every argument against it, as if we believed it must depress the level of culture and of public life.

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Gender Images and Implicit Attitudes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 27, 2008

A new study from three social psychologists at the University of Granada in Spain examines how our minds categorize implicit attitudes about the two genders. Soledad de Lemus Martín, Miguel Moya Morales, and Juan Lupiáñez Castillo studied how an image of man connects to implicit attitudes relating to competence, while an image of a woman tends to relate to those relating to social skills.

A news story on the study further summarizes the study’s findings. Below we excerpt a portion of the story.

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[W]hen we see someone in a concrete social context, the qualities associated with competence (efficacy, motivation, intelligence and their antonyms) are more activated when we judge men or women in their traditional roles (the man in an office as a leader and the woman as a housewife). However, the qualities related to sociability (kindness, understanding, sensibility and their antonyms) are notably more activated in counter-stereotype contexts (a man doing the housework and a woman as a leader).

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For the rest of the story, click here. For other Situationist posts relating to gender and psychology, click here.

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

Happy Law Students, Happy Lawyers – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2008

Nancy Levit and Douglas Linder posted their article, “Happy Law Students, Happy Lawyers” (forthcoming 58 Syracuse Law ReviewSSRN. We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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This article draws on research into the science of happiness and asks a series of interrelated questions: Whether law schools can make law students happier? Whether making happier law students will translate into making them happier lawyers, and the accompanying question of whether making law students happier would create better lawyers? After covering the limitations of genetic determinants of happiness and happiness set-points, the article addresses those qualities that happiness research indicates are paramount in creating satisfaction: control, connections, creative challenge (or flow), and comparisons (preferably downward). Those qualities are then applied to legal education, while addressing the larger philosophical question, What if happiness were a goal of law schools?

The authors believe that making law students happier does translate, at least in part, into making them both happier and better lawyers because there is an interplay among happiness, collaboration and professionalism. As just one example: The people who are happier in life are those who give back. There is a distinction between feeling good, the pursuit of pleasure, and doing good, which can lead to more lasting happiness, and a life with meaning. People who have a richer sense of happiness aren’t those who work on their narcissistic personal needs, but those who embrace a larger sense of civic engagement. Happily, that dovetails with pro bono obligations in law. A recent ABA survey reported that only 46% of lawyers met the ABA’s goal of 50 hours of free pro bono services. Those who did meet the aspirational goal reported a direct correlation between that form of giving back and their own satisfaction.

The article concludes with some concrete suggestions about maximizing student happiness, through addressing some of the career reasons why law students become unhappy lawyers. One of these is, as Daniel Gilbert observed in his book Stumbling on Happiness, that people are bad at forecasting what will make their future selves happy. If law schools address this phenomenon of poor prediction by offering better information on not only paths of career decision-making, salary expectations, and non-practice options but also decision theory and psychological constraints on decision making, this will increase the likelihood that students will more accurately choose how to make their future selves happy.

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Emotions | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A New Theory of the Endowment Effect – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2008

Image by by Chi King - FlickrOwen Jones and Sarah Brosnan have posted their article, “Law, Biology, and Property: A New Theory of the Endowment Effect” 48 William & Mary Law Review (2008) on SSRN. We’ve included the abstract below.

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Recent work at the intersection of law and behavioral biology has suggested numerous contexts in which legal thinking could benefit by integrating knowledge from behavioral biology. In one of those contexts, behavioral biology may help to provide theoretical foundation for, and potentially increased predictive power concerning, various psychological traits relevant to law. This Article describes an experiment that explores that context.

The paradoxical psychological bias known as the endowment effect puzzles economists, skews market behavior, impedes efficient exchange of goods and rights, and thereby poses important problems for law. Although the effect is known to vary widely, there are at present no satisfying explanations for why it manifests when and how it does. Drawing on evolutionary biology, this Article provides a new theory of the endowment effect. Briefly, we hypothesize that the endowment effect is an evolved propensity of humans and, further, that the degree to which an item is evolutionarily relevant will affect the strength of the endowment effect. The theory generates a novel combination of three predictions. These are: (1) the effect is likely to be observable in many other species, including close primate relatives; (2) the prevalence of the effect in other species is likely to vary across items; and (3) the prevalence of the endowment effect will increase or decrease, respectively, with the increasing or decreasing evolutionary salience of the item in question.

The authors tested these predictions in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) experiment, recently published in Current Biology. The data, further explored here, are consistent with each of the three predictions. Consequently, this theory may explain why the endowment effect exists in humans and other species. It may also help both to predict and to explain some of the variability in the effect when it does manifest. And, more broadly, the results of the experiment suggest that combining life science and social science perspectives could lead to a more coherent framework for understanding the wider variety of other cognitive heuristics and biases relevant to law.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Noisy Neighbors

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 25, 2008

On The Situationist, we regularly examine the ways in which people under-appreciate, or altogether miss, the extent to which the situation around and within them influences their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

Sometimes, though, the situation is more obvious than subtle. Take, for instance, the situation of noise and disruption emanating from your neighbors. Mickey West of the Canada West News Service discusses a new real estate survey which reveals how people associate the age, marital status, and presence of children with “good neighbors” and “bad neighbors.” Below we excerpt a portion of the story.

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A new real estate survey finds more than half of homeowners – fully 58 per cent – see twosomes without tots as ideal next-door denizens, followed closely by retirees at 54 per cent (survey respondents weren’t limited to one answer). Also popular among the suburban set are singles, with 38 per cent support, and pet owners at 28 per cent.

Students are listed among the worst neighbours (46 per cent), with most respondents saying their presence devalues bordering properties by as much as 10 per cent. Others on the laundry list of undesirables include unrelated people in shared housing (37 per cent), families with teenagers (37 per cent), and families with young children (20 per cent).

A Canadian real estate expert with nearly 30 years experience in the business says the results of the Australian survey of 1,579 people ring true.

“(Neighbours) not only impact the value of the subject property, they can also negatively impact your lifestyle,” says Les Phillips, past president of the Alberta Real Estate Association. “Think noisy, unruly neighbours who party around the firepit until all hours, with a few wrecked cars on the street for good measure.”

In the business, he says the effect is known as “locational obsolescence.” It describes something that influences property value but cannot be controlled or cured by the homeowner. Excessive street noise is an example.

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For the rest of the story, click here. For other Situationist posts on housing, click here.

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Judy Norman’s Situation – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 25, 2008

by Alli' Cat' on FlickrMarina Angel posted her important article, “Why Judy Norman Acted in Reasonable Self-Defense: An Abused Woman and a Sleeping Man” (forthcoming in Buffalo Women’s Law Journal) on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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The reasonable man has been replaced by the reasonable person, but that person still functions within legal doctrines conceived by men and interpreted to fit the facts of men’s lives. To understand why it is sometimes reasonable for an abused woman to kill her abuser while he is asleep or otherwise incapacitated, basic criminal law doctrines do not have to be changed. They do, however, have to be applied to the facts of abused women’s lives.

The issue of exit – why didn’t she leave – must be explained. Concepts of time – immediate, imminent, and cyclical – must be reassessed. Discredited theories that label abused women who kill their abusers as suffering from insanity, a syndrome, or learned-helplessness, must be rejected. Only then can reasonableness under either the common law or the Model Penal Code be applied to the case of an abused woman who kills her sleeping abuser.

North Carolina v. Judy Ann Laws Norman provides the facts of one abused woman who killed a sleeping man. The overwhelming number of abused women who kill their abusers do so in normal confrontation cases. The abused woman who kills a sleeping or otherwise incapacitated abuser presents the most dramatic and challenging situation. Norman is the case which is included in most basic first year criminal law books. I hope this short essay will assist both teachers and students in their examination of woman abuse, and specifically Judy Norman’s case.

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Perceptual Segregation – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2008

Russell Robinson posted his interesting new article, “Perceptual Segregation” on SSRN (forthcoming Columbia Law Review, Vol. 108, 2008). We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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This Article argues that outsiders and insiders tend to perceive allegations of discrimination through fundamentally different psychological frameworks. These previously unrecognized differences have profound legal consequences. A workplace may be spatially integrated and yet employees who work side by side may perceive an allegation of discrimination through very different lenses because of their disparate racial and gender identities. Most implicit bias legal scholarship has focused on the cognitive processes of insiders (whites and men) in assessing and evaluating outsiders (people of color and women). This Article opens a new field of legal scholarship, and complements the implicit bias literature, by drawing on empirical studies to explicate the cognitive processes of outsiders in interpreting potential incidents of discrimination. Studies show that blacks and whites are likely to differ substantially in how they conceive of and define discrimination. White people tend to believe that widespread expressions of a commitment to racial equality and the reduction in overt expressions of racist attitudes reflect reductions in racism, whereas black people tend to believe that racist attitudes and behaviors have simply become more difficult to detect. While many whites expect evidence of discrimination to be explicit, and assume that people are colorblind when such evidence is lacking, many blacks perceive bias to be prevalent and primarily implicit. Studies have also revealed that men and women differ significantly in assessing incidents of sexual harassment. Differences in perception have profound implications for how our judicial machinery, which consists predominantly of white male judges, resolves antidiscrimination claims. Judges are likely to impose their own contingent conceptions of discrimination, with little or no awareness of the perceptual limitations shaping their judgments. This Article explores reforms in the judicial system and in workplaces that could help sensitize both insiders and outsiders to the other perspective and break down the rigidity in these clashing mindsets.

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Albert Bandura wins Grawemeyer Award

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2008

Albert BanduraFrom The Observer:

Albert Bandura was awarded [one of the] 2008 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards [for $200,000].

A native of Canada, Albert Bandura received his doctoral degree from the University of Iowa in 1952. He began his appointment at Stanford University in 1953, where he remains as the David Starr Jordan professor of social science in psychology. In 2002 Bandura was ranked the 20th Century’s fourth most eminent psychologist in a survey conducted by the Review of General Psychology, coming in behind only B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, and Sigmund Freud. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Bandura has received APS’s highest honors, the William James Fellow Award and the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, in recognition of his lifetime of contributions to both basic and applied psychological science. In addition to the APS awards, Bandura has received the Gold Medal Award for lifetime contributions from the American Psychological Foundation.

Bandura’s list of distinctions, including the Grawemeyer Award, stems from his ground-breaking research on motivational factors and self-regulatory mechanisms that influence behavior. His famous “Bobo Doll Studies” of the determinants and mechanisms of observational learning led to the development of social learning theory; an approach later termed Social Cognitive Theory. Bandura showed that people’s attitudes, values, and styles of behavior can be shaped through the power of social modeling. the way we learn and act in the future can be shaped simply by watching others and modeling our behavior after them. His early later research focused on the role of self-efficacy in motivation, learning, and action. This emphasis on cognition is what set Bandura apart from other behaviorists at the time, who explained behavior solely in terms of its environmental influence effects.

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To watch a 93-minute video of Albert Bandura discussing his pioneering work in the area of social learning and social cognitive theory, including its direct influence on the design of the original entertainment education telenovelas in Mexico, click on the video below.

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The Situation of Race in America

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2008

Malcolm X Image by spcoon - FlickrThe New York Times has a webpage devoted to a series of reports examining “How Race Is Lived in America.” Below we provide the webpage’s general description, followed by the title (with links) and authors of the specific reports.

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“Two generations after the end of legal discrimination, race still ignites political debates — over Civil War flags, for example, or police profiling. But the wider public discussion of race relations seems muted by a full-employment economy and by a sense, particularly among many whites, that the time of large social remedies is past. Race relations are being defined less by political action than by daily experience, in schools, in sports arenas, in pop culture and at worship, and especially in the workplace. These encounters — race relations in the most literal, everyday sense — make up this series of reports, the outcome of a yearlong examination by a team of Times reporters.”

Shared Prayers, Mixed Blessings: Integration Saved a Church. Then the Hard Work Began by Kevin Sack

Best of Friends, Worlds Apart: Joel Ruiz Is Black. Achmed Valdés Is White. In America They Discovered It Matters by Mirta Ojito

Which Man’s Army: The Military Says It’s Colorblind. Tell That to These Drill Sergeants by Steven A. Holmes

Who Gets to Tell a Black Story?: A White Journalist Wrote It. A Black Director Fought to Own It by Janny Scott

A Limited Partnership: The Black Internet Entrepreneur Had the Idea; The White One Became the Venture’s Public Face by Amy Harmon

At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die: Who Kills, Who Cuts, Who Bosses Can Depend on Race by Charlie LeDuff

When to Campaign With Color: An Asian-American Told His Story to Whites and Won. For Black Politicians, It’s a Riskier Strategy by Timothy Egan

Reaping What Was Sown on the Old Plantation: A Landowner Tells Her Family’s Truth. A Park Ranger Wants a Broader Truth by Ginger Thompson

Growing Up, Growing Apart: Fast Friends Try to Resist the Pressure to Divide by Race by Tamar Lewin

The Hurt Between the Lines: A Newsroom Divides After a Healing Series on Race by Dana Canedy

The Minority Quarterback: Coaches Chose a White to Call the Plays. The Campus Found That Hard to Swallow by Ira Berkow

Guarding the Borders of the Hip-Hop Nation: In the ‘Hood and in the Burbz, White Money Feeds Rap. True Believers Fear Selling Out by N.R. Kleinfield

Why Harlem Drug Cops Don’t Discuss Race: Color Can Give Anonymity Undercover. But Looking Like a Suspect Has Its Risks by Michael Winerip

Bricks, Mortar and Coalition Building: Houston Is Nearly Equal Parts Black, Hispanic and Anglo. For 3 Contractors, That Means Working Together by Mireya Navarro

Getting Under My Skin: A White Mother and a Black Father Left Him This Legacy: The Struggle to Be an Integrated Man in a Segregated World by Don Terry

Posted in Life, Politics, Table of Contents | Leave a Comment »

Morality and Religion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 21, 2008

For a worthwhile discussion on the bloggingheads, check out this exchange between psychologist Paul Bloom and experimental philsopher Joshua Knobe.

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The Impact of Expectations on Teaching and Learning

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 21, 2008

Barbara Glesner Fines, recently posted her 2002 article, “The Impact of Expectations on Teaching and Learning” (38 Gonzaga Law Review, Vol. 38, 200) on SSRN. The abstract is as follows.

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Law schools are in a crisis of confidence in the abilities and motivations of their students. Conferences on law school teaching feature presentations such as “The Challenges of Connecting with 21st Century Students.” Journal articles lament “The Happy Charade” that constitutes the learning and motivation of law students today. Professor Maranville of the Association of American Law Schools (“AALS”) Section on Teaching Methods summarized these sentiments:

“Many law students are so bored by the second year that their attendance, preparation, and participation decline precipitously; by graduation they have lost much of the passion for justice and the enthusiasm for helping other people that were their strongest initial motivations for wanting to become lawyers. And even in the first year, when most students remain engaged, many fail to learn even the black-letter law at a level that faculty consider satisfactory.”

Proposed solutions to these widespread concerns often focus on changing curriculum, teaching methods, or materials.

To improve learning in law schools, however, faculty may need a change of mind. A basic principle of good teaching is that of maintaining high expectations: “Expect more and you will get [more].” Nearly a century of research has established that teachers’ expectations of their students can become self-fulfilling prophecies: high expectations are correlated with high achievement, low expectations with low achievement. Moreover, once expectations are established, they tend to be self-sustaining for both students and teachers.

This Article explores the research on expectation effects in education and offers suggestions for putting the research into practice. This Article also suggests that faculty can improve legal education by critically examining their assumptions and attitudes. Finally, this Article addresses high-expectation teaching methodologies. The Article concludes by addressing concerns about institutional resistance to raising expectations. The conclusion addresses the role of student expectations and teacher evaluations, along with suggestions for addressing the emotional dimensions of teaching and learning.

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

Banning Laptops in the Classroom – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2008

Kevin Yamamoto posted his forthcoming article, “Banning Laptops in the Classroom: Is it Worth the Hassles?” (57 Journal of Legal Education (2008)), on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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Over the last several years law school classrooms have seen an explosion of student laptop use. Law professors have allowed this by default, generally under the pretense that laptops make note-taking easier. However, many professors complain that students use their laptops to play games, watch movies, or if they have an Internet connection, to do web surfing and e-mailing during class. This paper presents my experience in banning laptops from my classroom in the Fall of 2006, the first time it was done at my institution. The article covers the reasons for and against allowing laptops in the classroom, my reasoning and procedure for banning them, perceived differences in the classroom experience and relevant student comments from my course evaluations, which were overwhelmingly positive to the laptop ban. Also covered are the cognitive psychological reasons in support of banning laptops. Studies show that lower grades were correlated with increased student web browsing during class (Grace-Martin & Gay, 2001; Hembrooke & Gay, 2003), and the amount of time which students used their laptops for tasks other than taking lecture notes (Fried, 2007). MRI studies of the brain indicate that the brain stores information differently when distracted, which occurs when students attempt to multi-task in class (Foerde, Knowlton, & Poldrack, 2006). The science of note-taking is also covered, which indicates verbatim typing may interfere with learning (e.g., Kiewra, 1991). The paper concludes by urging law school professors to review why laptops are allowed in their classrooms and, unless they feel that laptops increase student learning, to ban or heavily restrict their classroom use.

Posted in Abstracts, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – March 2008 (Part II)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2008

Josh Radovan & Digital Methods Initiative

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

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From Frontal Cortex: “The Illusion of Streaks

“Someone should really tell the NCAA tournament television commentators that “the hot hand” doesn’t exist. I’ve gotten pretty tired of hearing these tired cliches about Texas going cold, or Stephen Curry catching fire yet again. Never has a cognitive illusion gotten so much play.” Read more . . .

From Laura’s Psychology Blog: “Weight bias as frequent as racial bias….

Rebecca Puhl and her colleagues at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University report that bias against heavy people is as common in the United States as racial bias, and is more common than bias based on sexual orientation, nationality/ethnicity, physical disability, and religious beliefs.” Read more . . . .

From Laura’s Psychology Blog: “It’s Nice To Be Tall….

“Taller people are reported to be more persuasive, more likely to be leaders, and more attractive as mates. Now add another wrinkle to the height thing–according to Buunk and his colleagues, short men are more likely to be jealous.” Read more . . .

From Mind Hacks: “We Will Please Pill

Placebo has its effect through our beliefs and expectations. Because we get many of our assumptions through culture, changing social attitudes could alter how effective it is. Placebo is sometimes called the ‘expectancy effect’ and describes the fact that our expectations of what the dummy treatment will do can influence the outcome. Read more . . .

From Mixing Memory: “Emotion, Reason, and Moral Judgment

Research on the role of emotion/intuition in moral judgments is really heating up. For decades (millennia, even), moral judgment was thought to be a conscious, principle-based process, but over the last few years, researchers have been showing that emotion and intuition, both of which operate automatically and unconsciously for the most part, play a much larger role than most philosophers and psychologists had previously been willing to admit. In this context, two recent papers by roughly the same group of people have presented some really interesting findings which, if you ask me (and if you’re reading this, that’s what you’re doing, damnit), really muddy the picture, but in a good way. Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

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