The Situationist

Archive for April, 2008

The Situation of Lying

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 7, 2008

Melaine Linder of Forbes has an interesting piece on lying, what situations bring it on, and how it can be detected. We excerpt her article below.

* * *

According to social psychologist Leonard Saxe, director of the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University . . . the right pressures or incentives will cause anybody to lie.

To be fair, most of the time we’re just trying to be nice. (When your girlfriend asks if she looks good in her new dress, most guys–if they know what’s good for them–say yes.) Indeed, according to DePaulo’s study, such “false-positive” fibs are delivered 10 to 20 times more often than spurious denials of culpability.

Thankfully, too: “We lie less frequently to our significant others because we’re more invested in those relationships,” says Jeffrey Hancock, associate professor of communications at Cornell University.

For all the Elliot Spitzers, Jeffrey Skillings and Bill Clintons in the world, studies show that men and women lie with equal frequency. One difference, according to a 2002 University of Massachusetts study conducted by psychologist Robert Feldman: Women are more likely to lie to make other people feel good, while men tend to lie to make themselves look better.

How to catch liars in the act? Traditional polygraph tests, around in some form or fashion since the early 1900s, use sensors to detect fluctuations in blood pressure, pulse, respiration and sweat in response to probing questions. Two problems with polygraphs: First, they only work about 80% of the time, according to the American Polygraph Association. Second, it’s not like we are going to carry all that hardware to a business meeting or a bar.

While there is no surefire on-the-spot way to sniff out dissemblers, there are some helpful clues and tactics for uncovering untruths.

Skilled liars don’t break a sweat, but the rest of us get a little fidgety. Four possible giveaways: shifty eyes, higher vocal pitch, perspiration and heavier breathing. Of course, not everyone who doesn’t meet your gaze is a liar.

“Certain behavioral traits, like averting eye contact, could be cultural and not indicative of a liar,” says Joseph Buckley, president of John E. Reid & Associates, which has provided interview and interrogation training to more than 500,000 law enforcement agents to date. The company is also the creator of the Reid Technique, a nine-step interrogation process employed by many U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Another clue: imprecise pronouns. To psychologically distance themselves from a lie, people often pepper their tales with second- and third-person pronouns like “you,” “we” and “they,” says Hancock.

Liars are also more likely to ask that questions be repeated and begin responses with phrases like, “to tell you the truth,” and “to be perfectly honest,” says Reid.

When telling the truth, people often make hand gestures to the rhythm of their speech. Hands emphasize points or phrases–a natural and compelling technique when they actually believe the points they’re making. The less certain will keep gesticulations in check, says Hancock.

* * *

For the rest of the article, click here. For a related post, see “The Facial Obviousness of Lying.” For a recent post on the interpretation of presidential candidates’ facial expressions, click here.


Posted in Emotions | 1 Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – March 2008 (Part I)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 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.)

* * *

From BPS Research Digest Blog: “The Power of Blobs on the Brain

“David McCabe and Alan Castel presented university students with 300-word news stories about fictional cognitive research findings that were based on flawed scientific reasoning. For example, one story claimed that watching TV was linked to maths ability, based on the fact that both TV viewing and maths activate the temporal lobe. Crucially, students rated these stories to be more scientifically sound when they were accompanied by a brain image, compared with when the equivalent data were presented in a bar chart, or when there was no graphical illustration at all.”  Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest Blog: “How Group Cooperation Varies Between Cultures

“Researchers use economic games to investigate how people cooperate in real-life. Now a team led by Benedikt Herrmann, at the University of Nottingham, have identified striking differences in the way university students from different countries play one such game known as The Public Goods Game. Compared with students from developed Western nations, students from less democratic countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman and Belarus tended to punish not only free-loaders, but also cooperative players, with the result that cooperation in their groups plummeted.”  Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “When we see a brain “light up,” [most of] our brains shut off

“Psychologists often complain that neuroscientists get a disproportionate share of the glory when the mainstream media reports on their studies. It seems to some that an important new psychology study is often neglected or ignored entirely, while neuroscience studies of similar importance are hailed as “groundbreaking.” What is it about pictures of brains that are so appealing?  A while back, were excited to hear of a study which promised to show that people are more impressed by neuroscience explanations of research results than nonneural psychology explanations. Paul Bloom’s article about the then-unpublished research suggested that even experts were more impressed with explanations of psychological phenomena that included irrelevant references to brain activity.”  Read more . . .

From Deliberations: “The $1.99 Effect

“Which is more, $395,425, or $395,000?  This paper has been out for awhile, but I missed it until it was on NPR this morning. Researchers from Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management report that many of us misunderstand basic quantities because we’re fooled by whether the number is “precise,” like the $395,425 figure above, or rounded. And we’re fooled in the same way: we think the precise number is smaller than it really is. In the example above, a surprising number of people respond that $395,425 is the lower price — and it isn’t.” Read more . . . .

From Developing Intelligence: “Fat Rats: Exercise in Childhood May Protect Against Later Obesity

“Almost everyone tries to lose weight at some point, but we are remarkably bad at it; most people quickly return to their original weight after cessation of exercise or resumption of a normal diet. A review article by Patterson & Levin elucidates the pathways for this effect, and in the process finds a special role for juvenile exercise in guarding against obesity throughout the lifespan.” Read more . . . .

From Experimental Philosophy: “Doing and Allowing

“People ordinarily distinguish between doing and allowing. They distinguish between ‘breaking’ and ‘allowing to break,’ between ‘raising’ and ‘allowing to rise,’ between ‘killing’ and ‘allowing to die.’ A question now arises as to how people make this distinction. How do people know, e.g., whether a given act counts as actually breaking something or merely allowing it to break?  Fiery Cushman, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and I [Joshua Knobe] have a new paper on this question. As you may by know have guessed, our thesis is that people draw the distinction in part by looking to the moral properties of the act in question.”  Read more . . . .

From Experiments in Philosophy: “What Experimental Philosophy means for Traditional Psychology

“[T]here didn’t used to be much of a distinction between philosophy and psychology. In fact, in my own institution the first 20 years of psychology were taught from within the department of philosophy. For many reasons, philosophy and psychology soon parted ways–this made sense given that psychology was struggling to become a scientific discipline in its own right. But it turns out that the divide between the two wasn’t very deep. Psychologists never stopped being influenced by philosophers (as most evident in field of cognitive science, which, among other disciplines, includes philosophy and cognitive psychology), and philosophers continued to write about psychological matters.”  Read more . . .

From Experiments in Philosophy: “Do you need to have a body to have a mind?”

“Philosophers have long wondered whether the mind depends on the body or whether our thoughts and feelings reside in an immaterial ‘soul.’ Though intellectuals are still arguing back and forth about the right answer to that question, experimental studies have revealed some surprising facts about how ordinary people think of these issues..” Read more . . .

From Experiments in Philosophy: “Introducing Experimental Philosophy

“It may seem a bit odd that a magazine like Psychology Today is sponsoring a blog by a band of philosophers. After all, isn’t philosophy supposed to be something entirely separate from psychology? Aren’t philosophers just supposed to sit in their armchairs pondering the great imponderables, while psychologists busy themselves delving into the actual facts of human thought and behavior?.” Read more . . .

* * *

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

Posted in Blogroll | Leave a Comment »

Neurosciences and Criminal Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2008

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School

Should Criminal Law Be Re-Considered in Light of Advances in Neurosciences


Date and Time Availability
Monday, April 07th 2008 Open To Public
06:00 PM
Speaker Sponsor
Stephen Morse; Ferdinand Wakeman Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, Joshua Greene; Assistant Professor of Psychology, Jerome Kagan; Daniel and Amy Starch Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Amanda Pustilnick; Lecturer, HLS The Berkman Center for Internet and Society, The Gruter Institute, and The Ethics Law and Biotechnology Society at Harvard Law School

Criminal Law Panel

Location Contact
Harvard Law School
Pound 213 ‘John Chipman Grey Room’
Reception 6-6:30 pm
Panel 6:30-8:00 pm
Rose Dawes
(617) 496-4662
Event Website Contact Email

Posted in Events, Law, Neuroscience | Leave a Comment »

Receiving by Giving

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 5, 2008

by Saffanna on FlickrElsa Youngsteadt writes about evidence that giving makes us happy in a recent ScienceNow Daily News piece, excerpted below.

* * *

Think you’d be happier if you won the lottery or just had a few extra bucks in your pocket? Think again.

Overturning classic economic wisdom, new research shows that it’s not how much you have that matters, it’s how you spend it. People who donate their dollars to charities or splurge on gifts for others are more content than those who squander all the dough on themselves.

Money does seem to buy some happiness–studies show that rich folks are a little more upbeat than the poor . . . . But the wealth-happiness connection is weak, and economists struggle to explain why, for example, the U.S. population has not become happier as it has become more affluent. One possibility is that people simply don’t spend their extra money in ways that lead to lasting cheer.

Social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, wanted to find out what kind of spending really does make people happy. So she and colleagues surveyed 109 UBC students. Not surprisingly, most said they would be happier with $20 in their pocket than they would with $5. They also said they’d rather spend the money on themselves than on someone else. Wrong move. When Dunn’s team gave 46 other students envelopes containing a either $5 bill or a $20 bill and told them how to spend it, those who shelled out on others (donating to charity or giving a gift) were happier at the end of the day than those who blew it on themselves (to pay a bill or indulge in a treat).

Two more surveys mirrored these results. Dunn’s team polled 16 employees of a Boston company before and after they received bonuses of various sizes, and they gathered data on income, spending, and happiness from 632 people across the United States. In both groups, happiness correlated with the amount of money people spent on others rather than the absolute amount of the bonus or income. Dunn says the results “confirmed our hypothesis more strongly than we dared to dream.”

The effects of altruistic spending are probably akin to those of exercise, she notes, which can have immediate and long-term effects. Giving once might make a person happy for a day, but “if it becomes a way of living, then it could make a lasting difference,” she says. She hopes the finding might someday spur policymakers to promote widespread philanthropy that could make for a more altruistic–and happier–population

* * *

For a previous post about other research by Elizabeth Dunn, see “First Dates and Feeling Good.”  For a list of links to previous Situationist posts discussing the situation of happiness, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Implicit Associations, Life, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Standardized Test Scores

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 4, 2008

Image by by dieselbug2007 - flickrA press release from Science Daily describes a study indicating (perhaps unsurprisingly) that family wealth may play a significant role in explaining standardized test scores of children.

* * *

A new study published in the March/April 2008 issue of the journal Child Development finds that family wealth might partly explain differences in test scores in school-age children. The study, conducted by researchers at New York University, also found that family wealth is positively associated with parenting behavior, home environment, and children’s self-esteem.

Prior research has documented the association between children’s cognitive achievement and the socioeconomic status of their parents as measured by education level, occupation, and income. Many of these studies focused on the effect of poverty–defined by family income–on children’s achievement, but household wealth (i.e., net worth) has received little attention.

This new study used new methods, including data from a new national study (the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its Child Development Supplement). It explored many functional forms and sources of wealth, looking at different mediating pathways of wealth from distinct sources, and analyzing how wealth affects children’s cognitive achievement at different stages of childhood.

The researchers found a marked disparity in family wealth between Black and White families with young children, with White families owning more than 10 times as many assets as Black families. The study found that family wealth had a stronger association with cognitive achievement of school-aged children than that of preschoolers, and a stronger association with school-aged children’s math than with their reading scores.

Family wealth accumulated from different sources also was found to have a distinct influence on children at different developmental stages. Liquid assets, particularly holdings in stocks or mutual funds, were positively associated with school-aged children’s test scores. Family wealth was associated with a higher quality home environment, better parenting behavior, and children’s private school attendance.

The researchers suggest that the stronger impact of wealth on school-aged children may be because school-aged children benefit more from family wealth that is spent on educational resources that require substantial financial investment, such as private schools, extracurricular activities, and cultural experiences. Furthermore, older children may be more conscious of differences in wealth relative to their peers as they are exhibited in the quality of the learning environment, possessions, and the type of neighborhood where children live. These differences may influence their self-esteem and aspirations, which in turn are positively associated with their school performance.

“While wealth may help smooth consumption on a more short-term basis, the presence of wealth over time in a family (or extended family) may have a stronger impact of engendering a sense of economic security, future orientation, and the ability to take risks among all family members which, in turn, positively affect child development,” according to W. Jean Yeung, professor of sociology at New York University and the lead author of the study.

Despite the marked disparity in wealth between Black and White families, the study found little evidence that wealth by itself explains the test score gaps between Black and White children. Those gaps were found to become less meaningful when child and family demographic characteristics and parents’ income, education, and occupation were held constant. “Although wealth may not have a substantial short-term benefit in narrowing the Black-White achievement gap among young children, allowing and encouraging low-income families to accumulate wealth may improve family dynamics and foster a forward-looking attitude that may benefit children’s development in the long run,” said Yeung. “The financial effects of wealth would likely be observed later in life when school financing becomes an issue.”

* * *

For a collection of previous Situationist posts discussing how situation influences standardized test scores, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Selective Racialization – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 3, 2008

by nathangibbs on flickrJohn Tehranian posted an interesting paper, “Selective Racialization: Middle-Eastern American Identity and the Faustian Pact with Whiteness,” (forthcoming Connecticut Law Review,Vol. 40, No. 4, 2008) on SSRN. The abstract is as follows:

* * *

Drawing on Charles Lawrence‘s insights on the power of unconscious racism, this Article examines the social mechanisms that have fueled discrimination against Middle-Eastern Americans and exacerbated their relative invisibility in the body politic and the civil rights movement. The Article begins by examining the continued societal relevance of the concept of whiteness, analyzing the construction of a distinct Middle-Eastern taxonomy, and charting the transformation of Middle-Eastern Americans in the public imagination from friendly foreigners to a veritable enemy race.

Dissecting the negotiation of Middle-Eastern racial identity, the Article argues that Middle-Eastern Americans are subject to a two-fold, and frequently unconscious, process that has fostered their relative invisibility and absence from the civil rights dialogue. On one hand, society has selectively racialized individuals of Middle-Eastern descent, thereby unleashing a pernicious stereotyping feedback loop that ossifies negative connotations associated with the group and accentuates the sense of their Otherness. On the other hand, many Middle-Eastern Americans have adopted assimilatory covering measures to downplay their Otherness in the eyes of society. In the process, they have made a Faustian pact with whiteness — both as an unconscious response to and strategic tactic against the forces of racism. Taken as a whole, these forces have simultaneously enabled Middle Easterners to avoid discrimination at an individual level but lessened the ability of the community, as a whole, to systematically fight invidious discrimination and stereotyping in the long term.

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations | Leave a Comment »

“The Grand Illusion” — Believing We See the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2008

Natalie Angier has a nice article yesterday’s New York Times, “Blind to Change, Even as It Stars Us in the Face.” Below you can find some excerpts from her article and two videos illustrating just how inattenive we are to change in the situation.
* * *

* * *

When Jeremy Wolfe of Harvard Medical School, speaking last week at a symposium devoted to the crossover theme of Art and Neuroscience, wanted to illustrate how theellsworth-kelly-1951.jpg brain sees the world and how often it fumbles the job, he naturally turned to a great work of art. He flashed a slide of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Study for Colors for a Large Wall” on the screen, and the audience couldn’t help but perk to attention. The checkerboard painting of 64 black, white and colored squares was so whimsically subtle, so poised and propulsive. We drank it in greedily, we scanned every part of it, we loved it, we owned it, and, whoops, time for a test. Dr. Wolfe flashed another slide of the image, this time with one of the squares highlighted. Was the highlighted square the same color as the original, he asked the audience, or had he altered it? Um, different. No, wait, the same, definitely the same. That square could not now be nor ever have been anything but swimming-pool blue . . . could it? The slides flashed by. . . . We in the audience were at sea and flailed for a strategy. By the end of the series only one thing was clear: We had gazed on Ellsworth Kelly’s masterpiece, but we hadn’t really seen it at all.

The phenomenon that Dr. Wolfe’s Pop Art quiz exemplified is known as change blindness: the frequent inability of our visual system to detect alterations to something staring us straight in the face. The changes needn’t be as modest as a switching of paint chips. . . . In an interview, Dr. Wolfe also recalled a series of experiments in which pedestrians giving directions to a Cornell researcher posing as a lost tourist didn’t notice when, midway through the exchange, the sham tourist was replaced by another person altogether. [For a related study, see the video below.]

Beyond its entertainment value, symposium participants made clear, change blindness is a salient piece in the larger puzzle of visual attentiveness. What is the difference between seeing a scene casually and automatically . . . . In both cases the same sensory information, the same photonic stream from the external world, is falling on the retinal tissue of your eyes, but the information is processed very differently from one eyeful to the next. What is that difference? At what stage in the complex circuitry of sight do attentiveness and awareness arise, and what happens to other objects in the visual field once a particular object has been designated worthy of a further despairing stare?

ellsworth-kelly-1951-change4.jpgVisual attentiveness is born of limited resources. “The basic problem is that far more information lands on your eyes than you can possibly analyze and still end up with a reasonable sized brain,” Dr. Wolfe said. Hence, the brain has evolved mechanisms for combating data overload, allowing large rivers of data to pass along optical and cortical corridors almost entirely unassimilated, and peeling off selected data for a close, careful view. In deciding what to focus on, the brain essentially shines a spotlight from place to place, a rapid, sweeping search that takes in maybe 30 or 40 objects per second, the survey accompanied by a multitude of body movements of which we are barely aware: the darting of the eyes, the constant tiny twists of the torso and neck. We scan and sweep and perfunctorily police, until something sticks out and brings our bouncing cones to a halt.

The mechanisms that succeed in seizing our sightline fall into two basic classes: bottom up and top down. Bottom-up attentiveness originates with the stimulus, with something in our visual field that is the optical equivalent of a shout: a wildly waving hand, a bright red object against a green field. Bottom-up stimuli seem to head straight for the brainstem and are almost impossible to ignore, said Nancy Kanwisher, a vision researcher at M.I.T., and thus they are popular in Internet ads.

Top-down attentiveness, by comparison, is a volitional act, the decision by the viewer that an item, even in the absence of flapping parts or strobe lights, is nonetheless a sight to behold. When you are looking for a specific object — say, your black suitcase on a moving baggage carousel occupied largely by black suitcases — you apply a top-down approach, the bouncing searchlights configured to specific parameters, like a smallish, scuffed black suitcase with one broken wheel. Volitional attentiveness is much trickier to study than is a simple response to a stimulus, yet scientists have made progress through improved brain-scanning technology and the ability to measure the firing patterns of specific neurons or the synchronized firing of clusters of brain cells.ellsworth-kelly-1951-change3.jpg

Recent studies with both macaques and humans indicate that attentiveness crackles through the brain along vast, multifocal, transcortical loops, leaping to life in regions at the back of the brain, in the primary visual cortex that engages with the world, proceeding forward into frontal lobes where higher cognitive analysis occurs, and then doubling back to the primary visual centers. En route, the initial signal is amplified, italicized and annotated, and so persuasively that the boosted signal seems to emanate from the object itself. The enhancer effect explains why, if you’ve ever looked at a crowd photo and had somebody point out the face of, say, a young Franklin Roosevelt or George Clooney in the throng, the celebrity’s image will leap out at you thereafter as though lighted from behind.

Whether lured into attentiveness by a bottom-up or top-down mechanism, scientists said, the results of change blindness studies and other experiments strongly suggest that the visual system can focus on only one or very few objects at a time, and that anything lying outside a given moment’s cone of interest gets short shrift. The brain, it seems, is a master at filling gaps and making do, of compiling a cohesive portrait of reality based on a flickering view.

“Our spotlight of attention is grabbing objects at such a fast rate that introspectively it feels like you’re recognizing many things at once,” Dr. Wolfe said. “But the reality is that you are only accurately representing the state of one or a few objects at any given moment.” As for the rest of our visual experience, he said, it has been aptly called “a grand illusion.” Sit back, relax and enjoy the movie called You.

To read the entire article and view a demonstration of the effect it describes, click here. To read Dan Gilbert’s description of how change blindness can contribute to our inability to perceive and respond to policy problems (specifically, climate change), see “The Heat Is On.”

Posted in Life, Neuroscience, Video | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Staring

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 1, 2008

by Makasu - FlickrFrom American Psychological Science:

* * *

It’s happened to all of us: While sitting at the conference table or at dinner party, a friend or colleague unleashes a questionable remark that could offend at least one person amongst the group. A hush falls and, if you’re like most people, your eyes will dart towards the person most likely to take offense to the faux pas. It’s a doubly unpleasant experience for the offended: Not only have you been insulted, but you have also suddenly become the center of unwelcome attention.

This almost instinctive stare toward the potentially offended has garnered the attention of researchers seeking to understand why this phenomenon occurs. Psychologist Jennifer Randall Crosby of Agnes Scott College and her colleagues created an experiment using the especially sensitive topic of race in order to take a closer look.

In a study appearing in the March issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the researchers had participants watch recorded discussions between four males (three White and one Black) that dealt with university admissions. In the course of the video, one of the white males makes this potentially controversial remark:

“I think one problem with admissions is that too many qualified White students are not getting the spots they’ve earned. These students work hard all through school and then lose their spots to members of certain groups who have lower test scores, and come from less challenging environments. They get an unfair advantage.”

In one condition, an off-screen narrator explicitly states that all participants are involved in the discussion. In the other, the narrator states that only two of the discussants (both white) could hear what was being said. The researchers then tracked participants’ eye movements as they watched the videos to examine when their gaze would shift toward the Black discussant.

Their results show that participants fixed their eyes on the Black discussant four times longer when they believed he could hear what was being said. According to the authors, this demonstrates that complex cognitive processes are work when we glance at potentially insulted persons. According to the researchers, “participants are simultaneously attending to what is said, who can hear what is said, the social identity of the listeners, and the possible reactions of the listeners.”

Why we do this behavior is still a somewhat of a mystery, but the authors suggest that people may seeking out the responses of potentially victimized group members to help them assess the situation. “Additional research is needed to address these issues,” write the authors, “but we believe this paradigm is rich with possibilities and can help illuminate how people go about answering the thorny question of what is appropriate and what is offensive.”

From Time Magazine:

When Imus mouthed off last year about the women’s basketball team from Rutgers, the media looked to African-American intellectuals and female cultural leaders to determine whether his remarks — referring to the young athletes as “nappy-headed hos” — were his standard brand of on-air provocation or if he had in fact crossed the line into racism.

In 2002, when then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested that if separatist candidate Strom Thurmond had been elected President in the 1948 election, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years,” we turned to prominent members of the black community to determine how far he had overstepped.

“There was a lot of conversation about whether he was a racist, or whether was he just ignorant,” says Crosby. The ensuing cultural discourse, and subsequent condemnation of Lott’s comments, fascinated Crosby, and prompted her research. “How do we figure out what is discrimination?” she asked. More blatant offenses or extreme examples such as hate crimes are easier to determine. Crosby, however, wanted to home in on the nuanced and ambiguous circumstances more common in everyday life.

In her latest research, currently under peer review, she asked students to fill out questionnaires about scenarios in which discrimination was possible but not explicit. A company remains open on Martin Luther King Day, or a police officer stops a black man whose clothing and hair match those of a crime suspect, for example. “They’re ambiguous because we want more information,” Crosby says. “If it’s an ambulance company, you might want it to stay open,” or if the person in question is actually the criminal, you would want him to be stopped.

Participants were asked to rate the discrimination on a scale from 1 to 9, where 1 represented no discrimination, and 9 definite discrimination. To gauge how people influence one another’s views of discrimination, she made the questionnaires appear as if previous participants had filled out their answers on the same page. “When faced with responses attributed to a white individual, people averaged 4.4 when whites said the items weren’t discrimination and 5.2 when whites said the items were discrimination. When the same responses were attributed to a black individual, the means were 3.3 and 6.1, respectively — a significant move from the baseline,” she explains.

Consistent with her previous findings, non-blacks’ assessments of the situations were strongly affected by whether African Americans had supposedly answered before them.

Crosby worries that this deference may mean we don’t trust our own instincts when deciding what is offensive. As Benoit Monin, one of the study’s co-authors, says, “That’s great, of course, that downtrodden groups have a voice,” but it also means that too often we may be leaving the responsibility for confronting discrimination in the hands of those discriminated against.

Crosby recalls an example of this from her undergraduate career at Stanford. The school’s sports teams were called the Indians from 1930 to 1972, when the name was dropped because of protest from Native American students. Still, from time to time the former mascot would appear on t-shirts and paraphernalia — and each time it fell to Native American students to bring up their objections to the administration, Crosby says. “Why is it always their job?” she asks.

* * *

To read a related Situationist post, see “Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas.”

Posted in Conflict, Life | 3 Comments »

Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part V

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 1, 2008

There is a video interview of Tony Greewald and Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji on Edge. We’re posting parts of the transcript in severalMahzarin Banaji & Anthony Greenwald bite-sized installments. Part I is here; Part II is here; Part III is here; and Part IV is here.

* * *

BANAJI: Liberals sometimes have trouble with this test. Thy have put themselves into a separate category where they do no harm but everybody else, say those who live south of the Mason-Dixon or whatever, are the really prejudiced people. When we show that self-professed liberals are biased too, there is some squirming.

GREENWALD: The test has critics, but of about 500 scientific publications on the IAT so far, perhaps two or three percent are critical. This criticism has sometimes been very useful in guiding research. In some cases, the research has shown that the criticism was not valid. In other cases, the criticism has been found to be valid and has led to improvement of the IAT’s design.

BANAJI: But there is a response from the scientists which has parallels in the older sciences. Our methods are certainly critical of older methods in the sense that we believe that for a hundred years psychology relied extensively on self report, on asking people, “What do you think about this or that?” Just as with hypertension, where I no longer ask “What do you think your blood pressure reads right now?”—I would measure it with an objective tool—here is a situation in which asking people may not always lead to the useful answer.

Confirmation from other measures of what the IAT is tapping can be useful and we have such research, adding newly to our interpretations. One tool that I have found to be helpful in this regard is the use of fMRI to observe neural activity in predefined brain regions known to have particular capacities and to relate the IAT measure to it.

GREENWALD: To this point, there have been relatively few studies lining up fMRI imaging results with the IAT. Whereas the IAT can be administered in less than five minutes and costs very little to administer, obtaining the imaging data usually requires at least an hour, 20 or 30 minutes of which is spent inside an MRI scanner that makes a huge racket.

BANAJI: It has been ten years since the test went up on the Web—it went up in 1998—and we may have surpassed the six million mark in terms of completed tests. This makes it probably the largest such data collection on the Web. In terms of the research, it is very gratifying to see groups of people just picking it up and doing whatever they want to with it, including high school students.

Image by thesmokingsection - flickrOne area of great interest to me personally is the question of where these biases emerge from, especially the intergroup ones. Both in terms of evolution and in terms of our development from birth to adulthood. A large part of my lab’s work right now is focused on understanding how these biases operate in the minds of young children. Can we develop analogs of this test so that we can use it with infants? (Don’t know yet). We’d like to figure out how early in life babies become fascinated by what is familiar, what sounds like their mother, and from which a sense of self versus other, us versus them emerges.

I am very interested in the connections to the neuroscientific evidence. Can we converge, with different types of evidence on understanding how we treat others who are not like ourselves? Members of other species, members of our own species who have different beliefs (Hindu vs Muslim). Research by my colleague Jason Mitchell shows that indeed we may not engage the same brain region when thinking about somebody who is say a social democrat (similar to self) versus somebody who is different (a fundamentalist Christian). Judges need to know that. All of us need to know that.

GREENWALD: Within the next ten years, we expect a few uses for the IAT to become well established. One already developed use is educational, providing new ways to achieve what diversity training programs now try to achieve. There is much interest in using the IAT in this way to give people some self-insight that might help them improve how they function in their jobs. Another developing use is for clinical psychological diagnosis. Imagine someone taking an IAT on a handheld computer in the waiting room of a hospital or clinic, rapidly providing information that can help the clinician to understand something that the patient may be unable to describe to the clinician. Clinical psychologists have recently been adapting the IAT for such uses, although we have yet created the technology needed to administer it in the waiting room.

* * *

To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here. To take the “Presidential Candidates IAT,” click here. To review previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here.

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

%d bloggers like this: