The Situationist

Archive for May, 2008

Dan Dennett on our Interior Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 31, 2008

Posted in Emotions, Experimental Philosophy, Illusions, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Uncategorized, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Competitive Situation of Youth Baseball and Softball

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 30, 2008

Matthew Clark of the GateHouse News Service examines whether situational influences have made youth sports too competitive. We excerpt a portion of his story below.

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. . . [S]ome would argue that youth baseball and softball have changed dramatically over the years.

“I think that it has changed a lot with the invention of the traveling team,” said 13-year Major League Baseball veteran Dan Smith Jr. “It has taken away from community baseball.”

Not just that, but some may say the fun has been taken away from playing baseball in youth years.

“Overall, for kids today, there is too much pressure,” said coach Mike Watt. “They travel, and in most situations it is just win, win, win, and not so much about learning the fundamentals about baseball … it is about finding the best nine players you can find on the field, and I think that has taken some of the fun away from it.”

There are some that believe that parents can be part of the problem.

“If you look at the percentage of children who are obese today, we need to have them active and enjoying sports,” said Dr. David Hurford, chair of the psychology and counseling department at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University. “We don’t need parents living vicariously through them and making them feel bad for their performances.”

Looking back, Smith said traveling teams were really not part of the norm when he was playing summer baseball as a youth.

“Most of the people my age remember playing for their community team,” Smith said. “Now there are so many traveling teams that it kind of takes away from it.

“I think traveling and competing has its place, but it certainly does not make the player. I just played normal youth baseball, and we took one overnight trip a year.”

With traveling teams, Watt said some kids do get left out and that can cause division among kids and parents at early ages.

“As far as chemistry goes for high school players, what they do as a youth will affect them when they are in high school,” Watt said. “If they stay together, play together and work together, they seem to really enjoy it and they are closer than if they split up.”
But Smith said it goes even beyond traveling teams.

“My dad never expected me to go on and play but now parents are all about lessons and camps,” Smith said. “Parents want to give their kids every edge, but there is no substitute for going out and playing catch in the backyard.

“People want to replace hard work and repetition with getting their kids on a traveling team or in some academy but that is really no replacement. There is no secret and there is no shortcut because this is a game of repetition.”

Chuck Killingsworth, a professor in the Health, Human Performance, Recreation department at Pittsburg State University, said spirited competition has its place in youth sports, but it can get out of control.

“There is nothing wrong with competition, but, especially with youth sports, it needs to be fun,” Killingsworth said. “There is nothing wrong with encouraging, but when things get out of hand, kids tend to drop out because the sport is just not fun anymore.”

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For the rest of the piece, click here. For other Situationist posts on sports, click here.

Posted in Life, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Childhood: The New Age of Anxiety?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2008

Gina Stepp of Vision has an interesting piece on recent findings that suggest children in the U.S. and other countries are increasingly struggling with anxiety and unhappiness. Below we excerpt a portion of her piece.

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In the year 2000—even before terrorism hit so close to home for Americans on September 11, 2001, and before the United States went to war with Iraq—an interesting study appeared in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In her report, social psychologist Jean Twenge observed that anxiety levels in American children had increased dramatically since the first effective scale for measuring childhood anxiety was published in 1956.

The increases were so large and linear, Twenge explained, that by the 1980s normal children scored higher on the anxiety scale than did children in the 1950s who were psychiatric patients. The culprits? According to Twenge, disconnected relationships and looming environmental threats were the underlying factors. In particular she notes that “changes in the divorce rate, the birth rate, and the crime rate are all highly correlated with children’s anxiety.” In contrast, she discovered that “surprisingly, economic indices had very little independent effect on anxiety. Apparently, children are less concerned with whether their family has enough money than whether it is threatened by violence or dissolution.”

If modern young Americans are indeed feeling the strain, they are certainly not alone in the world. According to a March 2008 article in the online Independent, Britain may actually be the “unhappiest place on earth” for children. Education editor Richard Garner notes the “welter of evidence highlighting the fragile states of mind of many of the country’s seven million primary and secondary school pupils,” while reporting that British teachers had called for an independent Royal Commission to discover the reasons behind the widespread anxiety and unhappiness among the nation’s children.

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In May of 2005, two education researchers from Pennsylvania State University—David P. Baker and Gerald K. LeTendre—coauthored a book titled National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. Analyzing data collected from schools across more than 41 nations, the researchers came to a conclusion that might surprise many parents and educators: more homework does not necessarily translate to higher academic achievement.

Japan, the Czech Republic and Denmark were noted to have the highest academically scoring students while typically giving little or no homework. On the other hand, Baker noted that countries with very low scores in academic achievement: Thailand, Greece and Iran, typically were being assigned heavy homework loads.

“The United States is among the most homework-intensive countries in the world for seventh- and eighth-grade math classes,” commented LeTendre. “U.S. math teachers on average assigned more than two hours of mathematics homework per week in 1994-95. Contrary to our expectations, one of the lowest levels was recorded in Japan—about one hour a week. These figures challenge previous stereotypes about the lackadaisical American teenager and his diligent peer in Japan.”

LeTendre and Baker point out that it is these stereotypes, hyped by American media, that are actually responsible for prompting many U.S. schools to increase homework assignments during the 1980s. “At the same time,” say the researchers, “ironically, Japanese educators were attempting to reduce the amount of homework given to their students and allow them more leisure from the rigors of schooling. Neither the American nor the Japanese educational reform of the 1980s seems to have affected general achievement levels in either country.”

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For the rest of the piece, click here. For other Situationist posts on childhood, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Life, Public Policy, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Al Gore’s Situationism and Call for Urgency

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 28, 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available.

For a related post, see “Al Gore – The Situationist.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Education, Geography, Politics, Public Policy, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Moral Cognitions – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 27, 2008

by Pulpolux !!!In light of the previous post on Moral Psychology, we decided to provide the abstract to John Mikhail’s paper, “Aspects of the Theory of Moral Cognition: Investigating Intuitive Knowledge of the Prohibition of Intentional Battery and the Principle of Double Effect” (May 2002), which is available on SSRN.

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Where do our moral intuitions come from? Are they innate? Does the brain contain a module specialized for moral judgment? Does the human genetic program contain instructions for the acquisition of a sense of justice or moral sense? Questions like these have been asked in one form or another for centuries. In this paper we take them up again, with the aim of clarifying them and developing a specific proposal for how they can be empirically investigated. The paper presents data from six trolley problem studies of over five hundred individuals, including one group of Chinese adults and one group of American children, which suggest that both adults and children ages 8-12 rely on intuitive knowledge of moral principles, including the prohibition of intentional battery and the principle of double effect, to determine the permissibility of actions that require harming one individual in order to prevent harm to others. Significantly, the knowledge in question appears to be merely tacit: when asked to explain or justify their judgments, subjects were consistently incapable of articulating the operative principles on which their judgments appear to have been based. We explain these findings with reference to an analogy to human linguistic competence. Just as normal persons are typically unaware of the principles guiding their linguistic intuitions, so too are they often unaware of the principles guiding their moral intuitions. These studies pave the way for future research by raising the possibility that specific poverty of the stimulus arguments can be formulated in the moral domain. Differences between our approach to moral cognition and those of Piaget (1932), Kohlberg (1981), and Greene et al. (2001) are also discussed.

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Moral Psychology Primer

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 27, 2008

Dan Jones has a terrific article in the April issue of Prospect, titled “The Emerging Moral Psychology.” We’ve included some excerpts from the article below.
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Long thought to be a topic of enquiry within the humanities, the nature of human morality is increasingly being scrutinised by the natural sciences. This shift is now beginning to provide impressive intellectual returns on investment. Philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, economists, primatologists and anthropologists, all borrowing liberally from each others’ insights, are putting together a novel picture of morality—a trend that University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt has described as the “new synthesis in moral psychology.” The picture emerging shows the moral sense to be the product of biologically evolved and culturally sensitive brain systems that together make up the human “moral faculty.”

A pillar of the new synthesis is a renewed appreciation of the powerful role played by intuitions in producing our ethical judgements. Our moral intuitions, argue Haidt and other psychologists, derive not from our powers of reasoning, but from an evolved and innate suite of “affective” systems that generate “hot” flashes of feelings when we are confronted with a putative moral violation.

This intuitionist perspective marks a sharp break from traditional “rationalist” approaches in moral psychology, which gained a large following in the second half of the 20th century under the stewardship of the late Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. In the Kohlbergian tradition, moral verdicts derive from the application of conscious reasoning, and moral development throughout our lives reflects our improved ability to articulate sound reasons for the verdicts . . . .

But experimental studies give cause to question the primacy of rationality in morality. In one experiment, Jonathan Haidt presented people with a range of peculiar stories, each of which depicted behaviour that was harmless (in that no sentient being was hurt) but which also felt “bad” or “wrong.” One involved a son who promised his mother, while she was on her deathbed, that he would visit her grave every week, and then reneged on his commitment because he was busy. Another scenario told of a man buying a dead chicken at the supermarket and then having sex with it before cooking and eating it. These weird but essentially harmless acts were, nonetheless, by and large deemed to be immoral.

Further evidence that emotions are in the driving seat of morality surfaces when people are probed on why they take their particular moral positions. In a separate study which asked subjects for their ethical views on consensual incest, most people intuitively felt that incestuous sex is wrong, but when asked why, many gave up, saying, “I just know it’s wrong!”—a phenomenon Haidt calls “moral dumbfounding.”

It’s hard to argue that people are rationally working their way to moral judgements when they can’t come up with any compelling reasons—or sometimes any reasons at all—for their moral verdicts. Haidt suggests that the judgements are based on intuitive, emotional responses, and that conscious reasoning comes into its own in creating post hoc justifications for our moral stances. Our powers of reason, in this view, operate more like a lawyer hired to defend a client than a disinterested scientist searching for the truth.

Our rational and rhetorical skill is also recruited from time to time as a lobbyist. Haidt points out that the reasons—whether good or bad—that we offer for our moral views often function to press the emotional buttons of those we wish to bring around to our way of thinking. So even when explicit reasons appear to have the effect of changing people’s moral opinions, the effect may have less to do with the logic of the arguments than their power to elicit the right emotional responses. We may win hearts without necessarily converting minds. . . .

Even if you recognise the tendency to base moral judgements on how moral violations make you feel, you probably would also like to think that you have some capacity to think through moral issues, to weigh up alternative outcomes and make a call on what is right and wrong.

Thankfully, neuroscience gives some cause for optimism. Philosopher-cum-cognitive scientist Joshua Greene of Harvard University and his colleagues have used functional magnetic resonance imaging to map the brain as it churns over moral problems, inspired by a classic pair of dilemmas from the annals of moral philosophy called the Trolley Problem and the Footbridge Problem. [For a review of Greene’s research, clickFootbridge Problem - Image by Isdky (Flickr) here.]

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What is going on in the brain when people mull over these different scenarios? Thinking through cases like the Trolley Problem—what Greene calls an impersonal moral dilemma as it involves no direct violence against another person—increases activity in brain regions located in the prefrontal cortex that are associated with deliberative reasoning and cognitive control (so-called executive functions). This pattern of activity suggests that impersonal moral dilemmas such as the Trolley Problem are treated as straightforward rational problems: how to maximise the number of lives saved. By contrast, brain imaging of the Footbridge Problem—a personal dilemma that invokes up-close and personal violence—tells a rather different story. Along with the brain regions activated in the Trolley Problem, areas known to process negative emotional responses also crank up their activity. In these more difficult dilemmas, people take much longer to make a decision and their brains show patterns of activity indicating increased emotional and cognitive conflict within the brain as the two appalling options are weighed up.

Greene interprets these different activation patterns, and the relative difficulty of making a choice in the Footbridge Problem, as the sign of conflict within the brain. On the one hand is a negative emotional response elicited by the prospect of pushing a man to his death saying “Don’t do it!”; on the other, cognitive elements saying “Save as many people as possible and push the man!” For most people thinking about the Footbridge Problem, emotion wins out; in a minority of others, the utilitarian conclusion of maximising the number of lives saved.

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While there is a growing consensus that the moral intuitions revealed by moral dilemmas such as the Trolley and Footbridge problems draw on unconscious psychological processes, there is an emerging debate about how best to characterise these unconscious elements.

On the one hand is the dual-processing view, in which “hot” affectively-laden intuitions that militate against personal violence are sometimes pitted against the ethical conclusions of deliberative, rational systems. An alternative perspective that is gaining increased attention sees our moral intuitions as driven by “cooler,” non-affective general “principles” that are innately built into the human moral faculty and that we unconsciously follow when assessing social behaviour.

In order to find out whether such principles drive moral judgements, scientists need to know how people actually judge a range of moral dilemmas. In recent years, Marc Hauser, a biologist and psychologist at Harvard, has been heading up the Moral Sense Test (MST) project to gather just this sort of data from around the globe and across cultures.

The project is casting its net as wide as possible: the MST can be taken by anyone with access to the internet. Visitors to the “online lab” are presented with a series of short moral scenarios—subtle variations of the original Footbridge and Trolley dilemmas, as well as a variety of other moral dilemmas. The scenarios are designed to explore whether, and how, specific factors influence moral judgements. Data from 5,000 MST participants showed that people appear to follow a moral code prescribed by three principles:

• The action principle: harm caused by action is morally worse than equivalent harm caused by omission.

• The intention principle: harm intended as the means to a goal is morally worse than equivalent harm foreseen as the side-effect of a goal.

• The contact principle: using physical contact to cause harm to a victim is morally worse than causing equivalent harm to a victim without using physical contact.

Crucially, the researchers also asked participants to justify their decisions. Most people appealed to the action and contact principles; only a small minority explicitly referred to the intention principle. Hauser and colleagues interpret this as evidence that some principles that guide our moral judgments are simply not available to, and certainly not the product of, conscious reasoning. These principles, it is proposed, are an innate and universal part of the human moral faculty, guiding us in ways we are unaware of. In a (less elegant) reformulation of Pascal’s famous claim that “The heart has reasons that reason does not know,” we might say “The moral faculty has principles that reason does not know.”

The notion that our judgements of moral situations are driven by principles of which we are not cognisant will no doubt strike many as implausible. Proponents of the “innate principles” perspective, however, can draw succour from the influential Chomskyan idea that humans are equipped with an innate and universal grammar for language as part of their basic design spec. In everyday conversation, we effortlessly decode a stream of noise into meaningful sentences according to rules that most of us are unaware of, and use these same rules to produce meaningful phrases of our own. Any adult with normal linguistic competence can rapidly decide whether an utterance or sentence is grammatically valid or not without conscious recourse to the specific rules that determine grammaticality. Just as we intuitively know what we can and cannot say, so too might we have an intuitive appreciation of what is morally permissible and what is forbidden.

Marc Hauser and legal theorist John Mikhail of Georgetown University have started to develop detailed models of what such an “innate moral grammar” might look like. Such models usually posit a number of key components, or psychological systems. One system uses “conversion rules” to break down observed (or imagined) behaviour into a meaningful set of actions, which is then used to create a “structural description” of the events. This structural description captures not only the causal and temporal sequence of events (what happened and when), but also intentional aspects of action (was the outcome intended as a means or a side effect? What was the intention behind the action?).

With the structural description in place, the causal and intentional aspects of events can be compared with a database of unconscious rules, such as “harm intended as a means to an end is morally worse than equivalent harm foreseen as the side-effect of a goal.” If the events involve harm caused as a means to the Morality - Image by Joel Duggan, Flickrgreater good (and particularly if caused by the action and direct contact of another person), then a judgement of impermissibility is more likely to be generated by the moral faculty. In the most radical models of the moral grammar, judgements of permissibility and impermissibility occur prior to any emotional response. Rather than driving moral judgements, emotions in this view arise as a by-product of unconsciously reached judgements as to what is morally right and wrong

Hauser argues that a similar “principles and parameters” model of moral judgement could help make sense of universal themes in human morality as well as differences across cultures (see below). There is little evidence about how innate principles are affected by culture, but Hauser has some expectations as to what might be found. If the intention principle is really an innate part of the moral faculty, then its operation should be seen in all cultures. However, cultures might vary in how much harm as a means to a goal they typically tolerate, which in turn could reflect how extensively that culture sanctions means-based harm such as infanticide (deliberately killing one child so that others may flourish, for example). These intriguing though speculative ideas await a thorough empirical test.

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Although current studies have only begun to scratch the surface, the take-home message is clear: intuitions that function below the radar of consciousness are most often the wellsprings of our moral judgements. . . .

Despite the knocking it has received, reason is clearly not entirely impotent in the moral domain. We can reflect on our moral positions and, with a bit of effort, potentially revise them. An understanding of our moral intuitions, and the unconscious forces that fuel them, give us perhaps the greatest hope of overcoming them.

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To read the entire article, click here. To reaad some related Situationist posts, see “Quick Introduction to Experimental (Situationist?) Philosophy,” and “Pinker on the Situation of Morality.”

Posted in Ideology, Morality, Neuroscience, Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – April (Part III)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 27, 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 April. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From In Mind: “Complementing Individualism with The Social Identity Approach

” Have you ever thought about where your strong moral convictions (if any) come from? For example, let`s assume you feel strongly about the sacredness of the Qur’an, and feel outraged when someone mocks your Holy Book. Or, alternatively, you feel strongly about freedom of speech, and hence feel outraged when those mocking a holy book are threatened and attacked by those who perceive this as a transgression of their sacred values. Is it, in these cases, a strictly personal part of who you are that reacts so strongly, or is your conviction perhaps derived from important groups you are a member of? Although strong moral conviction may, from an outside perspective, appear to be very much of an individual thing, I suggest in this article that we should consider the possibility that, in reality, this is not always the case. By proposing that moral convictions can also stem from the multitude of groups that individuals are members of, I will illustrate the larger point that individualism, which I define loosely here as a line of thought that attributes individuals` behavior to their personality characteristics, is complemented with the so-called social identity approach.” Read more . . .

From Mind Hacks: “Drug Adverts Full of Unsupported Claims

“We’re so used to drug companies burying data, spinning their results, ghostwriting papers, ‘financially incentivising’ doctors and designing biased studies, you’d just assume that if drug advert cited a research it would back up the claim being made for the medication. According to a new study, you’d often be wrong.” Read more . . .

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

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Leave a Comment »

Law, Chicken Sexing, Torture Memo, and Situation Sense

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 25, 2008

Image by altopower - FlickrIt’s law-school graduation season. Here is one of the best law-school commencement speeches in recent memory, given by Situationist contributor Dan Kahan at Yale Law School two years ago.

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I’m sure we are all moved by the profound and unique signification of commencement exercises at Yale Law School. At other, lesser law schools, commencement marks the successful completion of a program in legal education. But at Yale, commencement means just that – a start, a beginning.

Having earned your Juris Doctorate from Yale, the time has come for you finally to commence learning real law. Well, today I’d like to offer you an apology for the distinctive brand of legal education you received here. Of course I mean apology not as in a contrite acknowledgment of fault, but apology as in a justification of a position of political and moral dispute.

Now in truth, I think our pedagogy at Yale Law School is not nearly so alienated from the practice of law as it is sometimes, comically depicted. But it is, I concede, emphatically opposed to the conventional view that learning law means learning a body of formal rules. So I want to explain why, to my mind at least, a conventional legal education of that sort would almost certainly have made you a bad lawyer – in multiple senses – and why the approach we use instead will, at least hopefully, make you a good one.

Do you know what this is? Yes, it’s a baby chick. But do you know its gender? Of course, not. But you would if you were a professional chick sexer. In the poultry industry, it is very important to separate out male and female chicks almost immediately after birth: the males are less valuable – they can’t lay eggs and their meat isn’t nearly so tender – and they end up competing with the female chicks for food. So you need to pick the males out and get rid of them. This job falls to the professionally trained chick sexer, who turning the chicks over gently in his or her hand is able to sort out male from female at a rate of 1,000 per hour and at an accuracy rate of 99%.

What makes this feat so astonishing, though, is that there just isn’t any readily discernable, or at least articulable, difference in the anatomy of newborn chicks. All zoologists agree that this is so. If you ask a professionally trained chick sexer what he is looking for, don’t expect a satisfying answer.

Either he’ll confabulate, telling you some fantastic and silly story about the inability of the male chick to look him straight in the eye. Or more candidly, he’ll just shrug his shoulders.

But while the nature of the chicksexer’s skill may be inexplicable, how he acquired it isn’t. To become chicksexers, individuals go off for an extended period of study with a chick sexing grandmaster. He doesn’t give lectures or assign texts. Instead he exposes his pupils to slides– “male,” “female,” “male,” “male,” “female,” “female,” “male” – continuing on in this way until the students acquire the same special power to intuitively perceive the gender of a newborn chick, even without being able to cogently explain how.

What in the world does this have to do with law, you are asking yourself of a professor’s lecture, once again. Well, what I want to suggest is that what’s going on in the chick-sexing profession is the very same thing that goes on in the legal profession. The formal doctrines and rules that make up the law – unconscionability, proximate causation, character propensity, unreasonable restraints of trade – are just as fuzzy and indeterminate as the genetalia of dayold chicks. And yet just as the trained chick sexer can accurately distinguish female from male, so the trained lawyer can accurately distinguish good decision from bad, persuasive argument from weak. Ask the lawyer for an explanation, and in his case too you’ll get nothing but confabulation – “plain meaning,” “congressional intent,” “efficiency” – or what have you.

In addition, the lawyer attains her skill – to recognize what she can’t cogently explain – in much the same way that the chick sexer does: through exposure to a professional slideshow, this one conducted by law grandmasters, including law professors but also other socialized lawyers, who authoritatively certify what count as good and bad decisions, sound and unsound arguments, thereby inculcating in students and young practitioners the power of intuitive perception distinctive of the legal craft.

Now, by this point in my argument, you’ll likely recognize that my analogy between legal reasoning with chick sexing is just a colorful rehearsing of legal realism. As developed at Yale Law School in the 1920s and 1930s, legal realism was less interested to demonstrate that legal rules are formally indeterminate than to explain how lawyers nonetheless form such uniform and predictable understandings of what those rules entail. Llewellyn attributed this ability to what he called “situation sense,” an intuitive perceptive faculty born of immersion in professional and cultural norms – the slide show of law.

Contemporary social psychologists use the concepts of pattern recognition and prototypical reasoning to describe the same cognitive processes – which are pervasive in all fields and facets of life, not just law and the poultry industry.

Well, if you accept this central insight of legal realism, as I do, then you will readily understand that effective legal training has very little to do with learning the mass and detail of formal legal rules. Instead, it has everything to do with acquiring situation sense.

You’ll also see that being an effective advocate requires an ability to arouse the situation sense of other lawyers, including judges. Those who believe that making convincing arguments consists in knowing formal rules are professionally autistic. They can’t make arguments that engage the emotional motivations of those they are trying to persuade. Only those who understand the role of situation sense, who are acquainted with the norms that construct it, are poised to explain, to predict, and through strategic framing and advocacy, to influence legal decisionmakers.

So to make you good lawyers we at Yale impart not “rule knowledge” but situation sense. This is part of my apology for our distinctive pedagogy.

But it is only part. There’s another, which is more complicated and which is concerned with making you good rather than bad lawyers in a somewhat different sense.

I’m sure you will all have immediately recognize one difference between the situation sense of chicksexers and situation sense of lawyers. The quality of intuitive perceptions of any individual chicksexer can be externally validated: ultimately we can test whether he is able accurately to distinguish male and female. But we can’t externally validate the situation sense of lawyers. The only test of whether some lawyer has reliable situation sense is to see whether other lawyers (including decisionmakers) agree with her perceptions of how
society’s rules should be applied.

Now understand, the lack of external validation doesn’t mean that good lawyering, as a psychological matter, can’t be said to involve the same faculty of tacit reasoning, or intuitive perception, that good chick-sexing does. But it does mean that the content of the lawyers situation sense will be inevitably be more contingent and dynamic: our professional norms – and in turn the law itself – will evolve in response to the evaluations we ourselves make of the decisions and actions of one another.

As a result, there is an element of moral agency in good lawyering that has no analog in good chick sexing. When I as a lawyer exercise professional judgment, when I perform my professional responsibilities, I affirm the authority and extend the vitality of the norms that Dan Kahanconstruct our professional situation sense. Now granted, it would be absurd to assert that every decision a lawyer makes meaningfully influences professional understandings, much less that any individual lawyer always has the power to point those understandings in a either a just or an unjust direction. But it would be equally naïve to deny that the decisions of certain individual lawyers, on certain critical occasions, can have that effect.

A little over a decade ago, a brilliant 25 year-old was standing where you are. Less than a decade later, after serving as a Supreme Court Law Clerk and as professor at an elite law school, he found himself serving as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel. At the behest of White House lawyers who were battling internal opposition from career military officers and lawyers, he wrote a legal memorandum which construed the law to permit the use of interrogation techniques that the U.S. had for decades understood to be banned by the Geneva Convention. Because of the institutional stature and formal authority of the OLC within the Executive Branch; because of the function the memo was intended to play in resolving a debate among other governmental officials of immense authority; and because of the impact of 9-11 in provoking societal reconsideration of the relationship between civil liberties and national security, this Yale-trained lawyer did have every reason to believe that his memo, all on its own, would have a profound
and shaping impact on the professional and cultural understandings that are our law. Yet he pretended this wasn’t so. When asked by an appalled career military intelligence officer whether the memo meant the President could order torture, he answered, “Yes, but I’m not talking policy. I’m talking law here.”

The analysis reflected in the so-called Torture Memo did not, in fact, become part of our professional and cultural understandings, our situation sense. But I think a large part of the credit for that belongs to another individual lawyer, who as a 20-something also stood where you now are about a decade and a half ago. He too clerked for a Supreme Court Justice and then served on the faculty of a major U.S. law school. In 2003 he took over as head of the Office of Legal Counsel. And to the shock of his patrons, he immediately issued a directive advising the military intelligence services that they couldn’t rely on the so-called Torture Memo. This was well before the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal came to light, at a time when high-ranking political appointees in the Justice Department and Pentagon were continuing to place decisive reliance on the Torture Memo. As a result, this lawyer had every reason to believe the Memo’s understanding of the law would persist, and that it would pervade and shape the shared professional and cultural understandings of lawyers, unless he as a lawyer took responsibility for repudiating it. So he did.

This lawyer, Jack Goldsmith, was ultimately pushed out of OLC and is now languishing at an obscure law school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When he got there, by the way, a portion of that institution’s faculty, unaware of the role he had played in overturning the Torture Memo, and later in temporarily suspending the then still-secret NSA warrantless domestic surveillance policy, refused to even acknowledge him in the halls. Well, some of the lawyers trained at that school also played a sad role in the Torture Memo. Now that Goldsmith is there, I suspect it’s much less likely that any of its future graduates will try, in cowardly fashion, to evade moral responsibility for their actions by insisting that law is nothing but a set of formally binding rules. And I have hope that as a result of his actions, it’s much less likely any of you ever will either.

This was my last chance to teach you some law, Yale style. These were my final two slides: one bad lawyer, one good. What made the bad one bad wasn’t that he knew “less law.” It was that he, unlike the good lawyer, refused to take moral responsibility when he found himself in a position where his individual actions as a lawyer were likely to have a decisive role in shaping our profession’s situation sense, and thus in shaping the law itself.

Because you today are standing where these two lawyers stood, because you are standing where number members of Congress, Justices of the Supreme Court, and Presidents of the United States have all stood too, I feel petty certain that a number of you too will be in that position some day. If you are, how good a lawyer you are won’t be determined by how many rules you’ve learned; it will turn on how good a person you are. My apology for not teaching you more “law” is that I thought it was much more urgent to try to teach you that.

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For a related Situationist post, see “The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos.”

Posted in Education, Law, Legal Theory, Life, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Steven Pinker’s Ted Talks on “The Stuff of Thought”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 24, 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Cognition, Law, Stories – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 24, 2008

Lorie Graham and Stephen McJohn, have posted their essay, “Cognition, Law, Stories” (forthcoming Minnesota Journal of Law (2009)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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This essay reviews Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought (Penguin 2007), which offers insights from cognitive science just where it overlaps the most with law – how we use basic cognitive categories like intent, space, time, events and causation. The Stuff of Thought might offer insights into a broad range of issues in legal theory. Legal theory could make more use of such cognitive science concepts as chunking, recursion, and the primary qualities of an object. Other topics likewise resonate in thinking about the law: The book suggests that metaphor is an important cognitive tool, but less constraining than might be thought. Linguistic analysis of verb classes and polysemy suggests that words have surprisingly determinate meaning. Our apparent innate sense of causation (drawn from an analysis of language) sheds light on the legal treatment of causation. Lastly, The Stuff of Thought describes the role of indirect speech, whereby people convey information without revealing their state of mind – which often allows social interaction to proceed smoothly. Default rules in the law, we suggest, often play an analogous role.

The essay then explores the cognitive aspects of stories (following literary theorists like Mark Turner who have linked cognitive science with narrative theory), suggesting a recursive definition of story, and another angle to the trolley problem. Looking at the cognitive role of stories permits a fuller view of legal reasoning, learning, and remembering. This fits well with recent scholarship, such as work on origin stories, and law and genre theory.

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The Situation of Capital Punishment – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 23, 2008

Image by ShanePapaDisel - FlickrKatherine Barnes, David Sloss, and Stephen Thaman, recently posted their paper, “Life and Death Decisions: Prosecutorial Discretion and Capital Punishment in Missouri” on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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This article presents the results of an empirical study of intentional homicide cases in Missouri. The authors created a database of 1046 cases; it includes substantially all of the homicide cases prosecuted in Missouri over a five year period that were initially charged as murder or voluntary manslaughter and that yielded criminal convictions. The authors selected 247 cases from the larger database for more detailed analysis. We analyzed geographic and racial disparities in the rates at which: prosecutors charge first-degree murder versus lesser charges; prosecutors seek the death penalty, not lesser punishments; defendants are convicted of first-degree murder versus lesser crimes; and defendants are sentenced to death, not lesser punishments.

The Missouri statute gives prosecutors very broad discretion. We estimate that at least 76 percent of the cases in the database are death-eligible under the statute. However, prosecutors pursued capital trials in only about five percent of the cases. Thus, death-eligible cases in which prosecutors chose not to pursue capital trials comprise at least 71 percent of the cases in the database. Prosecutors in different counties exercise their discretion differently, leading to substantial variation in charging and sentencing practices in different counties across the state. The analysis of cases by race of victim and race of defendant shows that there are racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions, but the racial disparities are not as significant as the geographic disparities. The article presents measures of racial and geographic disparities without controlling for individual culpability; a follow-on study will introduce culpability measures as control variables.

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Death Row,” “Why We Punish,” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Abstracts, Law | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Solomon Asch’s Classic Group-Influence Experiment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 23, 2008

Posted in Classic Experiments, Law, Social Psychology, Video | 1 Comment »

The Situation of University Research

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 22, 2008

Image by tom )''( - FlickrToday’s New York Times includes a terrific article, titled At One University, Tobacco Money Is a Secret, by Alan Finder who describes how the tobacco industry continues to situationally manipulate the marketplace of ideas. We’ve excerpted a few excerpts from the story below.

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On campuses nationwide, professors and administrators have passionately debated whether their universities should accept money for research from tobacco companies. But not at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public institution in Richmond, Va.

That is largely because hardly any faculty members or students there know that there is something to debate — a contract with extremely restrictive terms that the university signed in 2006 to do research for Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company and a unit of Altria Group.

The contract bars professors from publishing the results of their studies, or even talking about them, without Philip Morris’s permission. If “a third party,” including news organizations, asks about the agreement, university officials have to decline to comment and tell the company. Nearly all patent and other intellectual property rights go to the company, not the university or its professors.

“There is restrictive language in here,” said Francis L. Macrina, Virginia Commonwealth’s vice president for research, who acknowledged that many of the provisions violated the university’s guidelines for industry-sponsored research. “In the end, it was language we thought we could agree to. It’s a balancing act.”

But the contract, a copy of which The New York Times obtained under the Virginia Freedom of Information law, is highly unusual and raises questions about how far universities will go in search of scarce research dollars to enhance their standing. It also brings a new dimension to the already divisive debate on many campuses over whether it is appropriate for universities to accept tobacco money for research.

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Philip Morris, based in Richmond, is a likely source for Virginia Commonwealth in its hunt for dollars from a finite number of corporations. Among tobacco companies, Philip Morris is the leader in investing in academic research. And for Virginia Commonwealth, expanding ties with its neighbor could produce other benefits like additional grants and support for other university functions.

About a dozen researchers and research ethicists from other universities were astonished at the restrictions in the contract, when they were told about it.

Image by taberandrew - Flickr“When universities sign contracts with these covenants, they are basically giving up their ethos, compromising their values as a university,” said Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University who is an expert on corporate influence on medical research. “There should be no debate about having a sponsor with control over the publishing of results.”

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About 15 public health and medical schools no longer accept donations from the tobacco industry, and many major research universities continue to do so only if guaranteed independence to carry out the research and publish the results.

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A tenured scientist at Virginia Commonwealth, who would not be interviewed for attribution because he said he feared retribution against his junior colleagues, called the contract’s restrictions, especially the limitations on publication, “completely unacceptable in the research world.”

For most of the decade, Philip Morris financed conventional research grants, using a scientific panel to select worthy research proposals from professors. The company granted independence to the professors whose work it sponsored and left them free to publish.

Even so, opponents of smoking opposed the grants, arguing that universities should not take money from tobacco companies because of the public health impact of smoking and what they viewed as the industry’s misuse of scientific research.

Last fall, Philip Morris began phasing out this program to switch to developing new products, said Dr. Solana, the company vice president. Some of the new research will be conducted internally, he said, at a new company research center in Richmond, and some will be contracted out to universities and corporations case by case.

The restricted contract with Virginia Commonwealth, Dr. Solana said, was part of what he hopes will be a new and different relationship between the company and universities. But scientists said such restrictions — especially the constraints on publication and what university officials can say publicly — are contrary to the open discussion essential to university research.

“It’s counter to the entire purpose and rationale of a university,” said David Rosner, a professor of public health and history at Columbia University. “It’s not a consulting company; it’s not just another commercial firm.

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The entire article is here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Industry-Funded Research – Part II,” and “Captured Science.”

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The Situation of Intelligence – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 22, 2008

Susanne M. Jaeggi, Martin Buschkuehl, John Jonides, and Walter J. Perrig published an article, “Improving fluid intelligence with training on working memory,” in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We’ve posted the absract below. To read a New York Times article about the research, click here.

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Fluid intelligence (Gf) refers to the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge. Gf is critical for a wide variety of cognitive tasks, and it is considered one of the most important factors in learning. Moreover, Gf is closely related to professional and educational success, especially in complex and demanding environments. Although performance on tests of Gf can be improved through direct practice on the tests themselves, there is no evidence that training on any other regimen yields increased Gf in adults. Furthermore, there is a long history of research into cognitive training showing that, although performance on trained tasks can increase dramatically, transfer of this learning to other tasks remains poor. Here, we present evidence for transfer from training on a demanding working memory task to measures of Gf. This transfer results even though the trained task is entirely different from the intelligence test itself. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the extent of gain in intelligence critically depends on the amount of training: the more training, the more improvement in Gf. That is, the training effect is dosage-dependent. Thus, in contrast to many previous studies, we conclude that it is possible to improve Gf themselves, opening a wide range of applications. without practicing the testing tasks.

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Your Kids Are Not All That

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 21, 2008

It’s a truism that parents tend to think their children are above-average. Julie Symth of the National Post has an interesting piece on what social psychology can say about this phenomenon. She details a new study by Andrew Wegner and Blaine J. Flowers of the University of Miami in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology entitled “Positive Illusions in Parenting: Every Child is Above Average.” Below we excerpt portions of Smyth’s piece.

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Parents have “unrealistically positive” views of their children and their relationship with their sons and daughters, according to a new study.

As well, the more parents rate themselves in a positive light, the more likely they are to have an inflated sense of their children’s abilities, behaviour and personality, the researches concluded.

Nine out of 10 parents rated their own offspring as better than an “average child” — they thought their children were smarter, more sensitive, funnier, more caring, according to the study, titled “Positive Illusions in Parenting: Every Child is Above Average.”

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, described how parents rated their children as above average on so many traits that it had to be more “illusory beliefs” than accurate reporting. In other words, parents did not list one or two things — their children’s intelligence or sense of humour, for example — as being better than average, but rated their child as superior on multiple levels.

The study was based on 78 parents in Miami, Fla.,mostly married women who had completed some level of higher education. All had children between two and five years of age.

The tendency to see children in such a positive way, regardless of their skills or behaviour, may also be due to societal pressures, said Andrew Wenger, a clinical psychologist specializing in children and families and the lead researcher on the parenting study. He said a culture that values instant gratification, individualism and competitiveness may encourage parents to hold unrealistic views of their family. He suggested that the societal emphasis on self-esteem could also be influencing modern parents.

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For the rest of the article, click here. For other Situationist posts on parenting, click here.

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Peer Effects – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 20, 2008

Robert MacCoun, Philip Cook, Clara Muschkin, and Jacob Vigdor have posted their paper,Distinguishing Spurious and Real Peer Effects: Evidence from Artificial Societies, Small-Group Experiments, and Real Schoolyards,” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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In a variety of important domains, there is considerable correlational evidence suggestive of what are variously referred to as social norm effects, contagion effects, information cascades, or peer effects. It is difficult to statistically identify whether such effects are causal, and there are various non-causal mechanisms that can produce such apparent norm effects. Lab experiments demonstrate that real peer effects occur, but also that apparent cascade or peer effects can be spurious. A curious feature of American local school configuration policy provides an opportunity to identify true peer influences among adolescents. Some school districts send 6th graders to middle school (e.g., 6th-8th grade “junior high”); others retain 6th graders for one additional year in K-6 elementary schools. Using administrative data on public school students in North Carolina, we have found that sixth grade students attending middle schools are much more likely to be cited for discipline problems than those attending elementary school, and the effects appear to persist at least through ninth grade. A plausible explanation is that these effects occur because sixth graders in middle schools are suddenly exposed to two cohorts of older, more delinquent peers.

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Happiness Rankings by Country

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 20, 2008

Andrew Cohen of the Ottawa Citizen has a new piece that discusses a 2006 study by social psychologist Adrian White of the University of Leicester. The study, entitled “A Global Projection of Well Being: A Challenge to Positive Psychology?,” employed more than 100 studies to rank countries by their citizens’ level of happiness.

Congrats to our readers from Denmark, the happiest nation according to White’s study.

Below we excerpt portions of Cohen’s article.

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When they say that the Danes are the happiest people on earth – as a widely publicized study by the University of Leicester found in 2006 – the Garden of Mythology comes to mind. After all, an airport garden, in a country that is dreary for much of the year, is fundamentally human. When the sun finally comes out, people have a heightened sense of well-being.

The study was done by Adrian White, a social psychologist. Using a battery of statistics and a survey of attitudes among 80,000 people around the globe, he created “a world map of happiness.” Of 178 countries, he found Denmark the happiest.

An odd choice, you might think, for a people known for herring and Hamlet. Or for a people described as brooding, remote and dour.

No matter. Professor White concludes that happiness is about being healthy, wealthy and wise. While much of his study is subjective, he measures levels of GDP, health and education. He also finds that countries of low population and high social cohesion tend to be happier.

Denmark, for example, is a generous welfare state. Health care is excellent. University is free and students are paid to attend. Paid holidays extend to six weeks a year. Violent crime is rare.

Unsurprisingly, the next half-dozen countries on the list – Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, The Bahamas, Finland, Sweden – are also (with some variations) small, safe, affluent and homogenous. Canada is 10th on the list, which would seem about right given its prosperity (though not its distinctive diversity).

The United States (where happiness is virtually a constitutional right) is 23rd, Germany 35th, Great Britain 41st. Japan, which is wealthy and healthy, does surprisingly badly at 90th place.

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For the rest of the article, click here. To read White’s study, click here. For other Situationist posts on happiness, click here.

Posted in Life, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – April (Part II)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 19, 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 April. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From Deliberations:Lawyers: So Certain, So Wrong

“We all assume that if we like something, the rest of the world is going to like it too — and when we assume that, we’re usually mistaken. That’s the conclusion of the wonderfully named paper “What’s Not to Like: Preference Asymmetry in the False Consensus Effect,” by Andrew D. Gershoff, Ashesh Mukherjee, and Anirban Mukhopadhyay, in the coming June 2008 Journal of Consumer Research. A good press release is here. . . .” Read more . . .

From Contexts Discoveries: “Happiness–comes in time

“Following a very shallow upside-down “U” curve, American find they happier as they age, peaking in their late fifties and finally declining in their late seventies. However, specific cohorts were found to be less likely to enjoy the the benefits of maturity. Notably, “baby boomers” experienced less happiness, which may be caused by the formative experience of growing up during a high population era. Increased competition in school and the labor market may have had a lasting impact on this group.” Read more . .

From Experiments in Philosophy: “Would You be Willing to Enter the Matrix?

“The traditional view was that people would choose not to enter such a machine and that this fact showed that people care not only about having pleasant experiences but also about being in touch with reality. The experimental philosopher Felipe De Brigard has now run an interesting series of studies challenging this traditional conclusion. He suggests that people’s unwillingness to enter the experience machine might be due not so much to an interest in staying in touch with reality as to a phenomenon called the status quo bias. ” Read more . . .

From Experiments in Philosophy: “Are Conservatives Stupid or Evil?

“The idea that liberals and conservatives have some different basic values gains support from recent psychological research. For example, in a recent issue of Science, psychologist Jonathan Haidt reports that conservatives are deeply concerned about factors that fall outside of liberal morality. For liberals, morality is pretty much about harm and justice. To decide whether a policy is wrong, they want to know whether any one will be hurt by it and whether it will be fair to all those affected. Conservative care about harm and justice too, but they also care about three things that liberals tend to ignore: purity, respect for authority, and loyalty to the ingroup. ” 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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Read My Brain – From Science Friday

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 19, 2008

Watch the Science Friday crew take trip to Columbia University’s Program for Imaging and Cognitive Sciences for a quick fMRI.

Vodpod videos no longer available. Here’s the blurb from the show, “Looking Inside the Human Brain,” broadcast on May 2, which you can listen to here.

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What’s really going on inside your head when you make a decision, make a mistake, or have a few drinks? In this segment, Ira and guests talk about new research involving the field of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. The technique allows researchers to monitor the blood flow through parts of the brain as it responds to stimuli, allowing researchers to monitor which parts of the brain are active and which are resting. Though the technique is being eagerly explored in a variety of fields, fMRI has received criticism from some brain experts as being the modern-day equivalent of phrenology. We’ll hear about the technique, and what it can tell researchers about the inner workings of the human brain.

We’ll also hear about three recent research projects making use of the technique. One, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, looks at brain activity during the process of making a simple decision — whether to push a button with the right or left hand. The researchers found that parts of the brain activated as much as seven seconds before the person being studied was aware of having made a decision, and that by looking at the patterns of brain activity, the researchers could predict which button the subject would choose to push. We’ll also hear about researchers studying errors made while research participants were performing a simple, mindless task. The research team was able to detect patterns of brain activity about ten seconds before the study subjects made a mistake in their tasks. The results of that study were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

We’ll also talk with a researcher studying the effects of alcohol on the brain. Functional MRI tests show that in people with blood alcohol levels of 0.08 (legally intoxicated in some states), there is increased activity in a part of the brain associated with rewards, and a change in the brain’s fear response to risks.

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Engines of Inequality: Class, Race, and Family Structure – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 18, 2008

Amy Wax posted her latest manuscript, “Engines of Inequality: Class, Race, and Family Structure” (forthcoming in 41 Family Law Quarterly 567 (2007) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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The past 30 years have witnessed a dramatic divergence in family structure by social class, income, education, and race. This article reviews the data on these trends, explores their significance, and assesses social scientists’ recent attempts to explain them. The article concludes that society-wide changes in economic conditions or social expectations cannot account for these patterns. Rather, for reasons that are poorly understood, cultural disparities have emerged by class and race in attitudes and behaviors surrounding family, sexuality, and reproduction. These disparities will likely fuel social and economic inequality and contribute to disparities in children’s life prospects for decades to come.

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