The Situationist

Archive for May, 2008

Situationism in the Blogosphere – April 2008 (Part I)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 5, 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 Research Digest: “The price of thinking ‘It would have been worse under Saddam’

“After news broke that US soldiers had mistreated their prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, a common reaction among pro-war politicians was to remind the public that: “It would have been worse under Saddam”. Whatever the truth of this claim, new research suggests that comparing a current situation with an even worse atrocity comes with a price – it desensitises our judgment of future moral violations.” Read more . . .

From Research Digest: “‘It’s beneath me’: How dominant personalities are biased towards the vertical

“People who are more dominant are quicker at processing information that appears in the vertical dimension of space, psychologists have found. The result comes from an expanding field of psychology looking at the ways that personality and culture can affect how we interact with the world.” Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “Violent video games and desensitization

“A team led by Nicholas Carnagey asked 257 volunteers to play either one of four violent video or one of four non-violent games for 20 minutes, then watch a 10-minute movie showing real, disturbing violent scenes such as prison fights, police confrontations, and shootings. Before and after playing the games, and while watching the violent scenes, the volunteers’ heart rate and galvanic skin response were measured.” Read more . . .

From Concurring Opinions: “Bainbridge on Chemerinsky on the Situation of Practicing Corporate Law

“I noticed this last semester in my corporations class. When asked whether they would draft ethically troublesome documents, most students professed to say that they would. Why? Because by going into big firm practice in the first instance, they’d have already decided to be ethically gray. When deans (and well-meaning liberal professors) reinforce the idea that corporate practice is “corrupting and essentially random and beyond your control, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it”, students are more likely to let the situation corrupt them. If instead academics were to celebrate the pro-social, professional, aspects of corporate practice, perhaps we’d have less situationally-motivated fraud.” Read more . . .

From Concurring Opinions: “Thou shalt not commit a neuroscience

“Yesterday evening, Harvard Law School hosted a panel on the question, “Should Criminal Law Be Reconsidered in Light of Advances in Neuroscience?” Moderated by Oliver Goodenough, the panel featured Joshua Greene, Jerome Kagan, Stephen Morse, and Amanda Pustilnik. Greene is known for his work in “experimental philosophy,” and he and Morse reprised earlier arguments about whether new research on the brain is likely to produce changes in doctrines of criminal responsibility. As I understood Greene, he’s hopeful that one day we’ll realize that retributive approaches to punishment depend on erroneous assumptions about the human brain. When we properly understand humans as mechanical agents whose actions are always externally caused, it will seem silly to punish as a way of “holding criminals responsible,” and happily, the criminal law will become purely consequentialist. Now, I’m no fan of retributivism. But I’m skeptical that more knowledge of the brain is going to unsettle retributive arguments and the associated attributions of responsibility.” 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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Illusion Sciences – A New Blog

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 5, 2008

For more information about this illusion and for a new illusion every week by Arthur Shapiro, go to the terrific new blog (and latest addition to our blogroll), Illusion Sciences.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Blogroll, Illusions, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

TAL Animation on the Situation of Memory

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2008

For This American Life (which happens to be a favorite of The Situationist Staff), cartoonist Chris Ware teamed up with animator John Kuramoto to animate an interview between public radio hosts, Robert Krulwich and Ira Glass, in which Krulwich describes just how unreliable memories that we confidently hold can be.

The television show’s second season debuts at 10 pm ET/PT on Showtime today. Check it out!

Posted in Entertainment, Uncategorized, Video | 2 Comments »

The Second National Risk and Culture Study – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2008

Global Warming Image from by Buou - Flickr

Situationist contributor Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, Situationist contributor Paul Slovic, John Gastil, and Geoffrey Cohen posted their paper, “The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of – and Making Progress In – The American Culture War of Fact” on SSRN. We’ve pasted the abstract below.

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Cultural Cognition refers to the disposition to conform one’s beliefs about societal risks to one’s preferences for how society should be organized. Based on surveys and experiments involving some 5,000 Americans, the Second National Risk and Culture Study presents empirical evidence of the effect of this dynamic in generating conflict about global warming, school shootings, domestic terrorism, nanotechnology, and the mandatory vaccination of school-age girls against HPV, among other issues. The Study also presents evidence of risk-communication strategies that counteract cultural cognition. Because nuclear power affirms rather than threatens the identity of persons who hold individualist values, for example, proposing it as a solution to global warming makes persons who hold such values more willing to consider evidence that climate change is a serious risk. Because people tend to impute credibility to people who share their values, persons who hold hierarchical and egalitarian values are less likely to polarize when they observe people who hold their values advocating unexpected positions on the vaccination of young girls against HPV. Such techniques can help society to create a deliberative climate in which citizens converge on policies that are both instrumentally sound and expressively congenial to persons of diverse values.

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For related posts, click on the “Cultural Cognition” category in the right margin.

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The Situationism of the Late Charles Tilly

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2008

Charles TillyWikipedia on Charles Tilly:

Examining political, social, and technological change in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present, Tilly attempted to explain the the unprecedented success of the nation-state as the dominant polity on Earth. According to his theory, military innovation in pre-modern Europe (especially gunpowder and mass armies) made war extremely expensive. As a result, only states with a sufficient amount of capital and a large population could afford paying for their security and ultimately survive in the hostile environment. Institutions of the modern state (such as taxes) were created to allow war-making.

Another focus of Tilly’s work is the area of contentious politics. In opposition to individualistic, dispositional analyses of contentious politics, his work emphasizes how social groups organize and contest with each other. In his early years, Tilly also studied migration to cities and American urban phenomena.

In the five-minute video below (part of longer interview available in pieces on youtube), Tilly discusses individualism, social action, and cognitive science.

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B.F. Skinner on Schedules of Reinforcement

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2008

This one-minute video discusses schedules of reinforcement in B.F. Skinner‘s experiments. Reinforcement is delivered to different animals on a schedule that states the contingencies on which reinforcement depends. Interval schedule is contingent upon the passage of time. Ratio schedule is contingent upon the number of responses emitted. A variable ratio schedule (contingent upon an unpredictable number of responses) produces a very high and stable rate of responding.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Uncategorized, Video | 1 Comment »

A Critical View of “The Discriminating Mind”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 2, 2008

Image by nedrichards - FlickrAmy Wax posted her article, “The Discriminating Mind: Define it, Prove it” (forthcoming 40 Connecticut Law Review (2008)) on SSRN. The abstract is below.

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Differential group achievements in competitive spheres like business, government, and academia, in conjunction with professed organizational commitments to fairness and equal opportunity, fuel claims that unconscious discrimination operates widely in society today. But attempts to blame disparities by race or sex on inadvertent bias must be approached with caution in the current climate. Many allegations concerning unconscious discrimination do not properly allege category-based treatment at all but rather target the disparate impact, or differential effects, of category-neutral criteria. Such impacts often reflect well-documented supply side disparities between groups in human capital development, qualifications, and behavior. These patterns are not most effectively addressed by focusing on unconscious processes, but rather by scrutinizing neutral practices for efficiency and social usefulness and also by attempting to eliminate underlying group differences in the ability to compete for social rewards.

Likewise, allegations of unconsciously motivated disparate treatment, which are based on the contention that race or sex plays a causal role in social outcomes, should be scrutinized for alternative, non-discriminatory explanations for observed disparities, including supply side differences between groups. In addition, some disparities attributed to unconscious bias could just as well be explained by old-fashioned statistical or rational discrimination, which is also fueled by real, average, observable differences in performance by race or sex. In general, sweeping and categorical claims of unconscious discrimination are unwarranted without specific evidence that this process is actually operating in a given case. Such evidence is hard to come by. In many cases, supporting such claims requires excluding alternative explanations – including supply side explanations for observed disparities in group success.

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The Interior Situation of Infants

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 2, 2008

Image by Rose Lincoln for Harvard Gazette

From The Telegraph, here are excerpts from a terrific article by Roger Highfeld about Elizabeth Spelke and her remarkable research at Harvard’s baby brain research lab.

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Welcome to Spelkeland, or, to give it its proper name, the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology, run by the cognitive psychologist Prof Elizabeth Spelke, which is dedicated to understanding what shapes the most powerful known learning machine – the infant mind. Great philosophers have mused for millennia about human consciousness and how it makes sense of its surroundings. Like any good scientist, Spelke has turned philosophical hot air into firm experimental data that suggests that we are born with a significant amount of ‘core knowledge’ hardwired into our brains.

Spelke is arguably the most influential figure in the relatively new field of baby brain research, and has been named by Time magazine as one of America’s best in a list of ‘brilliant researchers who are the envy of the world. . . .

The hub of Spelke’s empire occupies half of the 11th floor of William James Hall, a brutalist 1960s tower block named after the pioneering American psychologist. James himself once referred to the ‘blooming, buzzing confusion’ of a newborn’s senses. Spelke’s studies have revealed that, in fact, there is order in the chaos: from the moment we first open our eyes, we possess the essential mental equipment to make sense of the confusion around us.

We are natural-born mathematicians – for example, six-month-olds can distinguish the quantities eight from 16, and 16 from 32. Babies will infer that a rolling ball will keep moving. They also know that when that ball rolls behind a screen it should pop out the other side. And although they can only babble, babies tell us that the germ of our instincts about age, gender and race are laid down in the cradle.

But how can you ask burbling babies what they are thinking? They are much trickier to handle than rats and students, the usual mainstays of psychological research. None the less, the Spelkeland experiments are fundamentally simple, and rely on the one thing that humans of any age can do: get bored. . . .

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To Watch Video Click on this Image

[To watch a six-minute video interview of Elizabeth Spelke about her research, click here.]

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One area into which Spelke’s team would like to delve deeper is the origins of bigotry in human beings. In the case of skin colour, newborns respond to individuals of all races equally. By three months, however, a baby from a Caucasian household will prefer to gaze at a white face, and a black baby at an African American face. By the age of two or three, they are drawn to their own gender, too. ‘There are some very intriguing parallels between the patterns of social preference we find in infants and what seems to go on in adults,’ Spelke says. ‘But we don’t have them nailed. It is the work I will get most animated about, but the reason I am so animated is that we don’t have the answers yet.’ The effort to find how babies divide people into broad groups began only five years ago, ‘a blink of an eye’ in research terms.

Spelke’s studies found baby boys and girls have similar mathematical ability, an incidental finding that was at the forefront of her mind in January 2005 when the former Harvard president Larry Summers suggested that the relative lack of female engineers and scientists was down to innate gender differences. ‘When it comes to the basic modules we are born with, they are pretty much the same,’ says Spelke, who was in the thick of the verbal fisticuffs that followed (Summers was ‘wrong, point for point’). Summers resigned as controversy raged. Spelke does not deny that there are differences in the way men and women think but most of this, she believes, is learnt over time, and down to prejudice and the expectations of society.

Among some scientists there is a reluctance to ask questions about skin colour, so ingrained is the fear that conclusions will be exploited for political ends, or distorted by doublethink. Spelke is fearless. ‘The trouble is there, whether we do our research or not. Knowledge is liberating.’ The more we understand the foundations of how we think, ‘the more effectively we will be able to move in the directions we choose to go in. I am not so worried the research would be misused.’

Studies have already revealed why some old people mutter that all Chinese or Westerners look the same, depending on whether they are Western or Chinese. Six-month-olds are much better than us at discriminating faces of other races and can even tell individual monkeys apart. But that capacity evaporates at nine months, when they tune this skill to discriminate only faces of their own race.

Talee Ziv, another graduate student, is at Spelkeland to follow up some remarkable experiments she did at Tel Aviv University, Israel, with children from care homes. ‘The question was very simple,’ Ziv says. ‘We wanted to know whether children who are three months old have a certain preference for faces of certain races.’

Three groups of 12 babies took part: white Israeli children who had probably been exposed only to white faces; their peers in Ethiopia who probably had no exposure to white faces; and Ethiopian babies exposed to black and white faces because their families had emigrated to Israel. ‘We presented them with pictures of faces, side by side, one white and one African, and we observed where they preferred to look. The white children in Israel preferred white faces. Babies in Ethiopia preferred to look at Ethiopian faces. The third group showed no preference.’

More fascinating still is that Spelke’s lab has revealed a deep-seated prejudice, present in infants, that trumps racial bias: language. Dr Katherine Kinzler, though based in Harvard, spends much time running parallel studies in France. ‘Five-month-old babies will look longer at somebody who spoke to them in their language. Older infants want to accept a toy from someone who has spoken their language,’ Dr Kinzler says.

‘They like toys more that are associated with someone who has spoken their language. They prefer to eat foods offered to them by a native speaker compared to a speaker of a foreign language. And older children say that they want to be friends with someone who speaks in their native accent.’ Accents and vernacular, far more than race, seem to influence the people we like. ‘Children would rather be friends with someone who is from a different race and speaks with a native accent versus somebody who is their own race but speaks with a foreign accent.’

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Does Spelke think her research can help reduce prejudice? ‘That is a very difficult question and probably a premature one since we have a great deal more to learn.’ But her hope is that the better we understand our predispositions, the more chance society has to deal with hate and bigotry.

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To read more, click here. To glimpse how some of the basic experiments are run, take a look at the videos here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Music

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 1, 2008

Situationist PodcastFrom Radiolab: Pop Music

Abstract: Why do some songs mercilessly stick in our heads and repeat themselves over and over? What makes these hooks so hooky? And how does a songwriter will a song forth from the ether? Nightmarish stories of musical hallucinations, songs that transcend language, and the triumphant return of the Elvis of Afghanistan.

Listen to show by clicking here.

For a related Situationist post, see “The Science of Songs Stuck in Your Head.”

Posted in Life, Podcasts | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Jill Bolte Taylor: My stroke of insight

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 1, 2008

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

Posted in Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Gentrification and Economic Development – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 1, 2008

Image by by ax2groin - FlickrElgie McFayden, Jr. posted his paper, “Gentrification and Economic Development: Impact on Poor Inner City Residents” on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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Since the 1970’s, American inner cities, particularly in the northeast, have undergone significant economic, structural and aesthetic changes. Many cities with predominantly blue collar work forces have found it difficult to adjust to the changing demands of the market place. An economic conversion took place during the 1970’s which led to a decrease in the demand for blue collar workers and increased the need for better educated and technologically literate workers. Some cities understood the historical cyclical changes inherent in their economies and were prepared to address these changes. Those cities which were ill prepared for these structural changes in market demands realized record unemployment rates, pervasive poverty and urban flight. In recent years, cities have engaged in extensive urban renewal and revitalization of downtown areas in order to attract the middle-class citizens back to the inner city. This process, often referred to as gentrification often displaces and marginalizes poor inner city residents. This paper examines the impact of gentrification on the social and economic progress of low income citizens in urban areas. The primary goal of this paper is to determine if gentrification adversely impacts the economic growth rate of poor persons by displacing them to areas with decreased opportunities for upward mobility and by segregating them to areas with limited access to essential public and private sector services.

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

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