The Situationist

Archive for July, 2008

Free To Not Choose

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 12, 2008

In February, John Tierney wrote a great column in February for the New York Times about Dan Ariely’s new book, Predictably Irrational. We already posted about Ariely’s book last week (see here). In this post, we simply wanted to highlight Tierney’s excellent summary of some of Ariely’s experiments.

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In a series of experiments, hundreds of students could not bear to let their options vanish . . . .

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They played a computer game that paid real cash to look for money behind three doors on the screen. . . . After they opened a door by clicking on it, each subsequent click earned a little money, with the sum varying each time.

As each player went through the 100 allotted clicks, he could switch rooms to search for higher payoffs, but each switch used up a click to open the new door. The best strategy was to quickly check out the three rooms and settle in the one with the highest rewards.

Even after students got the hang of the game by practicing it, they were flummoxed when a new visual feature was introduced. If they stayed out of any room, its door would start shrinking and eventually disappear.

They should have ignored those disappearing doors, but the students couldn’t. They wasted so many clicks rushing back to reopen doors that their earnings dropped 15 percent. Even when the penalties for switching grew stiffer — besides losing a click, the players had to pay a cash fee — the students kept losing money by frantically keeping all their doors open.

Why were they so attached to those doors? The players . . . say they were just trying to keep future options open. But that’s not the real reason, according to Dr. Ariely and his collaborator in the experiments, Jiwoong Shin, an economist who is now at Yale.

They plumbed the players’ motivations by introducing yet another twist. This time, even if a door vanished from the screen, players could make it reappear whenever they wanted. But even when they knew it would not cost anything to make the door reappear, they still kept frantically trying to prevent doors from vanishing.

Apparently they did not care so much about maintaining flexibility in the future. What really motivated them was the desire to avoid the immediate pain of watching a door close.

“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says.

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To read the entire column, which is terrific, click here To play the three-door game, click here. For related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Regret,” Why You Bought That,” “Just Choose It,” and “Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (Part 2).

Finally, below you can find a fifty-minute video of Ariely discussing and answering questions about his book.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Posted in Behavioral Economics, Book, Choice Myth, Life, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Seeing Your Interior Situation through your Exterior Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 12, 2008

Author Sam Gosling visits Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA, to discuss his book Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.

For related Situationist posts, see “What Our Exterior Situation Reveals About Our Interior Situation,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

Posted in Book, Ideology, Life, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Situationist Torts Earns Top 10 SSRN Ranking for Law and Psychology and Legal Education

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 11, 2008

Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and Michael McCann recently posted on SSRN a draft of their forthcoming law review article, Situationist Torts, 41 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review _ (forthcoming, 2008). SSRN has announced its Law & Psychology Top Ten and Legal Education Top Ten lists and Situationist Torts placed in the top 10 on both lists.

To download Situationist Torts for free click here. That link will direct you to the abstract and various download options.

Update: Situationist Torts has also earned a top 10 spot on SSRN’s Legal History Top Ten.

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Predictably Irrational

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 10, 2008

Predictably Irrational Dan Ariely, Professor of Economics at Duke University, has an article in the UK publication “The Independant,” in which he details some of the scenarios his team studied that show how people can behave irrationally in various situations. Part of the article is excerpted below.

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Next time you hit the town in search of a date, take a friend who looks similar to you, but is slightly less attractive. We presented participants with two portraits – Mike and John – and asked them to choose whom they’d rather date. For half the participants we distorted the picture of Mike and added it to the set, so they had John, Mike and an ugly version of Mike to choose from. For the other half of the students, we distorted John, so they had Mike, John and an ugly John.

When the ugly version of Mike was presented, the attractive version of Mike became the most desirable date. And when the ugly version of John was presented, John’s attractive version became the most desirable.

It is very hard for us to evaluate things in absolute terms. So, we evaluate products and people in relative terms, which makes us vulnerable to this kind of trap, called the asymmetric dominance effect.

Spending power

We asked a group of MBA students to write down the last two digits of their Social Security number next to the descriptions of a few products. We then asked them if they would pay the amount of money indicated by these numbers (79 became $79 and so on) for each of the products.

We then asked them to bid on the items in an auction. It turned out that people with higher Social Security numbers were willing to pay more.

What was going on? It’s not that people with high Social Security numbers are willing to pay more for everything in general. Instead, it is what’s known as the power of first decision. Once people start thinking of something as having a specific value, they do so not just once, but repeatedly.


Dan Ariely’s book is called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Below is an excerpt from the book.

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So we live in two worlds: one characterized by social exchanges and the other characterized by market exchanges. And we apply different norms to these two kinds of relationships. Moreover, introducing market norms into social exchanges, as we have seen, violates the social norms and hurts the relationships. Once this type of mistake has been committed, recovering a social relationship is difficult. Once you’ve offered to pay for the delightful Thanksgiving dinner, your mother-in-law will remember the incident for years to come. And if you’ve ever offered a potential romantic partner the chance to cut to the chase, split the cost of the courting process, and simply go to bed, the odds are that you will have wrecked the romance forever.

My good friends Uri Gneezy (a professor at the University of California at San Diego) and Aldo Rustichini (a professor at the University of Minnesota) provided a very clever test of the long-term effects of a switch from social to market norms. A few years ago, they studied a day care center in Israel to determine whether imposing a fine on parents who arrived late to pick up their children was a useful deterrent. Uri and Aldo concluded that the fine didn’t work well, and in fact it had long-term negative effects. Why? Before the fine was introduced, the teachers and parents had a social contract, with social norms about being late. Thus, if parents were late — as they occasionally were — they felt guilty about it — and their guilt compelled them to be more prompt in picking up their kids in the future. (In Israel, guilt seems to be an effective way to get compliance.) But once the fine was imposed, the day care center had inadvertently replaced the social norms with market norms. Now that the parents were paying for their tardiness, they interpreted the situation in terms of market norms. In other words, since they were being fined, they could decide for themselves whether to be late or not, and they frequently chose to be late. Needless to say, this was not what the day care center intended.

But the real story only started here. The most interesting part occurred a few weeks later, when the day care center removed the fine. Now the center was back to the social norm. Would the parents also return to the social norm? Would their guilt return as well? Not at all. Once the fine was removed, the behavior of the parents didn’t change. They continued to pick up their kids late. In fact, when the fine was removed, there was a slight increase in the number of tardy pickups (after all, both the social norms and the fine had been removed).

This experiment illustrates an unfortunate fact: when a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time. In other words, social relationships are not easy to reestablish. Once the bloom is off the rose — once a social norm is trumped by a market norm — it will rarely return.

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To listen to an interesting, nine-minute All Things Considered interview of Dan Ariely, click here. In addition, a podcast with an interview of Professor Ariely and describing more of his research can be found at Open Source, while an interview with him from ABC Radio National can be heard by clicking here. Image from Harper Collins. We’ll have another post on Ariely’s book later this week.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Book, Podcasts | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

The Situation of Fear

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 10, 2008

This post was actually a comment written today in response to our post from last week, “The ‘Turban Effect.’” We thought many of our readers might find the comment interesting, so here it is. (Thanks Jeffrey.)

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Lately, some scholars have been looking at reasons behind and implication of manipulating fear. Princeton University’s John F. Wilson explains why: The obsession with managing evil comes from “a concern, often exaggerated, to achieve control over those aspects of life experienced as uncertain.” From the Puritans to the present, people bent on controlling their lives have been haunted by the inescapable fear that they might lose that very control.

Sensational cases startle the public into accepting a new understanding by opening gateways to the publics fears and frustrations, and igniting processes that illuminate the boundaries of a community, notes Indiana Professor Steven Chermak, author of “Searching for a Demon,” adding: “The media defines these events, relying primarily on representatives from institutions typically used in the construction of news.”

According to Professor Chermark: “The legitimacy of a threat depends only on the perception that the target is extremely dangerous to the security and stability of society. Thus a threat is successful when it produces fear. Fear is a vitally important cultural commodity that helps to justify the demonization of individuals and groups by people in power. The news media contributes directly to this demonization by sustaining and feeding off of the publics fears. The news media will intensify its coverage when a threat is thought to be significant, but in doing so, it promotes and aggravates the corresponding fear.” In an article, Marketing Fear: Representing Terrorism After September 11 in the Journal for Crime, Conflict and the Media (here), Chermak notes that by framing specific or unspecified opponents, clear or ambiguous opponents as threatening helped to dehumanize these targets, and validate any planned responses by social control agencies and justify the need for additional resources to respond to them.

But such tendency can reach a level where some sensationalists aspire to see their audience to live in what Jeanne Jordan, author of The Panic diaries, calls “a world of perpetual ‘duck and cover’, a world of terror alerts scrolling across the bottom of our television screens. A world where evening news feeds our fear.” Many of us are beginning to get weary of the pushier sort of experts, declare Christopher Booker and Richard North. In their book, Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming they point out: Gone is the sense of proportion, the admission of scientific doubt, the ability to weigh risks against benefits. Taking seriously a year’s worth of their health warnings would give anyone an eating disorder. This tendency makes Anne Applebaum, author of ‘Finding Things to Fear’ remark: Now that we’ve eliminated most of the things that the human race once feared, we’ve just invented new ones to replace them.

The discourses of state agencies locate Islam and Muslim communities not simply as “problem communities” but as security concerns, notes Defence Studies scholar Katherine Brown. There is a need to watch out if certain contributors to this debate about minority communities wish to steer it from discussing ‘politics of difference’ to stirring up the ‘politics of fear’.

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To download a pdf of Steven Chermak’s “Marketing Fear,” click here. For a related Situationist post, see “Law and Situation of Military Propaganda.” For other Situationist articles on the War in Iraq, click here; for one on on how ideology may influence vulnerability to propaganda, click here.

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The Situation of Appreciation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 9, 2008

Per Daily Kos, Senator Ted Kennedy’s return to the Senate today:

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Our Interior Situations – The Human Brain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 9, 2008

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Adam Keiper has a review of Michael Gazzaniga’s new book, Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique. Here’s a tiny sample.

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Mr. Gazzaniga is at his best when he is describing his own research with brain-damaged and split-brain patients – that is, patients in whom the tissue between the left and right brain hemispheres has been severed. He tells of one woman who, “although she was being examined in my office at New York Hospital, claimed we were in her home in Freeport, Maine.” A lesion on her brain had left her so convinced that she was really at home that she subordinated any conflicting information. When Mr. Gazzaniga asked her why, if she really were in her house, there were elevators outside the door, she responded: “Doctor, do you know how much it cost me to have those put in?”

By demonstrating the organic origins of our most basic sense of our selves, such stories can challenge our understanding of personhood, agency and identity.

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To read all of the review, click here. You can read excerpt of the book’s prologue and introduction here.  For some related Situationist posts, see “A Closer Look at the Interior Situation” and “Accidentally Us.”

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Situation of Consumption

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 8, 2008

Lee Dye of ABC News wrote a fascinating story about a revealing study that contends that the more powerless we are feeling, the more likely we are to try to reclaim a sense of power and status through the gadgets that we purchase. The following excerpts are taken from the ABC story.

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Want to know why you just bought that gadget that you really can’t afford? Because you were feeling like a wimp.

A new study out of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., shows that the more often we feel powerless, the more likely we are to spend ourselves into the poor house. The study, published in the current edition of the Journal of Consumer Research, contends that when the boss puts you down, you feel so robbed of power that you’re more likely to go out and buy yourself some status symbol. When that happens, you’re willing to pay a lot more for it than if you felt powerful, a process the researchers call “compensatory consumption.”

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If his study is on target, when the sense of power goes down, so does your wallet. That’s partly because we tend to associate power with status. So, if we lose power, the researchers contend, we may try to make up for that loss, at least emotionally, by buying a status symbol.

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If his study is on target, when the sense of power goes down, so does your wallet. That’s partly because we tend to associate power with status. So, if we lose power, the researchers contend, we may try to make up for that loss, at least emotionally, by buying a status symbol.

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To read the entire article click here. For a related Situationist post, check out “Why You Bought That,” Just Choose It!” and “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.” Image by by Giando [♀] Flickr.

Posted in Choice Myth, Marketing | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 7, 2008

Anne Trafton in MIT’s news office has a great summary of the fascinating research (and background) of MIT’s Rebecca Saxe.

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How do we know what other people are thinking? How do we judge them, and what happens in our brains when we do?

MIT neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe is tackling those tough questions and many others. Her goal is no less than understanding how the brain gives rise to the abilities that make us uniquely human–making moral judgments, developing belief systems and understanding language.

It’s a huge task, but “different chunks of it can be bitten off in different ways,” she says.

Saxe, who joined MIT’s faculty in 2006 as an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, specializes in social cognition–how people interpret other people’s thoughts. It’s a difficult subject to get at, since people’s thoughts and beliefs can’t be observed directly.

“These are extremely abstract kinds of concepts, although we use them fluently and constantly to get around in the world,” says Saxe.

While it’s impossible to observe thoughts directly, it is possible to measure which brain regions are active while people are thinking about certain things. Saxe probes the brain circuits underlying human thought with a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a type of brain scan that measures blood


Using fMRI, she has identified an area of the brain (the temporoparietal junction) that lights up when people think about other people’s thoughts, something we do often as we try to figure out why others behave as they do.

That finding is “one of the most astonishing discoveries in the field of human cognitive neuroscience,” says Nancy Kanwisher, the Ellen Swallow Richards Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT and Saxe’s PhD thesis adviser.

“We already knew that some parts of the brain are involved in specific aspects of perception and motor control, but many doubted that an abstract high-level cognitive process like understanding another person’s thoughts would be conducted in its own private patch of cortex,” Kanwisher says.

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Because fMRI reveals brain activity indirectly, by monitoring blood flow rather than the firing of neurons, it is considered a fairly rough tool for studying cognition. However, it still offers an invaluable approach for neuroscientists, Saxe says.

More precise techniques, such as recording activity from single neurons, can’t be used in humans because they are too invasive. fMRI gives a general snapshot of brain activity, offering insight into what parts of the brain are involved in complex cognitive activities.

Saxe’s recent studies use fMRI to delve into moral judgment–specifically, what happens in the brain when people judge whether others are behaving morally. Subjects in her studies make decisions regarding classic morality scenarios such as whether it’s OK to flip a switch that would divert a runaway train onto a track where it would kill one person instead of five people.

Judging others’ behavior in such situations turns out to be a complex process that depends on more than just the outcome of an event, says Saxe.

“Two events with the exact same outcome get extremely different reactions based on our inferences of someone’s mental state and what they were thinking,” she says.

For example, judgments often depend on whether the judging person is in conflict with the person performing the action. When a soldier sets off a bomb, an observer’s perception of whether the soldier intended to kill civilians depends on whether the soldier and observer are on the same side of the conflict.

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Saxe earned her PhD from MIT in 2003, and recently her first graduate student, Liane Young, successfully defended her PhD thesis. That extends a direct line of female brain and cognitive scientists at MIT that started with Molly Potter, professor of psychology, who advised Kanwisher.

“It is thrilling to see this line of four generations of female scientists,” Kanwisher says.

Saxe, a native of Toronto, says she wanted to be a scientist from a young age, inspired by two older cousins who were biochemists.

At first, “I wanted to be a geneticist because I thought it was so cool that you could make life out of chemicals. You start with molecules and you make a person. I thought that was mind-blowing,” she says.

She was eventually drawn to neuroscience because she wanted to explore big questions, such as how the brain gives rise to the mind.

She says that approach places her right where she wants to be in the continuum of scientific study, which ranges from tiny systems such as a cell-signaling pathway, to entire human societies. At each level, there is a tradeoff between the size of the questions you can ask and the concreteness of answers you can get, Saxe says.

“I’m doing this because I want to pursue these more-abstract questions, maybe at the cost of never finding out the answers,” she says.

Posted in Education, Morality, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Situationist Torts – Abstract

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on July 7, 2008

We recently posted on SSRN a draft of our forthcoming law review article, Situationist Torts, 41 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review _ (forthcoming, 2008). Our article’s abstract is excerpted below.

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This Article calls for a situationist approach to teaching law, particularly tort law.

This new approach would begin by rejecting the dominant, common-sense account of human behavior (sometimes called dispositionism) and replacing it with the more accurate account being revealed by the social sciences, such as social psychology, social cognition, cognitive neuroscience, and other mind sciences.

At its core, situationism is occupied with identifying and bridging the gap between what actually moves us, on one hand, and what we imagine moves us, on the other. Recognizing that gap is critical for understanding what roles tort law (among other areas of law) serves. Beyond that, a situationist approach helps to make clear the subconscious tendencies and otherwise unappreciated external forces that have shaped tort law and tort reforms. A situationist perspective on tort law, this Article argues, also has significant implications for how tort law is taught.

The Langdellian model of teaching, which has monopolized the law school classroom since the late 19th century, has been the brunt of increasing criticism over the past several decades. Most critics emphasize that the casebook method forces the round complexities of law, lawmaking, and human behavior into the square holes of antiquated legal categories and idiosyncratic appellate decisions. A number of leading law schools are now dramatically reshaping their curricula to address such concerns.

Simultaneously, legal theory is in the midst of its own revolution as legal scholars are beginning to reject the hard-core dispositionism at the foundation of law and to incorporate, or at least acknowledge, emerging insights from the mind sciences.

The curricular and theoretical renovations underway represent what we would call a turn toward the situationist. Those trends have created a hospitable climate for the emergence of a more robust situationist approach to law and law teaching. This Article describes not only those trends and their implications, but also some specifics regarding how situationist torts would be taught and what a situationist torts casebook would look like.

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To download the article for free, click here. That link will direct you to the abstract and various download options. We hope you have a chance to read Situationist Torts. Also, we thank Larry Solum of Legal Theory Blog and William Childs of TortsProf Blog for posting on our article.

Posted in Abstracts, Education, History, Law, Legal Theory | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Voting for a Face

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 6, 2008

Barack Obama - Image by omgsaywhatt - FlickrAnn Ryman for the Arizona Republic has an interesting piece summarizing the research examining how looks influence votes. Here are a few excerpts.

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A growing body of research supports the notion that a candidate’s attempts to establish himself as a powerful leader can be helped or hurt by his facial features. Appearance is not, of course, the sole factor that sways voters, but experts who have studied the link between faces and people’s perceptions say we place more emphasis on looks than we think.

Facial structure can play a role in how trustworthy, strong and charismatic we perceive someone to be, said Caroline Keating, a psychology professor at Colgate University who studies facial structure and perceptions of power.

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“One reason why it’s so important for us to perceive our leaders as competent, credible and sincere is because that makes us feel secure,” Keating said. “We identify with leaders. If leaders look confident, brave, bold and true, then we feel we can take on the world.”

Keating has conducted research on people’s reactions to former Presidents Reagan and Kennedy. Using digital images, she made subtle, almost undetectable changes designed to enhance or diminish their facial features and tested reactions. . . .

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There is evidence that people can often predict the election winners just by looking at faces.

John McCain Image by Wigwam Jones - FlickrAlexander Todorov, an assistant professor of psychology at Princeton University, gave people photos of unfamiliar political candidates who won and were runners-up in state governor races. He asked people to pick the most competent candidates, and they chose the winners 68 percent of the time.

Whether this reliance on snap judgments is good or bad is hard to tell, Keating said.

“What’s the job of a leader? It’s to move us,” she said. “If you don’t look sincere, then you’re never going to move anybody. You’re not going to instill in them the confidence and the emotional tenor you need to get them to sign onto the programs you think are important. So, when it comes to motivating people, it’s all about the non-verbal.”

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To read the entire article (which includes a analysis of McCain and Obama’s facial features, click here. For other posts on the Situation of politics, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

George Carlin on Our Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2008

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Warren on the Situation of Credit

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2008

Image by The Consumerist - FlickrFrom the Harvard Law School Website.

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Harvard Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren was recently featured on the NPR program “Fresh Air.” During the show, Warren spoke extensively about the intricacies of the credit system, including how lenders, employers, and even cell phone companies are using credit ratings to determine an individual’s purchasing power.

Host Terry Gross opened the program by describing how several egregious clerical errors in her husband’s credit report lowered his credit score extensively, and asked Warren how these errors can occur.

“It happens because there’s no real check on the system,” Warren said. “Estimates are that about 80 percent of credit reports contain at least one error, and one in four credit reports contain errors big enough to make a difference in your credit rating.”

An expert in bankruptcy law, Warren writes about bankruptcy and credit issues facing middle-class Americans. She has recently called for the creation of a financial products safety commission, which would regulate credit products in the same way the government regulates other consumer goods. Warren is the author of The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke . . . .

Listen to the interview of Warren, here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of the Mortgage Crisis,” “Financial Squeeze: Bad Choices or Bad Situations?,” “The Situation of College Debt” – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Posted in Life, Podcasts, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Marketing of Freedom & Independence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 4, 2008

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Ideology, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Repackaging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 3, 2008

New Story!!!

From SpeakupOver on Scientific American, Nikhil Swaminathan has an interesting post on a new study concerning the psychology of repackaging.

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Scientists have discovered that novel objects perk up the reward system of our brains, indicating our sense of adventure—exploring or learning something new—may be just as tempting as cash and other prizes in the choices we make. Researchers say the finding may explain why marketers are able to bolster sagging sales by simply repackaging old products.

Brain processes “might encourage you to sample [products previously dismissed] again—even though it doesn’t make much sense,” says Bianca Wittmann, a neuroscientist at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and co-author of the study published today in the journal Neuron. “Just because it has new packaging doesn’t mean it has gotten much better.”

But Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, warns marketers to beware of trying to dupe consumers. Although novelty may temporarily boost sales, he says, they will likely slump again once customers realize nothing but the packaging has changed.

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To read the entire post, click here. Image from Speakup.

For related Situationist posts, see “The Unseen Behavioral Influence of Company Logos,” “The Situation of Perceptions,” “The Big Game: What Corporations Are Learning About the Human Brain,” “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part III,” “Why You Bought That,” and “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Marketing, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What Our Exterior Situation Reveals About Our Interior Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 2, 2008

ABC’s Nightline had a nice piece on Sam Gosling and his new book, Snoop. Sharyn Alfonsi and Eileen Murphy wrote a piece, excerpted below, “The Secrets in Your Stuff What Your Home or Office Reveals About Your Personality, Voting Patterns and More.” Their article, among other things, takes the reader into the office of Situaitionist contributor John Jost.

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The first thing Gosling does is sit down in a space and look around, “giving the salient items time to fade away a bit, and the broader themes to come out.”

“Nightline” decided to test Gosling at the office of his friend and colleague, John Jost, at New York University. The fellow psychologist didn’t mind Gosling’s snooping and said that while he tidied up his office beforehand, he didn’t do any major organizing.

Gosling went through drawers, examined pictures, checked the status of office supplies and analyzed the position of Jost’s desk — all providing clues to Jost’s personality.

The goal, Gosling said, is to “look at the big picture. And look for themes. Because any single item could be misleading. There could be something here that really doesn’t reflect what the occupant is like. It’s just there because it’s for a teaching demonstration, or a gift for somebody else, or things that aren’t really important, or somebody else left it there.”

He won’t make a judgment about Jost solely based on the fact that he has a book in his office called “Why Men Rebel.”

“It should be one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “It could reflect many different things, you know? There are many different reasons you might have that. So we have to try to narrow down the likely reasons you have that.”

Gosling noted that Jost’s office is “pretty organized,” and said that he can tell a lot from someone’s music collection. Jost has a lot of classic rock.

“So people who like rock, they tend to be higher on openness,” Gosling said. “And also people who like classical … and jazz, actually.”

On the other hand, he also said that “people who like rock tend to be lower on conscientiousness, so looking at this, I’d have to combine that with my other rating saying that he was higher on conscientiousness. So it’s all a puzzle, you’re always combining bits of information here.”

The contents of someone’s office can even indicate how he might vote, according to Gosling, who said that Jost’s openness trait would align him with “people who vote for liberal candidates.”

And indeed, Jost said he is a liberal and is planning to vote for Barack Obama.

“I think Sam is an excellent personality psychologist and a very perceptive person,” Jost said. “And I think he would get at least an A-, maybe an A.”

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To read the entire article, click here. For a related Situationist post, check out “The Situation of Ideology – Part I” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.” Image by romanlily on Flickr.

Posted in Book, Ideology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The “Turban Effect”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 2, 2008

Christian Unkelbach, has authored a fascinating study which suggests the “turban effect” as a source of Islamophobia. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The following excerpts about this study are taken from a recent article in The Vancouver Sun.

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A Muslim-style turban is perceived as a threat, according to a new study, even by people who don’t realize they hold the prejudice, dubbed “the turban effect” by researchers.

Research volunteers played a computer game that showed apartment balconies on which different figures appeared, some wearing Muslim-style turbans or hijabs and others bare-headed. They were told to shoot at the targets carrying guns and spare those who were unarmed, with points awarded accordingly.

People were much more likely to shoot Muslim-looking characters – men or women – even if they were carrying an innocent item instead of a weapon, the researchers found.

* * *

When the true intention of the experiment was revealed, Unkelbach says participants insisted they were not prejudiced and must have reacted differently from everyone else.

“The most common response was, ‘I’m sure I didn’t show that effect,'” he says. “They’re uncomfortable and I believe them – people are not doing this willingly. If they could, they would control that. Here, people are almost the victims of what they are fed by their environment.”

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The entire article is here. To read other Situationist posts discussing the causes and consequences of implicit associations, click here. Image by Arriving at the horizon.

Posted in Conflict, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Situation of Affective Forecasting and the Law – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 1, 2008

weather forecastWe recently encountered a worthwhile essay by Jeremy A. Blumenthal, titled “Law and the Emotions: The Problems of Affective Forecasting” (80 Indiana Law Journal (2004)), on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Legal scholarship on behavioralism and the implications of cognitive biases for the law is flourishing. In parallel with the rise of such commentary, legal scholars have begun to discuss the role of the emotions in legal discourse. Discussion turns on the appropriateness of various emotions for the substantive law, and on attempts to model the place of the emotions in the law.

Implicit in some of these theories, however – and explicit in others – is the assumption that emotions are predictable, manageable, and (for some commentators) under conscious control. This assumption is belied by psychological research on affective forecasting that demonstrates individuals’ inability to accurately predict future emotional states, both their own and others’.

Such inaccuracy has surprisingly broad implications for both substantive and procedural aspects of the legal system. The research findings also demonstrate the implausibility of some theoretical models of the emotions; if these models are flawed, then the normative conclusions drawn from them may be flawed as well.

In this Article I review the psychological data demonstrating inaccuracies in affective forecasting, and spin out their implications in a number of substantive legal areas. The data show potential flaws in the way civil juries assign compensatory awards, and in our approach to certain aspects of sexual harassment law. The findings have profound implications for the presentation of victim impact statements to capital juries, but also undercut some abolitionist claims regarding the suffering that death row prisoners experience. Contract law is implicated by these findings, especially in the context of contracts for surrogate motherhood. And the data are relevant to areas of health law as well – for instance, regarding the use of advance directives broadly as well as in the specific context of euthanasia.

I also discuss broader issues, such as the implications of the affective forecasting research for theories of law and the emotions more broadly. In this discussion I include some of the specific drawbacks to some current theories. In addition, I address the data’s implications for the very theories of welfare and well-being that underlie much legal policy, as well as some speculations about what the findings might have to say about potential paternalistic policies.

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For relationed Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Civil Settlements – Abstractand “Situating Emotion. Image by kamoda.

Posted in Emotions, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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