The Situationist

Archive for August, 2008

The Learning Situation at Law Firms – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 31, 2008

Erika Abner has recently made available her interesting article, “Situated Learning and the Role of Relationships: A Study of Mentoring in Law Firms” (forthcoming Canadian Legal Education Annual Review) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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This article examines the multiple workplace influences, including mentors and other developmental relationships, on the growth and development of young lawyers from law school through the first few years of practice. Eleven lawyers in six different large multi-service law firms located in a major Canadian city participated in the research. Three primary methods were used: an in-depth interview, brief questionnaires on mentoring behaviors and practices, and the Role Construct Repertory Test.

Learning occurred within a richly diverse field of influences, including mentors, supervisors, senior lawyers, peers, and clients. These relationships strongly affected the invitational qualities of the workplace in terms of access to work and support for learning. Learning was not separated from work, as these participants constructed a learning curriculum through mentors, supervisors, and friends. The dynamic tensions of support and challenge described throughout this article illustrate the critical distinctions between learning to be a lawyer in law school and learning to be a lawyer in practice. These participants were required to continually balance relationships, work, law firm culture and their own growth and development over a considerable period of time. This research illuminates the social world in which these participants learned to practice after law school.

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

Big Calories Come in Small Packages

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 30, 2008

From Robert Roy Britt‘s article, “Small Packages Trick People to Eat More.”

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If you think buying junk food in small packages will help you eat less, look out — marketers know the truth.

Two new marketing studies found that some people tend to consume more calories when junk food portions and packages are smaller. For some, it’s because they perceive small packages to be . . . get this . . . diet food.

For others, it’s just the temptation of small sins.

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Manufacturers are releasing more and more products in smaller packages. And in recent years, several brand-name products, from chips to cookies to candy, have been released in smaller packages promoted as having just 100 calories. In terms of sales, the tactic has proven successful, past research shows.

The strategy might seem counterintuitive, because in many past studies, people tended to consume more when given more. . . .

But one of the new studies, led by Rita Coelho do Vale at the Technical University of Lisbon, found people believe smaller packages help them “regulate hedonic, tempting consumption,” but in fact their consumption can actually increase. Large packages, on the other hand, trigger concern about overeating.

The participants watched episodes of “Friends” and were told the study was about evaluating ads. Bags of potato chips — of differing sizes, of course — were slipped into the test.

The result: Smaller packages are more likely to fuel temptation. “Because they are considered to be innocent pleasures, [small packages] may turn out to be sneaky small sins,” the researchers conclude.

The finding is detailed [here] in the October 2008 issue the Journal of Consumer Research

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From EurekaAlert:

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Chronic dieters tend to consume more calories when foods and packages are smaller, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research [here]. Authors Maura L. Scott, Stephen M. Nowlis, Naomi Mandel, and Andrea C. Morales (all Arizona State University) examined consumer behavior regarding “mini-packs,” 100-calorie food packages that are marketed to help people control calorie intake.

“Interestingly, one group that over-consumes the mini-packs is chronic dieters—individuals constantly trying to manage their weight and food intake,” write the authors.

The researchers believe their research shows that the ubiquitous small packages may actually undermine dieters’ attempts to limit calories. “On the one hand, consumers perceive the mini-packs to be a generous portion of food (numerous small food morsels in each pack and multiple mini-packs in each box); on the other hand, consumers perceive the mini-packs to be diet food. For chronic dieters, this perceptual dilemma causes a tendency to overeat, due to their emotion-laden relationship with food.”

In a series of studies, the researchers assessed peoples’ perceptions of M&Ms in mini-packs versus regular-sized packages. They found that participants tended to have conflicting thoughts about the mini-packs: They thought of them as “diet food,” yet they overestimated how many calories the packages contained. In subsequent studies, the researchers assessed participants’ relationship with food, dividing them into “restrained” and “unrestrained” eaters. The “restrained” eaters tended to consume more calories from mini-packs than “unrestrained” participants.

The authors conclude that dieters should keep an eye on small packages: “While restrained eaters may be attracted to smaller foods in smaller packages initially, presumably because these products are thought to help consumers with their diets, our research shows that restrained eaters actually tend to consume more of these foods than they would of regular foods.”

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Thanks to Brad Rosen for alerting us to these stories.

For those interested, here is a list of related Situationist posts to date: “The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Life, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Tort Jury Apportionments: Terrorists, Proprietors, and Responsibility – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 29, 2008

Ellen Bublick’s fasinating article, “Upside Down? Terrorists, Proprietors and Responsibility for Criminal Harm in the Post-9/11 Tort-Reform World,” (forthcoming Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review) is now available for downloading on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case a New York jury was asked to apportion liability among all potentially responsible actors. The jury apportioned responsibility for the devastation as follows – terrorists 32%, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey 68%. The Port Authority was twice as responsible for the devastation as were the terrorists themselves. Public bewilderment, even outrage, over the jury’s verdict has been palpable. But what if the jurors’ verdict was correct?

In this article, Professor Bublick argues that the problem with the World Trade Center apportionment is not the particular jury verdict, but rather the tort-reform-produced state apportionment law that, in a minority of jurisdictions including New York, asks juries to divide responsibility between these negligent and intentional tortfeasors. Consequently, the paper argues that courts should avoid all or at least certain intentional-negligent responsibility comparisons. However, the paper then discusses courts’ second-best position – to uphold all jury apportionments, even those that assign greater, or perhaps far greater, responsibility to negligent than intentional parties.

Posted in Abstracts, Law | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Stone-Age Mind in an Information-Age Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 28, 2008

From Shankar Vedantam’s Washington Post article “Why Fluff-Over-Substance Makes Perfect Evolutionary Sense“:

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Consider these scenarios.

Scandal A: A prominent politician gets caught sleeping with a campaign aide and plunges himself into an ugly paternity dispute — all while his cancer-stricken wife is fighting for her life.

Scandal B: A prominent politician’s signature health-care plan turns out to have been put together badly, and he is forced to confess that the plan will cost taxpayers billions more than expected.

It’s a no-brainer which scandal is likely to catch — and keep — our attention. The interesting question as the presidential election heads into the homestretch is why we care more about some stories that do not affect us directly, even as we tune out other stories that do.

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. . . . Why are we more likely to discuss a gossipy rumor at a party than a policy error that can actually make a material difference to our own lives?

One explanation is that cultural mores attune us to certain stories — we live in an era where gossipy scandals rule. To test this, psychologist Hank Davis at the University of Guelph in Ontario examined hundreds of sensational stories on the front pages of newspapers in eight countries over a 300-year period, from 1701 to 2001.

Remarkably, he concluded that the themes of sensational news were identical not only across the centuries but also in diverse geographic locales — from the United States to Bangladesh, from Canada to Mauritius. . . .

The stories were sometimes about important things and sometimes not, but they nearly always involved the kind of themes that people who are part of small groups like to know about one another: lying and cheating, altruism and heroism, loyalty and disloyalty.

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Davis and other evolutionary psychologists argue that the reason John Edwards’s adultery has more zing in our heads than a dry policy dispute that could cost taxpayers billions of dollars is that the human brain evolved in a period where there were significant survival advantages to finding out the secrets of others. Since humans lived in small groups, the things you learned about other people’s character could tell you whom to trust when you were in a tight spot.

“We are continuing to navigate through the modern world with a Stone Age mind,” Davis said.

In the Pleistocene era, he added, there was no survival value in being able to decipher a health-care initiative, but there was significant value in information about “who needs a favor, who is in a position to offer one, who is trustworthy, who is a liar, who is available sexually, who is under the protection of a jealous partner, who is likely to abandon a family, who poses a threat to us.”

We may consciously know that we are no longer living in small hunter-gatherer groups and that it no longer makes sense to evaluate someone like Edwards as we might a friend or intimate partner, but our reptilian brain doesn’t realize this. Our prefrontal cortex might reason that a man who cheats on his wife while she is fighting cancer could make a perfectly fine president in a complex world, but the visceral distaste people feel about Edwards stems from there being an ancient part of the human brain that says, “Gee, I don’t want to get mixed up with this guy, because even in my hour of greatest need I might not be able to count on him,” said Frank T. McAndrew, an evolutionary social psychologist at Knox College in Illinois.

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“The human brain does not have any special module for evaluating welfare policy or immigration policy, but it has modules for evaluating people on the basis of character,” said Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics. “That is probably why we have this gut reaction to affairs and marriages and lying. All of those things existed in the ancestral environment 100,000 years ago.”

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To read more, click here. For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” “Seeing Faces,” and “The Situation of Kissing.”

Posted in Emotions, Life, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Living with a Roommate

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 27, 2008

From Science Daily:

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Anxious college freshmen can relax. No matter who will be sharing their dorm room, they have the power to make the relationship better, University of Michigan research suggests.

The research, published in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was conducted by psychologists Jennifer Crocker and Amy Canevello at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

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Crocker and Canevello studied more than 300 college freshmen who were assigned to share rooms with other students they didn’t know at the start of the first semester. In one study, participants were surveyed once a week for 10 weeks about their attitudes toward friendships in general, and about their feelings of loneliness and experiences of conflict. In a second study, 65 roommate pairs completed daily reports about their relationships during a three-week period in the middle of the semester.

The goal was to see how students’ own approaches to relationships affected the quality of their relationships with roommates and their own emotional health. Among the questions students were asked: How often do you try to be supportive of others? How often do you avoid being selfish or self-centered? And how often do you avoid showing weakness? They were also asked about feelings of loneliness and closeness to other people.

During the first week of the study, 32 percent reported always or almost always feeling lonely, compared to only about 17 percent in the 10th week of the study.

In the first week, about 34 percent said they always or almost always avoided showing weakness in their friendships, compared to only about 13 percent in the 10th week of the study.

Crocker and Canevello found that students who were invested in enhancing and protecting their own self-images were less likely to report that their relationships with their roommates were getting better.

An essential element in reducing loneliness and building a good roommate relationship involves moving away from what Crocker calls an ‘ego-system’ approach, in which people focus on their own needs and try to shore up their self-image, toward an ‘eco-system’ approach, in which people are motivated by genuine caring and compassion for another person.

“Basically, people who give support in response to another person’s needs and out of concern for another person’s welfare are most successful at building close relationships that they find supportive,” Canevello said. “We get support, in other words, by being supportive.

“So these findings provide some good news–students can be the architects of their roommate relationships, enhancing or undermining the quality of these important relationships.”

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More here. To read a related Situationist post, see “What Our Exterior Situation Reveals About Our Interior Situation.”

Posted in Conflict, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Split Brain and the Interior Situation of Theories of the Self

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 26, 2008

The following (5 minute) video demonstrates the effects of split brain surgery where the corpus collusum is severed. The effects are explained by Dr. Michael Gazzaniga.

From Youtube: “To reduce the severity of his seizures, Joe had the bridge between his left and right cerebral hemisphers (the corpus callosum) severed. As a result, his left and right brains no longer communicate through that pathway. Here’s what happens as a result.”

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To watch a (3.5 minute) clip from Situationist contributor Phil Zimbardo’s program, Discovering Psychology, in whcih Michael Gazzaniga discusses the essential role of the “interpreter” in creating in each of us a unique sense of self.

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Below you can watch an vintage (11 minute) video in which a very young Dr. Gazzaniga goes into detail regarding his early split-brain research on animals and humans (includes a fascinating example of how the right and left hands of a split-brain patient squabble with one another as if hands from two different individuals).

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Our Interior Situations – The Human Brain,” “Learning to Influence Our Interior Situation,” It’s All In Your (Theory of the) Mind,” “Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking,” Vilayanur Ramachandran On Your Mind,”Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” “Unconscious Situation of Choice,” The Situation of Reason,” and Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Spinning

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 25, 2008

In which direction does the dancer in the image appear to be spinning? The answer:  It depends on your situation.

From Neurologica Blog:

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These kinds of optical illusions . . . reveal . . . how our brain processes visual information in order to create a visual model of the world. The visual system evolved to make certain assumptions that are almost always right (like, if something is smaller is it likely farther away). But these assumptions can be exploited to created a false visual construction, or an optical illusion.

The spinning girl is a form of the more general spinning silhouette illusion. The image is not objectively “spinning” in one direction or the other. It is a two-dimensional image that is simply shifting back and forth. But our brains did not evolve to interpret two-dimensional representations of the world but the actual three-dimensional world. So our visual processing assumes we are looking at a 3-D image and is uses clues to interpret it as such. Or, without adequate clues it may just arbitrarily decide a best fit – spinning clockwise or counterclockwise. And once this fit is chosen, the illusion is complete – we see a 3-D spinning image.

By looking around the image, focusing on the shadow or some other part, you may force your visual system to reconstruct the image and it may choose the opposite direction, and suddenly the image will spin in the opposite direction.

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For a collection of other Situationist posts providing and discussing illusions, click here.

Posted in Illusions, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 25, 2008

Ann Conkle has an article, titled “Investigating Interracial Interactions,” (in the current APS Observer) summarizing Jennifer Richeson‘s presentation at the APS 20th Annual Convention at which Richeson described her remarkable research on interracial interactions.

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[Richeson] . . . presented her recent findings in the During an encounter between people of different races, if one or both parties are worried about the possibility of expressing or being thought to express prejudice, they may experience some level of anxiety or self-consciousness and may even induce physiological responses to stress, like an increased heart rate and constriction of blood vessels. These reactions can also be cognitively costly. After being primed with a racial situation, like discussing racial profiling with someone of a different race, study participants perform worse on the classic Stroop task. And those with higher bias perform even more poorly. Richeson believes that because they are aware of possible bias and dealing with physiological arousal, individuals must actively self-regulate during interracial interactions. This self-regulation uses cognitive resources and leads to depletion in other areas.

Richeson conducted two further studies to investigate these interactions. [More here.] . . .

In order to investigate what occurs in actual interactions, Richeson and collaborator Nicole Shelton, Princeton University, recruited black and white participants to take a race IAT and then engage in a 10-minute conversation about racial issues. White participants engaged in a conversation with another white participant or with a black participant. In same-race interactions, those with higher bias IAT scores were rated lower by their counterparts on likability. But, ironically, in interracial interactions, black participants liked higher-biased white participants more than lower-biased white participants and found them to be more engaged in the interaction. It seems that higher-biased individuals are aware that they could seem biased and so they self-regulate and in a sense turn on the charm to ensure that the interaction goes smoothly.

So, as Richeson said, the “intra-personal costs may come with inter-personal benefits.” Although it may seem like a positive thing that interracial interactions appear to go well, even when bias is involved, it should not overshadow the fact that interracial interaction is cognitively and physiologically draining. This could cause individuals, especially in those who are most biased, to avoid interracial interactions when possible, a situation which leads to less interracial interaction and undermines the interracial ideals to which our society aspires.

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The whole article is here. For some related Situationist posts, see “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.” To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Punishment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 24, 2008

Mary R. Rose and Janice Nadler have a nice paper, “Victim Impact Testimony and the Psychology of Punishment” available for downloading on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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A growing body of empirical evidence from psychology, sociology, law, and criminal justice has demonstrated that lay intuitions about punishment are strongly rooted in retributivism: i.e., the idea that punishment should be distributed in proportion to moral desert. Level of harm is often thought to be indicative of desert, but harm described by victims (or survivors) in the context of victim impact evidence is subjective and often unforeseeable insofar as it is attributable to chance factors. How do observers (such as jurors or judges) use information about consequences determined by chance factors when they judge punishment? The emotional and cognitive processes involved in jurors’ use of victim impact evidence potentially reveals key insights about the psychological mechanisms underlying laypersons’ punishment judgments generally. This paper explores empirical evidence for the notion that the subjective harm experienced by the victim of an offense serves as proxy for the level of defendant’s effort and culpability, and by implication, the perceived seriousness of the crime.

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For a related Situationist post, see “Why We Punish.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 23, 2008

From Anne McIlroy’s article, titled “You May Know How You’ll Vote Before You Know It,” in the Science section of the Globe and Mail:

Undecided about how you will vote if there is a federal election this fall? New research suggests you may not know your own mind.

Voters make decisions at an unconscious level before they deliberate about their options, University of Western Ontario psychologist Bertram Gawronski said.

In the latest edition of the journal Science, he and two Italian researchers report on a technique that may allow pollsters one day to read the minds of undecided voters and accurately predict whom they will end up supporting.

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In the Science article, he and colleagues Luciano Arcuri and Silvia Galdi at the University of Padova describe an experiment conducted in Vicenza, Italy. They interviewed 129 residents about a proposed enlargement of a U.S. military base in their community and asked if they were if favour, opposed or undecided about the expansion.

The volunteers also took a computer-based test.

For those who were undecided, the speed at which they linked pictures of the military base to positive words such as “happy” or “luck,” compared with negative words such as “awful” or “pain,” proved to be predictive of the decision they eventually made about the expansion. The test revealed what Dr. Gawronski and his colleagues call positive or negative automatic mental associations.

Other researchers, including Harvard University psychologist [and Situationist contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, have used a similar technique to get at the subtle, ingrained biases that people are not aware of, but which may shape their behaviour.

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From Stefan Lovgren’s article, “‘Undecided” Voters’ Minds Already Made Up, Study Says,” in National Geographic News:

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[Situationist contributor] Timothy Wilson, . . . the author of the book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious [click on book’s cover in right margin for more information], said there are two interpretations of the study results.

“It may be that participants really had made up their minds and just didn’t know it yet,” said Wilson, who was not involved with the study but wrote an accompanying article in this week’s Science.

“Or they may have been leaning in one direction unconsciously and that biased how they interpreted the information they got about the issue in subsequent days.”

Gawronski, the study co-author, says automatic mental associations play a particularly important role in a person’s decision-making when it comes to ambiguous situations, such as political debates.

“In a debate between Obama and McCain, it may not be entirely clear who showed the better performance,” he said.

“But undecided voters with more favorable associations with McCain may see him as the one who did the better job” and vice versa, Gawronski said.

“It’s this biased perception of events that then provide the basis of their future decisions,” he added.

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To download a pdf of the Science article (Silvia Galdi, Luciano Arcuri, & Bertram Gawronski, Automatic mental associations predict future choices of undecided decision-makers, 321 Science 1100-1102 (2008)), click here.

To listen to an NPR Science Friday interview of Dr. Gawronski and discussion of the undecided-voter research, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Voting for a Face,” “The Situation of Swift-Boating,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “The Situation of Political Animals,” and “Your Brain on Politics.” For other posts on the Situation of politics, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Politics, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Neuroeconomics and Situationist Economics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 22, 2008

In July, The Economist had a nice article on the burgeoning field of neuroeconomics, titled “Do Economists Need Brains.” We’ve excerpted a few chunks from that article below.

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In the late 1990s a generation of academic economists had their eyes opened by Mr LeDoux’s and other accounts of how studies of the brain using recently developed techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed that different bits of the old grey matter are associated with different sorts of emotional and decision-making activity. The amygdalas are an example. Neuroscientists have shown that these almond-shaped clusters of neurons deep inside the medial temporal lobes play a key role in the formation of emotional responses such as fear.

These new neuroeconomists saw that it might be possible to move economics away from its simplified model of rational, self-interested, utility-maximising decision-making. Instead of hypothesising about Homo economicus, they could base their research on what actually goes on inside the head of Homo sapiens.

The dismal science had already been edging in that direction thanks to behavioural economics. Since the 1980s researchers in this branch of the discipline had used insights from psychology to develop more “realistic” models of individual decision-making, in which people often did things that were not in their best interests. But neuroeconomics had the potential, some believed, to go further and to embed economics in the chemical processes taking place in the brain.

Early successes for neuroeconomists came from using neuroscience to shed light on some of the apparent flaws in H. economicus noted by the behaviouralists. One much-cited example is the “ultimatum game”, in which one player proposes a division of a sum of money between himself and a second player. The other player must either accept or reject the offer. If he rejects it, neither gets a penny.

According to standard economic theory, as long as the first player offers the second any money at all, his proposal will be accepted, because the second player prefers something to nothing. In experiments, however, behavioural economists found that the second player often turned down low offers—perhaps, they suggested, to punish the first player for proposing an unfair split.

Neuroeconomists have tried to explain this seemingly irrational behaviour by using an “active MRI”. In MRIs used in medicine the patient simply lies still during the procedure; in active MRIs, participants are expected to answer economic questions while blood flows in the brain are scrutinised to see where activity is going on while decisions are made. They found that rejecting a low offer in the ultimatum game tended to be associated with high levels of activity in the dorsal stratium, a part of the brain that neuroscience suggests is involved in reward and punishment decisions, providing some support to the behavioural theories.

As well as the ultimatum game, neuroeconomists have focused on such issues as people’s reasons for trusting one another, apparently irrational risk-taking, the relative valuation of short- and long-term costs and benefits, altruistic or charitable behaviour, and addiction. Releases of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical, may indicate economic utility or value, they say. There is also growing interest in new evidence from neuroscience that tentatively suggests that two conditions of the brain compete in decision-making: a cold, objective state and a hot, emotional state in which the ability to make sensible trade-offs disappears. The potential interactions between these two brain states are ideal subjects for economic modelling.

Already, neuroeconomics is giving many economists a dopamine rush. For example, Colin Camerer of the California Institute of Technology, a leading centre of research in neuroeconomics, believes that incorporating insights from neuroscience could transform economics, by providing a much better understanding of everything from people’s reactions to advertising to decisions to go on strike.

At the same time, Mr Camerer thinks economics has the potential to improve neuroscience, for instance by introducing neuroscientists to sophisticated game theory. “The neuroscientist’s idea of a game is rock, paper, scissors, which is zero-sum, whereas economists have focused on strategic games that produce gains through collaboration.” Herbert Gintis of the Sante Fe Institute has even higher hopes that breakthroughs in neuroscience will help bring about the integration of all the behavioural sciences—economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, political science and biology relating to human and animal behaviour—around a common, brain-based model of how people take decisions

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However, not everyone is convinced. The fiercest attack on neuroeconomics, and indeed behavioural economics, has come from two economists at Princeton University, Faruk Gul and Wolfgang Pesendorfer. In an article in 2005, “The Case for Mindless Economics”, they argued that neuroscience could not transform economics because what goes on inside the brain is irrelevant to the discipline. What matters are the decisions people take—in the jargon, their “revealed preferences”—not the process by which they reach them. For the purposes of understanding how society copes with the consequences of those decisions, the assumption of rational utility-maximisation works just fine.

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The big question now is whether the tools of neuroscience will allow economics to fulfill Edgeworth’s vision—or, if that is too much to ask, at least to be grounded in the physical reality of the brain. Studies in the first decade of neuroeconomics relied heavily on active MRI scans. Economists’ initial excitement at being able to enliven their seminars with pictures of parts of the brain lighting up in response to different experiments (so much more interesting than the usual equations) has led to a recognition of the limits of MRIs. “Curiosity about neuroscience among economists has outstripped what we have to say, for now,” admits Mr Camerer.

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Still, Mr Camerer is confident that neuroeconomics will deliver its first big breakthroughs within five years. Likewise, Mr McCabe sees growing sophistication in neuroeconomic research. For the past four years, a group of leading neuroeconomists and neuroscientists has met to refine questions about the brain and economic behaviour. Researchers trained in both neuroscience and economics are entering the field. They are asking more sophisticated questions than the first generation “spots on brains” experiments, says Mr McCabe, such as “how these spots would change with different economic variables.” He expects that within a few years neuroeconomics will have uncovered enough about the interactions between what goes on in people’s brains and the outside world to start to shape the public-policy agenda—though it is too early to say how.

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To access the whole article, click here. For a collection of related Situationist posts click here and here.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Neuroeconomics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Eating – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 21, 2008

Monday’s Boston Globe had a nice article, titled “Environmental cues affect how much you eat,” by Judy Foreman on the Situation of Eating. We’ve included the introduction below.

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Next time you sit down to dinner, dim the lights – but not too much. Both bright light and dim light may make you eat more. Watch the background music, too. If it’s too fast, you’ll eat fast, and therefore more; too slow and you’ll keep eating. And think small for plates – a portion that looks skimpy on a dinner plate looks ample on a salad plate.

The more that researchers study obesity, the more they are finding that portion control is key to successful weight loss. Often, people think they’re eating much less than really are. And these perceptions can be influenced, often outside our conscious awareness, by environmental cues, including lights and music.

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The article also includes this situationist gem of a quote by Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think:

“The big danger . . . is that we all think we are too smart to be influenced by environmental cues. . . . The good news is that it is very easy to reverse these cues and to just as mindlessly eat less.”

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To access the entire article, including tips on what might be done to influence the situation that is otherwise influencing us, click here.

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Below is six-minute interview of Brian Wansink in which he discusses several situational factors influencing what we eat and how much we enjoy it.

For a a more complete description and analysis of the situation of eating, see the law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America by Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion.

In case you missed Morgan’s Spurlock’ 2004 Academy-Award-Nominated documentary, Supersize Me, which explores some of the situational sources of obesity, you can watch the 100-minute movie below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

For those interested, here is a list of related Situationist posts to date: “The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15’,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Book, Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Illusions, Life, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 20, 2008

Situationist contributors Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson have posted their latest article, Legal Academic Backlash: The Response of Legal Theorists to Situationist Insights (Emory Law Journal, Vol. 57, No. 5, 2008) on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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This article is the third of a multipart series. The first part, “The Great Attributional Divide,” argues that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on our attributional tendencies: the less accurate dispositionist approach, which explains outcomes and behavior with reference to people’s dispositions (i.e., personalities, preferences, and the like), and the more accurate situationist approach, which bases attributions of causation and responsibility on unseen influences within us and around us.

The second part, “Naive Cynicism,” explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naive cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema – dispositionism – would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema – situationism – less easily and effectively attacked. Naive cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Naive cynicism often takes the form of a backlash against situationism that involves an affirmation of existing dispositionist notions and an assault on (1) the situationist attributions themselves; (2) the individuals, institutions, and groups from which the situationist attributions appear to emanate; and (3) the individuals whose conduct has been situationalized. If one were to boil down those factors to one simple naive-cynicism-promoting frame for minimizing situationist ideas, it would be something like this: Unreasonable outgroup members are attacking us, our beliefs, and the things we value.

We predict that naive cynicism is a pervasive dynamic that shapes policy debates big and small. We argue that it can operate at a particular moment or over long periods of time, and that it is embraced and encouraged by both elite knowledge-producers and the average person on the street.

This Article examines the reactions of prominent academics to situationist scholarship. As we argue in this Article, na¿ve cynicism, operating as we predict above, has played a significant role in retarding the growth and influence of more accurate situationist insights of social psychology and related fields within the dominant legal theoretical frameworks of the last half-century.

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To download the article for free, click here. To read a collection of related Situationist posts, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Legal Theory, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Seeing Michael Phelps’s Gold Medal Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 19, 2008

Sam Sommers has another excellent (situationist) post, titled “The Greatest Ever? Not So Fast . . .” over at Psychology Today Blog. Sommers’s post is worth reading in its entirety (here), but here are a few particularly situationist excerpts.

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U.S. Swimmer Michael Phelps just won his 8th gold medal of the Beijing Olympics tonight, the 14th gold of his career. These are feats that have never been accomplished before, and it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that his is the greatest Olympic performance of all time. Some in the sporting world (and beyond) are also calling Phelps the greatest athlete of all time. But not so fast—a number of psychological considerations suggest that the pundits (and public) are likely getting a bit carried away.

Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear for the record. What Phelps has done is extraordinary and unprecedented. . . .

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But why would I suggest that Phelps might not truly be the “greatest athlete” ever . . . ? . . . . I can think of at least three relevant psychological issues:

First, there’s good reason to believe that a variation of the availability heuristic is at play here. This just happened. . . .

So if I ask you to name great athletes, whose name is readily available to you at the moment? Phelps, of course. More generally, even beyond the domain of sports, I’d argue that people are typically lousy at judging “the greatest ever” in any area, due to the availability heuristic among other factors. . . .

Second, in addition to availability, there’s also a self-motivated reason for us to see Phelps deemed the greatest ever. Because we were able to watch Phelps’ triumph and because we’ll have stories to tell about what we saw in these Olympics, we’re able to perceive a personal connection to what he’s done that goes so far as to make us feel good about ourselves.

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Finally, I think there’s also a compelling argument to be made that those who would call Phelps the greatest ever are doing what we humans often do in perceiving the world, namely not giving sufficient weight to the situational factors at play. . . .

[T]his debate is being pitched in largely dispositional terms (i.e., is he the greatest *athlete* ever, as opposed to is this the greatest athletic *performance* ever). And what I really mean to suggest is along the lines of the argument I made in a previous post, namely that important aspects of situations in daily life often escape our attention. In the case of Phelps, he has certainly had a terrific Olympics (now, that might be the greatest understatement of the century). But he also competes in a sport that presents its elite competitors with the opportunity to rack up multiple medals. Swimmers can compete in races of varying distances. There are races in 4 different strokes, as well as individual medleys combining strokes. Then there are relays as well. Is Mark Spitz the second-greatest athlete of all time?

The greatest of basketball and water polo players have a chance at 1 medal in an Olympics. Same with boxers and wrestlers. Track and field stars have more, but still not as many as swimmers. Consider Carl Lewis’ 1984 performance, when he won gold in the 100m, 200m, 4 x 100m relay, and long jump. Was Phelps’ 2008 demonstrably better than that? It’s hard to say. I’m quite sure this last argument will annoy the swimming fans out there, but what if Lewis had been afforded the same opportunities as Phelps to cover different distances in different ways? Swimmers have races in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle; how many medals could Lewis have won if he could’ve entered the 100m gallop, the 100m skip, and the 100m crabwalk?

OK, so you might resist that last analogy. But the crabwalk would be pretty fun to watch, wouldn’t it? And the bigger point is that Phelps’ historical milestone was attributable to a number of factors: his phenomenal training regimen, his unsurpassed drive to win, his genetic gifts, and more. But he also owes at least part of his title as greatest Olympian ever to the current set-up of the Games, which affords swimmers more opportunities to medal than most other athletes. To ignore this fact and crown Phelps greater than Lewis, Jesse Owens, Eric Heiden, Sonja Henie, Al Oerter, and others seems impulsive. Not to mention, of course, all the non-Olympic athletes who certainly merit consideration for the title of greatest ever.

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To read the entire post, which may well be the greatest post ever, click here.

For a sample related posts discussing the tendency to dispositionalize accomplishments that are largely situational, see “Promoting Dispostionism through Entertainment – Part III,” “Randomness, Luck, and other Situational Sources of Success and Failure,” ““Situation” Trumps “Disposition”- Part II,” “What’s Eating David Ortiz?,” and “David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, and Now John Edwards: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation.”

For archives of all situationist sports posts, click here.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Blogroll, Choice Myth, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Should Psychologists Assist Military Interogations?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 19, 2008

Benedict Carey of the New York Times has an interesting piece on a debate within the psychology profession over whether psychologists should provide assistance on military interrogations. We excerpt the article below.

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They have closely studied suspects, looking for mental quirks. They have suggested lines of questioning. They have helped decide when a confrontation is too intense, or when to push harder. More than those in the other healing professions, psychologists have played a central role in the military and C.I.A. interrogation of people suspected of being enemy combatants.

But now the profession, long divided over this role, is considering whether to make any involvement in military interrogations a violation of its code of ethics.

At the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting this week in Boston, prominent members are denouncing such work as unethical by definition, while other key figures — civilian and military — insist that restricting psychologists’ roles would only make interrogations more likely to harm detainees.

Like other professional organizations, the association has little direct authority to restrict members’ ability to practice. But state licensing boards can suspend or revoke a psychologist’s license, and experts note that these boards often take violations of the association’s ethics code into consideration.

The election for the association’s president is widely seen as a referendum on the issue. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, plan a protest on Saturday afternoon.

And last week, for the first time, lawyers for a detainee at the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, singled out a psychologist as a critical player in documents alleging abusive treatment.

“It’s really a fight for the soul of the profession,” said Brad Olson, a psychologist at Northwestern University, who has circulated a petition among members to place a moratorium on such consulting.

Others strongly disagree. “The vast majority of military psychologists know the ethics code and know exactly what they can and cannot do,” said William J. Strickland, who represents the Society for Military Psychology before the association’s council. “This is a fight about individual psychologists’ behavior, and we should keep it there.”

At the center of the debate are the military’s behavioral science consultation teams, informally known as biscuits, made up of psychologists and others who assist in interrogations. Little is known about these units, including the number of psychologists who take part. Neither the military nor the team members have disclosed many details.

Defenders of that role insist that the teams are crucial in keeping interrogations safe, effective and legal. Critics say their primary purpose is to help break detainees, using methods that might violate international law.

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For the rest of the article click here. For other Situationist posts relating to interrogations, click here.

Posted in Conflict, Public Policy, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Randomness, Luck, and other Situational Sources of Success and Failure

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 18, 2008

David Smith recently reviewed Leonard Mlodinow’s Book, A Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives for The Observer. For those unfamiliar with the book, here’s a quick (publisher’s) summary:

In this irreverent and illuminating book, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, change, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear and obvious cases, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance.

The book and the review are worth checking out, but we found Smith’s discussion of the possible implications of Mlodnow’s insight worth sharing below.

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Mlodinow’s telling central premise is that our desire for control leaves us in denial about how important randomness is. Intuitively, we prefer to construct a linear narrative that makes events seem inevitable. Pearl Harbour and 9/11 were easy causal patterns to trace with hindsight, but rather less so beforehand. Individual success, too, is a lottery: JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by several publishers, Bruce Willis was a jobbing actor until he got a lucky break and even Bill Gates would have been ‘just another software entrepreneur’ but for a series of accidents. For every Rowling, Willis or Gates, how many equally talented people quit too soon because their coin hasn’t yet come up heads? Perseverance, it seems, is all.

Unfortunately, Mlodinow fails to develop this in what should have been his most provocative chapter. If the connection between actions and results is not as direct as we like to believe, what does that mean politically for the class system, social mobility and the self-justification of society’s elite? Sixties social psychologist Melvin Lerner, realising that ‘few people would engage in extended activity if they believed that there were a random connection between what they did and the rewards they received’, concluded that ‘for the sake of their own sanity’ people overestimate the degree to which ability can be inferred from success.

Would people in the US still fervently believe in the American Dream if they understood that hard work alone may not be enough? . . . .

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To watch a 42-minute video of Mlodinow discussing his book, click on the video below.

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For some a related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’.”

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, System Legitimacy, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Situatiolympics – Abstracts

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 17, 2008

Today’s Boston Globe section “Uncommon Knowledge” abstracts several interesting studies related to the olympics, including two that are quite situationist: one discussing bias in Olympic coverage and the other examining the influence of expectations and counterfactual thinking among medalists. We’ve excerpted those two abstracts below.

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Billings, A. et al., “The Games Through the NBC Lens: Gender, Ethnic, and National Equity in the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (June 2008):

This study out of Clemson catalogued all commentary by NBC-affiliated personalities during the network’s prime-time coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Not only were men covered and mentioned more extensively (even when the women were more successful), but attributions of success and failure differed by gender, too. Male athletes were seen as more composed and intelligent in victory, and less committed in defeat. Female athletes were seen as more courageous in victory, and weaker athletes in defeat. The differences were more prevalent among on-site reporters than among the (more scripted) anchors. A similar pattern was found with regard to nationality. Americans were seen as having more concentration, composure, commitment, and courage in victory, while non-Americans were granted more athletic skill. The authors note that “parallels between long-held racial stereotypes (e.g., blacks being ‘born’ athletes and whites being superior intellectually) may transfer in similar ways within the domain of nationalism.”

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McGraw, P. et al., “Expectations and Emotions of Olympic Athletes,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (July 2005) (pdf here):

After the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, a team of psychologists published a widely cited study showing that Olympic athletes who had just won a bronze medal appeared to be happier than those who had just won a silver medal. The psychologists concluded that athletes’ emotional responses were not explained by missed expectations but, instead, by close-call counterfactuals: Bronze-medal winners were focused on the fact that they had come close to not winning a medal at all, while the silver-medal winners were focused on the fact that they had come close to winning a gold medal. After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, another team of psychologists updated these findings with a renewed emphasis on the role of prior expectations. They repeated the earlier study – but this time with Sydney athletes, and not just with bronze- and silver-medal winners – and found that performance, relative to media predictions or qualifying-event finishes, was the primary determinant of athletes’ emotions.

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

The Situation of Judicial Methods – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 16, 2008

Joshua Furgeson, Linda Babcock, and Peter Shane have a fascinating paper, “Behind the Mask of Method” (Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 41 (June 2005) – Law Hum. Behav. 2007) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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This empirical paper demonstrates that political orientation affects the interpretive methods (e.g., originalism) that individuals prefer to use to interpret the Constitution. As a consequence, the sworn allegiance of a judge (or judicial candidate) to a particular interpretive methodology, even if faithfully followed, simply cannot guarantee constitutional adjudication that is apolitical in motivation.

The paper begins by recognizing that certain interpretive methods often favor either liberal or conservative policies, and then propose that an individual’s policy goals subconsciously bias their interpretive preferences. We test this hypothesis in two empirical studies. The first study surveys federal law clerks about their interpretive preferences. We find that liberal clerks are significantly more likely than conservative clerks to favor the current meaning of the constitutional text, while conservatives are much more likely to prefer the original meaning. Liberals also prefer to interpret the Constitution a great deal more expansively than conservatives. The second study demonstrates that altering the policy implications of expansive interpretation can shift interpretive preferences, implying that political orientation actually causes, and is not just related to, interpretive preferences.

This relationship between political orientation and interpretive preferences challenges both traditional constitutional jurisprudence and contemporary politics. Interpretive methods are often cited because they appear to provide legal, rather than policy-based, guidance. Consequently, judges often frame their judicial rulings as an application of their interpretive preferences to the facts of the case. More controversially, many judicial nominees have argued that their personal beliefs will be irrelevant to their judicial decisions, as their interpretive preferences will guide them. Our findings imply, however, that judges cannot reduce the influence of their policy preferences by relying on interpretive methods, because their interpretive preferences were likely affected by their policy goals.

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Political Situation of Judicial Activism,” “Ideology is Back!,” “The Situation of Judges,” “Blinking on the Bench,” “The Situation of Judging – Part I,” “The Situation of Judging – Part II,” and “Justice Thomas and the Conservative Hypocrisy.”

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Can Sports Save the World? (& what must be done beforehand) – Part II

Posted by Jason Chung on August 15, 2008

In Part I of this multi-part Situationist series, I assessed the oft-repeated assertion that sport can help reconcile groups after a period of intra-state or inter-state conflict. In this section, I will discuss the scholarly literature in favor of this assertion.

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Current Theoretical Background on Sport Participation as Reconciliation

The idea of employing sport as a means of addressing group conflict has been gaining traction in academia. U.K. education scholar Richard Bailey of Roehampton University, for instance, points to the fact that student participation in sports may mitigate the risk of student social alienation and enhance a sense of social inclusion (Bailey, 2002).

Sociologist Fred Coalter of the University of Stirling similarly observes that participation in sport has increasingly been used by the state to promote societal integration and social cohesion. As Coalter observes, the British government has poured considerable resources into related sport participation programs, including grassroots campaigns and sporting facilities used by the British public (pp. 538-539).

University of Amsterdam communications researchers Floris Muller, Liesbiet van Zoonen and Laurens de Roode argue that those views are taking root in academic, civic, and political circles: “Countless soccer leagues, matches and tournaments have been organized around the world with the explicit goal of challenging violence, racism, social exclusion and even environmental issues.” (2008)

Such sporting initiatives can be found in seemingly dissimilar countries, such as the Netherlands and Ghana.  In the Netherlands, the City of Amsterdam organizes the WK Amsterdam in which immigrants from various ethnic communities compete in a mock “World Cup.” This exercise is intended to promote inter-group unity and communication in Amsterdam.  Likewise, in Ghana, the non-governmental organization Right to Play is working with Ghanaian officials in order to improve the “[p]romotion of healthy development of communities through a coaching-based approach . . . ” (Right to Play, 2001).

The Netherlands and Ghana are obviously two very different countries. A quick look at the Human Development Index shows that the Netherlands is considered a top 10 highly developed country while Ghana lags well behind at #139. The fact that both use sport and sport participation suggests that sport participation can be an effective tool of local and intra-state social development and bridge-building.

UN for Sport and Development and Peace

UN for Sport and Development and Peace

“Sports as panacea” can also be detected in an international context. In a recent paper, Ingrid Beutler of the United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace states that the international community draws lessons from humanitarians working at local and intra-state levels. Beutler posits that sports have the capacity to increase inter-state interaction.  She evidences the point by noting that the United Nations has established the post of Special-Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace in Geneva and New York. The Special-Adviser is entrusted with fostering international cooperation through sport (Beutler, 2008, 11:4).

This model has also gained traction in the United States. A perusal of the U.S. Department of State’s website uncovers the SportsUnited program. The program is designed to aid youth, ages 7-17, in discovering how success in athletics can be translated into the development of life and educational skills. The program provides Americans the opportunity to learn about foreign cultures and the challenges facing young people from overseas (U.S. Department of State, 2006).

Modern scholarship appears to recognize the value of sport and sport participation in creating peaceable inter-group relations both within and between states. In addition, many governments have accepted the theoretical benefits offered by sport and resorted to using sport and sport participation as a method to build positive inter-group relations. Thus, from an educational, sociological, political science and communications perspective, sport as a tool for inter-group reconciliation seems to be alive and well.

Part III of this series will pick up there.

Works Cited

Bailey, R. (2002, August 31). Challenging Disaffection: Best Practice & the Management of Disaffection. Retrieved May 18, 2008, from ESRC Society Today.

Bailey, R. (2005). Evaluating the relationship between physical education, sport and social inclusion. Educational Review, Volume 57, Number 1 , 71-90.

Beutler, I. (2008, 11:4). Sport serving development and peace: Achieving the goals of the United Nations through sport. Sport in Society , 359-269.

Coalter, F. (2007). Sports Clubs, Social Capital and Social Regeneration: ‘ill-defined interventions with hard to follow outcomes’? Sport in Society, 10:4 , 537 — 559.

Muller, F., van Zoonen, L., & de Roode, L. (2008). The social integrative powers of sport: An analysis of the imagined and real effects of sport events for multicultural integration. Sociology of Sport Journal , (Forthcoming).

Right to Play. (2001, November). Ghana SportHealth. Retrieved April 23, 2008, from Right to Play.

U.S. Department of State. (2006, November 9). Remarks With Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes and Public Diplomacy Envoy Michelle Kwan. Retrieved March 6, 2008, from U.S. Department of State.

Posted in Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Military Meets the Mind Sciences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 14, 2008

Yesterday, Brandon Keim published a disturbing article, “Uncle Sam Wants Your Brain” in Wired Science. We’ve excerpted his introduction below, and recommend the entire article which is here.

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Drugs that make soldiers want to fight. Robots linked directly to their controllers’ brains. Lie-detecting scans administered to terrorist suspects as they cross U.S. borders.

These are just a few of the military uses imagined for cognitive science — and if it’s not yet certain whether the technologies will work, the military is certainly taking them very seriously.

“It’s way too early to know which — if any — of these technologies is going to be practical,” said Jonathan Moreno, a Center for American Progress bioethicist and author of Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense. “But it’s important for us to get ahead of the curve. Soldiers are always on the cutting edge of new technologies.”

Moreno is part of a National Research Council committee convened by the Department of Defense to evaluate the military potential of brain science. Their report, “Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies,” was released today. It charts a range of cognitive technologies that are potentially powerful — and, perhaps, powerfully troubling.

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To read Keim’s summary and analysis, click here. For some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Soldiers,” “The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,” Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” and “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army.”

Posted in Conflict, Deep Capture, Neuroscience, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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