The Situationist

Archive for September, 2008

The Future Situation of “Orwellian” Technology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 11, 2008

Liz Tay of Channel Business Leaders has an interesting piece on future technologies that may alter the situations in which we live.  We excerpt the piece below.

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[People who use on-line services] are not taking appropriate measures to protect themselves or their data, according to social psychologist Saadi Lahlou.

Describing a ‘privacy dilemma’ that is brought about by the fact that technology requires information to deliver better or customised service, Lahlou warns that such data may later be used in another context and against users’ interest.

Lahlou mentioned Gmail as an example of his personal experience with the privacy dilemma.

“I feel that it is actually not reasonable to leave all my mail in someone else’s hands; but I am, as most of us, taken in this privacy dilemma,” he told iTnews.

“It is such a good indexation service of my own mail and so easy to use that I prefer not to think about the possible consequences of misuse or accident.”

He referenced ‘the system’ of interconnected data-collection devices including mobile phones, Web sites and surveillance cameras that can search, analyse and predict the actions of individuals.

“We are creating a system that will be aware of all that we do … virtually from cradle to grave,” Lahlou wrote in the journal Social Science Information. “The system as a whole will know more about us than we know about ourselves.”

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To read the rest of the article, click here.  To read other Situationist posts on technology, click here.


Posted in Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Racial Situation of Criminal Juries and the Consequences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 10, 2008

Sam Sommers has yet another terrific post, this one titled “When Justice is Less than Blind,” over on the Psychology Today Blog.  Here are some excerpts.

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At the time of the 2000 Census, Jefferson Parish had an African-American population of 23%. In 1990 that rate was 18%. These numbers render it all the more striking that in the preceding two decades, Jefferson Parish has had 18 murder trials that ended with a conviction and death sentence, and of the 216 jurors who heard these cases, only 9 were Black. Seven of the 18 juries had but a single Black juror. Ten juries had no Black jurors at all. (Quick note of full disclosure: there were 2 additional trials ending with a death sentence during this time, but the racial demographics of those juries were not available to the researchers analyzing the data.)

If you do the math, this means that 4% of the jurors on capital murder trials in Jefferson Parish over the past two decades have been Black, a rate far lower than the 18-23% of African-Americans found in the population at large. In fact, the population rate suggests that a racially representative jury in Jefferson Parish would have 2 or 3 Black jurors, but during this time period, only 1 of the capital murder juries had as many as 2 Black members.

What explains the statistical aberration that is the racial makeup of Jefferson Parish capital juries? There are a number of factors that can contribute to nonrepresentative juries anywhere. In the U.S. (as well as other countries that use jury trials, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand), racial minorities tend to be underrepresented on voter rolls, driver’s license lists, and other public records often used to compile source lists for jury duty. In addition, once jury duty summonses are sent out, non-Whites are less likely to report as requested than are White Americans. Some have speculated that this disparity reflects institutional mistrust of the legal system among many Black Americans, but it unquestionably reflects the fact that a disproportionately high rate of summonses sent to Blacks are returned by the post office to the courthouse as undeliverable.

However, those who have catalogued and analyzed the Jefferson Parish cases point to a different explanation for what has happened there, namely that local prosecutors have systematically gone out of their way to exclude Black citizens from serving as jurors in these trials. How would prosecutors do this? In large part by making use of a jury selection practice known as the peremptory challenge.

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. . . [I]n 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for attorneys to base their peremptory challenges on a prospective juror’s race (Batson v. Kentucky). Several years later, the prohibition was extended to prohibit gender-based peremptories as well. In both cases, the basis for the ruling was that such peremptory challenges violated the rights of all citizens, regardless of race or gender, to serve as jurors.

So what’s going on in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana? The 18 murder trials I described above all happened after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Batson. If the Court ruled that attorneys cannot base peremptories on juror race, why is it that only 4% of jurors on these capital murder trials have been Black? Well, it turns out that it’s just too easy for attorneys to get around the Batson ruling. As long as they’re able to provide the judge with a reasonable race-neutral explanation for their peremptory use, they won’t be found in violation of the rules. And if there’s one thing we know from psychological research on judgment and decision-making, it’s that people are remarkably good at coming up with plausibly neutral explanations for potentially biased choices.

Indeed, I and a colleague, Mike Norton of Harvard, conducted an experiment that illustrated this process in a jury selection setting. We asked college students, law students, and trial attorneys to make judgments in a jury selection simulation involving the trial of a Black defendant. We presented them with two prospective jurors, A and B, and asked participants to assume the role of prosecutor in the case. When photos revealed that Juror A was Black and Juror B was White, participants were more likely to use a peremptory challenge to remove A. But when we kept the information about Jurors A and B the same and simply switched their photos, suddenly B, now the Black juror, was more likely to be challenged. In other words, regardless of the personal and ideological information provided for each prospective juror, participants were basing their challenge decisions on race. And when we asked participants to justify their peremptories? They never talked about race, instead inflating the importance of race-neutral information that supported their challenge, in true top-down fashion.

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To read the entire post, click here.  To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Capital Punishment – Abstract,” “Why We Punish,” “The Situation of Death Row,” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Law, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Gary Marcus on the Construction of the Human Mind

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 9, 2008

New York University psychologist Gary Marcus speaks about his book, Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind.  Marcus discusses the accidents of evolution that caused this structure and what we can do about it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Posted in Book, Neuroscience, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Trust

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 8, 2008

Drake Benefit recently had a great Boston Globe piece, titled “The Confidence Game,” examining the situation of trust. In it, he examines some of the techniques employed by Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (aka Clark Rockefeller) in his constructed life as Clark Rockefeller.

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Human beings are social animals, and our first instinct is to trust others. Con men, of course, have long known this – their craft consists largely of playing on this predilection, and turning it to their advantage.

But recently, behavioral scientists have also begun to unravel the inner workings of trust. Their aim is to decode the subtle signals that we send out and pick up, the cues that, often without our knowledge, shape our sense of someone’s reliability. Researchers have discovered that surprisingly small factors — where we meet someone, whether their posture mimics ours, even the slope of their eyebrows or the thickness of their chin — can matter as much or more than what they say about themselves. We size up someone’s trustworthiness within milliseconds of meeting them, and while we can revise our first impression, there are powerful psychological tendencies that often prevent us from doing so — tendencies that apply even more strongly if we’ve grown close.

“Trust is the baseline,” says [Situationist contributor] Susan Fiske, a social psychologist at Princeton University. “Trustworthiness is the very first thing that we decide about a person, and once we’ve decided, we do all kinds of elaborate gymnastics to believe in people.”

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Why trust exists in the first place has been something of a puzzle for scholars of human behavior. . . .

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Reconciling trust with selfishness has been a challenge for at least a generation of social scientists. One of the most influential formulations was laid out in a short paper by a Harvard biology graduate student named Robert L. Trivers in 1971. Trivers hypothesized that the sort of advanced cooperation that allowed people to build pyramids, fight in phalanxes, and hold quadrennial elections had emerged out of what he called “reciprocal altruism,” a basic “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” instinct. The evident benefits of cooperation had ensured that a package of human emotions evolved to encourage it. Trust was one of them, but so was guilt, which discouraged us from cheating in collaborative situations, and moral outrage, which galvanized the community to punish anyone who did cheat.

In recent decades, a whole body of research has grown out of work such as Trivers’s. Much of the literature looks at trust games, stripped-down situations like the Prisoner’s Dilemma in which participants are given a choice of cooperating or acting selfishly, with stark rewards and punishments set to encourage them to do one or the other. Over repeated iterations of such games, one of the most common strategies among participants — and one of the most effective — is a basic tit-for-tat: start out assuming a partner will cooperate, but if they don’t, punish them by refusing to cooperate as well.

“The default is trust until there’s a reason not to,” says Robyn Dawes, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University.

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Trust games don’t really explain how this congenital gullibility works. To do that, researchers need to observe the actual social world – a place where there is often too little time and too little information coming from too many different places to form a reasoned judgment.

When deciding who to trust, the research suggests, people use shortcuts. For example, they look at faces. According to recent work by Nikolaas Oosterhof and Alexander Todorov of Princeton’s psychology department, we form our first opinions of someone’s trustworthiness through a quick physiognomic snapshot. . . .

In a paper published in June, they suggested that our unconscious bias is a byproduct of more adaptive instincts: the features that make a face strike us as trustworthy, if exaggerated, make a face look happy – with arching inner eyebrows and upturned mouths – and an exaggerated “untrustworthy” face looks angry – with a furrowed brow and frown. In this argument, people with “trustworthy” faces simply have, by the luck of the genetic draw, faces that look a little more cheerful to us.

Just as in other cognitive shorthands, we make these judgments quickly and unconsciously — and as a result, Oosterhof and Todorov point out, we can severely and immediately misjudge people. In reality, of course, cheekbone shape and eyebrow arc have no relationship with honesty.

Another set of cues, and a particularly powerful one, is body language. Mimicry, in particular, seems to put us at our ease. Recent work by Tanya Chartrand, a psychology professor at Duke, and work by Jeremy Bailenson and Nick Yee, media scholars at Stanford, have shown that if a person, or even a computer-animated figure, mimics our movements while talking to us, we will find our interlocutor significantly more persuasive and honest.

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To earn someone’s trust, . . . even rather blatant aping can do the trick. One of the landmark studies on influence was done in 1965 by the Ohio State psychologist Timothy Brock. In it, shoppers at a paint store were approached by a research assistant who offered them advice on what type of paint to choose. He told half of the shoppers he approached that he had recently bought the same amount of paint that they were looking to buy, he told the other half he had bought a different amount.

By and large, the first group took his advice, and the second did not. Something as trivial as buying the same-sized bucket of paint, Brock argued, can forge a bond with a total stranger.

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To read the entire article, click here. To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Lying,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Facial Obviousness of Lying,” “Denial,” “Voting for a Face,” The Situation of Staring,” and “Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of it?

To listen to very interesting NPR, Talk of the Nation segment, “Stories Of Swindle: Dissecting The Art Of Con,” (approximately 30 minutes), click here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Constitutional Beliefs – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 7, 2008

Joshua Furgeson, Linda Babcock, and Peter Shane have a new article that will be of interest to many readers of the Situationist: “Do a Law’s Policy Implications Affect Beliefs About Its Constitutionality? An Experimental Test,” 32 Law Hum. Behav. 219 (2008). Here’s the abstract.

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Although a substantial empirical literature has found associations between judges’ political orientation and their judicial decisions, the nature of the relationship between policy preferences and constitutional reasoning remains unclear. In this experimental study, law students were asked to determine the constitutionality of a hypothetical law, where the policy implications of the law were manipulated while holding all legal evidence constant. The data indicate that, even with an incentive to select the ruling best supported by the legal evidence, liberal participants were more likely to overturn laws that decreased taxes than laws that increased taxes. The opposite pattern held for conservatives. The experimental manipulation significantly affected even those participants who believed their policy preferences had no influence on their constitutional decisions.

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For some related Situationist posts, see “The Political Situation of Judicial Activism,” “Justice Thomas and the Conservative Hypocrisy,” The Motivated Situation of Morality,” “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” The Situation of Reason,” and “A Convenient Fiction.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Morality | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of the Palin Family’s Success

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 6, 2008

Adriaan Lanni and Wesley Kelman wrote an interesting piece in Slate this week, “Working-Class Hero: How the Palins’ enviable blue-collar lifestyle could help the McCain campaign.” Here are a few excerpts.

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Most of the initial reaction to Sarah Palin’s selection . . . threatens to obscure a seductive and misleading subtext in Palin’s biography that may play a key role in the election: the way she embodies the hope of a blue-collar life without economic insecurity.

Palin’s background reminded us of an Alaskan we met several years ago. We had just moved to Anchorage for a temporary job in the state court system and struck up an illuminating conversation with a bricklayer while on a hike outside town. He made a surprising amount of money—he had moved to Alaska because its wages were so high. He also had enviable stretches of leisure . . . . He exuded optimism; his life was good and he knew it, and there was no resentment of yuppies like us.

Palin’s family, warts and all, has some of the same features. Husband Todd’s two jobs—commercial fisherman and oil production manager on the North Slope—required little formal education and provide ample time off. Yet they pay extremely well. . . .

Mr. Palin’s income alone would put the Palins at about the same level as many well-educated, white-collar workers we knew in Anchorage. It is also enough money to enjoy a quality of life that is, at least to a certain taste, superior to what is enjoyed almost anywhere else, either in cities or in the countryside. Like the bricklayer, the Palins can hunt and fish in a place of legendary abundance. Their hometown may be a dingy Anchorage exurb, but it has cheap, plentiful land bordering a vast and beautiful wilderness, which is crisscrossed by Todd (the “Iron Dog” champion) and the Palin children all winter. . . .

This free and easy life is radically different from the desperate existences depicted in Barack Obama’s speeches. . . .

This disjunction between the good life for many Alaskans and the not-so-good life for working-class families elsewhere suggests several strategies for the McCain campaign. . . .

While Democratic policy tries to help blue-collar workers by making it easier for them to attend college and get office jobs—that is, by encouraging them to cease to be blue-collar—Palin’s Alaskan story offers hope from within the blue-collar culture. She validates the goodness of life in rural America because she has embraced a particularly exotic, turbocharged version of this life. Her biography, bound to be emphasized by Republicans, thus makes a powerful appeal to one of the country’s most decisive constituencies.

The rub, of course, is that however genuine it may be, Palin’s family life may not be possible outside Alaska. . . .

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To read the entire article, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Education, Life, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Colorblinded Wages – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 5, 2008

Joni Hersch, recently posted her intriguing paper, “Skin Color, Immigrant Wages, and Discrimination” on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Immigrant workers with darker skin color have lower pay than their counterparts with lighter skin color. Whether this pay penalty is due to labor market discrimination is explored using data from the New Immigrant Survey 2003 to estimate wage equations that control for skin color, sequentially taking into account a series of individual characteristics related to labor market productivity and personal background. These characteristics include Hispanic ethnicity, race, country of birth, education, family background, occupation in source country, English language proficiency, visa status, employer characteristics, and current occupation. The analysis finds that the labor market penalty to darker skin color cannot be attributed to differences in productivity and is evidence of labor market discrimination that arises within the U.S. labor market. The largest groups of post-1965 immigrants – those from Asia and Latin America – are penalized in the U.S. labor market for their darker skin color.

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For a few related Situationist posts, see “Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Abstracts, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Patricia Devine on Resisting Implicit Associations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 4, 2008

Nicole Fritz has a nice article summarizing research of Patricia Devine, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor. Here’s a sample.

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It is a question on many Americans’ minds: Is the United States ready for a black president, or will deep-rooted and even unconscious prejudices show at the polls?

For Patricia Devine, . . . who researches prejudice, the answer isn’t black and white.

“Your conscious mind might tell you to vote for [Obama], but in the privacy of the election booth your unconscious biases may vote differently,” Devine says.

However, Devine holds out when she reflects on the outcome of the election. “It remains to be seen but, cautiously, I think America is ready.”

It is Devine’s rare and constant optimism in people that during the past two decades has changed the field of prejudice psychology.

“Extensive amounts of research have demonstrated the prevalence of stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, but where others saw mere statistics, Trish saw an opportunity. The premise upon which much of her research is based is that people desire to be good,” says Laura Sheets, one of Devine’s students and lab assistants. “In her personality, lectures and research, Trish consistently conveys this message of optimism.”

In the 1980s, when equal rights were beginning to become a cultural norm, many pessimistic researchers thought people who responded that they were non-prejudiced but then acted with bias were simply liars. Devine trusted the people’s responses and embarked on journey to find out why people want to free themselves of prejudice but unconsciously act with bias.

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Devine started her research as a graduate student at Ohio State University, moving to UW-Madison in 1985 to become an associate professor. She has spent almost 25 years working to put together what she calls her “prejudice puzzle.”

The first puzzle piece was the difference between controlled or conscious and automatic or unconscious responses. In the ’80s, when prejudice was the domain of social psychology, Devine used cognitive psychology research on intentional versus unintentional responses to explain why people will respond with controlled non-prejudiced answers when they have time to process questions, but will have automatic biased actions without processing time.

First, individuals took surveys to show their conscious level of prejudice. Then they took an Implicit Association Test (IAT), a picture/word association test that asks participants to respond as quickly as possible to whether a face or image or phrase is good or bad.

* * *

Devine explains that these biased automatic responses in IATs come from a socialization process that encourages prejudice.

“[Prejudice] is the legacy of our socialization experiences. We all learn these stereotypes and have these biases at the ready whether we condone them or not, whether we think they are good or not, and as a result the immediate reaction is a biased one,” Devine explains. “If you are going to respond in nonbiased ways, you have to gain control or override the automatically activated stereotypic response and instead respond in these thoughtful deliberate ways that might represent your personal values.

* * *

Devine explains that eliminating prejudice is like breaking a habit — in the same way that she had to consciously stop biting her nails as a child, people who want to break the prejudice habit every day have to be aware of their own internal prejudice.

“[Eliminating prejudice] is a process. Making that decision is the first step, but then what you have to do is put some effort into it,” Devine says. “Just making the decision doesn’t mean you wake up one day, stretch and say ‘I’m not prejudiced,’ because you have got this whole socialization experience that you grew up with.”

To support her view that people with conflicting responses are not liars, Devine broke up participants into two groups: high prejudice and low prejudice. The key difference between the two groups is that high-prejudice people will respond with prejudice and not have internal conflict, but low-prejudice people who respond with prejudice feel guilty afterward.

This guilt, what Devine calls prejudice with compunction, is the key to eliminating prejudice.

“When people’s values conflicted, what I predicted is that if they were sincere in their non-prejudicial beliefs, they would feel guilty and self-critical and they would hold themselves accountable,” Devine says. “When given a chance, [low-prejudice] people tried to learn from mistakes, tried to absorb material and at the next opportunity when prejudice was possible, they responded in a fair and unbiased way.”

* * *

Devine . . . began to research student motivation for non-prejudiced behavior and how students could be better reached. [For more, click here.]

In addition to IAT, Devine used startle-eye blink tests, which places sensors on participants’ eyes and then measures their automatic startled-blink response to different faces. Once again the tests proved discrepancies between the reported and automatic response. But what Devine was interested in was the motivations behind the controlled responses.

Devine found that people have both internal motivations (personal values and standards) and external motivations (pressure from society) to act without bias. Through her research, Devine has learned people can be internally motivated, externally motivated or both internally and externally motivated with no correlation between the motivations.

Her research has also shown that it is only the internal motivations that allow people to act without bias in both controlled and automatic responses. People who are externally motivated or internally and externally motivated respond without prejudice on explicit self-report measures but respond in biased ways on implicit measures that do not allow for control over responses.

By knowing the different motivations of individuals, professionals can try to eliminate prejudice via different methods.

“High internal/high external individuals are not good at responding without bias so what they need is help learning to respond without bias. They already have the motivation; we need to give them the skills,” Devine says. “For the high external individuals, we need to create internal motivation. That is what will rid them of prejudice over time.”

Devine’s latest research shows external motivation pushes can cause negative backlash in society, especially on college campuses.

“The low internal/high external individuals, on a campus like this, receive a lot of pressure, and not in a gentle way. People say ‘The way you think is wrong and people who like you are stupid.’ You start to get irritated and you push the message away,” Devine says. “That is one of the things I worry about: backlash. The harder non-prejudiced norms are pushed on them, the more they cement their walls of resistance. For such individuals, reducing prejudice requires finding ways to crack those walls of resistance.”

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As for Devine, although the possibility of a black president shows a growth in prejudice reduction, she sees 25 more years of puzzle-fitting in her future.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.”

For some posts examining the the role of implicit associations in elections, see “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,”Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,”The Situation of Political Animals,” “Political Psychology in 2008,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist,” and “The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters.”

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 Conflict, Implicit Associations, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Categorically Biased – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 3, 2008

Ron Chen and Situationist contributor Jon Hanson recently posted their article, “Categorically Biased: The Influence of Knowledge Structures on Law and Legal Theory” (77 S. Calif. L. Rev. 1103) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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This Article focuses primarily on one slice of social psychology and social cognition research, namely the vast and vibrant field examining the integral role that knowledge structures play in the way we attend to, remember, and draw inferences about information we encounter and, more generally, the way we make sense of our world.

The human system of processing information is, in many cases, an efficient means of understanding our worlds and ourselves. Classification of people, objects, and other stimuli is often both indispensable and ineluctable. Still, as social psychologists have demonstrated, “virtually any of the properties of schematic functioning that are useful under some circumstances will be liabilities under others.” The categories and schemas that operate, usually automatically, influence all aspects of information processing – from what information we focus on, to how we encode that information, to which features of that information we later retrieve and remember, and to how we draw inferences and solve problems based on that information. Given the unconscious and biasing influence of our schemas, combined with the fact that our schemas themselves will often reflect our unconscious motives, we should be mindful, even distrustful, of our schemas and the conclusions that they generate. These effects, the processes that drive them, and the biases they engender are the primary subject of this Article. A central goal is to offer a broad understanding of how individuals utilize categories, schemas, and scripts to help make sense of their worlds. In doing so, we serve another main objective: to provide a comprehensive (yet manageable) synthesis of a vast body of social psychology literature. This overview shold transform how we make sense of our laws and legal-theoretic world.

Part II of this Article is devoted to describing the significance of knowledge structures. Part III briefly summarizes how legal scholars have thus far applied insights about knowledge structures and argues that their most profound implications have yet to be appreciated. Part III then provides a set of predictions regarding the influence of knowledge structures and the biases they likely engender for legal theories and laws.

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To download a copy of the paper for free, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Illusions, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Body Image

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 2, 2008

Lara Croft Tom RaiderUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison professor Madeline Fisher, an expert on the psychology of nutrition, recently wrote an interesting piece that connects the media’s portrayal of women’s body image with eating disorders. We excerpt the piece below.

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As France’s parliament considers a landmark bill that would outlaw media images glamorizing the extremely thin, psychology researchers are reporting some of the most definitive findings yet on how these images affect women.

In the May issue of Psychological Bulletin, University of Wisconsin-Madison postdoctoral researcher Shelly Grabe and psychology professor Janet Hyde describe a sweeping analysis of 77 previous studies involving more than 15,000 subjects. In it, they found that exposure to media depicting ultra-thin actresses and models significantly increased women’s concerns about their bodies, including how dissatisfied they felt and their likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors, such as excessive dieting.

Although on one level the results seem obvious, Grabe believes many people still resist the idea that a societal influence, like the media, can have a real impact on how women view themselves. When individual experiments have found this relationship in the past, she explains, critics have often dismissed them for focusing on groups of particularly body-conscious women, such as college students, or exposing test subjects to unusually racy photos.

Grabe and Hyde, in contrast, analyzed data from every well-designed study on the topic they could find, thus avoiding much of this criticism.

“We’ve demonstrated that it doesn’t matter what the exposure is, whether it’s general TV watching in the evening, or magazines, or ads showing on a computer,” says Grabe. “If the image is appearance-focused and sends a clear message about a woman’s body as an object, then it’s going to affect women.”

The effect also appears to be growing. The researchers’ analysis reveals that, on average, studies conducted in the 2000s show a larger influence of the media on women’s body image than do those from the 1990s, says Grabe.

“This suggests that despite all our efforts to teach women and girls to be savvy about the media and have healthy body practices, the media’s effect on how much they internalize the thin ideal is getting stronger,” she says.

Vogue Cover August 2005

The results are troubling because recent research has established body dissatisfaction as a major risk factor for low self-esteem, depression, obesity, and eating disorders, such as bulimia. At the same time, women’s displeasure with their bodies has become so common that it’s now considered normal, says Grabe. She hopes that wider recognition of the media’s role will encourage people to see the issue as a societal one, rather than as a problem of individual women as it’s viewed now.

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So, what’s the answer? The French government may try to control the media, but don’t women also need to learn to be a little less concerned with their looks?

Grabe replies that the issue lies not with our attraction to images of beauty or with women’s desire to emulate them, but with what we’ve come to define as beautiful: bodies that are unnaturally and unhealthily thin.

“I want to stress that it’s totally normal for women to want to be attractive,” says Grabe. “But what’s happening in our society is that many women are striving toward something that’s not very realistic or obtainable, and that leads to a lot of health consequences.

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To read the rest of the article, click here.

For some related Situationist posts, see Hey Dove! Talk to YOUR parent!,” Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice,” “Prejudice Against the Obese and Some of its Situational Sources,” “Spas and Girls,” and “Fitting in and Sizing up.”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Life, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of Metaphor

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 1, 2008

Over on We’re Only Human, Wray Herbert has another one of his superb posts, this one about the situtational sources of temperature-based metaphors — and the association of cold and lonely. Here’s a sample.

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Psychologists are curious about this metaphor, and others. Some believe that metaphors are much more than literary conventions, indeed that they are constellations of ancient and recent experience that we use to help us comprehend the complexity of our emotional lives. According to this view, metaphors are readily available because they are deep-wired into our neurons.

But how did they get there? Two psychologists at the University of Toronto decided to explore this question in the laboratory. Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli wanted to see if our use of metaphor in thinking and judgment might be influenced by our most basic perceptions of the world—the information that enters the brain through the senses. Our ancient ancestors probably linked warmth and togetherness by necessity, as do infants still; bodily warmth often means comfort and survival. Might cold and isolation be similarly linked in the mind?

Here’s how the psychologists tested the idea. They divided a group of volunteers in two, and had half of them recall a personal experience in which they had been socially excluded—rejection from a club, for example. This was meant to “prime” their unconscious feelings of isolation and loneliness. The others recalled a happier experience, one in which they had been accepted into a group.

Then they had all the volunteers estimate the temperature in the room, on the pretense that the building’s maintenance staff wanted that information. . . . Those who had been primed to feel isolated and rejected gave consistently lower estimates of the temperature, by almost five degrees. In other words, the recalled memories of being ostracized actually made people experience the world as colder.

. . . . In another experiment, instead of relying on volunteers’ memories, the researchers actually triggered feelings of exclusion. They had the volunteers play a computer-simulated ball tossing game, but the game was actually rigged. Some of the volunteers tossed the ball around in a normal friendly way, but others were left out, just as an unpopular kid might be left out by other kids at the playground.

Afterwards, all the volunteers rated the desirability of certain drinks and foods: hot coffee, crackers, an ice-cold Coke, an apple, and hot soup. The findings were striking. As reported in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science, the “unpopular” volunteers who had been ostracized on the virtual “playground” were much more likely than the others to want either hot soup or coffee. Their preference for warmth, for “comfort food,” presumably resulted from actually feeling the cold in the cold shoulder.

It appears that physical sensations and abstract psychological experience are tightly intertwined, and that intertwining may explain the power and appeal of metaphor. But it may also illuminate the relationship between our very real moods and our perceptions of the world around us. Experiencing cold may actually act as a catalyst in mood disorders, the psychologists suggest, exacerbating feelings of isolation and lonelines.

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To read all of Herbert’s superb post, click here. To download a pdf of Zhong and Leonardelli’s article, click here.

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

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