The Situationist

Archive for January, 2009

Gender and the Law – Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 31, 2009

“Gender and the Law: Unintended Consequences, Unsettled Questions”

Thursday, March 12, 2009–Friday, March 13, 2009Thursday 2–5 p.m., Friday 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Radcliffe Gymnasium, 10 Garden Street, Radcliffe Yard, 617-495-8600
Registration is required by Monday, March 2.
Click here to register.

This event is free and open to the public.

Download a printable poster for this event.

Unsettled questions of gender and the law present a broad range of challenges in courtrooms, legislatures, and everyday lives. Laws meant to protect or promote gender equality may have unintended consequences, and laws that seem irrelevant to gender may nonetheless significantly impact gender issues. This conference will convene judges; legal practitioners; and scholars of law, the humanities, and the social sciences from around the world to explore the ways in which legal regulations and gender influence each other. From varying historical and cultural perspectives, participants will address legal encounters with gender in the essential spaces of daily life: the body, the home, school, work, the nation, and the world.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

2 p.m. Welcome and Introduction

Barbara J. Grosz, Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

2:15 p.m. Session I: Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Conversation with Linda Greenhouse

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court
Linda Greenhouse ’68, Knight Distinguished Journalist-in-Residence and Joseph M. Goldstein Senior Fellow in Law, Yale Law School

3:15 p.m. Break
3:30 p.m. Session II: Gender and Schooling

Convener: Martha Minow, Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Panelists: Katharine T. Bartlett, A. Kenneth Pye Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law
Lenora Lapidus, Director, Women’s Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union
Sandra L. Lynch, Chief Judge, US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Kimberly Jenkins Robinson, Associate Professor of Law, Emory University School of Law

5 p.m. Reception

Friday, March 13, 2009

9 a.m. Session III: The Market, the Family, and Economic Power

Convener: Janet Halley, Royall Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Panelists: Beshara Doumani RI ’08, Associate Professor of Middle East History, University of California at Berkeley
Gillian Lester, Sidley Austin Visiting Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and Professor of Law, UC Berkeley School of Law
Vicki Schultz RI ’01, Ford Foundation Professor of Law and the Social Sciences, Yale Law School
Chantal Thomas, Professor of Law, Cornell University Law School

10:15 a.m. Break
10:30 a.m. Roundtable Discussion: The Market, the Family, and Economic Power (Session III continued)

Convener: Margaret H. Marshall, Chief Justice, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Panelists: Lisa Duggan, Professor of American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies, New York University
Alice Kessler-Harris RI ’02, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History and Professor in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Columbia University
Sharon Rabin-Margalioth, Professor of Law, Radzyner School of Law at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya (Israel), and Global Visiting Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
Ying Sun, Senior Consultant, Trainer, and Program Manager, TAOS Network (China)
Philomila Tsoukala, Visiting Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center
Mona Zulficar, Senior Partner, Shalakany Law Office (Egypt)

12:30 p.m. Break
1:45 p.m. Session IV: Gendered Bodies, Legal Subjects

Convener: Jeannie Suk, Assistant Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Panelists: Karen Engle, Cecil D. Redford Professor in Law, University of Texas School of Law
Hauwa Ibrahim RI ’09, 2008–2009 Rita E. Hauser Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Defense Lawyer, Aries Law Firm (Nigeria)
Cecilia Medina Quiroga, Codirector, University of Chile Human Rights Center, and President, Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law, Columbia Law School

3:30 p.m. Break
3:45 p.m. Session V: Gendered States of Citizenship

Convener: Jacqueline Bhabha, Director, Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies; Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School; and Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Panelists: Lauren Berlant, George M. Pullman Professor of English, University of Chicago
Brenda Marjorie Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond, Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, House of Lords (United Kingdom)
Linda K. Kerber RI ’03, May Brodbeck Professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, University of Iowa
Ayelet Shachar, Professor of Law and Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Citizenship and Multiculturalism, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Reva Siegel, Deputy Dean and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law, Yale Law School

5:30 p.m. Concluding Remarks

Posted in Events, Law | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

PlmsTube for Situationist Videos

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 30, 2009

PlmsTube Logo Small

Thanks to the outstanding work of Sara Igl, The Project on Law and Mind Sciences is proud to announce the creation of PlmsTube – a YouTube channel containing our own videos and collections of our favorites from elsewhere (many of which are also available on the multimedia page of the Project’s website). PlmsTube is a work in progress and we hope you’ll consider subscribing so that you receive notice of new videos as they become available.  Click here to take a look.

Posted in Video | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Ugly See, Ugly Do

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 29, 2009

In an article titled “Supermarket Trolleys Make Us Behave Badly,” Anjana Ahuja summarizes a fascinating study about the subconscious effects of disorder.  Here are some excerpts.

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The Cialdini effect might sound like a new mind-control trick from the illusionist Derren Brown, but it is more sinister than that. It is indeed a mind-control trick, but one that requires no tricksy showman to pull it off.

If, like me, you have ever abandoned a shopping trolley in a messy supermarket car park, then you have fallen under its subtly destructive spell and you have only your subconcious to blame.

The effect takes its name from Robert Cialdini, a American psychology professor who wrote a groundbreaking book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. This was no pap psychology book; it was, appropriately enough, a highly influential work that continues to shape social psychology, that mesmerising scientific discipline which examines the sometimes irrational way we behave in our relationships with others. Cialdini showed, among other things, that people do what they see others doing, even when they know they shouldn’t.

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Now a Dutch study has shown that the Cialdini effect is only the start of our troubles. People can actually be steered into criminal behaviour, such as stealing, simply by tinkering with their environment. In fact, the scientists claim, if you know what psychological buttons to press, you can make antisocial behaviour spread like a contagious disease. The paper, which has gone virtually unnoticed beyond the academic community, should be read by anyone who cares how and why people disobey the rules of civil society.

It seems common sense that a litter-strewn, graffiti-spattered environment will suffer more petty criminality than a pristine one. . . . But, surprisingly, it has never been proven beyond reasonable doubt . . . .

And so Kees Keizer and a team of behavioural scientists from the University of Groningen designed some experiments that could settle the matter, all to be conducted secretly on Dutch streets. In the first set-up, they chose an alley near a shopping centre where people park their bikes. In the middle of the alley stood a large No Graffiti sign. Dr Keizer’s team looped flyers over the bikes’ handlebars; any cyclist would need to remove the flyer before pedalling away. Given there were no rubbish bins, would the cyclists take their litter home, or drop it on the ground? The scientists took up their spying positions, and waited.

When the alley walls were clean, 33 per cent of cyclists dropped the flyer on the pavement or put it on another bike (both counted as littering). When the scientists added graffiti and repeated the experiment on another day, 69 per cent of the cyclists littered, a far bigger difference than would be expected by chance. Could it be possible that one sign of disorder, graffiti, was triggering another undesirable behaviour, littering?

So they tested the theory another way, this time in a supermarket car park and using flyers shoved under windscreen wipers. When the car park was tidy, with all the shopping trolleys put away, 30 per cent dropped the flyers on the ground. When the car park looked chaotic, with four shopping trolleys strewn around (their handles smeared with petroleum jelly to deter shoppers from grabbing them and thus ruining the experiment), 58 per cent littered.

Despoiling the environment is one thing; stealing quite another. Dr Keizer’s team left an envelope hanging out of a postbox; the stamped and addressed envelope had a window through which could clearly be seen a five-euro note. How would passers-by, or those posting a letter, react when they saw it? The vast majority (87 per cent) either left it alone, or pushed it into the postbox. Only 13 per cent took it away (this was regarded as stealing).

But roughing up the environment had a dramatic effect. When the postbox was tagged with graffiti, 27 per cent of people stole the letter. When the postbox was surrounded by rubbish (but not graffitied), 25 per cent pocketed the cash.

The academics, who reported their startling results last month in Science, suggest that disorder does indeed beget disorder; when one social or legal norm is obviously violated, we are tempted to loosen our grip on others. Or, as Dr Keizer writes in the more precise language of psychology: “The most likely interpretation of these results is… that one disorder (graffiti or littering) actually fostered a new disorder (stealing) by weakening the goal of acting appropriately… The mere presence of graffiti more than doubled the number of people littering and stealing.”

Exactly why our capacity to act honourably melts away in nasty settings is a mystery. Dr Keizer speculates that, when the instinct to act appropriately is pushed to one side, competing instincts – such as to do what feels good or to give in to greed – take over. If we can see that bad behaviour has gone unpunished, perhaps we feel that our own lapses will go uncensured.

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To read the entire article, click here. To listen to a 22-minute interview of Robert Cialdini, click here.

For some related Situationist posts, see “The Situationist Overwhelmed with Visitors, Return Later if Necessary,” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” and Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness.

Posted in Choice Myth, Illusions, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Legal Judgments – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 28, 2009

Scales of JusticeBarbara O’Brien and Daphna Oyserman recently posted a draft of their paper, “It’s Not Just What You Think But Also How You Think About it: The Effect of Situationally Primed Mindsets on Legal Judgments and Decision Making” (forthcoming in 92 Marquette L. Rev. (2008)) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Lawyers intuitively understand that individual differences matter for legal judgments and decision making, and that calling forth certain concepts can affect how people interpret and judge evidence. But they generally overlook the influence of mindset on those very same judgments–that is, they fail to consider how situational cues can prime a way of making sense of the world that affects how people perceive evidence and receive arguments. We present two studies demonstrating the effect of priming a particular type of mindset–a focus on either achieving success or avoiding failure–on attitudes about criminal justice policy and willingness to take action based on limited evidence in a criminal case. We then discuss other mindsets that are potentially relevant to legal judgments and decision making, offering hypotheses about their likely effects and highlighting the need for further empirical research.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Emotions, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Economist Stephen Marglin Thinking about Thinking Like an Economist

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 27, 2009

Dismal Science MarglinHarvard economist Stephen Marglin is one of the confirmed presenters at the Third Annual Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference (titled “The Free-Market Mindset:  History, Psychology, and Consequences” and scheduled for March 7, 2009).  Marglin’s recent work, as summarized on his website, focuses

“on the foundational assumptions of economics and how these assumptions make community invisible to economists. This work, reflected in his latest book, The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community (Harvard University Press, 2008), attempts to counter the aid and comfort these assumptions give to those who would construct a world in the image of economics, a world ultimately without community.”

Here are two videos in which Professor Marglin summarizes some of his work.

From ForaTV:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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From YouTube:

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To learn more about the PLMS conference or to register, click here.  To read some related Situationist posts, see “Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking” and “Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.”

Posted in Events, Ideology, Legal Theory, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Social Tuning and Ideology – Part 2

Posted by Al Sahlstrom on January 26, 2009

Curtis Hardin is one of the authors of Shared Reality, System Justification, and the Relational Basis of Ideological Beliefs, an article that examines the relationship between affiliative motives and ideology.  I recently spoke with Professor Hardin about that work.  (For additional background on this research and shared reality theory, see Part 1.)

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Al Sahlstrom: Could you please briefly discuss the background of this research – 
what is social tuning and in what contexts have psychologists 
previously studied it?

Curtis Hardin: The observation that people can and do tune their attitudes toward the ostensible attitudes of others is an old and persistent one—dating at least to the dialogues of Plato (including The Republic and others). It is there at the inception of empirical psychology in the work of Wundt and Freud and James. It is there at the beginning of social psychology in the work of Sherif, Adorno, Lewin, Allport, and Asch. The problem of tuning in opinion surveys about racism, for example in which respondents expressed less racism toward black than white interviewers in the 1960s and 1970s, is arguably the precipitating finding that inspired the development of unobtrusive measures of prejudice including measures of implicit and automatic prejudice. The use of the term “tuning” was coined (I believe!) by Tory Higgins and colleagues in their “communication game” work that formally situated individual information-processing in social dynamics. Tuning and “anti-tuning” of this type as well as tuning-like phenomena captured in the classical social psychological literature formed one kind of evidence we have argued supports shared reality theory (Hardin & Higgins, 1996; Hardin & Conley, 2001).

AS: How does social tuning occur?  Is it something that everyone does? 
Is it limited by situation or subject matter?

CH: Social tuning is so ubiquitous that many explanations have been forwarded for it, ranging from bald conformity all the way to tacit, automatized management of common ground in face-to-face conversation. It is certain that depending on the circumstance, any number of explanations could be in operation. That said, from the perspective of shared reality theory, social tuning of the type captured in the research we’ve shown you now is ubiquitous. According to shared reality theory, being engaged in an interpersonal relationship requires modulation of “shared reality” (which is evidenced by social tuning). The direction and magnitude of this kind of social tuning is very much determined by the quality of the relationship as well as which attitudes and experiences are either situationally or chronically relevant to that relationship. Our group hasn’t systematically studied subject matter as a potential moderating variable, but we do find that the degree to which the particular attitude is perceived to be relevant to the effective relationship very much qualifies whether tuning will occur and the direction in which it occurs.

AS: Your research approaches political ideology as something that is 
influenced by motivational processes.  How does social tuning fit into 

CH: In my view, research animated by system justification theory has focused most on epistemic and existential motivations. What we have begun to do—both in the Jost, Ledgerwood, & Hardin paper as well as experiments currently being done in my lab—is explore the possibility that another motivation for system justification may be relational. Corresponding to shared reality research, we’re starting to find evidence of both chronic relationship concerns in system justification as well as new or situationally relevant relationship concerns.

AS: Please tell me a little about the research you’re currently 
conducting on social tuning and political ideology.  What exactly are 
you looking at and what have you found so far?

CH: Broadly, many experiments in my laboratory are exploring how individual experience at a given moment reflects a kind of tension among more than one interpersonal relationship, including immediate relationships and long-term relationships. We’ve been working on this in a variety of ways. For example, we’ve found that automatic homophobic attitudes are greater after an interaction with an ostensibly gay than straight experimenter but only for participants who say they have no gay friends. In another line of experiments, we’ve found that unconscious threats to religious experience reduce explicit religious commitment, but only for participants who believe that they do not share their religious experience with their fathers. For participants who do perceive their religious experience to be shared, the unconscious threat is met with increased religious commitment. In yet another line of experiments, we’ve found that although people will become more anti-black when they’ve been included versus excluded in a game played with ostensible racists, the effect reverses when participants have been experimentally induced to be extra motivated to engage with the racists. We’ve found analogous effects on self-judgment as a function of the ostensible gender traditionality of people who include versus exclude participants.

AS: What do you think might be the limits of these effects?  How stable 
are they?  What factors might amplify or mitigate these effects (e.g. 
duration and consistency of exposure to the tuning group)?

CH: Very interesting questions we’ve not yet explored systematically. According to shared reality theory, social engagement (e.g., affiliative motivation) elicits shared reality (e.g., social tuning). Our research shows that such effects of an immediate relationship are moderated by the relation between that shared reality and potentially competing shared realities held in chronic or long-term relationships. But we haven’t attempted to study what makes some relationships more or less “strong” vis-à-vis shared reality. There would be a variety of ways to model this. My preference—that is, until it proves untenable!—would be that the strength of a given attitude would be determined by some simple function of (a) the number of relationships in which the attitude is shared, (b) the stability of the relationships involved, and (c) the salience of those relationships. For example, sharing reality in a new relationship would be inhibited to the degree that that shared reality is incompatible with existing relationships and to the extent that the existing relationships are stable and to the extent that those relationships are cognitively salient. As for the duration of social tuning effects, evidence across social psychology suggests to me that they are unlikely to be very stable. People are very adaptable to changing social circumstances—from situation to situation, relationship to relationship, and even within situations and particular relationships as they evolve.

AS: I think it’s safe to say many of us assume that ideology is 
something that we develop rationally.  What implications would you say 
your research has on this idea?

CH: Good questions. I don’t think ideology is rational in the sense that for most people it is logically coherent. Nor do I believe that ideology is rational in the sense that it primarily a product of deep or broad conscious thinking. I do believe ideological thinking is rational in the sense that it is adaptive for humans in evolutionary senses. That said, I do not think research I’ve personally been involved in bears terribly strongly on these questions. To show that unconscious processes influence ideology does not preclude ideology from operating consciously as well. To show that ideology is somewhat malleable is not to show that it is either illogical or evolutionarily adaptive. Those would be interesting avenues to pursue, however.

AS: What purpose does tuning serve in this context?  Do you see it as 
having a positive or a negative impact?


We’ve identified some of the functions of social tuning in the research discussed above. Whether it’s positive or negative depends on who is tuning to whom on what dimension to what effect for whom! Like any other aspect of human psychology, it’s both positive and negative. One of the burdens of the scientist is to identify as clearly as possible the who-what-when-why of it.

AS: What research do you have planned for the future?

CH: One thing I’m very interested in is extending research we’ve done suggesting that religious experience is animated by shared reality processes to cases in which religion operates ideologically.

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Curtis D. Hardin, Ph.D, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.  His research focuses on the interpersonal foundations of cognition, including the self-concept, social identification, and prejudice.  He recently authored an article with John Jost and Alison Ledgerwood discussing the relational basis of ideological beliefs (available in PDF here).

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Life, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Social Tuning and Ideology – Part 1

Posted by Al Sahlstrom on January 25, 2009

The dominant view of ideology is that it is something that individuals consciously, rationally form.  In this mold, ideology is something pure that exists for its own reasons.  It is not a means to an end, unless that end is implementation of policy that reflects the most accurate evaluation of the world around us.  It does not, or at least should not, change based on different situations.  Nevertheless, there is reason to believe that unconscious, automatic processes and social psychological factors are connected to ideology.

One theoretical perspective that sheds light on this connection is shared reality theory.  Shared reality theory proposes the idea that particular cognitions are founded on and regulated by particular interpersonal relationships, and that particular cognitions in turn regulate interpersonal relationship dynamics.  In other words, there is evidence that our associations with others might have a meaningful impact on our internal thought processes and vice-versa.  Our social interactions may in fact serve a crucial psychological function by creating a common (or shared) view of reality that lends a sense of objectivity to otherwise transitory and subjective individual experience.  One theoretical means through which we establish shared reality is “social tuning,” through which we bring relationship-relevant attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors into harmony with those of others with whom we either wish to be close or must be close.  Ideology is particularly implicated in these processes, both due to its salience and because ideologies can function as “prepackaged” sets of beliefs that are useful for establishing where we stand in relation to others and their perspectives.

While shared reality theory and the possibility that people might actually “tune” their beliefs based on their relationships does not mean that ideology is arbitrary, it does undermine traditional dispositionist assumptions about the centrality of the individual as a rational decision-maker.  Our responses to situations that implicate our religious or political views involve automatic processes that are permeable and susceptible to the influence of those around us.  Our level of commitment to a given idea can vary depending on how we are experimentally primed.  Rather than occupying a consecrated position above other opinions, trends, and inclinations, it is possible that ideology can be as unconsciously driven and impacted by situational pressures as preferences that are given considerably less weight.  The full impact of these phenomena is likely to become clearer as social psychologists continue to explore our need for shared reality with others and its relationship with our view of the world around us.

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For more on the relationship between affiliative processes and ideology, read Part 2, which contains my interview of Curtis Hardin.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Networks” and “Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Ideology, Life, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

Stereotype Lift – The Obama Effect

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 24, 2009

From Sam Dillon’s article, titled “Study Sees an Obama Effect as Lifting Black Test-Takers,” in yesterday’s New York Times.
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. . . [R]esearchers have documented what they call an Obama effect, showing that a performance gap between African-Americans and whites on a 20-question test administered before Mr. Obama’s nomination all but disappeared when the exam was administered after his acceptance speech and again after the presidential election.

The inspiring role model that Mr. Obama projected helped blacks overcome anxieties about racial stereotypes that had been shown, in earlier research, to lower the test-taking proficiency of African-Americans, the researchers conclude in a report summarizing their results.

“Obama is obviously inspirational, but we wondered whether he would contribute to an improvement in something as important as black test-taking,” said Ray Friedman, a management professor at Vanderbilt University, one of the study’s three authors. “We were skeptical that we would find any effect, but our results surprised us.”

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Dr. Friedman and his fellow researchers, David M. Marx, a professor of social psychology at San Diego State University, and Sei Jin Ko, a visiting professor in management and organizations at Northwestern, have submitted their study for review to The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Dr. Friedman said.

“It’s a very small sample, but certainly a provocative study,” said Ronald F. Ferguson, a Harvard professor who studies the factors that have affected the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students, which shows up on nearly every standardized test. “There is a certainly a theoretical foundation and some empirical support for the proposition that Obama’s election could increase the sense of competence among African-Americans, and it could reduce the anxiety associated with taking difficult test questions.”

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In the study made public on Thursday, Dr. Friedman and his colleagues compiled a brief test, drawing 20 questions from the verbal sections of the Graduate Record Exam, and administering it four times to about 120 white and black test-takers during last year’s presidential campaign.

In total, 472 Americans — 84 blacks and 388 whites — took the exam. Both white and black test-takers ranged in age from 18 to 63, and their educational attainment ranged from high school dropout to Ph.D.

On the initial test last summer, whites on average correctly answered about 12 of 20 questions, compared with about 8.5 correct answers for blacks, Dr. Friedman said. But on the tests administered immediately after Mr. Obama’s nomination acceptance speech, and just after his election victory, black performance improved, rendering the white-black gap “statistically nonsignificant,” he said.

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To read the entire article, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts discussing stereotype threat, see “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” The Gendered Situation of Science and Math,” “Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Education | Tagged: , | 6 Comments »

Tom Tyler on “Strategies of Social Control” – Video

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 23, 2009


At the 2007 Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference, Tom Tyler’s presentation was titled “Strategies of Social Control: Motivating Rule Adherence in Organizational Settigings.” Here is the abstract for his talk.

Recent examples of abuse of authority have occurred in two types of organizational settings: corporations and the armed forces.  What strategies can be used to bring behavior in such settings into line with rules and policies about appropriate conduct?  Dr.  Tyler will talk about the value of self-regulatory approaches, examining whether they work and how to make them effective.  He will illustrate his arguments using data collected in two contexts: in a multinational corporate bank and among agents of social control (e.g., police officers, federal agents, and infantry soldiers). 

Below you can watch a video of Tyler’s fascinating presentation (in 3 roughly 9-minute videos).

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To watch similar videos, visit the video libraries on the Project on Law and Mind Sciences website (here).

For information on the Third PLMS conference (scheduled for March 7, 2009), click here.

Posted in Ideology, Law, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Implicit Associations – Podcast

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 22, 2009

Undecided Voter

From the Science Podcast: Robert Frederick interviews Bertram Gawronski on how automatic mental associations predict future choices.

“Bertram Gawronski and colleagues report that they could predict the decision of 70% of those who indicated they were undecided about a controversial political issue. The prediction was based on testing people’s automatic mental associations, or how quickly people responded to and correctly categorized images and words. The results indicate that decision makers often already have made up their mind at an unconscious level, even when they consciously report they are still undecided.”

Open the file here or link to Science Podcast page here.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Implicit Associations, Podcasts, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Choice Worth Having

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 21, 2009

Barry SchwartzRenowned social psychologist Barry Schwartz has begun writing a blog for the Psychology Today web site called “The Choices Worth Having.”

Professor Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College.  He studies the relationship between economics and psychology, delivering startling insights into modern life.  In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, for example, Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression?  Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable.

On his new blog, Schwartz is writing about various issues of public concern offering his insightful perspective as a psychologist interested in the intersection of psychology and economics.  Please have a look (here), and share some of his posts with anyone who you think might be interested.  We look forward to reading his posts, and we’re confident that our readers will agree that the new blog is one of The Choices Worth Having.

Here are some excerpts from Professor Schwartz’s terrific first post, titled “A New Council of Psychological Advisors for President Obama?

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After President Barack Obama figures out how to bring the economy out of recession, stabilize financial institutions, end two wars, and get every citizen health insurance, there is something else that he should consider: The United States needs a Council of Psychological Advisors.

This new body would parallel and complement the Council of Economic Advisors. When economists have the president’s ear, all their whispers concern incentives and self-interest. We need psychologists whispering in his other ear, about the economy, education, healthcare, and more.

On the Economy—Understand the “Irrational” Where did our financial institutions go wrong? Many accounts focus on greed, fear, and lack of trust. And why did things get so out of hand? Why was there a housing “bubble”? Somehow, “irrational exuberance” (Robert Schiller) or “animal spirits” (John Maynard Keynes) overwhelmed rational calculations of risk and reward. And it isn’t just that irrational optimism, or even blindness to market fundamentals, gets the better of our rational faculties. Rather, as George Soros has pointed out, these psychological phenomena can become part of a feedback loop that actually changes market fundamentals. “Reflexivity,” he calls it. The housing bubble was not the first such phenomenon, nor will it be the last.

Economists offer little that helps us understand why such bubbles occur or how they might be prevented. They also have little to tell us about how to prevent a “downward spiral of negative expectations” that makes fear of an economic downturn self-fulfilling. Economists largely make assumptions about the rationality of human decision-making and proceed from there. Witness Alan Greenspan’s recent admission that he was mistaken in assuming that markets operate rationally and efficiently. The current crisis makes it clear that ignoring the real psychology of greed, fear, trust, and irrational enthusiasm (0r pessimism) can be perilous. Economists offer little that helps us understand why such bubbles occur or how they might be prevented. A Council of Psychological Advisors could help.

On Education—More than Just Carrots and Sticks: One of President Obama’s top priorities is to improve the quality of American education. This will require recruiting and retaining excellent teachers and finding ways to motivate students. How can this worthy goal be achieved? At the moment, we’re pointing in the direction of school choice and competition to produce better schools, higher pay to produce better teachers, big tests to monitor their performance, and financial incentives to motivate students. A bunch of carrots and sticks. Will these kinds of measures be enough? Research in psychology suggests not. More important than pay (as long as it is adequate) are working conditions that allow teachers to be flexible, autonomous, and creative in their work with students, and that provide teachers with a sense that they are working in a community that has a common purpose. From this perspective, the regimentation of instruction ushered in by big-test accountability is actually counter-productive. And so is the move, now being tried in pilot projects around the country, to pay students for showing up to class and for getting good grades. A Council of Psychological Advisors could help design environments that encourage students to pursue mastery rather than money and teachers to view their work as a calling.

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Moving Beyond GDP: Finally, let us ask the most fundamental question: what is public policy for? We aim to increase collective welfare, but just what does welfare consist in? For the most part, under the sway of economic thinking, our aim has been to make the country more prosperous-to increase per capita GDP. The appeal of this goal is two-fold. First, we assume that if people are richer, they will be freer to choose as individuals the objects and activities that serve their welfare. We (the state and its technocrats) don’t have to choose for them. So wealth serves as a proxy for everything else. And second, GDP can be measured. But like a drunk looking under a lamp post for his car keys, even though he dropped them someplace else (because “that’s where the light is”), it doesn’t help much to pursue what you can measure if what you’re measuring is the wrong thing. It doesn’t help to get better at achieving goals if you’re achieving the wrong goals. Much research in the psychology of well being suggests that some wealth-enhancing policies improve welfare, but others do not. Indeed, some of what it takes to get more prosperous may be counterproductive when it comes to well being. A Council of Psychological Advisors can help here too, in the design of a system of national “psychological accounts” that does a better job of measuring well being than per capita GDP ever could.

Many of us hold out the hope that the coming Obama administration will mark a return to respect for knowledge and expertise. Agencies will be run and staffed not by political cronies, or by people who “just know in their gut” what needs to be done, or by ideologues, but by people who actually have respect for evidence. It would be a shame to bring experts on board in existing agencies, only to have them have to rely on personal intuition rather than knowledge in formulating policies and making decisions that could benefit from psychological expertise. A Council of Psychological Advisors is long overdue. This would be an excellent time to create one.

* * *

To read the entire post, click here.  For a sample of Situationist posts discussing research by Barry Schwartz. click here.

Posted in Blogroll | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

A New Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 20, 2009

From LATimes:

Germany Obama 2008

Posted in Events, Politics | 3 Comments »

The Artistic Situation of U.S. Civil Rights History

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 19, 2009

Sometimes an image needs no explanation, and the cover of the new issue of The Nation seems to fit that description:


For a key to the persons in the portrait, click here.  For a diary by the artist behind the image, click here.

Posted in Events, History | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Situationism

Posted by J on January 18, 2009

mlk1.jpgThis post was originally published on January 22, 2007.

* * *

Monday’s holiday provides an apt occasion to highlight the fact that, at least by my reckoning, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, among other things, a situationist.

To be sure, King is most revered in some circles for quotations that are easily construed as dispositionist, such as: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Taken alone, as it often is, that sentence seems to set a low bar. Indeed, some Americans contend that we’ve arrived at that promised land; after all, most of us (mostly incorrectly) imagine ourselves to be judging people based solely on their dispositions, choices, personalities, or, in short, their characters.

Putting King’s quotation in context, however, it becomes clear that his was largely a situationist message. He was encouraging us all to recognize the subtle and not-so-subtle situational forces that caused inequalities and to question (what John Jost calls) system-justifying ideologies that helped maintain those inequalities.

mlk2.jpgKing’s amazing “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is illustrative. While being held for nine days, King penned a letter in response to the public statement of eight prominent Alabama clergymen who denounced the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations. The prominent clergymen called King an “extremist” and an “outsider,” and “appeal[ed] to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.”

Regarding his “outsider” status, King insisted that the us-and-them categories were flawed, and that any meaningful distinction that might exist among groups was that between persons who perpetrated or countenanced injustice, on one hand, and those who resisted it, on the other:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . .”

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

mlk3.jpgIn describing the injustice itself, King sought to remove the focus from individual behavor and choice to the situational forces and absence of meaningful choice that helped to shape that behavior:

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”

In terms of his methods, too, Dr. King was a situationist. He understood that negotiating outcomes reflected the circumstances much more than the the disposition, of negotiators. The aim of demonstrations was to create a situation in which questions otherwise unasked were brought to the fore, in which injustice otherwise unnoticed was made salient, and in which the weak bargaining positions of the otherwise powerless were collectivized and strengthened:

“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused tocivil-rights-protest.jpg negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. . . . Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”

In the letter, King expressed his frustation, not just with the egregious racists, but also — no, moreso — with the moderates who were willing to sacrifice real justice for the sake of maintaining the illusion of justice. King put it this way:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’ . . . .”

mlk4.jpgAnd King recognized the role that laws could play in maintaining an unjust status quo. Of course, he criticized the laws that literally enforced segregation, but he didn’t stop there. He criticized, too, the seemingly neutral laws, and the purportedly principled methods of interpreting and applying those laws, that could serve as legitimating cover for existing disparities:

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.”

King explained that many churches, too, were implicated in this web of justification — caught up as they were in making sense of, or lessening the sting of, existing arrangements:

“So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.”


So, yes, Reverend King urged us all to help create a world in which people were “not . . . judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But King said much more. He recognized and tried to teach those who would listen that getting to that world would mean examining and challenging the situation — including our beliefs, our laws, our ideologies, our religious beliefs, our institutions, and existing allocations of opportunity, wealth, and power.

Judging those who are disadvantaged by the content of their character is not, taken alone, much of a solution. It may, in fact, be part of the problem. As Kathleen Hanson (my wife) and I recently argued, the problem “is, not in neglecting character, but in attributing to ‘character’ what should be attributed to [a person’s] situation and, in turn, to our system and ourselves.” Or, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, far more effectively: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Take the Policy IAT

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 17, 2009

If you haven’t already (or even if you have), we invite to take, the “Policy IAT.”  We urge  individuals of all political and ideological orientations to participate in the on-line test designed to examine whether and to what extent people have implicit preferences for certain types of policy options.  Please encourage your friends (and, to those of you who are bloggers, your readers) to participate as well.

To learn more or to take the Policy IAT (a roughly 15-minute task), click here.

Posted in Ideology, Implicit Associations, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Bush Frame: Us vs. Them; Good vs. Evil; Intentions vs. Consequences

Posted by J on January 16, 2009

George Bush FarewellPresident Bush’s farewell speech, like most (though not all) of his speeches, was full of dispositionism and largely devoid of situationist insight.

His final remarks were apparently intended to remind and assure us that “we” are dispositionally different from “them” and that our country and its people have an essential character (good) while other countries or individuals within certain other countries have a very different disposition (evil).  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

America is promoting human liberty, human rights, and human dignity. We are standing with dissidents and young democracies, providing AIDS medicine to bring dying patients back to life, and sparing mothers and babies from malaria. And this great republic born alone in liberty is leading the world toward a new age when freedom belongs to all nations.

* * *

As we address these challenges — and others we cannot foresee tonight — America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. This has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right. This nation must continue to speak out for justice and truth. We must always be willing to act in their defense and to advance the cause of peace.

. . . . America is a young country, full of vitality, constantly growing and renewing itself. And even in the toughest times, we lift our eyes to the broad horizon ahead.

I have confidence in the promise of America because I know the character of our people. This is a nation that inspires immigrants to risk everything for the dream of freedom. This is a nation where citizens show calm in times of danger and compassion in the face of suffering. We see examples of America’s character all around us. . . .

* * *

In citizens like these, we see the best of our country — resilient and hopeful, caring and strong. These virtues give me an unshakable faith in America. We have faced danger and trial, and there is more ahead. But with the courage of our people and confidence in our ideals, this great nation will never tire . . . never falter . . . and never fail.

* * *

In September of 2003, when President Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly to justify the preemptive war in Iraq, his tone was similarly dispositionist.

Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: between those who seek order, and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change, and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man, and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children without mercy or shame.  Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground.

If “moral clarity” requires insisting that there are just two forces — good and evil — and that a person or group or country is either one or the other, then I’m against it.  As many others have argued, one need not condone terrorism to attempt to understand the circumstances that would lead to terrorism; and, as far as policy goes, to attribute behavior solely to the person and not at all to the situation may be to treat the symptom and not the disease.  Moral clarity and the dispositionism behind it may simplify decision making, but, as we’ve witnessed, they do not necessarily lead to good or moral decisions.

President Bush seemed eager in his farewell remarks to downplay the consequences of his decisions and, instead, to remind us that he acted with the best of intentions — that, in other words, his disposition was good.  At one point he admitted that “[t]here are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right.”   Again, his focus is on disposition.

To fellow dispositionists, the message struck a chord.  Bill O’Reilly, for instance, had this reaction:

[President Bush] had the best interest of the folks at heart. President Bush is a patriot. He tried to do his best. I’m glad he gave a speech tonight.  We wish President Bush the best. He’s a patriot, a good man and I hope he continues to contribute to the country.

Eric Bolling, also from FOX, echoed that theme, writing: “Like him or not, [President Bush] has always done what he felt was best for us all.”

As did Laura Ingraham (FOX News Contributor):  “This man is a patriot. He’s a good man and he wanted the best for the country.”

Syndicated Columnist Cal Thomas went even further, praising the President  as a “good and decent man,” and then attacking the disposition of those who disapprove of Bush’s performance (that is, most Americans).  According to Thomas:

Democrats read the polls and their primary objective is power. As Bush’s approval numbers started to slip, Democrats ratcheted up their opposition and Bush, a non-ideological president, was unable to counter their bile with his own sense of goodness.

* * *

Part of the problem with the Bush presidency was not him, but us. We don’t like inconvenience, war, or a bad economy. And when we were touched by each of these, we blamed the president for not restoring us quickly to our pursuit of pleasure and material things.     Most television shows do not last as long as the Bush presidency and that’s the other part of the problem. We project more on our presidents than they are able to give. Yet they don’t want to tell us that only we can make our lives better . . . .

I suspect that those who doubt the good intentions of President Bush are few and far between.  In other words, only a relative handful of Americans are claiming that Bush is an evil president.   Such “moral clarity” is lacking — as well it should be.  Good intentions may be desirable, but they are by no means sufficient to make a person a good president.

A situationist perspective does not focus on intentions.  As Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji has argued, our moral obligation is more demanding than that:  “if we haven’t exhausted every opportunity to know whether what we are doing is right, it will be no excuse for us to say that we meant well.”

Ultimately, the public’s lack of confidence in President Bush is not based on a sense that he intended to leave the planet in worse shape than he found it, but that he did so out of ignorance and arrogance and did not “exhaust[] every opportunity to know whether what [he was] doing [was] right.”

But one need not be a situationist to believe that the intentions of policymakers are not the sole measuring stick for the success of the policymakers.  At the conclusion of his pre-war speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush himself admonished: “Our good intentions will be credited only if we achieve good outcomes.”

Considering where we have come since that speech, it is hard to see how one can say we have “achieve[d] good outcomes.”

* * *

To read some related Situationist posts, see “Jeffrey Sachs on Our Situation – Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part V,” “Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet: ‘Guilty’,” “The Situation of Decision Making,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “A Convenient Fiction,” “The Law and Situation of Military Propaganda,” “Um, I don’t make misteaks . . .,”  “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part VI,” and “With God on Our Side . . ..”

Posted in Ideology, Politics, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

The Situation of a Loved One’s Clothes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 15, 2009

women-smelling-clothesInteresting piece by Linda Carroll of MSNBC on how we take comfort in the clothing worn by loved ones.  We excerpt the piece below.

* * *

As many as three-quarters of women say they snuggle with shirts and other clothing worn by someone dear, but not near, researchers reported in a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Even more striking was the data on men: A full two-thirds of men admitted to cuddling with clothing.

To learn more about how ordinary people used body scents to evoke memories, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh rounded up 121 night school students. The students were asked several questions, including whether they’d ever intentionally smelled another person’s clothing to remember or feel closer to him or her, whether they’d ever slept with (or in) another person’s clothing because it smelled like him or her and whether they’d ever given an article of unlaundered clothing to a loved one because it smelled like them.

Although the students mostly reported smelling or sleeping with the clothing of a romantic partner, some said they had also gotten comfort from smelling the clothing of a child or other close relative.

The scent of lovebrokeback-mountain
The findings seem to run counter to what you’d expect from a culture inundated with products designed to obliterate personal scents, from deodorant to mouthwash. Even the researchers were surprised to see how many people use smell to conjure up a loved one’s memory.

“It’s the kind of thing that never really comes up in normal conversation,” says the study’s lead author, Melanie Shoup, now a doctoral student at the State University of New York at Albany. “But when I was going through high school and college, I would wear a boyfriend’s shirt to bed when I was separated from him. And when I asked my friends, they said they had done similar things.”

Some of the study subjects provided specifics, such as a father who smelled his baby daughter’s clothes to feel close to her and a woman whose boyfriend sent unlaundered shirts back from Iraq in plastic bags to preserve his scent.

Students also talked about memories evoked by a dead person’s belongings. People would say that as they were going through a relative’s clothing, the scent on the clothes would suddenly hit them. “It was almost like a presence,” Schoup says.

* * *

To read the rest of the piece, click here.  To read an abstract of the study, click here.  To read other Situationist posts on clothing, click here.

Posted in Emotions, Life | 4 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – November 2008

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 14, 2009

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during November 2008. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

* * *

From BPS Research Digest blog: “Dazzled by digits: how we’re wooed by product specifications

“From megapixels and gigabytes to calorie counts and sun protection factors, there’s barely a product out there that isn’t proudly boasting its enviable specs to would-be purchasers. A new study suggests these figures exert a powerful, irrational effect on consumers’ decision-making, even overriding the influence of a person’s direct experience with a product.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest blog: “Rare, profound positive events won’t make you happy, but lots of little ones

“Rather like a pond that soon returns to calm no matter the size of the stone you throw in it, psychological research has shown that people’s sense of happiness is stubbornly immovable, regardless of how good or bad the experiences one endures. . . . According to Daniel Mochon and colleagues, however, this is not the full story. Mochon’s team have tested the idea that whereas rare, massive events have no lasting effect on happiness, the cumulative effect of lots of little boosts may well have the power to influence happiness over the longer-term.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest blog: We’re better at spotting fake smiles when we’re feeling rejected

“Bernstein’s team provoked feelings of rejection in students by asking them to write about a time they felt rejected or excluded. These students were subsequently better at distinguishing fake from real smiles as depicted in four-second video clips, than were students who’d either been asked to write about a time they felt included, or to write about the previous morning.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology Blog: “Ideology

“You probably hear the word ideology used a lot, whether it is used in political or economic discussions (or in sociology classes). But what does it really mean? Put plainly, ideology is a way of seeing the world. Ideologies are like lenses through which we view just about everything. . . .” Read more . . .

* * *

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

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll, Ideology, Marketing, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mahzarin Banaji’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 13, 2009

Mahzarin Banaji

From the Harvard Crimson, by Weiqi Zhang, here is a fascinating article titled “A Chance Road to Harvard” about the remarkable journey of Situationist contributor Mahzarin Banaji.

* * *

Fifteen-year-old Mahzarin R. Banaji says she dreamed of living the adventurous life of a secretary upon graduating from high school because she believed that further academic pursuit was useless and was thirsting for an independent life away from her home in Secunderabad, India.

But a little less than a decade later—after a series of self-described “fortuitous” events—Banaji found herself a student at Ohio State University, studying for a Ph.D. in social psychology. And in 2002 she became a Harvard professor at the invitation of University President Drew G. Faust, then-dean of the newly-founded Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies.

Today Banaji is the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics in the psychology department, where she has pioneered the study of unconscious prejudice. “Professor Banaji is one of the most celebrated, most cited, and most influential social psychologists of her generation for good reason—her work on unconscious bias has revolutionized how we think about the topic,” Psychology professor Daniel T. Gilbert wrote in an e-mail.

In his best-selling book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell devoted 12 pages to Banaji’s research on the Implicit Association Test, a methodology created by Banaji’s dissertation advisor, Anthony G. Greenwald, in 1994. The test is designed to measure the strength of automatic association and is an important tool in social psychology today.

“Individuals are created and shaped by social circumstances far more than they or their observers are able to recognize,” Banaji wrote in an unpublished biography for the Guggenheim Foundation. “Mainly in retrospect, I see my career as a textbook case of how fortuitous circumstances and responsive bystanders eased the path for my growth.”


After a few late-night talks with her mother, who never attended college herself, Banaji suspended her plans to enter the typing pool and agreed to give college a try for one semester, after which the two agreed that Banaji would be free to choose her own path. That one semester proved to be worthwhile for Banaji. Initially attracted to Nizam College for its co-educational system and proximity to the largest cricket stadium in Hyderabad, Banaji says she found the cosmopolitan social and academic environment a liberating experience. Her ambition of becoming a secretary aborted, she went on to pursue an M.Phil/Ph.D. in general psychology at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Mind-opening as JNU would prove to be, Banaji never finished her study there. “There are few occasions in one’s life when a course of action presents itself with such clarity that there is nothing to do but pursue it,” she wrote in her Guggenheim biography. While she was on the train home from New Delhi for the holidays, Banaji purchased five volumes of the Handbook of Social Psychology edited by Lindzey and Aronson, for five dollars, lured not so much by the books’ content as by their low price. By the time she arrived home 24 hours later, she had already devoured an entire volume. She says the combination of a focus on social process with an experimental approach presented by the book particularly appealed to her.

A year later, Banaji boarded a plane to Columbus, Ohio, leaving the psychophysics and Marxist sociology she had been studying in India behind. After receiving her Ph.D. from Ohio State in social psychology, Banaji traveled around the country as research assistant, instructor, and post-doc fellow in several different institutes, before she finally settled at Yale to study unconscious bias.

When the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Studies was founded in 2001, Banaji accepted the invitation to teach at Harvard, becoming a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Radcliffe.


Reflecting on her unusual career path, Banaji says she is reluctant to use her own life as a model for students. But she says she is a strong advocate for women in science careers.

Her implicit association experiments have shown that even female scientists can unconsciously associate men with terms like “astronomy” and “chemistry” and women with “music” and “history.”

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers once quoted Banaji on unconscious prejudice against women in science, recommending people to visit the Web site for the Implicit Association Test, which is maintained by Banaji and her former student Brian A. Nosek, now a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. Just months before, Summers had made his now-infamous comments that attributed the dearth of women in top science careers to “issues of intrinsic aptitude.”

Knowing this prejudice well, Banaji says she always goes out of her way to support aspiring female students in science.

“For younger women whose identity as women in science is not fully formed, I need to keep an eye out,” Banaji says. “If somebody like that comes along and asks, ‘I wanna give up mathematics for social studies,’ [I would suggest to her] ‘well, hold on, maybe you should go. But maybe you shouldn’t.’”

“As a young woman, I cannot tell you how she has influenced the generations after her,” Dana R. Carney, a former post-doctoral student of Banaji’s, wrote in an e-mail. “She is like the Madonna of our field: masculine, feminine, fierce, warm, irreverent, creative, inspiring.” Carney is now an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. She says she still remembers listening to Banaji’s “mesmerizing” speech as a first year graduate student, five years before she became her post-doc student. “I remember going up to her…and I shook her hand, and I told her that it’s so rare as a young woman you’ve got to model yourself after those people that sort of defy gender stereotype,” Carney recalls. “She is just a scientist. She is not a woman. She is not a man. She is just so inspiring.”


In 2006, Banaji journeyed to Philadelphia to pay tribute to her Ph.D. adviser Greenwald, who was receiving the Distinguished Scientist Award, a prestigious prize given by the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Banaji delivered an address recounting her memory of Greenwald. “It made the entire room of five or six hundred people cry,” Carney says, referring to Banaji’s speech. “It was just mind blowing.”

“Tony Greenwald changed my life,” Banaji says. “He didn’t care what I knew, or how little I knew, or how poor a writer I was…he just wouldn’t let go. If I wrote a draft and I gave it to him he would mark it again, but the 13th draft he would still mark it. Every draft, I saved them all.”

Banaji attributes her pedagogical skill in part to Greenwald, saying that he has had an important impact on how she interacts with her students. Greenwald, however, says he disagrees.

“As a teacher, she has abilities that I barely comprehend,” he wrote in an e-mail. “I have no idea how she acquired her skill, other than to be sure that she didn’t get it from me.”

Greenwald does say that both he and Banaji require their advisees to learn how to thrive while receiving more criticism than praise, as they share the belief that perseverance in the face of criticism is a trait shared by almost all successful scientists.

“She just really had a unique combination of being incredibly rigorous and demanding, but at the same time you knew she supported you and that her heart was with you,” said Curtis D. Hardin, Banaji’s first Ph.D. student and now a professor at Brooklyn College. “For one thing, any paper, from paper in the class to thesis, was met with just incredibly detailed line by line comments, suggestions, questions…this is probably the biggest sign of love because it takes a lot to do that.”

Hardin adds that Banaji and her husband always open their home to graduate students. “She taught me how to cook simple Indian dishes, and we watched elections together. Their company was just so good,” Hardin says. “They knew what it was like to be a starting graduate student.”

Banaji is deeply involved in the undergraduate experience at Harvard, too. As Head Tutor for the Psychology Department, she leads a committee on undergraduate instruction and oversees all students writing theses. She also has three freshman advisees.

“Even though she’s my academic advisor she would talk to me like my old-time friend, and she really cares about how I am doing and my emotional state,” says Nam Hee Kim ’12, one of her advisees.

Looking back, Banaji says that her teaching experience in India at the age of five might have shaped how she communicates with students today. After Banaji and her sister were born, their mother, a school teacher, became unhappy that she had to stay at home and could not teach anymore. She had a carpenter make three small tables and very little chairs, and opened a school in the house.

“I would be home, so I had to deal with all the kids. So my mother would say, ‘you are five years old, you teach this four-year old how to write letters. Every year I was teaching somebody one year younger than I,” Banaji says. “By the time I was eight, I had three years of teaching experience.”

“Now teaching graduate students, you know, is my life,” she adds.

* * *

For a closely related Situationist post, see “The Situation of a Situationist – Mahzarin Banaji.”  Go to Project Implicit here.  Take the Policy IAT here.

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 Classic Experiments, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Well-Being

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2009

In Part II of his 2007 Hitchcock Lectures (titled “Explorations of the Mind – Well-Being: Living and Thinking About It“) , Daniel Kahneman explores meaning and causes of well-being:

* * *

To view Part I of the lecture series, see Dan Kahneman on the Situation of Intuition.” For a collection of videos of Dan Kahneman, click here.  For a sample of other Situationist posts related to Kahneman’s work, see Dan Kahneman’s Situation,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part II.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Emotions, Life, Positive Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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