The Situationist

Archive for March, 2009

The Situational Benefits of Outsiders

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 31, 2009

Dwight Schrute Bobblehead - from Dan H on FlickrFrom BYUNews:

Nobody wants to share a cubicle with a new hire like Dwight Schrute. The beet-farming volunteer sheriff’s deputy/paper salesman creates many awkward moments because of his differences with co-workers on NBC’s “The Office.”

But according to new research co-authored by a Brigham Young University business professor, better decisions come from teams that include a “socially distinct newcomer.”  That’s psychology-speak for someone who is different enough to bump other team members out of their comfort zones.

Researchers noticed this effect after conducting a traditional group problem-solving experiment. The twist was that a newcomer was added to each group about five minutes into their deliberations. And when the newcomer was a social outsider, teams were more likely to solve the problem successfully.

The research is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“One of the most-cited benefits of diversity is the infusion of new ideas and perspectives,” said study co-author Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management. “And while that very often is true, we found the mere presence of a newcomer who is socially distinct can really shake up the group dynamic. That leads to discomfort, but also to a better process that ultimately yields superior outcomes.”

The key factor is simply whether newcomers are distinct in some way from the other group members.

“Remember, socially ‘distinct’ doesn’t necessarily mean socially ‘inept,'” says Liljenquist, whose co-authors on the paper are Northwestern’s Katherine Phillips and Stanford’s Margaret Neale. “Dwight’s upbringing and past work history – in addition to his bobblehead doll collection – all contribute to the measure of diversity he brings to ‘The Office’ melting pot.”

The paper adds a new wrinkle to the wealth of research on teams, says Melissa Thomas-Hunt, associate professor at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management.

“[This research] is groundbreaking in that it highlights that the benefits of disparate knowledge in a team can be unleashed when newcomers actually share opinions of knowledge with old-timers but are socially different,” Thomas-Hunt says. “It is the tension between social dissimilarity and opinion similarity that prompts heightened effectiveness in diverse teams.”

What explains the results?

According to Liljenquist, newcomers in the experiment didn’t necessarily ask tougher questions, possess novel information, or doggedly maintain a conflicting point of view. Just being there was enough to change the dynamic among old-timers who shared a common identity.

When a member of the group discovered that he agreed with the new outsider, he felt alienated from his fellow old-timers – consequently, he was very motivated to explain his point of view on its merits so that his peers wouldn’t lump him in with the outsider.

The person who found himself disagreeing with the in-group – and instead agreeing with an outsider – felt very uncomfortable. An opinion alliance with an outsider put his social ties with other team members at risk.

“Socially, that can be very threatening,” Liljenquist says. “These folks are driven to say, ‘Wait, the fact that I disagree with this outsider doesn’t make me weird. Something more is going on here; let’s figure out what’s at the root of our disagreement.’ The group then tends to analyze differing opinions and critical information much more thoroughly, and that facilitates much better decision-making results.”

Another revelation

The experiment also revealed a fallacy in the assumptions we make about our own effectiveness in groups. The subjects in the experiment were members of different fraternities and sororities. In general, when the newcomer was from the same sorority or fraternity as the other team members, the group reported that it worked well together, but was less likely to correctly solve the problem.

In contrast, when the newcomer was a member of a rival sorority or fraternity, the opposite was true – these groups felt they worked together less effectively, yet they significantly outperformed socially homogenous groups.

“What’s really distinct about this research is that, from a self-reporting perspective, what people perceive to be beneficial turns out to be dead wrong,” Liljenquist says. “The teams that felt they worked least effectively together were ironically the top performers!”

In the workplace

Common “social distinctions” in today’s workplace, Liljenquist says, would include:

  • One employee from accounting working on a team in which everyone else is from sales
  • An employee of a company that had just been bought out finding herself on a team of people from the acquiring firm
  • An out-of-stater finding himself on a team full of natives of the company’s home state

To help employees in those situations cope, managers would be wise to explain that such conflict can actually generate better results.

“Without that information people just assume, ‘This is really uncomfortable. My team obviously must not be working effectively,'” Liljenquist says. “The experience in diverse teams may not always be a feel-good session, but if employees know that from the outset, they can better deal with inevitable conflicts and recognize the potential benefits – that the affective pains can translate to real performance gains.”

Although Liljenquist acknowledges many other cases for diversity in the workplace, she contends that “reaping the benefits of diverse workgroups doesn’t necessarily require that newcomers bring unique perspectives or expertise to the table. Simply having people around us who differ on some dimension ­- whether it is functional background, education, race or even a different fraternity – drives a very different decision-making process at a group level because of the social and emotional conflict we experience in their presence.”

* * *

Read the rest of the summary here.   For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” “‘Us’ and ‘Them,'” “The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Four Failures of Deliberating Groups – Abstract,” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “History of Groupthink,” and “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Think Progress or Die

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 30, 2009

Winter Cemetery - by andy in nycTom Jacobs, on Miller-McCune has a helpful summary, titled “Fearing Death? Think Progress,” of fascinating research on terror management theory.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

[M]ost of us cling to the notion of human progress, insisting that our children will inhabit a more just society, or that our own contribution will make the world a better place. Why? Three social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam have come up with a reason: It makes it easier to accept the reality of our own deaths.

Not unlike religious faith, “belief in progress provides a protective existential buffer,” according to a paper just published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Expanding on the ideas of Terror Management Theory, lead author Bastiaan T. Rutjens argues that the belief in progress, which can be traced back to such Enlightenment thinkers as Voltaire and Hume, is “a secular faith” that is “one way of pervading our world with meaning.”

The researchers tested this thesis with three experiments. In the first and most central of these, 33 female participants wrote a short essay describing their thoughts and feelings about one of two subjects: dental pain, or their own deaths. After performing several additional tasks, they read an essay arguing that human progress is an illusion.

Finally, they were asked a series of questions to determine the extent to which they agreed with the anti-progress argument. Those who had thought about their own mortality were significantly less likely to accept the argument than those who had opined about toothaches.

The researchers consider this particular defense mechanism a reasonably healthy psychological response. After all, they note, previous studies have found that when people are confronted with their own mortality, “they tend to rate individuals with different cultural beliefs as less intelligent” in an attempt to forge a feeling of solidarity with people of their own ethnicity or nationality.

* * *

The entire article is here.  For some related Situationist posts see “Terror Management Theory Goes Mainstream” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Brain Magic

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 29, 2009

From TEDTalks: “First, Keith Barry shows us how our brains can fool our bodies. Then he involves the audience in some jaw-dropping (and even a bit dangerous) feats of brain magic.”

* * *

*  * *

To read some related Situationist posts, see “Magic is in the Mind” and The Situation of Illusion” or click here for a collection of posts on illusion.

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

Magic is in the Mind

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 28, 2009

Magician Thurston by libraryimages.netRobyn Kim and Ladan Shams have a nice article, titled “What Can Magicians Teach Us about the Brain?,” in Scientific American.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

. . . . Magicians . . . are masters of exploiting nuances of human perception, attention, and awareness. In light of this, a recent Nature Reviews Neuroscience paper, coauthored by a combination of neuroscientists (Stephen L. Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde, both at the Barrows Neurological Institute) and magicians (Mac King, James Randi, Apollo Robbins, Teller, John Thompson), describes various ways magicians manipulate our perceptions, and proposes that these methods should inform and aid the neuroscientific study of attention and awareness.

Magicians Secrets Revealed

The underlying concept of using quirks in human perception to learn about how the mind works is an old one. Visual, auditory and multisensory illusions, in which people’s perceptions contradict the physical properties of the stimuli, have long been used by psychologists to study the mechanisms of sensory processing. Magicians use such sensory illusions in their tricks, but they also heavily use cognitive illusions, manipulating people’s attention, trains of logic and even memory. Although magicians probably haven’t studied these phenomena with the scientific method—they don’t do controlled experiments—their techniques have been tested over time, perfected by practice and performed under conditions of high scrutiny by skeptical audiences looking to spot the trick.

An example of a visual illusion used by magicians is spoon bending, in which a rigid horizontal spoon appears flexible when shaken up and down at a certain rate. This effect occurs because of how different parts of objects (in this case, the spoon) are represented in the brain. Certain neurons are responsive to the ends/corners of the object, whereas others respond to the bars/edges; the end-responsive neurons respond differently to motion than do the bar-responsive neurons, such that the ends and the center of the spoon seem misaligned when in motion.

Attention can greatly affect what we see—this fact has been demonstrated in psychological studies of inattentional blindness. To misdirect people’s attention and create this effect, magicians have an arsenal of methods ranging from grand gestures (such as releasing a dove in the theater to distract attention), to more subtle techniques (for instance, using social miscues). An example of the latter can be found in the Vanishing Ball Illusion . . . .

At the last toss, the magician does not actually release the ball from his or her hand. Crucially, however, the magician’s gaze follows the trajectory the ball would have made had it been tossed. The magician’s eye and head movement serves as a subtle social cue that (falsely) suggests a trajectory the audience then also expects. A recent study examining what factors produced this effect suggests that the miscuing of the attentional spotlight is the primary factor, and not the motion of the eyes. In fact, the eyes aren’t fooled by this trick—they don’t follow the illusory trajectory! Interestingly, comedy is also an important tool used by magicians to manipulate attention in time. In addition to adding to the entertainment value of the show, bouts of laughter can diffuse attention at critical time points.

* * *

Magic’s Role in Neuroscience

Cognitive neuroscience can explain many magic techniques; this article proposes, however, that neuroscientists should use magicians’ knowledge to inform their research. . . .

More concretely, the use of cognitive illusions—for example, during brain imaging—could serve to identify neural circuits underlying specific cognitive processes. They could also be used to map neural correlates of consciousness (the areas of the brain that are active when we are processing a given aspect of consciousness) by dissociating activity corresponding to processing of actual physical events from the activity corresponding to the conscious processing.

* * *

* * *

The entire aritcle is here.  To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Illusion” or click here for a collection of posts on illusion.

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

Situationism in the Blogosphere – February Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 27, 2009

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during February 2009. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

* * *

From 3 Quarks Daily: “Stephen Daldry’s The Reader

“Alan Stone in the Boston Review:  The power of The Reader, however, is that it is psychologically believable. Schlink’s book is written in short chapters; each offers at least one telling psychological insight about dreams, about memory, about the disconnect between what I do and what I am. Schlink subtly raises the vexing and intriguing problem of responsibility and agency early in the novel.” Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “Smells — even smells we don’t notice — affect our judgment of others”

“We know from studies on subliminal images and sounds that even when we’re not conscious of these things, they can affect our judgments and actions. But researchers have had difficulty finding any effect of odors that we can’t consciously identify. A team led by Wen Li saw procedural problems in those early studies: An odor that one person can’t detect might still be obvious to someone else. Even the same individual might perceive an odor sometimes and not others (“I thought I smelled smoke, officer!”). Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “The words you can’t ignore, even if you see them for 1/10 of a second”

“One of stand-up comic George Carlin’s most famous routines was the seven words you can’t say on TV (obviously, not safe for work). He repeated the words over and over, and it was hilarious — especially back in the days before most people had cable. These days we’ve become desensitized to those words, and it’s hardly surprising any more to see them laced into casual conversation.  Or is it?” Read more . . .

From Dr. X’s Free Associations: “Bad Faith or Partisan Blindness on the Right?

“Sullivan says it’s bad faith: This Manzi post would be their argument going forward. Here’s why they are not being intellectually honest, and Manzi’s post includes the relevant facts. The GOP has passed what amounts to a spending and tax-cutting and borrowing stimulus package every year since George W. Bush came to office. They have added tens of trillions to future liabilities and they turned a surplus into a trillion dollar deficit – all in a time of growth. They then pick the one moment when demand is collapsing in an alarming spiral to argue that fiscal conservatism is non-negotiable. I mean: seriously.” Read more . . .

From Dr. X’s Free Associations: “The Real Media Bias”

“Eric Zorn argues that the real media bias is against complexity: Like a lot of other Illinois journalists, I’ve just spent the best part of the last year rhetorically pounding the stuffing out of the very white Rod Blagojevich and taking regular whacks at the disgraceful demagoguery of the similarly pasty John McCain. At the same time I was getting slapped around by detractors for allegedly going too easy on African-American candidate, now President Barack Obama.” Read more . . .

From Dr. X’s Free Associations: “What Systems Theory Says About Change

“Corpus Callosum comments on all the fussing: One peculiar irony of the 2008 Presidential campaign is that McCain’s theme was “maverick,” and Obama’s was “change.”  Those are different expressions of the same idea: do things differently… Those who study family dynamics are familiar with what happens in a social system when someone tries to change.  Essentially, the person who is initiating change is told it is wrong.  Then he is told to revert to the old ways (change back!), then he is warned of dire consequences.  Also, the others attempt to enlist additional parties as allies against the agent of change (this is called triangulation)… This occurs even among others who wanted the change, who welcome the change, and who think it is a good idea.”  Read more . . .

From Deliberations: “Sometimes It’s Hard to be a Woman

“Being a woman is a negative, all other things being equal, but all other things are never equal.” That’s me talking, and I can explain.  I was quoted last month in an article by Nora Tooher in Lawyers USA about challenges women lawyers face in the courtroom.  (The article was inspired by Elizabeth Parks-Stamm’s article in the November issue of The Jury Expert about how female jurors respond to successful women; Nora found me because I wrote a short comment to Ms. Parks-Stamm’s article for TJE.)” Read more . . .

* * *

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

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

Stare Decisis is Cognitive Error – Abstracts

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 26, 2009

Law Books - by F.S.M. on FlickrSituationist fellow, Goutam Jois recently posted a fascinating, situationist paper provocatively titled, “Stare Decisis is Cognitive Error” on SSRN:  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

For hundreds of years, the practice of stare decisis – a court’s adherence to prior decisions in similar cases – has guided the common law. However, recent behavioral evidence suggests that stare decisis, far from enacting society’s true preferences with regard to law and policy, may reflect – and exacerbate – our cognitive biases.

The data show that humans are subconsciously primed (among other things) to prefer the status quo, to overvalue existing defaults, to follow others’ decisions, and to stick to the well-worn path. We have strong motives to justify existing legal, political, and social systems; to come up with simple explanations for observed phenomena; and to construct coherent narratives for the world around us. Taken together, these and other characteristics suggest that we value precedent not because it is desirable but merely because it exists. Three case studies – analyzing federal district court cases, U.S. Supreme Court cases, and development of American policy on torture – suggest that the theory of stare decisis as a heuristic has substantial explanatory power. In its strongest form, this hypothesis challenges the foundation of common law systems.

* * *

You can download the paper for free here.

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2009

Racial Bias TeamFrom Eureaka Alert:

White people don’t show hints of unconscious bias against blacks who belong to the same group as them, a new study suggests.

But this lack of bias only applied to black people in their group, according to the findings. Most white people in the study still showed evidence of some unconscious bias towards blacks who were in an opposing group, or who were unaffiliated with either group.

What impressed the researchers, however, was just how quickly these group bonds could form. The lack of bias toward fellow black group members was uncovered just minutes after whites joined the mixed-race group, and without participants even meeting their fellow members personally.

“The results suggest that when we share some kind of identity with a group of people, we automatically and immediately feel positively toward them, regardless of race,” said Jay Van Bavel, co-author of the study and post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Ohio State University.

“You can think in terms of people who go to the playground and play a game of pickup basketball. All it takes is a flip of a coin to make someone your teammate, and at least for that game, you’re going to feel positively toward your teammates, white and black.”

Van Bavel conducted the study with William Cunningham, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State. Their study appears in the March issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The study involved two separate but related experiments with college students, one done in Canada and one in the United States.

The students took a computer test commonly used by psychologists to reveal unconscious, or automatic racial bias. The test examines people’s first reactions to seeing a black face, before their conscious mind can edit and override biases.

Even though most people disavow any racial bias, this test consistently shows that about three-quarters of white North Americans have some level of unconscious racial bias, Van Bavel said. These unconscious thoughts can lead people to make biased decisions without realizing they are being biased.

For example, a manager may pass over a resume of a person whose name suggests she is an African American, without even recognizing why he is doing it, according to Van Bavel.

The computer test flashes pictures of black and white faces quickly on the screen followed nearly instantaneously by positive words (such as love) or negative words (such as hatred). Participants have to very quickly – within about one-half of a second — categorize the words as positive or negative.

In general, white people find it more difficult to correctly classify positive words when they were first shown a photo of a black person.

“Seeing a black face automatically activates this association with negative things for many white people and if they don’t have time to correct this negative image – which they don’t in this study – they associate negative words with black faces,” Cunningham said.

In the first experiment, 109 students at the University of Toronto were randomly assigned to one of two groups made up for the study – one named the Lions and the other called the Tigers. A control group learned about the two groups, but was not assigned to either one of them.

Members of the Lions and Tigers were shown photos of the members of both groups, and told it was important to learn who belonged to their team, and who belonged to other team.

Later, they were given the computer bias test. Results showed that students in the control group, who were not a member of either mixed-race group, showed a preference for white faces over black faces, as was expected.

But white members of the two teams showed no bias against black members of their own teams. They did, however, show bias towards black members of the opposing team.

“Team members were evaluating people based on whether they were on the same team – not evaluating them based on their race,” Cunningham said.

The second experiment involved 126 students at Ohio State. The setup was essentially the same, except that participants also evaluated white and black faces that were not members of either of the two groups. Results showed that white students showed no bias against blacks who belonged to their team. They showed nearly equivalent levels of bias towards black members of the opposing team, and black members who were not associated with either team.

This suggests that whites were showing increased positive feelings toward black members of their own team, but not increased negative feelings toward blacks who belonged to the opposing team.

“White students felt the same toward blacks on the opposing team and people who didn’t belong to any team,” Van Bavel said. “That means liking people from your team doesn’t mean you have to hate members of the other team.”

Van Bavel said the unconscious biases studied in this research have real-life consequences.

“What’s dangerous about these attitudes is that they can come into play even when we’re not aware of them, and even when we think we are being egalitarian,” he said.

But this study suggests there may be ways to battle this unconscious, automatic racism.

“We want to change how people see someone at the very earliest stages. If you see someone as a member of your own team or group, race may not even come to mind. You are thinking about that person in terms of some kind of shared relationship,” Van Bavel said.

In the real world, this means creating contexts to show how people are connected whenever possible. This may mean emphasizing our shared identities as residents of a city, fans of a sports team or members of a church.

“It’s part of human nature to feel positively about members of our own group,” Cunningham said. “The challenge is to find ways to call attention to our shared identities.”

* * *

For some related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,”Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,”‘Us’ and ‘Them,’March Madness,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 24, 2009

j-sachsLast September, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, spoke to a packed hall at Harvard Law School in an address entitled “Representing the Voiceless: The Poor, The Excluded, and the Future.”   We cited an article summarizing his remarkable presentation and also posted an unofficial transcript of it (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V).

Today we excerpt portions of his op-ed on concerning the upcoming G-20 Summit and how he believes the issue of global poverty should be addressed.

* * *

The G-20 meeting in London, England, on April 2 will be watched by the entire world with urgency and with a yearning for hope, vision and programmatic clarity.

* * *

The world’s 3 billion poor, especially the 1 billion poorest of the poor, are suffering powerful and destabilizing blows from the crisis, and these will get worse and threaten global security unless there is specific attention and action.

The G-20 cannot limit its focus to regulating the financial sector, reforming the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, avoiding protectionism and reciting the measures that individual countries are taking. This would leave the world gasping for direction and hope.

The G-20 must offer a vision that is big enough to quell global fears and action bold enough to protect the desperately poor while guiding the cooperative decision-making of the world’s economic authorities.

The G-20 must push forward based on real policy coordination. The world does not have a system of effective cooperation. The United States, for example, does not engage in comprehensive and deep coordination with other countries. The poor countries, with half the world’s population, and the poorest countries, with roughly one-fifth of the world’s population, have not been brought into the equation.

The G-20 package for stimulus should include:

First, fulfillment by all countries of stimulus measures already announced and a commitment to undertake new joint stimulus measures, especially priority public outlays on infrastructure, the social safety net and sustainable energy, as may be needed during the coming years.

Second, establishment of a high-level G-20 coordination group, backed especially by China, the European Union, Japan and the United States, to work full-time on coordinating monetary, fiscal and financial policies for stimulus and long-term recovery. Such cooperative macroeconomic programming does not now exist.

Third, increased currency support extended from the world’s five major central banks (the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank of China) for emerging market economies facing the loss of loans from international banks (e.g. Eastern Europe). The Fed’s currency swap lines to Brazil, Mexico, Korea and Singapore last fall played an important stabilizing role. The other central banks can and should do more, as can the Fed vis-à-vis other countries.

Fourth, a G-20 commitment to gradual and orderly currency readjustments to help rebalance the world’s financial and trade flows. The Asian currencies should gradually appreciate against the euro, which in turn should appreciate gradually against the dollar. Squabbling about bilateral rates between the dollar and Chinese renmenbi should be put to rest.

G-20 actions for the poor should include:

First, establishment of an urgent special food security program, which would make grants to low-income, food-deficit countries (including Africa, Haiti, Afghanistan and elsewhere) to ensure that impoverished farmers can get the basic input they need (such as fertilizer and high-yield seeds) to grow more food.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero have joined to propose this new program and have mobilized backing from about a dozen countries.

The United States’ contribution should be at least $200 million per year over five years ($1 billion total), matching Spain, the largest donor country, and sending a powerful message of solidarity from the United States to the world. The hunger crisis is now afflicting 1 billion people and contributing to the deaths of millions of children each year.

Second, full funding of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is facing a critical and potentially devastating cash shortfall during 2009-11.

An incremental U.S. contribution of $350 million in 2009 would close the most urgent cash-flow gap and put the United States in the clear lead of protecting the Global Fund and championing the fight against the three pandemic diseases.

Third, special urgent long-term financing of clean energy investments in the poor countries, especially solar, geothermal, wind and hydro, as a direct stimulus to the supplier countries (including the United States), a development boost for the recipient countries (notably in Africa and Central Asia) and a major spur to climate control and success in negotiations this year.

* * *

To read the rest of the piece, click here.

Posted in Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of “29” & the Downside of Goal-Setting

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 22, 2009

1969 Pontiac Firebird (Redline) - flickrAn article by Drake Bennett in the Boston Globe explores the idea that a significant contributor to GM’s woes can be attributed to an apparently innocuous decision — the pledge to return to its former state of having 29% of the American auto market. The article is excerpted below.

* * *

The argument is not that goal setting doesn’t work – it does, just not always in the way we intend. “It can focus attention too much, or on the wrong things; it can lead to crazy behaviors to get people to achieve them,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and coauthor of “Goals Gone Wild,” a paper in the current issue of a leading management journal.

“Goal setting has been treated like an over-the-counter medication when it should really be treated with more care, as a prescription-strength medication,” he says.

* * *

[In the 1960’s t]wo organizational psychologists, Gary Latham and Edwin Locke, created a theory of human motivation with goals at its center, drawing on their own extensive research and that of others. They found that goal setting had dramatic positive effects on success in just about any arena: work, school, the playing field, even the doctor’s office (people took better care of their own health if they had a goal).

“When people are asked do their best, they don’t,” says Locke, now an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland’s R.H. Smith School of Business. “It’s too vague.” Giving people ambitious and specific goals directs their attention, energizes them, and keeps them engaged longer.

Latham and Locke’s theory quickly permeated executive suites and business school classrooms. The success of General Electric, for example, was described both by the company and its many admirers as a matter of having set the right goals and made sure people reached them.

* * *

Despite these successes, a few management experts began to wonder what sort of price we pay for our goals. Goals, they feared, might actually be taking the place of independent thinking and personal initiative. Goals gave us GE and Southwest, but they also gave us GM and Enron.

Two of these skeptics, business professors Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania and Lisa Ordonez of the University of Arizona, co-wrote a 2004 paper on what people do when they fall just short of their goals. According to Ordonez and Schweitzer’s experiment, in which subjects played a word game and then reported how well they did at it, what people do is lie to make up the difference.

Schweitzer and Ordonez are also two of the coauthors of the “Goals Gone Wild” paper, in Academy of Management Perspectives, which takes the concern about cheating and broadens it. The new paper isn’t based on original research but instead juxtaposes findings from the psychology and economics literature with a sort of greatest hits of disasters in goal setting. It recounts the hostile, dysfunctional, and ultimately criminal atmosphere created at Enron by its practice of rewarding executives based on meeting specific revenue targets. It describes how Sears, Roebuck and Co. started setting sales goals for its auto repair staff in the early 1990s, only to find out that its mechanics were overcharging customers and making unnecessary repairs to hit their numbers.

* * *

Other work suggests that goals with rewards, if not carefully calibrated, can short-circuit our intrinsic enthusiasm for a task – or even interrupt our learning process. Barry Schwartz, a social psychologist at Swarthmore College who has studied decision making, found that subjects paid money to complete a slightly confusing task were significantly worse at figuring out the rules, even after completing it, than those who had received no reward.

* * *

If you are GM, argues [Maurice] Schweitzer, “You clearly don’t want 29 percent market share, you want something much more complicated than that.”

To combat this, Latham, among others, argues that what’s often required is a “learning goal” – one where someone pledges to come up with, for example, five approaches to a thorny problem – rather than a performance goal that assumes that the problem will automatically be solved.

And whatever they are, goals need to be flexible when circumstances change. Francis Flynn, an organizational psychologist at Stanford, says he always tells his students that “the best goal you can have is to reevaluate your goals, semi-annually or annually, to make sure they remain rational.”

Rather than reflexively relying on goals, argues Max Bazerman, a Harvard Business School professor and the fourth coauthor of “Goals Gone Wild,” we might also be better off creating workplaces and schools that foster our own inherent interest in the work. “There are lots of organizations where people want to do well, and they don’t need those goals,” he says. Bazerman and others hold up Google as an example of a company that manages to do this, in part by explicitly setting aside time for employees to pursue their own projects and interests.

Today, as the economic situation upends millions of lives, it is also forcing the reexamination of millions of goals – not only the revenue targets of battered firms, but the career aims of workers and students, and even the ambitions of the newly installed administration. And while it never feels good to give up on a goal, it may be a good time to ask which of the goals we had set for ourselves were things we really needed to achieve, and which were things we only thought we should – and what the difference has been costing us.

* * *

More on “Goals Gone Wild” can be found in this article by The Wharton School. The paper itself is published in the February, 2009 edition of the Academy of Management Perspectives.  For a previous Situationist post on the work of Barry Schwartz, see “A Choice Worth Having.”  For a previous Situationist post on goals and decision-making, see “Team-Interested Decision Making.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics | 3 Comments »

Dan Ariely on Cheating

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 21, 2009

From TED: “Behavioral economist Dan Ariely studies the bugs in our moral code: the hidden reasons we think it’s OK to cheat or steal (sometimes). Clever studies help make his point that we’re predictably irrational — and can be influenced in ways we can’t grasp.”

* * *

To read a related Situationist post, see “Predictably Irrational.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Morality, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Dick Cheney: A Situationist?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2009

vp-dick-cheneyIt is interesting that in an interview with CNN this past Sunday, former Vice President Dick Cheney, a hardcore dispositionist, offered a situationist-like defense of the troubles that ailed the Bush Administration.

It appears that after walking in his own shoes for eight years, Cheney could see the situation and how it complicated the bright-line, often unforgiving directives that guide dispositionists.  Sometimes, as Cheney appears to have discovered, bad outcomes are not always the products of bad choices, but are instead borne from–to borrow the former vice president’s words–bad “stuff.”

We excerpt Cheney’s interview, a complete transcript for which can be read here.

* * *

JOHN KING: There are people I assume watching this interview right now, and people in this town who would say, why should we listen to you? And they would say that because of the context of the Bush administration numbers.

They would say, you know, what did you do when you were in charge? And they have some numbers to back up their case. And I want to show some to our viewers When you came to office, the unemployment rate in the country was 4.2 percent, when you left it was 7.6 percent.

The number of Americans in poverty when you arrived, just under 33 million, over 37 million when you left. The number without health insurance, a little over 41 million when you came, over 45 million approaching 46 million when you left.

And you came with a budget surplus of $128 billion and in the final year, the budget deficit was a record $1.3 trillion. So what would you say to someone out there watching this who is saying, why should they listen to you?

FORMER VP CHENEY: Well, there are all kinds of arguments to be made on that point. But there’s something that is more important than the specific numbers you’re talking about, and that had to be priority for our administration.

Eight months after we arrived, we had 9/11. We had 3,000 Americans killed one morning by al Qaeda terrorists here in the United States.  We immediately had to go into the wartime mode. We ended up with two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of that is still very active. We had major problems with respect to things like Katrina, for example. All of these things required us to spend money that we had not originally planned to spend, or weren’t originally part of the budget.

Stuff happens. And the administration has to be able to respond to that, and we did.

* * *

KING: Do you wish your administration had taken more aggressive steps, and were you boxed in by opposition to Iraq not only here, but around the world?

CHENEY: I can’t say that. You know, you deal with the situation you find.

* * *

* * *

For a related Situationist post discussing attributional biases, including the “ultimate attribution error,” see “March Madness.”

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Conference on the Free Market Mindset

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 18, 2009

Law and Mind Sciences Conference Panel PhotoFrom the Harvard Law School Website (published yesterday and written by Christine Perkins), here is an a nice summary of  the Project on Law and Mind Science’s Third Annual Conference.

* * *

On Saturday, March 7, Harvard Law School’s Program on Law and Mind Sciences held its third annual conference, “The Free Market Mindset: History, Psychology and Consequences.”

Close to 200 people attended the day-long event at HLS, bringing together leading scholars in law, economics, social psychology, and social cognition to discuss their research on the historical origins, psychological antecedents, and policy consequences of the free market mindset.

According to HLS Professor Jon Hanson, Director of the Project on Law and Mind Sciences at HLS, the conference’s topic was originally intended to be moral psychology, but after the market collapse in October, conference organizers decided that the free market mindset was too important a topic to ignore.

“We did not anticipate the extent to which this topic would be as salient today as it is,” said Hanson.

Hanson said he hoped the conference would be an opportunity to examine the free market mindset in light of where we are, to explore why free markets have been so alluring to economists, scholars, and policy-makers even amidst the current financial turmoil.

In a lunchtime keynote address, Judge Richard Posner ’62, [photo right] U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago, offered remarks focusing on the “current Depression,” based on his forthcoming book “A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 and the Descent into Depression,” due out by Harvard University Press in May. Posner opened his talk by discussing judicial decision-making, based on his recent book “How Judges Think,” and how, among other things, ideology influences decision making. [View web cast]

The conference opened with discussions on the history of the free market idea. HLS Professor Christine Desan, a specialist in legal history, civil procedure, and legal and political thought, spoke about “Legal Categories of Thought,” how the law categorizes different kinds of liquidity — including dollars, bonds and securities. She reviewed some of the ways that legal doctrine has disciplined our thought, including assumptions about money, and about free choice in the marketplace.

University of Chicago Law Professor Bernard Harcourt ’89 presented his research and recent article on “Neoliberal Penality: The Birth of Natural Order, the Illusion of Free Markets,” In his talk, he traced a genealogy of neoliberal penality and explored the effects it has had in the field of crime and punishment, as well as in the broader economy and society. Both Desan and Harcourt participated in a Q&A session with the audience after their talk.

In another session, Harvard University Economics professor Stephen Marglin, presented a talk on the free market and economics titled “How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community,” based on his 2008 book “The Dismal Science.” He described some of the foundational assumptions of economics have promoted social isolation over deep social bonds.

Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College, presented “Colossal Failure: The Output of Bias of Market Economies.” Schor discussed the implications of what has become a profound market failure and the biases that operate in the goods and labor markets.

In later sessions on psychology, Sheena Iyengar, a professor in the management division of the Columbia Business School, discussed her research on “The Multiple Choice Problem,” looking at how the exercise of choosing and the availability of numerous options affect decision quality and happiness with decision outcomes.

In “Choice, Social Class, and Agency,” Nicole Stephens, a Ph.D. student in social psychology at Stanford University, presented her research and a series of lab and field studies questioning the assumption that choice is a fundamental or “basic” unit of human behavior, and that behavior is a product of individual choice.

Jaime Napier, a Ph.D. student in social psychology at New York University working with NYU Professors of Psychology Tom Tyler and John Jost, presented their research on “The Palliative Function of Ideology,” drawing on “system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals.”

Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory and social action at Swarthmore College and the author of the “Paradox of Choice,” gave a talk titled “Addicted to Incentives: How the Ideology of Self Interest Can Be Self-Fulfilling,” arguing that the reductive appeal to self-interest as the master human motive is a false description of human nature.

In the final discussion of the day, Douglas Kysar ’98, professor of law at Yale Law School, and Hanson tackled the topics of law and policy. Kysar focused on environmental policy and argued against the use of strict cost-benefit analysis when creating environmental laws. Environmental law requires a more “humanistic approach,” he argued.

In his own talk, entitled “Regulation Reactance,” Hanson [photo right] tested his theory that there are certain policy stereotypes ingrained in American culture. Through the use of advertising clips and snips of political speeches, he showed that Americans tend to try to establish a freedom to choose when they perceive that their liberty has been inhibited. In politics, this tends to mean that people think markets lead to freedom, and government regulation is coercive. Hanson and his collaborators (including 3L student Mark Yeboah) are currently studying these implicit policy associations, and how they might affect policy recommendations.

Within the next several months, edited versions of videos from the conference will be made available on The Project on Law and Mind Sciences website (where you can already find videos of presentations from the previous two conferences).   In addition, Hanson is working with a group of 3L students on a book, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law,” which will include chapters discussing some of the themes from this year’s conference.

* * *

Learn more about the conference here.

Posted in Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Blaming Rihanna

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 17, 2009

Rhianna - Umbrella Mix Urban Call - Rihanna FlickrFrom the LAPD detective’s notes and Fox News via the Boston Globe:

After Rihanna read a text message on [Chris] Brown’s phone from a woman, he tried to force Rihanna out of the car, but couldn’t because she was wearing her seatbelt. Brown then allegedly slammed Rihanna’s head against her window, and when Rihanna turned to face him, he punched her.

The notes said blood spattered on Rihanna’s clothing and the interior of the Lamborghini.

Rihanna also called her assistant, according to FOX 11, leaving a message saying, “I am on my way home. Make sure the cops are there when I get there.”

Brown then reportedly replied, “You just did the stupidest thing ever. I’m going to kill you,” and proceeded to punch and bite Rihanna. He allegedly put her in a headlock so long that she almost lost consciousness.

Rihanna, who turned 21 a few weeks after the incident, was beaten severely enough to require hospitalization. Brown, 19, who reportedly had a history of violence toward Rihanna, turned himself in and was charged with two felonies.

From Wikipedia:

[The just-world hypothesis] refers to the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is “just” so strongly that when they witness an otherwise inexplicable injustice they will rationalize it by searching for things that the victim might have done to deserve it. This deflects their anxiety, and lets them continue to believe the world is a just place, but at the expense of blaming victims for things that were not, objectively, their fault.

* * *

In . . . [one] study, subjects were told two versions of a story about an interaction between a woman and a man. Both variations were exactly the same, except at the very end the man raped the woman in one and in the other he proposed marriage. In both conditions, subjects viewed the woman’s (identical) actions as inevitably leading to the (very different) results

* * *

From Boston Public Health Commission:

A survey conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission on the dating violence incident involving pop music idols Chris Brown and Rihanna revealed that nearly half of Boston youths surveyed said she was “responsible” for what happened while 52 percent said they were both to blame.

“The story of Chris Brown and Rihanna may have happened 3,000 miles away, but it is very much a Boston story,” said Casey Corcoran, director of the Public Health Commission’s new Start Strong program.

* * *

Corcoran’s program, housed in the Commission’s Division of Violence Prevention, surveyed 200 Boston youth ages 12 to 19, between Feb. 13 and 20, using the Chris Brown-Rihanna case to gauge their attitudes toward teen dating violence; 100 percent of those surveyed had heard about the incident.

Among the findings:

  • 71% said arguing was a normal part of a relationship
  • 44% said fighting was a normal part of a relationship
  • 51% said Chris Brown was responsible for the incident
  • 46% said Rihanna was responsible for the incident
  • 52% said both individuals were to blame for the incident, despite knowing at the time that
    Rihanna had been beaten badly enough to require hospital treatment
  • 35% said the media were treating Rihanna unfairly
  • 52% said the media were treating Chris Brown unfairly

In addition, a significant number of males and females in the survey said Rihanna was destroying Chris  Brown’s career, and females were no less likely than males to come to Rihanna’s defense.

* * *

For a related Situationist post, see “Unrecognized Injustice — The Situation of Rape.”

Posted in Conflict, Entertainment, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | 1 Comment »

Sarah Palin – Objectification – Reaction – Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 16, 2009

Sarah Palin Convention - By Tom LeGro, NewsHour

Eric Deggans, has a nice article in the Saint Petersburg Times summarizing research by psychologists from Univesity of South Florida, Jamie L. Goldenberg and Nathan A. Heflick.  Their research examined the objectifying effects of thinking about Sarah Palin’s appearance.  Immediately below, you will find excerpts from Deggans’s article.  Below that, you’ll find some reflections from Jamie Goldenberg regarding the negative reaction of some conservative media to her research.

* * *

Two researchers at the University of South Florida have developed a study that suggests . . . that a random group of Republicans and independents asked to focus on Palin’s attractiveness felt less likely to vote for the GOP ticket in last November’s elections.

“The idea is that when you focus on a woman’s appearance, this objectifies her, or turns her into an object in your eyes,” said Jamie L. Goldenberg, an associate professor of psychology at USF and co-author of the study, titled “Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that Objectification Causes Women to be Perceived as Less Competent and Fully Human.” “What we found is these perceptions influenced people’s likelihood of voting.”

In their experiment, Goldenberg and graduate student Nathan A. Heflick assembled a group of 133 undergraduates at the school a month before the election. After noting their characteristics — 27 percent were male, 45 percent were Democrats, 24 percent were Republicans and the rest were independents — they were randomly separated into four groups.

Two groups were asked to write about Palin and two groups were asked to write about actor Angelina Jolie. Within each pair, one group was asked to write their thoughts and feelings about the subject’s appearance, and the other was asked to write about the person. They then asked respondents how they would vote in the coming election.

Goldenberg said that, after factoring out Democratic respondents (who solidly supported Obama), the Republicans and independents asked to write about Palin’s appearance said they were less likely to vote GOP than those who simply considered Palin as a person.

“There was an overall tendency to perceive Sarah Palin as less competent than Angelina Jolie,” said Goldenberg, noting their results fell in line with previous studies indicating that, in high status and political jobs, attractive women were perceived as less competent in ways attractive men and women in other jobs were not.

. . . .Goldenberg said the study, which is to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, may spark more questions than it answers.

“What you can’t tell from this is what did they finally do in the end?” said Joel Cooper, a professor of psychology at Princeton University and editor of the journal publishing Goldenberg and Heflick’s study. “But at the moment they thought of (Palin) as a beauty queen, they were less likely to consider voting for (her) … Knowing that is important for campaigns and how we understand each other.”

Another question: Are female politicians who play down their appearance, like Hillary Clinton, instinctively on to something?

“We wouldn’t say attractiveness is a bad thing,” said Goldenberg. “But having people focus on your appearance and not what you say and who you are, is a bad thing.”

* * *

From Miller-McCune, here are some excerpts from “Peeling Away the Media Reaction to ‘Objectifying Sarah Palin’“:

* * *

Over the few months time we spent on our latest study on the objectification of women in the public eye, our lives as scientists played out normally.

* * *

But then the media got hold of our findings and the subsequent reaction was always surprising – and often appalling.
In his Psychology Today blog, Dr. Stanton Peele reviewed my (Goldenberg, the female member of the research team) appearance on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” with an insulting recapitulation. He mocked my performance, and then he drew attention to my “revealing top” (a round-neck T-shirt, worn on an 85-degree day in Florida and with no foreknowledge that I would be on national television that day).

Dr. Peele’s criticism of my failure to describe the study in a brief sound bite was not atypical of media and Internet blog reactions (although it was all the more surprising since it was written by a “scientist”). But, in Peele’s case, and others, we were silently amused by the irony. Here I was, being objectified and described as incompetent, while the people reporting our findings failed to make the connection to our research findings (some even argued that my appearance invalidated the findings)!

* * *

We believed that, if anything, the study would be spun to be pro-Palin (“she would have been perceived as competent if only the media would have focused on her personality instead of her appearance”). However, the right-wing media reaction was most often defensive and downright hostile. There appeared to be two primary sources of contention. One, people were incensed at the comparison of Palin to a mere actress, Angelina Jolie. And two, people assumed that the study tested and concluded that attractiveness and competence are incompatible — no matter that this was neither tested nor concluded.

In response to the first accusation, the critics failed to comprehend that we are social psychologists with a basic interest in the consequences of objectifying women . . . .

The results also revealed a general tendency for participants in the study to perceive Palin as less competent than Jolie. This is not entirely surprising considering that Jolie was likely evaluated for competence as an actress and Palin as a prospective vice president of the United States. And while the majority of our participants described themselves as Democrats, the study was not designed to shed light on this difference. Nevertheless, Bill O’Reilly harped on this difference . . .and became most frustrated when I, Goldenberg, tried to explain to him that this was not a central component of the study.  [Take a look at the video below (warning: the video is quite low-quality, but it nicely illustrates how some in the media may be unable to “get it.”)]

* * *

* * *

* * *

Why is it that the media and Internet bloggers responded to this research with such an uproar?

Here is our take: For one, the nonscientific community was suspicious of our agenda. In a medium where most information serves some political/social/personal agenda, it was simply inconceivable to most people that this research lacked those motivations. In addition, the insensitive comments that were expressed over the Internet (and in hate mail directly sent to us) also demonstrate a type of dehumanization. Viewing us through a television screen or computer monitor (or not at all) most likely functioned to dehumanize us, brazening people to say things that they would never say to a “real” person.

In addition, we were confronted with real-life evidence of the tenacity of people’s efforts to protect their beliefs. This is a common finding in social psychology, that when people have an existing belief — that liberal academics will attack Palin – they will ignore contrary evidence (that this was a scientific study and it could be seen as supporting Palin).

* * *

To read all of Goldenberg’s reflections on her first major encounter with the media, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Objectification,”Hillary Clinton, the Halo Effect, and Women’s Catch-22,” “Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract,” ” Naive Cynicism – Abstract,” ” The Situational Power of Anonymity,” Internet Disinhibition,” and The Social Awkwardness of Online Snubbing.”

Posted in Ideology, Politics, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 15, 2009

luckies-20679-doctorsFrom Wikipedia:

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The “ideas” or “cognitions” in question may include attitudes and beliefs, and also the awareness of one’s behavior. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, or by justifying or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Cognitive dissonance theory is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

Dissonance normally occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency among his or her cognitions. This happens when one idea implies the opposite of another. For example, a belief in animal rights could be interpreted as inconsistent with eating meat or wearing fur. Noticing the contradiction would lead to dissonance, which could be experienced as anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, embarrassment, stress, and other negative emotional states. When people’s ideas are consistent with each other, they are in a state of harmony, or consonance. If cognitions are unrelated, they are categorized as irrelevant to each other and do not lead to dissonance.

Cookie CrispA powerful cause of dissonance is when an idea conflicts with a fundamental element of the self-concept, such as “I am a good person” or “I made the right decision.” The anxiety that comes with the possibility of having made a bad decision can lead to rationalization, the tendency to create additional reasons or justifications to support one’s choices. A person who just spent too much money on a new car might decide that the new vehicle is much less likely to break down than his or her old car. This belief may or may not be true, but it would likely reduce dissonance and make the person feel better. Dissonance can also lead to confirmation bias, the denial of disconfirming evidence, and other ego defense mechanisms.

Smokers tend to experience cognitive dissonance because it is widely accepted that cigarettes cause lung cancer, yet virtually everyone wants to live a long and healthy life. In terms of the theory, the desire to live a long life is dissonant with the activity of doing something that will most likely shorten one’s life. The tension produced by these contradictory ideas can be reduced by quitting smoking, denying the evidence of lung cancer, or justifying one’s smoking. For example, smokers could rationalize their behavior by concluding that only a few smokers become ill, that it only happens to very heavy smokers, or that if smoking does not kill them, something else will.

* * *

* * *

This case of dissonance could also be interpreted in terms of a threat to the self-concept.  The thought, “I am increasing my risk of lung cancer” is dissonant with the self-related belief, “I am a smart, reasonable person who makes good decisions.” Because it is often easier to make excuses than it is to change behavior, dissonance theory leads to the conclusion that humans are rationalizing and not always rational beings.

* * *

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Why Criminals Obey the Law – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 14, 2009

Gun Crimes by Andy Saxton 2006 - flickrAndrew Papachristos, Tracey L. Meares, and Jeffrey Fagan, have posted their terrific paper, “Why Do Criminals Obey the Law? The Influence of Legitimacy and Social Networks on Active Gun Offenders” on SSRN.   Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Recent research on procedural justice and legitimacy suggests that compliance with the law is best secured not by mere threat of force, but by fostering beliefs in the fairness of the legal systems and in the legitimacy of legal actors. To date, however, this research has been based on general population surveys and more banal types of law violating behavior (such as unpaid parking tickets, excessive noise, etc.). Thus, while we know why normal people obey the law, we do not have similar knowledge as it pertains to the population most likely to commit serious violent crimes. This study fills this void by using a unique survey of active offenders in Chicago called the Chicago Gun Project (CGP). Part of a larger evaluation effort of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, the CGP posed a series of individual, neighborhood, legitimacy, and social network questions to a sample of 141 offenders in 52 Chicago neighborhoods. The CGP is designed to understand how the perceptions of the law and social networks of offenders influence their understanding of the law and subsequent law violating behavior. Our findings suggest that while criminals as a whole have negative opinions of the law and legal authority, the sample of gun offenders (just like non-criminals) are more likely to comply with the law when they believe in (a) the substance of the law, and (b) the legitimacy of legal actors, especially the police. Moreover, we find that opinions of compliance to the law are not uniformly distributed across the sample population. In other words, not all criminals are alike in their opinions of the law. Gang members – but especially gang members with social networks saturated with criminal associates – are significantly less likely to view the law and its agents as a legitimate form of authority. However, those individuals (including gang member) with less saturated criminal networks, actually tend to have more positive opinions of the law, albeit these opinions are still overall negative.

* * *

For a related Situationist post see “Tom Tyler on “Strategies of Social Control” – Video.”

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Meaning of Human Sweat

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2009

42-16075752The LiveScience Staff at Yahoo! has an interesting piece on how humans respond to the scent of fear and other scents.  We excerpt it below.

* * *

Moviegoers might want to scoff a bit less when characters talk about the scent of fear. Women exposed to fear chemicals in male sweat tended to see ambiguous faces as being more fearful, according to a new study.

Such research shows for the first time how even the smell of fear can affect how people interpret what they see right in front of them. That fits with previous studies showing that visual and facial cues can affect human emotion and interpretation – but mainly when the situation seems uncertain.

“Our findings provide direct behavioral evidence that human sweat contains emotional meanings,” said Denise Chen, a psychologist at Rice University in Houston.

Male participants watched neutral clips, slapstick comedies and horror flicks, while a gauze pad sat in their armpits to collect sweat. Later, female participants had the gauze pads held under their noses as they watched images of faces that changed from somewhat happy to neutral to somewhat fearful.

* * *

Women volunteers ended up more likely to interpret ambiguous faces as fearful when they were smelling the “fear sweat,” but only in the case of ambiguous faces. They still interpreted somewhat happy or somewhat scared faces according to what they saw.

Humans rely primarily on sight and hearing, so it’s no surprise that smell only comes into play in situations where the other senses are less certain. Animals often rely on their more sophisticated sense of smell as a common form of communication, and even humans may fall back on it during certain social situations.

“The sense of smell guides our social perception when the more-dominant senses are weak,” Chen said.

Fear isn’t all that may tweak human noses. Chen previously looked at a very different situation involving guys, gals and “sexual sweat.”

* * *

For the rest of the piece, click here.  For a related post, see The Situation of a Loved One’s Clothes.

Posted in Emotions, Life | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 12, 2009

Rise of Conservative Legal MovementMark Tushnet‘s excellent review of Steven Teles’s book, “The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement” (forthcoming 87 Texas Law Review, 2008) is now available on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

Steven Teles’s book, The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement, is a case study of ideological challenge. Teles, a political scientist, emphasizes the institutional dimensions of such challenges. Relying on interviews and internal documents produced by conservative organizations, he examines the development of conservative litigating groups (i.e., conservative public interest law firms), the growth of the Federalist Society, and the embedding of law and economics within the legal academy. There have been similar studies of liberal public interest law firms and of the rise of liberal legalism in the academy, but Teles’s is the first to look on the other side of the ideological divide. And, given the dominance of liberal legal ideology, his analysis brings out in sharp relief many new insights into the institutions that affect the outcomes of ideological contests. In addition, Teles connects his analysis to a broader theme in recent studies of American political development. The rise of the conservative legal movement was intimately connected to changes in the dominant political order that have occurred over the past thirty years: the decay of the New Deal-Great Society political order, and the Reagan Revolution and its limits. In these ways Teles provides a firm foundation for thinking (or perhaps merely speculating) about future developments in the institutional apparatuses associated with conservative and liberal legal thought.

This Review summarizes and critiques Teles’s analysis of the three components of the conservative legal movement, beginning with the least important, law and economics in the legal academy, and then turning to conservative public interest law firms and the Federalist Society. It concludes with some speculations about the future of that movement, in light of the connection Teles rightly draws between that movement and the American political regime of the late twentieth century.

* * *

To read a related Situationist post, see “Deep Capture – Part X.”

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

Afraid of Knowing Ourselves

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 11, 2009

Race CowardiceLast month Charles Blow wrote a nice opinion piece, titled “A Nation of Cowards?” in the New York Times, in which he discussed Attorney General Eric Holder’s comments on the topic and echoed many of the themes routinely raised on The Situationist.   Here are some excerpts.

* * *

. . . . According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month, twice as many blacks as whites thought racism was a big problem in this country, while twice as many whites as blacks thought that blacks had achieved racial equality. . . . [A] CNN poll from last January found that 72 percent of whites thought that blacks overestimated the amount of discrimination against them, while 82 percent of blacks thought that whites underestimated the amount of discrimination against blacks.

What explains this wide discrepancy? One factor could be that most whites harbor a hidden racial bias that many are unaware of and don’t consciously agree with. Project Implicit . . . has administered hundreds of thousands of online tests designed to detect hidden racial biases. In tests taken from 2000 to 2006, they found that three-quarters of whites have an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias. (Blacks showed racial biases, too, but unlike whites, they split about evenly between pro-black and pro-white. And, blacks were the most likely of all races to exhibit no bias at all.)

* * *

So why do so many people have this anti-black bias? I called [Situationist Contributor] Brian Nosek, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Virginia and the director of Project Implicit, to find out. According to him, our brains automatically make associations based on our experiences and the information we receive, whether we consciously agree with those associations or not. He said that many egalitarian test-takers were shown to have an implicit anti-black bias, much to their chagrin. Professor Nosek took the test himself, and even he showed a pro-white/anti-black bias. Basically, our brains have a mind of their own. This bias can seep into our everyday lives in insidious ways.

* * *

Now that we know this, are we ready to talk? Maybe not yet. Talking frankly about race is still hard because it’s confusing and uncomfortable.

First, white people don’t want to be labeled as prejudiced, so they work hard around blacks not to appear so. A study conducted by researchers at Tufts University and Harvard Business School and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that many whites — including those as young as 10 years old — are so worried about appearing prejudiced that they act colorblind around blacks, avoiding “talking about race, or even acknowledging racial difference,” even when race is germane. Interestingly, blacks thought that whites who did this were more prejudiced than those who didn’t.

Second, that work is exhausting. A 2007 study by researchers at Northwestern and Princeton that was published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science found that interracial interactions leave whites both “cognitively and emotionally” drained because they are trying not to be perceived as prejudiced. The fear of offending isn’t necessarily cowardice, nor is a failure to acknowledge a bias that you don’t know that you have, but they are impediments. We have to forget about who’s a coward and who’s brave, about who feels offended and who gets blamed. Let’s focus on the facts, and let’s just talk.

* * *

You can access the entire editorial here.  For some related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas.”

Posted in Implicit Associations, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | 5 Comments »

Jurors, Brain Imaging, and the Allure of Pretty Pictures

Posted by Thomas Nadelhoffer on March 10, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words, or so the saying goes. But is it possible for a picture to say more than it should? On the surface, this seems like a silly question. However, in the case of brain imaging and the law, there is gathering evidence that suggests that introducing neuroimaging into the courtroom could perhaps do more damage than good. A series of recent studies suggest that whatever legally probative value brain imaging might have may be outstripped by the tendency of these data to bias the intuitions of the people who are exposed to them. But before examining the results of some of the salient studies, it is worth spending a few moments discussing the legal standards that govern the admissibility of scientific evidence in the courtroom more generally.

The two most salient legal rules in this context are the Federal Rules of Evidence 401 & 403:

· 401: “Relevant evidence” means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

· 403: Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.


In light of these two rules, the question is: Does the potential probative value of imaging data outweigh whatever potential costs could be associated with their introduction into the courtroom? To see why there may be problems lurking the mist, consider the following four studies:

1. Bright & Goodman-Delahunty (2006): In a series of studies, participants read the verdicts of fictional criminal cases. Some of the participants saw no photographs whereas others either saw neutral photographs (e.g., scratches on a door) or gruesome photographs (e.g., bodily injury). The researchers found that the conviction rate with neutral and gruesome photographs were markedly higher than the conviction rate with no photographs (38%, 41%, and 8.8%, respectively) even though the photos did not add any additional relevant information with respect to the guilt of the alleged perpetrator. These results suggest that photographs could have a biasing effect on jurors’ judgments even when the content of the photographs is not relevant to the task at hand.

2. Gurley and Marcus (2008): Participants were presented with descriptions of violent crimes and asked to determine whether the perpetrators should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Some participants simply received a description of the crime along with expert testimony that the perpetrator was psychopathic.  Other participants received the description of the crime plus one of the following (a) evidence that the perpetrator has a history of brain trauma, or (b) brain images suggesting damage to the frontal lobes.  Once again, it appears that brain images made a significant difference.  The results suggest that the percentage of participants who judged that the perpetrator was not guilty by reason of insanity was higher when accompanied by a brain image (37%), by testimony concerning brain injury (43%), or by both (50%), than they were when participants received neither (22%).

3. McCabe and Castel (2008): Participants were first presented with articles that included bad arguments—e.g., “watching TV helps with math ability because both activate the temporal lobe.” Whereas some participants received nothing more than the bad arguments, others received the arguments plus either brain images or bar graphs. The results of this study are in line with the results of the two aforementioned studies. Participants who received the supplementary brain images thought the arguments made more sense than the participants who received either supplementary bar graphs or no supplementary images or information (2.9 vs. 2.7 and 2.7, respectively).

4. Weisberg et al. (2008): In a series of studies, participants were asked to distinguish good explanations from bad explanations. In one study, for instance, participants read the following:

Researchers created a list of facts that about 50% of people knew. Subjects in this experiment read the list of facts and had to say which ones they knew. They then had to judge what percentage of other people would know those facts. Researchers found that the subjects responded differently about other people’s knowledge of a fact when the subject themselves knew that fact. If the subjects did know a fact, they said that an inaccurately large percentage of others would know it, too…the researchers call this finding “the curse of knowledge.

After reading this prompt, some participants received an explanation that involved no neuroscience—for instance:

The researches claim this curse happens because subjects make more mistakes when they have to judge the knowledge of others. People are much better at judging what they themselves know.

Other participants, however, received the same explanation in addition to being presented with the following kind of pseudo-neuroscientific information:

Brain scans indicate that this curse happens because the frontal lobe brain circuitry known to be involved in self-knowledge. Subjects make more mistakes when they have to judge the knowledge of others. People are much better at judging what they themselves know.

Despite the fact that this pseudo-neuroscientific information does not add anything to the explanation, participants who were provided with this information found the information more explanatorily satisfying than participants who did not receive this additional information (means = 0.16 and 0.2 and means = -0.73 and -1.1, respectively).


Now is neither the time nor the place to flesh out the results of these interesting studies in detail. My goal is simply to point out some of the evidence which suggests that introducing brain imaging into the courtroom may bias the moral and legal intuitions of judges and jurors—a problem that is further magnified by the fact that laypersons mistakenly assume that fMRI images provide photographs of the brain rather than merely providing complex visually reconstructed statistical correlations.

In light of these worries, we ought to proceed with extreme caution when it comes to the drive to introduce brain imaging into the courtroom. If nothing else, it is clear that steps need to be taken to make sure that the human fondness for pretty pictures doesn’t cloud the ability of judges and jurors to take imaging data at face value.

For more about these studies and the introduction of brain imaging into the courtroom, see:

  1. Aharoni, E., C. Funk, W. Sinnott-Armstrong, & M. Gazzaniga. 2008. Can neurological evidence help courts assess criminal responsibility? Lessons from law and neuroscience. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences: 1-16.
  2. Bright, D.A. & J. Goodman-Delahunty. 2006. Gruesome evidence and emotion: Anger, blame, and jury decision-making. Law and Human Behavior 30: 183-202.
  3. Bufkin, J.L. & V.R. Luttrell. 2005. Neuro-imaging studies of aggressive and violent behavior: Current findings and implications for criminology and criminal justice. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse 6: 176-191.
  4. Feigenson, N. 2006. Brain imaging and courtroom evidence: On the admissibility and persuasiveness of fMRI. International Journal of Law in Context 2: 233-255.
  5. Gurley, J.R. & D.K. Marcus. 2008. The effects of neuroimaging and brain injury on insanity defenses. Behavioral Sciences and the Law. 26: 85-97.
  6. McCabe, D.P. & A.D. Castel. 2008. Seeing is believing: The effect of brain images on judgments of scientific reasoning. Cognition 107: 343-352.
  7. Roskies, A. I. 2007. Are neuroimages like photographs of the brain? Philosophy of Science 74: 860-872.
  8. _____. 2008. Neuroimaging and inferential distance. Neuroethics 1: 19-30.
  9. Sinnott-Armstrong, W., A. Roskies, T. Brown, & E. Murphy. 2008. Brain images as legal evidence. Episteme: 359-373.
  10. Weisberg, D.S., F.C. Keil, J. Goodstein, E. Rawson, & J.R. Gray. 2008. The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 20: 470-477.

Posted in Law, Morality, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | 3 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: