The Situationist

Archive for March, 2009

Barry Schwartz on Wisdom

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 10, 2009

Barry Schwartz was one of the presenters at Saturday’s Third Annual Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference at Harvard Law School.

* * *

Last month, Professor Schwartz gave a TEDtalk, titled “The real crisis? We stopped being wise.”  In it, he “makes a passionate call for practical wisdom as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.”  Here’s a video of the (21 minute) talk.

* * *

Learn more about the PLMS conference and Professor Schwartz’s presentation here. To review Situationist posts discussing research by Barry Schwartz. click here.


Posted in Life, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Case for Obedience

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 9, 2009

White Cogs and Red CogAuthor David Berreby had an excellent article, The Case for Fitting In, in the New York Times Magazine last year.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

When Eliot Spitzer resigned his governorship for committing the very crimes he’d publicly denounced only a few months before, he seemed mystifyingly inconsistent. Yet one character trait does shine through the separate, supposedly incompatible compartments of his life. A self-described “steamroller,” he had that self-confident drive to do what he’d decided needed doing, never mind others’ expectations, never mind who or what gets hurt. In politics, and in his sexual life, he embodied nonconformity. Voters ate it up when he ran for governor, because Americans have a prejudice in favor of lone wolves. Moral superiority, we like to think, belongs to the person who stands alone.

Until recently, social science went along with this idea. Lab-based research supposedly furnished slam-dunk evidence that, as the social psychologist Solomon Asch put it, “the social process is polluted” by “the dominance of conformity.” That research, though, was rooted in its time and place: The United States in the aftermath of World War II, when psychologists and sociologists focused on the conformity that made millions give in to totalitarian regimes.

Lately, however, some researchers have been dissenting from the textbook version. Where an earlier generation saw only a contemptible urge to go along, revisionists see normal people balancing their self-respect against their equally valuable respect for other people, and for human relationships. For evidence, revisionists say, look no further than those very experiments that supposedly proved the evils of conformity.

The psychologists Bert Hodges and Anne Geyer recently took a new look at a well-known experiment devised by Asch in the 1950s. Asch’s subjects were asked to look at a line printed on a white card and then tell which of three similar lines was the same length. The answer was obvious, but the catch was that each volunteer was sitting in a small group whose other members were actually in on the experiment. Asch found that when those other people all agreed on the wrong answer, many of the subjects went along with the group, against the evidence of their own senses.

But the question (Which of these lines matches the one on the card?) was not posed just once. Each subject saw 18 sets of lines, and the group answer was wrong for 12 of them. Examining all the data, Hodges and Geyer found that many people were varying their answers, sometimes agreeing with the group, more often sticking up for their own view. (The average participant gave in to the group three times out of 12.)

This means that the subjects in the most famous “people are sheep” experiment were not sheep at all — they were human beings who largely stuck to their guns, but now and then went along with the group. Why? Because in getting along with other people, most decent people know, as Hodges and Geyer put it, the “importance of cooperation, tact and social solidarity in situations that are tense or difficult.”

* * *

Without that kind of trust society would fall apart tomorrow, because most of what we know about the world comes to us from other people. . . .

. . . . Of course, no society should ask for knee-jerk obedience to any command. But, as the dissenters point out, there are dangers in a knee-jerk refusal to get in line. For example, in a version of the Milgram experiment in which the dupe is seated in a group of three, he will defy the “experimenter” and behave humanely — if the other two people refuse to inflict further shocks. That kind of conformity is, to put it mildly, desirable.

* * *

To read the entire article, click here.  To read some related Situationist posts, see “David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, and Now John Edwards: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation,” “Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment . . . Today,” and “Solomon Asch’s Classic Group-Influence Experiment.”  For a list of previous Situationist posts discussing Milgram’s research click here.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

The Positive Situation of Crowds

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 8, 2009

crowdsThe Economist has an interesting piece on the psychology of crowds.  We excerpt the piece below.

* * *

One researcher who is interested in this approach is Mark Levine, a social psychologist at Lancaster University in Britain who studies crowds. Crowds have a bad press. They have been blamed for antisocial behaviour through mechanisms that include peer pressure, mass hysteria and the diffusion of responsibility—the idea that “someone else will do something, so I don’t have to”. But Dr Levine thinks that crowds can also diffuse potentially violent situations and that crime would be much higher if it were not for crowds. As he told a symposium called “Understanding Violence,” which was organised by the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland earlier this month, he has been using CCTV data to examine the bystander effect, an alleged phenomenon whereby people who would help a stranger in distress if they were alone, fail to do so in the presence of others. His conclusion is that it ain’t so. In fact, he thinks, having a crowd around often makes things better.

* * *

Dr Levine talks of a “collective choreography” of violence, in which the crowd determines the outcome as much as the protagonist and the target do, and he is now taking his ideas into the laboratory. In collaboration with Mel Slater, a computer scientist at University College, London, he is looking at the responses of bystanders to violence recreated in virtual reality.

Dr Slater has pioneered this approach, since people seem to react to virtual reality as they do to real life, but no one gets hurt and conditions can be controlled precisely. Because the participants know it is not real, many of the ethical obstacles to placing them in such situations are removed. But Dr Slater proved the tool’s usefulness in 2006, when he used it to recreate a famous experiment conducted in the 1960s by Stanley Milgram, an American psychologist. Milgram showed that ordinary people would obey orders to the point of delivering potentially lethal electric shocks to strangers—an experiment that, even though nobody really received any shocks, would be ruled out today, on ethical grounds. Dr Slater’s volunteers behaved similarly to Milgram’s.

* * *

For the rest of the piece, click here.  For related Situationist pieces on Stanely Milgram, click here.

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

The Situation of Objectification

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 7, 2009

The Daily Mail’s Fiona Macrae and CNN‘s Elizabeth Landau each had brief articles last week on the fascinating research by Situationist contributor Susan Fiske and her collaborators.   We’ve mashed up excerpts of the two articles below.

* * *

It may seem obvious that men perceive women in sexy bathing suits as objects, but now there’s science to back it up.

New research shows that, in men, the brain areas associated with handling tools and the intention to perform actions light up when viewing images of women in bikinis.

At the same time, the region they use to try to tune into another person’s thoughts and feelings tunes down, brain scans showed.

The research was presented this week by [Situationist Contributor] Susan Fiske . . .  at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The participants, 21 heterosexual male undergraduates at Princeton, took questionnaires to determine whether they harbor “benevolent” sexism, which includes the belief that a woman’s place is in the home, or hostile sexism, a more adversarial viewpoint which includes the belief that women attempt to dominate men.

In the men who scored highest on hostile sexism, the part of the brain associated with analyzing another person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions was inactive while viewing scantily clad women, Fiske said.

Overall, the experiments showed that sexy images lead men to think of women as ‘less than human.’

Fiske said: ‘The only other time we have seen this is when people look at pictures of the homeless or of drug addicts . . . .”  The phenomenon in this case is somewhat different, Fiske said. People have reactions of avoidance toward the homeless and drug addicts, and the opposite for scantily clad women.

“This is just the first study which was focused on the idea that men of a certain age view sex as a highly desirable goal, and if you present them with a provocative woman, then that will tend to prime goal-related responses,” she told CNN.

“They’re not fully conscious responses, and so people don’t know the extent to which they’re being influenced,” Fiske said. “It’s important to recognize the effects.”

A supplementary study on both male and female undergraduates found that men tend to associate bikini-clad women with first-person action verbs such as I “push,” “handle” and “grab” instead of the third-person forms such as she “pushes,” “handles” and “grabs.” They associated fully clothed women, on the other hand, with the third-person forms, indicating these women were perceived as in control of their own actions. The females who took the test did not show this effect, Fiske said.

That goes along with the idea that the man looking at a woman in a bikini sees her as the object of action, Fiske said.

Past studies have also shown that when men view images of highly sexualized women, and then interact with a woman in a separate setting, they are more likely to have sexual words on their minds, she said. They are also more likely to remember the woman’s physical appearance, and sit closer to her — for instance, at a job interview.

Fiske said the effect could spill over into the workplace, with girlie calendars leading men to sexualise their colleagues.

She said: ‘I am not saying there should be censorship but people need to know of the associations people have in their minds.’

* * *

We would add that this research might provide some pause to those employers who encourage or require their employees to dress provocatively (see, for example, the article here).

For related Situationist posts, see “Hillary Clinton, the Halo Effect, and Women’s Catch-22,” “The Color of Sex Appeal,” The Situation of Body Image,” “The Situation of Hair Color,” “The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” Survival of the Cutest,” “Women’s Situational Bind,” Hey Dove! Talk to YOUR parent!,” and “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes.”

Posted in Emotions, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 6, 2009


Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news items of February 2009. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

* * *

From The Economist: The kindness of crowds

“According to a much-reported survey carried out in 2002, Britain then had 4.3m closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras—one for every 14 people in the country. That figure has since been questioned, but few doubt that Britons are closely scrutinised when they walk the streets. This scrutiny is supposed to deter and detect crime. Even the government’s statistics, though, suggest that the cameras have done little to reduce the worst sort of criminal activity, violence.  That may, however, be about to change, and in an unexpected way. It is not that the cameras and their operators will become any more effective. Rather, they have accidentally gathered a huge body of data on how people behave, and particularly on how they behave in situations where violence is in the air. This means that hypotheses about violent behaviour which could not be tested experimentally for practical or ethical reasons, can now be examined in a scientific way. And it is that which may help violence to be controlled.” Read more . . .

From Miller McCune: The Down Side of Self Control

Self-control is a limited resource, one we cannot go on exercising indefinitely any more than we can run 100 miles without rest and replenishment. A group of research psychologists has been proposing and refining that concept for more than a decade, and in a newly published paper, two of them report it has disturbing moral implications.Read more . . .

From Science Daily: Collective Religious Rituals, Not Religious Devotion, Spur Support For Suicide Attacks

“ In a new study in Psychological Science, psychologists Jeremy Ginges and Ian Hansen from the New School for Social Research along with psychologist Ara Norenzayan from the University of British Columbia conducted a series of experiments investigating the relationship between religion and support for acts of parochial altruism, including suicide attacks. . . . The researchers found that the relationship between religion and support suicide attacks is real but is unrelated to devotion to particular religious beliefs or religious belief in general. Instead, collective religious ritual appears to facilitate parochial altruism in general and support for suicide attacks in particular.” Read more . . .

From Science Daily: If Its Hard To Say, It Must Be Risky

“Will it seem safer when its name is easy to pronounce? In a new study reported in Psychological Science psychologists Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz from the University of Michigan present evidence that we if have problems pronouncing something, we will consider it to be risky.” Read more . . .

From Science Daily: Violent Media Numbs Viewers To The Pain Of Others

“Violent video games and movies make people numb to the pain and suffering of others, according to a research report published in the March 2009 issue of Psychological Science.” Read more . . .

From Time: Giving the Finger: This Hurts Me More Than You

“No one knows whether Plato ever flipped anyone the bird — but he might have. People have been raising their middle finger to indicate something other than “Does this cuticle need trimming?” since the time of the ancient Greeks. Like democracy and feta cheese, it spread around the world.” Read more . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 5, 2009


At the 2007 Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference, John Jost’s presentation was titled “System Justification and the Law.” Here is the abstract for his talk.

Although there can be little doubt that individual and group self-interest motivate human behavior to a considerable degree, research in social psychology has revealed a quite different and often powerful motive: the motive to defend and justify the social status quo. This motive is present (at least to some degree) even among those who are seemingly most disadvantaged by the status quo; in some cases, in fact, this motive is strongest among those who are the most severely disadvantaged. System justification theory seeks to elucidate the nature of this motive and the situations in which it operates.

* * *

Dr. Jost will summarize recent theory and research concerning the various  manifestations, antecedents and consequences of the system justification motive. He will also address its implications for the law, arguing that system justification motives sometimes result in behaviors that current legal thinking would not otherwise anticipate. For example, victims of discrimination or abuse complain less often than self interest would predict, and employees conceal evidence of corporate wrongdoing even at their own peril. The theory also speaks to the power of “framing” and suggests ways in which legal advocates can either amplify or dampen the system-justifying motives of those whom they would persuade. The existence of system justification poses significant psychological obstacles to social change in general and legal change in particular.

Below you can watch the videos of Jost’s fascinating presentation (roughly 30 minutes total).

* * *

* * *

* * *

* * *

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

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

Posted in Abstracts, Ideology, Implicit Associations, System Legitimacy, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Being Stephon Marbury: The Situation of Having “Baggage”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 4, 2009

stephon-marburyJulian Benbow of the Boston Globe has an interesting story on the newest Boston Celtic:  32-year-old Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star point guard who was recently released by the New York Knicks.

Marbury is considered a very talented player, but during a 13-year in which he has consistently played for losing teams, he’s developed a reputation for being a “malcontent” and generally being difficult to be around.

Benbow examines whether Marbury will be viewed differently now that he has joined the World Champion Boston Celtics, which have strong leaders in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.  Will the situation change Marbury or is Marbury stuck in his ways?  We excerpt the piece below.

* * *

Certain players just fit the type, according to [former Boston Celtics coach and current TV announcer Tommy] Heinsohn.

“They’re usually smart guys,” he said. “They’ve got something to prove. I think they understand that this is their shot to win a title and be a special player and reclaim their heritage to the game.”

New England has been good to those kinds of players recently. Randy Moss mooned Packers fans in Green Bay, nudged a traffic officer with his car in Minneapolis, then went to a Super Bowl in his first season as a Patriot.

Corey Dillon went from Cincinnati malcontent to Super Bowl champion.

Stephon Marbury is the latest to come to Boston with baggage, and the constant question around his impending arrival was whether he’d be toxic to team chemistry.

But there’s something reclaimable about Marbury, because of the situation he’s walking into – a veteran locker room with a championship-tested formula – and he wouldn’t be the first player to thrive with the Celtics after being labeled damaged goods.

“Every new guy that came to Boston, they wanted to make sure we kept winning,” said Tom “Satch” Sanders, who won eight rings in Green. “They didn’t want people to say, ‘What was the reason the Celtics didn’t win? It must be that new guy.’ ”

“They’re tired of being the reason why,” Heinsohn said. “Tired of being the scapegoat. They wanted to prove that they were really a terrific player. And they want to be on a winning team.”

Ups and downs

Dennis Johnson had the “problem” classification before he came to Boston. His temper torched college coaches, and Lenny Wilkens spent three years butting heads with him in Seattle. Fed up in 1980, Wilkens told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “You can’t get rid of the body, but you can cut out the cancer.”

The Sonics dealt Johnson to Phoenix, and three years later he ended up in Boston. K.C. Jones, the Celtics’ new coach, paid Johnson’s rep no mind.

“When he came, I knew he had a reputation,” Jones said. “I heard things about him, that he was difficult. When he came in, I wanted to see how he played and if he did his job. When he got to the Celtics, he got out there and he played, and nothing came up because none of it showed.”

Johnson won two rings in Boston.

* * *

To read the rest of the piece, click here.  For a related post, see The Situation of the NBA Draft.

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

The Situation of Voting for Obama

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 3, 2009

voting-for-obama-signFor the Stanford New Service, Adam Gorlick has summarized a fascinating study indicating that some people who voted for Obama may, as a consequence, be more inclined to favor whites.

* * *

The election of Barack Obama was as much a milestone in civil rights history as it was a political event. In newspaper columns and crowded bars, around university campuses and family dinner tables, people have hailed the election of the first black president as proof of progress in the country’s reckoning with race.

Now some Stanford psychologists are focusing on an irony they’ve found at the expense of those widespread feelings of racial harmony. In three experiments conducted before the November election, they found that expressing support for Obama makes some people feel justified in favoring whites over blacks.

“This is the psychological equivalent of when people in casual conversation say something like ‘many of my best friends are black,'” said Daniel Effron, who conducted the studies with fellow graduate student Jessica Cameron and Benoît Monin, an associate professor of psychology. Their findings are slated for publication in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

“They say that because they’re about to say something else that they’re concerned might be construed as prejudiced,” Effron said.

Those people are trying to build what the psychologists call “moral credentials”—the license they feel is needed to express their true feelings about race that may upset or offend others.

In two studies that yielded the same results, participants were asked if they would hire a black or white officer to work in a police department with a history of racial tension.

The researchers expected the scenario to make people squirm. They figured many would be tempted to say the job is better suited for the white candidate—either because they might feel the black candidate would be uncomfortable working with racist officers, or because they harbored negative attitudes toward blacks.

“But they’d be uncomfortable saying the job is better suited for a white person than a black person because that could be construed as being prejudiced,” Effron said.

So the participants—most of whom were white or Asian, and all of whom supported Obama—were divided into two groups. One group was allowed to openly endorse Obama; the other wasn’t.

Those who could not express their support before making a hiring decision tended to play it safe by saying the job would be equally suited for either whites or blacks. But those who were allowed to pick up moral credentials by showing they endorsed Obama were more likely to say the white officer was a significantly better choice for the job.

Another test explored how moral credentials influenced people who harbored some prejudice toward blacks. Using the Modern Racism Scale, which gauges people’s racial attitudes, the psychologists were able to identify participants who supported Obama despite having some negative feelings about blacks.

“None of them were Jim Crow racists,” Effron said. “But some had more negative attitudes than others.”

The participants assumed the roles of voters being asked to give local government money to two private organizations. One organization served a black community; the other, a white one. They were also told the black community group had already received money from another source.

The test subjects—who were again mostly white or Asian Obama supporters who also backed John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election—were split into two groups. One group was allowed to show their support only for Kerry; the other was allowed to express support only for Obama.

When participants with more negative attitudes toward blacks could establish moral credentials by saying they backed Obama, they allotted more money to the white organization than those who could only endorse Kerry. Those who rated lower on the Modern Racism Scale tended to give more money to the black organization after endorsing Obama.

“Our results suggest that people with more positive attitudes toward blacks are less likely to seize on moral credentials as an excuse to favor whites,” Effron said. “It’s encouraging to know that endorsing Obama will not always result in the expression of views that are unfavorable to blacks. It’s only when moral credentials combine with negative racial attitudes that we have cause for concern.”

The findings leave Effron and his colleagues with two takes on how Obama’s election influences how people talk about race.

“On one hand, there’s concern that people may use their support for Obama as a pass, or license, to express views that are harmful to African Americans,” Effron said. “But to the extent that expressing support for Obama reduces concerns about being perceived as prejudiced, it could also lead to the kind of open discussions about race that the president himself has encouraged.”

* * *

For some related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We ‘Know’ It Doesn’t,” What does an Obama victory mean?,” “The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and “Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV.” For other Situationist posts on President Obama, click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Politics, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

Conference – The Free Market Mindset

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 2, 2009


Third Conference on Law and Mind Sciences

“The Free Market Mindset:

History, Psychology, and Consequences”

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tentative Schedule

8:45 – 9:15: Continental Breakfast
9:20 – 9:35: Opening Remarks (“The Free Market Mindset”)
9:40 – 11:00: Session 1

•    9:40 – 10:05: Christine Desan, “Legal Categories of Thought”:
The law categorizes different kinds of liquidity — including coin, banknotes, bonds, dollars, and securities — in rich and various ways. The talk will suggest some of the ways that legal doctrine has disciplined our thought, including our assumptions about money and the way it is made, about public and private, and about free choice in the marketplace.

•    10:10 – 10:35: Bernard Harcourt, “Neoliberal Penality: The Birth of Natural Order, the Illusion of Free Markets”:
In the Encyclopédie in 1758, under the entry “Grains,” Francois Quesnay declared that “It is quite sufficient that the government simply not interfere with industry, suppress the prohibitions and prejudicial constraints on internal commerce and reciprocal external trade, abolish or diminish tolls and transport charges, and extinguish the privileges levied on commerce by the provinces.” Quesnay’s vision of an economic system governed by natural order led to a political theory of “legal despotism” that would stand on its head an earlier understanding of a more seamless relationship between economy and society. By relegating the state to the margins of the market and giving it free rein there and there alone, the idea of natural order facilitated the unrestrained expansion of the penal sphere. It gave birth to our modern form of neoliberal penality.  In this presentation, I will trace a genealogy of neoliberal penality and explore the effects it has had in the field of crime and punishment specifically, and in the area of economy and society more generally.

•    10:40 – 11:00: Q&A

11:05 – 12:25: Session 2

•    11:05 – 11:30: Stephen Marglin, “How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community”:
Economics is a two-faced, one might almost say schizophrenic, discipline.  It claims to be a science, describing the world, telling it like it is without preconception or value judgment.  (Never mind that the hey-day of positivism that enshrines the separation between fact and value is long past; economists have always lived in a time warp.)  The reality is that descriptive economics has been shaped by a framework of assumptions, a metaphysics more geared to its normative message than to its descriptive pretensions.  This framework is essential to the normative side of an economics that trumpets the virtues of markets and is maintained even when it gets in the way of understanding how the economy really works.
The 19th century physicist, Lord Kelvin, famously proclaimed the virtue of knowledge imbued with the precision of number. Economics goes physics one better, from epistemology to ontology: anything we can’t measure—like community—simply doesn’t exist.  If your model of the world is inhabited by self-interested individuals rationally calculating how to consume ever more, for whom society is the nation-state, community is not going to show up on your radar.  It goes without saying that economic hardship, especially the kind caused by unemployment and short hours, will make community more necessary and more visible; people will have to rely on each other more and more as the market fails them.  It remains to be seen what impact this dose of reality will have on economics.

•    11:35 – 12:00: Juliet Schor, “Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies”:
Mainstream economic theory claims that a competitive market equilibrium delivers optimal levels of consumption and well-being. The reasoning relies on a number of invalid assumptions, including the crucial premise that individuals’ preference structures are independent. If consumption is social, as considerable social science research shows, then the market delivers excessive levels of consumption, too many hours of work, and too much ecological degradation. (This is in addition to the well-known argument that ecological goods are externalities.) In this talk I discuss the implications of what has become a profound market failure, and how we can rectify it.

•    12:05 – 12:25: Q&A

12:30 – 1:30: Lunch

12:50 – 1:20: UPDATE: Judge Richard Posner, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

1:35 – 3:50: Session 3

•    1:35 – 2:00: Sheena Iyengar, “The Multiple Choice Problem”:
It is a common supposition in modern society that the more choices, the better—that the human ability to manage, and the human desire for, choice is infinite. From classic economic theories of free enterprise, to mundane marketing practices that provide customers with entire aisles devoted to potato chips or soft drinks, to highly consequential life decisions in which people contemplate multiple options for medical treatment or investment opportunities for retirement, this belief pervades our institutions, norms, and customs. In this era of abundant choice, there are several dilemmas that people face: How do you choose given the sheer number of domains in which you now have the ability to choose? And in any given domain, what are the ramifications of being confronted with more options than ever before? In this talk, I will describe decisions we need to make that vary in significance from jams at a supermarket to life-or-death situations, looking at how the exercise of choosing and the availability of numerous options affect decision quality and happiness with the decision outcome.

•    2:05 – 2:30: Nicole Stephens, “Choice, Social Class, and Agency”:
Across disciplines we tend to assume that choice is a fundamental or “basic” unit of human behavior, and that behavior is a product of individual choice. In my talk, I will present a series of lab and field studies that question these assumptions about behavior, and suggest that these assumptions reflect primarily the experiences of college-educated, or middle-class, Americans, who tend to have access to a wealth of choices and an array of quality options among which to choose. I will discuss the implications of these assumptions for the (mis)understanding of behavior across diverse contexts.

•    2:35 – 3:00: Jaime Napier,The Palliative Function of Ideology”:
In this research, we drew on system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. Specifically, in three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.

•    3:05 – 3:30: Barry Schwartz, “Addicted to Incentives: How the Ideology of Self Interest Can Be Self-Fulfilling”:
“If you want someone to do something, you have to make it worth their while.”  This uncontroversial statement is the watchword of our time. It is the core assumption of economics and of rational choice theory.  It is the linchpin of free market ideology.  And it explains why the first place we look in matters of public policy—from regulating financial markets to improving the quality of education to reducing the high costs of health care—is to the incentive system that governs the behavior of current practitioners.  Uncontroversial.  Self-evident.  And false.  In this talk, I will argue that the reductive appeal to self-interest as the master human motive is a false description of human nature.  At the same time, it can become a true description if people live in a world in which incentives are presumed to explain everything and are used to produce the behavior we want.  Just as people can become addicted to heroin, they can become addicted to incentives.  Looking at modern American society as it is gives us a picture of what people can be, but not of what they must be.

•    3:35 – 3:50: Q&A

3:55 – 4:10: Coffee Break
4:15 – 5:55: Session 4

Law & Policy:
•    4:15 – 4:40: Douglas Kysar, “The Point of Precaution: Economics and the Forgetting of Environmental Law”:

By now, the story of modern American environmental law has been redacted into a familiar script, one in which the excesses of our early attempts to regulate the human impact on the environment came to be disciplined by the insights of sound science and economic reasoning, warding off in the process alarmism, inefficiency, and government overreaching.  However useful this script may once have been, it now actively impedes efforts to understand and improve our environmental performance.  Its logic and conclusions have begun to appear so powerful that we have lost sight of a great deal of practical and moral wisdom that remains alive within our early, “excessive” efforts to conserve natural resources, reduce pollution, save species, and enhance human health and safety.  Soon enough, the language of instrumentalism that animates our talk of tradeoffs, efficiency, and welfare maximization will become so dominant that we will lose facility altogether with these alternative and once resonant languages.  We will forget that we once talked of environmental rights, rather than of optimal risk tradeoffs; of the grave challenges posed by uncertainty regarding potentially disastrous or irreversible consequences of human action, rather than of risk aversion and the option value of delay; of the stewardship obligations we incur on behalf of future generations, rather than of discounted welfare maximization; and of the responsibility we hold to lead international cooperative endeavors to protect the global biosphere, rather than of competitiveness concerns arising from regulatory differentiation within the world economy.  In short, we will forget the richly contoured and sometimes convoluted, but always essential moral and political landscape that lends meaning to those aspects of our environmental laws that appear nonsensical from the perspective of economic theory.
•    4:45 – 5:10: Jon Hanson, “Regulation Reactance”

According to folk wisdom, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and people tend to “want what they cannot have.”  Some decades ago, social psychologists identified a related tendency they named “reactance”: the negative response to threats to, or constraints on, perceived freedoms.  Although many have identifiied the significant role played by reactance in the marketing of products, few have noticed  its equally influential role in the promotion of policies and policy ideologies. I’ll review several kinds of support for that claim and explain how the success of the free market mindset reflects “regulation reactance” (among other situational forces).
•    5:15 – 5:30: Q&A

•    5:30 – 5:55: Large Panel Discussion – Presenters and Conference Attendees

o    Anne Alstott (HLS)

o    James Cavallaro (HLS)

o    Gillian Lester (HLS & Berkeley)

o    Michael McCann (Vermont Law)

o    Benjamin Sachs (HLS)

5:55 – 6:00: Closing Remarks

* * *

Learn more or register here.

Posted in Abstracts, Events, History, Ideology, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: