The Situationist

Archive for May, 2009

The Situation of “Genius”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2009

Child Genius -  flickrDavid Brooks had a worthwhile, situationist op-ed in the New York Times on sources of “genius.”  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.

* * *

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

The recent research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. It’s been summarized in two enjoyable new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.

This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.

Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings.

Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused. According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.

Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)

By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.

Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.

The primary trait she possesses is not some mysterious genius. It’s the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

* * *

The entire op-ed is here.   For some related Situationist posts, see “Wise Parents Don’t Have “Smart” Kids,” How Situational Self-Schemas Influence Disposition” (which includes a video of Carol Dweck), “The Perils of Being Smart,” “Jock or Nerd,” “First Person or Third,”The Unconscious Genius of Baseball Players,” and The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’.”


Posted in Book, Education, Situationist Sports, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Self-Control

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 10, 2009

Self Control Meredith F. Small had a very interesting article,”Losing It: Why Self-Control Is Not Natural” in a recent issue of LiveScience.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

After dinner last night, I lost my usual self-control and ate half a box of cookies. No  wonder. My self-control had been under pressure all day. I righteously refused a muffin at breakfast, didn’t scream at my kid to get out the door although we were late, made a conscious decision not to run over a pedestrian crossing against the light, kept my fist from pounding on the table during a faculty meeting, and resisted the urge to throw an annoying student out of my office.

But by 7 p.m., my self-control mechanism was worn out, and down those cookies went.

The empty box would have been no surprise to Yale University psychologist Joshua Ackerman and colleagues who have discovered that self-control not only wears us down, even thinking about other people’s self-control is too much to handle.

In the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science, the researchers taunted subjects with the story of a waiter who was surrounded by gourmet food but not allowed a taste. Some of the subjects were encouraged to go beyond polite listening and actually imagine this poor waiter, to have real empathy with his situation. And then everybody was shown pictures of expensive stuff. Those who had put themselves in the shoes of the waiter, had suffered all that self-control as he had, wanted that stuff, no matter the price.

In other words, just the thought of someone, anyone, depriving himself eventually makes greedy beasts of all of us.

Apparently, it’s human nature to be out of control. Imagine our early ancestors roaming the savannah looking for food. They might bring down a gazelle, but that meat was probably not enough for some of the group. As soon as they wiped their mouths, those lacking self-control were probably off again on the hunt because they could not deny themselves anything.

Such an attitude was probably adaptive. . . .

The need for self-control must have come much later, and in other spheres than food. Group living, for example, takes great self-control; it takes a lot to live with people day after day and not kill them, and so those more reflective humans who could keep their anger in check probably did well once humans settled into communities.

But that kind of self-control has become so painful in the modern world because there is so much to want, so much to tempt our restraint. We live in busy, complex communities surrounded by desirable goods and fun ideas, and so all day, every day, we hold back. And we see that most everyone else is holding back too. We are hit hard by both our own weary self-control as well as the exhausting empathy we apparently have for everyone else’s self-control.

* * *

To read some related Situationist posts, see “Are Video Games Addictive?,” “Merchants of Discontent – Abstract,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

Posted in Life, Marketing | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Impressions of a New President

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 9, 2009

President ObamaPew Research has put together a neat interactive chart featuring the top 20 used to describe President Barack Obama in April compared with the frequency of respondents using those words last September.

Some big changes:

* On the plus side for the President, people are now more likely to describe him as “intelligent” and “good”, and far less likely to describe him as “inexperienced.”

* On the down side (in the eyes of most), the President is far less likely to have the word “change” associated with him, while “socialist” has become a much more popular description of him.

Whatever words are used to describe President Obama, his 67% approval rating suggests people are generally supportive of him.  It will be interesting to see Pew’s findings later this year and into the 2010 midterm elections.

For related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Voting for Obama and Stereotype Lift – The Obama Effect.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Tenet: “Guilty”

Posted by Philip Zimbardo on May 8, 2009

bush-tenetMore than 10,000 people cast their votes during the last year and a half in a virtual voting booth at Their judgments accord with the recent Senate Armed Services bipartisan report that blames Bush officials for detainee abuse. It also finds that the prison guards and interrogators were not the “true culprits.”

The vast majority of these voters found all four Bush officials guilty of having created the legal frameworks, laws, and motivational conditions that provided the foundation for the abuses and torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons. The guilty verdicts (for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Tenet) were true regardless of political preference, across all age groups, and whether or not they had read The Lucifer Effect book before voting.

Democrats were more likely to vote guilty than were those identified as Republicans, but even so, the majority of Republicans found each of the four officials guilty:

  • Bush: 95 % (Democrat) to 57% (Republican);
  • Cheney: 88% to 72%;
  • Rumsfeld: 89% to 72%;
  • Tenet: 83% to 70 %.

Those identified as “Other” political preference overwhelmingly gave guilty verdicts to all four:

  • 93% Bush;
  • 96% Cheney;
  • 95 % Rumsfeld, and
  • 89 % Tenet.

The percentage of guilty votes increased systematically with age of voters for all four officials: 86% of those under age 21 found George W. Bush guilty, as did 89% of those 21-40, 93 % of those 41-60, and a high of 97% for voters over the age of 60.

For Dick Cheney, the guilt verdicts were even higher at each age level, from 88% under 21, to 93% 21-40, to 97% 41-60, and a maximum of 99% for senior voters. Similar patterns can be seen for former Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld and former head of the CIA, Tenet.

My involvement with trying to understand the causes of the abuses and torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib began when I agreed to be part of the defense team organized by Gary Myers, legal council for one of the Army Reserve Military Police, Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick. In that role, I read all of the many investigative reports by various generals and one headed by James Schlesinger, former Sec. of Defense. I also read all of the relevant Human Rights Watch reports, International Red Cross reports, and more. I spoke with interrogators, military criminal investigators, and senior military officers who were on that scene. After in-depth interviews with Chip Frederick and reviewing his psychological evaluation by a military specialist, and his prior service record, I felt competent in rendering the judgment that he was a “good apple.” And further, that the conditions he and the other MPs were forced to work in and live in constituted the “Bad Barrel” that corrupted him and the other prison guards on the Tier 1A night shift (where all the abuses occurred).

These findings were summarized in two chapters of a book I wrote subsequently, Chapters 14 and 15 of The Lucifer Effect (Random House, 2007). While military justice put Frederick and many of the other MPs on trial for the abuses they had perpetrated on individuals they were supposed to protect while in their custody, none of the officers who should have been in charge were ever tried. Those abuses took place over more than three months in the fall of 2003 before being exposed. Command complicity involves responsibility for illegal or immoral behavior of one’s subordinates that officers should have known about – had they cared enough to be watching the store or the torture dungeon.

My summation to the military prosecutor in Frederick’s trial (2004) stated that although the soldier on trial was guilty of the abuses for which he was charged (for which he got an 8 year prison sentence), it was the Situation and the System that were also responsible. The Situation is the complex set of environmental circumstances in operation on the night shift in the interrogation center of Tier 1A—that created horrendous conditions for our soldiers as well as the detainees. The System includes those in charge of creating and maintaining those situations by means of resource allocation, legal rules, and top-down pressures for “actionable intelligence” by all means necessary.

I ended my conceptual analysis with a call for readers of my Lucifer Effect book to play the role of jurors in deciding on the guilt and accountability of some of the military command in charge at Abu Ghraib, along with Bush officials who were the ultimate Systems Managers. However, the World-Wide Web allows us to go beyond a rhetorical message of how one might vote in this case to creating a virtual voting booth where many people could openly register their vote on the guilt of the civilian officials whom they considered to be responsible for some of these abuses and tortures.

The summary of these votes by more than 10,000 people attest to the widespread public understanding that the abuses of human rights and integrity that have been perpetrated under the banner of protecting Homeland Security are traceable up to the highest levels of our government, and not just down to the foot soldiers doing their dirty work in the trenches of war. It is encouraging that the Senate Armed Services Committee also supports this viewpoint in blaming our leaders and not just the followers.

* * *

For related Situationist posts, see “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors,” “The Devil You Know . . . ,” “Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “The Lucifer Effect Lecture at Harvard Law School,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II,” and “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited.”

Posted in History, Ideology, Law, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Selective Morality of Video Games

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2009

rapelawModern day video games regularly feature violence and murder, sometimes with graphic details, such as blood or dismemberment.  Gamers are often rewarded for the most number of kills.

While there has been some controversy about those games, talk of banning them has gone nowhere.  For the most part, in fact, people seem to be okay with them.

So if killing people in video games is socially-acceptable, why would raping someone not be okay?  This is a question asked by IGN in a piece we excerpt below.

* * *

A month before Six Days in Fallujah, an obscure Japanese game briefly caught a gust of media controversy when Amazon refused to sell RapeLay. In contrast to Six Days in Fallujah, RapeLay is a hentai game that offers players a platform to literally molest and rape women in public places. The visuals are hand drawn anime and belie the crude fantasy at the heart of the game. You control a pair of disembodied hands with your mouse and choose which parts of a woman you should grope. After the train arrives, you stalk the woman into a park and rape her. There are three different women that must be raped, the last of which is a ten year-old girl.

The game sounds immediately more repulsive than Six Days in Fallujah, or most any other shooter you might imagine. Is killing dozens of anonymous combatants really any less offensive than the idea of rape? Killing and rape are both reprehensible acts in real life, but killing is so much more acceptable as a gameplay mechanic rather than a literal simulation. In Japan, rape games are not the execrable anomaly that they are in the west. They may not be popular or part of mainstream culture, but neither are they fodder for pot boiling controversy.A big part of this is the fear that many have about how audiences relate to videogames. Christine Quinn, New York City Council Speaker called for a total ban of RapeLay in America, labeling it a “rape simulator.” For many, videogames are nothing but simulators. They are literal replications, and, as such, should be cause for the same kind of alarm the real life equivalents would inspire.

It’s this same thinking that makes Six Days in Fallujah seem abhorrent to some. If games are simulators, then a game about the Iraq Occupation that takes so many liberties with truth is indeed a vulgarization. Likewise, if RapeLay is a simulator for rape, its focus on fetishistic detail, lack of consequence and absence of victim empathy are unforgivable omissions. If it was created to engender discomfort, to enter into all those lurking areas of apprehension and fear of what we might be capable of, it becomes something else entirely.

* * *

For the rest of the piece, click here. For other Situationist posts on the subject of virtual worlds and situationism, see “Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram,” Virtual Bias,” “Are Video Games Addictive?,” “Resident Evil 5 and Racism in Video Games,” Encourage Your Daughters To Play Violent Video Games?,” “The Situation of First-Person Shooters,” “Suing the Suer: Video Game Company Sues Jack Thompson,” andThe Intersection between Tort Law and Social Psychology in Video Games.”

Posted in Entertainment, Life | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Holier Than Thou

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 6, 2009

jesus-loves-youBenedict Carey had a great piece in the New York Times this week, “Stumbling Blocks on the Path of Righteousness.”  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Most people are adamant: They would never do it. Ever. Never deliberately inflict pain on another person, just to obtain information. Ever artificially inflate the value of some financial product, just to take advantage of others’ ignorance. Certainly never, ever become a deadbeat and accept a government bailout.

They speak only for themselves, of course. As for others, well, turn on the news: shady bankers, savage interrogators and deadbeats are everywhere.

* * *

“Well, they gave me this award — the administration did — and I’d sworn I would never take anything from them. But of course there I was, up on stage accepting it.”

In recent years, social psychologists have begun to study what they call the holier-than-thou effect. They have long known that people tend to be overly optimistic about their own abilities and fortunes — to overestimate their standing in class, their discipline, their sincerity.

But this self-inflating bias may be even stronger when it comes to moral judgment, and it can greatly influence how people judge others’ actions, and ultimately their own. Culture, religious belief and experience all help shape a person’s sense of moral standing in relation to others, psychologists say, and new research is helping to clarify when such feelings of superiority are helpful and when they are self-defeating.

“The message in this work is not that you should rid yourself of moral indignation; sometimes that’s appropriate,” said David Dunning, a social psychologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “But the point is that many types of behavior are driven far more by the situation than by the force of personality. What someone else did in that situation is a very strong warning about what you yourself would do.”

One way to test whether people live up to their virtuous self-image is to set them up. In one study, for example, 251 Cornell students predicted how likely they would be to buy a daffodil at Daffodil Days, a four-day campus event to benefit the American Cancer Society. Sure enough, 83 percent predicted that they would buy at least one flower but that just 56 percent of their peers would.

Five weeks later, during the event, the researchers found that only 43 percent of the same students actually bought a daffodil. In other experiments, researchers have found that people similarly overestimate their willingness to do what’s morally right, whether to give to charity, vote or cooperate with a stranger. In the end, their less generous predictions about peers’ behavior tend to be dead-on accurate — for themselves as well as others in the study.

“The gap between how I think I’ll behave and how I actually behave is a function of how well I simulate the situation, and our simulations are guided by our intentions,” said Nicholas Epley, a psychologist at the University of Chicago and a co-author, with Dr. Dunning, in many of these experiments.

“The problem with these holier-than-thou assessments is not only that we overestimate how we would have behaved,” Dr. Epley said. “It’s also that we blame every crisis or scandal on failure of character — you know, if we just fire all the immoral Wall Street bankers and replace them with moral ones, we’ll solve the problem.”

* * *

One practice that can potentially temper feelings of moral superiority is religion. All major faiths emphasize the value of being humble and the perils of hubris. “In humility count others as better than yourself,” St. Paul advises in his letter to the Philippians.

Yet for some people, religion appears to amplify the instinct to feel like a moral beacon. In a 2002 study, researchers at Baylor University in Texas and Simpson University in California evaluated the religious commitment of 249 students, 80 percent of whom were members of a church.

* * *

You can read the entire article here.  To read a few related Situationist posts, see “Self-Serving Biases,” “Denial,”The Situation of Lying,” “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me),” “Um, I don’t make misteaks . . . ,” and “Predictably Irrational.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Morality, Naive Cynicism, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Mood & Memory

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 5, 2009

Long Face by Nathan MarciniakFrom a recent brief story, “Bad mood, better recall, researchers find“:

* * *

People grumbling their way through the grimness of winter have better recall than those enjoying a carefree, sunny day, Australian researchers have found.

The University of New South Wales team used a Sydney news agency to test whether people’s moods had an impact on their ability to remember small details.

Researchers placed 10 small items on the shop counter, including a toy cannon, red bus and a piggy bank, and quizzed shoppers about what they remembered seeing upon their exit.

Lead researcher Joseph Forgas said subjects were able to remember three times as many items on cold, windy, rainy days when there was sombre classical music playing as they were when conditions were sunny and bright.

Rainy-day shoppers were also less likely to have false memories of objects that weren’t there, said Forgas.

“We predicted and found that weather-induced negative mood improved memory accuracy,” he wrote in the study, which was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

* * *

To read the entire summary, click here.  To read some related Situationist posts, see “Mood and Moral Judgment – Abstract,” Emotional Content of True and False Memories – Abstract,” and “The Situation of Memory.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Life | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Neuroscience and Illusion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2009

magicLaura Sanders recently wrote an interesting article, titled “SPECIALIS REVELIO!  It’s not magic, it’s neuroscience,” in ScienceNews. Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Skill in manipulating people’s perceptions has earned magicians a new group of spellbound fans: Scientists seeking to learn how the eyes and brain perceive — or don’t perceive — reality.

“The interest for magic has been there for a long time,” says Gustav Kuhn, a neuroscientist at Durham University in England and former performing magician. “What is new is that we have all these techniques to get a better idea of the inner workings of these principles.”

A recent brain imaging study by Kuhn and his colleagues revealed which regions of the brain are active when people watch a magician do something impossible, such as make a coin disappear. Another research group’s work on monkeys suggests that two separate kinds of brain cells are critical to visual attention. One group of cells enhances focus on what a person is paying attention to, and the other actively represses interest in everything else. A magician’s real trick, then, may lie in coaxing the suppressing brain cells so that a spectator ignores the performer’s actions precisely when and where required.

Using magic to understand attention and consciousness could have applications in education and medicine, including work on attention impairments.

Imaging the impossible

Kuhn and his collaborators performed brain scans while subjects watched videos of real magicians performing tricks, including coins that disappear and cigarettes that are torn and miraculously put back together.  Volunteers in a control group watched videos in which no magic happened (the cigarette remained torn), or in which something surprising, but not magical, took place (the magician used the cigarette to comb his hair). Including the surprise condition allows researchers to separate the effects of witnessing a magic trick from those of the unexpected.

In terms of brain activity patterns, watching a magic trick was clearly different from watching a surprising event. Researchers saw a “striking” level of activity solely in the left hemisphere only when participants watched a magic trick, Kuhn says. Such a clear hemisphere separation is unusual, he adds, and may represent the brain’s attempt to reconcile the conflict between what is witnessed and what is thought possible. The two brain regions activated in the left hemisphere — the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex — are thought to be important for both detecting and resolving these types of conflicts.

Masters of suppression

Exactly how the brain attends to one thing and ignores another has been mysterious.  Jose-Manuel Alonso of the SUNY State College of Optometry in New York City thinks that the answer may lie in brain cells that actively suppress information deemed irrelevant by the brain. These cells are just as important, if not more so, than cells that enhance attention on a particular thing, says Alonso. “And that is a very new idea . . . . When you focus your attention very hard at a certain point to detect something, two things happen: Your attention to that thing increases, and your attention to everything else decreases.”

Alonso and his colleagues recently identified a select group of brain cells in monkeys that cause the brain to “freeze the world” by blocking out all irrelevant signals and allowing the brain to focus on one paramount task. Counter to what others had predicted, the team found that the brain cells that enhance attention are distinct from those that suppress attention. Published in the August 2008 Nature Neuroscience, the study showed that these brain cells can’t switch jobs depending on where the focus is — a finding Alonso calls “a total surprise.”

The work also shows that as a task gets more difficult, both the enhancement of essential information and suppression of nonessential information intensify. As a monkey tried to detect quicker, more subtle changes in the color of an object, both types of cells grew more active.

Alonso says magicians can “attract your attention with something very powerful, and create a huge suppression in regions to make you blind.” In the magic world, “the more interest [magicians] manage to draw, the stronger the suppression that they will get.”

Looking but not seeing

In the French Drop trick [see video below], a magician holds a coin in the left hand and pretends to pass the coin to the right hand, which remains empty. “What’s critical is that the magician looks at the empty hand. He pays riveted attention to the hand that is empty,” researcher Stephen Macknik says.

Several experiments have now shown that people can stare directly at something and not see it.  For a study published in Current Biology in 2006, Kuhn and his colleagues tracked where people gazed as they watched a magician throw a ball into the air several times. On the last throw, the magician only pretended to toss the ball. Still, spectators claimed to have seen the ball launch and then miraculously disappear in midair. But here’s the trick: In most cases, subjects kept their eyes on the magician’s face. Only when the ball was actually at the top part of the screen did participants look there. Yet the brain perceived the ball in the air, overriding the actual visual information.

Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his colleagues asked whether more perceptive people succumb less easily to inattentional blindness, which is when a person doesn’t perceive something because the mind, not the eyes, wanders. In a paper in the April Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, the researchers report that people who are very good at paying attention had no advantage in performing a visual task that required noticing something unexpected. Task difficulty was what mattered. Few participants could spot a more subtle change, while most could spot an easy one. The results suggest that magicians may be tapping in to some universal property of the human brain.

“We’re good at focusing attention,” says Simons. “It’s what the visual system was built to do.” Inattentional blindness, he says, is a by-product, a necessary consequence, of our visual system allowing us to focus intently on a scene.

Magical experiments

Martinez-Conde and Macknik plan to study the effects of laughter on attention. Magicians have the audience in stitches throughout a performance.  When the audience is laughing, the magician has the opportunity to act unnoticed.  Understanding how emotional states can affect perception and attention may lead to more effective ways to treat people who have attention problems.  “Scientifically, that can tell us a lot about the interaction between emotion and attention, of both the normally functioning brain and what happens in a diseased state,” says Martinez-Conde.

He expects that the study of consciousness and the mind will benefit enormously from teaming up with magicians. “We’re just at the beginning,” Macknik says. “It’s been very gratifying so far, but it’s only going to get better.”

* * *

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

Posted in Entertainment, Illusions, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

Just Me and My Friend, Sony

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2009

child-watching-tvFrom the University of Buffalo:

Not all technology meets human needs, and some technologies provide only the illusion of having met your needs.

But new research by psychologists at the University at Buffalo and Miami University, Ohio, indicates that illusionary relationships with the characters and personalities on favorite TV shows can provide people with feelings of belonging, even in the face of low self esteem or after being rejected by friends or family members.

The findings are described in four studies published in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

“The research provides evidence for the ‘social surrogacy hypothesis,’ which holds that humans can use technologies, like television, to provide the experience of belonging when no real belongingness has been experienced,” says one of the study’s authors, Shira Gabriel, Ph.D., UB assistant professor of psychology.

“We also argue that other commonplace technologies such as movies, music or interactive video games, as well as television, can fulfill this need.”

* * *

The first study, of 701 undergraduate students, used the Loneliness Activities Scale and the Likelihood of Feeling Lonely Scale to find that subjects reported tuning to favored television programs when they felt lonely and felt less lonely when viewing those programs.

Study 2 used essays to experimentally manipulate the belongingness needs of 102 undergraduate subjects and assess the importance of their favored television programs when those needs were stimulated. Participants whose belongingness needs were aroused reveled longer in their descriptions of favored television programs than in descriptions of non-favored programs, the study found.

Study 3 of 116 participants employed the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule and an eight-item measure of feelings of rejection to find that thinking about favored television programs buffered subjects against drops in self-esteem, increases in negative mood and feelings of rejection commonly elicited by threats to close relationships.

Study 4 asked 222 participants to write a 10-minute essay about their favorite television program, and then to write about programs they watch “when nothing else is on,” or about experiencing an academic achievement. They were then asked to verbally describe what they had written in as much detail as possible.

After writing about favored television programs, the subjects verbally expressed fewer feelings of loneliness or exclusion than when verbally describing either of the two control situations (essays about programs watched when nothing else is on, academic achievement). This is evidence, say the researchers, that illusionary or “parasocial” relationships with television characters or personalities can ease belongingness needs.

It remains an open question, say the researchers, whether social surrogacy suppresses belongingness needs or actually fulfills them, and they acknowledge that the kind of social surrogacy provoked by these programs can be a poor substitution for “real” human-to-human experience.

“Turning one’s back on family and friends for the solace of television may be maladaptive and leave a person with fewer resources over time,” says UB’s Derrick, “but for those who have difficulty experiencing social interaction because of physical or environmental constraints, technologically induced belongingness may offer comfort.”

* * *

For some related Situationist posts, see “Stephen Colbert Agrees with Me!,” The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” Jack Bauer and Growing Up Rich.” Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Entertainment, Life | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Stereotype Threat and Exit Exams

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 2, 2009

test-prep-booksLast month Mitchell Landsberg had an interesting article, titled “High school exit exam hinders female and non-white students, study says,” in the Los Angeles Times.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

California’s high school exit exam is keeping disproportionate numbers of girls and non-whites from graduating, even when they are just as capable as white boys, according to a study released [last week]. It also found that the exam, which became a graduation requirement in 2007, has “had no positive effect on student achievement.”

The study by researchers at Stanford University and UC Davis concluded that girls and non-whites were probably failing the exit exam more often than expected because of what is known as “stereotype threat,” a theory in social psychology that holds, essentially, that negative stereotypes can be self-fulfilling. In this case, researcher Sean Reardon said, girls and students of color may be tripped up by the expectation that they cannot do as well as white boys.

Reardon said there was no other apparent reason why girls and non-whites fail the exam more often than white boys, who are their equals in other, lower-stress academic assessments. Reardon, an associate professor of education at Stanford, urged the state Department of Education to consider either scrapping the exit exam . . . or looking at ways of intervening to help students perform optimally. Reardon said the exam is keeping as many as 22,500 students a year from graduating who would otherwise fulfill all their requirements.

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To read the entire piece, click here.  For some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of the Achievement Gap” and the many links there to other posts about the effects of stereotype threat.

Posted in Education | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Stephen Colbert Agrees with Me!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 1, 2009

stephen-colbertTaegan Goodard of Political Wire links to an interesting finding from a new study titled “The Irony of Satire: Political Ideology and the Motivation to See What You Want to See in the Colbert Report.”  The study was authored by three Ohio State School of Communications graduate students, Heather Lamarre, Kristen Landreville, and Michael Beam.  Here is Goodard’s take:

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An Ohio State University study finds that conservatives were more likely to report that Stephen Colbert “only pretends to be joking” on his Comedy Central television show “and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.”

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To read an abstract of the study, which has been published in the International Journal of Press/Politics, click here. For related posts, see Phil Zimbardo on the Colbert Report and The Situation of Deciesion Making.

Posted in Entertainment, Ideology, Life, Politics | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

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