The Situationist

Archive for June, 2009

Martha Minow Named Dean of Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 11, 2009

Minow Dean Image2

Marth Minow has been a leading legal scholar and teacher for the last several decades and has been on the cutting edge of applying insights from social psychology and social cognition to her important research over the last several years.  Today, she was named Dean of Harvard Law School.  This is wonderful news for Harvard Law School and the law.  From the Harvard Gazette, here is the announcement.

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Martha Minow, the Jeremiah Smith, Jr., Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, will become the Dean of the Faculty of Law on July 1, President Drew Faust announced today.

A member of the Law School faculty since 1981, Minow is a distinguished legal scholar with interests that range from international human rights to equality and inequality, from religion and pluralism to managing mass tort litigation, from family law and education law to the privatization of military, schooling, and other governmental activities.  She is also a widely admired teacher who chaired the Law School’s curricular reform efforts of recent years and was recognized with the school’s Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence in 2005.

“Martha Minow has been an intellectual leader, a devoted teacher and mentor, a collaborative colleague, and an exemplary institutional citizen across her nearly three decades of service on the Harvard Law School faculty,” said Faust in announcing the appointment.  “She’s a scholar of remarkable intelligence, imagination, and scope, with a passion for legal education and a deep sense of how the law can serve essential public purposes.  She has played an important and influential role in the institutional life of the Law School and the University over the years, and I am delighted that she has agreed to serve as dean during a critical time in the long and storied history of the school.”

“I am deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve as the next dean of Harvard Law School,” said Minow.  “I am grateful to Drew Faust for inviting me to assume this vital role, and I will do my best to enhance and build upon the extraordinary leadership of past deans Elena Kagan and Robert Clark, and the wise and thoughtful stewardship of Acting Dean Howell Jackson.  In this time of both challenge and promise for this country and for the world, Harvard Law School faculty, students, staff, and graduates are already playing pivotal roles in the search for financial stability, national security, peaceful international relations, and legal order.  I am eager to help the remarkable community of people at the Harvard Law School, in concert with colleagues across Harvard and beyond, continue to pursue the promise of the rule of law, the ideal of justice, the practical solution of problems, and ever deeper understandings of legal institutions and commitments.”

Minow’s appointment comes in light of the March confirmation of Elena Kagan, the Charles Hamilton Houston Professor of Law, to serve as Solicitor General of the United States after nearly six years in the deanship.  Howell Jackson, the James S. Reid, Jr., Professor of Law, has served as the school’s acting dean in recent months.

“Howell Jackson has done an extraordinary job these past few months guiding the school with great professionalism and dedication,” said Faust.  “I am very grateful to him for having been willing to lead the school on an interim basis through a challenging transitional time.  And, once again, I want to recognize and thank Elena Kagan for a deanship that had a transformative positive impact on Harvard Law School.”

In addition to many articles in legal and other journals, Minow’s publications include the books Partners, Not Rivals: Privatization and the Public Good (2002), Breaking the Cycles of Hatred: Memory, Law, and Repair (2002), Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence (1998), Not Only for Myself: Identity, Politics, and the Law (1997), and Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion, and American Law (1990).  She is co-editor of casebooks on civil procedure, women and the law, and family law, as well as volumes including Government by Contract: Outsourcing and American Democracy (2009, with Jody Freeman), Just Schools: Pursuing Equality in Societies of Difference (2008, with Richard Shweder and Hazel Rose Markus), Engaging Cultural Differences: The Multicultural Challenge in Liberal Democracies (2002, with Shweder and Markus), and Law Stories: Law, Meaning, and Violence (1996, with Gary Bellow).

Minow co-chaired the Law School’s curricular reform committee from 2003 to 2006, an effort that led to significant innovation in the first-year curriculum as well as new programs of study for second- and third-year J.D. students.  She has taught courses on a wide range of subjects including civil procedure, constitutional law (with a focus on the First Amendment, the structure of government, and the Fourteenth Amendment), nonprofit organizations, family law, law and education, jurisprudence, and the legal profession.  She is a senior fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows as well as a past member of the Harvard University Press Board of Syndics.  She twice served as acting director of what is now Harvard’s Safra Foundation Center for Ethics (1993-94 and 2000-01), where she remains a member of the governing faculty committee, and she co-chaired Harvard’s Project on Justice, Welfare, and Economics (2001-03), where she also continues to serve on the faculty committee.

A member of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, she played a leading role in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ “Imagine Coexistence” project, aimed at promoting peaceful coexistence after violent ethnic conflict.  In addition, she has codirected a multidisciplinary study of U.S. responses to recent immigrants, as well as a federally sponsored center supporting access to the general curriculum for public-school children with disabilities.  She chairs the board of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, and has also served on the boards of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Covenant Foundation, Facing History and Ourselves, and the Iranian Human Rights Documentation Center.

After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, Minow received a master’s degree in education from Harvard and her law degree from Yale.  She clerked for Judge David Bazelon of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the Supreme Court of the United States.  She joined the Harvard Law faculty as an assistant professor in 1981, was promoted to professor in 1986, was named the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of Law in 2003, and became the Jeremiah Smith, Jr., Professor of Law in 2005.  She is also a lecturer in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

Minow’s appointment marks the culmination of a broad-ranging search that began in early January, after President Obama nominated Elena Kagan as U.S. Solicitor General.  “The search gave me the opportunity to meet with many of the Law School’s faculty, as well as with key groups of students, staff, alumni, and others,” said Faust.  “I learned a great deal about the state of the school and its future opportunities and challenges, and I’m very grateful to everyone who took the time to offer constructive advice along the way.  I’m especially thankful to the dozen faculty colleagues who served on my advisory group for the search, for their candor, their collegiality, and their good counsel in helping arrive at an excellent outcome.”

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Harvard Law Students” and “Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part I.”


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

Emily Pronin on the Situation of Bias

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 11, 2009

In March of 2008, at the Second Harvard Conference on Law and Mind Sciences, Situationist Contributor Emily Pronin presented her fascinating and important work in a talk titled “Implications of Personal and Social Claims and Denials of Bias.”  Below we have pasted the abstract and the four video segments of her presentation.

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People’s efforts to make accurate, fair, and sound judgments and decisions often are compromised by various cognitive and motivational biases. Although this is clearly a problem, the solution is less clear due to the fact that people generally deny, and often are literally unaware of, their own commissions of bias – even while they readily impute bias to those around them. I will discuss evidence for this asymmetry in bias perception and for the sources that underlie it, and I will discuss its relevance to three policy concerns – i.e., corruption, discrimination, and conflict. Finally, I will discuss solutions, with a focus on potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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To read a Situationist post containing a summary of Pronin’s work and some related links, see “The Situation of Biased Perceptions.”

Posted in Ideology, Legal Theory, Life, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Biased Perceptions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2009

Pronin ImageEmily Aronson and Ushma Patel recently wrote a nice article (pasted below) about the important work of Situationist Contributor and psychology star Emily Pronin.

Pronin’s work takes on special significance this week in light debates about the Sotomayor nomination and this week’s Supreme Court’s decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., in which Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that “The judge inquires into reasons that seem to be leading to a particular result. . . . To bring coherence to the process, and to seek respect for the resulting judgment, judges often explain the reasons for their conclusions and rulings. There are instances when the introspection that often attends this process may reveal that what the judge had assumed to be a proper, controlling factor is not the real one at work. . . .”

At the Situationist, we take seriously the possibility that what Justice Kennedy suggests may sometimes occur generally does occur.

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For those who consider their judgments fair and their thoughts rational, social psychologist Emily Pronin offers this piece of cautionary research: Most people think they’re objective, but they’re not.

Take, for example, physicians who are accused of skewing their patient-care decisions in order to support drug companies that give them free gifts, or judges who are accused of decisions that reflect personal friendships or political ideology. Though these individuals’ biases may seem obvious to outsiders, those involved tend to claim objectivity, Pronin noted.

While some might doubt the sincerity of these individuals’ claims of objectivity, Pronin’s studies offer a different explanation for the discrepancy. She has found that individuals often recognize bias in other people but not in themselves. As her work has concluded, this “bias blind spot” is significant because it both prevents people from being objective, and also leads them to experience conflict with others, whether domestic strife between spouses or diplomatic discord between world leaders.

“This idea that basic psychological processes can have important social consequences really interests me,” said Pronin, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs who came to the University in 2003.

Pronin’s work contributes to a longstanding interest among her Princeton psychology colleagues in questions of psychological bias and social perception. While some of the faculty explore these questions by focusing on stereotypes or racial prejudice, Pronin looks broadly at humans’ unconscious partialities and how they influence decisions.

“Emily’s work is at the center of our department’s studies about human perception and decision-making,” said [Situationist Contributor] John Darley, the Dorman T. Warren Professor of Psychology and professor of psychology and public affairs. “What she has done is articulated individuals’ failure to see themselves as biased and solved the mystery for why this happens.”

In many studies, Pronin and collaborators have found that people tend to assume bias in others’ actions but are slow to acknowledge how bias shapes their own views. Even when participants are told of this phenomenon, most will still claim to be less partisan than their peers.

What causes this dichotomy? According to Pronin’s research, it is due to a basic aspect of cognition: People have access to their own thoughts and feelings, but not the thoughts and feelings of others. As a result, people tend to look inward to thoughts and feelings when judging their own bias, even while looking outward to actions for judging the bias of others. Because biases generally operate unconsciously, looking inward blinds people to their own biases, Pronin said.

“We know the thoughts, feelings and intentions behind our actions, and that knowledge can lead us to believe we are acting impartially. But because we don’t have access to this information in other people’s heads, we tend to assume they are biased when their actions look biased,” Pronin explained.

In a May 2008 study co-written with psychology graduate student Kathleen Kennedy, Pronin found that people in disagreements have a tendency to think the other person is biased. The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, measured the degree to which University students assumed bias in people expressing views on contentious issues. In one experiment, students read a mock interview with a college president about affirmative action, while in another they were presented with two fictitious students’ opinions about a proposed grading policy. Pronin and Kennedy observed that the more a student disagreed with a presented viewpoint, the more bias they imputed to the person expressing the opinion.

“You think your view is objectively justifiable, and you have factual reasons for why it is correct. But if someone disagrees with you, you think it’s because of their biases — their ideology or their emotions are preventing them from viewing things in a fair way,” Pronin said.

Further experimentation found that such biased perceptions often fuel arguments and conflict. This can have global consequences, Pronin said, citing as examples the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and fighting political factions in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

“Believing your adversaries are biased and that you are objective can lead groups to forgo negotiatory efforts in favor of more aggressive unilateral approaches,” Pronin said. “I find it fascinating that we could potentially trace ongoing world problems to something as simple and obvious as the fact that ‘I know my thoughts, but you do not.'”

Kennedy said working with Pronin has taught her how to “think like a scientist.”

“Emily has done really compelling work to help understand where the bias blind spot comes from and, together, we’ve explored the ways it can potentially impact everyday interactions without people realizing it,” said Kennedy, a fourth-year graduate student. “Among the many valuable lessons I’ve learned from her is perseverance — not to give up when things don’t quite go as expected — and this has helped me become a successful and productive researcher.”

Going forward, Pronin said she hopes to experiment with methods for overcoming the bias blind spot as a way to de-escalate disagreements.

Such work could help the master’s in public affairs students that Pronin co-teaches in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs course “Psychology for Policy Analysis and Implementation,” with Darley and other psychology faculty.

“The class translates what we know in psychology to what people need to know in order to be effective policymakers,” Pronin said. “Princeton is a real trailblazer in picking up on the importance of psychology for public leaders.”

Pronin said her joint appointment with the Woodrow Wilson School allows her to contribute to psychology’s connection to the broader intellectual community at Princeton.

“I always want to make sure my work has one eye turned toward the real world,” Pronin said.

This aim is seen in Pronin’s other research, including her recent studies on how fast thinking influences mood and may contribute to mental disorders such as mania and depression. Scientific American and ABC News have highlighted Pronin’s finding that people could improve their moods by undertaking activities that promote rapid thinking, such as completing crossword puzzles or brainstorming ideas.

Pronin first examined perceptions of bias as a graduate student at Stanford University, where she earned her Ph.D. in psychology in 2001. She extended her research to other topics, including effects of thought speed and perceptions of free will, while a psychology postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University from 2001 to 2003.

Her interest in the intersection of psychology and the public good dates to Pronin’s undergraduate days at Yale University, where she earned a B.A. in psychology in 1996. Pronin worked in the laboratory of psychology professor Peter Salovey — now Yale’s provost — who was using psychological principles to develop cancer prevention media campaigns, finding effective ways to encourage people to wear sunscreen or get regular mammograms.

“It’s the type of research that I am still interested in today: It made a real impact on people’s lives, and it was grounded in scientific evidence,” Pronin said.

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To read other Situationist posts by Emily Pronin or about her work, see “I’m Objective, You’re Biased,”  “Naive Cynicism – Abstract,” The Magic of Jonathan Papelbon’s ‘Knuckle Knock,’” “Red Sox Magic,” and “Think You’ve Got Magical Powers?

Tomorrow we will post a video of Emily Pronin’s 2008 talk about her work at Harvard Law School.

To read a sample of Situationist posts discussing sources of judicial decisions other than the reasons judges offer, see “The Situation of Judicial Activism,” Judicial Ideology – Abstract,” The Situation of Judicial Methods – Abstract,” “The Situation of Constitutional Beliefs – Abstract,” The Political Situation of Judicial Activism,” Ideology is Back!,” “The Situation of Judges (1),” The Situation of Judges (2),” Blinking on the Bench,” “The Situation of Judging – Part I,” “The Situation of Judging – Part II,” “Justice Thomas and the Conservative Hypocrisy,” The Situation of Reason,” and “A Convenient Fiction.”

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

Stereotyping Sotomayor

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2009

Sotomayor PosterLast week, Situationist Contributor Adam Benforado wrote a second op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, titled “Stereotypes on Full Display,” about conservative reaction to the Sotomayor nomination.  We’ve pasted it below.

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If you thought race and gender politics were put to rest with the historic presidential campaigns of last year, think again. The excitement and controversy over Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court demonstrate both how far we have come and how far we have to go.

Although Sotomayor has served on the federal bench for 17 years – longer than any incoming justice in the last 100 years – there is little hope that the confirmation process will focus on her judicial record. The order of the day is Sotomayor’s identity as a woman and as a Latina.

Some have suggested that Sotomayor brought this on herself by saying that her background and experiences as a Hispanic woman give her a unique perspective when judging cases.

Yet the isolated snippets of Sotomayor’s remarks that have become so contentious are hard to distinguish from some of the comments made by recent Republican appointees to the Supreme Court. Justice Samuel Alito, for example, explained during his confirmation hearings that when he gets a discrimination case, he takes into account the experiences of people in his “own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender.”

The general thrust of these comments – that personal perspective affects the way judges construe facts – is well-supported in the academic literature. But that has not stopped critics from assailing Sotomayor as an “activist” judge and casting Obama’s call for an empathetic appointee as code for one guided by feelings rather than the law. As freelance Inquirer columnist John Yoo put it in a recent blog post that echoed comments by Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and others, the danger is that Sotomayor will be “voting her emotions.”

Whether deliberate or not, such statements play on stereotypes of women as ruled by hormones, devoid of reason, and lacking the discipline to put aside their feelings and make hard decisions. The same assertions have been raised for centuries to prevent women from taking positions of power outside the home.

In 1872, when Justice Joseph P. Bradley concurred in the Supreme Court’s denial of Myra Bradwell’s admission to the Illinois bar, he justified the result on the grounds that women are naturally ill-suited to be lawyers because they lack the “decision and firmness which are presumed to predominate in the sterner sex.” Almost 100 years later, Edgar F. Berman, Hubert Humphrey’s personal physician and a political adviser to the Democratic Party, argued that women’s “raging hormonal influences” should disqualify them from taking on significant authority roles.

This harmful misperception persists. As one voter told the Irish Independent during the last presidential election, “Hillary Clinton should not be the next president of the United States. Women are emotional. They do not make good political leaders.”

And, as Hillary and numerous female business leaders, law partners, and politicians have discovered, counteracting this misperception through assertiveness brings comparable liabilities. Thus, the latest attempt to galvanize the public against Sotomayor has involved assertions that she lacks the proper judicial “temperament,” as revealed by her purportedly aggressive questioning and combative manner on the bench.

Sotomayor has been called “nasty,” “strident,” and “temperamental.” Whether these assertions have any basis in fact, they seem likely to be used during the confirmation battle to invoke racial stereotypes about “hot-blooded” Latinas and gender stereotypes about aggressive women.

Such criticisms reveal striking inconsistencies. When Justice Antonin Scalia exhibits a caustic demeanor during oral argument or tersely dismisses his colleagues’ positions in his opinions, it is characterized by some as a sign of backbone, toughness, and principle. When similar behavior is attributed to Sotomayor, it is seen as revealing the flawed traits of her type.

Sotomayor’s colleagues on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have strongly denied the accusations about Sotomayor’s confrontational demeanor, suggesting that her behavior has been identical to that of other members of the court. According to Judge Guido Calabresi, the commentary about Sotomayor’s behavior on the bench has clearly reflected prejudice. “Some lawyers just don’t like to be questioned by a woman,” he said. “It was sexist, plain and simple.”

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You can link to the the op-ed here.  To read Adam’s first op-ed on the topic (co-authored with Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson), see The Situation of Judicial Activism,” containg links to still other related Situationist posts.  For a sample of posts discussing gender stereotypes, click here.

Posted in Ideology, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Effects of a Black President

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 8, 2009

Little Obama FanLast week for Diverse Online, Angela Dodson, wrote an excellent review of conflicting studies regarding the so-called “Obama Effect” — the increase in standardized test scores of Blacks owing to the election of Barack Obama.  Here are some excerpts.

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Could merely knowing that a Black man has been elected president of the United States raise the scores of Blacks on standardized tests and shrink the unrelenting and formidable achievement gap? Possibly, suggests a recent study documenting the “Obama Effect” that will appear in the July issue of a scientific journal along side a study that contradicts it.

Preliminary results of a study suggesting that Barack Obama’s political success translated into a narrower gap between Blacks and Whites on a standardized tests in 2008 attracted both optimism and skepticism when it was reported around the time of his inauguration.

It offered hope that an affirming role model and positive feelings could patch the gap between Whites and Blacks long documented in almost every measure of academic performance. Media reports have suggested that parents and educators see ample anecdotal evidence that Obama’s example has inspired Black students to take schoolwork more seriously.

When one team of researchers tested Blacks and Whites at four intervals at the peak of the 2008 election year, median scores for the two groups shifted, significantly narrowing the spread after Obama’s election, according to the results announced earlier by the researchers, Dr. Ray A. Friedman of Vanderbilt University, Dr. David Marx of San Diego State University and Dr. Sei Jin Ko of Northwestern University.

However, a study by Dr. Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology of New York University, one of the pioneers of research on race and academic achievement, and colleagues found, “Test scores were unaffected by prompts to think about Obama and no relationship was found between test performance and positive thoughts about Obama.” The findings were based on a test administered after Obama emerged as the Democratic nominee last summer but were only recently noted in the news media.

Ironically, Friedman had not expected to find a difference but did. Aronson said he expected to find one and did not.

“I found not even a shred of evidence,” Aronson told Diverse. “I did not expect a full closing of the gap, because I think the gap is about many things, but I did expect to find something … It just was not there.”

The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology will publish both studies, along with two other papers on the effects of Obama’s election. The articles are already available online.

Even if the “Obama Effect” proves to have only a small effect, Friedman told Diverse, “the underlying impact of Black/White differences in scores is so fundamentally important that any small shift is going to be beneficial for the country.”

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Aronson, often along with Claude Steele, the noted Stanford University social psychologist, has conducted numerous studies on how the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s group depresses the performance of Black, Hispanic, and female college students. They identified this phenomenon known as “stereotype threat” in a 1995 study. Friedman cited their work in his article.

Earlier studies have shown that asking a participant’s race, ethnicity and gender and implying that the tests were an important measure of intellectual abilities can lower scores but that introducing a positive role model into the testing situation can raise them. Some researchers have found, for instance, that having a math test administered by a strong female role model significantly boosts girls’ scores on a math tests, overcoming stereotypes about women’s abilities.

Although Aronson did not find an Obama effect last year, he said he plans to conduct another test this summer. “I believe if we play up the struggles of Obama, rather than his greatness, we will see an effect.”

The NYU researcher believes that one reason scores might not have been affected is that Obama is seen as so naturally gifted, as opposed to having had to work hard to become so talented, that he is not the kind of role model that has proven effective in earlier research.

“Perhaps his abilities are so stellar that the typical student cannot confidently conclude that ‘if Obama can succeed, so can I,’” the Aronson report said.

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“We have captured the critical time, which was the transition before and after Obama, which of course can never be done again,” he said. “But I think there are going to be a lot of studies as to what impact Obama could have and what families can do. Maybe it’s that before your kid goes out to take the SAT you could give him a book on Obama.”

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To read the entire article, click here.

To read some related Situationist posts, see Stereotype Lift – The Obama Effect,” Stereotype Threat and Exit Exams,” The Situation of the Achievement Gap,” Sexism: The Worst Part Is Not Knowing,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Baseketball” “The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers,’ “The Gendered Situation of Science and Math,” “Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Abstracts, Education, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of “Socialism”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 7, 2009

Conor Clarke of The Atlantic responds to criticisms from some that the United States is headed toward socialism through this very simple pie chart:

Atlantic Chart

For his post, click here.

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

The Situation of Handguns on Urban Streets-Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2009

a warm gunDavid Kairys has recently posted his fascinating essay, “Why Are Handguns So Accessible on Urban Streets?” (forthcoming in Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black, and Male (Elijah Anderson, ed., Penn Press, 2008) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This short essay explains why it is easier for young black men in many poor, urban areas to obtain a handgun than an up-to-date school textbook or a regular job. A chapter of Against the Wall: Poor, Young, Black and Male, edited by Elijah Anderson with other chapters by Cornel West, William Julius Wilson, and Douglas Massey, the analysis focuses on handgun marketing and distribution and addresses the social and political context that yields easy availability of handguns. Under federal law and the laws of most states, any person so inclined can buy huge quantities of cheap, easily concealed handguns and sell them to others indiscriminately, often without violating any law and usually without having to worry much about getting arrested, prosecuted, or convicted. Nor are the identities of owners of handguns, or the persons to whom they transfer ownership, registered or maintained by government, unless state law so provides-and most do not. Convicted felons are not allowed to buy or possess handguns, but the marketing system up to that point is largely legal. The person who sells a handgun to a person with a felony conviction has no meaningful or enforceable responsibility. Though the handgun debate is commonly cast in terms of “illegal guns,” the central problem resides in what continues to be legal. Large cities facing declining job opportunities, losses in population and tax revenues, and rising levels of deprivation are being forced to accommodate virtually unregulated handgun markets. The cultural and political identification with guns and the unregulated handgun markets have continuing broad support almost exclusively in rural areas and have been imposed on urban and minority communities. The chapter examines proposed handgun regulations and the political and cultural opposition to them.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” and “Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health.”

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Life, Marketing, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dan Ariely, a Situationist

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 5, 2009

In the following TED Talk video, Dan Ariely, Professor of Economics at Duke University, behavioral economist, and the author of Predictably Irrational, offers some now-standard but still interesting illustrations of how situation influences our perception and choices.

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To read (or watch) some related Situationist posts, see “Dan Ariely on Cheating,” “Free To Not Choose,” Why You Bought That,” “Just Choose It,”Neuroscience and Illusion,” Brain Magic,” Magic is in the Mind,” and “The Situation of Illusion,” “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Illusions, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

What Is Welfare? – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 4, 2009

Door to HappinessJohn Bronsteen, Christopher Buccafusco, and Jonathan Masur posted another interesting paper, “Welfare as Happiness,” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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In the fields of law, economics, and philosophy, the leading conception of human welfare is preference-satisfaction — getting what one wants. An important rival is an objective list approach to ethics — possessing an enumerated set of capabilities. This Article argues against both major views and in favor of a third, defining welfare as subjective well-being — feeling good. We reject the leading approach on the ground that preferences are often mistaken or else involve goals independent of the individual’s own welfare. When sophisticated preference-satisfaction theories launder out such preferences, those accounts reduce to our happiness-based approach. We reject objective list theories on the ground that they impose objective criteria, whereas an individual’s well-being is a purely subjective concept. How good a person’s life is for her cannot be judged by how well she satisfies someone else’s standards of virtue or flourishing. By contrast with these theories, our hedonic approach captures the ordinary understanding of what it means for someone to have well-being, and it stands up better to analytical challenges than do its rivals. As a result, we advocate that administrative agencies replace cost-benefit analysis (the tool of the preference-based approach) with well-being analysis. Groundbreaking new research in hedonic psychology makes this possible, and we discuss how it can be accomplished.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For more Situationist posts about some of those authors’ previous work, see  “Happiness and Punishment – Abstract,” and “The Situation of Civil Settlements – Abstract.”  To read other releated Situationist posts, see “Something to Smile About,” Happiness Rankings by Country,” “Miscalculating Welfare – Abstract,” and “Situating Emotion.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Legal Theory, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A “Healthy” Alternative or the Latest Trick?

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 3, 2009

Smoke 6 colorsEven after all of these years, after millions of deaths, after countless damning scientific reports, and billions in settlements, cigarette companies are still going after children.

According to a report, “Deadly in Pink,” published last February,

The nation’s two largest tobacco companies—Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds—have launched new marketing campaigns that depict cigarette smoking as feminine and fashionable to counter the growing public consensus that smoking is socially unacceptable and unhealthy.

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These new marketing campaigns represent the most aggressive efforts by the tobacco industry to target women and girls in at least a decade. These campaigns are jeopardizing the progress the United States has made in reducing smoking and once again putting the health of women and girls at risk.

The strategy has involved revised product design, new advertising, and promotional offers.

In January 2007, R.J. Reynolds launched a new version of its Camel cigarette, called Camel No. 9, packaged in shiny black boxes with hot pink and teal borders. The name evoked famous Chanel perfumes, and the marketing campaign associated the brand with romance and glamour through magazine ads that featured flowery imagery and vintage fashion. “Light and luscious” promised the first ads in the campaign. “Now available in stiletto” and “dressed to the 9s,” read a later magazine ad that pitched a thin version of the cigarette to “the most fashion forward woman.”

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Ads for Camel No. 9 ran in magazines popular with both women and girls, including Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and InStyle. Promotional giveaways have included flavored lip balm, cell phone jewelry, tiny purses and wristbands, all in hot pink. The marketing campaign prompted the Oregonian newspaper to editorialize that R.J. Reynolds, which once marketed to kids with the now-banned Joe Camel cartoon character, was doing it again with “Barbie Camel.”

Camel No 9

Although this marketing appears to have been effective, the greatest coup for the cigarette industry in hooking children and undermining “the growing public consensus that smoking is socially unacceptable and unhealthy” may come from without.

According to an article in the New York Times, the savior for the industry may be the electronic cigarette.

The battery-powered device . . . [sold] online deliver[s] an odorless dose of nicotine and flavoring without cigarette tar or additives, and produce[s] a vapor mist nearly identical in appearance to tobacco smoke.

. . . .

That electronic cigarettes are unapproved by the government and virtually unstudied has not deterred thousands of smokers from flocking to mall kiosks and the Internet to buy them.  And because they produce no smoke, they can be used in workplaces, restaurants and airports.  One distributor is aptly named Smoking Everywhere.

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The reaction of medical authorities and antismoking groups has ranged from calls for testing to skepticism to outright hostility. Opponents say the safety claims are more rumor than anything else, since the components of e-cigarettes have never been tested for safety.

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In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has already refused entry to dozens of shipments of e-cigarettes coming into the country, mostly from China, the chief maker of them, where manufacture began about five years ago.

. . . .

For $100 to $150 or so, a user can buy a starter kit including a battery-powered cigarette and replaceable cartridges that typically contain nicotine (though cartridges can be bought without it), flavoring and propylene glycol, a liquid whose vaporizing produces the smokelike mist.  When a user inhales, a sensor heats the cartridge.  The flavorings include tobacco, menthol and cherry, and the levels of nicotine vary by cartridge.

Even leaving aside whether the e-cigarettes are safe (it is worth noting that sales and use of them are illegal in Australia and Hong Kong on just such grounds), there is a significant danger that, with their ease of use, fruity flavors, and “coolness,” they may be especially appealing to children.

“It looks like a cigarette and is marketed as a cigarette,” said Jonathan P. Winickoff, an associate professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Tobacco Consortium. “There’s nothing that prevents youth from getting addicted to nicotine.”

With big bucks on the line, there are countless interests urging the government to wait to act on e-cigarettes until the smoke clears.  The funny thing is that this time there’s no smoke.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Changing Face of Marketing?,” Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” and “Without the Filter,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” and “Promoting Smoking through Situation.”

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

The Situation of Political Disposition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 2, 2009

Public ToilietNicholas Kristof recently published a nice column, titled “Would You Slap Your Father? If So, You’re a Liberal,” discussing some of the situationist insights regarding the psychological antecdents of political inclination.   Here are some excerpts.

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If you want to tell whether someone is conservative or liberal, what are a couple of completely nonpolitical questions that will give a good clue?

How’s this: Would you be willing to slap your father in the face, with his permission, as part of a comedy skit?

And, second: Does it disgust you to touch the faucet in a public restroom?

Studies suggest that conservatives are more often distressed by actions that seem disrespectful of authority, such as slapping Dad. Liberals don’t worry as long as Dad has given permission.

Likewise, conservatives are more likely than liberals to sense contamination or perceive disgust. People who would be disgusted to find that they had accidentally sipped from an acquaintance’s drink are more likely to identify as conservatives.

The upshot is that liberals and conservatives don’t just think differently, they also feel differently. This may even be a result, in part, of divergent neural responses.

* * *

The larger point is that liberals and conservatives often form judgments through flash intuitions that aren’t a result of a deliberative process. The crucial part of the brain for these judgments is the medial prefrontal cortex, which has more to do with moralizing than with rationality. If you damage your prefrontal cortex, your I.Q. may be unaffected, but you’ll have trouble harrumphing.

One of the main divides between left and right is the dependence on different moral values. For liberals, morality derives mostly from fairness and prevention of harm. For conservatives, morality also involves upholding authority and loyalty — and revulsion at disgust.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that disgust emerged as a protective mechanism against health risks, like feces, spoiled food or corpses. Later, many societies came to apply the same emotion to social “threats.” Humans appear to be the only species that registers disgust, which is why a dog will wag its tail in puzzlement when its horrified owner yanks it back from eating excrement.

Psychologists have developed a “disgust scale” based on how queasy people would be in 27 situations, such as stepping barefoot on an earthworm or smelling urine in a tunnel. Conservatives systematically register more disgust than liberals. . . .

It appears that we start with moral intuitions that our brains then find evidence to support. For example, one experiment involved hypnotizing subjects to expect a flash of disgust at the word “take.” They were then told about Dan, a student council president who “tries to take topics that appeal to both professors and students.”

The research subjects felt disgust but couldn’t find any good reason for it. So, in some cases, they concocted their own reasons, such as: “Dan is a popularity-seeking snob.”

* * *

To read Kristof’s entire column, including his discussion of  how we can “discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical,” click here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Reason,” “The Bush Frame: Us vs. Them; Good vs. Evil; Intentions vs. Consequences,” “Ideology is Back!,” “The Situation of Confabulation,” “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,”and “Unconscious Situation of Choice.”

Posted in Ideology, Morality, Politics, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Health and Aging

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 1, 2009

Ellen Langer three-nancysSituationist friend Ellen Langer‘s latest book, “Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility,”  is out, and Wray Herbert recently wrote a terrific review of it for Newsweek, which we have digested below.

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Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer [conducted] a study . . . with a group of elderly men some years ago, retrofitting an isolated old New England hotel so that every visible sign said it was 20 years earlier. The men—in their late 70s and early 80s—were told not to reminisce about the past, but to actually act as if they had traveled back in time. The idea was to see if changing the men’s mindset about their own age might lead to actual changes in health and fitness.

Langer’s findings were stunning: After just one week, the men in the experimental group (compared with controls of the same age) had more joint flexibility, increased dexterity and less arthritis in their hands. Their mental acuity had risen measurably, and they had improved gait and posture. Outsiders who were shown the men’s photographs judged them to be significantly younger than the controls. In other words, the aging process had in some measure been reversed.

Langer and her Harvard colleagues have been running similarly inventive experiments for decades, and the accumulated weight of the evidence is convincing. Her theory, argued in her new book, “Counterclockwise,” is that we are all victims of our own stereotypes about aging and health. We mindlessly accept negative cultural cues about disease and old age, and these cues shape our self-concepts and our behavior. If we can shake loose from the negative clichés that dominate our thinking about health, we can “mindfully” open ourselves to possibilities for more productive lives even into old age.

Consider another of Langer’s mindfulness studies, this one using an ordinary optometrist’s eye chart. That’s the chart with the huge E on top, and descending lines of smaller and smaller letters that eventually become unreadable. Langer and her colleagues wondered: what if we reversed it? The regular chart creates the expectation that at some point you will be unable to read. Would turning the chart upside down reverse that expectation, so that people would expect the letters to become readable? That’s exactly what they found. The subjects still couldn’t read the tiniest letters, but when they were expecting the letters to get more legible, they were able to read smaller letters than they could have normally. Their expectation—their mindset—improved their actual vision . . . .

Most people try to dress appropriately for their age, so clothing in effect becomes a cue for ingrained attitudes about age. But what if this cue disappeared? Langer decided to study people who routinely wear uniforms as part of their work life, and compare them with people who dress in street clothes. She found that people who wear uniforms missed fewer days owing to illness or injury, had fewer doctors’ visits and hospitalizations, and had fewer chronic diseases—even though they all had the same socioeconomic status. That’s because they were not constantly reminded of their own aging by their fashion choices. The health differences were even more exaggerated when Langer looked at affluent people: presumably the means to buy even more clothes provides a steady stream of new aging cues, which wealthy people internalize as unhealthy attitudes and expectations.

We are surrounded every day by subtle signals that aging is an undesirable period of decline. These signals make it difficult to age gracefully. Similar signals also lock all of us—regardless of age—into pigeonholes for disease. We are too quick to accept diagnostic categories like cancer and depression, and let them define us.  . . .  [W]ith a little mindfulness, we can try to embrace uncertainty and understand that the way we feel today may or may not connect to the way we will feel tomorrow.

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To read the entire Wray article, click here.  To read more about or purchase Professor Langer’s new book, click here.  The image above, titled “Three Nancy’s,” is from a collection of Ellen Langer’s artwork on Scouting for Art.  To watch a video interview of Ellen Langer about her new book, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Giving Is Receiving,” and “January Fools’ Day.”

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

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