The Situationist

Archive for July, 2009

The Gendered Situation of Chess

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 10, 2009

Woman Chess PlayerFrom ChessBase News:  “Normally knowing your enemy is an advantage. Not so in chess games between the sexes. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 2 (March/April 2008) (pdf here), Anne Maass, Claudio D’Ettole, Mara Cadinu, Dr Anne Maass (et al.) pitted male and female players against each other via the Internet. Women showed a 50% performance decline when they were aware that they were playing a male opponent.”  Here’s the article’s abstract.

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Women are surprisingly underrepresented in the chess world, representing less that 5% of registered tournament players worldwide and only 1% of the world’s grandmasters. In this paper it is argued that gender stereotypes are mainly responsible for the underperformance of women in chess. Forty-two male-female pairs, matched for ability, played two chess games via the Internet. When players were unaware of the sex of opponent (control condition), females played approximately as well as males. When the gender stereotype was activated (experimental condition), women showed a drastic performance drop, but only when they were aware that they were playing against a male opponent. When they (falsely) believed to be playing against a woman, they performed as well as their male opponents. In addition, our findings suggest that women show lower chess-specific self-esteem and a weaker promotion focus, which are predictive of poorer chess performance.

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Here’s the article’s conclusion.

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A number of novel findings emerge from the present study that complement cognitively-oriented research on chess. Most importantly, gender stereotypes can have a greatly debilitating effect on female players leading to a 50% performance decline when playing against males. Interestingly, this disadvantage is completely removed when players are led to believe that they are playing against a woman. This may, in part, occur because women choose a more defensive style when playing with men.

A second and more general message of our study is that self-confidence and a win-oriented promotion motivation contribute positively to chess performance. Since women show lower chess-specific self-esteem and a more cautious regulatory focus than males, possibly as a consequence of widely held gender stereotypes, this may at least in part explain their worldwide underrepresentation and underperformance in chess.

Thus, women seem disadvantaged not because they are lacking cognitive or spatial abilities, but because they approach chess competitions with lesser confidence and with a more cautious attitude than their male opponents. Hence, a motivational perspective may be better suited to understand (and prevent) the underperformance of women in the ‘ultimate intellectual sport.’

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You can dowload the entire article here.  To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,” The Situation of Gender and Science,Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & 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: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Situation of Information and Meaning-Making

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 9, 2009

From TED: “Information designer Tom Wujec talks through three areas of the brain that help us understand words, images, feelings, connections. In this short talk from TEDU, he asks: How can we best engage our brains to help us better understand big ideas? (Duration: 6:26):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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To review a list of posts containing other situationist TED Talks, click here.

Posted in Education, Life, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 8, 2009

Situationist PodcastA BBC podcast of an interview with Situationist Contributor Brian Nosek about Project Implicit’s recent gender-science stereotypes article is available at the BBC World Service’s Science in Action series.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts about gender and science, see The Situation of Gender and Science,The Behavioral Consequences of Unconscious Bias,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”

Posted in Education, Implicit Associations, Podcasts, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Attiudes about Progress

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 7, 2009

Russian PeoplePaul Starobin of has an interesting commentary on President Obama’s trip to Russia and how the President, in Starobin’s view, might receive an unenthusiastic welcome.  An excerpt of Starobin’s piece explains why.

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But if Obama, more ambitiously, hopes to win over the hearts of the Russian people — along the lines of his recent Cairo address, pitched over the heads of the governments of the Islamic world and straight at their citizenry — he can expect to leave disappointed.

The Russians, to start with, have never been all that enthralled with the Obama phenomenon. On the eve of his inauguration, a 17-nation poll conducted by the BBC World Service found that in every country except two, a majority of the people believed his presidency would lead to an improvement in relations between the United States and the rest of the world.

The two nations feeling otherwise were Russia and Japan. And a poll just released by the Levada Center in Moscow found that only 23 percent of Russians feel confident that Obama will “do the right thing in world affairs.”

One reason for this attitude is that the Russians do not quite share Obama’s sense of global priorities. For Obama, as for so much of the planet, global climate change is a serious and even urgent concern. But as the BBC poll found, this is not a priority for Russians, and neither is making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, another big agenda item for Obama and his allies.

A deeper reason for Russian skepticism of Obama, and of the Obama craze in general, goes to a core difference of temperament. Obama is prototypically American in his penchant for singing his political song in the key of optimism. For Russians, life tends to be lived in the bittersweet key of tragedy.

While the Russians are not gloomy pessimists — they have a sardonic genius for finding a way to laugh through their tears — they are skeptics on the distinctively American idea that history is all about progress. Experience, painful experience, has taught them otherwise.

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For the rest, click here.  For Situationist posts on the related concept of terror management theory, which refers to the perception that society progresses in every generation, click here.

Posted in Ideology, Life, Politics, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Train Crashes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 6, 2009

Metrorail - from Flickr by JCKhamHere’s an excellent op-ed from last week’s Philadelphia Inquirer, titled “Sometimes Spending Saves Lives,” by Situationist Contributor Adam Benforado.

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On the first Monday of summer, nine people lost their lives when Train 112 careened into Train 214 on Washington’s Red Line Metrorail. A mother of six, a nurse, a command pilot, and a contract laborer were among the dead. Some 80 others were injured.

This accident was tragic, shocking, and heart-rending, but it may not have been unpreventable. Until the National Transportation Safety Board completes its assessment, we will not know for sure what caused the crash, but initial evidence suggests that outdated equipment and malfunctioning systems played a significant role. As Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, put it, “You’ve got old trains. You’ve got old tracks and old stations. … There’s a price for that.”

There had been warning signs. After a 2004 crash in which Metro train cars collapsed into each other, the NTSB suggested strengthening the cars’ frames. But plans for the repairs were abandoned because of a lack of funds.

More broadly, the accident was evidence of what experts have been warning us about for years: Our infrastructure is failing. We must act now to upgrade our roads, repair our bridges and levees, improve the electrical grid, and fix drinking-water and sewer pipes – or face further dire consequences in the near future.

Standing in the way are purported men of principle preaching “fiscal responsibility” – men like Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), who has made a political career out of fighting to eliminate “wasteful spending.” Coburn’s Senate Web site explains: “Employing his rights to object to secret spending and to hold and filibuster legislation, Dr. Coburn has single-handedly saved taxpayers billions of dollars by blocking more bills than any other senator.”

Last month, Coburn released a report decrying “100 examples of questionable stimulus projects, worth $5.5 billion.” For Coburn, money spent by the government is frequently money wasted. “Real stimulus,” his report said, “includes lowering the tax and regulatory burden on hard-working families and businesses.”

On a certain level, Coburn is right. There is waste in Washington. Members of Congress often pursue pet projects for their districts at the expense of the general population. Contractors sometimes operate without oversight. There are bridges to nowhere.

The problem is that there are also bridges to somewhere – bridges that are crumbling as hundreds of thousands of us drive across them every day.

Coburn’s rhetoric doesn’t tend to distinguish between the two. Its broad brush strokes depict a “bloated” federal budget filled with “wasteful, self-serving, and often corrupt pork-barrel spending.” The national-debt ticker on Coburn’s Web site climbs furiously, suggesting all government expenditures amount to money down the drain.

The danger is that blocking funding is portrayed as victimless. Coburn is able to enjoy the upside of fighting against waste without being connected to the eventual harm done when one of his filibusters or holds derails a critical project.

How many know or remember Coburn’s history of vigorously blocking funding for Metro system repairs and upgrades? How many know that he complained just last year that his constituents have to pay for subway improvements even though “most taxpayers will never get to set foot in a Metro car that they helped pay for”? How many read his 2008 Washington Times op-ed claiming that “the biggest problem facing Metro may actually be too much federal funding”?

Coburn would never have wished for last week’s awful subway tragedy, but he may be implicated in it. The senator needs to realize that when he stands up for the principle of opposing government spending, he may also be standing in the way of his professed desire to protect “all human life.”

Some spending saves lives. And when Coburn filibusters spending bills, he puts the lives of thousands of innocents at risk.

As a Philadelphian, I am happy if my tax dollars help deliver safe drinking water to kids in Oklahoma City or ensure that commuters in Tulsa never have to experience the horror of a collapsed bridge. We are all Americans. I hope Coburn’s constituents feel the same way.

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To review some related Situationist posts, see “The Tort Situation of the Dallas Cowboys’ Practice Facility Collapse” and “The Situation of Driving While Texting.”

Posted in Politics, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

Biased? I know you are but what am I?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2009

Randy Dotinga, writing for the North County Times, quotes Situationist Contributor Peter Ditto on the bias of our media choices.

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If you’re a conservative, you’re more likely to listen to Rush Limbaugh than turn to National Public Radio. And if you’re liberal, you’re probably don’t spend your time tuned to Roger Hedgecock, Sean Hannity and Rick Roberts.

Pretty obvious, right? Yes, but now researchers have gone and confirmed what we think we know: People like to hear opinions that back up what they already think. In a study published this week in a journal called Psychological Bulletin, researchers say we do indeed turn to sources of information that confirm our biases, especially when it comes to things like politics and religion.

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Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology at UC Irvine, said there’s a bit more to it. We listen to, say, a conservative host because we believe he —- or in rare cases, she —- looks at the world through the correct prism.

“Republicans turn to Fox News not because they think it will confirm their beliefs, but because they believe they are the unbiased keepers of the truth —- and that MSNBC and CNN are biased toward the left,” Ditto said. “Liberals do exactly the opposite.”

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Read the entire article, including comments on social scientists’ tendency to find bias in conservatives, here.  For related Situationist The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “The Situation of Biased Perceptions,” and posts, see “I’m Objective, You’re Biased.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Entertainment, Ideology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Independence Day: Celebrating Courage to Challenge the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 4, 2009

Battle of Lexington

With the U.S. celebrating Independence Day — carnivals, fireworks, BBQs, parades and other customs that have, at best, only a tangential connection to our “independence,” — we thought it an opportune moment to return to its source in search of some situationism. No doubt, the Declaration of Independence is typically thought of as containing a dispositionist message (though few would express it in those terms) — all that language about individuals freely pursuing their own happiness. Great stuff, but arguably built on a dubious model of the human animal.

Declaration of IndependenceThat’s not the debate we want to provoke here. Instead, we are interested in simply highlighting some less familiar language in that same document that reveals something special about the mindset and celebrated courage of those behind the colonists’ revolt. Specifically, as Thomas Jefferson penned, “all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Part of what made the July 4th heroes heroic, in our view, was their willingness to break from that disposition to suffer evils. They reacted, mobilized, strategized, resisted, and fought because they recognized that their suffering was not legitimate — a conclusion that many in the U.S. and abroad vehemently rejected.

Situationist contributor John Jost has researched and written extensively about a related topic — the widespread tendency to justify existing systems of power despite any unfair suffering that they may entail. As he and his co-authors recently summarized:

Whether because of discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, social class, gender, or sexual orientation or because of policies and programs that privilege some at the expense of others, or even because of historical accidents, genetic disparities, or the fickleness of fate, certain social systems serve the interests of some stakeholders better than others. Yet historical and social scientific evidence shows that most of the time the majority of people – regardless of their own social class or position – accept and even defend the legitimacy of their social and economic systems and manage to maintain a “belief in a just world.”

If we truly want to emulate and celebrate the “founding fathers” of this republic, perhaps we should begin by taking seriously the possibility that what “is” is not always what “ought to be.”

Happy Fourth!

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To read a couple of related Situationist posts, see “Thanksgiving as “System Justification”?” and “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!

Posted in History, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Food: The Movie

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 3, 2009

Food Inc

From Michael Phillips’ Chicago Tribune review: Several things — too many, probably — are going on in “Food, Inc.,” all connected. Kenner begins by tracing the impact of 20th Century American fast food on industrialized food production, and notes that when McDonald’s brought factory assembly-line strategies into practice, everything changed. McDonald’s became a universe of beef-purchasing power unto itself. Their cows, like so many millions of other feedlot residents, consume corn instead of grass; the humans in our increasingly obese nation eat a ton of corn as well, courtesy of high-fructose, heavily subsidized corn syrup found in everything from ketchup to Twinkies to Coke. As a Brooklyn, N.Y., doctor in another food doc, “King Corn,” put it: American food policy ensures that “we subsidize the Happy Meals — but we don’t subsidize the healthy ones.”

Are the federal regulatory and protection agencies doing enough to keep us safe from E. coli outbreaks and the like? The film answers that one with a firm “no.” Does eating organic food lead to a healthier diet and a healthier environment? What do you think?

The film got virtually no cooperation from representatives of the dominant players in industrial food production, including Tyson (we see a chicken processing factory in full swing), Monsanto (whose strong-arm business practices come off very, very badly) and others. As a result, “Food, Inc.” is a rangy, well-articulated essay rather than a compelling point-counterpoint.

Official Web Site.  Here is the trailer.

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For related Situationist posts, go to Our Situation Is What We Eat,” Big Calories Come in Small Packages,” “Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,”The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,” The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Robert Reich on the Situation of Health Care Reform

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 2, 2009

Moyers and ReichFrom Bill Moyers’ Journal:  “Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich sits down with Bill Moyers to talk about the influence of lobbyists on policy, the economy, and the ongoing debate over health care.”  See the interview on the video below.  From the interview, here is a bit of what Reich had to say about trends in wealth distribution.

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“The fact of the matter is that, as late as 1980, the top 1 percent by income in the United States had about nine percent of total national income. But since then, you’ve had increasing concentration of income and wealth to the point that by 2007 the top 1 percent was taking home 21 percent of total national income. Now, when they’re taking home that much, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy growing. That was hidden by the fact that they were borrowing so much on their homes, they kept on consuming because of their borrowing. But once that housing bubble exploded, it exposed the fact that the middle class in this country has really not participated in the growth of the economy, and over the long term we’re not gonna have a recovery until the middle class has the purchasing power it needs to buy again.”

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Vodpod videos no longer available.
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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” “Without the Filter,” The Situation of University Research,” “The company “had no control or influence over the research” . . . .,” ” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Industry-Funded Research,” and “Industry-Funded Research – Part II.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Law, Politics, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Time and the Situation of Marshmallows

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 1, 2009

Most of our readers are familiar with Walter Mischel‘s landmark experiment on marshmallows, delayed gratification, and success. For the rest of you, here are a couple of videos, including one by Situationist Contributor Philip Zimbardo, summarizing the study.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Posted in Classic Experiments, Life, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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