The Situationist

Archive for December, 2009

Sheena Iyengar on “The Multiple Choice Problem”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 4, 2009

Sheena Iyengar is a professor in the Management Division of the Columbia Business School. One of the world’s experts on choice, Professor Iyengar received a dual degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, consisting of a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of Business and a B.A. in psychology with a minor in English from the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1997 she completed her Ph.D. in social psychology from Stanford University. Her dissertation, entitled “Choice and its Discontents,” received the prestigious Best Dissertation Award for 1998 from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology.  Since then, she has published many articles in academic journals and her research has been commonly cited in the popular media.  Iyengar is at work on a book exploring the mysteries of choice in everyday life.

At the third annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place im March of 2009, Professor Iyengar’s outstanding presentation was titled “The Multiple Choice Problem.”  Here’s the abstract:

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

You can watch her presentation on the four (roughly 9-minute) videos below.

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For more information about the Project on Law and Mind Sciences, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,” “Dan Gilbert on the Situation of Our Decisions,”and “Just Choose It!”  To review all of the Situationist posts that discuss the problem with, or illusion of, choices, click here.


Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere, November 2009 – Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 3, 2009

blogosphere image

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

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From Nicholas Herrera Psychology Today Blog: “Attributional Biases and Violent Soccer Play”

“On November 5, 2009, during a soccer match between the University of New Mexico and Brigham Young University, UNM defender Elizabeth Lambert behaved badly. […] People seem to think that Lambert’s actions on the field reflect a deep-seated anger, moral defect, or unconscious conflict. […] These simple explanations are comforting, because they reaffirm what most people already believe: Good people do good things and bad people do bad things. However, they neglect the findings of social psychology, which show that behavior is a function of the person and the situation.” Read more . . .

From Nicholas Herrera Psychology Today Blog: “Cognitive Dissonance, the Need to Belong, and Mass Murder”

“On Thursday, November 5, 2009, Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, killed 13 people and wounded 29 others at Fort Hood in Texas. Since then, there has been much speculation as to why he behaved as he did. Some of the more prominent explanations include post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of working with combat veterans, harassment from fellow soldiers because he is an Arab and a Muslim, dissatisfaction with the Army, depression, and distress caused by his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. […]  In Hasan’s case, social causes seem to be especially important. In particular, he seems to have suffered from social isolation, harassment, and cognitive dissonance.” Read more . . .

From Nicholas Herrera Psychology Today Blog: “The Chicago Cubs and the Curse of a Stereotype (Part 1)”

“Once again, the Chicago Cubs are not in the World Series. Last year, however, they seemed destined to win it. They won 97 games, the most for any Cubs team since 1945 and the most in the National League. […] Given the Cubs’ history and people’s love of supernatural explanations this is not surprising. People are especially likely to believe in superstitions when they feel that they lack control over an event. People also expect the cause of a dramatic event to be equally dramatic. Oftentimes, however, the cause is not dramatic, but rather a subtle and seemingly unimportant situational factor. In the case of the Cubs, this factor may have been the stereotype that they are “loveable losers.” Read more . . .

From Nicholas Herrera Psychology Today Blog: “The Chicago Cubs and the Curse of a Stereotype (Part 2)”

“Stereotype threat, a social psychological theory developed by Claude Steele and his colleagues, describes the fear experienced by members of a group that their performance might confirm a negative stereotype. This apprehension, as well as the added pressure to perform well, can increase anxiety and physiological arousal, trigger distracting thoughts, and reduce working memory capacity, all of which can impair performance. Even well-learned motor skills can be affected. Ironically, people who care more about their social group and performing well and have higher ability may be most vulnerable.” Read more . . .

From Psychology Today Editors Psychology Today Blog: “The Danger of Self-Affirmation”

“All people want to think well of themselves. This is, at least, what many psychologists would have us believe. So too would hundreds of practitioners of the self-help movement. Indeed, in the US, a multi-billion dollar personal improvement industry is built on the premise that people have an insatiable hunger for positive self-views. […] With enough repetitions, the argument goes, people who suffer from low self-esteem will transform themselves into highly self-confident individuals who will discover that the world is their oyster.” Read more . . .

From Sam Sommers Psychology Today Blog: “Fort Hood Fallout”

“Psychologists call it illusory correlation. The idea is that when we think about others, we tend to overestimate the association between groups and actions that are distinctive. It’s one of the ways in which societal stereotypes are perpetuated and endure over time. And it’s exactly what has many an American Muslim concerned in the wake of this week’s tragic shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army base.” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 2, 2009

From BBC’s Horizon:

What makes ordinary people commit extreme acts of violence?

In a thought-provoking and disturbing journey, Michael Portillo investigates one of the darker sides of human nature. He discovers what it is like to inflict pain and is driven to the edge of violence himself in an extreme sleep deprivation study.

He meets men for whom violence has become an addiction and ultimately discovers that each of us could be inherently more violent than we think, and watches a replication of one of the most controversial studies in history, the Milgram study. Will study participants be willing to administer a seemingly lethal electric shock to someone they think is an innocent bystander?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts about the situation of violence, see “The Situation of Soldiers,” Our Soldiers, Their Children: The Lasting Impact of the War in Iraq,” “The Situation of a “Volunteer” Army,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part I,” “Looking for the Evil Actor,”

To review some previous posts discussing the Milgram obedience experiment, see “Replicating Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – Yet Again,” “Jonestown (The Situation of Evil) Revisited,” Milgram Remake,” The Milgram Experiment Today?.” Gender Conformity,”The Case for Obedience,” A Shocking Situation,” “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part I,”  “The Case for Obedience,” and Virtual Worlds, Learning, and Virtual Milgram.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Conflict, Ideology, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Negotiation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 1, 2009

John F. McCarthy, Carl A. Scheraga, and Donald E. Gibson, recently posted their interesting paper, titled “Culture, Cognition and Conflict: How Neuroscience Can Help to Explain Cultural Differences in Negotiation and Conflict Management” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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In negotiation and conflict management situations, understanding cultural patterns and tendencies is critical to whether a negotiation will accomplish the goals of the involved parties. While differences in cultural norms have been identified in the current literature, what is needed is a more fine-grained approach that examines differences below the level of behavioral norms. Drawing on recent social neuroscience approaches, we argue that differing negotiating styles may not only be related to differing cultural norms, but to differences in underlying language processing strategies in the brain, suggesting that cultural difference may influence neuropsychological processes. If this is the case, we expect that individuals from different cultures will exhibit different neuropsychological tendencies. Consistent with our hypothesis, using EEG measured responses, native German-speaking German participants took significantly more time to indicate when they understood a sentence than did native English-speaking American participants. This result is consistent with the theory that individuals from different cultures develop unique language processing strategies that affect behavior. A deliberative cognitive style used by Germans could account for this difference in comprehension reaction time. This study demonstrates that social neuroscience may provide a new way of understanding micro-processes in cross-cultural negotiations and conflict resolution.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Neuroscience and the Study of Racial Biases,” “Law & the Brain,” “The Situation of Risk Perceptions – Abstract,”and to review previous Situationist posts on cultural cognition, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Cultural Cognition, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

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