The Situationist

Archive for February, 2010

The Situation of Corruption

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 6, 2010

We thought our readers be interested in an article by Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Isaac De León-Beltrán, and Mauricio Rubio’s, titled “Feelings, Brain and Prevention of Corruption”  (3 International Journal of Psychology Research 2008) now available on SSRN.

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In this paper we propose an answer for the question: why, sometimes, people don’t perceive corruption as a crime? To answer this question we use a neurological and a psychological concept. As humans, we experience our emotions and feelings in first person, but the neuropsychological mechanism known as “mirror neurons” makes possible to simulate emotions and feelings of others. It means that our emotions and feelings are linked with emotions and feelings of others. When mirror areas in the brain are activated we can understand and simulate in first person the actions, emotions and feelings of people. Because of these areas, the observer’s brain acts “as if” it was experiencing the same action or the same feeling that is perceived. Each organism establishes causal relations to understand, manipulate and move in the world. Causal relations can be classified as simple or complex. In a simple causal relation, cause and effect are close in space and time. When cause and effect are not close in space and time, the causal relation is complex. When perceiving or committing homicide, a simple causal relation is enough for identifying a victim, but when perceiving or committing a public corruption crime, a complex causal relation must be established for identifying a victim. When seeing someone committing bribe there is no an evident victim. If persons can’t identify victims of public corruption crimes, then they will not generate empathy feelings. When a victim is not identified and perceived, there is no reason for thinking that harm is being inflicted and mirror areas in the brain are not activated.

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You can download the article for free here.  To read a previous Situationist post on corruption, see “Larry Lessig’s Situationism.”


Posted in Abstracts, Neuroscience | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – January, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 5, 2010

blogosphere image

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during January 2010 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From BPS Research Digest: “Morbid warnings on cigarette packs could encourage some people to smoke”

“Every now and again a finding comes along that provides perfect ammunition for psychologists confronted by the tiresome claim that psychology is all ‘common sense.’ Researchers have found that death-related health warnings on cigarette packs are likely to encourage some people to smoke. The surprising result is actually consistent with ‘Terror-management Theory’, according to which thoughts of mortality cause us to cling more strongly to our cultural beliefs and to pursue ego-boosting activities.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “Prejudice towards migrants stems partly from the fact that they’re awkward to think about”

“Survey research consistently shows that people tend to have a poor view of migrants. It’s unpalatable but psychologically speaking, it’s no great surprise. After all, the odds are stacked against new-comers: most of us display inherent biases against people who we perceive to be in a different social group from our own – the so-called ‘out group bias’ – together with a similar aversion to people who are members of a social minority. Migrants usually fit both these descriptions.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “Too Much Information?”

“How things have changed. Once information was a precious commodity, jealously guarded by the elite who deliberately withheld it from the masses in order to keep them in their place. Now information is everywhere, available to everybody, all of the time. While the democratization of information is undoubtedly a force for good, is there such a thing as too much information? And, who is verifying the information? Does something become true just because it has been written?” Read more . . .

From Frontal Cortex: “Self-Control and Peer Groups”

“For the most part, self-control is seen as an individual trait, a measure of personal discipline. If you lack self-control, then it’s your own fault, a character flaw built into the brain. However, according to a new study by Michelle vanDellen, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, self-control contains a large social component; the ability to resist temptation is contagious.” Read more . . .

From Mediation Channel: “Does law lag behind science? Psychologists question Supreme Court campaign finance decision”

“In yesterday’s mail, among the bills, bank statements, and catalogs, I found a solicitation from a non-profit. The package it arrived in declared in bold red letters that my “signature is needed” (not to mention, no doubt, my cash) for a petition to halt some objectionable political action. Visible through the plastic wrapper was a pen, their gift to me.” Read more . . .

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

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

The Embodied Cognition Bonanza!

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 4, 2010

I am excited to be back after a two-month stint guest blogging at Concurring Opinions and I thought I’d jump right in on the matter of “embodied cognition.”

Tuesday morning, I opened up the New York Times to find yet another popular article taking up the topic.  While I continue to be happy to see “embodied cognition fever” catching among the nation’s journalists, I worry ever-so-slightly that the rush to bring the fascinating research to the public may ultimately have negative consequences.

I have been interested in embodied cognition for a while and have had students in my Law and Mind Science course read some of the work in the field the last two years I taught the seminar.  That led me to present some of my thoughts about the implications of the work for law last year at the Childress Lecture at St. Louis University Law School.  The associated article, The Body of the Mind: Embodied Cognition, Law, and Justice is set to be published in the near future and, in the interests of trying to be a better user of SSRN, I’ve finally got around to posting a draft here.

The abstract appears below:

Recent research from embodied cognition strongly contests the dualist notion of the mind as distinct and apart from the biological machine of the body—a conception that has powerfully shaped our laws, legal practices, theories, and institutions for centuries.  According to the embodied (or grounded) cognition perspective, the body is involved in the constitution of the mind.  Thus, beyond our conscious awareness, an abstract concept, like trustworthiness, may be primed by sensorimotor experience, like feeling physical warmth.  This Article introduces recent insights from this budding field, discusses some of the potential implications of experiments in embodied cognition for courtroom interactions, and addresses the significant challenges to using this research as a means to reform.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Embodied Situation of Metaphors,” Our Metaphorical Situation,” The Situation of Metaphors,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will DebatePart I & Part II” “The Situation of Body Temperature,” Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Unclean Hands,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” Ideology Shaping Situation, or Vice Versa?,” “The Situation of Snacking,” “The Situation of Imitation and Mimickry,” and The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

Posted in Abstracts, Embodied Cognition, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Barry Schwartz on the Situation of Incentives

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 3, 2010

Barry Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College. Barry Schwartz studies the relationship between economics and psychology, delivering startling insights into modern life.

In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression? Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable.

Infinite choice is paralyzing, Schwartz argues, and exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them and blame our failures entirely on ourselves. His relatable examples, from consumer products (jeans, TVs, salad dressings) to lifestyle choices (where to live, what job to take, who and when to marry), underscore this central point: Too much choice undermines happiness.

Schwartz’s previous research has addressed morality, decision-making and the varied inter-relationships between science and society. Before Paradox he published The Costs of Living, which traces the impact of free-market thinking on the explosion of consumerism — and the effect of the new capitalism on social and cultural institutions that once operated above the market, such as medicine, sports, and the law.

At the third annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place in March of 2009, Professor Schwartz’s outstanding presentation was titled “Addicted to Incentives: How the Ideology of Self Interest Can Be Self-Fulfilling.” Here’s the abstract:

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

You can watch his presentation on the three (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 “Barry Schwartz on Wisdom,” “A Choice Worth Having,” “Can’t Get No Satisfaction!: The Law Student’s Job Hunt – Part II,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, Deep Capture, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The Constructed Situation of Race

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 2, 2010

Christian Sundquist’s interesting article,  “The Meaning of Race in the DNA Era: Science, History and the Law” (27 Temple Journal of Science, Technology & Environmental Law 231-265 (2008)) is now available on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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The meaning of “race” has changed dramatically over time. Early theories of race assigned social, intellectual, moral and physical values to perceived physical differences among groups of people. The perception that race should be defined in terms of genetic and biologic difference fueled the “race science” of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, during which time geneticists, physiognomists, eugenicists, anthropologists and others purported to find scientific justification for denying equal treatment to non-white persons. Nazi Germany applied these understandings of race in a manner which shocked the world, and following World War II the concept of race increasingly came to be understood as a socio-political construction with no biological meaning. Modern theories thus understand race as a social grouping of persons necessary to preserve unbalanced relationships of power.

The unfortunate historical role that science has played in the creation and maintenance of racial categories is, however, being reprised in the context of the modern genetic study of race. Race is increasingly viewed as being reducible through genetic testing to a biological essence. Private DNA testing companies promise to discover one’s true racial background, biomedical companies have begun to develop and market “racial” drugs, and the courts in the United States routinely admit estimates of race based on DNA analysis. Race, however, remains a purely social construct devoid of any biological or genetic meaning. This Article thus argues that the prevailing socio-political understanding of race is being threatened by an ascendance of modern “race science” which serves to legitimate culturally-learned folk notions of racial difference.

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You can download the article for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Nicole Stephens on ‘Choice, Social Class, and Agency’,” The Blame Frame – Abstract,” ‘Situation’ Trumps ‘Disposition’- Part II” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, History, Ideology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Nerdy, Gendered Situation of Computer Science

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 1, 2010

From University of Washington News (by Joel Schwarz):

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In real estate, it’s location, location, location. And when it comes to why girls and women shy away from careers in computer science, a key reason is environment, environment, environment.

The stereotype of computer scientists as nerds who stay up all night coding and have no social life may be driving women away from the field, according to a new study published this month. This stereotype can be brought to mind based only on the appearance of the environment in a classroom or an office.

“When people think of computer science the image that immediately pops into many of their minds is of the computer geek surrounded by such things as computer games, science fiction memorabilia and junk food,” said Sapna Cheryan, a University of Washington assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author. “That stereotype doesn’t appeal to many women who don’t like the portrait of masculinity that it evokes.”

Such objects help create what Cheryan calls ambient belonging, or the feeling that you fit or don’t fit in somewhere.

“It is the sense you get right away when you walk into a room. You look at the objects and make an instant appraisal of how you would fit with the objects and the people who are typically found in that environment. You also make a judgment of ‘I like it here’ or ‘I don’t belong here,'” she said

Cheryan set up four experiments involving more than 250 female and male students who were not studying computer science to look at possible reasons why the proportion of women in the field is dropping while the proportion of women in such disciplines as biology, mathematics and chemistry is increasing.

In the first experiment, students entered a small classroom that either contained objects stereotypically associated with computer science such as Star Trek posters, video game boxes and Coke cans, or non-stereotypical items such as nature posters, art, a dictionary and coffee mugs. The students were told to ignore these objects because the room was being shared with another class. After spending several moments in the classroom, the students filled out questionnaires that asked about their attitude toward computer science.

Women exposed to the stereotypical setup expressed less interest in computer science than those who saw the non-stereotypical objects. Men placed in the same situations did not show a similar drop in interest in computer science. Cheryan said this study suggests that a student’s choice of classes or a major can be influenced by the appearance of classrooms, halls and offices.

The other three experiments which asked student to imagine stereotypical and non-stereotypical objects in various environments, found that:

• When women were given the choice of joining one of two all-female teams at a company, and the only difference between the teams was the objects found in the teams’ workrooms, 82 percent of the women picked the team with the non-stereotypical workroom.

• The stereotypical and non-stereotypical objects were the determining factor for both women and men when they were given the choice of taking similar jobs at one of two companies that had workforces evenly split by gender. Both genders had a preference for the job in non-stereotypical work environment, but women’s preferences for the non-stereotypical environment were significantly stronger than men’s. Women also felt less of a sense of ambient belonging in the stereotypical work environment than men.

• After being questioned about their attitudes toward a Web design company, males and females were asked to choose between identical job offers from two such companies. The only difference between the firms was the objects in each company’s workplace. Women were more likely to accept an offer with the non-stereotypical company while men had the opposite preference. The more women perceived the stereotypical environment as masculine, the less interested they were in that company.

“These studies suggest objects such as science fiction books and Star Trek posters communicate whether or not a person belongs in an environment. “Instead of trying to change the women who do not relate to the stereotype, our research suggests that changing the image of computer science so that more women feel they fit in the field will go a long way to recruiting them into computer science,” said Cheryan.

“We want to attract more people to computer science. The stereotype is not as alienating to men as women, but it still affects them as well. A lot of men may also be choosing to not enter the field because of the stereotype. We need to broaden the image of the field so both women and men feel more welcome. In workplaces and universities we can do this by changing the way offices, hallways and labs look. The media can also play a role by updating the image of computer science. It would be nice for computer scientists in movies and television to be typical people, not only computer geeks.”

Co-authors of the research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, are psychologists Victoria Plaut of the University of Georgia (now visiting at Boalt Hall); Paul Davis of the University of British Columbia, Okanagan; and Claude Steele of Columbia University.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Brenda Cossman on the Situation of Women in the Workplace,” “Social Psychologists Discuss Stereotype Threat,” “Seeing Your Interior Situation through your Exterior Situation,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes.” A Rose by any other Name Might Become a Judge,” The Gendered Situation of Chess,” The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situational Bind,” 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,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” “Your Group is Bad at Math,” What Our Exterior Situation Reveals About Our Interior Situation,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

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

The Situational Effects of Dopamine

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 1, 2010

From Big Think: Drug addiction researcher Nora Volkow walks us through the singular chemical that drives substance abuse.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Are Video Games Addictive?,” “The Situation of Gambling,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

To watch a related ABC News video, titled “New Science Offers Hope to Addicts,” click here.




Posted in Choice Myth, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

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