The Situationist

Archive for June, 2010

Advertisement space for sale! Call now!

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 30, 2010

I have written in the past about the dangers of corporate sponsorship and the blurring of the lines between advertising and “content.”  Three years ago, in an op-ed in the Washington Post, for example, I was highly critical of several corporate deals for shows at the National Gallery of Art—in particular, Target’s prominent sponsorship of an exhibit of Jasper John’s target paintings.  As I argued,

The corporation as art critic may be inevitable. The wealthy members of society, in their role as patrons, have always had a profound influence on the course of art. But the current trend does not sit well with me. If financial realities force museums to cede control to corporate America, art may lose its magic. The artists and works to be celebrated will not be those that inspire, explain or expose, but those that get people to buy more Taco Bell burritos, iPods and Michelin radials. The very definition of art will be that which maximizes shareholder profit.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem that the leadership at the Post paid much attention to the various dangers suggested in the article.  Indeed, visiting D.C. last week, I was shocked to see the paper happily selling its journalistic integrity to the highest bidder.

On the front cover of the Sunday Parade magazine (which the Post chooses to circulate along with several hundred other papers), Lance Armstrong, offering his optimistic smile for a story about cancer, was shown wearing his racing jersey emblazoned with eight visible examples of the RadioShack name and corporate logo.  On the back cover, Armstrong appeared, again, wearing the same jersey in an actual advertisement for RadioShack.  Open up the pages of the magazine and there was a small headshot of Armstrong, cut down carefully so you could still read “The Shack” on his collar.

Back in the first half of the twentieth century, Robert McCormick, the famous publisher of the Chicago Tribune, mandated that those working on the business side of the paper take separate elevators from those making editorial judgments.  McCormick understood that a paper lived or died based on its reputation for independence and objectivity.  Yes, times are a lot tougher today in the newspaper business, but the Post should realize that some things just aren’t for sale.  It’s time to cut Parade magazine loose.

While Parade magazine has never been known for its high quality journalism and has always been advertisement-heavy, it’s not living up to its purported mission:

Parade begins with a single, powerful image that draws readers in and then holds them with stories that educate, entertain and empower.  Joining the right writer to the right idea, Parade consistently provides its readers with quality stories.  That quality itself is defined by three elements: clarity, authority and substance.  Each article must be clear in design and content and well researched and written with a voice of authority.  It must also have substance, telling readers something they didn’t know before and giving them an opportunity to effect change.

Or, maybe, Parade is living up to the mission—and I’ve just misinterpreted all of that . . . The image of Armstrong covered in the RadioShack logo certainly is powerful and I suppose that readers are given the opportunity to effect change, if you take “effect change” to mean “go to RadioShack to buy some great, high quality products” . . . Maybe I just need to relax and get myself a LIVESTRONG carbon fiber case for my new iPhone 4.

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For  a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Rent this Space,” “The Unseen Behavioral Influence of Company Logos,” Marketing Revolution?,” “The Changing Face of Marketing?,”  “The Situation of Medical Research,” The Situation of University Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” “Subliminal Ads on the Brain,” and “The Big Game: What Corporation Are Learning about the Human Brain.” To review numerous Situationist posts discussing marketing and its effect, click here.

Posted in Deep Capture, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | 4 Comments »

The Situational Effects of (In)Equality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 29, 2010

Here is an intriguing (40-minute) interview with Richard Wilkinson co-author of the book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger and co-founder of The Equality Trust.

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For a sample of related Stiuationist posts, see “The Situational Consequences of Poverty on Brains,” For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty,” Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,”The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” and The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions.”

Posted in Book, Conflict, Distribution, Ideology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Presidential Death Threats

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 28, 2010

Gregory Scott Parks, and Danielle Heard recently posted their fascinating paper, titled “‘Assassinate the Nigger Ape’: Obama, Implicit Imagery, and the Dire Consequences of Racist Jokes,” on SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

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In 1994, Congress passed legislation stating that Presidents elected to office after January 1, 1997, would no longer receive lifetime Secret Service protection. Such legislation was unremarkable until the first Black President – Barack Obama – was elected. From the outset of his campaign until today, and likely beyond, President Obama has received unprecedented death threats. These threats, we argue, are at least in part tied to critics and commentators’ use of symbols, pictures, and words to characterize the Obama as a primate, in various forms – including cartoonist Sean Delonas’ controversial New York Post cartoon. Against this backdrop and looking to history, cultural critique, federal case law, as well as cognitive and social psychology, we explore how the use of seemingly harmless imagery may still be racially-laden and evoke violence against its object.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,”Reporting Social Facts vs. Pining for Jim Crow: No Comparison Between Reid and Lott,” The Situation of the Obama Presidency and Race Perceptions,” Perceptions of Racial Divide,” “Racial Attitudes in the Presidential Race,” Black History is Now,” “The Racial Situation of Voting,” The Interior Situation of Undecided Voters,” On Being a Mindful Voter,” “Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing,” and “What does an Obama victory mean?

Posted in Abstracts, Cultural Cognition, Implicit Associations, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sarah Jones on Stereotypes and Stereotyping

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 26, 2010

We highly recommend a 13-minute podcast in which Sarah Jones (a Tony Award winning playwright and performer) reflects on morals, racial stereotyping, and the perils of West Coast jaywalking.  You can listen to the podcast (recorded  live at The Moth Main Stage) here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,” The ‘Turban Effect’,” “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “The Situation of Racial Profiling,” The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?,” “Do We Miss Racial Stereotypes Today that Will Be Evident Tomorrow?,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,” and The Psychology of Barack Obama as the Antichrist.”

Posted in Entertainment, Implicit Associations, Podcasts | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Sexual Harassment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 25, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones’s excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios. This episode asks, “Would you stop sexual harassment at diner? (and includes analysis from sociologist Raquel Bergen).

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “Construing ‘Acquaintance Rape’,” “The Situation of Objectification,” “The Situation of Blaming Rihanna,” “The Color of Sex Appeal,” “Women’s Situational Bind,” “The Situation of Bystanders,” “Hillary Clinton, the Halo Effect, and Women’s Catch-22,” “Being Smart About “Dumb Blonde” Jokes,” “Perceptual Segregation,” and Schema Theory and Lesbian and Gay Identity.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Morality, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Money and the Situation of Happiness

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 23, 2010

The exceptional mind science writer and blogger Wray Herbert has a post on Huffington Post summarizing recent research studying the effects of money on happiness.  Here is an excerpt.

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Psychologist Jordi Quoidbach of the University of Liege, Belgium, and his colleagues wondered if wealth, because it promises abundant pleasure, might actually weaken the internal sense of scarcity that makes small pleasures possible. They decided to test this idea in the lab.

They recruited a large group of university employees, ranging from deans to janitors. The idea was to get a range of incomes and financial comfort, which they did: Some of the volunteers had socked away 75,000 euros or more, while others had a mere 1,000 euros in savings. They gave all of these volunteers a test that uses vignettes to gauge positive emotions like pride and awe and contentment. For example, the volunteers might be asked to imagine going on a hike and discovering an amazing waterfall. Would they be visibly emotional? Reminisce about the waterfall later? Tell others about the experience? And so on.

The scientists also measured the volunteers’ overall happiness, using a standardized scale, and also their desire for wealth. They measured desire for wealth with this kind of question: “How much money would you have to win in a lottery to live the life of your dreams?”

Then they crunched all the data together to sort out the links between money and happiness and savoring the little things in life. Here’s what they found: The more money people have, the less likely they are to appreciate things like waterfalls or blooming azaleas or quiet weekends. What’s more, cause-and-effect was clear from the data. That is, the ability to savor life’s small pleasures was not diminishing the need or desire for money; it was clearly the other way around.

And overall happiness? That’s the really interesting part. There is a modest relationship between wealth and happiness; that’s not all that surprising. But the inability to appreciate waterfalls undercuts money’s blessings. That is, any positive effects of wealth on happiness were offset by wealth’s deleterious effects on ability to savor life’s pleasures.

These findings reported in the journal Psychological Science, were provocative enough that the researchers wanted to double-check them in a different way. So in a second experiment, . . .

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You can read the entire post, including a description of the second experiment, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Money and Happiness,” “Receiving by Giving,” and “Something to Smile About.”  To review a collection of Situationist posts exploring the causes and consequences of happiness, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Distribution, Emotions, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Experimental Subjects

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 22, 2010

Joe Henrich, Stephen Heine,  and Ara Norenzayan recently posted their paper, “The Weirdest People in the World?” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re‐organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.

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You can download the paper for free here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Nicole Stephens on ‘Choice, Social Class, and Agency’,” “Deep Capture – Part VIII,” “The Situation of I.Q.,” and “Cultural Thinking.”

Posted in Abstracts, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – May, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 21, 2010

blogosphere image

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

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From Experiments in Philosophy: “Sex on the Bench: Do Women and Men Have Different Moral Values?”

“With Barack Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan, the United States Supreme Court is likely to have more women than ever before. Some wonder whether the changing gender ratios could impact the Court’s decisions. Research on sex differences in moral judgments-including judicial judgments-suggests an affirmative answer.” Read more . . .

From Frontal Cortex: “Anchoring”

“In the last few months, the globalized world has endured two very different crises. […] In both instances, officials settled on an early version of events – the ash cloud posed a severe danger to plane engines, and the oil well wasn’t a very bad leak – and then failed to update that version in light of new evidence. As a result, valuable time was squandered. This is a form of anchoring, a mental bias first outlined (of course) by Kahneman and Tversky.” Read more . . .

From Neuromarketing: “Unconscious Branding: Who Needs Facts?”

“Few doubt that branding messages can be powerful, but new research shows that even when consumers don’t recall the specific message, their preferences can be shaped to the point where they reject new information that conflicts with their stored brand association.” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Who was hurt? That’s how we know just whom to blame…”

“Most of us know that in order to manage reactions to a personal injury story the plaintiff begins with the bad acts of the defendant as opposed to the sad story of the plaintiff. This story order results in anger at the bad defendant rather than hopeless feelings for the sad plaintiff. Instead of ‘if only’ reactions to the injuries, the plaintiff wants to elicit active anger at the defendant’s choices. This increases damage awards and mobilizes jurors to “do something”.” Read more . . .

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

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

The Situation of Public Relations

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 19, 2010

Here at the Situationist, we spend a lot of time focused on new research from the mind sciences and, as a result, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are other individuals and entities (besides academics and universities) out there working tirelessly to uncover what makes us tick.

Some of these individuals and entities are well intentioned: they want to know how humans think and behave to design better government policies that reduce suffering and improve outcomes or to create products or services that better serve our needs and wants.

Yet, there are others out there whose goals are less meritorious.  Like mind scientists, they understand that people are powerfully influenced by their situations, but their aim is not to use this knowledge to nudge people towards healthy eating choices that save lives and minimize costs or long-term savings that can help people thrive into old age.  Rather, their sole aim is to maximize profits.

Take Richard Berman, head of the public relations firm, Berman and Company.  I (along with Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and David Yosifon) became familiar with Berman’s work a number of years ago while doing research on how fast food corporations use third-party messengers to alter the debate over the causes of the current obesity epidemic.  As documented in a resulting article, Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America (Emory Law Journal, 2004), Berman is a master at altering seemingly settled issues—like whether high fructose corn syrup is good for you and whether there should be a minimum wage—because he understands how people think.

Rachel Maddow exposed some of Berman’s more recent public campaigns in an interesting segment below.

On Thursday, Stephanie Strom at the New York Times, had a nice piece on how Berman uses the nonprofit loophole to accomplish his goals:

Across two decades, Mr. Berman has founded the Center for Consumer Freedom and five other nonprofits with similarly innocuous names. His industry donors — including restaurant chains whose costs could rise if living conditions for animals have to be improved, and wine and spirits companies that might sell less liquor if MADD has its way — can claim a deduction for charitable donations or business expenses. And since nonprofit groups do not have to disclose their donors, Mr. Berman’s groups offer an even more valuable asset — anonymity for companies that would rather their customers not know they are behind certain attacks.

His critics say Mr. Berman’s organizations are little more than moneymakers for his for-profit communications firm, Berman and Company. Last month, in what appears to be a new tactic by those critics, the Humane Society and MADD filed a complaint with the New York Commission on Public Integrity, charging that the American Beverage Institute and Berman and Company were in fact lobbying and had failed to register with the state as lobbyists.

I, for one, am curious to see how this plays out.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Deep Capture – Part IX,” “The Century of Dispositionism – Part I, Part II, and Part III,”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Relations, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Social Networks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 18, 2010

From TEDTalks: We’re all embedded in vast social networks of friends, family, co-workers and more. Nicholas Christakis tracks how a wide variety of traits — from happiness to obesity — can spread from person to person, showing how your location in the network might impact your life in ways you don’t even know.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Social Situation of Breaking Up,” Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” and “Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Life, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Social Situation of Breaking Up

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 17, 2010

Rose McDermott, Nicholas Christakis, and James Fowler have recently posted their fascinating paper “Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample Followed for 32 Years” on SSRN.   Here’s the abstract.

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Divorce is the dissolution of a social tie, but it is also possible that attitudes about divorce flow across social ties. To explore how social networks influence divorce and vice versa, we utilize a longitudinal data set from the long-running Framingham Heart Study. We find that divorce can spread between friends, siblings, and coworkers, and there are clusters of divorcees that extend two degrees of separation in the network. We also find that popular people are less likely to get divorced, divorcees have denser social networks, and they are much more likely to remarry other divorcees. Interestingly, we do not find that the presence of children influences the likelihood of divorce, but we do find that each child reduces the susceptibility to being influenced by peers who get divorced. Overall, the results suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages serves to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship, and that, from a policy perspective, divorce should be understood as a collective phenomenon that extends far beyond those directly affected.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “Smile If You Love Your Future Relationships,” and “Deterring Divorce through Major League Baseball?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Conflict, Life | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Students’ Situations Leave Them Less Empathetic (Situationist)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 16, 2010

From University of Michigan News Service:

Today’s college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and ’90s, a University of Michigan study shows. The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years. “We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”

Konrath conducted the meta-analysis, combining the results of 72 different studies of American college students conducted between 1979 and 2009, with U-M graduate student Edward O’Brien and undergraduate student Courtney Hsing. Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective” and “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.”

In a related but separate analysis, Konrath found that nationally representative samples of Americans see changes in other people’s kindness and helpfulness over a similar time period. ”

Many people see the current group of college students—sometimes called ‘Generation Me’—as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history,” said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry. “It’s not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others,” O’Brien said.

Why is empathy declining among young adults? Konrath and O’Brien suggest there could be several reasons, which they hope to explore in future research. “The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor,” Konrath said. “Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to three times as much nonwork-related information. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games, and a growing body of research, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others.”

The recent rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy, suggests O’Brien. “The ease of having ‘friends’ online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ problems, a behavior that could carry over offline,” he said. Add in the hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success, borne of celebrity “reality shows,” and you have a social environment that works against slowing down and listening to someone who needs a bit of sympathy, he says. “College students today may be so busy worrying about themselves and their own issues that they don’t have time to spend empathizing with others, or at least perceive such time to be limited,” O’Brien said.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of College Education: Why Going for the Money Makes Sense for Some Prep Players,” “Racial bias clouds ability to feel others’ pain,” “The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” “The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “Virtual Bias,” “Internet Disinhibition,” Resident Evil 5 and Racism in Video Games,” and “The Situation of First-Person Shooters.”

Posted in Conflict, Education, Emotions, Life, Morality | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Stealing from the Blind

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 15, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios. This episode asks, “Would you help if you witnessed a blind person being given incorrect change? (and includes analysis from social psychologist Carrie Keating).

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “Stop that Thief! (or not),” “Dan Ariely on Cheating,” “The Death of Free Will and the Rise of Cheating,” “Ugly See, Ugly Do,” “When Thieves See Situation,” and Cheating Doesn’t Pay . . . So Why So Much of it?.”

Posted in Life, Morality, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 14, 2010


Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news over the last several weeks.

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From CNN: “Skin color affects ability to empathize with pain”

“Humans are hardwired to feel another person’s pain. But they may feel less innate empathy if the other person’s skin color doesn’t match their own, a new study suggests. When people say “I feel your pain,” they usually just mean that they understand what you’re going through. But neuroscientists have discovered that we literally feel each other’s pain (sort of).” Read more . . .

From Wired Science: “Eyewitness Account of ‘Watershed’ Brain Scan Legal Hearing”

“The very first federal admissibility hearing for fMRI lie-detection evidence wrapped up May 14 in a Tennessee court room. The decision, expected in a couple weeks, could have a significant influence on the direction that brain scan evidence takes in the courtroom.” Read more . . .

From The New York Times: “For Crime, Is Anatomy Destiny?”

“Poverty, greed, anger, jealousy, pride, revenge. These are the usual suspects when it comes to discussing the causes of crime. In recent years, however, economists have started to investigate a different explanation for criminal activity: physical attributes.” Read more . . .

From The Globe and Mail: “Tobacco marketing lures Chinese women

The tobacco companies have recently started to more vigorously target women in their advertising campaigns, associating smoking with fashion and liberation, said the 2010 China Tobacco Control Report, released Friday by the Tobacco Control Office of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.Read more . . .

Posted in Blogroll | Leave a Comment »

Pinker and the Brain

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 12, 2010

Steven Pinker had a provocative op-ed in the New York Times on Thursday taking on all those Luddites out there who bemoan the technological marvels of the Google search engine, PowerPoint presentation, and Twitter account as sure harbingers of the death of the brain.

Pinker places the latest panic in context and points out that earlier fear-mongering over the impact of comic books and video games on crime and the effects of television, radio, and rock videos on I.Q. scores turned out to be baseless.

As he concludes:

The effects of consuming electronic media are [] likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.” As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.

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Yes, the constant arrival of information packets can be distracting or addictive, especially to people with attention deficit disorder. But distraction is not a new phenomenon. The solution is not to bemoan technology but to develop strategies of self-control, as we do with every other temptation in life. Turn off e-mail or Twitter when you work, put away your Blackberry at dinner time, ask your spouse to call you to bed at a designated hour.

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And to encourage intellectual depth, don’t rail at PowerPoint or Google. It’s not as if habits of deep reflection, thorough research and rigorous reasoning ever came naturally to people. They must be acquired in special institutions, which we call universities, and maintained with constant upkeep, which we call analysis, criticism and debate. They are not granted by propping a heavy encyclopedia on your lap, nor are they taken away by efficient access to information on the Internet.

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The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.

I agree with most of Pinker’s analysis, but a couple of sentences in the middle of the op-ed struck me as highly questionable and I wonder what other Situationist readers think:

Accomplished people don’t bulk up their brains with intellectual calisthenics; they immerse themselves in their fields. Novelists read lots of novels, scientists read lots of science.

Pinker’s point is that “the effects of experience are highly specific to the experiences themselves.  If you train people to do one thing (recognize shapes, solve math puzzles, find hidden words), they get better at doing that thing, but almost nothing else.”

Fair enough as a general statement, but what about the novelist example?  Are the best novelists those who “immerse themselves in their field[]?  Does “read[ing] lots of novels” make you a better novelist?  Or are the best novelists—the truly creative and groundbreaking writers—those who read widely, ponder issues in various fields, and have broad life experience.

Consider the great British writer, Iris Murdoch.  Prior to writing her first novel, Under the Net, published when she was only 25, Murdoch studied ancient history, classics, and philosophy at Oxford, and then worked for the Treasury and the United Nations.  Over the years, reading and writing lots of novels did not seem to make her a better writer.  Under the Net is considered by most critics to be Murdoch’s best work (and one of the finest English-language novels of the 20th century), though she went on to write 25 more novels.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Banning Laptops in the Classroom – AbstractThe Situation of I.Q.,” “The Perils of “Being Smart” (or Not So Much),” “Wise Parents Don’t Have “Smart” Kids.”and “Just Me and My Friend, Sony.”

Posted in Education, Entertainment | 3 Comments »

Rebecca Saxe on Situationism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2010

From the National Science Foundation:

Rebecca Saxe (Carole Middleton Career Development Professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT) discusses the under-appreciated power of situation.

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Vodpod videos no longer available.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part II,” “Jon Hanson on Situationism and Dispositionism,” Hanson’s Chair Lecture on Situationism,” “‘Situation’ Trumps ‘Disposition’ – Part I,” and ““Situation” Trumps “Disposition”- Part II.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Illusions, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Hate Crimes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2010

Here is another segment from John Quinones excellent ABC 20/20 series titled “What Would You Do?” — a series that, in essence, conducts situationist experiments through hidden-camera scenarios. This episode asks, “what would you do if you witnessed a hate crime?” (and includes analysis from social psychologist John Dovidio).

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Jena 6 – Part I,” “The Situation of Racism in LA Gangs,” “Racial bias clouds ability to feel others’ pain,” “An Apathy Epidemic,” “The Situation of Blaming Rihanna,” “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part III,” Obesity and Bullying,” Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,” Unrecognized Injustice — The Situation of Rape,” The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?” and “The Racialized Situation of Vandalism and Crime.”

Posted in Conflict, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Consequences of Poverty on Brains

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2010

Anne McIlroy wrote a piece for the Toronto Globe and Mail describing research by Dr. James Swain, who is using brain imaging techniques to study the effects of poverty on the brain.  Here are some excerpts.

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Over the past four decades, researchers have established how poverty shapes lives, that low socioeconomic status is associated with poor academic performance, poor mental and physical health and other negative outcomes. Swain is part of a new generation of neuroscientists investigating how poverty shapes the brain.

The University of Michigan researcher will use imaging technologies to compare the structure and function of brains of young adults from families with low socioeconomic status to those who are middle-class.

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He and other neuroscientists are building on preliminary evidence that suggests the chronic stress of living in an impoverished household, among other factors, can have an impact on the developing brain.

Studies suggest low socioeconomic status may affect several areas of the brain, including the circuitry involved in language, memory and in executive functions, a set of skills that help us focus on a problem and solve it.

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At Michigan, Swain will be looking at many different parts of the brain and the connections between regions.

His volunteers are 52 young adults that one of his colleagues, Gary Evans at Cornell University, has been tracking since they were in their mothers’ wombs. Half of them grew up in poverty, the other half in working or middle-class homes.

As early as next month, Swain will begin two days of brain imaging and tests for each volunteer. He will assess language skills and memory and study how their brains react to pictures of scary faces, and whether that reaction changes when they are stressed. (He’ll stress them by asking them to do mental arithmetic in front of strangers.)

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You can read the entire article here.   For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty,” Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,”The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” and The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions.”

Posted in Distribution, Education, Environment, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – May, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 8, 2010

blogosphere image

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

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From Big Think: “To Improve Girls’ Science Scores, Show Them Women Scientists”

“Standardized tests are supposed to measure innate abilities. The subject of your last conversation, the lead story on the news last night, the pictures on the wall at the test site—this trivia is presumed to have zero impact on your score in geometry or chemistry. Trouble is, it’s increasingly clear that this presumption is simply false. Case in point: This study, published in last month’s Journal of Social Psychology, which erased the usual gender gap in high-school chemistry tests. All it took was a change in the illustrations in a textbook.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “How to increase voter turnout”

“The political parties don’t agree on much but what they do all agree on is that the more people who exercise their right to vote, the better. Psychology can help. A new study shows that phone calls to encourage people to vote can be made more effective by a simple strategy – that is, by asking the would-be voter to spell out what time they plan to vote, where they will be coming from prior to voting and what they will have been doing beforehand.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “Societal Assumptions on Abuse and the Victim’s Perspective”

“Sexual abuse of children is morally revolting and a topic wrought with emotions. In the past few decades, awareness of the prevalence of child abuse and its psychological repercussions has increased. A “trauma model” has been built around sexual abuse that perceives it as being directly traumatic and frightening, and necessarily damaging.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology: “Can Social Problems Be Solved?”

“If you have ever taken or taught a sociology class, you know that many students leave feeling like some problems are too deeply entrenched in our social structure to ever change. This, of course, is not true; social change is possible. But how?” Read more . . .

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

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

The Palliative Function of Ideology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2010

Jaime Napier is an Assistant Professors of Psychology at Yale University. Her primary research interest is the effects of societal injustice, including how members of advantaged and disadvantaged groups diverge in their perceptions and explanations of injustice; how political and religious ideologies may ameliorate the outrage associated with perceived injustice; and the consequences of accepting or rationalizing injustice on individual subjective well-being and self-esteem.

At the third annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place in March of 2009, Napier’s fascinating presentation was titled “The Palliative Function of Ideology.” Here’s the abstract:

In this research, we drew on system-justification theory and the notion that conservative ideology serves a palliative function to explain why conservatives are happier than liberals. Specifically, in three studies using nationally representative data from the United States and nine additional countries, we found that right-wing (vs. left-wing) orientation is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being and that the relation between political orientation and subjective well-being is mediated by the rationalization of inequality. In our third study, we found that increasing economic inequality (as measured by the Gini index) from 1974 to 2004 has exacerbated the happiness gap between liberals and conservatives, apparently because conservatives (more than liberals) possess an ideological buffer against the negative hedonic effects of economic inequality.

You can watch her presentation on the two (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 “The Blame Frame – Abstract,” “The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Conference on the Free Market Mindset,” “Sam Gosling on the Meaning of the Stuff in our Situation,” Ideology is Back!,” Barbara Ehrenreich on the Sources of and Problems with Dispositionism,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” John Jost on System Justification Theory,” John Jost’s “System Justification and the Law” – Video,” The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” and “The Situation of Ideology – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Ideology, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

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