The Situationist

Archive for November, 2010

Situationism in the Blogosphere – October

Posted by Gustavo Ribeiro on November 30, 2010

blogosphere image

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

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From BPS Research Digest: “Don’t touch! On the mixed effects of avoidant instructions”

“What happens if you tell a golfer not to over-shoot a putt? Does it make them more likely to overshoot (an ironic effect, like the way suppressing thoughts of white bears actually leads to bear-based thoughts) or does it provoke over-compensation – putts that are particularly short? The same question could be asked for similar situations in other sports and also for movement instructions in the psychology lab.” Read more . . .

From Brain Blogger: “Translational Neuroscience – Untapped Potential for Education and Policy”

“Recent decades have seen extraordinary advances in the fields of neuroscience, molecular biology, genetics, psychology, and cognitive science. In particular, the National Institutes of Health called the last 10 years of the 20th century the “Decade of the Brain.” Aside from the scientific advances made during that time, government agencies, foundations, and professional organizations put forth substantial efforts to increase public awareness about brain development and diseases. A growing number of neuroscientists indicate that these efforts need to be elevated in order for neuroscience findings to be translated into principles that can facilitate sound policymaking relevant to early childhood education.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology: “Trendspotting: Poverty”

“You might have heard that the poverty rate went up in 2009, from 13.2 percent of Americans to 14.3 percent. […] In any case, we can compare changes poverty rates over time by using a stable (although flawed) measure. It’s not a surprise that poverty rates would rise during a time when unemployment rates remain high. As you can see from the graph below, the number of people living in poverty tends to rise during recessions (the shaded bars).” Read more . . .

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

Posted in Blogroll | Leave a Comment »

Sam Sommers on “Empirical Perspectives on Jury Diversity”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 28, 2010

Tufts Psychology Professor Sam Sommers speaks at Harvard Law School about his research on the interaction between the legal system and the psychology of race, stereotyping, and diversity.

Watch the video here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Sam Sommers at Harvard Law School” or click here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Warming World or Just World?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 27, 2010

From UCBerkeley News:

Dire or emotionally charged warnings about the consequences of global warming can backfire if presented too negatively, making people less amenable to reducing their carbon footprint, according to new research from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Our study indicates that the potentially devastating consequences of global warming threaten people’s fundamental tendency to see the world as safe, stable and fair. As a result, people may respond by discounting evidence for global warming,” said Robb Willer, UC Berkeley social psychologist and coauthor of a study to be published in the January issue of the journal Psychological Science.

“The scarier the message, the more people who are committed to viewing the world as fundamentally stable and fair are motivated to deny it,” agreed Matthew Feinberg, a doctoral student in psychology and coauthor of the study.

But if scientists and advocates can communicate their findings in less apocalyptic ways, and present solutions to global warming, Willer said, most people can get past their skepticism.

Recent decades have seen a growing scientific consensus on the existence of a warming of global land and ocean temperatures. A significant part of the warming trend has been attributed to human activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the mounting evidence, a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year found that 48 percent of Americans believe that global warming concerns are exaggerated, and 19 percent think global warming will never happen. In 1997, 31 percent of those who were asked the same question in a Gallup poll felt the claims were overstated.

In light of this contradictory trend, Feinberg and Willer sought to investigate the psychology behind attitudes about climate change.

In the first of two experiments, 97 UC Berkeley undergraduates were gauged for their political attitudes, skepticism about global warming and level of belief in whether the world is just or unjust. Rated on a “just world scale,” which measures people’s belief in a just world for themselves and others, participants were asked how much they agree with such statements as “I believe that, by and large, people get what they deserve,” and “I am confident that justice always prevails over injustice.”

Next, participants read a news article about global warming. The article started out with factual data provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change. But while half the participants received articles that ended with warnings about the apocalyptic consequences of global warming, the other half read ones that concluded with positive messages focused on potential solutions to global warming, such as technological innovations that could reduce carbon emissions.

Results showed that those who read the positive messages were more open to believing in the existence of global warming and had more faith in science’s ability to solve the problem. Moreover, those who scored high on the just world scale were less skeptical about global warming when exposed to the positive message. By contrast, those exposed to doomsday messages became more skeptical about global warming, particularly those who scored high on the just world scale.

In the second experiment, involving 45 volunteers recruited from 30 U.S. cities via Craigslist, researchers looked specifically at whether increasing one’s belief in a just world would increase his or her skepticism about global warming.

They had half the volunteers unscramble sentences such as “prevails justice always” so they would be more likely to take a just world view when doing the research exercises. They then showed them a video featuring innocent children being put in harm’s way to illustrate the threat of global warming to future generations.

Those who had been primed for a just world view responded to the video with heightened skepticism towards global warming and less willingness to change their lifestyles to reduce their carbon footprint, according to the results.

Overall, the study concludes, “Fear-based appeals, especially when not coupled with a clear solution, can backfire and undermine the intended effects of messages.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Value-Affirmation, and the Situation of Climate Change Beliefs,” Global Climate Change and The Situation of Denial,” “Al Gore – The Situationist,” The Situation of Climate Change,” “Getting a Grip on Climate Change,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Denial,” Thanksgiving as ‘System Justification,’” “The Heat is On,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Abstracts, Environment, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Thanksgiving as “System Justification”

Posted by J on November 24, 2010

This post was first published on November 21, 2007.

The first Thanksgiving, painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

Thanksgiving has many associations — struggling Pilgrims, crowded airports, autumn leaves, heaping plates, drunken uncles, blowout sales, and so on. At its best, though, Thanksgiving is associated with, well, thanks giving. The holiday provides a moment when many otherwise harried individuals leading hectic lives decelerate just long enough to muster some gratitude for their harvest. Giving thanks — acknowledging that we, as individuals, are not the sole determinants of our own fortunes seems an admirable, humble, and even situationist practice, worthy of its own holiday.

But I’m interested here in the potential downside to the particular way in which many people go about giving thanks.

Situationist contributor John Jost and his collaborators have studied a process that they call “system justification” — loosely the motive to defend and bolster existing arrangements even when doing so seems to conflict with individual and group interests. Jost, together with Situationist contributor Aaron Kay and several other co-authors, recently summarized the basic tendency to justify the status quo this way (pdf):

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” . . . . As Kinder and Sears (1985) put it, “the deepest puzzle here is not occasional protest but pervasive tranquility.” Knowing how easy it is for people to adapt to and rationalize the way things are makes it easer to understand why the apartheid system in South Africa lasted for 46 years, the institution of slavery survived for more than 400 years in Europe and the Americas, and the Indian Caste system has been maintained for 3000 years and counting.

Manifestations of the system-justification motive pervade many of our cognitions, ideologies, and institutions. This post reflects my worry that the Thanksgiving holiday might also manifest that powerful implicit motive. No doubt, expressing gratitude is generally a healthy and appropriate practice. Indeed, my sense is that Americans too rarely acknowledge the debt they owe to other people and other influences. There ought to be more thanks giving.

Nonetheless, the norm of Thanksgiving seems to be to encourage a particular kind of gratitude — a generic thankfulness for the status quo. Indeed, when one looks at what many describe as the true meaning of the holiday, the message is generally one of announcing that current arrangements — good and bad — are precisely as they should be.

Consider the message behind the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation. In 1789, President George Washington wrote:

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks—for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country . . . for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed . . . and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions . . . . To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.”

Bush - Times OnlineExisting levels of prosperity, by this account, reflect the merciful and omniscient blessings of the “beneficent Author” of all that is good.

More recently, President George W. Bush offered a similar message about the meaning of the holiday:

“In the four centuries since the founders . . . first knelt on these grounds, our nation has changed in many ways. Our people have prospered, our nation has grown, our Thanksgiving traditions have evolved — after all, they didn’t have football back then. Yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: We give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day.”

The faith that we are being “watched over” and that our blessings and prosperity are the product of a gift-giving force is extraordinarily affirming. All that “is,” is as that “great and glorious Being” intended.

Fom such a perspective, giving thanks begins to look like a means of assuring ourselves that our current situation was ordained by some higher, legitimating force. To doubt the legitimacy of existing arrangements is to be ungrateful.

A cursory search of the internet for the “meaning of Thanksgiving” reveals many similar recent messages. For instance, one blogger writes, in a post entitled “Teaching Children the Meaning of Thanksgiving,” that:

your goal should be to move the spirit of Thanksgiving from a one-day event to a basic life attitude. . . . This means being thankful no matter what our situation in life. Thankfulness means that we are aware of both our blessings and disappointments but that we focus on the blessings. . . . Are you thankful for your job even when you feel overworked and underpaid?”

Another piece, entitled “The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving” includes this lesson regarding the main source of the Pilgrim’s success: “It was their devotion to God and His laws. And that’s what Thanksgiving is really all about. The Pilgrims recognized that everything we have is a gift from God – even our sorrows. Their Thanksgiving tradition was established to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace.”

If we are supposed to be thankful for our jobs even when we are “overworked and underpaid,” should we also be thankful for unfairness or injustice? And if we are to be grateful for our sorrows, should we then be indifferent toward their earthly causes?

A third article, “The Productive Meaning of Thanksgiving” offers these “us”-affirming, guilt-reducing assurances: “The deeper meaning is that we have the capacity to produce such wealth and that we live in a country that affords us our right to exercise the virtue of productivity and to reap its rewards. So let’s celebrate wealth and the power in us to produce it; let’s welcome this most wonderful time of the year and partake without guilt of the bounty we each have earned.”

That advice seems to mollify any sense of injustice by giving something to everyone. Those with bountiful harvests get to enjoy their riches guiltlessly. Those with meager harvests can be grateful for the fact that they live in a country where they might someday enjoy richer returns from their individual efforts.

quotation-thanksgiving-3.pngYet another post, “The Meaning for Thanksgiving,” admonishes readers to be grateful, because they could, after all, be much worse off:

[M]aybe you are unsatisfied with your home or job? Would you be willing to trade either with someone who has no hope of getting a job or is homeless? Could you consider going to Africa or the Middle East and trade places with someone that would desperately love to have even a meager home and a low wage paying job where they could send their children to school without the worry of being bombed, raped, kidnapped or killed on a daily basis?

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No matter how bad you think you have it, there are people who would love to trade places with you in an instant. You can choose to be miserable and pine for something better. You could choose to trade places with someone else for all the money they could give you. You could waste your gift of life, but that would be the worst mistake to make. Or you can rethink about what makes your life great and at least be happy for what you have then be patient about what you want to come to you in the future.

If your inclination on Thanksgiving is to give thanks, I do not mean to discourage you. My only suggestion is that you give thanks, not for the status quo, but for all of the ways in which your (our) own advantages and privileges are the consequence of situation, and not simply your individual (our national) disposition. Further, I’d encourage you to give thanks to all those who have gone before you who have doubted the status quo and who have identified injustice and impatiently fought against it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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To review a related set of Situationist posts, see “A System-Justification Primer,” “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,” “Independence Day: Celebrating Courage to Challenge the Situation,” Cheering for the Underdog,” and “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!“  To review the full collection of Situationist posts related to system justification, click here.

Posted in History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Perceived Intentionality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 23, 2010

There are many potential situational factors that can contribute to the fundamental attribution error and the sinister attribution error.  Recent research shows that intoxication is among them.  Why?  Because, much like dispositionist default, people tend automatically to see intention behind others’ behavior and must exert cognitive effort to consider other possibilities.  Such an effort is more difficult (and thus less likely) for a mind impaired by intoxication.  Here’s the abstract for the recent article in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin summarizing that research.

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The intentionality bias is the tendency for people to view the behavior of others as intentional. This study tests the hypothesis that alcohol magnifies the intentionality bias by disrupting effortful cognitive abilities. Using a 2 × 2 balanced placebo design in a natural field experiment disguised as a food-tasting session, participants received either a high dose of alcohol (target BAC = .10%) or no alcohol, with half of each group believing they had or had not consumed alcohol. Participants then read a series of sentences describing simple actions (e.g., “She cut him off in traffic”) and indicated whether the actions were done intentionally or accidentally. As expected, intoxicated people interpreted more acts as intentional than did sober people. This finding helps explain why alcohol increases aggression. For example, intoxicated people may interpret a harmless bump in a crowded bar as a provocation.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “I’m Objective, You’re Biased,” and “The Sound Situation of Beer Drinkers.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Education | 3 Comments »

Fortune Cookie Situationism

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 22, 2010

In legal academia, we are in the midst of faculty hiring season, which means many lunchtime talks by aspiring law professors.  Today, it was an interesting presentation about arbitration accompanied by some mediocre Chinese food . . . and one of the strangest fortune cookie messages I’ve ever received.  Indeed, it was downright spooky given my interest (and this blog’s interest!) in the ways in which powerful entities exploit psychological tendencies that may be operating beyond our conscious awareness or control . . .

Posted in Life | Leave a Comment »

Dan Dennett – “Free Will, Responsibility, and the Brain”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 20, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Dan Dennett at Harvard Law on ‘Free Will, Responsibility, and the Brain’,” “Interview with Professor Joshua Greene,”Daniel Dennett on the Situation of our Brain,” Dan Dennett on our Interior Situation,” Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will Debate,” “Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will Debate – Part II,” “The Death of Free Will and the Rise of Cheating,” Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” “Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV and “Coalition of the Will-less.”

Posted in Events, Experimental Philosophy, Morality, Philosophy, Video | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Just Deserts?

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 19, 2010

Over the last several months, I have been conducting some experiments on retribution with cognitive psychologist Geoff Goodwin.  I’ll be presenting some of our results next month at a workshop at Vanderbilt and hope to do some posts on the Situationist concerning our findings soon after.  Thinking a lot about the motivation to deliver just deserts has had a strange and unexpected effect on me.  I’ve found myself hyperaware of my own desire to punish when I read newspaper articles describing criminal acts or when I see movies where offenses are committed.  I’ve also noticed myself recasting events that would seem to have little to do with retributive motives.

Today, I came across a video of a man running onto the field during last week’s Fresno State versus Nevada football game.  As often seems to happen in these streaker scenarios, the man received extremely rough treatment at the hands of the security guards, who repeatedly smashed his head into the ground, after eventually running him down.

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It made me wonder: what justifies the violent actions of the guards, if anything?  What makes this brutality seem acceptable, or at least somewhat acceptable, when it clearly wouldn’t be if administered to a fan sitting quietly in his seat, eating a hot dog?  I expect that if you asked university officials they would give you a story about needing to incapacitate a potentially dangerous and disruptive individual as quickly as possible.  If pressed, some others might say that guards need to be rough with men like this because it deters other drunken individuals from heading out onto the field.  But might a better explanation have to do with a collective sense that getting beaten up is just what you get when you break the rules and streak across the football field?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Intuitions of Punishment?,” Michael McCullough on the Situation of Revenge and Forgiveness,” “Steven Pinker Speaks at Harvard Law School,” “John Darley on “Justice as Intuitions” – Video,” “The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” The Situation of Revenge,” “The Situation of Punishment,” and “Why We Punish.”

Posted in Emotions, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

The Wasteful Situation of Electronics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 18, 2010

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Toxic Situation of Cosmetics,” “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Situation of Bottled Water,” “‘Flow’ and the Situation of Water,” “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” “Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,” “Denial,” and  “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”

A new blog and website, Upstream, provides daily posts and regular interviews with scientists about environmental causes of disease.

Posted in Environment, Life, Marketing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Merchants of Denial

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 17, 2010

GoogleTalks:  Author David Michaels visits Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Ca, to discuss his book “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Corporate Situation of Universities,” The Greasy Situation of University Research,” The Deeply Captured Situation of Spilling Oil,” Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,”The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Relations, Video | 1 Comment »

News about the Captured Situation of Food Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 16, 2010

From the New York Times:

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

When Michelle Obama implored restaurateurs in September to help fight obesity, she cited the proliferation of cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese. “I want to challenge every restaurant to offer healthy menu options,” she told the National Restaurant Association’s annual meeting.

But in a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Dairy Management has worked with restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products.

Read the entire article here.

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From the Guardian:

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal’s sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal’s physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches, and to support them in removing obstacles. Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out. One group was told that the health department did not want to lead, but rather hear from its members what should be done.

Read the entire article here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Policy Situation of Obesity,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” or review the collection of posts here.

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of Creating a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 15, 2010

In the wake of the worst economic crisis in the United States since the Great Depression, there has been a drive to reconfigure the regulatory state and renegotiate the relationship between Americans, business, and government.

In a new article, just posted on SSRN, I argue that the ultimate formulation of that relationship turns, to a significant degree, on our basic attributional tendencies, particularly where we look to assign causal responsibility when things go wrong.

Who or what engendered the shanty town that appeared in Sacramento, California in 2008?  Who blackened the pelican and closed the beach of Pensacola?  What lies behind the rise in diabetes in elementary school students?

The answers that we give drive our remedial responses and our prophylactic measures—and in doing so, define the interactions between our regulatory institutions, business entities, and members of the public.

If you believe that business causes—or, at least, significantly contributes to—a lot of these types of harms in society, then you are likely to want a government that gets tough and restrains corporations to protect the public.  If you think that business is largely blameless, then you are likely to be in favor of free markets with little or no regulation.

The Article begins by summarizing evidence from the mind sciences concerning our basic attributional framework, before investigating its value to business as a ready means to (1) manipulate our environments to encourage profitable consumer behavior and (2) avoid regulation and liability.

As a case study of the ways in which corporations play on our basic attributional proclivities to manage negative outcomes, the Article focuses on the intense – and often nasty — recent battle over the creation of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

Download a free copy of the article here!

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For a sample of related Situationist posts see “Attributional Divide – Top 10,” Legal Academic Backlash – Abstract,” “Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?,” “The Great Attributional Divide – Abstract,” “The Situation of ‘Common Sense’,” The Situation of Political Animals,” and Naïve Cynicism in Election 2008: Dispositionism v. Situationism?

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Ideology, Legal Theory, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Situationist Contributors | 2 Comments »

The Situation of the 2008 Economic Crisis

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 14, 2010

Charles Furgeson has produced a powerful documentary, “Inside Job,” about the deep capture of financial (de)regulation.  Here’s the trailer.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” “De-Capturing the FDA,” “The Situation of Talk Radio,” Deep Capture – Part X,” and “The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Entertainment, Ideology, Law, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Legal-Policy Situation of Continued Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 12, 2010

Judge Michael Wolff posted his article “Stories of Civil Rights Progress and the Persistence of Inequality and Unequal Opportunity 1970-2010” (forthcoming in William Mitchell Law Review) on  SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

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In this article, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael A. Wolff, who also is distinguished visiting professor at St. Louis University School of Law, outlines the judicial and legislative victories and failures of civil rights advocates over the last forty years at both the federal and state level. He details the reform efforts through personal anecdotes of many of his own cases that he pursued as a legal services lawyer and has seen as a judge. Judge Wolff’s stories focus on the rights that legal services programs fought for and obtained and the battles that continue to be lost. In particular, he looks at both racial and economic inequality in the education system and the penal system. He explores the results of inadequate state funding such as the absence of affordable educational institutions for its citizens. In looking at the penal system, he examines the increasing criminalization of previously non-criminal conduct and the resulting incarceration and its dramatic effect on minority populations. He also discusses the expanding inequality among the United States population as the rich are given disparate tax breaks. Judge Wolff concludes by advocating for continued support of both public education and public health systems and supportive civic institutions.

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Download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Racial Prejudice in Real Estate Markets,” Leaving the Past,”Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” Black History is Now,”Jennifer Eberhardt’s “Policing Racial Bias” – Video,” Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,”  The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” and “The Racialized Situation of Vandalism and Crime,”

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

The Norfolk Four and the Situation of False Confessions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 11, 2010

From Frontline:

Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn’t commit? FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel (Innocence Lost, An Ordinary Crime) investigates the conviction of four Navy sailors for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Va., woman in 1997. In interviews with the sailors, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques — including the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, and intimidation — that led each of the “Norfolk Four” to confess, despite a lack of evidence linking them to the crime. All four sailors are now out of prison — one served his sentence and the other three were granted conditional pardons last summer — but the men were not exonerated as felons or sex offenders. The case raises disturbing questions about the actions of the police and prosecutors, who relied on the sailors’ often contradictory confessions for their convictions, and disregarded DNA evidence that pointed to a lone assailant who would later confess to the crime himself while serving prison time for another rape.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of False Confessions,” The Situation of False Confessions,” The Painful Situation of Guilt,” A Situationist View of Criminal Prosecutors,”  The Justice Department, Milgram, & Torture,” “Why Torture? Because It Feels Good (at least to “Us”),” “The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” and “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors.”

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

Interview with Professor Eric Knowles

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 9, 2010

From The Project on Law & Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School (PLMS):

Here is an illuminating interview of Situationist Contributor Eric Knowles by Harvard Law student Anna Lamut. The interview, titled “On Moral Judgment and Normative Questions” lasts just over 72 minutes. It was conducted as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard taught by Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson.

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Eric Knowles  is an assistant professor of Psychology & Social Behavior, Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. The following blurb from his website describes his research:

“When does inequality seem like inequity? Broadly speaking, my research examines how people perceive and react to the fact that some groups in society have more than others. I am especially interested in how different types of motivations — e.g., to bolster the hierarchy, to see oneself as a good and deserving person — lead people to deny the existence of inequity, dis-identify with their ingroup, or form attitudes likely to reduce intergroup disparities.”

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Table of Contents

:20 – What does your research focus on generally?

2:48 – What does it mean to make color-blindness work for you?

6:08 – What does “hierarchy attenuation” mean?

10:00 – What are some other ideas that get co-opted in this way?

14:58 – Back to the point you made about patriotism, do you feel that the Conservatie interpretation has been “winning” in recent years?

20:25 – Is this a topic you are planning to undertake in your research?

22:25 –  Moving to your 2009 article entitled “Racial prejudice predicts opposition to Obama and his healthcare plan,” how did you develop the methodology?

24:10 – How did you choose to use the Go-No Go Association Task rather than the Implicit Association Test for the study?

41:04 – For the portion of the study where you asked those respondents who tested positive for implicit racial bias about their reasons for opposing Obama, were they able to submit their own reasons or did they choose from a list?

41:55 – This theme–of individuals finding legitimate-sounding justifications for beliefs that may originate in racism–seems related to those discussed in your piece, “Preference, principle, and political casuistry.” Would you agree?

44:43 – What are some other reasons people do this?

45:30 – In “Preference, principle, and political casuistry,” you refer to this process as a hybrid view between preference and principle. Could you expand on this?

51:14 – Would you say that this broadens the explanatory power for the theory, that it would then apply also to individuals’ reasoning about issues that are not explicitly tied to race?

51:52 – What are your thoughts on the critique of the study of implicit racial bias, as stated in Charles Lawrence’s article, “Unconscious Racism Revisited,” that studies of implicit racial bias “normalize” racism by explaining it as a product of our brains’ natural propensity to categorize, and that these studies therefore do not address group or institutional racism?

62:39 – How is your research applicable to Lawrence’s critique in that it addresses the effect of these individual biases on group decision-making, such as elections?

65:45 – How did you get interested in the topics that you now research?

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Eric Knowles is one of the confirmed presenters at the 2011 PLMS conference on “The Psychology of Inequality.”

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Fifth Annual PLMS Conference – Save the Date,” “Jim Sidanius ‘Terror, Intergroup Violence, and the Law’,” “The Palliative Function of Ideology,” The Blame Frame – Abstract,” 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 Distribution, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Nalini Ambady at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 8, 2010

On Tuesday the HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) is hosting a talk by Tufts psychology professor Nalini Ambady entitled “Nonverbal Behavior: Accuracy and Contagion.”

Professor Ambady is a Neubauer Faculty Fellow and professor at Tufts University.  Her research focuses on interpersonal perception and communication, particularly in relation to the accuracy of judgments, the influence of personal and social identities on cognition and performance, and the mechanisms of nonverbal and cross-cultural communication.  She has received accolades for her research into the ways that people can perceive others’ sexual identity and political affiliation from photos of their faces.

Professor Ambady will be speaking in Pound 107 from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Free bagels will be provided! For more information, e-mail

Posted in Entertainment, Events, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Social Psychology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Judges Are Like . . .

Posted by Adam Benforado on November 7, 2010

This week I have been trying to catch up on some tasks that have been on my list since early in the semester.  One has been to post some of my recent papers on SSRN.  To this end, I have just put up Color Commentators of the Bench, which may be of interest to certain Situationist readers.  The abstract appears below:

Featuring prominently in the last four sets of Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the judge-as-umpire analogy has become the dominant frame for understanding the role of the Justice and may also now act as a significant constraint on judicial behavior. Strong criticisms from legal academics and journalists attacking the realism of the analogy have had little destabilizing effect. This Essay argues that the best hope for shifting the public conception of the work of a Justice is to offer a counter analogy that draws from an equally intuitive and familiar context, while also capturing the core essence of Supreme Court adjudication—the particular process of creative interpretation and explanation. The metaphor of the Justice as color commentator in the press box not only meets these criteria, but also makes explicit that judges are not robotic, objective arbiters. Moreover, in exposing the myth of judicial rationality and neutrality bolstered by the umpire analogy, the commentator alternative provides the possibility of helping Justices to better control for their biases and reducing damaging episodes of cognitive illiberalism. As further evidence of the appropriateness and robustness of the commentator analogy, the Essay concludes by demonstrating how sports commentating can be critiqued employing the precise implements developed by legal scholars to analyze judicial decision making.

To download a copy of the entire paper, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “I’m Objective, You’re Biased,”

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Political Situation of the Economic Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 6, 2010

In Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer – And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, Jacob S. Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of Berkeley argue that America’s money-addicted and change-resistant political system is at the heart of the enormous and rapidly growing income inequality that they say is undermining America’s economic and political stability.

Posted in Book, Deep Capture, Distribution, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sam Sommers at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2010

Today the HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) is hosting a talk by Tufts psychology professor Sam Sommers entitled “Empirical Perspectives on Jury Diversity.”

Professor Sommers has extensively studied the interaction between the legal system and the psychology of race, stereotyping, and diversity and has served as an expert witness on racial bias and eyewitness testimony in a number of trials.

Professor Sommers will be speaking in Hauser 102. Free bagels will be provided!  For more information, e-mail

You can review a list of Situationist posts discussing Professor Sommers’s work by clicking here.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

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