The Situationist

Archive for December, 2010

Color Conscious Situation of Neighborhood Choice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 30, 2010

From University of Michigan:

Race is a powerful factor in white decisions about where to live, according to an innovative video experiment conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan.

The study appears in the latest issue of the journal Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race.

“We sought to determine whether whites are colorblind in their evaluations of neighborhoods, or whether racial composition still matters—even when holding constant the quality of the neighborhood,” said the report’s lead author, UIC sociologist Maria Krysan.

Krysan co-authored the study with Reynolds Farley, research professor emeritus at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), and Mick Couper, research professor at the ISR.

Their survey-based experiment involved more than 600 randomly selected white adults aged 21 and older living in the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas.

Participants were shown videos of various neighborhoods—lower working class to upper class—with actors posing as residents. Each resident was portrayed doing exactly the same activities in each kind of neighborhood, such as picking up mail or talking to neighbors.

While the survey participants viewed the same neighborhoods in the videos, they were randomly assigned to see either white residents, black residents, or a mix of both. Participants were then asked to evaluate the neighborhoods in terms of housing cost, property upkeep, school quality, safety, and future property values.

Whites who saw white residents in the video rated neighborhoods significantly more positive in four of the five dimensions compared to whites who saw black residents in the identical neighborhood. Racially mixed neighborhoods fell in between.

“These findings demonstrate that ‘objective’ characteristics such as housing are not sufficient for whites to overcome the stereotypes they have about communities with African-American residents,” said Krysan, who is also affiliated with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Participants were also questioned about their endorsement or rejection of racial stereotypes. Whites who held negative stereotypes about blacks as a group were more likely to produce disapproving neighborhood evaluations.

According to the researchers, property value stagnation is one consequence of whites excluding neighborhoods solely due to the presence of black residents.

“Residential segregation limits occupational opportunities for blacks, ensures that blacks and whites will seldom have the chance to attend school together, and seriously limits the acquisition of wealth by African-Americans,” said Farley, who noted that racial segregation remains common in the older metropolises of the Midwest and Northeast.

“It is rare to find research that combines high quality, new data, with such grounded, real world issues,” said Lawrence Bobo, Harvard University sociologist and editor of the Du Bois Review. “Thanks to this highly innovative piece of research, we now understand far better than ever before the factors that create and sustain racial segregation of neighborhoods in America.”

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Motivated Skepticism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 27, 2010

Ezra Klein recently wrote a great post for the Washington Post about some of the political-psychological dynamics shaping current policy debates.  Included in it was as a helpful summary of the research commonly featured on the Situationist.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

When we’re faced with information or ideas that accord with our preexisting beliefs about the world, we accept them easily. When the ideas and information cut against our beliefs, however, we interrogate them harshly, subjecting them to endless scrutiny and a long search for contrary evidence which, when found, we accept uncritically.

Let’s start with an amusing experiment that [Situationist Contributor] Peter Ditto, a political psychologist at the University of California at Irvine, and David Lopez, a psychologist at Kent State, use in their paper “Motivated Skepticism.” Ditto and Lopez assembled 67 female undergraduates to conduct hypothetical evaluations of the intelligence of prospective college applicants. The participants were given two pieces of information: One, a pre-graded test where they could see how well the applicant had done. The other, an evaluation from someone who’d worked with the applicant. For the control group, the evaluation was blandly positive. For the experimental group, the evaluation was sharply negative: The subject was presented as rude, condescending, and unlikeable. Oh, and there was one catch: The undergraduates were supposed to grade the tests as quickly as possible.

. . . . If the applicant got all the questions right, the grader usually judged them as intelligent. But when an unlikable applicant got the questions wrong, the grader would cast them aside far quicker than when a likable applicant got the answers wrong. We’re much more skeptical of evidence that harms people we like than people we don’t like — and that’s true no matter the quality of the evidence.

Perhaps the seminal paper in the field was conducted by Stanford’s Charlie Lord in 1979. In it, “subjects supporting and opposing capital punishment were exposed to two purported studies, one seemingly confirming and one seemingly disconfirming their existing beliefs about the deterrent efficacy of the death penalty.” The studies were methodologically identical, but you can probably guess which paper found each group found most convincing, and which they found methodologically flawed. In other words, what mattered wasn’t the evidence. It was the conclusion.

My favorite study (pdf) in this space was by [Situationist Contributor]Geoffrey Cohen. His experiment found the position of an individual’s preferred political party overwhelmed both the objective policy content and the individual’s preexisting beliefs. Cohen had a control group of liberals and conservatives look at a generous welfare reform proposal and a harsh welfare reform proposal. As expected, liberals preferred the generous plan and conservatives favored the more stringent option. Then he had another group of liberals and conservatives look at the same plans — but this time, the plans were associated with parties.

Both liberals and conservatives followed their parties, even when their parties disagreed with them. So when Democrats were said to favor the stringent welfare reform, for example, liberals went right along. Three scary sentences from the piece: “when reference group information was available, participants gave no weight to objective policy content, and instead assumed the position of their group as their own. This effect was as strong among people who were knowledgeable about welfare as it was among people who were not. Finally, participants persisted in the belief that they had formed their attitude autonomously even in the two group information conditions where they had not.”

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You can read the entire article, which includes links to the studies, here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Politics | 3 Comments »

Register Now for the 2011 Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 22, 2010

The Fifth Law and Mind Sciences Conference: “The Psychology of Inequality”

At this year’s conference, leading social scientists and legal scholars will present and discuss their research regarding the  psychological causes and consequences of social inequality.

The conference will be held on February 26, 2011 at Harvard Law School.  To register for the conference, click on the image above or here for the online registration.

For more information about the conference, click here.

Posted in Distribution, Education, Events | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Blood & Race

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 21, 2010

From the Harvard Gazette:

The centuries-old “one-drop rule” assigning minority status to mixed-race individuals appears to live on in our modern-day perception and categorization of people like Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Halle Berry.

So say Harvard University psychologists, who’ve found that we still tend to see biracials not as equal members of both parent groups, but as belonging more to their minority parent group. The research appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Many commentators have argued that the election of Barack Obama, and the increasing number of mixed-race people more broadly, will lead to a fundamental change in American race relations,” says lead author Arnold K. Ho, a Ph.D. student in psychology at Harvard. “Our work challenges the interpretation of our first biracial president, and the growing number of mixed-race people in general, as signaling a color-blind America.”

In the United States, the “one-drop rule” — also known as hypodescent — dates to a 1662 Virginia law on the treatment of mixed-race individuals. The legal notion of hypodescent has been upheld as recently as 1985, when a Louisiana court ruled that a woman with a black great-great-great-great-grandmother could not identify herself as “white” on her passport.

“One of the remarkable things about our research on hypodescent is what it tells us about the hierarchical nature of race relations in the United States,” says co-author James Sidanius, professor of psychology and of African and African-American studies at Harvard. “Hypodescent against blacks remains a relatively powerful force within American society.”

Ho and Sidanius, along with co-authors Mahzarin R. Banaji (Situationist Contributor) at Harvard and Daniel T. Levin at Vanderbilt University, say their work reflects the cultural entrenchment of America’s traditional racial hierarchy, which assigns the highest status to whites, followed by Asians, with Latinos and blacks at the bottom.

Ho and colleagues presented subjects with computer-generated images of black-white and Asian-white individuals, as well as family trees showing different biracial permutations. They also asked people to report directly whether they perceived biracials to be more minority or white. By using multiple approaches, their work examined both conscious and unconscious perceptions of biracial individuals, presenting the most extensive empirical evidence to date on how they are perceived.

The researchers found, for example, that one-quarter-Asian individuals are consistently considered more white than one-quarter-black individuals, despite the fact that African Americans and European Americans share a substantial degree of genetic heritage.

Using face-morphing technology that presented a series of faces ranging from 5 percent white to 95 percent white, they also found that individuals who were a 50-50 mix of two races, either black-white or Asian-white, were almost never identified by study participants as white. Furthermore, on average, black-white biracials had to be 68 percent white before they were perceived as white; the comparable figure for Asian-white biracials was 63 percent.

“The United States is already a country of ethnic mixtures, but in the near future it will be even more so, and more so than any other country on earth,” says Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard. “When we see in our data that our own minds are limited in the perception of those who are the products of two different ethnic groups, we recognize how far we have to go in order to have an objectively accurate and fair assessment of people. That’s the challenge for modern minds.”

The team found few differences in how whites and non-whites perceive biracial individuals, with both assigning them with equal frequency to lower-status groups. The researchers are conducting further studies to examine why Americans continue to associate biracials more with their minority parent group.

“The persistence of hypodescent serves to reinforce racial boundaries, rather than moving us toward a race-neutral society,” Ho says.

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Arnold Ho 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,” The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?,” Banaji & Greenwald on Edge – Part IV,” Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “Wages Are Only Skin Deep – Abstract,” Colorblinded Wages – Abstract,” Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice,” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

When Salsa Is More Than Salsa . . .

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 20, 2010

Ask anyone in legal academia about the annual U.S. News rankings and you will undoubtedly hear a long list of complaints about how they fail to capture the strengths and weaknesses of schools, encourage deans to invest in the wrong things, and offer little true insight for prospective students.

Yet no one has managed to articulate a feasible plan for breaking free from their choke hold and so nearly every law school in the country plays the rankings game to one degree or another, whether it is hiring experts to help increase incoming LSAT scores or sending out glossy brochures to the chosen few who vote on faculty reputation scores.

A few weeks ago, however, Brooklyn Law School took things to a new level by sending out . . . spicy salsa!

As my colleague, Dan Filler, argued over at the Faculty Lounge, the idea was clearly to get everyone thinking that Brooklyn Law is “hot” right now.  Indeed, the label on the glass jar says as much.

But I wonder about the mechanism.

Could there be some embodied cognition effects going on here?

Could this be the natural extension of Lawrence Williams and John Bargh’s 2008 Science article “Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth“?

As Williams and Bargh suggested, “‘Warmth’ is the most powerful personality trait in social judgment . . . [and] experiences of physical warmth (or coldness) . . . increase feelings of interpersonal warmth (or coldness), without the person’s awareness of this influence.”

It’s time to do an experiment looking at whether eating hot (spicy) food leads to judgments that people, ideas, and entitities are “hot.”

Budding psychologist collaborators out there, let’s pull the IRB together and get this study up and running.  I’ll supply the salsa.

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Embodied Situation of Power,”  The Situational Power of Appearance and Posture,” “The Situational Effects of Hand-Washing,” Embodied Rationality,” andThe Embodied Cognition Bonanza!.”

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Law, Marketing | 1 Comment »

The Double-Binded Situation of Even Women Lawyers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 18, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.

From Newsweek:

Of some 700 female lawyers surveyed, more than half of equity partners and two-thirds of income and minority partners say they are dissatisfied with the way compensation was determined at their firms—compared to nearly three-quarters of men who reported high levels of satisfaction with those systems, according to an earlier study. Complaints include a lack of diversity within compensation committees, a lack of wage transparency, and too much weight given to factors such as billable hours and too little to institutional investments like developing a firm’s human capital and nurturing young associates.

Female lawyers also reported being stymied by the “double bind,” saying that for women it’s virtually impossible to be simultaneously respected and well-liked. “You must engage in self-promotion but you’re penalized for doing so if you’re a woman,” says Joan Williams, a professor at UC’s Hastings College of the Law and an author of the report. But Williams says that she was perhaps most surprised by the fact that the survey respondents were so incensed by their experiences at work, which was made clear through comments they submitted online. “The anger comes from the fact that they see these patterns of gender bias, double standards, and double binds in their everyday lives.”

Posted in Law, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Interview with Professor Robert MacCoun on Drug Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2010

Here is a fascinating interview of Professor Robert MacCoun about “The Psychology and Politics of Drug Policy.”  The 36-minute interview was conducted by Nina Catalano as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard Law School.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Robert MacCoun, a psychologist, joined the faculty of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Policy in 1993 and the Boalt faculty in 1999. From 1986 to 1993 he was a behavioral scientist at The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan private research institution. He has published many studies of jury decision making, alternative dispute resolution, illicit drug dealing, alternative drug laws, harm reduction, gays and lesbians in the military, media biases, and bias in the use and interpretation of research evidence. He is on the National Academy of Sciences committee on drug policy research and analysis, and in 1999 he was a visiting professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Table of Contents

00:15 — How do you see the relationship between scientific research and drug policy?

05:34 — What role does the media play in public drug policy debates?

07:50 — What’s up with the drug policy reform movement these days?

11:36 — How does our scientific understanding of addiction impact the legalization debate?

17:31 — What are your thoughts about the California ballot initiative to legalize and tax marijuana?

28:10 — What are the current trends with regard to marijuana and public opinion?

32:44 — Can you tell us how you got involved in the intersection between psychology and the law?

Duration: 35:24

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “News about the Captured Situation of Food Policy,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “Andrew Papachristos Explains Why Criminals Obey the Law – Video,” and “The Situation of Criminality – Abstract.”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Law, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A “Main Street” Perspective?

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 16, 2010

Elizabeth Warren Meeting with Rep. Spencer Bachus

Last month, I did a short blog post on a new article that I wrote looking at the attributional proclivities driving the recent battle over the creation of the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.  The article builds on earlier Situationist work and was penned for a symposium at Ohio State last spring in which I was asked to comment on the psychology informing the relationship between the government, business, and private citizens.

I opened the article with two quotations: one from Milton Friedman and one from Richard Nixon (who oversaw the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission upon which the CFPB was modeled).

Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.

~ Milton Friedman

I don‘t give a good goddamn what Milton Friedman says.

~ Richard Nixon

At the time, I was pleased with the opening, but I now regret that the article went to the printers before Representative Spencer Bachus’s (R-Alabama) provided this gem during an interview last Wednesday:

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

Bachus, I should remind readers, is the new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which governs matters relating to banks, consumer credit, and numerous other financial matters.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Inherited Situation of Racial Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2010

Professor Palma Joy Strand recently posted her important paper, “Inheriting Inequality: Wealth, Race, and the Laws of Succession” (forthcoming in the Oregon Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

* * *

The article begins by documenting deep inequality in the form of Black-White wealth disparities: While the overall wealth distribution in the United States is highly unequal from both historical and international perspectives, racial wealth disparities are particularly acute, with median Black net worth approximately a tenth of median White net worth (as compared to median Black income that is approximately two-thirds of median White income). Next, the article ties the perpetuation of this inequality to current inheritance law. It then confronts this inequality as a civil rights issue in terms of its social effects, its historical causes, and legal avenues for attacking it. Finally, the article proposes two changes in our laws of succession to address this contemporary manifestation of White advantage and Black disadvantage. First, the article explains how civil rights considerations support existing proposals that inheritances be taxed as windfall income to those who receive them (as are lottery winnings currently). Second, the article identifies a need for revising intestacy law to provide heirs with clear title to assets, especially homes belonging to families of modest wealth whose wealth is primarily the value of those homes.

* * *

Download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Consuming Merit, Gatekeeping, and Reproducing Wealth,” “Black History is Now,Examining Why Estimated “Costs” of Racial Inequality Vary by Race,” Even monkeys know when they’re being treated unfairly,” A Discussion about (In)Equality,” “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality,”The Situation of Mortgage Defaults,” The Situation of the Mortgage Crisis,” and “The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty.”

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Distribution, History, Ideology, Law, Life | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

It Depends on What You Mean By “Discrimination” . . .

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 14, 2010

At the beginning of the month, I bemoaned FIFA’s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and pointed to the country’s poor human rights record.

On Monday of this week, Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president responded.

Okay, well, he didn’t *technically* respond to me, but he responded to a question that I would have liked a straight answer to: How can FIFA, which purports to be strongly against discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation (among other things), justify holding the World Cup in a country that explicitly discriminates against homosexuals and women?

What was Blatter’s joking response when asked about the possibility of corporal punishment against gays visiting Qatar in 2022?

“I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”

Then speaking more seriously he explained,

We are definitely living in a world of freedom and I’m sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems. You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it’s another culture because it’s another religion, but in football we have no boundaries.

We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings be it on this side or that side, be it left, right or whatever. If they want to watch a match somewhere in Qatar 2022, I’m sure they will be admitted to such matches.

So there you have it: discrimination, for Blatter, means whether you are allowed into the stadium or not.  The lashes you receive outside the stadium for exercising your basic human rights are not FIFA’s concern.

Posted in Entertainment, Situationist Sports | Leave a Comment »

Tom Tyler on “Moving away from Instrumentalism”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2010

Here is an informative interview of Situationist Contributor Tom Tyler by Harvard Law student (now alum) Michal Rosenn. The interview lasts 24 minutes. It was conducted as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard taught by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Professor Tyler is the University Professor of Psychology and Chair of Psychology at NYU.  He received his B.A. in Psychology from Columbia in 1973, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in social psychology from UCLA in 1974 and 1978.  At NYU, he heads the Tyler Lab, where he and his students research the dynamics of authority and motivations within groups, organizations, and societies.  Much of Prof. Tyler’s work centers on social justice and the psychology of procedural justice — the topics addressed in this interview.

Table of Contents

0:17 — Tell us a little about your general research interests.

1:11 — Can you tell us about your research methods?

2:23 — Can you tell us about your work on procedural justice?

4:24 — What is your argument about an instrumentalist versus a values-based system as it applies to criminal law?

7:21 — What do you see as the reasons behind America’s move away from rehabilitation in the prison context?

9:43 — How do you see a values-based approach being implemented in the criminal justice system?

11:19 — How does your research on instrumentalism apply to anti-terrorism efforts?

13:18 — How does neuroimaging research complement your research findings?

14:09 — How does a values-based approach account for differences in values among a population?

18:33 — Is an over-reliance on instrumentalism a distinctly American phenomenon, or is it more universal?

19:04 — Does the relevance of your work extend beyond the context of criminal law?

20:34 — Do you have any recommendations to lawyers based on the research you’ve done?

22:29 — How do you see the relationship between law and psychology developing in the future?

* * *

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Andrew Papachristos Explains Why Criminals Obey the Law – Video,” The Legal Situation of the Underclass,”The Situation of Criminality – Abstract,” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” “Why Criminals Obey the Law – Abstract,” and Tom Tyler on “Strategies of Social Control” – Video.”

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

Pushback from the Left

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 11, 2010

Situationist Contributor Jerry Kang recently posted his thoughtful essay, “Implicit Bias and the Pushback from the Left” (St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 54, p. 1139, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstrct.

* * *

Over the past three decades, the mind sciences have provided remarkable insights about how our brains process social categories. For example, scientists have discovered that implicit biases – in the form of stereotypes and attitudes that we are unaware of, do not consciously intend, and might reject upon conscious self-reflection – exist and have wide-ranging behavioral consequences. Such findings destabilize our self-serving self-conceptions as bias-free. Not surprisingly, there has been backlash from the political Right. This Article examines some aspects of the more surprising pushback from the Left.

Part I briefly explains how new findings in the mind sciences, especially Implicit Social Cognition, are incorporated into the law, legal scholarship, and legal institutions, under the banner of “behavioral realism.” Part II describes the pushback from the Left. Part III responds by suggesting that our deepest understanding of social hierarchy and discrimination requires analysis at multiple layers of knowledge. Instead of trading off knowledge, for example, at the cognitive layer for the sociological layer (or vice versa), we should seek understanding at each layer, and then interpenetrate the entire stack.

* * *

Download the essay for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Speaking Truth to the Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 9, 2010

This week’s This American Life was titled “Last Man Standing,” which included three outstanding “stories about people who feel compelled to keep going, especially when everyone else has given up,” including:

  • a story about the only Juror on the trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who believed he was innocent of trying to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat;
  • the story of Duke Fightmaster, who refused to give up his simple dream: to replace Conan O’Brien; and
  • a story about God and extraterrestrials.

It’s a terrific show, which you can listen to for free here.

Also this week at Harvard, an event at the Carr Center featured “four stories of dissent.”  A story about the event is posted below.

Lecture-goers were so intrigued last night (Dec. 2) by “The Razor’s Edge” that they stayed beyond the allotted time to try to get all their questions in. The talk, by four people who risked their careers and even their lives to stand up for principles they believed in, was sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and was the final event of a daylong conference on principled dissent.

First to speak was Col. Ann Wright, who resigned on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, stating that without the authorization of the U.N. Security Council, the war would be in violation of international law. Wright, who had been in the Army for almost three decades and had then served around the world in the diplomatic corps, was one of only three U.S. government officials to resign in protest to the Iraq war. “You never know when your conscience is going to get you,” she said.

Bakyt Beshimov had a very different story, having opposed the ruling body as leader of the Social Democratic Political Fraction in his native Kyrgyzstan. Beshimov’s liberal views and criticism toward two administrations led to detainment, interrogation, and ultimately to assassination attempts. “It was my dream to make my country better,” said the historian, later recalling the Oscar Wilde quote that the cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Beshimov, who sought asylum in the United States, is a Scholar at Risk at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. “Last year I fled my country after the second attempt on my life,” he said. “Before me was just two ways: Stay and be killed, or leave.”

Darrel Vandeveld is a former military advocate who for a time prosecuted Guantanamo detainees. “My frame of mind was I wanted to secure as many convictions as possible,” he said, and make sure that the guilty received the maximum sentences, including the death penalty. “I was outraged, I was angry, I wanted revenge.” After seeing rampant abuses of the system, Vandeveld said, he resigned as a prosecutor and was “vilified” by the Army. He is now a defense attorney, standing up “for the rights of the poor and those unable to defend themselves.”

The final speaker was Carne Ross, who worked for the British Foreign Office, including serving as the U.K. delegation’s expert on the Middle East at the U.N. Security Council. He said he had a reputation as a “vicious Rottweiler” in defending his country’s policies until testifying in the British government’s Butler Review of 2004 that the U.S. and U.K. knew Iraq posed no threat to its neighbors and did not possess weapons of mass destruction.

“I couldn’t believe my government was doing this,” Ross said. He drafted letters of resignation but never sent them because “I was afraid. Afraid that if I held my hand up and said this isn’t right, somehow I would be crushed.” His fears were justified, it turned out, when another whistleblower, his friend and colleague David Kelly, was questioned aggressively regarding his decision to go to the press with what he knew, and later committed suicide.

“I realized that the government and the public in Britain were inoculated against the next person who put his hand up,” Ross said. “I wouldn’t be destroyed, because they had already destroyed David.”

He resigned, sending his evidence of government lies to the Foreign Office. “It took a long time to reconstruct a professional career for myself,” he said.

He ultimately founded an advisory group called Independent Diplomat, though he said he felt that he “did as much bad as I did good,” and warned against thinking of whistleblowers as heroes rather than human beings often at the mercy of “chance and circumstance.”

Much of the question-and-answer period focused on recent news regarding the website WikiLeaks and rape allegations made against its founder, Julian Assange. The panel was divided over whether the site was justified in releasing thousands of secret government documents, leaning toward the side of government by citing the need for secrecy in many cases and comparing WikiLeaks’ actions unfavorably with Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Ultimately, however, “the crucible of experience is the best teacher for making these kinds of decisions,” said Vandeveld.

Wright agreed. “Always second-guess,” she said. “Always be suspicious. Most of the time you kind of know right from wrong. It’s in your stomach. It’s in your headaches. Don’t dismiss those.”

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Devil You Know . . . ,” and “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II.”

Posted in Conflict, Life, Morality | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Dr. Z. on Dr. Phil

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 7, 2010

Heroic Imagination in Action, December 9, 2010.

Situationist Contributor, Phil Zimbardo will co-host the DR. PHIL TV show, on: Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010 (for local airing times, see

This program continues an earlier show (Oct. 25, 2010) that focused on The Lucifer Effect, understanding how good people can turn evil, and centered on the issue of obedience to authority.

The new show builds upon that theme by adding demonstrations of bullying by girls in groups, and the power of group dynamics and social trust as revealed in the recent “Bling Ring” Hollywood thefts. Millions of dollars worth of celebrity jewelry and clothing were stolen by a group of young girls, as described by one guest.

The final component shifts focus to understand how “bad kids” can turn good and even act heroically. A former member of a criminal gang in Los Angeles describes his motives for joining the gang, its illegal activities, being shot at, arrested, and his final transformation. He describes going beyond just quitting the gang to work at preventing others from joining destructive gangs, and helping them escape from gang life. In a dramatic highlight, this young man says,  “I am putting my life in danger just being here (on this public show).” His actions, like those of others like him, are heroic because of the high personal costs/risks entailed in engaging in such socially-focused service.

Dr. Phil ends the show with laudatory comments about how such actions are part of what is being investigated and encouraged by the Heroic Imagination Project (HIP), encouraging his audience to visit the web site (here).

* * *

The HIP research team is now investigating the nature of such transformations of the psychology of enmity and violence into the psychology of compassion and heroic action through detailed interviews with dozens of  “heroic, former gang members.”

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Situationist Phil Zimbardo Takes Over the Dr. Phil Show,” “The Devil You Know . . .,” and “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II.”

Posted in Events, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – October

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 6, 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 Frontal Cortex: “Why Social Closeness Matters”

“The internet currently has two very different models of social networking. There is, of course, Facebook – a massive sprawl of friends and acquaintances that allows us to keep track of people we know in real life. I’m “friends” with my grandmother, a bunch of second cousins and it seems like most of my high school class. The defining feature of this network is its focus on “social closeness” – I want to keep track of these people because I have some kind of connection to them. We are all part of the same “clan” Read more . . .

From Jury Room: “Simple Jury Persuasion: The dark side of psychological closeness”

“I swear there are times when simply reading a research report gives me chills. This is one of those times. […] Gino & Galinsky (2010) found that feeling similar to someone who has been selfish or dishonest led participants to “vicariously justify the actions of the wrongdoer and to behave less ethically”. Further, the ‘badness’ of the acts will be downplayed and framed in the participants’ mind as legitimate.” Read more . . .

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

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The Situation of Choosing a World Cup Site

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 5, 2010

Qatar has been awarded the 2022 World Cup.

Given the mysteries of FIFA (soccer’s world governing body) decision making, I was less sure than most that the United States had this one “in the bag,” despite what the New York Times described as “an apparently superior technical bid.”

Still, I was surprised that the pea-sized (okay, Connecticut-sized) Middle Eastern nation got the nod . . . and more than a little disappointed given the human rights record of the country.

FIFA was apparently drawn to the idea of the transformative power of football and the notion that a World Cup in Qatar could alter opinions of the Arab world.  According to the head of Qatar’s winning bid, Sheik Mohammed bin Hamad al-Thani, the 2022 World Cup will “present a new image of the Middle East — far away from clichés and closer to reality.”

But the present reality of Qatar is not so pretty.

As Amnesty International reported back in June of this year, Qatari laws “prescribe imprisonment for criticizing the Emir, for writing about the armed forces without permission and for offending divine religions, as well as . . . punish[ing] blasphemy and consensual ‘illicit sexual relations.'”  In another report, it was noted that “discrimination against women [in the country] remains rife” and “[d]eprivation of nationality has been used by the government against a number of individuals and tribes to target political opponents.”  According to the UN Refugee Agency, homosexual behavior is illegal in Qatar and, as recently as 1996, an American citizen was sentenced to six months imprisonment and 90 lashes for homosexual activity.

I am hopeful that winning the bid for the World Cup could prompt Qatar to think seriously about its commitment to human rights.  There are twelve long years to improve the treatment of women, gays, dissidents, migrant workers, and others before the tournament begins.  A lot of progress could be made.

But I remain skeptical.  It appears that most of the Qatari 2022 proposal is focused on building glittering new soccer stadiums and ways to get to them (see the stunning video below).  FIFA officials were clearly wowed by the $4 billion dollars allocated for soccer arenas and $50 billion allocated for transportation and other infrastructure improvements.  What they should have been pushing for, however, was a commitment to fixing the abuses and injustice built into the Qatari legal and social systems.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Can Sports Save the World? (& what must be done beforehand) – Part I & Part 2,” and “Manufactured Hype: Can ESPN’s Agenda-Setting Behaviour save Major League Soccer?.”

Posted in Politics, Public Relations, Situationist Sports, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

New Experiment! Participate Here!

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 3, 2010

The Project on Law and Mind Sciences is currently in the final stages of designing an online study clearinghouse where researchers can post studies and find participants, and interested members of the public can, well, participate!

To whet your appetite, here is a link to a new experiment that I’m running along with two researchers at Cambridge aimed at better understanding how people process information.

Participate today!  Here!

Posted in Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Bystanders in Child Abductions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 2, 2010

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Sexual Harassment,” The Situation of Bystanders,” “The Positive Situation of Crowds,” “The Situation of Helping,” “The Situation of Hazing, Torture, Gender, and Tears,” Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” and Milgram Replicated on French TV – ‘The Game of Death’.”

Posted in Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situationist Named Among the Top 100 Legal Blogs by the ABA Journal

Posted by Adam Benforado on December 1, 2010

The ABA Journal, the flagship magazine of the American Bar Association, has just announced this year’s 100 best legal blogs . . .  and The Situationist has been included on the list!

The Situationist is one of twelve blogs honored in the category “Law Prof Plus,” focused on legal academic blogs.

As The ABA Journal “is read by half of the nation’s 1 million lawyers every month,” this is exciting news for The Situationist as it continues to seek a broader audience and bring cutting edge insights from the mind sciences to practicing attorneys (as well as to our other avid readers!).

The ABA Journal has encouraged readers to vote on their favorites within each category and you can vote for The Situationist here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

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