The Situationist

Archive for February, 2011

Felix Warneken at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 28, 2011

Today, the HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) is hosting a talk, “The Roots of Altruism – Evidence from Children and Chimpanzees,” by Harvard University professor Felix Warneken in Pound 100 from 12:00 – 1:00.

In addition to teaching psychology at Harvard, Professor Warneken studies the roots of altruism by conducting experiments with chimps and infants.  Free burritos will be provided!

For more information, e-mail

Posted in Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Morality | Leave a Comment »

John Palfrey’s PLMS Conference Reflections

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

The brilliant John Palfrey posted some of his reflections about Saturday’s PLMS conference on his blog.  Here are some excerpts.

* * *

Today, Prof. Jon Hanson is hosting the Fifth Conference on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School.  The idea, dating back to 2007, has been to “introduce to scholars and students of law and legal theory intriguing, relevant research from social psychology, social cognition, public health, and related disciplines and to stimulate a productive, interdisciplinary exchange between scholars across these fields.”  It’s a rare and fun opportunity to hear from a broad range of mind scientists about their work and how it might intersect with ours in the field of law.

For instance, Dr. Laura Kubzansky (Harvard School of Public Health) discussed the relationship between stress and resilience.  (One data point that jumped out very clearly: the biggest contributor to some terrible health effects is work-related stress.)

Dr. Kristina Olson (Yale psychology department), an expert on children’s social cognitive development, spoke directly to some of the issues that we wonder about in the Youth and Media Policy group at the Berkman Center with respect to social inequalities.  Very young children (aged 3 – 5), her research shows, have an understanding of social inequality.  Even three year olds are more likely to presume that whites in America are more likely to be rich than black Americans (whether or not the children asked were white or black).  Another interesting finding of Dr. Olson’s was the likelihood of small children, each of whom has been allocated a stuffed animal to give to one person, to give the gift to a person who had allocated resources more equitably than others.

Arnold Ho (soon-to-be-minted ph.d. in psychology at Harvard) works on social dominance theory.  He introduced the theory to those of us previously ignorant of it (myself included) and showed how new research on the biased perception of biracials (Asian-White and Black-White biracials, in his work) may serve a hierarchy-increasing function.

There were many additional wonderful presentations and take-aways, especially in Jon Hanson’s own closing lecture.  My three thoughts at the end of the day: 1) how fun it is to feel allowed to be a student again, where the topic on the table is relevant to my area of work, but is not something about which I know the first thing; 2) how much more we can learn about kids and technology if we study the methods and the learning of mind sciences researchers; and 3) how valuable Jon Hanson’s work on the way we make policy judgments generally is for anyone studying the law or making normative judgments about how to order society.

* * *

Read the entire post on John Palfrey’s outstanding blog here.

Posted in Blogroll, Distribution, Education | 2 Comments »

SALMS Liveblogs PLMS Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

Read James Wang’s excellent notes from yesterday’s terrific conference here.

Posted in Distribution, Events, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Law, Legal Theory, Politics | 1 Comment »

Legal Socialization and the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, several Harvard Law students have been blogging about a chapter (forthcoming inIdeology, Psychology, and Law, edited by Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson) by Mitchell Callan and Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay. In the second post on the topic (copied below), LLM candidate David Simon discusses legal socialization.

* * *

Imagine you and your neighbor share a fence along a common border, part of which demarcates the boundary between both properties and “the wilderness.” The fence benefits both of you because it keeps out the livestock-killing coyotes. One day, a shared and critical part of the fence collapses onto your property, leaving your yard open to coyotes, who may eat your livestock. Without legal recourse, how might you resolve that dispute. Would you work with your neighbor to help reconstruct the fence? Would the solution be cooperative or adversarial? (For more on the resolution of land disputes without the aid of law, see Robert Ellickson, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes.)

Did Jack McCoy's role on Law & Order influence your perception of people as self-interested?

If we introduce law into the equation–say, by inventing a right that allowed you to sue your neighbor–how would the resolution of that dispute change? Might you claim that your neighbor ought to fix the fence herself, even if an unrepaired fence might harm you?

Mitchell J. Callan & Aaron Kay think that the answer to that last question may be “yes”: the law may in fact alter how we think about situations and how we interact (cooperatively or not) with others. This occurs, they argue, through a process called legal socialization: the process by which exposure to law can reinforce conceptions of individuals as self-interested and competitive. (This occurs, for example, by exposure to popular depictions of the legal system, such as those on Law & Order, as Beth describes in her post.) If you’re curious about how they reach this hypothesis, Becky’s blog post explains it for you. But the basic idea is this: if exposure to certain ideas influences how one thinks and acts, exposure to systems embedded with latent ideas might do the same. Because the U.S. legal system conceptualizes people as self-interested and competitive, exposure to it can reinforce notions of people as competitive and self-interested.

Identifying this phenomenon in everyday events is a bit more difficult than it sounds–largely because legal socialization seems to be gradual rather than punctuated. Nevertheless, there are instances where we can view the law as reinforcing certain conceptions of the individual.


Take, for example, Arizona’s recent enactment of SB-1070, one of the strictest immigration laws in recent history. Among other

Humor is one way to diffuse conceptions of people as self-interested and competitive.

things, the law criminalized both attempts by illegal immigrants to work, and attempts by others to solicit work from illegal immigrants (Sec. 13-2928). That provision alone seems to have “competitive” or “self-interest” overtones. In some ways, though, the law might be a product–rather than example–of legal socialization. I.e., the law represents how people perceive others are likely to act. In this case, the law conceptualizes an “outgroup” (immigrants) as a competitive threat, and seeks to neutralize that threat by preserving the “ingroup’s” (Arizona residents) interest. The law is both shaped by, and an embodiment of, visions of individuals as competitive and pursuing selfish aims.

What’s troubling is not so much the characterization of the individual, but the effect it has on social behavior and thinking. It may, for example, engender actual competitiveness where none existed before; that is, it may decompose social relations, rather than strengthen them. Interestingly, some groups have seemed to pick up on this dynamic already. When Arizona signed the law into law,

the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund . . . predict[ed] that the law would create “a spiral of pervasive fear, community distrust, increased crime and costly litigation, with nationwide repercussions.”

Though potentially exaggerated, those are the kinds of results we would expect given Callan & Kay’s findings. A law that reinforces stereotypes of the individual as competitive and self-interested will strengthen and propagate that stereotype. That, in turn, can have anti-social effects: less cooperation, more stratification, and enhanced hostility between “groups.”

School Board Meetings & the Open Access Law

For those unfamiliar with school board meetings, they can be nasty affairs. Disputes between the board and superintendents often are bitter–the board is an “outsider” to the superintendent, who “runs the school.” Disputes also can arise between the public–which wants to know what the board is discussing–and the board, which wants to run the meeting in a particular way.The latter dispute recently arose in a school board meeting in Oklahoma. The superintendent of schools in the district apparently has a knack for “poor behavior,” such as yelling. But beyond incivility, the author of the hyperlinked editorial is concerned with the law:

No one can force the grown-ups to act as such. But they can and should be compelled to follow the law.

Krushchev would have fit in well with some members of a recent Oklahoma school board meeting.

What law, you ask? Laws ensuring public access to meetings of public bodies–so called “open access laws.” The overarching purpose of such laws is to prevent secrecy among public bodies. Because public schools are accountable to, well, the public, most states have open access laws that govern their board meetings. In Illinois, for example, the Open Meetings Act requires most public school board meetings to be open to the public. When the board conducts closed or private meetings, it must videotape or record them.

Back to the author’s request: “follow the law.” Now, requiring people to follow the law is not an unreasonable request–and, indeed, it may be just the right thing to do. But notice how, in this case, the law itself is being used to quell what the author sees as the school board’s self-interested behavior. What, exactly, was that behavior? The author thinks it was a deliberate attempt to avoid disclosing issues to the public:

Much of the initial ruckus at the meeting involved three potential employees Barresi recommended for hire. But none of the names nor the positions they were to fill were listed on the agenda. Instead, the meeting’s posted agenda listed a “Report on Department personnel changes” as an item on the consent agenda.

I don’t know the board’s motives for issuing such a vague description. Maybe it was trying to be sneaky, or maybe it was just issuing a general topic to be discussed at the meeting. That’s not the point. What matters here is that the author’s sense of the activity (some kind of impropriety) is shaped by the law–more specifically, the author sees a person whose acts conform to the image the law projects.

Let’s see exactly how that is so. The law here is a mechanism to prevent the board from pursuing self-interested ends. Indeed, the law “sets up” this conclusion. The law assumes school boards and administrators as likely to meet in secret–as pursuing self-interest. By trying to prevent certain behavior, the law makes assumptions about how people will behave; in this case, it assumes they will behave in a self-interested fashion.

That assumption may or may not be accurate, but it certainly colors the author’s analysis of the issue. The author assumes–as does the law–that the board was providing vague descriptions because it had self-interested ends. Why? Because that is exactly what the law assumes. The author’s assessment may be correct, but the law’s conception of the individual certainly influences how one thinks about the situation. One might say, “Well, if the law says you have to do X because, if you don’t, your probably pursing self-interested aims, then you likely are pursing self-interested aims when you fail to do X.”

Pushing for people to follow “the law” may not be a bad thing, but when the law leads to perceptions about people’s nature, it can have unintended and potentially harmful consequences. The law presumes the school board will act in self-interested ways–and that may have socialized the author to view the board’s actions as violating the law (i.e., as self-interested) when they are not. Might the situation have been different if no law had existed? Would different norms have developed? Would the situation been viewed the same way?

Callan & Kay aren’t just concerned with cognition, though. Recall that they hypothesize that our conception of the law can actually influence our behavior. Maybe this is just such an instance. Instead of working with the board in a cooperative way, the author seeks legal recourse simply because the law leads the author to see the board’s behavior as self-interested.

A Question

I want to close with some thoughts on the legal socialization hypothesis, which I find interesting. I can’t help but wonder whether the law’s default preference in many cases is necessitated by actual self-interested or competitive behavior. Many times it’s difficult to separate what laws are merely socializing people to competitive and self-interest conceptions of human behavior from those that actually protect people from such behavior. Callan & Kay do note that the influence of the law on cognition and social relations is likely individual-relative–more research needs to be done. Even when controlling for such individual differences, though, I find the distinction a bit fuzzy. Do securities laws (false advertising laws, trademark laws, etc.), for example, protect people from actual (anti)competitive and self-interested behavior or merely reinforce such conceptions of human nature? The answer in that case is probably both, which is not particularly satisfying.

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Deep Capture, Education, Entertainment, Ideology, Life, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Journal of Applied Social Psychology (February)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2011

Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Volume 41, Issue 2 (February 2011)

© Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Original Articles

Gender Versus Gender Role in Attributions of Blame for a Sexual Assault, Arnold S. Kahn, Kimberly A. Rodgers, Charley Martin, Kiah Malick, Jamie Claytor, Maria Gandolfo, Rebecca Seay, Jacklyn R. McMillan and Ellen Webne

Reviewers and the Detection of Deceptive Information in Recorded Interviews, Gabriel Giordano, Joey George, Kent Marett and Brian Keane

Self-Presentational Cognitions for Exercise in Female Adolescents, Jennifer Cumming and Cecilie Thøgersen-Ntoumani

Role of Political Skill in Job Performance Prediction Beyond General Mental Ability and Personality in Cross-Sectional and Predictive Studies, Gerhard Blickle, Jochen Kramer, Paula B. Schneider, James A. Meurs, Gerald R. Ferris, Jan Mierke, Alexander H. Witzki and Tassilo D. Momm

Posted in Table of Contents | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Harvard Law Record on Tomorrow’s PLMS Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 25, 2011

From the Harvard Law Record:

Legal scholars have long been borrowing from economists to explain legal rules and doctrine. Examining the law through the lens of social psychological research is a more novel approach, one which will be front and center at the fifth annual Conference on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School. On Feb. 26 in Austin North, academics and students will discuss the latest research on the psychological causes and consequences of social inequality and its application to law and policy.

The conference, entitled “The Psychology of Inequality,” is an all-day event sponsored by the Project on Law and Mind Sciences (PLMS) and will feature four panels comprised of mostly mind scientists and several legal scholars.

“The larger ambition of the conference is to bring research of social scientists, particularly mind scientists, who are thinking about inequality to a legal audience,” said Prof. Jon Hanson, the director of PLMS.

Hanson has spearheaded planning for the conference, aided by his assistant, Carol Igoe, and about 30 law students, many of whom are part of the Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS), which was formed in Fall 2009. Part of the mission of the conference is to facilitate relationships between mind scientists and legal scholars and students interested in social science research – a cross-section of the legal community that is expanding, Hanson said.

“There is a growing sense that we are not going to understand our problems or how to solve them until we better understand ourselves,” he said. “Much legal theory in the late 20th century assumed that people are rational actors, and that our problems will be solved when the law gets out of the way of individuals pursuing their own preferences. Those assumptions are giving way to a sense that we’re not who we’ve imagined ourselves to be and that our problems are partially a consequence of that misunderstanding.”

SALMS President Matty McFeely ‘12 said it makes sense for law students to think about the implications of social psychological research as they embark upon their legal careers.

“The insights into human nature that are provided by psychologists are crucial for people who are going to go on to be future lawyers and policymakers, so they can make laws and judgments that are in the best interest of the people they are going to serve,” McFeely said.

Research about inequality is relevant to almost every legal issue – even those that arise in first-year courses like Torts, Contracts, and Criminal Law, “Inequality and concerns about inequality are fundamental to the law,” Hanson said. “I expect we will learn a lot at the conference about why people understand equality the way we do, why it matters.”

The conference is free and open to the public. Because space and food are limited, prospective attendees are highly encouraged to register online at

Posted in Distribution, Events, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

PLMS Launches Online Experiment Clearinghouse Website

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 24, 2011

The Online Study Clearinghouse

PLMS is proud to introduce the Law and Mind Science Online Study Clearinghouse, a repository for web studies pertaining to law and mind sciences. Located at, the site is intended to provide a user-friendly way for researchers and those interested in the field to post and take web-based studies, and to allow aspiring researchers to use our past studies database to help design their own research. Researchers who post their studies with the Clearinghouse will also have the option of being featured on The Situationist, PLMS’s popular blog. Please join PLMS in using this exciting new tool to further the interdisciplinary study of law and mind sciences.

Posted in Online Experiment | Leave a Comment »

Fifth PLMS Conference Agenda

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 23, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tentative Schedule

8:45 – 9:15: Continental Breakfast

9:20 – 9:35: Opening Remarks (“The Psychology of Inequality”)

9:40 – 11:00: Session 1

Inequality and Health Outcomes:

•    9:40 – 10:05: Ichiro Kawachi, “Is Inequality Damaging to Population Health”:

More than two decades of research in the health sciences has shown that social status affects health. Studies in humans and non-human primates demonstrate that individuals lower on the social hierarchy end up with shorter, sicker lives. In this presentation I will review the major theories put forward to explain the association between social status and health. For simplicity, I will use income as the indicator of social status. The major theories are: a) the absolute income hypothesis, b) the relative income hypothesis, and c) the relative rank hypothesis. I will discuss empirical evidence for each theory.

•    10:10 – 10:35: Laura Kubzansky, “Stress and Reslience: Pathways to Social Disparities in Health”:

This presentation will discuss stress and resilience as important mechanisms by which social disparities influence health. It will consider how being stressed or resilient is shaped by social environment, and whether these processes influence health.

•    10:40 – 11:00: Q&A

11:05 – 12:55: Session 2

Psychology 1:

•    11:05 – 11:30: Kristina Olson, “Young Children’s Understanding of Social Inequality”:

I will discuss recent research indicating that even young children (aged 3-5 years), have an understanding of social inequality. In my lab and others, researchers are finding astounding evidence that children routinely notice social inequality, they favor individuals and groups who are high in social status, and they often behave in ways that perpetuate inequalities between individuals and groups. I will describe these results, their implications, and will describe other behaviors children engage in that might offset some of these biases to uphold or perpetuate the status quo.

•    11:35 – 12:00: Arnold Ho, “The Perception of Biracials and the Maintenance of Group-Based Social Hierarchies”:

Social Dominance Theory (SDT) begins with the basic observation that group-based social hierarchy is a ubiquitous and stable feature of human social organization, and provides a general framework for understanding the persistence of inequality. In this talk, I will provide a brief overview of SDT, and focus on new research documenting how the biased perception of biracials may serve a hierarchy-enhancing function.

•    12:00 – 12:25: Amy Cuddy, “Outcomes of Warmth and Competence”:

I will present a new perspective on stereotyping and discrimination, based on experimental and correlational findings, that helps to integrate the vast research literature on this topic and provides a unifying conceptual framework. Stereotypes cohere into fundamental dimensions of warmth and competence that combine to create specific patterns of emotion and behaviors toward members of various social groups. These stereotype dimensions and the distinct forms of discrimination they foster apply to a wide range of groups, including mothers, ethnic minorities, older people, and people of different nationalities. In contrast to past theories that assumed stereotypes of women, minorities, and foreigners are predominately negative and hostile, these findings show how many groups are stereotyped ambivalently – as competent but cold or as warm but incompetent. These ambivalent stereotypes create more complex, but predictable patterns of discrimination. Knowing which form of ambivalence a group faces can help us to better understand when and how stereotypes are likely to be applied and, therefore, where to concentrate our efforts to combat discrimination.

•    12:30 – 12:55: Q&A

1:00 – 1:45: Lunch

1:30 – 1:45: At end of lunch, special announcements regarding PLMS; SALMS; Online Experiment Clearinghouse

1:50 – 3:45: Session 3

Psychology 2:

•    1:50 – 2:15: Aaron Kay, “The Impact of Social Inequality and Fairness Beliefs on Long-Term Goal Pursuit”:

According to a huge body of literature within social, personality, and organizational psychology, people are motivated to believe that their social worlds operate fairly — that is, that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get. Indeed, even people most at risk for unfair treatment — that is, members of socially disadvantaged groups, such as those low in SES and minority group members — often believe that the world largely operates in a fair and legitimate manner. Are there any benefits to believing that an obviously unfair world is reasonably fair? For those who typically perpetrate or benefit from injustice — members of advantaged groups — the benefits of such beliefs are easy to understand.However, for those who typically suffer from injustice the benefits of believing in societal fairness are less obvious. This raises an intriguing question: What are specific functions, if any, that these beliefs serve for members of disadvantaged groups? In the current research, we hypothesize that the belief in societal fairness offers a specific self-regulatory benefit for members of socially disadvantaged groups, allowing them to more confidently commit to long-term goals. Five studies support this hypotheses, indicating that members of disadvantaged groups are more likely than members of advantaged social groups to calibrate their pursuit of long-term goals to their beliefs about societal fairness.

•    2:20 – 2:45: Eric Knowles, “The Malleability of Ideology”:

Theories of legitimization typically posit that individuals engage in a process of “assortative endorsement,” seeking out and embracing ideologies that match their intergroup motivations. Thus, individuals high in Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) tend to gravitate toward ideologies that enhance levels of intergroup inequality; those low in SDO, in contrast, tend to embrace hierarchy-attenuating ideologies. Whereas assortative endorsement assumes that ideological content is fixed, I propose that many ideologies are highly “malleable.” Although certain features of malleable ideologies remain constant and consensual, other aspects of their meaning are actively construed to meet particular intergroup agendas. I discuss several malleable ideologies, including colorblindness, diversity, and patriotism. Finally, I address implications of the present perspective for understanding sophisticated forms of hierarchy-enhancement, ideological cooptation, and the manner in which individuals compete over the meanings of crucial ideologies.

•    2:50 – 3:15: Jaime Napier, “Essentialism as Rationalization of Inequality among Disadvantaged Group Members”:

System justification theory posits that beliefs that the system is legitimate can serve epistemic and existential needs to manage uncertainty and threat. Members of advantaged and disadvantaged social groups, however, differ in their levels of conflict between needs to feel good about the system and needs to feel good about the group and the self. I propose that differential levels of conflict among high vs. low status group members can lead to different system-justifying beliefs. Specifically, I predicted that high status group members will tend to endorse system-serving beliefs that assume controllability on the part of the self and others (e.g., personal responsibility attributions). Low status group members, by contrast, will instead justify inequality by viewing it as a reflection of the natural order of things. That is, when needs to justify inequality are high, high status group members enhance themselves (and derogate others) on controllable actions, whereas low status group members will derogate themselves (and enhance others) on innate competence. I tested these propositions in the context of racial and gender inequality. Results from five studies converge to support my predictions. By removing the locus of control from the self, group, and system, naturalistic rationalizations of the status quo can serve to reduce the conflicts between ego-, group-, and system-justifying needs.

•    3:20 – 3:45: Q&A

3:50 – 4:05: Coffee Break

4:10 – 5:55: Session 4

Law & Policy:

•    4:10 – 4:35: Adam Benforado, “Fair and Balanced: The Inequality of Embodied Justice”:

Recent research from embodied cognition provides evidence that the body is involved in the constitution of the mind. In this talk, I will discuss current experimental work examining how people’s intuitions about fairness and justice may be linked to sensorimotor experiences of balance, evenness, and symmetry. Although the connection is reflected in many of our legal structures and processes, I suggest that it may be deeply problematic.

•    4:40 – 5:05: Jon Hanson, “Inequality Dissonance and Policy Attitudes”

A great deal of everyday policy commentary and legal-academic debate seems to turn on conflicting attitudes toward markets and regulation. But where do those attitudes come from? Reason, logic, and experience? Based on research I’ve been doing with Mark Yeboah for the last several years, my talk will take up that question and provide evidence suggesting that nonconscious motives — including the desire to assuage the dissonance created by salient inequalities — play a causal role in shaping policy attitudes.

•    5:10 – 5:25: Q&A

•    5:30 – 5:55: Large Panel Discussion – Presenters and Faculty Conferees

o    Bob Bordone
o    Stella Elias
o    John Palfrey
o    Lucie White
o    Andrew Woods

5:55 – 6:00: Closing Remarks

Posted in Distribution, Events | 2 Comments »

Blaming the Victim

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 22, 2011

Of the many experimental results that have surprised me over the years, Cathaleene Jones and Elliot Aronson’s classic experiment on rape victims stands near the top.  How could it be that when a victim was described as a “virgin,” participants were more willing to hold her responsible for the rape than when she was described as a “married woman” or “divorcee”?

As Melvin Lerner and Dale Miller later explained, “[T]he knowledge that innocent, highly respectable females can be raped was particularly threatening to the subjects’ belief that the world is just, and to avoid the threat posed by this type of admission, it was necessary to find fault with the actions of the victim. Thus, the subjects appear to have tried to convince themselves that the victim was really not innocent and that she must have contributed, at least in some small but significant way, to her fate.”

Today, evidence of blaming the victim is all around us, particularly with a depressed economy.  One can find numerous examples in television programs, op-eds, and casual conversations of blaming the poor for being poor, the unemployed for being unemployed, and the foreclosed upon for being foreclosed upon.

That said, I wasn’t exactly prepared for Mobile, Alabama resident Joe Dupree’s response when a New York Times reporter questioned him last weekend, during a public celebration of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy, about the complete omission of any discussion of slavery during the festivities.  As the reporter pointed out, this seemed particularly strange given “the prominent speeches and documents [from the Confederacy] that describe the protection of slavery as the primary cause of secession.”

According to Mr. Dupree,  “African slavery is a 4,000-year-old African institution that affected us a couple of hundred years.”

Making slavery into an African — that is, a “black” and “foreign” problem — is a shocking move, even at a rally to celebrate the Confederacy.  But I worry that it might have some staying power, given our self-, group-, and system-affirming motives.

There is a coordinated effort afoot to remove slavery from the narrative of the Civil War — to make the “War for Southern Independence” about self-determination, the fight against big government, and tariff and tax disputes.  When Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnel issued a seven-paragraph proclamation last year, declaring April to be Confederate History Month, he left out any reference to slavery, explaining that “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

The reframing is inaccurate and dangerous.

Slavery is an ugly stain on this nation and it should not be painted over.

February is Black History Month and it is time for us to remember our history, as discomforting as the truth might be.

* * *

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in History | 4 Comments »

Blogroll Review – Part 6

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 21, 2011

Over at the terrific new Law & Mind Blog, some Harvard Law students are writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs. Each post provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable. Here’s Part 6 of that series (authored by 1L Marty Ehlenbach).

Neuroanthropology: Featured Blog

Neuroscience and anthropology, culture and environment, past and present.  This blog seeks to find relevant connections between various disciplines to better understand the encultured brain and body.  From the authors:

Although we believe that human neural structure is biological and the product of evolution, we also recognize that the development processes shaping each individual include a host of other forces as well, including internal dynamics, so that we cannot privilege any single cause over all others.

The blog was originally created as an independent blog here (check it out for old posts), but moved to become part of a network of blogs on mind sciences.  Its principal bloggers are Daniel Lende, anthropology professor from the University of South Florida, and Greg Downey, anthropology professor at Macquerie University in Sydney, Australia.

Why neuroanthropology?  This post explains that the brain itself adapts to its environment, and thus to fully understand it we need to look both at biology and at culture.  It further states four roles for neuroanthropologists:

(1) understanding the interaction of brain and culture and its implication for our understanding of mind, behavior, and self; (2) examining the role of the nervous system in the creation of social structures; (3) providing empirical and critical inquiry into the interplay of neuroscience and ideologies about the brain; and (4) using neuroanthropology to provide novel syntheses and advances in human science theory.

The blog generally presents academic research, and features a number of guest bloggers.  It seeks to both explain things clearly and to rigorously analyze the accuracy of findings in popular science.  One article criticizes the idea of memes, while another exposes faulty reporting regarding a finding connecting having sex and willingness to take financial risks.  Another, very relevant to legal questions about culpability and rationales behind punishment, discusses how we should think about the ways that culture shapes our morality.  Do we act in a certain way because we’ve been shaped by evolution to do so?  In what sense are our decisions actually self-determined?  These topics, and many more, make reading the blog a fascinating and multifaceted experience.

See below for other interesting blogs relating to mind science.

Mind Matters

This blog is part of a wider project to promote an exchange of knowledge by connecting experts in a variety of fields.  Authored by David Berreby, a writer and researcher, Mind Matters focuses to a large extent on studies in the area of social psychology, and analyzes current current news and research.  We, as human beings, do not act rationally, and this has far-reaching consequences in law, economics, and virtually every field; Berreby highlights “the gaps between what we think we’re doing and what research says we’re doing.”  Discussions range from the ways that genes help you choose your friends to musings on the widely controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, and generally contain links to scientific studies to make research easily available to the interested reader.

Neuroethics & Law

Founded by Brooklyn Law School Professor Adam Kolber, the Neuroethics & Law blog is a forum for those interested in “legal and ethical issues relating to the brain and cognition.”  It highlights news relating to the field of brain science, links to recently published research, and announces conferences.  In one particularly interesting discussion, Kolber uses a recent court case to argue that we have an ethical obligation to take into account the particular ways that prisoners experience punishment.  In the case discussed, a Dutch prisoner is suing because he prison cell is simply too small to accommodate a person of his large stature; considering the implications, one wonders if the theory could extend to different treatment for prisoners with a dislike of small spaces, or possibly a fear of orange jumpsuits…


Originally here (check out for older posts), the blog has moved over to Psychology Today, and as expected deals with a wide variety of popular topics in the field of psychology.  The blog includes interviews with psychologists, and links to various videos of interest to author David DiSalvo, as well as presenting his musings on a wide variety of topics relating to decision-making and how we experience the world.  Most importantly, Mr. DiSalvo settles the argument over which breed of monster, the vampire or the zombie, best captures the imagination of the modern psyche in a recession economy.


As expected, this blog focuses on ways you can make money by taking recent brain research into account when creating an ad, discussing marketing strategy, or thinking about building a brand.  It also discusses ethical implications of new technology, highlights new studies, and discusses basic things businesses can do to ensure success.  Written by Roger Dooley, a neuromarketing consultant, it does its best to show that marketing does not have to be used to obfuscate or bamboozle, but can have a positive effect on the world as well.

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SALMS Website

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 20, 2011

The Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences has a beautiful new website.  Check it out here.

Posted in Blogroll, Education | 1 Comment »

1 Week From Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 19, 2011

Learn more here. Register here.

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Responding to Subtle Racial Harassment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 19, 2011

Pat Chew recently posted his article, “Seeing Subtle Racism” (Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Vol. 6, p. 183, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Traditional employment discrimination law does not offer remedies for subtle bias in the workplace. For instance, in empirical studies of racial harassment cases, plaintiffs are much more likely to be successful if they claim egregious and blatant racist incidents rather than more subtle examples of racial intimidation, humiliation, or exclusion. But some groundbreaking jurists are cognizant of the reality and harm of subtle bias – and are acknowledging them in their analysis in racial harassment cases. While not yet widely recognized, the jurists are nonetheless creating important precedents for a re-interpretation of racial harassment jurisprudence, and by extension, employment discrimination jurisprudence more broadly. This article traces the development of racial harassment jurisprudence, explaining the development of the traditional model, which does not recognize subtle bias. It concludes with an analysis of an alternative jurisprudential model that “sees” subtle racism.

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Download the article for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

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Memory and Morality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 18, 2011

Francesca Gino and Sreedhari Desai recently posted their paper, “Memory Lane and Morality: How Childhood Memories Promote Prosocial Behavior” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Four experiments demonstrated that recalling memories from one’s own childhood lead people to experience feelings of moral purity and to behave prosocially. In Experiment 1, participants instructed to recall memories from their childhood were more likely to help the experimenter with a supplementary task than were participants in a control condition, and this effect was mediated by self-reported feelings of moral purity. In Experiment 2, the same manipulation increased the amount of money participants donated to a good cause, and self-reported feelings of moral purity mediated this relationship. In Experiment 3, participants who recalled childhood memories judged the ethically-questionable behavior of others more harshly, suggesting that childhood memories lead to altruistic punishment. Finally, in Experiment 4, compared to a control condition, both positively-valenced and negatively-valenced childhood memories led to higher empathic concern for a person in need, which, in turn increased intentions to help.

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Download the paper for free here.

Related Situationist posts:

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Blogroll Review – Part 5

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 17, 2011

Over at the terrific new Law & Mind Blog, some Harvard Law students are writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs. Each post provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable. Here’s Part 5 of that series (authored by LLM candidate David Simon).

Have you ever wanted to know what blogs out there discuss mind sciences, law, or both? This is your lucky day. In this post I briefly review five blogs that relate to law & mind sciences. I feature one blog, Mind Hacks, and explain it in a bit more detail than the others.

The blogs:

1. The Jury Room.

Run by Keene Trial Consulting, The Jury Room–as the name suggests–is about juries! Specifically, the site focuses on how juries make decisions and react to behavior–and it generally explores questions of jury psychology (e.g., bias). The blog includes posts about current psychological research, events, and legal trends. One recent post, for example, discussed research showing how specific words correlate with individuals’ levels of trust.

2. Laura’s Psychology Blog.

Laura Freberg is a professor of psychology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where she studies biological psychology. Her eponymous blog is a mostly a collection of psychological literature that she is reading currently. It is a great aggregator of current information on psychology.

3. Legal Theory Blog.

One of the more well-known legal blogs among academics, the Legal Theory Blog reviews and comments on scholarship–and posts announcements about conferences and events–on nearly all legal subjects. Lawrence Solum, a professor of law & philospohy at the University of Illinois College of Law, runs the site. In addition to these reviews, he also periodically posts on subjects of legal theory–the legal lexicon. In a recent lexicon post, for example, Professor Solum explores a “virtue jurisprudence”–how a philosophy of virtue can apply to law, and the implications flowing from it.

4. Mediation Channel.

Founded by Boston-area attorney and mediator Diane Levine, Mediation Channel provides a nice cross-fertilization of law and mind sciences. The blog explores how cognition constraints and biases affect our thinking about fact. Levine frequently provides links to other useful blog posts or articles and comments on them. She pays particular attention to the implications psychology has for law and, specifically, mediation.

5. Mind Hacks (*Featured Blog*).

Like Laura’s Psychology Blog, Mind Hacks is focused exclusively on mind sciences research. The creators–Tom Stafford (a lecturer in psychology and congnitive science at The University of Sheffield) and Matt Webb–have been posting since November 2004. Many of their blog posts discuss new articles on scholarly psychology research, and they comment when it seems relevant. They don’t, however, limit their content. Posts often touch on news articles or other blogs, which provides a good deal of depth to the blog.

The blog has a lot of nice features. One of these is its ability to coherently string together large amounts of literature. The authors frequently cite articles and discuss how they are related or intersect.

The authors also do a fine job of both summarizing articles so that a potentially-interested person can decide if she should continue reading. A prime example occurs in this post, where the authors collect a variety of links to articles and provide short summaries of each.

For those more interested in techniques and in-depth discussions of psychology, the authors sometimes post their own thoughts on the subject. In a post on The Psychophysics of Policy Positions, for instance, the authors explain a particular psychological method for testing the accuracy and sensitivity of human sense. They then propose applying it to a common problem; namely, whether voters can accurately discriminate between and identify stated policy positions from different political parties. How?

We do this by presenting many small fragments of the manifestos and asking a participant to judge which party they are from. By gathering many many judgements we can get a sense of how likely they are to name each particular party (i.e. their bias) and get a sense for how likely they are to be correct (i.e. their sensitivity).

These data can then be used to assess individuals’ ability to discriminate between policy positions. The post demonstrates how the authors contribute beyond mere aggregation of interesting information on psychology: they propose to apply psychology techniques to help resolve real world issues.

Mind Hacks is a great resource for information on the mind sciences. In addition to linking to stories, articles, and blog posts, the authors provide concise descriptions of their linked-to content. They also opine when necessary, providing interesting thoughts on issues in psychology and cognitive research. I’m proud to make Mind Sciences my *featured blog* of the week!

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The Criminals that Other Criminals Punish

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 16, 2011

This week, inmates in Sao Paulo broke into a cell block where prisoners convicted of rape and pedophilia were held and killed six people, including a man, Jose Agostinho Pereira, convicted of imprisoning his daughter for twelve years and having seven children with her, two of whom he also sexually abused.  Using makeshift knives, the attacking inmates, decapitated Pereira and three of the other prisoners.

Extreme overcrowding in the prison seemed to be one cause of the violence – a number of inmates, unhappy with their poor conditions, attempted to escape, which precipitated a riot.  However, the level of brutality and the focus of the harm seem to tell another story.  Indeed, it’s important to note that the men who were killed had been kept apart from the general population for their protection, a practice which is common at many prisons both abroad and in the United States.

Once imprisoned, child sex offenders become prime targets for violence by other inmates and it’s interesting to think about how much of that abuse might be retributive in nature.

Do prisoners who decapitate child molesters feel they are delivering “justice”?  And, if so, on behalf of whom do they believe they are acting?

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m currently working on a set of experiments with Penn cognitive psychologist Geoff Goodwin regarding intuitions about punishment and one of the recurring themes in our research (and that of others interested in retribution) is that people’s motives to punish often do not align with what legal scholars assume them to be and that there is still much left to uncover in the study of “responsive harm.”  For better or for worse, that additional research may lead us to some troubling truths.

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Related Situationist Posts:

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Legal Theory, Morality | 1 Comment »

Law, Competition, Self-Interest

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 15, 2011

Over at the new Law & Mind Blog, several Harvard Law students have been blogging about a chapter by Mitchell Callan and Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay. In the first post on the topic (copied below), 1L student Becky Ding summarizes the chapter (forthcoming in Ideology, Psychology, and Law, edited by Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson).

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In Association between Law, Competitiveness, and the pursuit of self-interest, Mitchell Callan and Aaron Kay discuss how law and the way our legal system functions affect and shape our thinking and interpersonal relations. In particular, it fosters the assumption that people are self-interested, competitive and untrustworthy. Callan and Kay supports their theory through theories and research results from various social cognition studies.

Callan and Kay argue that one reason people associate the law with competition and the pursuit of self-interest is “legal socialization”, the acquisition of attitudes, beliefs and knowledge of the legal system and law. The overarching philosophy of our Anglo-American legal system is that truth is more likely to be exposed from confrontation, competition and each party zealously pursuing their own interests. The “you against me” and “winner takes all” mindset is a common assumption among parties involved in litigation. Aside from contact with legal authorities, process of cognitive and moral development, and instruction from friends and the larger communities, one of the primary means people come to associate the law with self-interest and competition is through the major presence of law in the media. Cultivation theory says that the repetition of images and messages “cultivates” perceptions of social reality. Frequent media portrayals of the legal system encourage “the belief that litigation is a normative means of resolving disputes.”

In addition, Callan and Kay argue that the mere existence of the aspects of our legal system (the police, system of courts, the legal profession, institution for incarceration, the enormous number of laws, etc) appear to support the assumption that people are inherently self-seeking and need to be deterred from doing bad things. As a result, people may be less able to trust one another. Surveillance and sanctioning of social behavior could have counterproductive effects.

In two initial studies, Callan and Kay find that people generally do hold implicit cognitive association between the law and competitiveness. In one study, participants who are subliminally primed with words related to the law complete more word fragments with competition words than participants primed with neutral words. Another study using the Implicit Association Test also supports this finding.

In their third study, they find that people who are subliminally primed with words related to law and are more likely to interpret the actors in an ambiguous situation as more competitive and less trustworthy. In their fourth study, Callan and Kay find that people, upon thinking about the law and the legal system, may become more against a political issue that conflicts with their self-interest. In their final study, Callan and Kay find evidence that priming the law also produces more competitive behavior. The participants who are primed with words related to law act more competitively in a prisoner’s dilemma game, even though competition is irrational and unproductive.

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Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Ideology, Law, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, Mark Sanford, and Now Chris Lee: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on February 14, 2011

During the summer of 2007, we published the post below in response to the sex scandal du jour involving U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA). We republished it in the wake of former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s (D) “indiscretions.”  Former U.S. Senator and Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee John Edwards’ confession had us dusting off this post yet again.  We published it again when Senator Jon Ensign (R-NV)–who in 1998 urged President Clinton to resign following the Monica Lewinsky scandal–was added to the list and then again in response to the Mark Sanford scandal.  For Chris Lee’s Craig’s List shenanigans (video below), we’ve decided to republish the post yet again.  (We have omitted many smaller scandals from our list, and we have little doubt that we’ll be posting it again, which is part of our point.)

Here is the original Vitter story.

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David and Wendy VitterSenator David Vitter achieved much of his success by professing steadfast allegiance to “traditional family values” and punitive intolerance for those who violate them. Consider, for instance, his campaign statement on protecting the “sanctity of marriage”:

This is a real outrage. The Hollywood left is redefining the most basic institution in human history, and our two U.S. Senators won’t do anything about it. We need a U.S. Senator who will stand up for Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values. I am the only Senate Candidate to coauthor the Federal Marriage Amendment; the only one fighting for its passage. I am the only candidate proposing changes to the senate rules to stop liberal obstructionists from preventing an up or down vote on issues like this, judges, energy, and on and on.

Similarly, Vitter once told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that “infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families.” That’s extraordinarily serious, says Vitter, because “marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.”

In part because of his squeaky-clean, straight-arrow, red-state-values image, Rudolph Giuliani selected Vitter as his Southern campaign chairperson. Vitter was to be the personifying proof that social conservatives could trust Giuliani. Vitter was even seen by some Republicans as a future presidential candidate himself.

As recent revelations make clear, Vitter was more committed to family values in his preaching than in his practicing. According to CBS News:

On Monday, Vitter acknowledged being involved with the so-called D.C. Madam [Deborah Palfrey], hours after Hustler magazine told him his telephone number was among those she disclosed. A day later, new revelations linked him to a former madam in New Orleans [Jeanette Maier] and old allegations that he frequented a former prostitute resurfaced, further clouding his political future.

Vitter’s apology read as follows: “This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.”

With his public admission coming only after tJeanette Maier by Alex Brandon for APhe his dirty laundry was about to be aired publicly, Vitter comes off looking like quite the scoundrel. Many commentators see him, not simply as unfaithful to his family but, worse, hypocritical regarding his purported family values.

We Americans like to see people in terms of their dispositions, and we despise those who pretend to have one disposition when in fact they have another. We can’t stand hypocrites! And Vitter is nothing if not a hypocrite.

Although we share the indignation, there are two related problems with this reaction. First off, it misses the fact that, in important ways, most of us are hypocrites.

Surely many of our leaders are. Prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle seem to preach fidelity while practicing “philandery.” Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich are good examples of the political balance. Moreover, “sinning against God” seems all too common even among the anointed — from Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker to untold numbers of Catholic Priests.


In all cases, the critics relish the opportunity to point to the flaws of their opponents. And, true to form, it seems that no one in this case is eager to attribute blame or responsibility to anyone other than Vitter — and everyone sees his use of “escorts” as a reflection of nothing other than his true disposition. As we’ve suggested, most commentators, and particularly those who are not close to him politically, portray him as a hypocrite. But even politicians closer to him are noticeably dispositionist in their reactions.

Rudolph Giuliani, for instance, responded to questions about his Southern campaign chairperson by emphasizing that the revelations reflected something about Vitter, butRudy Giuliani Judith Nathan David Vitter nothing about Giuliani: “Some people are flawed.” “I think you look at all the people I appointed — a thousand or so – sure, some of them had issues, some of them had problems, the vast majority of them were outstanding people.” The implication is that Vitter is among the minority of Giuliani appointees who are flawed and are not “outstanding people.”

It’s a strange distinction coming from Giuliani, who, if the measure is adultery, seems similarly “flawed” and less than “outstanding.” There is, in other words, hypocrisy among those who seek to distance themselves from this hypocrite.

Many of us, upon close examination might discover a similar tension. American attitudes toward adultery are sort of like American attitudes toward unhealthy, highly-caloric food. We claim to not want that “junk,” and sometimes manage to avoid it; still, most of us find ourselves eating something we wish we hadn’t from time to time — perhaps most of the time. In America, we curse our cake and eat it too. And also in America, we blame the obesity epidemic on the bad choices and dispositions of the obese.

Poll Americans and you’re likely to find that roughly 90 percent believe adultery is morally wrong. Meanwhile, ask Americas about whether they have engaged in an extramarital affair, and you’ll discover that many more than 10 percent have. In fact, according to one study, 25 percent of wives and 44 percent of husbands have extramarital intercourse. In other words, there seems to be a gap between what many people say is Marital Problemsmorally wrong and what many people do.

There’s another way of illustrating how we overestimate our own sexual righteousness. Numerous studies have shown that people are far less able to act according to their own explicit attitudes, goals, and standards when confronted with fairly intense drive states such as hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, moods, emotions, physical pain and sexual desire. According to George Loewenstein, such “visceral factors” tend to “crowd out” all goals other than that of mitigating the visceral factors themselves. As summarized elsewhere:

If you find that difficult to understand, try holding your breath for two minutes or dropping an anvil on your toe, and see what significance your other goals and attitudes have in your behavior before the pain subsides.

Of course, responding to such intense bodily reactions makes perfect sense and is not, in itself, problematic. People should prioritize the acquisition of oxygen when it is scarce. And people should attend to their acute injuries before checking to make sure the anvil is ok. The problem stems from the fact that people often behave, in response to visceral cues, in ways that contradict their view of how they should behave, and sometimes even their own volition. And that problem occurs, according to Loewenstein, because of the second key feature of visceral factors, which is that “people underestimate the impact on their own behavior of visceral factors they will experience in the future”: “Unlike currently experienced visceral factors which have a disproportionate impact on behavior, delayed visceral factors tend to be ignored or to be severely underweighted in decision making. Today’s pain, hunger, anger, and so on are palpable, but the same sensations anticipated in the future receive little weight.”

In one experiment, for example, two groups of male subjects were shown photographs and then asked to imagine how they would behave in the context of a date-rape scenario. The group that had been shown sexually arousing photographs reported a much greater likelihood of behaving aggressively than the group that had been shown non-arousing photos. Without being aroused by the photographs, the second group seemed less able to imagine what they would do when aroused on a date.

There is plenty more evidence we could offer to make this point, but more details are unnecessary. Our goal is not to excuse Vitter’s behavior or justify Vitter’s policy positions (at least some of which, frankly, make us proud to be from Massachusetts). Instead, we hope simply to suggest that few of us are without similar “flaws” — or put differently, none of us are moved solely by disposition, much less our professed values.

And that brings us to a larger point. The human tendency to see hypocrisy will often reflect the fundamental attribution error — the tendency to overestimate the influence of a person’s disposition and to underestimate the influence of his situation — as well as our own motivations to see hypocrisy in the “others” that we would not be motivated to see in ourselves or in our in-groups.

Situations commonly lead us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our expectations, ambitions, attitudes, principles, and self-image. A basic lesson of social psychology and related fields is that, just as the spirit is often weaker than the flesh, the disposition is often weaker than the situation.

By attacking Vitter’s disposition, many of his critics may be missing an opportunity to make a bigger point to the sorts of conservative politicians who Vitter typifies. It is the hard-core conservatives who too much of the time are attributing solely to people’s disposition what should be attributed significantly to the their situation. “Tough on crime,” for instance, means “tough on criminals,” not tough on the situations that tend to produce criminal behavior. “Personal responsibility” means attributing personal bankruptcies to the flawed choices of those declaring bankruptcy and disregarding, say, the unexpected medical costs or layoffs experienced by families trying to make ends meet. “Common sense” means blaming the obesity epidemic on the laziness and bad food choices on the part of the obese and dismissing any role that situational forces might have played. And so on.

Bill O’Reilly and Homelessness

We want to see sinister motives and evil intent in our enemies, just as we are subconsciously eager to see deficient character or lack of merit in those who are worse of than ourselves. Too often, though, the distinctions between “us” and “them” are more or less group- and system-affirming fabrications.

Instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint politician after politician after politician with the brush of hypocrisy, perhaps these instances might be used as teaching tools — examples to the Vitters of the world that although the disposition may be strong, the situation is often stronger. If we could stop pretending that people’s behavior and their condition in life is a product solely of their character or preferences, then perhaps we could begin to have more meaningful debates about topics that really matter.

Put differently, the dispositionist search for bad apples and hypocrites harmfully eclipses a deeper discussion that we could be having if we were to acknowledge the extent to which we are all situational characters rather than dispositional actors. With a different mindset, perhaps citizens and politicians would begin to take seriously ways of examining and altering the situation that is otherwise altering us.

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Some Situationist posts on the power, causes, and consequences of sexual attraction and love:

Posted in Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Ideology, Life, Morality, Politics, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Blogroll Review – Part 3

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 13, 2011

Over at the terrific new Law & Mind Blog, some Harvard Law students are writing a series of posts reviewing other mind-science blogs. Each post provides a summary of several blogs and features one that the author finds especially valuable. Here’s Part 3 of that series (authored by 1L student Cassie Mathias).

Everyday Sociology: “What if sociologists ran the world?”, begins the “About this Site” section of the Everyday Sociology blog. The description could not be more on point. The blog is a compilation of a wide-variety of commentary from sociologists across the United States about what is going on in the news, or “what should be in the news.” The site truly does provide an entertaining point of view on current events. The writing is informed, funny, and current. The authors truly do put a unique spin on a variety of different topics. For example, in Social Theory and Siblings, Sally Raskoff commented on a recent NPR story that included three theories on why siblings can be so different (i.e., a Darwinian Theory, an Exaggeration Theory, and an Environmental Approach). She explained the theories with ease and cited other relevant examples of the theories to display how one can use theories to explain specific phenomenon.

Other posts are less academic, and are instead stories of the personal experiences and viewpoints of the authors. For example, When Our Baby Was Born, outlined in very personal detail. Tod Schoepflin’s expectations and experience during and after his wife’s childbirth. In Culture and Parties, Janis Prince compared the questions she was asked at holiday cocktail parties depending on the culture of the people with whom she was mingling.

Some posts also apply this sociological analysis to recent laws. There Oughta Be a Law? Formal and Informal Social Control, explores a recent law in San Fransisco banning the sale of toys with unhealthy children’s food through the formal social control theory. She also believes the ban is an example of a symbolic law, designed for their ability to send a message even if they are not enforced.  This blog may be more fun than formal and more relaxed than theoretical, but I really enjoyed reading the posts and would definitely recommend skimming through.

Deception. If you’re curious about deception in the news, the Deception Blog provides a compilation of links to various articles, studies, and journal articles about current psychological research on deception. The blog is easily organized and provides succinct, useful, and interesting summaries of everything that it links to. The blog seems to be most useful as a blogroll of sorts, rather than a place where the author writes about his own opinions or research. The author apologizes for his lack of spare time to comment in depth on the articles like he used to, but promises to continue to update it with studies that catch his eye.

Deliberations is self described as “Law, News, and Thoughts on Litigation Consulting by the American Society of Trial Consultants.” Being written by the American Society of Trial Consultants, it is not surprising that the blog provides a more law oriented approach than some of the other blogs I reviewed. However, they put a lot of effort into making the posts easy to read and interesting, and manage to put a more dynamic spin on some current topics regarding litigation consulting. For example, a guest blog from the ASTC Professional Visibility, written by Joe Rice about enlightenments from social media, is accompanied by a picture of a monopoly board about social media. Rice includes antics about his children before delving into how social media is used by trial legal professionals. For example, he describes how Facebook and LinkedIn are becoming growing communities for trial consultants to enhance their professional visibility and professional development.

Developing Intelligence explores the Developing Intelligences over time, across species, and cross-platforms? This blog truly does include commentary on a range of articles on the subject in the media. While the articles I read seem less law-oriented, it is a great place to learn about topics ranging from the surprising cognitive abilities of crows to new research on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

Context Discoveries, a blog created by the American Sociological Association, is inspired by the quarterly magazine Contexts. Some articles explore how society operates, often by introducing unique societies as an impetus for further thought. For example, in “Marry me Not,” Tim Ortyl commented on an article from the Utah Law Review, which explored the Mosuo people of Southwest China to explore the possibility that humans may not require monogamy or matrimony to establish a resilient society. Other topics explored include insanity pleas for felony arrests, the Academy Awards, managing anger in the workplace, and media portrayal of eating issues.

Dr. X’s Free Associations seems to be just that: the free associations of “Dr. X.” Whatever is on this mysterious “Dr. X’s” mind, he is not afraid to share it with his readers. For example, in Seroquel: Softening the Black Box Warnings, he describes a Seroquel XR commercial he saw earlier that evening, describing his disapproval of the amount of time the reader spent listing the potential adverse side affects and how the narrator’s tone of voice offset the negative impact of the script. Earlier, in Study Diseases or Cases?, he compared his experiences as a graduate student, responding to a paragraph of an article that I’m fairly positive he listed as From “Boring Old Man.” This blog is entertaining, zany, and, unpredictable. However, it is more of a traditional blog than a resource for scientific or legal information.

Posted in Blogroll | 1 Comment »

2 Weeks from Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 12, 2011

Learn more here.  Register here.

Posted in Distribution, Education, Events, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

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