The Situationist

Archive for March, 2011

The Situation of “Natural Talent”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 6, 2011

From Harvard Gazette:

Fields such as music, math, and chess have had a predilection for a long time to seek out the youngest and most accomplished among them. According to Chia-Jung Tsay, this is because “we want to seek something that’s inherent to us. We associate accomplishment at a young age with something that comes effortlessly.” But does this desire to seek out “natural” talent eventually skew our view of what talent is?

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Tsay and her adviser, [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, began looking at different domains, considering which fields more strongly emphasize natural talent over hard work and experience. They found that music was the most often cited for natural talent, and business was most cited for hard work.

“Venture capitalists recognize that hard work and background knowledge in the field matter a lot,” said Tsay. “It’s the same for a doctor or a lawyer, where hard work and years of experience are what make us successful. But I think there’s a little more subjectivity in evaluation in artistic fields.”

To test this, Tsay and Banaji brought in more than 100 professionally trained musicians. Each participant was presented with two profiles of two professional musicians, and a sample musical clip to listen to from each musician. The participants were then asked questions about how talented and successful they perceived the performer to be, and how willing they might be to hire this person.

In fact, both clips were the same musical excerpt, and the profiles differed only in their mention of whether the musician had natural or learned talent. The results ultimately showed two effects: “We found even in experts and ostensibly professionally trained musicians, most of them could not tell that the recordings were the same. And on average, people seemed to prefer the ‘naturally’ talented individual, even when they said they believed hard work was more important than natural talent.”

The dramatic results suggest, according to Banaji, “a crucial disparity between what experts espouse, and perhaps even consciously believe, is the best indicator of talent, and how they actually behave.”


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Posted in Implicit Associations, Life, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Capture (Animated)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 5, 2011

From :

The Story of Citizens United v. FEC, an exploration of the inordinate power that corporations exercise in our democracy.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

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

The Costs of Exposing the Myth of “Free Will”?

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 4, 2011

Having recovered from the fabulous Fifth Conference on Law and Mind Sciences, I’ve returned this week to my normal routine of teaching, researching, emailing, and procrastinating — but not without a new and fresh perspective.

Indeed, on Thursday, as my Law and Mind Sciences seminar turned to our unit on neuroscience and I began rereading Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen’s article “For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything,” I couldn’t help but think back to Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay’s compelling presentation on the benefits of believing in societal fairness for those who suffer from injustice.  In a series of studies, Aaron has documented 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.”

How does Green and Cohen’s article come into the picture?

Well, Aaron’s work makes me wonder about their conclusions concerning the negligible effects on goal-oriented behavior of dismissing the notion of “free will.”  As they explain,

[T]here is the worry that to reject free will is to render all of life pointless: why would you bother with anything if it has all long since been determined?  The answer is that you will bother because you are a human, and that is what humans do.  Even if you decide, as part of a little intellectual exercise, that you are going to sit around and do nothing because you have concluded that you have no free will, you are eventually going to get up and make yourself a sandwich.  And if you do not, you have got bigger problems than philosophy can fix.

Aaron’s experiments are obviously in a different domain, but perhaps they raise the possibility that, by altering people’s moral intuitions about responsibility, blame, and free will, advances in neuroscience may in fact undermine long-term goal pursuit in certain populations.

Then, again, maybe I just need to go fix myself a sandwich and quit worrying . . .

Posted in Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Ideological Bias in Social Psychology?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 2, 2011

On January 27th, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt gave a provocative talk at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.  His presentation has since received a lot of press (including John Tierney’s New York Times article on the talk). Edge has posted a version of Haidt’s talk as well as a variety of responses (here).  Below, we’ve posted the response by Situationist Contributor, John Jost.

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Social psychology is not a “tribal-moral community” governed by “sacred values.” It is wide open to anyone who believes that we can use the scientific method to explain social behavior, regardless of their political beliefs. Nor is our “corner” of social science “broken” when it comes “race, gender, and class,” as Jonathan Haidt claimed in response to Paul Krugman. Rather, social psychologists have made cutting edge advances in understanding the subtle, implicit, nonconscious biases that perpetuate inequalities concerning race, gender, and class.

Haidt’s essay sows confusion; he misrepresents what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. By focusing on scientists’ personal beliefs rather than the quality of their work, Haidt perpetuates the myth that social scientific research simply exemplifies the ideological biases of the researchers. No doubt this energizes those who are eager to dismiss our findings. But polling firms are paid by clients, including political campaigns, and this fact neither determines nor invalidates the poll’s findings. Similarly, the personal beliefs of social scientists may (or may not) be one of many factors that affect the decision of what to study, but those beliefs are, at the end of the day, scientifically irrelevant.

This is because we, as a research community, take seriously the institutionalization of methodological safeguards against experimenter effects and other forms of bias. Any research program that is driven more by ideological axe-grinding than valid insight is doomed to obscurity, because it will not stand up to empirical replication and its flaws will be obvious to scientific peers — all of whom have been exposed to conservative perspectives even if they do not hold them.

If we do concern ourselves with the results of Haidt’s armchair demography, we should ask honestly whether social scientists are too liberal or society is too conservative. After all, when experts and laypersons disagree, we do not usually rush to the conclusion that the experts are biased. Haidt fails to grapple meaningfully with the question of why nearly all of the best minds in science find liberal ideas to be closer to the mark with respect to evolution, human nature, mental health, close relationships, intergroup relations, ethics, social justice, conflict resolution, environmental sustainability, and so on. He does not even consider the possibility that research in social psychology (including research on implicit bias) bothers conservatives for the right reasons, namely that some of our conclusions are empirically demonstrable and yet at odds with certain conservative assumptions (e.g., that racial prejudice is a thing of the past). Surely in some cases raising cognitive dissonance is part of our professional mission.

We need science, now more than ever, to help us overcome ideological disputes rather than getting bogged down in them. We do not need conservatives to become conservative social psychologists any more than we need liberals to become liberal social psychologists. Our “community” still holds that policy preferences should follow from the data, not the other way around. Sadly, Haidt puts the ideological cart before the scientific horse. I simply cannot agree that — especially in this political era — it would be good for our science to reproduce the ideological stalemate and finger-pointing that has crippled our government and debased our journalism.

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Read the other responses here.

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Posted in Education, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Applied Cognitive Psychology – February 2011

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 1, 2011

Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 25, Issue 1 (January/February 2011)

© John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Research Articles

Positive and negative effects of physical context reinstatement on eyewitness recall and identification, Carol K. Wong, J. Don Read

Interactive elements for dynamically linked multiple representations in computer simulation, Günter Daniel Rey

Accuracy and perspective in involuntary autobiographical memory, John H. Mace, Elizabeth Atkinson, Christopher H. Moeckel, Varinia Torres

Typicality effects on memory for voice: Implications for earwitness testimony, J. W. Mullennix, A. Ross, C. Smith, K. Kuykendall, J. Conard, S. Barb

Remembering why: Can people consistently recall reasons for their behaviour? Suzanne O. Kaasa, Erin K. Morris, Elizabeth F. Loftus

Combating Co-witness contamination: Attempting to decrease the negative effects of discussion on eyewitness memory, Helen M. Paterson, Richard I. Kemp, Jodie R. Ng

Effect of viewing the interview and identification process on juror perceptions of eyewitness accuracy, Margaret C. Reardon, Ronald P. Fisher

Photograph-induced memory errors: When photographs make people claim they have done things they have not, Linda A. Henkel

Are people always more risk averse after disasters? Surveys after a heavy snow-hit and a major earthquake in China in 2008Jin-Zhen Li, Shu Li, Wen-Zhong Wang, Li-Lin Rao, Huan Liu

Interference in eyewitness and earwitness recognition, Sarah V Stevenage, Amy Howland, Anna Tippelt

Children’s memory for the times of events from the past years, William J. Friedman, Elaine Reese, Xin Dai

Book Review

An introduction to the cognitive theory of multimedia learning, Kathy Robinson

Posted in Table of Contents | Leave a Comment »

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