The Situationist

Archive for May, 2011

David Eagleman on the Brain and the Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 31, 2011

From :

Dr David Eagleman considers some questions relating to law and neuroscience, challenging long-held assumptions in criminality and punishment and predicting a radical new future for the legal system.

[Eagleman’s examples in the first 15 minutes will  strike long-term readers of The Situationist as non-novel.  For others, that portion of the video may be a useful primer to neurolaw.]

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Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Donations

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2011

From BBC:

We give more to a drought victim than a war victim because we suspect the latter may be partly to blame for their plight, the authors say.

It could explain why the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami sparked a huge response but the Darfur appeal received less.

The study was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

“These conclusions are borne out by our experience,” said Brendan Paddy of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), a UK body that co-ordinates aid appeals.

“Appeals for a humanitarian disaster arising from conflict tend to get significantly less response than natural events.”

* * *

In the study, the psychologists invented a fictitious famine.

They then told test groups the famine was caused either by a “drought” or “armed conflict” and invited them to contribute to an appeal for funds.

People routinely gave more to the victims of the “drought” because when they saw victims of a man-made disaster they tended to think they must have something to do with their plight, the authors concluded.

This response was due to a “blame game” based on what was known as the “just world belief”, said lead author Hanna Zagefka of the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Under this belief, she said, we all wanted to think the world was fair and just, “because the alternative could mean that all sorts of random and horrible things could happen to us”.

“In this fair and just world that we want, the innocent do not suffer,” Ms Zagefka said.

“So if we see someone suffering, we assume they can’t be completely innocent – this is the way we defend our belief in a just world.”

In the case of famine caused by conflict, we might subconsciously think that the victims were somehow complicit, the researchers said.

But in a natural disaster, they added, our instinct told us the story was simple – the earthquake struck, or the huge wave arrived, and it could not be the fault of the victims.

* * *


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Posted in Altruism, Ideology, Marketing, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Introduction to Social Psychology and Social Cognition

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 27, 2011

Posted in Emotions, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Jon Hanson

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 26, 2011

From Harvard Law School Website:

Professor Jon Hanson, the Alfred Smart Professor of Law, is this year’s winner of the prestigious Albert M. Sacks-Paul A. Freund Award for Teaching Excellence, an honor bestowed each spring by the Harvard Law School graduating class. The award recognizes teaching ability, attentiveness to student concerns and general contributions to student life at the law school.

This is the second time Hanson has received the recognition. He won the Sacks-Freund award in 1999, and he was a finalist in 2000 and again in 2006.

Class Marshall Sameer Singh Birring ’12 introduced Hanson at Class Day exercises on May 25. He called Hanson a pioneer in the movement to apply insights from psychology to the analysis of law and policy. A student in Hanson’s Corporations class this spring, he said he found Hanson’s teaching to be transformative. “Jon Hanson impacted my thinking more than any other professor at Harvard and his class changed my life,” he said. “Learning about psychological phenomena and how they affect our choices, our thinking and our policy gave me an entirely new perspective with which to view the law and the greater world around us.”

In his remarks, Hanson talked about his own journey to Harvard Law School. “I wasn’t actually supposed to become a Harvard Law School professor. Just ask anyone who knew me before I was one.”

* * *

Read more here.

Posted in Education, Life, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of a Winning Attitude

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 24, 2011

From Triangle Business Journal:

* * *

According to new research, motivation to succeed actually can decrease in people who see others succeed.

In an experiment, participants observed others trying to solve a series of word puzzles. On video monitors, some observers viewed the group completing a word puzzle, others observed the group attempt but not complete the puzzle. A control group didn’t view any puzzle-solving at all. All observers were then asked to complete word puzzles of their own.

Observers who watched the puzzles being completed were less successful with their own puzzles than those who saw the incomplete puzzles or the control group.

The researchers called this phenomenon “vicarious goal fulfillment.” If we see someone else complete a task, we transfer that fulfillment to ourselves and when we see someone else fail, our sense of fulfillment is not met, according to researchers.

“Our findings have important functional implications for the workplace,” according to [Situationist Contributor] Grainne Fitzsimons, a professor at Fuqua. “In staff meetings, employees may mistake a discussion of what needs to be done for actual progress toward a goal. Similarly, one employee’s success might actually de-motivate others to work hard. If we are aware of this pitfall, managers can try to avoid it by making it clear that positive feedback is directed at the individual and not shared by others who didn’t take part in the success.”

* * *


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

Thinking Big

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 23, 2011

Today, Harvard Law Scholars share their “big ideas” in Austin Hall, beginning at 2:00 p.m.

Confirmed speakers and respective topics for the event are:

  • Deb Anker: “Dreamers” at Harvard University and beyond: Individual representation and advocacy for social change
  • Randy Kennedy: “History of Race Relations Law in the United States”
  • John Manning: “Text and Purpose in Legal Interpretation”
  • Mark Roe: “Chaos and Evolution in Law and Legal Development” or “Chaos and Evolution in Law and Economics”
  • Ron Sullivan: “Ethical Dimensions of Criminal Defense”
  • Adrian Vermeule : “Constitutional Precautions”
  • Jon Hanson: “Why Thinking Big Matters: An introduction to Law and Mind Sciences”

Posted in Events, Law, Legal Theory | Leave a Comment »

Ideology and Grading

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 22, 2011

From Inside Higher Ed:

Republican professors and Democratic professors presumably produce different outcomes when they enter the ballot box, but what about when they record grades?

A forthcoming study finds that there may be notable differences. Democratic professors appear to be “more egalitarian” than their Republican counterparts when it comes to grading, meaning that more of the Democratic grades are in the middle. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to award very high grades and very low grades.

While the study documents those differences, the work will not satisfy political partisans hoping to demonstrate that Republicans are trying to encourage Darwinian competition with grading or that Democrats are Lake Wobegon graders afraid to suggest anyone did poorly. That’s because the study makes clear that the researchers lacked the information to determine whether the Democratic or Republican grades were better reflections of student performance. The only thing the researchers could vouch for was the politically linked pattern in grading.

The study — forthcoming in Applied Economics — is by Talia Bar, an assistant professor at Cornell University, and Asaf Zussman, assistant professor of economics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They examined thousands of grades in a dataset covering the grades awarded at an unnamed elite American university between 2000 and 2004. Party registrations were used to identify professors’ political inclinations, and the faculty at this university leaned Democratic, especially among humanities professors. Using SAT scores as a proxy for the preparedness of students, the researchers were able to rule out patterns in which Republican or Democratic professors had better students.

On grade distribution, Republicans were more likely to give very high and very low grades. Among grades given by Republicans, 6.2 percent were C- or lower, compared to only 4.0 percent of the Democratic grades. But Republicans were also more likely to give out A+ grades (8 percent of their grades, compared to only 3.5 percent from Democrats).

Another key difference is that black students tend to fare better with Democrats than with Republicans.

* * *


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

The Situation of Criminal Blaming

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 20, 2011

Janice Nadler and  Mary-Hunter McDonnell recently posted their paper, “Moral Character, Motive, and the Psychology of Blame” (forthcoming Cornell Law Review) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

Blameworthiness, in the criminal law context, is conceived as the carefully calculated end product of discrete judgments about a transgressor’s intentionality, causal proximity to harm, and the harm’s foreseeability. Research in social psychology, on the other hand, suggests that blaming is often intuitive and automatic, driven by a natural impulsive desire to express and defend social values and expectations. The motivational processes that underlie psychological blame suggest that judgments of legal blame are influenced by factors the law does not always explicitly recognize or encourage. In this Article we focus on two highly related motivational processes – the desire to blame bad people and the desire to blame people whose motive for acting was bad. We report three original experiments that suggest that an actor’s bad motive and bad moral character can increase not only perceived blame and responsibility, but also perceived causal influence and intentionality. We show that people are motivated to think of an action as blameworthy, causal, and intentional when they are confronted with a person who they think has a bad character, even when the character information is totally unrelated to the action under scrutiny. We discuss implications for doctrines of mens rea definitions, felony murder, inchoate crimes, rules of evidence, and proximate cause.

* * *

Download the paper free here.

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

McDonald’s Favorite Man: Don Gorske

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 19, 2011

May 17th is an important day for Ronald.

You see, each year it marks the anniversary of when one Fond du Lac, Wisconsin man decided to start eating Big Macs.

Since 1972, that man, Don Gorske, has eaten 25,000 of McDonald’s famous burgers — typically two a day — becoming, as I and other Situationist contributors have chronicled (here in short form and here in long form), one of McDonald’s prize assets in its fight to avoid litigation and regulation related to the health consequences of consuming its products.  The reason?  In these 39 years, Gorske has been able to maintain relatively good health, low cholesterol, and, perhaps most importantly, a slim figure — clear proof that McDonald’s food can be eaten in copious quantities with no ill effects.

As McDonald’s explained in a press release for the special occasion: “Who could blame him for being such a fan of the Big Mac?  We’re honored that Don Gorske continues to be a longtime, loyal customer.  We look forward to serving him for many years to come.”

So what’s my “beef,” so to speak?

In part, it’s the same one that I’ve blogged about before (here and here): I think celebrating people like Gorske can seriously distort our conversation about the causes of obesity and undermine our ability to combat the epidemic.  When we constantly see or hear about skinny people eating excessively and not gaining weight, it is hard to get the message about the health costs of high calorie diets.  And these stories seem to be everywhere.

Here is Penelope Cruz, in the June issue of Vogue, talking about her post-Oscars routine:

When it was over, she headed over to In-N-Out Burger, still wrapped in her vintage white Balmain gown.  “You have to remove the tight dress to eat a Double Double monster cheeseburger with everything on it,” she says.   The post-Oscar In-N-Out burger has become a ritual.   It’s happened after each of her nominations–the hungry Spanish bombshell at the drive-through.

Here is extreme eating champion Kobayashi challenging a grizzly bear in a hotdog eating contest with the announcers explaining, “Look at how skinny Kobayashi is and look at the size of the bear. . . . He’s in great shape, you can tell he’s an athlete.”

Turn on the television or open a magazine and you’ll see countless other examples.

The other part of my problem with the Gorske celebration is that Gorske’s eating appears to be driven by a psychological disorder.  He has suggested that he suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Not only is he compelled to eat the same sandwich every single day (storing frozen sandwiches in his freezer for an emergency), but he has also kept most of the hamburger boxes and receipts from his purchases.  The 25,000 Big Macs is a manifestation of an often-debilitating mental illness, not the occasion for a corporate press release.

What do you think?

* * *

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Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Sexual Harassment at Wal-Mart?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 17, 2011

Joseph M. Sellers, head of the Civil Rights and Employment practice group at Cohen Milstein, shared his experience working on Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, the largest civil rights class action suit in the United States.

Sellers, who is representing a class of more than 1.5 million female employees at Wal-Mart stores in an ongoing sexual discrimination lawsuit, detailed the progress of the case and fielded questions from Harvard Law School students at the talk, hosted by the Harvard Women’s Law Association on April 19, 2011.  Watch video here.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case in March, and Sellers said he believes the justices will need to be convinced that Wal-Mart’s corporate culture is responsible for gender discrimination in the company’s personnel practices.

“There were questions during the argument about how you convey bias in the workplace, particularly gender bias,” Sellers said. “They asked, how can you assure us the managers were influenced in some way by the corporate culture?”

Wal-Mart is alleged to have discriminated against women in promotions, pay, and job assignments in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case was brought forward in 2000 when a 54-year-old Wal-Mart employee in California named Betty Dukes filed a sex discrimination claim, alleging that she was denied the training she needed to advance to a higher paying position despite six years of employment and excellent performance reviews.

“Gender stereotypes are not unlawful—everybody uses stereotypes,” Sellers said. “What makes it unlawful is managers making decisions based on those stereotypes, and women are consistently underpaid and promoted more slowly than men with the same qualifications.”

Sellers said his firm investigated the claims and interviewed female Wal-Mart employees across the country for about a year before taking on the case.

“We learned through remarkably similar accounts by many women who reported that when they asked about pay raises, they were told such things as men are better managers, women are better off staying home and taking care of the family, men see their jobs as a career, and women are here as a hobby,” Sellers said.

The firm found statistically significant disparities between male and female employee salaries across the country at every level. Additionally, women took twice as long as men to reach manager status.

“Our contention is the company expects managers to follow the corporate culture that includes gender stereotypes, so the managers often exercise discretion consistent with those stereotypes, making women worse off than similarly qualified men.”

Watch video here.

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Posted in Law | 2 Comments »

The Neuro-Situation of Shopping Choices

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2011

From ScienceDaily:

Researchers at Oxford University are to study ‘neuromarketing’, a relatively new field of consumer and market research, which uses brain imaging and measurement technology to study the neural processes underlying an individual’s choice.

Neuromarketing claims to reveal how consumers assess, deliberate and choose in a variety of contexts.

According to neuromarketers this growing industry has the potential to significantly increase the effectiveness of advertising and marketing campaigns. They claim that neuromarketing will provide detailed knowledge about customer preferences and what marketing activities will stimulate buying behaviour, and make promotional campaigns more effective. It will be valuable in providing cues for the best place and prices in advertisements, and should cut the risk of marketing products that are doomed to fail. In the experts’ view, instead of relying on focus groups, neuromarketing offers the promise of ‘objective neurological evidence’ to inform organisations’ marketing campaigns.

But if neuromarketing is set to revolutionise marketing, what are the implications of this development? The study will cast light on the ‘neuro-turn’ in marketing by conducting fieldwork, interviews and documentary analysis. In addition a critical, historical assessment will consider and compare how different market research techniques can affect consumers and consumer behaviour.

The project is led by Professor Steve Woolgar, of the Saïd Business School, and is located within a larger collaborative study of the “Neuro-turn in European Social Sciences and the Humanities: Impacts of neurosciences on economics, marketing and philosophy” (acronym: NESSHI) with researchers from other parts of Europe.

Professor Woolgar said: ‘This three-year project will be the first large-scale study of how emerging neurological knowledge about human decision-making is transforming the techniques of marketers and others who seek to influence the behaviour of consumers. It has far reaching implications for what we know about how humans make their choices, the role of the brain and the factors at play in everyday decisions we all take.’

Dr Tanja Schneider, researcher on the project, said: ‘For a number of years, research has been focussed on brain imaging centres. This is now moving out of the laboratory and into practice. The research we are doing will cast light on what is already happening in this area, and will explore what is likely to develop in the near future. We know this will impact society in a major way, so it is critical to understand these developments better’.


Related Situationist posts.

Posted in Marketing, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Donald Trump

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 14, 2011

Michael Barbaro had an article in the New York Times earlier this week exploring several lawsuits against Donald Trump stemming from his educational ventures and real estate endeavors.  With respect to the latter,

[o]ver the last few years, according to interviews and hundreds of pages of court documents, the real estate mogul has aggressively marketed several luxury high-rises as “Trump properties” or “signature Trump” buildings, with names like Trump Tower and Trump International — even making appearances at the properties to woo buyers. The strong indication of his involvement as a developer generated waves of media attention and commanded premium prices.

* * *

But when three of the planned buildings encountered financial trouble, it became clear that Mr. Trump had essentially rented his name to the developments and had no responsibility for their outcomes, according to buyers. In each case, he yanked his name off the projects, which were never completed. The buyers lost millions of dollars in deposits even as Mr. Trump pocketed hefty license fees.

What particularly interested me about the story was how Trump’s lawyers framed the issue with the hopes of avoiding liability.

The first frame was to suggest that buyers who lost their life savings investing in properties were themselves to blame.  It was their flawed dispositions — their own personal failings — that led to their downfalls: “Alan Garten, a lawyer for Mr. Trump’s company, said that, regardless of what Mr. Trump himself or any marketing materials had suggested, his role was disclosed in lengthy purchasing documents that buyers should have carefully scrutinized.”  As Mr. Garten explained further, these were losers just trying to play the victim card: “They are people who lost money and are looking for somebody to blame.”

The second frame was a fall back position, necessary because the dispositional account of fair disclosure and lazy consumers is not supported by the facts:

The marketing materials left little doubt that Mr. Trump was a driving force behind the 52-story tower: “We are developing a signature landmark property,” Mr. Trump declared in a news release unveiling it, which described him as a partner. In a marketing video, Mr. Trump called it “my first project on the Gulf of Mexico,” and even showed up to mingle with potential buyers at a lavish, catered event. “I love to build buildings,” Mr. Robbins recalled Mr. Trump telling the audience.

* * *

A confidential agreement, later made public in court filings, told a different story: Mr. Trump was not one of the developers or builders. For $4 million, plus a share of any profits, he had licensed his name. As for the mingling with buyers? He was required to do it, up to two times, in the agreement, which spelled out that the appearances last “for no more than six (6) working hours each.”

According to the document, the very existence of the license agreement was to be kept confidential. And it remained that way, buyers said, long after they bought their units.

So what is the second frame?  It turns out to be a situationalizing one: okay, fine so perhaps the victims aren’t themselves to blame, but don’t then point the finger at Mr. Trump.  After all this was essentially an unpreventable accident.  Thus, Mr. Garten “suggested that the housing market collapse, not Mr. Trump, was the cause of [the buyers’] troubles.”  As the Donald explained, in truth, this was really a blessing in disguise: “They were better off losing their deposits” because it allowed buyers to avoid the bursting of the housing bubble and the loss in home values.

* * *

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Posted in Choice Myth, Ideology, Public Relations | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Self-Fulfilling Doomsday Prophecies

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 13, 2011

In a world experiencing global climate change and massive environmental degradation, could it be that doomsday prophecies are a cause and consequence of the seeming indifference and recalcitrance of so many Americans?

From NPR’s Here and Now:

* * *

Margaret Pease stands on a corner in downtown Pittsburgh, handing out doomsday pamphlets.

“JUDGMENT DAY FOLKS!” she yells with a volume that would make a drill sergeant proud. “May 21, 2011!”

For the past seven months, Pease has been crisscrossing the country in a caravan with eight others, warning anyone who will listen that God’s wrath is near.

“I might be a little loud, but I want people to get the message,” she says. “I don’t want anybody’s blood on my hands. … JUDGMENT DAY FOLKS!”

Nearby, David Liquori is telling passerby Thomas Sayers what he thinks will happen in just a few days.

“On May 21 at about 6 p.m., an earthquake of proportions which have never been known since man was on the Earth will occur,” Liquori says.

“This coming 21?” Sayers asks.

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, this is going to be awesome!” Sayers says. “Where’s it going to happen?”

“It’s going to happen everywhere,” Liquori says. “Everywhere.”

Sayers doesn’t buy it.

“I kind of feel bad for them because they do believe the world will end the 21st,” he says. “As a Christian, I also believe there’s a certain date that nobody knows. I’m on the same journey they are — they just think it ends the 21st and I don’t think it does.”

But like many people interviewed for this story, Liquori has bet everything on this date.

“I’m separated as a result of a difference of belief,” he says. “My wife got sick of me.”

He used to have a job and owned a house on Long Island.

“I have sold everything off,” Liquori says. “I have no more personal ambitions but to get the Gospel out to warn the world.”

Liquori and others believe that a very small fraction of Christian believers will fly up to heaven on that fateful day. Then on Oct. 21, the Earth and the universe will be destroyed.

But what about those who are left on Earth for those five months?

“Oh, it will be a horror story beyond measure,” says Harold Camping, the man who calculated the May 21 date.

Decoding The Bible

He has long been predicting the end on his international Christian radio network, Family Radio — which in 2009 was worth more than $100 million. Camping says the Bible is written in a code, and for those who are able to decipher it, it’s clear as daylight.

“With all the proofs that God has given us, and all the signs, I am absolutely certain [that Judgment Day will arrive on May 21]. It is going to happen. There is no Plan B.”

Of course, even Jesus said he didn’t know when Judgment Day would come. But Camping is not bothered by that, nor by the fact that he wrongly predicted Judgment Day once before, in 1994.

“It was based on incomplete research and I was quite aware that the research was incomplete,” he says. “So it was just like a first announcement that we’re almost there.”

So far, end time predictors have batted zero. The most famous was William Miller, a Baptist minister who believed that Jesus would return in the early 1840s. According to Catherine Wessinger, a historian of religion at Loyola University, New Orleans, on the night of Oct. 22, 1844, believers gathered on hilltops to watch Jesus return.

“People stayed up all night, they waited,” Wessinger says. “Some people allegedly put on white robes, waiting to go up to heaven, and were very disappointed when the sun rose the next morning and nothing had happened.”

It was deemed the Great Disappointment.

A Prophecy Upswing

“People have been predicting the end of the world in Christianity since the time of St. Paul,” says Cathy Gutierrez, a religion professor at Sweet Briar College.

She says usually end times prophets do not predict a specific date. That’s way too risky. But she says the predictions have come fast and thick in the past 60 years, largely because of one event in 1948: the creation of the state of Israel.

* * *

Some 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus will return by the year 2050, according to a poll by The Pew Research Center.

* * *


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Posted in Emotions, Environment, History, Ideology, System Legitimacy | Leave a Comment »

Holder on the Situation of Violence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 11, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the launch of the “Defending Childhood” initiative to help prevent children’s and young people’s exposure to violence, mitigate its effects and put an end to cycles of violence that undermine the public’s health. During this webcast, he described his vision for this initiative and its progress so far.

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Posted in Conflict, Distribution, Education, Emotions, Life, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Train Crossing Accidents

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 10, 2011

From the Boston Globe:

On average, 10 people die daily by being hit as they’re crossing the tracks. Track trespassing is the largest everyday cause of unnatural deaths in Mumbai.

For just over a year, however, an experiment at Wadala station, on the Central Line, has been hinting at unorthodox solutions to this problem.

* * *
In the six months before the experiment went live in December 2009, Wadala had recorded 23 track-crossing deaths, said M. C. Chauhan, a manager with the Central Railway’s Mumbai division. Between January and June 2010, that number had dropped to nine; in the next eight months, up until February 2011, only one death was registered. “We think the project is a huge success,” Chauhan said.

* * *

To walk around the Wadala experiment is to understand the surprising effectiveness of simple appeals to the human mind’s irrationality. Before the experiment began, the few exhortations to trespassers consisted of warning signs with lengthy text and stick-figure diagrams. These had proved tragically inadequate, so Final Mile designed three specific “interventions,” each intended to tackle a particular cognitive problem.

First, Final Mile painted alternate sets of railway ties in fluorescent yellow — five painted, five unpainted, and so on — to tackle what is known as the Leibowitz Hypothesis. As laid out in a 1985 issue of American Scientist by experimental psychologist Herschel W. Leibowitz, the hypothesis found that we frequently underestimate the speed at which large objects move. Leibowitz, who died earlier this year, first observed this with aircraft, and in 2003, a pair of scientists proved the hypothesis for trains. “The misperception happens because the brain has no frame of reference, no way to evaluate roughly how fast a train is moving,” said Satish Krishnamurthy, a Final Mile behavior architect. But with the new paint job, Krishnamurthy said, “the mind now has a way to gauge the train’s speed, by observing how fast it traverses these ties.”

Second, the consultants replaced the stick-figure signboards with a graphic three-part tableau, featuring in extreme close-up the horror-struck face of a man being plowed down by a locomotive. “We hired an actor,” Krishnamurthy said, smiling, “because it had to be realistic.” They were drawing on the research of Joseph LeDoux, a New York University professor of neuroscience and psychology. LeDoux studies the links between emotion and memory, and in particular the mechanism of fear. “Emotional memory is stored in the nonconscious part of your brain,” Dominic said. “If you’ve been in a car crash and, months later, you hear tires squealing, your heart rate goes up and you start to sweat. That’s because your emotional memory has been stirred up.” The new signs dispense with explanatory text and instead attempt to trigger an emotional memory of fear.

Final Mile’s third intervention required train drivers to switch from one long warning whistle to two short, sharp blasts. By way of explanation, Dominic cited a 2007 paper from the Stanford University School of Medicine, which found that brain activity — and hence alertness — peaks during short silences between two musical notes. “The silence sets up a kind of expectation in the brain,” said Vinod Menon, the paper’s senior author and a behavioral scientist working with the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Lab. “That’s the way it works in music, and it isn’t inconceivable that it would work similarly with train whistles.”

These simple, inexpensive interventions have worked so well that they’re now being extended across the length of the Central Line. But the larger implications of the experiment stretch beyond Mumbai, and beyond track-crossing deaths as well.

* * *


Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions | Leave a Comment »

My Lai Massacre

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 8, 2011

From Wikipedia:

My Lai was the mass murder of 347–504 unarmed citizens in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968, conducted by a unit of the United States Army. All of the victims were civilians and most were women, children (including babies), and elderly people. Many of the victims were raped, beaten, tortured, and some of the bodies were found mutilated.

The massacre took place in the hamlets of Mỹ Lai and My Khe of Sơn Mỹ village during the Vietnam War. While 26 US soldiers were initially charged with criminal offenses for their actions at My Lai, only William Calley was convicted of killing 22 villagers. Originally given a life sentence, he served three and a half years under house arrest.

When the incident became public knowledge in 1969, it prompted widespread outrage around the world. The massacre also increased domestic opposition to the US involvement in the Vietnam War. Three US servicemen who made an effort to halt the massacre and protect the wounded were later denounced by US Congressmen. They received hate mail, death threats and found mutilated animals on their doorsteps. It would take 30 years before they were honored for their efforts.

The massacre is also known as the ‘Sơn Mỹ Massacre’ (Vietnamese: thảm sát Sơn Mỹ) or sometimes as the ‘Song My Massacre.’


In 1989, the British television station Yorkshire Television broadcast the documentary Four Hours in My Lai as part of the ITV networked series First Tuesday. Using eyewitness statements from both Vietnamese and Americans the programme revealed new evidence about the massacre.  Watch the video — in seven parts — below.

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Situational Sources of the Holocaust

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 6, 2011

From the Harvard Gazette:

The table slab was cold and hard beneath 6-year-old Irene Hizme as doctors and nurses took measurements and blood samples. She didn’t know what was happening to her, and by the time it was all over, she wouldn’t care. She was found lying nearly comatose on the ground by a woman who brought her home to begin her recovery.

Though it’s routine for children to be examined by physicians, that was hardly the case here. Her doctor was Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi who conducted cruel experiments on inmates at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.

Hizme, who survived both her imprisonment and Mengele’s experiments, told her story to a rapt audience at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph Martin Conference Center in the New Research Building on April 14. Hizme was participating in a program to kick off the opening of an exhibit at Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library of Medicine, “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”

The exhibit, created by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in collaboration with a long list of institutional sponsors, addresses physicians’ roles in the evolution of what became the Holocaust through the early decades of the 1900s to the horror of its full execution during World War II.

The exhibit presents an eye-opening look at some of the lesser-known programs — many of which involved physicians — that established the Nazi philosophy of racial improvement and then implemented it through the 1930s. These programs began in 1933 with forced sterilization of the blind, deaf, alcoholics, physically deformed, and other groups judged inferior. In 1939, the murders began of thousands of children born with deformities, moving on to the killings of hundreds of thousands of adults institutionalized for mental illness and other causes. That program saw the development and use of gas chambers, later employed against Europe’s Jews and other groups in Nazi death camps.

When Hizme, who was born in Prague, arrived at Auschwitz, she remembered the stifling, stinking conditions in the cattle car she and others rode and how relieved everyone was when the doors opened at their destination and let in fresh air. The relief for the 6-year-old and others didn’t last long, as they were rousted from the car and sorted, a duty carried out by doctors, with some prisoners going to the camp and others to the gas chambers.

Because Mengele had an interest in twins for his heredity experiments, she and her brother were kept alive. She believes that she was experimented on while her brother was used as a control. She recalled X-rays and many injections whose contents she still doesn’t know, and of being sick in the camp hospital many times. During one of those times, all the patients were gassed, while she was saved by a nurse who hid her under her skirt.

“I was young, so I really did not understand what was going on,” Hizme said.

Julie Hock, New England regional director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, said the organization has had many exhibits over the years, but this is the first that begins to answer the question on people’s minds as they try to grasp the enormity of what happened: How was this humanly possible?

Susan Bachrach, the exhibit’s curator, and Boston University Professor Michael Grodin, who has written about Holocaust doctors, laid out how the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s genetics experiments led to the growth of the global eugenics movement in the early 1900s. Eugenics organizations, seeking human perfection, were active in many countries, including Germany and the United States. In America, many states had forced-sterilization programs, backed by the Supreme Court, which in 1927 upheld Virginia’s such program for the “feebleminded.”

Grodin said physicians played not just a bit part, but a central role in both the eugenics philosophy and in its eventual translation into Nazi programs to “disinfect” society. Doctors had a much greater representation in the Nazi Party than average Germans and played key roles throughout.

“Physicians were not victims; they were perpetrators,” Grodin said. “Nothing was inevitable; choices were made.”

In his research, Grodin sought to determine why physicians who pledge to improve human life wound up joining with the Nazis instead. He said there were some traits that might explain some physician participation — such as a willingness to dehumanize patients, an ability to compartmentalize their own lives, and a feeling of omnipotence — but added there was no way of predicting who would wind up embracing Nazi activities, just as there was no way of predicting who would wind up protecting the persecuted, risking their own lives.

Grodin cautioned against thinking that the Holocaust was an isolated event, and exhibit organizers said the displays are intended to provide food for thought for some of today’s ethical questions. After all, Grodin said, black soldiers who liberated the prison camps were fighting in segregated companies, interracial marriage was outlawed in many states, and medical experiments in the United States have been repeatedly carried out against unwilling participants.

Grodin cited the Willowbrook experiments, in which hepatitis was given to mentally retarded children in New York for 14 years in the 1950s and 1960s, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, carried out on unsuspecting black men between 1932 and 1972, and the injection of patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital with live cancer cells in 1962.

Grodin said the Holocaust reached the scale it did because it was state-sponsored instead of just supported by individuals. Still, he said, it is instructive to understand the smaller steps that ultimately led to the Nazi death camps.

“I think we have to be very concerned when we take small steps,” Grodin said.

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Posted in Education, History, Ideology, Morality, Video | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

The Unconscious Situation of Date Rape

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 5, 2011

We recently encountered an intriguing 2005 article by Andrew Taslitz, “Willfully Blinded: On Date Rape and Self-Deception” (28 Harvard Journal of Law & Gender  381-446) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract.

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This article takes seriously the proposition that many men are telling the truth when they say that they honestly believed that a woman in a date rape case had consented when she in fact did not do so. The article argues, however, that the men are generally truthful at a conscious level, while being aware unconsciously that the truth is otherwise. Furthermore, the absence of conscious awareness is the result of self-deception. Drawing on research in philosophy and cognitive psychology, this article defines the various forms of self-deception and explains how they work in date rape cases. Date rape liability often involves a negligence analysis: Should the man have known of the woman’s non-consent? Yet the penalties imposed for negligent date rape are often quite severe, more so than for most crimes of negligence. The article argues that self-deception is best understood as a form of negligent conduct but explains why it is morally far more reprehensible than other sorts of negligence. Next, the article responds to concerns about the morality of punishing men for unconscious thoughts and the problems posed for proving those thoughts and for free will. In particular, the article suggests a form of negligence liability in date rape cases that is meant to discourage male self-deception in sexual intercourse and that does not require proving what any individual male’s unconscious state was in a particular case. The article further responds to arguments about the wisdom of such an approach given that it will unquestionably catch some non-self-deceiving males. The law’s fear of imposing liability for unconscious desires is based upon a flawed conception of the nature of the conscious and unconscious minds that ignores the teachings of cognitive science. Those teachings establish that there are strategies for changing unconscious thoughts that motivate socially undesirable action even when we are not in the short run aware of the contents of our unconscious mind.

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You can download the article for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Law, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Shared Human Experiences

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 3, 2011

Matt Motyl and his co-authors recently posted their excellent article, titled “Subtle Priming of Shared Human Experiences Eliminates Threat-Induced Negativity Toward Arabs, Immigrants, and Peace-Making” on SSRN (forthcoming  (April 20, 2011). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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Many studies demonstrate that mortality salience can increase negativity toward out-groups but few have examined variables that mitigate this effect. The present research examined whether subtly priming people to think of human experiences shared by people from diverse cultures increases perceived similarity of members of different groups, which then reduces MS-induced negativity toward out-groups. In Study 1, exposure to pictures of people from diverse cultures engaged in common human activities non-significantly reversed the effect of MS on implicit anti-Arab prejudice. In Study 2, thinking about similarities between one’s own favorite childhood memories and those of people from other countries eliminated MS-induced explicit negative attitudes toward immigrants. In Study 3, thinking about similarities between one’s own painful childhood memories and those of people from other countries eliminated the MS-induced reduction in support for peace-making. Mediation analyzes suggest the effects were driven by perceived similarity of people across cultures. These findings suggest that priming widely shared human experiences can attenuate MS-induced inter-group conflict.

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Download the article for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Implicit Associations, Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 1, 2011

B. Greaney wrote this post for the Law & Mind Blog

Well brunettes are fine man
And blondes are fun
But when it comes to getting a dirty job done
I’ll take a red headed woman

~ Bruce Springsteen – Red Headed Woman

While my hair is now shade of auburn, I was admittedly a redhead for most of my adolescent life. With that privilege came the onslaught of nicknames: ginger, carrot top, big red, and more recently, Weasley. Then of course there was that oh-so-famous South Park episode that taught the American public that redheads simply have no souls. Pair these nicknames with expressions like “better dead than red on the head” and the Facebook event “Kick a Red Head Day,” and as you can imagine, there is plenty of material with which to tease a redhead.

To be honest, I, like many of my redheaded friends, are not offended by many of the redhead nicknames for they are often used as terms of endearment by family and friends. Not to mention, blondes do not have it too easy either—I bet every fair-haired individual has been called a “dumb blonde” at least once in his or her life.

However, the teasing of redheads goes one step further. Nowadays, almost no redhead can get by without some degree of sexualization. I can remember back in middle school when a group of boys approached me at the lunch table. One of them finally mustered up the courage to ask, “Do the curtains match the carpet?” All of the boys burst into laughter, so while I had absolutely no idea what they meant, I knew that the jokes had just entered a new terrain—the terrain of sexuality. From that point further, the nicknames expanded to fire crotch, red hair everywhere, ruby pubes, and burning bush, to name a few. I learned to laugh, like most people do, but I am still left wondering about the repercussions of it all.

In doing some research about perception of redheads on the internet, I found this description of a “Ginger”:

A Ginger is the medical term for a “person” affected by the bizarre disfiguring disease known as Gingervitus. Ghoulish symptoms include hair color ranging from an eerie light copper-tone to deep blood red, as well as a translucent to pallid skin tone. Much adversity has been attributed to gingers’ existence throughout history, and while female gingers can be considered attractive, most males of the ginger persuasion seem to resemble animated clowns… Gingers have no soul; This is the underlining cause of their Gingerness. Being tools of the devil, they are marked with the colour of their master.

While that description is obviously in jest, the line between joking and true prejudice is becoming far less clear. In the UK, for example, there are noted accounts of “gingerism” (prejudice against redheads) and “gingerphobia” (hatred towards redheads). It has been speculated that the dislike of red hair in Britain may be a result of the historical British sentiment that individuals of Irish or Celtic decent were ethnically inferior.

Some recent accounts of this prejudice include:

  • An English family that was forced to move twice after being targeted for abuse and hate crime on account of their red hair
  • In 2003, a 20 year old was stabbed in the back for “being ginger”
  • In May 2009, a British schoolboy committed suicide after being bullied for having red hair

Furthermore, in 2007, a UK woman was awarded nearly £18,000 for being sexually harassed at the workplace because of her red hair. In a news report, the woman explained,

“They asked if my head hair was the same colour as the rest of my body hair. They thought it was funny and liked to see me going red in the face with embarrassment.”

As this case shows, what is so interesting about gingerism is that it often manifests as a form of ethnic racism and sexual harassment. Yet, it is a widely accepted form of “joking” in our country, and there are few incidents I could find of reported school bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace. I believe that the reason for this is that society conditions the victims to accept it as normal and not harmful. However, what if we replaced the word “ginger” in the description above with “African American”:

An African American is the medical term for a “person” affected by the bizarre disfiguring disease known as blackivitus. Ghoulish symptoms include skin tone ranging from an eerie light copper-tone to deep brown. Much adversity has been attributed to African Americans’ existence throughout history, and while female African Americans can be considered attractive, most males of the black persuasion seem to resemble animated clowns. African Americans have no soul; This is the underlining cause of their blackness. Being tools of the devil, they are marked with the colour of their master.

If a description such as this were on the internet, I don’t think anyone would considered it a joke. Instead, most of us would agree that those were words of extreme hate. I was disgusted even typing it. So why is it that when the word “Ginger” is used instead of “African American” it all of a sudden becomes so funny?

I could not find any psychological and sociological research that focuses on the topic of gingerism. However, some concepts derived from these fields, such as ingroup/outgroup mentality, perhaps can help explain the abundance of redhead harassment. History and folklore have certainly laid the foundation of redheads being viewed in negative contexts (e.g. redheads were often portrayed as overly sexualized individuals or as witches, devil worshippers, and vampires). This perhaps primes the public to view redheads as the “outgroup,” with blondes, brunettes, and black haired individuals forming the “ingroup.” What other psychological theories do you think can help explain why redheads are harassed, especially in light of high incidence of sexual harassment?

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Posted in Implicit Associations, Life | 5 Comments »

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