The Situationist

Archive for June, 2011

Susan Fiske on “Inclusive Leadership, Stereotyping and the Brain”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 28, 2011

From :

[Situationist Contributor] Susan Fiske of Princeton University discusses the psychology of stereotyping in her keynote address to Columbia Business School’s research symposium, “Inclusive Leadership, Stereotyping and the Brain,” co-sponsored by the Program on Social Intelligence and the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics. Professor Fiske is introduced by Professors Malia Mason and Bruce Kogut of Columbia Business School.

To learn more about this symposium, click here.

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Posted in Implicit Associations, Law, Life, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Susan Fiske’s New Book

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 26, 2011

Situationist Contributor Susan Fiske’s latest book, Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us, is a must read!  Here’s a description.

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The United States was founded on the principle of equal opportunity for all, and this ethos continues to inform the nation’s collective identity. In reality, however, absolute equality is elusive. The gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, and the United States has the highest level of economic inequality of any developed country. Social class and other differences in status reverberate throughout American life, and prejudice based on another’s perceived status persists among individuals and groups. In Envy Up, Scorn Down, noted social psychologist Susan Fiske examines the psychological underpinnings of interpersonal and intergroup comparisons, exploring why we compare ourselves to those both above and below us and analyzing the social consequences of such comparisons in day-to-day life.

What motivates individuals, groups, and cultures to envy the status of some and scorn the status of others? Who experiences envy and scorn most? Envy Up, Scorn Down marshals a wealth of recent psychological studies as well as findings based on years of Fiske’s own research to address such questions. She shows that both envy and scorn have distinctive biological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics. And though we are all “wired” for comparison, some individuals are more vulnerable to these motives than others. Dominant personalities, for example, express envy toward high-status groups such as the wealthy and well-educated, and insecurity can lead others to scorn those perceived to have lower status, such as women, minorities, or the disabled. Fiske shows that one’s race or ethnicity, gender, and education all correlate with perceived status. Regardless of whether one is accorded higher or lower status, however, all groups rank their members, and all societies rank the various groups within them. We rate each group as either friend or foe, able or unable, and accordingly assign them the traits of warmth or competence. The majority of groups in the United States are ranked either warm or competent but not both, with extreme exceptions: the homeless or the very poor are considered neither warm nor competent. Societies across the globe view older people as warm but incompetent. Conversely, the very rich are generally considered cold but highly competent. Envy Up, Scorn Down explores the nuances of status hierarchies and their consequences and shows that such prejudice in its most virulent form dehumanizes and can lead to devastating outcomes—from the scornful neglect of the homeless to the envious anger historically directed at Tutsis in Rwanda or Jews in Europe.

Individuals, groups, and even cultures will always make comparisons between and among themselves. Envy Up, Scorn Down is an accessible and insightful examination of drives we all share and the prejudice that can accompany comparison. The book deftly shows that understanding envy and scorn—and seeking to mitigate their effects—can prove invaluable to our lives, our relationships, and our society.

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To read more about the book or order your copy, click here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Emotions, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Unequal Juries

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 24, 2011

Wendy Parker posted her article, “Juries, Race, and Gender: A Story of Today’s Inequality” (Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 46, pp. 209-240, 2011), on SSRN.  Here’s the abstracst.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 was supposed to be a victory for employment discrimination plaintiffs – a dramatic expansion of their rights. Twenty years later, however, we are told that the news for employment discrimination plaintiffs has gone “from bad to worse.” This essay, a reflection on the twenty-year history of the 1991 Act, explores how just how bad it is. In doing so, this essay discovers some optimistic news (but not much): Plaintiffs today are more likely to win at trial than before the 1991 Act. This is likely because of the 1991 Act’s expanded right to a jury trial. Yet, this is not a story of optimism – or equality – for all plaintiffs. The essay’s original study of 102 jury trials reveals that some plaintiffs do much worse than other plaintiffs. African Americans and Latinos claiming race discrimination, for example, have the lowest jury win rates. Many who study jury behavior would have predicted this outcome. From this, the essay argues that the evidence is strong that the status quo is not race neutral, and neither are juries.


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Trampling People While Whistling Rights: Normative Visions, Judicial Realities in Times of Terror

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 22, 2011

Rio Pierce wrote this post for Law & Mind Blog:

Marbury v. Madison, Miranda, and Brown v. Board of Education are hallmarks of a judicial canon that preaches a heroic vision of Constitutional Law arbitrated in our highest tribunal. These cases tell a story of the judicial process that reflects a flattering normative vision of the American government. These are the cases that may be most likely to be emphasized when a middle or high school student is first introduced to judicial review. Running concurrently alongside this set of cases is an antinomian canon, constituted of cases such as Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, and Bush v. Gore, that tells a story of the court as a political institution, embedded in the culture of its time. A particularly notable subset of these decisions occur during wartime. In cases such as Korematsu, the Supreme Court upholds dramatic, discriminatory suspensions of civil liberties that are justified on the basis of necessity, created by a perceived existential threat. Then, inevitably, the existential threat disappears, the threat that the case generated begins to seem overblown and ridiculous, the decision is dismissed as an unfortunate mistake, there’s a general sense that we’ll ‘do better next time’, and then next time comes, and the whole cycle inevitably repeats itself. Particularly notable, in cases such as Korematsu, is our general view of WWII – a heroic time for the ‘Greatest Generation’, and our relative shame about the Korematsu decision. This bifurcation is a more complicated stance than the universal scorn that we now hold for slavery, and a representative decision of that stance, such as Dred Scott. But is there more to these judicial opinions than mere hypocricy?

The rhetoric of the judicial opinions in these cases themselves is intriguing; these judges state, at least in their opinions, that they are making a neutral balancing between the rights of the individual and the needs of society at large. The opinions insist that the individual, a member of the group producing the existential threat, may win; although the balancing seems to be conducted on a rigged scale.

For instance, in Justice Black’s majority opinion in Korematsu he states that ‘all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect…..Pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions; racial antagonism never can.’ But of course, here there was a pressing public necessity to detain indefinitely a large group of American citizens of Japanese dissent… “In the instant case, temporary exclusion of the entire group was rested by the military on the same ground. The judgment that exclusion of the whole group was, for the same reason, a military imperative answers the contention that the exclusion was in the nature of group punishment based on antagonism to those of Japanese origin.”

Justice Frankfurter’s concurrence in Dennis, a First Amendment case concerning the imprisonment of members of the American Communist party who were advocating the overthrowal of the government’ develops this argument further. Frankfurter insists that Federal sovereignty is not unlimited ‘But even the all-embracing power and duty of self-preservation are not absolute. Like the war power, which is indeed an aspect of the power of self-preservation, it is subject to applicable constitutional limitations.’ After conducting an extensive examination, Frankfurter ultimately concludes that the constitutional limitations do not happen to be applicable.

Pragmatically, Frankfurter’s rhetoric seems to border on the absurd. Will the United States relinquish its power of self-preservation because of ‘constitutional limitations.’ It’s a pretty, Kantian vision of the constitution as a categorical imperative which the United States will follow, if necessary, into oblivion. But of course, there is enough slack in the constitution, and enough nimble reasoning in any Supreme Court Justice’s pen to assure that in a time of seemingly existential power, the constitutional limitations, just in this instant case of course, are not so stringent as to require oblivion. Furthermore, these judicial decisions seem to happen when all, or almost all of society is united, against an external threat. (Society at large seems to be mimicking, in these times, the famous Robbers Cave experiment, where two groups of boys at camp, induced into conflict by the manipulations of observational psychologists, united together when their overall community seemed to be under threat.) In such instances, the judiciary has no strong minority upon which to base their support. Furthermore, the judiciary is constituted of individuals who are members of the community, to expect them not to be swept up by the larger rhythms of the community seems to embrace an utterly unrealistic portrayal of the act of judging. The judiciary also must depend on other branches of the government in order to enforce its orders; to overturn a detention, and then lack an enforcement mechanism, would mockingly reveal the gaps and assumptions that underlie our system of divided government. The judiciary is designed to be countermajoritarian, but to expect it to be counter-consensus, considering all of these factors, seems to be ridiculous. I believe, however, that something more is going on in these opinions, although it may just be a theoretical gloss on this cynical take.

Terror Management Theory is a growing body of scholarship that discusses a human, or a society’s reaction, in a time of existential threat. The scholarship finds that political, and other belief systems give people a sense of value when they need it most; when themselves or the society they belong to seems to be under threat of annihilation. Awareness of one’s mortality, as is obviously produced by a global war or the events of 9/11, has been found to produce ‘greater patriotism, a stronger endorsement of the unique validity of one’s own religion, greater attention to established norms of procedural fairness, and a generally stronger preference for aggressive responses to individuals and groups who are perceived as threatening to the cultural worldview.’

When society as a whole experiences these responses, the judiciary is left in a unique position. First, an existential threat will make our society unify itself around the concept of ‘America’ and ‘American values.’ Much of what defines America, in our self perception, is our constitution, perhaps the closest thing we have to a secular religion. As our society searches for a way to define itself in contrast to the hostile other, the constitution, and its embedded values, seems the natural object upon which we can justify our own ‘unique validity.’ Furthermore, TMT suggests that we will continue to value at least theoretically, ‘procedural fairness’; this seems particularly likely in this circumstance, as the procedural values of the constitution are one of its distinctive and most emphasized values. But, of course, at the same time, we will also want to aggressively respond to anyone that we perceive as threatening our existence. The judges, as upholders of the constitution and by extension ratifier of our own ‘specialness’, have a critical role to play in the response dictated by TMT. On one hand, they must act in a way that affirms our specialness, they must demonstrate that we are ‘better than the other guy’, that the secular religion of the constitution is genuine. Yet, at the same time, the decision they reach must, on a zero sum level, ratify the aggressive response we wish to enact upon our enemies. The opinions, in cases such as Korematsu, can be seen to fulfill both of these contradictory goals. On the one hand, the judge affirms that ‘Our Constitution has no provision lifting restrictions upon governmental authority during periods of emergency, although the scope of a restriction may depend on the circumstances in which it is invoked’ or that ‘The First Amendment…..exacts obedience even during periods of war; it is applicable when war clouds are not figments of the imagination no less than when they are.’ On the other hand, the judge reaches the necessary result, and upholds the ultimate punishment of our enemies. The judiciary is producing the response that our society psychologically needs at such a time, it is beautifullyreiterating our values even as it affirms actions that, when our passions have cooled, will seem to contradict the values that we find.

‘Legal interpretation takes place in a field of pain and death’ wrote Robert Cover in his memorable essay, Violence and the Word. The decisions discussed above, consciously written during times of terror, seem to directly acknowledge the pain and death they inflict. There is, impressionistically, a certain thinly veiled pride in these opinions; the judges seem to see themselves as soldiers in a larger societal struggle, playing their part to uphold the society, just as surely as the soldier with his gun. The above paragraphs have painted, I think, a pessimistic view of the role of the judiciary in these moments of existential crises. There is a more sympathetic interpretation available.

Martha Minow, in a response to Cover’s essay wrote of the possibilities of ‘rights discourse.’ Minow focused on the transformative possibilities of rights discourse for minority communities. Rights discourse allowed minority communities to participate in a broader community dialogue. By staking rights claims, these minority groups were able to participate in a broader communal dialogue. Furthermore, rights talk emphasizes the power of words to restrain community action, to stay state power, and to work as a form of persuasion which reconfirms community. To Minow, ‘legal language can be the possessions of the dispossessed.’

The legal arguments of the dispossessed, of Korematsu and Hamdan, seems to clearly qualify as the potentially positive form of ‘rights interpretation’ which Minow believes to be a beneficial practice. Conversely, to term the rhetorical articulations of the judiciary, enacting state power at the behest of the majority will, rights talk seems to border on the perverse. However, the American tribal community is a private community which does not perfectly align with the institutions of government. Furthermore, this tribal community generally lies dormant, a backdrop identity which is assumed but has relatively little weight in intra communal dialogues. Inter communal conflicts, even if the inter is simply a member of the community who can be labeled as an ‘other’, reawaken this community and the normative commitments which it holds dear. The judiciary, and the decisions it writes, engages in a process of ‘rights interpretation’ which emphasizes the possibility of staying state power, and restraining community action. These possibilities serve to define the American community; even if, in the practical reality of a situation such as this, it is so unlikely, as to border on the impossible, for it to be exercised. By engaging in a process of ‘rights interpretation’, even though the game itself is rigged, the Court is reaffirming the normative commitments of the tribe and leaving open the possibility for the exercise of these rights when the psychological demands produced by existential crisis ebb. Publicly discussing the asserted rights of the beleaguered minority who serves the form of the ‘other’ affirms the private community of America. Rights talk, in a time of existential crisis (and perhaps at all times), is a two way street. The minority ‘other’, such as Korematsu, is claiming rights which ‘implicitly invest themselves in a larger community’. At the same time, the majority, driven by psychological need for a reaffirmed vision of the normative possibilities of the American state, derives its own benefit from also speaking a language of rights and balances, emphasizing the presence of community norms that provide self-definition even while allowing conduct which, retrospectively, will be seen as violation of those norms. However, without affirming the presence of these norms and rights in a decision like Korematsu, we wouldn’t have a standard against which to judge violations, retroactively, when our communal psychology is no longer in such a state of strain.

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The Situation of the Vancouver Riot Kiss

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 20, 2011

From the Ottawa Citizen (article written by Sheril Kirshenbaum, a research scientist at the University of Texas and author of The Science of Kissing):

The man and woman appear oblivious of the chaos swirling around them. When anarchy erupted on the streets of Vancouver last week, the couple exchanged an ephemeral kiss that will last forever on our cultural landscape. Photographer Richard Lam inadvertently captured the embrace on his camera, and the image quickly made headlines around the world. It’s a striking contrast of furious energy and tender pause that will be analyzed, criticized, and admired for decades to come. Scott Jones and Alex Thomas were the calm in the eye of a storm.

Many wonder whether the scene has been photo-shopped or staged. Who are these people and what would inspire such seemingly inappropriate behaviour under dire circumstances? Yet a glimpse at some of the science behind why we kiss suggests that the lip lock was, in reality, a very natural response to being involved in an unfamiliar, frightening situation as emotions ran high.

There’s no doubt that being caught up in a riot would lead to increased levels of adrenalin, which boosts our heart rate and makes us sweat. Adrenalin causes our blood vessels to dilate, quickens the pulse, flushes our cheeks, and can even make breathing irregular. This important chemical is involved in readying our bodies to anticipate what might occur next. A passionate kiss can cause the same response because it also boosts adrenalin. And during an extremely tense situation, it’s easy to understand why sensations can be confused, blurring perceptions of passion and anxiety.

In the flurry of interviews that followed the photograph’s publication, Jones told reporters that he kissed his girlfriend in order to calm her down after police knocked them to the ground. Surely this was a split-second decision, but the odds are good that this strategy worked thanks to the cocktail of chemicals coursing through our bodies that regulate the way we feel and behave.

A kiss can be soothing for myriad reasons, and has been documented to reduce levels of the “stress hormone” known as cortisol. When we experience stress, cortisol is responsible for raising blood sugar and blood pressure while suppressing the immune system. It is part of the body’s regulatory system that amps us up to perform well under pressure. The right kiss from someone we love lowers levels of this hormone, thereby reducing the uneasiness we feel. In other words, whether he was consciously aware of it or not, Jones’s kiss likely served its intended purpose.

Of course, cortisol and adrenalin do not act alone. They are just two soldiers in an army of chemicals that guide our actions. Kissing also raises levels of the “love hormone” oxyto-cin, which reaffirms the special bond we share with those who matter most to us. And it is not all about romance either. When parents intuitively press their lips to a child’s scraped knee and say “all better,” it can actually decrease the perception of pain and discomfort.

Our brains are also primed to associate kissing with feelings of love and security. A newborn’s earliest feeding experiences involve similar movements and mouth pressure, laying down the neural pathways in his brain that will be continue to be important in other relationships throughout his life. On top of that, our lips are packed with sensitive nerve endings, so even the slightest brush sends a cascade of information to our brains that often feels very good.

It should be no surprise that kissing acts like a drug by stimulating the natural chemicals in our bodies because it has inspired poets, musicians, and lovers over millennia. And no matter what particular mix of neurotransmitters, hormones -and perhaps, bit of magic -led to that moment in Vancouver, it serves as an indelible reminder of the single most universal and humanizing practice we all share: The kiss.


Here’s a video of Sheril Kirshenbaum discussing her book:

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The Situation of the Vancouver Riots

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 19, 2011

From :

It was a recipe for riot according to UVIC Social Psychologist Danu Stinson. Stinson says the large crowd, many wearing jerseys were left feeling faceless, anonymous and inhibited — that lack of self-awareness and personal accountability sparked and fuelled the riots. While Vancouver Police say anarchists and criminals were behind the mob that destroyed vehicles and buildings — Stinson said even average joes were easily dragged into the madness.

Dr. Stinson suggests something as simple as urging attendees to wear name-tags would have reinforced individuals and dismissed the pack mentality.

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Lining Them Up, and Knocking Them Down

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 17, 2011

A couple weeks ago, I published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the situation of the dreaded airport security line after I contacted the TSA with a few questions about their operations.  The text of the op-ed appears here and below:

Hate Airport Security?  Get in Line.

What is the single most frustrating thing about the airport? Most people would agree that it’s the security line, which presents us with a terrible tandem of unpredictability and uncontrollability.

Each airport is different. Some separate expert travelers from novices; others provide priority lines for those with first-class tickets. Latecomers who are going to miss their flights will be readily shuttled to the front at a few airports, while many others stand firm in the face of tears and tantrums.

Even at a single airport, you never know what you’re going to get. I recently flew out of Philadelphia on US Airways on consecutive Thursday evenings. The first time, I was through security in 10 minutes and had time for a drink. The second, it took more than an hour and I nearly missed my flight.

As another summer travel season begins, it’s time for travelers to take a stand. The system is broken, and it needs to be fixed.

Before we get to a solution, it’s useful to understand how the current system works. Most people assume that the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for the security lines, but the agency has generally deferred to the authority of airports and airlines when it comes to managing the queue before the checkpoint. As a result, a hodgepodge of practices has developed, many of which serve the interests of the carriers rather than the travelers – for example, special lines for customers who pay extra fees.

It has never made sense for the security line to have more than one master. It’s time to put it firmly in the hands of the TSA, which is most likely to have the right priorities: security, fairness, and efficiency. And once the entire process is the responsibility of that agency, there are many ways it could improve the speed and civility of the system without compromising safety.

Any effective system would provide fliers with more information and choice. As just one example, imagine an airport with three security lines: general, priority, and express. At the beginning of each line is a constantly updated sign that shows the anticipated wait time and a price to enter that line. Just as a person mailing a package is provided with an array of estimated delivery dates and corresponding prices at the post office, a traveler at the airport could be provided with similar facts to facilitate a free, informed choice.

Always arrive early for your flight and want to travel at the lowest possible cost? Choose the free “general” line. Get caught up at a meeting and arrive at the airport 25 minutes before departure? Swipe your credit card and join the “express” line.

To keep the lines moving optimally, computer programs could regularly alter the prices of the priority lines, much as the fees for using express toll lanes on certain highways can be varied according to congestion. The necessary technology already exists.

In our current, inflexible system, the late-arriving passenger is often out of luck. At the same time, other passengers collectively shell out millions of dollars in fees for access to priority lines that they turn out not to need. These problems could be eliminated with an approach that allows customers to decide what is best for them at the moment it matters.

Moreover, all the money paid into such a system would go to the TSA instead of airline executives. That would reduce the tax burden borne by those who fly as well as those who don’t, at a time when the government is trying to tighten its belt.

Airline and airport lobbyists are likely to strongly oppose this sort of sensible proposal, but its time has come. We weary travelers deserve better.

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The Gendered Situation of Math, Humanities, and Romance

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 16, 2011

From the Boston Globe:

Psychologists have found that being stereotyped can subconsciously alter behavior. For example, subtle stereotypes of women being weaker in math and science can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, undermining women’s math and science aptitude. According to a new study, though, even supposedly innocent aspects of daily life can have a similar effect. Women who were briefly exposed to romantic images or a third-party conversation about a romantic relationship were subsequently less interested in math and science, and more interested in the humanities, than if they had been exposed to content related to intelligence or friendship. Men leaned in the opposite direction — towards math and science, and away from humanities — after being exposed to romantic content. Likewise, in a daily diary study, women who reported pursuing romantic goals on a given day were less engaged in math homework on that day or the next day.

Park, L. et al., “Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women’s Attitudes toward Math and Science,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

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Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Life, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

Online Law and Mind Experiments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 15, 2011

The Latest Online Study Clearinghouse Experiment

The following experiment was just posted on our Law and Mind Science Online Study Clearinghouse, a repository for web studies pertaining to law and mind sciences.

Self and Social Judgment

Participants will provide information about events that have happened to them in their lives. In addition, participants will answer questions about their opinions on, and judgments about, social policy issues. It should take participants approximately 15 minutes to complete the survey.

Go to:

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Claude Steele Returns to Stanford

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 14, 2011

From Stanford News:

Claude Steele, provost of Columbia University and a preeminent scholar of social psychology, will be the next dean of Stanford University’s School of Education, President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy announced today.

Steele was a member of the Stanford faculty from 1991 to 2009, when he assumed the position as chief academic officer at Columbia, where he is responsible for assuring the quality of all academic programs and faculty. He will succeed Deborah Stipek, who will be stepping down after 10 years as dean. Steele’s appointment is effective September 1.

“For nearly two decades, Claude Steele was an integral part of Stanford University and it will be a pleasure to welcome him back in this capacity,” Hennessy said. “His academic expertise and his demonstrated leadership will serve not only the School of Education, but the university as a whole.”

Etchemendy, who served as co-chair of the search committee, praised Steele’s academic and administrative credentials.

“Claude was the enthusiastic recommendation of the Search Committee.  He brings to the position an extraordinary combination of academic excellence and administrative experience,” Etchemendy said. “We are confident that under Claude’s leadership, our already wonderful School of Education will achieve new levels of excellence.”

Steele said he is looking forward to his return to Stanford, where during his tenure he held appointments as the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, as director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and as the director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.

“I am thrilled to be joining Stanford’s School of Education. It has such an important role to play in one of our society’s most important areas – education,” Steele said.  “It will be an honor to help the school sustain its greatness and extend its reach at a time when its scholarship and insights are so badly needed. And with this move, there is the added pleasure for my wife Dorothy and me of returning to our Stanford community of friends and colleagues.” Members of the search committee praised Steele’s dedication to improving the quality of schools and the educational outcomes for students.

“Claude Steele is an outstanding choice as the next dean for the School of Education. He is among the most distinguished social scientists of his generation,” said Professor Eamonn Callan, co-chair of the search committee and associate dean of student affairs in the School of Education. “He has a brilliant record of educational leadership and an abiding interest in improving America’s schools.”

At Columbia, Steele has been responsible for directing and implementing academic plans and policies for the 27,000-student Ivy League institution, and he supervises the work of the university’s faculties, departments, centers and institutes. He is responsible for faculty appointments and tenure recommendations and oversees the financial planning and budget for the university.

Steele taught at the University of Utah, the University of Washington, and the University of Michigan prior to joining Stanford.  He was educated at Hiram College and at Ohio State University, where he received his Ph.D. in psychology in 1971.  He has received honorary degrees from the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, Yale University, Princeton University, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Steele has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He is a member of the Board of the Social Science Research Council and of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Board of Directors.

Steele is recognized as a leader in the field of social psychology and for his commitment to the systematic application of social science to problems of major societal significance.  His research focuses on the psychological experience of the individual and, particularly, on the experience of threats to the self and the consequences of those threats.  His early work considered the self-image threat, self-affirmation and its role in self-regulation, the academic under-achievement of minority students, and the role of alcohol and drug use in self-regulation processes and social behavior. While at Stanford, he and his students further developed the theory of stereotype threat, a common process that can significantly affect both the experiences and performance of people from different groups due to social stereotypes associated with those groups. This work has been used extensively by educators to understand group differences in school and test performance, and has led to a variety of interventions in educational settings that improve these performances.

He has published articles in numerous scholarly journals, including the American Psychologist, The Journal of Applied Social Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.  His recent book, Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, was published in 2010.

He was the recipient of the Dean’s Teaching Award from Stanford University.  The American Psychological Association has bestowed on him the Senior Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (1998).  The American Psychological Society presented him with the William James Fellow Award for Distinguished Scientific Career Contribution (2000).  The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues awarded him the Gordon Allport Prize in Social Psychology (1997) and the Kurt Lewin Memorial Award (1998).  He received the Donald Campbell Award from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (2001).

The Stanford University School of Education, with an enrollment of more than 400 graduate students, is a leader in groundbreaking, cross-disciplinary research that helps to shape educational practice and policy. The school’s faculty members integrate practice and research by working collaboratively with education administrators, teachers and policy leaders around the world, and they contribute to theoretical and methodological innovations in the social sciences.

Graduates of the Stanford School of Education hold leadership positions as teachers, researchers, administrators, and policymakers. The school’s philosophy is to expose students to real-world challenges and involvement in problem-solving collaborations with practitioners and policymakers. The school operates the East Palo Alto Academy, a public charter high school in the neighboring East Palo Alto community. The school also has sustained collaborations with organizations serving youth in several Bay Area communities and ongoing partnerships with public school districts.

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Tanya Chartrand on Social Mimicry

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 13, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.

From The Human Spark:

Obvious mimicry can be maddening – as the “Stop copying me!” refrain screamed by generations of siblings can attest. But in this Web-Exclusive Video, Alan Alda learns that subtle mimicry in social situations can actually lead to positive emotions and behaviors. Duke University psychologist Tanya Chartrand enlists Alan as a participant in her research.

Watch this clip to learn about social mimicry – and why you can’t expect an actor not to always have the best interests of the camera in mind!

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Barbie Commercials Across the Decades and the Implications on Female Identity and Objectification

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 11, 2011

From Sister Blog, Law and Mind (by HLS student, Cassie Mathias):

In the past weeks, the Law and Mind Sciences blogposts have included observations about media influences and gender, including Misogyny in Music, Mindfulness and Identity in the context of yogurt advertisements, and the conformity in appearances at HLS job interviews. As these posts described, pop culture, advertisements, and cultural norms all have the power to influence perceptions of gender. No where does this media influence appear to have a wider or longer lasting impact than Barbie. From the first Barbie television advertisement ever (portrayed in the above video) to the introduction of Ken, to current television advertising, Barbie has maintained a prominent presence as a commercial phenomenon, a fashion icon, and source of gender socialization.

The focus of investigations and attitudes towards Barbie differ, but all seem to recognize that the Barbie is not just a doll, but a cultural phenomenon. Since Barbie first arrived at the World Toy Fair in 1959, wearing a Zebra bikini and stilettos, over a billion Barbies have been produced in 150 countries. According to Mattel on Barbie’s 50th Anniversary in 2009, 90% of U.S. girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll. In a Newsweek article commenting on this anniversary, Eliza Grey described Barbie as “the original bimbo, a relic of postwar paternalism that teaches its young to worship at the altar of blond hair, peach skin and formidable cleavage atop a waistline the size of a pinkie ring.”

Others celebrate Barbie. Ruth Handler, the founder of Mattell, defended Barbie as a progressive alternative to baby dolls that emphasized playing mom. Dr. Lenore Wright has argued that role-playing with Barbie allows children to explore identity formation openly and in empowering ways, whereas media advertisements present a determined viewpoint of the female identity. At the very least, some argue Barbie is the better alternative to the even more sexualized Bratz dolls.

Barbie progresses alongside social and political changes, and thus new editions reflect changes in the construction of female identity. Barbie advertisements send a clear message to young girls about not just their role as women, but how to make sense of the world around them and societal roles. For example, during the Civil Rights Movement, Barbie received her first black friend, “Colored Francie.” In the 1970s, Mattell reacted to feminist criticisms by adding non-traditional female jobs for Barbie, such as an astronaut, Army medic, and presidential candidate.

Has Barbie become a better influence? As an undergraduate, I sought out to perform a content analysis study on Barbie commercials across the decades to explore this inquiry. I examined Barbie television commercials from 1959-2009. I found 45 commercials on YouTube and coded for social gender role themes and appearance themes. I coded for the presence of Social Gender Role themes, including homemaking (e.g., ironing, setting the table, cooking); motherhood or care taking; emphasis on relationships (noting if the ads explicitly referenced marriage), careers; Age inappropriate themes; Explicit patronizing gender role messages; and fashion. I also analyzed the appearance of the dolls and actors in the television commercials, coding for if all the female dolls were blonde, if a minority doll was present, if the Barbie was attempting to portray sex appeal, if the dolls had an extreme, unrealistic thin body type, and if there was an explicit emphasis on the importance of beauty. I divided the commercials up by decade and then analyzed the themes within each decade by calculating the percentage of commercials in our sample that contained each theme and then compared the proportion each theme was present across decades to analyze Barbie’s progression.

On her fiftieth birthday, Barbie has now had 108 careers, 50 nationalities, and over 1 billion pairs of shoes. This TV commercial from 2008 advertises three of these new careers, Barbie can be anything she wants to be, including a pet stylist, a baby doctor, or a swim teacher.

Despite so many expectations associated with Barbies’ new careers, I found few messages that encourage girls to search for meaning or substance. Although Barbie had more careers in new editions, the commercials still portrayed Barbie in non-threatening, female stereotyped careers. Even when Barbie had a positive career, the emphasis of the commercial was often on her sexuality or Ken.

I found that while new editions of Barbie continued to communicate gendered themes, they did not strictly mirror societal changes. As the traditional 1950s homemaker ideal faded, new editions of Barbie brought an emphasis on promiscuity, fashion, and materialism. In the 2000s, the career messages focused mostly on Barbie as a fashion model, encouraging girls to use their bodies and fashion as a source of power. These messages resist encouraging girls to search for other outlets of power and supports the objectification of women’s bodies.Barbie and her friends had many new looks and careers, but failed to challenge traditional female gender roles.

Even if parents resist gender socialization or refuse to buy Barbies, children will still be exposed to the gendered messages in advertisements. As children internalize these messages, the commercials will contribute to difficulties in emotional expression and coping behaviors that could ultimately lead to many pathologies.

The commercials emphasize subservient gender roles and depending on Ken, rather than empowering young girls to take care of themselves. Studies have shown that this exaggerated “housewife role” has been associated with disorders such as depression as women struggle with gender inequality in their daily routines. Young boys are socialized to be active and assertive, whereas messages such as these encourage girls to develop a passive coping style.

Barbie is portrayed as always carefree, which girls may internalize as evidence that they should not express sadness or anger. Boys who are playing with GI Joe’s may develop patterns of more “active” actions, although their violent emphasis could also contribute to boys’ externalizing and delinquent behaviors. The commercials emphasize Barbie’s role in relation to her friends, her boyfriend, and her sister. Spending hours role playing these relationships could contribute to girls’ interpersonal orientation, which has been found to lead to poor coping strategies such as rumination, and psychological problems such as depression, stress, and anxiety.

Barbie communicates unrealistic standards, with her dream house, dream wardrobe, dream job, and dream boyfriend. Women today are expected to excel in every domain, leading to feelings of low self worth. According to the Superwoman theory, women who perceive that they should have it all fail to be intrinsically motivated, but instead look for social approval. As women strive towards this perfection, there is an increasing isolation from family and friends.

At the same time that girls are strongly associating with the female gender role, they are experiencing bodily changes and thus intensified body dissatisfaction and low self esteem (Wichstrom, 1999). Barbie provides an expectation for an unattainable body type, increasing the risk for eating disorders. Nearly all commercials contained images of unrealistic thinness, encouraging girls to internalize the thin ideal at an early age. In 2006, Helga Dittmar, Emma Halliwell, and Suzanne Ive examined Barbie as the direct cause of body dissatisfaction and eating problems. Of the 162 five through eight-year olds they evaluated, those that played with a Barbie reported low body esteem and desired to be much thinner than those that were exposed to a larger doll or no dolls.

Besides being extremely thin, Barbie has large breasts and a tiny waist. Norton et al. Statistics suggest that the probability of attaining Barbie’s body shape was less than one in 100,000, whereas the probability of attaining Ken’s was about one in fifty. Especially alongside age inappropriate and sexual themes, this message validates the trend that women’s bodies are judged and sexualized more than men’s bodies, which contributes to the objectification of women. Accepting male entitlement and female subordination facilitates violence, abuse, and rape, and may cause women to experience self-blame and helplessness.

Barbie commercials provide explicit messages to young children about the expectations associated with being female. Rather than empowering young girls to be ambitious, empowered, and virtuous, the commercials emphasize the importance of sex appeal, fashion, and relationships. As Law and Mind Sciences has discussed, these messages are still very apparent. As girls grow older, the media continues to present objectifying messages and institutions continue to promote conformity, even in law school and the legal profession. Pop artists such as Ke$ha are speaking out against misogyny in their own ways, but I believe her lyrics are more of illustrative of the over-sexualization of women present in the current media that I found in today’s Barbie commercials. How much has changed from 1959 to today? Are girls and women simply identifying with a new variety of objectification in the media? Are icons like Ke$ha the modern day Barbie?

* * *

Related Situationist Posts:


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Perceptions of Income Distribution and Preferences for Redistribution

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2011

Guillermo Cruces, Truglia Perez, Nicolas Ricardo, and Martin Tetaz, recently posted their paper “Biased Perceptions of Income Distribution and Preferences for Redistribution: Evidence from a Survey Experiment” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

Individual perceptions of income distribution play a vital role in political economy and public finance models, yet there is little evidence regarding their origins or accuracy. This study examines how individuals form these perceptions and posits that systematic biases arise from the extrapolation of information extracted from reference groups. A tailored household survey provides original evidence on the significant biases in individuals’ evaluations of their own relative position in the distribution. Furthermore, the data supports the hypothesis that the selection process into the reference groups is the source of those biases. Finally, this study also assesses the practical relevance of these biases by examining their impact on attitudes towards redistributive policies. An experimental design incorporated into the survey provides consistent information on the own ranking within the income distribution to a randomly selected group of respondents. Confronting agents’ biased perceptions with this information has a significant effect on their stated preferences for redistribution. Those who had overestimated their relative position and thought of themselves relatively richer than they were demand higher levels of redistribution when informed of their true ranking. This relationship between biased perceptions and political attitudes provides an alternative explanation for the relatively low degree of redistribution observed in modern democracies.

You can download the paper for free here.

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

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on June 8, 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 and for Chris Lee’s Craig’s List shenanigans.  We’ve decided to republish the post yet again in recognition of the recent revelations regarding Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner.  (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.

* * *

Senator 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 the 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, but 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 morally 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.

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.

* * *

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



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Anthony Greenwald on The Psychology of Blink

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 7, 2011


[Situationist friend] Dr. Anthony Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, describes his research developing the method (described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) that reveals unconscious thought patterns that most people would rather not possess. Learn about these mental contents, as Dr. Greenwald demonstrates the method and describes how these patterns affect our behavior.


In this program from the University of Washington psychology department, MacArthur awardee Dr. Lisa Cooper, professor at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, describes her research on how patient race influences patient-physician communication and physician clinical decision making. She also includes her efforts to design interventions to negate these undesired racial and ethnic health care disparities.

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The Gendered Situation of Decision-Making Under Stress

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 6, 2011

From Science Daily:

Stress causes men and women to respond differently to risky decision making, with men charging ahead for small rewards and women taking their time, according to a new study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, published by Oxford University Press. Under stress, men and women also have different brain activation patterns during decision making.

There might be advantages to both stress responses, especially in areas with the need to weigh short-term gain and long-term benefits, such as the stock market, health decisions or retirement planning, according to lead author on the study Nichole Lighthall, a USC doctoral student.

The experiment might also have implications for daily life and relationships, Lighthall said.

Stress caused men and women to make decisions differently, but when stress was absent their behavior and brain activation was much more similar, Lighthall said. Men and women faced with tough decisions might improve their communication by waiting until a stressful situation has passed, Lighthall said. “Men and women appear to think more similarly when they are not stressed,” Lighthall said. “You should be aware of the way you are biased in your decisions.”

After being subjected to stress, men appeared to be more motivated to act quickly while women would slow down, Lighthall said.

For men under stress, playing a risk-taking game stimulated areas in the brain that are activated when one gets a reward or satisfies an addiction. The same experiment found diminished brain activity for women in the same areas when they were stressed.

“It appears women do not feel the drive to get a reward as much under stress,” Lighthall said.

Participants were given a task of filling up a computer-simulated balloon with as much air as possible without popping the balloon.

Subjects earned from $4 to $45 based on their performance, with the men earning much more cash under stress.

Lighthall said that although men performed this task better, the more important conclusion may be that important decisions made under stress should include input from both genders.

“It might be better to have more gender diversity on important decision because men and women offer differing perspectives,” Lighthall said. “Being more cautious and taking the time to make a decision will often be the right choice.”

Mara Mather, director of the Emotion and Cognition Lab at USC and associate professor of psychology at USC Dornsige College and gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, Michiko Sakaki, Sarinnapha Vasunilashorn, Lin Nga, Sangeetha Somayajula, Eri Y. Chin and Nicole Samii, also of the USC Davis School, were co-authors of the study.

Last year Lighthall authored a study in the journal PLoS One that showed that men under stress may be more likely to take risks, correlating to such real-life behavior as gambling, smoking, unsafe sex and illegal drug use.


Related Situationist posts:



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Group Influence

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 2, 2011

From the instructional video series Psychology: The Human Experience:

Influence explains individuality, group behavior, and deindividuation.

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Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, History, Ideology, Morality, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Regulatory Situation of Smoking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 1, 2011

From The Independent:

More than half a century after scientists uncovered the link between smoking and cancer – triggering a war between health campaigners and the cigarette industry – big tobacco is thriving.

Despite the known catastrophic effects on health of smoking, profits from tobacco continue to soar and sales of cigarettes have increased: they have risen from 5,000 billion sticks a year in the 1990s to 5,900 billion a year in 2009. They now kill more people annually than alcohol, Aids, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

* * *

The West now consumes fewer and fewer of the world’s cigarettes: richer countries have changed – from smoking 38 per cent of the world total in 1990, they cut down to 24 per cent in 2009. Meanwhile, the developing world’s share in global cigarette sales has increased sharply, rising to 76 per cent in 2009.

An investigation by The Independent on Sunday reveals that tobacco firms have taken advantage of lax marketing rules in developing countries by aggressively promoting cigarettes to new, young consumers, while using lawyers, lobby groups and carefully selected statistics to bully governments that attempt to quash the industry in the West.

In 2010, the big four tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco – made more than £27bn profit, up from £26bn in 2009.

The price of their profits will be measured in human lives. In the 20th century, some 100 million people were killed by tobacco use. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill a billion people in the 21st century.

* * *

Anna Gilmore, professor of public health at the University of Bath, said: “What most people don’t realise is that, although sales are falling in the West, industry profits are increasing. These companies remain some of the most profitable in the world. This is thanks in part to their endless inventive ways of undermining and circumventing regulation. They’re trying to reinvent their image to ingratiate themselves with governments, but behind the scenes it’s business as usual.”

* * *

In Indonesia alone there are 21 million child smokers. There is little to stop companies promoting cigarettes to young people. In countries such as Nigeria, Ukraine and Brazil, tobacco companies have sponsored club nights or parties aimed at attracting new young users. In Russia, attempts to entice women smokers have included packaging made to look like jewel-encrusted perfume bottles and even selling cigarettes branded by the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager for the WHO’s tobacco free initiative, said: “We need to do more. We need to stop the tobacco industry promoting themselves as normal corporate citizens when they are killing people every day. We are lagging behind in establishing comprehensive bans on advertising, marketing, promotion and sponsorship.”

* * *

Laurent Huber, director of the Framework Convention Alliance on tobacco control, said: “In countries like Uruguay, the tobacco industry uses its vast wealth to tie up public health measures in court battles. Win or lose, this has a chilling effect on other governments.”

These tricks are by no means confined to the less-regulated emerging countries. In Australia, which will become the first country to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes by law, the industry has been accused of scaremongering against the measures by threatening to flood the market with cheap fags.

In Britain, the industry is also prone to taking any measures necessary to keep regulation at bay. This autumn a group of tobacco companies is taking the Government to court over its proposals to ban cigarette displays in all shops.

More often in the UK, though, Big Tobacco’s attempts to alter public opinion are more subtle. A study from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), out this week, scrutinises the credibility of economic arguments used by the industry to fight back against legislation. For example, when Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said in 2010 that the smoking ban had severely threatened the pub and bingo industry because of lost jobs and livelihoods, the reality was a little different. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a net increase in the number of people visiting pubs since the smoking ban. When England went smoke-free in 2007, the number of premises licensed for alcohol increased by 5 per cent, and it has continued to grow every year since.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “In line with our international treaty obligations, the UK government has not only banned advertising and put health warnings on packs, but also committed to protect public health policies from the commercial and vested interests of the tobacco industry. To get round this, the industry uses front groups to covertly lobby politicians, arguing that smoke-free legislation has destroyed the pub trade, and that putting tobacco out of sight in shops will both be ineffective and put corner shops out of business.


Related Situationist posts.

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