The Situationist

Archive for October, 2011

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison and Kingsfield’s Harvard Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 31, 2011

Last week, Phil Zimbardo delivered another remarkable lecture at Harvard Law School — this time tracing his journey from studying evil to inspiring heroism.  We hope to post that video in several weeks.  For his introduction, Situationist Editor Jon Hanson assembled this short video comparing Professor Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment and Professor Kingsfield’s Harvard Law School (The Paper Chase), both of which reached their 40th anniversary this year.

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Posted in Classic Experiments, Education, Events, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Juror Bias

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 30, 2011

Jessica West recently posted her article, “12 Racist Men: Post-Verdict Evidence of Juror Bias” (Harvard Journal of Racial & Ethnic Justice, Vol. 27, p. 165, 2011) on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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Federal Evidence Rule 606(b) and similar state rules prohibit post-verdict admission of juror statements, including racist or biased remarks, made during deliberations. The roots of the evidentiary prohibition are historically deep and the interests underlying the Rule implicate the very existence of the jury system. Constitutionality of the post-verdict evidentiary exclusion is based upon the presumption that pre-trial and trial mechanisms exist to discern juror bias prior to deliberations. Empirical studies and recent cases indicate, however, that these mechanisms do not currently operate to adequately expose or remove juror biases. This article argues that the expansion of these mechanisms, including more diverse jury venires, more robust and effective juror voir dire, less discretion for parties to remove jurors on the basis of race, and the development of jury admonitions directly addressing bias, will reduce juror expressions of bias during deliberations. Even with these reforms, however, not all juror bias will be disclosed and, whether for reasons of embarrassment, inattention or intent, some jurors will misrepresent material biases during voir dire. To address juror misrepresentations during voir dire, the article proposes a narrow exception to Rule 606(b) permitting inquiry into juror bias for the purpose of showing juror misrepresentation. The article’s unique approach of combining enhanced pre-trial and trial mechanisms with a narrow exception to the rule to address juror misrepresentations strikes a balance between upholding the goals underlying Rule 606(b) and the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury.

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Download the paper for for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Law | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Milgram Experiment Yet Again (Again!)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 29, 2011

The Discovery channel’s CURIOSITY asks “How Evil Are You?” and replicates the Milgram experiment on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 9PM e/p.

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

A Neuroscience Perspective on the Financial Crises

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 28, 2011

Andrew Lo recently posted his paper “Fear, Greed, and Financial Crises: A Cognitive Neurosciences Perspective” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Historical accounts of financial crises suggest that fear and greed are the common denominators of these disruptive events: periods of unchecked greed eventually lead to excessive leverage and unsustainable asset-price levels, and the inevitable collapse results in unbridled fear, which must subside before any recovery is possible. The cognitive neurosciences may provide some new insights into this boom/bust pattern through a deeper understanding of the dynamics of emotion and human behavior. In this chapter, I describe some recent research from the neurosciences literature on fear and reward learning, mirror neurons, theory of mind, and the link between emotion and rational behavior. By exploring the neuroscientific basis of cognition and behavior, we may be able to identify more fundamental drivers of financial crises, and improve our models and methods for dealing with them.

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Download the paper for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Emotions, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Friends on the Brain

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 27, 2011

Have a lot of friends on Facebook?

Think that makes you special?

Well, researchers at University College London suggest that you might just be right.

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Facebook users with the largest number of pals had greater brain density in areas of the brain associated with social perception and associative memory.

For anyone who has been following the debate over whether technology has been changing our brains, it’s worth a read, although the research doesn’t answer the question of whether the brain differences in the sample were an effect or a cause of individuals having more online friends.

An abstract of the paper appears below:

The increasing ubiquity of web-based social networking services is a striking feature of modern human society. The degree to which individuals participate in these networks varies substantially for reasons that are unclear. Here, we show a biological basis for such variability by demonstrating that quantitative variation in the number of friends an individual declares on a web-based social networking service reliably predicted grey matter density in the right superior temporal sulcus, left middle temporal gyrus and entorhinal cortex. Such regions have been previously implicated in social perception and associative memory, respectively. We further show that variability in the size of such online friendship networks was significantly correlated with the size of more intimate real-world social groups. However, the brain regions we identified were specifically associated with online social network size, whereas the grey matter density of the amygdala was correlated both with online and real-world social network sizes. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that the size of an individual’s online social network is closely linked to focal brain structure implicated in social cognition.

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Posted in Abstracts, Life | Leave a Comment »

Zimbo at HLS Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 26, 2011

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

Race Effects on Ebay

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 24, 2011

Ian Ayres, Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji, and Christine Jolls recently posted their paper, titled “Race Effects on Ebay” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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We investigate the impact of seller race in a field experiment involving baseball card auctions on eBay. Photographs showed the cards held by either a dark-skinned/African-American hand or a light-skinned/Caucasian hand. Cards held by African-American sellers sold for approximately 20% ($0.90) less than cards held by Caucasian sellers, and the race effect was more pronounced in sales of minority player cards. Our evidence of race differentials is important because the on-line environment is well controlled (with the absence of confounding tester effects) and because the results show that race effects can persist in a thick real-world market such as eBay.

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Download the paper for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Marketing, Online Experiment | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Evil No! Heroes Yes!! (Zimbardo returns to Harvard Law)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 23, 2011

Open to the public.

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Posted in Events, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Mike Gazzaniga on the Split Brain

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 22, 2011

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

Selfishness versus Altruism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 21, 2011

From the Stanford Daily:

Individuals who act in their own self-interest are more likely to gain prestige and leadership recognition than those who exhibit altruistic characteristics, according to a recent study.

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) collaborated with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business on the report, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Robert Livingston, co-author of the study and an assistant professor at Kellogg, wrote in an email to The Daily that the collaboration between these three business schools sprung out of personal friendships and similar academic interests. He said the researchers conducted all of their three experiments at the behavioral lab at Stanford’s GSB.

“One might think that generosity would be a virtue (and selfishness a bane) for people who are aspiring to be elevated to high positions of authority and power by others,” Livingston wrote. Instead, the study found the opposite was true.

According to Livingstone, their research sought to explore how an individual’s contribution to a group would affect teammates’ perceptions of him or her. He said that individuals who more frequently acted in their self-interest achieved a greater sense of prestige within the group — even over those who contributed often to the team.

The study also asked participants — called intergroup members — to choose a leader whom they felt would be best in one of two different situations. According to the report, the situations were designed to be either more “cooperative” or “competitive” in nature.

The “cooperative” test asked intergroup members to choose a leader who would allocate resources while the “competitive” test asked the members to choose a leader who would help them in competition against a rival out-group.

“These experiments demonstrate that the leaders that people want vary as a function of the intergroup situation,” wrote Nir Halevy, co-author of the study and GSB assistant professor, in an email to The Daily. He said that the qualities teammates seek in a leader change depending on the circumstance.

Halevy also said that these findings are universally applicable and could shine more light on how a system of leadership develops, whether in offices or on the reality show “Survivor.”

He said the study also explored the relationship between those who are in an in-group and those who are in an out-group within a society.

“One interesting finding was that generosity toward out-group members does not lead to respect and admiration in the eyes of others,” Halevy said. “In fact, it led to lower levels of prestige compared to showing generosity toward in-group members only.”

Halevy added that these findings should by no means discourage people in the process of climbing the ladder to show generosity — they simply explain the behavioral tendencies of individuals operating in a competitive atmosphere.

According to Halevy, the study’s co-authors have many ideas about where to take their research next. For instance, he said the study leaves areas open for examination, such as the extent to which “aspiring leaders strategically display behaviors that can boost their prestige or dominance, depending on the group context.”


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Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Miss Representation – Premieres Tonight on OWN

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 20, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The documentary explores how the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence. It will premiere in the US tonight at 9pm ET.

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Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Entertainment, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Marketing Situation of Doritos (FTC Complaint)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 19, 2011

NPLAN filed a complaint today with the FTC today alleging that Frito-Lay has engaged in deceptive marketing to teens by disguising Doritos ads as entertainment; by collecting and using kids’ personal information in violation of its own privacy policy and without adequate disclosure about the extent and purpose of the data collection; and by engaging in viral marketing in violation of the FTC’s endorsement guidelines. Learn more about the complaint here.

These videos, which detail the advertising strategies and goals, speak for themselves.

Related Situationist posts:

For more on the situation of eating, see Situationist contributors Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosfion’s law review article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in AmericaFor a listing of numerous Situaitonist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Emotions, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Roots of Racism in Rhesus Monkeys

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 19, 2011

From Big Think:

Laura Santos on why our prejudices may be deeply ingrained in our evolutionary development.

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Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Implicit Associations, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Should Obese Airline Passengers Be Forced to Buy Two Seats?

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 18, 2011

Last week, I traveled to the University of Tulsa College of Law to give a talk on the psychology of retribution.  The faculty was extremely welcoming and I had a great time, but on the way back I found myself in a challenging situation.

Shortly after I settled into my seat, a woman asked me if I would mind switching rows with her so that she could sit with her partner.  I was happy to oblige, but when I made my way to seat 2B, I found that the arm rest was up and my seatmate in 2A was taking up half of my seat.

It wasn’t a matter of him being disrespectful.  He was just a very, very large man and he did not fit in a single seat on the small plane.  With no other seats available, I did my best to squeeze in, but it was an impossible situation and I ended up having half of my body in the aisle.

In a time when the number of obese individuals has reached a critical level, it made me wonder what Delta’s actual policy was with respect to obese passengers.

So, when I got home, I contacted the airline and was surprised to find that they actually do “not have a published policy to address this issue.”  Rather, they have a set of “guidelines” that are meant to help resolve such situations:

Based on availability, if a passenger has purchased accommodations in the main cabin, we will make every attempt to assign a large passenger a seat next to one that is vacant.  If there is not a vacant seat, we will ask a large passenger to purchase a second seat at the lowest fare class available, for their own comfort and safety.  Rule 35 (7) of our Contract of Carriage states “Delta reserves the right to refuse transport when the passenger is unable to sit in a seat with the seatbelt fastened.”

In my opinion, this is a terrible policy.  Among other things, it makes travel for the obese even more fraught with anxiety than it already is, given that obese individuals are always at risk of being refused transport if they cannot fit into a seat.   It leaves discretion in the hands of flight attendants who may or may not make optimal decisions.  And it dispositionalizes the problem of obesity by implicitly placing blame on the overweight for their condition (“You are solely responsible for making yourself fat and therefore you must literally pay the consequences in the form of buying two seats.”).  As chronicled in the situationist article Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America, this last concern may be the most serious for society as a whole.

So what is to be done?

I think that any approach ought to (1) be clear, predictable, and not subject to discretion, (2) ensure that all passengers are comfortable and safe, (3) not further stigmatize or embarrass the obese, and (4) not force any individuals to bear an undue financial burden to fly.

To me, this means that our best bet may be to construct planes with bigger seats for economy travelers.  Flying may cost more for all of us as a result, but those of us who are slim can enjoy some extra space and those of us who are larger can move about the country without feeling like pariahs.  It’s not a perfect solution, by any means, but it gets us closer to where we want to be.

Think you have a better idea?  Let’s hear it!

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Posted in Life | 1 Comment »

Responding to Law and Economics: Critiques and Alternatives

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 17, 2011

The American Constitution Society of Harvard Law School are sponsoring a panel discussion with Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson, Duncan Kennedy, and James Hackney.  Here’s a description:

Many law students find that law and economics is a pervasive and seductive way of tying legal issues to the real world. But what are its limits? And what other ways are there of thinking about the effects of law on the world? An illustrious group of panelists–James Hackney from Northeastern School of Law; and Duncan Kennedy and Jon Hanson, both from Harvard Law School–will discuss how their work provides alternative ways of thinking about law and our world.

Details: 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. in Austin West. Thai food served.

Posted in Events, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Steven Hyman on Neuroethics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 16, 2011

Vodpod videos no longer available.

From The Science Network:

Steven Hyman is Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Hyman is a former Provost of Harvard University and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Hyman also serves as Editor of the Annual Review of Neuroscience.

Posted in Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Poverty and Delinquency

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 15, 2011

Tamar Birckhead recently posted her article, “Delinquent by Reason of Poverty” (forthcoming Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 38, 2012) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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This Article, written for the 12th Annual Access to Equal Justice Colloquium, explores the disproportionate representation of low-income children in the United States juvenile justice system. It examines the structural and institutional causes of this development, beginning with the most common points of entry into delinquency court — the child welfare system, public schools, retail stores, and neighborhood police presence. It introduces the concept of needs-based delinquency, a theory that challenges basic presuppositions about the method by which children are adjudicated delinquent. It argues that at each stage of the process — from intake through adjudication to disposition and probation — the court gives as much or more weight to the perceived “needs” of the child and her family than to the quality of the evidence against her or the ability of the state to prove its case. Typical features of the juvenile code, including the procedures for intake and diversion and the use of bench rather than jury trials, combine to shift the system’s emphasis from an evaluation of a child’s criminal responsibility to an assessment of a family’s social service needs. The standard of proof, therefore, is determined in large part by the socioeconomic class of the accused rather than the nature of the forum, an orientation that lowers the state’s burden for indigent juveniles while heightening it for affluent youth. The result is that in all but the most serious of cases, children from low-income homes do not have to be as “guilty” as those from families of means in order to enter and remain in the system, thereby widening the net of court intervention for poor children.

The Article establishes that the juvenile court’s traditional focus on the needs of destitute youth continues to be reflected in the system’s practices and procedures, despite the modern court’s shift in dispositional philosophy from rehabilitation to youth accountability and public safety. It argues that this emphasis on families’ needs when adjudicating delinquency has a disproportionate effect on low-income children, resulting in high rates of recidivism and perpetuating negative stereotypes based on class. It offers strategies for confronting and reversing this trend, including data collection that records the income-level of juveniles’ parents; initiatives that raise awareness of needs-based delinquency among police, prosecutors, defenders, judges, and agency personnel; diversion programs that reduce the high rate of juvenile court adjudications for minor offenses; cross-agency mental health treatment plans for children and adolescents; and the adoption of international juvenile justice models that are preventative and diversionary rather than penal and punitive. The Article challenges the view that in tight budgetary times, court involvement is the only way for poor children to access services. It concludes by calling for lawmakers and system players to end the practice of needs-based delinquency, with the goal of increasing fairness for all youth in the juvenile justice system.

Download the article for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Law | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Online Law and Mind Experiments

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 14, 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.

Human Reasoning

A short study on human reasoning (approximately 5 minutes).

“Planet Xenon only recently developed a transport system, and hence there have only been 20 transport policies implemented to date. . . .”

Go to:


Posted in Online Experiment | Leave a Comment »

Why Threats to Social Identity Lead to Conflict

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 13, 2011

From Psychological Science:

Be it at school, office, the neighborhood or the community people live in, conflicting situations amongst various groups might arise on an almost day to day basis. Today, the prevalence of these intergroup conflicts is on the rise and has resulted in minor disagreements amongst friends to waging full scale wars between countries.

Social psychology research has always maintained that individuals often identify themselves with the social group they belong to and will bond together to defend their identity at all cost. Now, a new study published in the latest issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explains how motivation drives certain groups to behave in a particular manner.

“As a researcher in motivational processes, one thing I have learned is that people’s attitudes and behavior are more often than not driven by latent motivations that they themselves are often not aware of,” says Lile Jia who co-wrote the study along with his colleagues Samuel Karpen and Edward Hirt at Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. In this particular case study, Jia and his colleagues decided to examine if the motivation to regain a strong American group identity was partly behind the powerful opposition to building the Ground Zero Mosque in New York.

Jia and his co-authors believe that contemporary events and controversies evoke strong reactions in people because of the latent motivations that may be present due to current economic concerns and worries. According to Jia, “our case study shows that a threat to the American identity brought about by changes in the political and economic environment influences how Americans respond to the symbolic building on sacred lands by other groups.”

When conducting their research, Jia and his co-authors used a clever cover story developed by social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood. Participants, who were American citizens, read either an article describing a thriving American economy and rising international status or an article depicting a bleak picture of the American economy and a declining international status. The participants who read the article that showcased a downward spiraling American economy and international status considered this piece of information as a threat to their usually positive group identity as an American, as opposed to those who read the article that highlighted America’s positive economic trend. The results go on to demonstrate that the participants who read the article about the decline of the U.S. subsequently reported a greater opposition toward the building plan, were angrier with it, and were more likely to sign a petition against it. This is especially so for Americans who identify strongly with the country.

In the study, Jia and his co-authors state that people typically identify with their social groups along different dimensions; importance, commitment, superiority and deference. “In the context of Ground Zero Mosque, Americans who are loyal to the country on the deference dimension are especially responsive to the threat manipulation,” says Jia who explains that Americans wanted to protect the Ground Zero area from any use that might be construed as disrespectful or inappropriate.

Jia and his colleagues believe this study reemphasizes, following the footsteps of many social psychologists, the importance of motivation in understanding or explaining the reasons behind intergroup conflict. ”Future research can aim at discovering the host of common personal and group level motivations people bring to intergroup conflict. Knowing these various motivations will help us to develop intervention programs to resolve or prevent conflicts from emerging,” concludes Jia.

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Related Situationist posts:

To review a collection of posts discussing the situational sources of war:

To review a larger sample of posts on the causes and consequences of human conflict, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Politics, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Homo economicus at the Ballpark

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 12, 2011

Looking at on Monday evening, as I watched the once lowly Detroit Lions continue their strange journey to respectability, I came across a survey:

Which of these NFL teams, currently under .500, has the best chance of making the playoffs?

Eagles (1-4)

Falcons (2-3)

Jets (2-3)

Personally, I don’t think any of these teams are going to make the playoffs.  But what was fascinating about the results was that ESPN recorded the responses by state and there were stark differences as you moved around the country.  New York was the only state in the entire nation to think that the Jets had the best chance of making the playoffs, Pennsylvania had the highest percentage of votes cast for the Eagles of any jurisdiction, and the Falcons fared the best in Georgia.

This got me wondering: If humans were the rational actors of neoclassical economics would we have professional sports?

I posit that the answer is no.

Without naïve realism, optimism bias, confirmation bias, and countless other cognitive quirks, I never would have stuck with the Redskins all of these years or suffered through countless disappointing Liverpool matches and Wizards games.

Only a human being — a situational character — could have stayed a fan.

A computer would soon have decided to spend Sunday afternoons gardening or learning Spanish.

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Posted in Situationist Sports | Leave a Comment »

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