The Situationist

Archive for April, 2013

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 29, 2013

Nalini Ambady has very little time to find a bone marrow match, but you can help! Spread the word and visit for more information.

Posted in Altruism, Life | Leave a Comment »

Not Your Granparents’ Prejudice

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 26, 2013

Blind Spot Book CoverFrom NPR’s Code Switch (by Shankar Vedantam) a story about Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji and Situationist friend Tony Greenwald.

Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji was once approached by a reporter for an interview. When Banaji heard the name of the magazine the reporter was writing for, she declined the interview: She didn’t think much of the magazine and believed it portrayed research in psychology inaccurately.

But then the reporter said something that made her reconsider, Banaji recalled: “She said, ‘You know, I used to be a student at Yale when you were there, and even though I didn’t take a course with you, I do remember hearing about your work.’ “

The next words out of Banaji’s mouth: “OK, come on over; I’ll talk to you.”

After she changed her mind, got to thinking. Why had she changed her mind? She still didn’t think much of the magazine in which the article would appear. The answer: The reporter had found a way to make a personal connection.

For most people, this would have been so obvious and self-explanatory it would have required no further thought. Of course, we might think. Of course we’d help someone with whom we have a personal connection.

For Banaji, however, it was the start of a psychological exploration into the nature and consequences of favoritism — why we give some people the kind of extra-special treatment we don’t give others.

In a new book, , Banaji and her co-author, Anthony Greenwald, a social psychologist at the University of Washington, turn the conventional way people think about prejudice on its head. Traditionally, Banaji says, psychologists in her field have looked for overt “acts of commission — what do I do? Do I go across town to burn down the church of somebody who’s not from my denomination? That, I can recognize as prejudice.”

Yet, far from springing from animosity and hatred, Banaji and Greenwald argue, prejudice may often stem from unintentional biases.

Take Banaji’s own behavior toward the reporter with a Yale connection. She would not have changed her mind for another reporter without the personal connection. In that sense, her decision was a form of prejudice, even though it didn’t feel that way.

Now, most people might argue such favoritism is harmless, but Banaji and Greenwald think it might actually explain a lot about the modern United States, where vanishingly few people say they hold explicit prejudice toward others but wide disparities remain along class, and gender lines.

Anthony Greenwald is a social psychologist and a professor at the University of Washington.

Jean Alexander Greenwald/Delacorte Press

The two psychologists have revolutionized the scientific study of prejudice in recent decades, and their — which measures the speed of people’s hidden associations — has been applied to the practice of , law and other fields. Few would doubt its impact, including . (I’ve written about and Greenwald’s work before, in this and in my 2010 book, .)

“I think that kind of act of helping towards people with whom we have some shared group identity is really the modern way in which discrimination likely happens,” Banaji says.

In many ways, the psychologists’ work mirrors the conclusion of another recent book: In , sociologist asks how it is that few people report feeling racial prejudice, while the United States still has enormous disparities. Discrimination today is less about treating people from other groups badly, DiTomaso writes, and more about giving preferential treatment to people who are part of our “in-groups.”

The insidious thing about favoritism is that it doesn’t feel icky in any way, Banaji says. We feel like a great friend when we give a buddy a foot in the door to a job interview at our workplace. We feel like good parents when we arrange a class trip for our daughter’s class to our place of work. We feel like generous people when we give our neighbors extra tickets to a sports game or a show.

In each case, however, Banaji, Greenwald and DiTomaso might argue, we strengthen existing patterns of advantage and disadvantage because our friends, neighbors and children’s classmates are overwhelmingly likely to share our own racial, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. When we help someone from one of these in-groups, we don’t stop to ask: Whom are we not helping?

Banaji tells a story in the book about a friend, , now a professor at Northeastern University. . . .

Read or listen to the rest of the story here.

Related Situationist posts:

Go to Project Implicit here.  Take the Policy IAT here.

To review all of the previous Situationist posts discussing implicit associations click on the “Implicit Associations” category in the right margin, or, for a list of such posts, click here.

Learn more about the book, Blind Spot, here.

Posted in Book, Implicit Associations, Life, Marketing, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Julie Nelson – Today

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 25, 2013

Julie Nelson

Dr. Julie Nelson will speak at Harvard Law School today.  She is the Department Chair, Professor of Economics, at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  Please join us.

Julie Nelson currently conducts research on feminism and economics, with special interests in methodology and in implications for social and environmental policies. She has served as a Research Economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an Assistant and Associate Professor of Economics at the University of California-Davis, an Associate Professor of Economics at Brandeis University, a Visiting Associate Professor at Harvard University, a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard Divinity School, and as the Visiting Sowell Professor of Economics at Bates College. Nelson is the author or co-author of several books, and of articles in journals ranging from Econometrica and the Journal of Political Economy, to Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society and Ecological Economics. She is an Associate Editor of the journal Feminist Economics.  Professr Nelson is the author of Economics for Humans (2006) and Feminism, Objectivity, and Economics (1996), and co-author of several other books and textbooks. She has published many journal articles on topics which include the teaching of economics and the empirical analysis of household spending.

View Professor Nelson’s website.

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The Interior Situation of the Climate Change Skeptic

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 23, 2013

global warming from the APS Observer, an article by Situationist Contributor John T. Jost and Erin P. Hennes

A multitude of environmental scientists, among others, worry that future generations will look back at the present era as one in which the human race could have — and should have —taken decisive action to prevent (or at least mitigate) the most menacing costs associated with global climate change. According to public opinion surveys, however, only 38 percent of Americans believe that global warming will seriously affect them or their way of life (Newport, 2012), and 42 percent continue to believe that global warming claims are “generally exaggerated” (Saad, 2012). When it comes to beliefs about climate change, men are more skeptical than women, and political conservatives are more skeptical than liberals. In a Gallup survey conducted in 2010, 42 percent of men and only 30 percent of conservatives agreed that “effects of global warming are already occurring,” as compared to 56 percent of women and 74 percent of liberals (Jones, 2010; see also McCright & Dunlap, 2011).

In a recent book, the philosopher Stephen Gardiner (2011) argues that environmental inaction is the consequence of a “perfect moral storm.” Specifically, he points to the conjunction of three unfortunate causes: 1) a tendency for the richer nations of the world to foist the burden of environmental risks upon poorer nations; 2) the present generation’s temptation to defer the costs of the crisis to future generations; and 3) pervasive ignorance concerning science, ethics, international justice, and the interdependence of life. Gardiner writes that the last factor “not only complicates the task of behaving well, but also renders us more vulnerable to the first two storms” (p. 7). Gardiner provides an astute analysis of the problem of environmental inaction, but he overlooks the possibility that climate change denial may not merely result from ignorance. Rather, many members of the public may possess a relatively strong motivation to deny and minimize environmental realities. Specifically, our research team has found that the social psychological motivation to defend, bolster, and justify aspects of the status quo — what we refer to as system justification (see, e.g., Jost, Banaji, & Nosek, 2004) — contaminates the public’s understanding of anthropogenic climate change.

In research published in 2010, we discovered that individuals who score higher on Kay and Jost’s (2003) General System Justification scale (which measures responses to statements such as “Most policies serve the greater good,” and “In general, the American political system operates as it should”) exhibit greater denial of environmental problems and vulnerabilities. Furthermore, system justification statistically mediates the effects of gender and political ideology on support for the environment. That is, men and conservatives are more likely than women and liberals to believe that American society is fair and legitimate, and these differences in system justification explain, at least in part, why they are so skeptical about climate change and are reluctant to take pro-environmental action (Feygina, Jost, & Goldsmith, 2010; see also Feinberg & Willer, 2011).

More recently, we have conducted a series of studies corroborating the hypothesis that system justification motivates skepticism about climate change. Specifically, we have found that the denial of environmental problems is facilitated by information-processing distortions associated with system justification that affect evaluation, recall, and even tactile perception (Hennes, Feygina, & Jost, 2011). In one study, we found that individuals who scored higher (vs. lower) on Jost and Thompson’s (2000) Economic System Justification scale (which measures responses to such statements as “If people work hard, they almost always get what they want,” and “It is unfair to have an economic system which produces extreme wealth and extreme poverty at the same time,” reverse-scored) found messages disparaging the case for global warming to be more persuasive, evaluated the evidence for global warming to be weaker, and expressed less willingness to take action to curb global warming.

In a second study, we extended these findings by demonstrating that motivated processing biases recall of information about climate change. Specifically, we exposed research participants to clips from a televised newscast and later asked them to recall details from the program and to evaluate scientific evidence concerning climate change. Once again, we found that high system-justifiers evaluated the quality of the evidence to be weaker, were less likely to believe that climate change is occurring, and viewed it as a less important policy issue, in comparison with low system-justifiers. High system-justifiers also recalled the information to which they had been exposed as less serious (i.e., remembering smaller increases in global temperatures, lower sea levels, and less reliable historical data concerning climate change) than did low system-justifiers. Poorer recall was associated with skepticism about climate change. Thus, individuals who misremembered the evidence provided in the video to be less severe were less likely to support efforts to address climate change.

In an experimental investigation, we demonstrated that temporarily activating system-justification motivation produced memory biases and exacerbated skepticism about global climate change. More specifically, we adapted a system-dependence manipulation developed by Kay, Gaucher, Peach et al. (2009; see also Shepherd & Kay, 2012) and found that when people were led to believe that the political system exerted a strong (vs. weak) impact on their life circumstances, they were more likely to misremember details from a newspaper article they read earlier in the session. Importantly, all of the memory errors were in a system-exonerating direction: The proportion of man-made carbon emissions was recalled as being less than actually reported, and the scientists who reported errors in the much-maligned 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were misidentified as skeptics rather than believers in anthropogenic climate change (Hennes et al., 2011).

We have discovered that system-justification motivation can even affect perceptions of ambient temperature. Our research assistants approached pedestrians in New York’s Washington Square Park during the summer months and asked them a series of questions, including their estimates of the temperature outside. Individuals who scored high on system justification or who were assigned to a high system-dependence condition reported that the current temperature was significantly lower than did individuals who scored low on system justification or who were assigned to a low system-dependence condition. These findings suggest that people may be motivated to feel (or not feel) the evidence of global warming when system-justification needs are either chronically or temporarily heightened.

Berkeley physicist Richard Muller, a former skeptic of anthropogenic climate change, made headlines last summer when he declared that not only is climate change real, but that “humans are almost entirely the cause” (Muller, 2012). If catastrophic events like Hurricane Sandy become more common, they may shift hearts and minds, albeit slowly. Given economic and other crises facing the nation (many of which probably exacerbate system-justification motivation), it still remains to be seen whether Americans and their elected officials will follow suit in embracing the scientific consensus. Climate change was a non-issue during the 2012 election campaign, and President Obama (2013) was criticized resoundingly by Senator Marco Rubio and other conservatives for emphasizing the issue in his most recent State of the Union speech. Suffice it to say that neither politicians nor the voters who back them appreciate the suggestion that the opinions they hold are motivated, even in part, by social and psychological factors that are probably outside of their awareness. American society and many others have yet to find a way of allowing the facts — scientific and otherwise — to trump special interests, political posturing, and motivated reasoning when it comes to the development of public policy. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.

References and Further Reading:

Carroll, J. (2007). Public: Iraq war still top priority for President and Congress. Gallup Poll. Retrieved April 9, 2007, from

Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2011). Apocalypse soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just world beliefs. Psychological Science, 22, 34–38.

Feygina, I., Jost, J. T., & Goldsmith, R. (2010). System justification, the denial of global warming, and the possibility of “system-sanctioned change.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 36, 326–338.

Hennes, E. P., Feygina, I., & Jost, J. T. (2011). Motivated evaluation, recall, and tactile perception in the service of the system: The case of anthropogenic climate change. Paper presented at the Princeton University Conference on Psychology and Policymaking, Princeton, NJ.

Jones, J. M. (2010). Conservatives’ doubts about global warming grow. Gallup Poll. Retrieved August 14, 2012, from

Jost, J. T., Banaji, M. R., Nosek, B. A. (2004). A decade of system justification theory: Accumulated evidence of conscious and unconscious bolstering of the status quo. Political Psychology, 25, 881–919.

Jost, J. T., & Thompson, E. P. (2000). Group-based dominance and opposition to equality as independent predictors of self-esteem, ethnocentrism, and social policy attitudes among African Americans and European Americans. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 209–232.

Kay, A. C., & Jost, J. T. (2003). Complementary justice: Effects of “poor but happy” and “poor but honest” stereotype exemplars on system justification and implicit activation of the justice motive. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 823–837.

McCright, A. M., & Dunlap, R. E. (2011). Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States. Global Environmental Change, 21, 1163–1172.

Muller, R. A. (2012, July 30). The conversion of a climate-change skeptic. New York Times, p. A19.

Newport, F. (2012). Amercans’ worries about global warming up slightly. Gallup Poll. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from

Obama, B. (2012). State of the union address. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from

Saad, L. (2012). In U.S., global warming views steady despite warm winter. Gallup Poll. Retrieved January 28, 2013, from

Shepherd, S., & Kay, A. C. (2012). On the perpetuation of ignorance: System dependence, system justification, and the motivated avoidance of sociopolitical information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 264–80.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Environment, Ideology, Politics, Public Policy, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | 2 Comments »

Frontier Torts Website

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 21, 2013

Frontier Torts Logo

Announcing the Frontier Torts Website

In the fall of 2012, the 80 first-year Harvard Law students in Section 6 researched, discussed, debated, and proposed policy solutions to several important policy problems:

  1. Football Concussions
  2. Native American Alcoholism (in Whiteclay, Nebraska)
  3. Bullying

Their work was heavily influenced by situationism and should be of particular interest to readers of this blog. You can learn more about the project, view presentations, and download white papers at the Frontier Torts website.

Posted in Pedagogy | Leave a Comment »

Posts on the Situation of Evil

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2013

Evil Disposition

For readers interested in previous posts about the situation of evil behavior, here are links to a sample:

Posted in Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Confronting Evil Conference – postponed

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2013

Confronting Evil_0

In what is horrible irony, today’s session of the Confronting Evil Conference has been postponed until tomorrow morning at 8:30. Harvard University is itself closed because of the ongoing public safety situation. Regarding the conference, please check here for further updates.

Confronting Evil Poster

Confronting Evil Poster

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The Boston Bombings and the Cognitive Limits of Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

From Situationist friend and Harvard Law School 3L, Kate Epstein, an essay about Monday’s tragedy:

As I hear reactions to the bombings at the marathon on Monday, I find myself agreeing with Glenn Greenwald’s column in The Guardian, titled “The Boston bombing produces familiar and revealing reactions: As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge.” Particularly interesting to me are our cognitive limits, as humans, when it comes to empathy. Greenwald writes:

The widespread compassion for yesterday’s victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid.

I felt the same way in the aftermath of Monday’s events, but I can also empathize with those who do care more–or at least feel it in a more real way–when the victims of a random act of violence are white, close to home, and so obviously innocent. “They, unlike the countless non-white, non-American casualties of the War on Terror, are– for me and many around me–part of our in-group, and our minds actually function in a way that makes us much more easily empathize with them.”

Studies have shown that parts of our brain associated with empathy and emotion are more likely to be activated when we observe someone of our own race, as opposed to an out-group member, in pain. This makes sense given research on unconscious bias using implicit association tests, which have been shown to predict real-life behavior outside of the lab.

The good news is that our automatic attitudes are sometimes malleable. Awareness of the differences between our egalitarian values and our implicit attitudes can induce emotional reactions that can motivate behavioral changes and help us be the empathetic and altruistic people we hope to be. On the other hand, lack of awareness combined with an inundation of negative images and stereotypes from commercial media and popular culture can reinforce implicit biases, underscoring the need for education and self-awareness.

In a world with so much violence and pain, it makes sense that we simply could not feel deeply empathetic every time a human being is injured or killed. We rightly feel intense moral outrage that someone would senselessly harm innocent people gathered in Boston yesterday, and yet we do not so easily empathize with victims of drone strikes in Pakistan, most of whom see the bombings as just as random and senseless, against victims just as innocent.

We should forgive ourselves for exhibiting these cognitive limits–after all, we are only human. But we should recognize, in these moments when we do so easily feel sorrow, anger, and compassion, those events which do not normally elicit those emotions, and force ourselves to grapple with the consequences of that fact. When we read dry, mundane news reports about human suffering, when we (rarely) hear body counts of the War on Terror (such as the estimated 122,000 violent, civilian deaths in Iraq thus far), when we are made aware of the latest unnamed drone victims in North Waziristan, let’s try to channel the empathy events like this make us feel, and then let’s turn that empathy into action.

Related Situationist posts:

The Situationist has a series of posts devoted to highlighting some of situational sources of war. Part I and Part II of the series included portions of an article co-authored by Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon, titled “Why Hawks Win.” Part III reproduced an op-ed written by Situationist friend Dan Gilbert on July 24, 2006. Part IV and Part V in this series contained the two halves of an essay written by Situationist Contributor, Jon Hanson within the week following 9/11. Part VI contains an op-ed written by Situationist Contributor John Jost on October 1, 2001, “Legitimate Responses to Illegitimate Acts,” which gives special emphasis to the role of system justification. Part VII includes a video entitled “Resisting the Drums of War.” The film was created and narrated by psychologist Roy J. Eidelson, Executive Director of the Solomon Asch Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

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

Posted in Altruism, Conflict, Emotions, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | 2 Comments »

Frontier Tort – Selling Beer in Whiteclay

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 15, 2013

Alcoholism Cover Small

At Harvard Law School in the fall of 2012, the 80 students in Professor Hanson’s situationist-orient torts class participated in an experimental group project in their first-year torts class. The project required students to research, discuss, and write a white paper about a current policy problem for which tort law (or some form of civil liability) might provide a partial solution.  Their projects, presentations, and white papers were informed significantly by the mind sciences. You can read more about those projects, view the presentations, and download the white papers at the Frontier Torts website.

One of the group projects involved the sale of alcohol to members of the Oglala Sioux in Whiteclay Nebraska outside the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Here’s the Executive Summary of the white paper.

Native American Alcoholism: A Frontier Tort

Executive Summary

Since its introduction into Native American communities by European colonists, alcohol has plagued the members of many tribes to a disastrous extent. The Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge have especially suffered from alcoholism, enabled and encouraged by liquor stores just outside the reservation’s borders. Despite the complexities of this situation, media outlets have often reduced it to a pitiable image of dirty, poor Native Americans, degraded by the white man’s vice.

Upon further analysis, however, it becomes evident that there are a variety of factors influencing the situation of Native American alcoholism. While neurobiological, psychological, and genetic factors are often thought to offer plausible internal situational explanations as to why Native Americans suffer so much more potently from this disease than the rest of the nation, high levels of poverty in Native American communities, a traumatic and violent history, and informational issues compound as external situational factors that exacerbate the problem.

Unfortunately, the three major stakeholders in this situation (the alcohol industry, the State of Nebraska, and the Native Americans) have conflicting interests, tactics, and attribution modes that clash significantly in ways that have prevented any meaningful resolution from being reached. However, there are a variety of federal, state, and tribal programs and initiatives that could potentially resolve this issue in a practical way, so long as all key players agree to participate in a meaningful, collaborative effort.

The key to implementation of these policy actions is determining who should bear the costs they require: society as a whole through the traditional federal taxes, the alcohol companies through tort litigation, or the individuals who purchase the alcohol through an alcohol sales tax. Ultimately, an economic analysis leads to the conclusion that liability should be placed upon the alcohol companies and tort litigation damages should fund the suggested policy initiatives.

You can watch the related presentations and download the white paper here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, History, Marketing, Morality, Neuroscience, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Deep Capture Conference! – Tomorrow (Saturday)

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2013

2013 Conference Header

On April 13, 2013 the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and the National Lawyers Guild are co-hosting a conference titled “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law” at Harvard Law School.  Details here.

Here is the information about our speakers:


Noam Chomsky is the Institute Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT. He has not only made groundbreaking discoveries and insights in the field of linguistics, but has also become one of the most articulate and passionate critics of American foreign policy in the 20th and 21st centuries. He has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, propaganda, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy, and is the co-author with Edward S. Herman of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988). He has been called “the most important intellectual alive today,” one of the “makers of the 20th century,” and “the foremost gadfly of our national conscience.”


Stuart Ewen is the Distinguished Professor of History and Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center and of Film and Media Studies at Hunter College. He is the author of influential books on the history of consumer society, visual culture, propaganda and modernity, including PR! A Social History of Spin, All Consuming Images: On the Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture and, with Elizabeth Ewen, Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness and Typecasting: On the Arts & Sciences of Human Inequality.

Francesca Gino

Francesca Gino is an associate professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. She is also formally affiliated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School and with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard. Her research focuses on judgment and decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, productivity, and creativity. Her studies have been featured in The Economist, The New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and The Wall Street Journal, and her work has been discussed on National Public Radio and CBS Radio.


Sut Jhally is Professor of Communication at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation (MEF). He is one of the world’s leading scholars looking at the role played by advertising and popular culture in the processes of social control and identity construction. The author of numerous books and articles on media (including The Codes of Advertising and Enlightened Racism), he is also an award-winning teacher. He is best known as the producer and director of a number of films and videos (including Dreamworlds: Desire/Sex/Power in Music Video; Tough Guise: Media, Violence and the Crisis of Masculinity; and Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire) that deal with issues ranging from gender, sexuality and race to commercialism, violence and politics. Born in Kenya, raised in England, educated in graduate studies in Canada, he currently lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Jon Hanson

Jon Hanson is the Alfred Smart Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he has taught since 1992 and won several teaching awards. His scholarship melds social psychology, social cognition, economics, history, and law. Ten years ago Hanson and David Yosifon identified the problem of “deep capture” in their article, The Situation: An Introduction to the Situational Character, Critical Realism, Power Economics, and Deep Capture, 152 U. Penn. L. Rev. 129 (2003) (download here). Hanson’s recent scholarship includes the 2012 book, Ideology, Psychology, and Law (Oxford University Press, website). Hanson is the Director of The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School and a co-creator and a contributor to The Situationist blog (both accessible at


Susan Linn is an Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She has written extensively about the effects of media and commercial marketing on children. Her articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post and her commentaries can be heard on NPR’s Marketplace. Her books include Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood and The Case for Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World. Dr. Linn is a co-founder and director of the national coalition Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In 2000, she was appointed to the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Advertising to Children. She has been featured on Sixty Minutes, Now with Bill Moyers, World News Tonight, Dateline, and in the acclaimed film, The Corporation.


Thomas McGarity is a leading scholar in the fields of administrative law, environmental law, and torts. He has written six influential books, including his most recent, Freedom to Harm: The Lasting Legacy of the Laissez Faire Revival (Yale University Press, 2013). While in academia, McGarity has served as a consultant and/or advisor to many federal and state agencies. Professor McGarity has been an active participant in efforts to improve health, safety and environmental quality in the United States. He has testified before many congressional committees on environmental, administrative law, preemption of state tort laws in cases involving medical devices, and occupational safety and health issues.


Michael Niman is a Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Buffalo State College and a syndicated columnist whose work has earned him two Project Censored awards. Niman, a trained ethnographer, is author of People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia, an ethnography of a nomadic utopian society stemming from qualitative research conducted in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Minnesota, Vermont, Missouri, New York, California and Quebec, Canada. Niman’s research agenda currently focuses on propaganda, the impact of consumer culture, temporary autonomous zones, nonviolent conflict resolution and nonhierarchical societies and movements. Niman formerly worked as a journalist based in Costa Rica and has conducted fieldwork around the world. Niman is the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.


John Stauber is the founder of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the only public interest and journalism organization dedicated to exposing organized corporate and government propaganda and its impacts on democracy, public information and democratic social change. He is an independent investigative writer, activist and a consultant, and has co-authored six books, including his 1995 tour de force Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry and the 2003 New York Times bestseller Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq. He has begun or worked with many public interest and community groups over the past four decades.

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | 1 Comment »

Tom McGarity – Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 12, 2013


Posted in Events | 1 Comment »

Tony Greenwald Wins the William James Fellow Award

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2013

Anthony Greenwald by Joshua Besses

From the Washington Daily (an article about Situationist friend Tony Greenwald):

Even though a black man sits in the White House, and a gay woman legislates in the Senate, according to nearly two decades of research by a professor of psychology at the UW, Anthony Greenwald, most people are racially, ethnically, religiously, or sexually biased.

In 1995, Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and uncovered this disturbing truth.

Last week, for this contribution to the field of scientific psychology, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) announced they would present the William James Fellow Award to Greenwald at the APS’s 25th anniversary celebration.

When the test was first developed, Greenwald said he began administering the IAT on UW undergraduate students from psychology classes — and the results were shocking. The test revealed the majority of students, especially caucasians and asians, showed an “automatic white preference.”

Since then the test has been tweaked, improved, and used in contemporary instances. Greenwald analyzed election results with the IAT.

“We found that Obama suffered by being black,” Greenwald said. “He got fewer votes because of race biases.”

Greenwald explained the IAT tries to tease out hidden associations made by our unconscious. It accomplishes this by measuring the time it takes our brain to sort words and images.

Researchers can discover how closely a participant’s brain instinctively links various words with a particular set of images by measuring the average time it takes participants to sort these objects.

During the IAT, a computer flashes either a word or picture at subjects who are asked to either move the word or picture to the right or left.

The words that appear are either pleasant, like “Joy,” “Love,” and “Peace,” or unpleasant, like “Agony,” “Terrible,” and “Horrible”; depending on the social preferences researchers want to test, the pictures belong to either of two categories. In the race version of the experiment, the pictures depict either European American or African American faces.

In the first round of the race IAT, participants are asked to sort the photos of African Americans together with positive words to the right and European Americans with negative words to the left. In the second round, the test now prompts participants to group African American faces with negative words and European Americans with positive.

Participants perform the sorting that aligns with their implicit mental connections faster than the one that does not. So by measuring the time it takes participants to complete both rounds of the IAT, researchers can discover subject’s underlying mental racial biases.

Greenwald said at first even he was skeptical of the test and the consequences of its conclusions.

“It was quite a while before I was willing to say this is a measure that people have in their heads a stronger association between racial white and pleasant and racial black and pleasant,” Greenwald said.

But Greenwald cautioned an over-interpretation of the IAT.

“[The IAT] doesn’t measure prejudice or racism,” Greenwald said. “Those imply hostility and harmful behavior. But it does measure a racial preference, and we think that preference can be significant socially.”

Similarly, UW psychology professor Geoff Boynton clarified that the IAT cannot sniff out prejudiced people that harbor hatred or ill intent for minorities.

“These are just quick decisions that the brain makes based on prior information that have biases,” Boynton said.

Greenwald said this understanding of the mind goes against decades of traditional scientific wisdom. He said that 30 years ago most scientific psychologists figured human behavior was determined by explicit, conscious thought. The IAT helped to disprove this naive view of the mind.

However, the idea of a subconscious is not new. Sigmund Freud revolutionized the field of clinical psychology by breaking down the human mind into the id, ego, and super-ego. But Boynton said the way modern psychology views subliminal cognition “is not such a fluffy idea having to do with your mother or something like that.”

Rather, professor emeritus of psychology Earl Hunt explained that the contemporary view of cognition is more analogous to a man trying to ride an elephant.

“The rider is our conscious cognition, fairly slow, deliberate, considers things,” Hunt said. “The elephant is our unconscious, a very quick gut feeling that we may not even be aware of. The rider is trying to keep the elephant on task …  but the problem is the elephant is really stupid.”

Hunt said the elephant, or human unconscious, reacts to emotions or statistical associations. He said, “The genius of the IAT lies in its ability to put the rider and elephant in conflict.”

Greenwald borrowed the stroop effect from biological psychology to create this tension between the deliberate conscious and the implicit subconscious.

In a 1935 paper, American psychologist John Stroop described how it took longer for individuals to read the name of a color if the name and the color font did not match: for example, the word “red” written in blue font. This is called the stroop effect.

“What [Greenwald] did was very creative,” Hunt said. “He looked at occurrence and a logic that was developed for a completely separate field, and he realized it could be applied in the social-psychological realm. That’s creative.”

UW professor of psychology Geoffrey Loftus had more kind words to add about Greenwald’s attitude toward scientific research.

“I’ve known him for probably 30 years,” Loftus said. “He thinks a great deal about scientific methodology, statistics, and data analysis, and he’s very sophisticated in these areas. He’s extremely proficient and extremely highly regarded as both a researcher and a mentor to his graduate students.”

This hard work and scientific dedication has helped him win the William James Fellow Award.

Greenwald said he was grateful to receive the recognition but noted, “Oh, I’m too old to be excited by this.”

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Awards, Implicit Associations | Leave a Comment »

2013 PLMS Conference – Save the Date!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2013

2013 Conference Header

On April 13, 2013 the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and the National Lawyers Guild are co-hosting a conference titled “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law” at Harvard Law School. For more information, visit the conference website here.

Here’s a draft of the day’s schedule.

Tentative Schedule

9:30 am – Coffee, tea, and pastries

9:50 – 10:10 – Welcome

10:15 – 10:40 – Noam Chomsky

10:50 – 11:15 – Francesca Gino

“Getting Sidetracked: How we are vulnerable to manipulation”

Subtle and seemingly irrelevant factors often influence our behavior in ways we fail to anticipate. In this talk, Francesca Gino will discuss a few of these factors and explain how they could be used strategically by others to change people’s behavior.

11:20 – 11:45 – Susan Linn

“The Deepest Capture: Children, Commercialism and the Corporate Take Over of Childhood”

We are all vulnerable to marketing but given their immature judgment and developing brains, children are even more vulnerable. The consequences of screen-saturated, commercialized childhood are dire for the health of children, the environment, and democracy—marketing sells habits and behaviors as well as products. Susan Linn describes the depth and breadth of the “kids market” and why the movement to reclaim childhood from corporate marketers is so important.

11:50 – 12:05 Q&A


12:35 – 1:00 – Stuart Ewen

“The Phantom of Certitude: Public Relations and the Algorithmic Conception of Life”

In his 1948 essay, “The Engineering of Consent,” Edward Bernays wrote, “Freedom of speech and its democratic corollary, a free press, have tacitly expanded our Bill of Rights to include the right of persuasion.” In this statement, he was only echoing a view that he had been promoting for the preceding twenty-five years, that the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses” was essential to the functioning of a “democratic society.” In this presentation, Stuart Ewen will discuss the ways that compliance professionals’ ongoing efforts to guide and regulate the public mind have mirrored—and continue to mirror—parallel scientific efforts to “control chaos” in a variety spheres, and to produce mechanistic or computational models of life that seek to transform perception- and behavior-management into a predictive natural science. The profoundly anti-democratic intentions and consequences of these trends stand the heart of this presentation. So too stand the bedeviling questions: Is democracy still possible? and What is to be done?

1:05 – 1:30 – Michael Niman

“Journalism in a PR World”

Mike Niman discusses the future of journalism in a PR-dominated communication environment. In particular, he examines the migration of talent from journalism to the PR industry, the collapse of mainstream journalism and the role of an emergent alternative media as American journalism goes through metamorphosis from what it was to what it could become. Journalism is a social good that should equip people to understand and resist spin. Niman argues that mainstream American journalism, rather than rising to this challenge, has transparently succumbed to serving as an arm of the corporate PR industry, thus laying the groundwork for its own irrelevance and collapse. From these ashes, he argues, a new alternative media is emerging, combining the communication skills of the PR industry with a long stubborn tradition of critical inquiry and muckraking.

1:35 – 2:00 – Sut Jhally

“Public Relations and War”

2:05 – 2:20 – Q&A

2:20 – 2:35 – Break

2:35 – 3:00 – John Stauber

“Myth America: How the Ruling Elite – Red and Blue – Prevent Democracy”

The myth of American democracy keeps alive the two-party system wholly owned and operated by the ruling 1% whose primary objective is increasing their wealth and maintaining the status quo. Over the past ten years the liberal Democratic Party elite has copied the propaganda and political tactics of the right wing — think tanks, echo chamber media, rabid partisan grassroots and dark money SuperPacs. Rich Democrats and liberal foundations are just as committed to preventing democracy as are the Koch brothers. Seeing through this veil is crucial to organizing any independent, democratic movements for fundamental, structural change.

3:05 – 3:30 – Thomas McGarity

“Freedom to Harm: The Lasting Legacy of the Laissez Faire Revival”

Professor McGarity will tell the story of how the business community and the trade associations and think tanks that it created launched three powerful assaults during the last quarter of the twentieth century on the federal regulatory system and the state civil justice system to accomplish a revival of the laissez faire political economy that dominated Gilded Age America. Although the consequences of these assaults became painfully apparent in a confluence of crises during the early twenty-first century, the patch-and-repair fixes that Congress and the Obama Administration put into place did little to change the underlying laissez faire ideology and exploitative practices that continue to dominate the American political economy. In anticipation of the next confluence of crises, Professor McGarity offers suggestions for more comprehensive governmental protections for consumers, workers, and the environment.

3:35 – 4:00 – Jon Hanson

“Deep Capture: Attributions, Ideologies, and Policy”

4:05 – 4:20 – Q&A

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | Leave a Comment »

Adrian Raine on the Anatomy of Violence – SALMS Talk Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 4, 2013

Adrian Raine violence

The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime
When: Thursday 4/4/13 12-1pm
Where: WCC 1010

Why do some innocent kids grow up to become cold-blooded serial killers? Is bad biology partly to blame? Professor Adrian Raine (UPenn) will discuss his research on the biological roots of violence and neurocriminology, a new field that applies neuroscience techniques to investigate the causes and cures of crime.

Professor Raine has a book to be released on April 30, 2013 with the same title as well as a TV show inspired by his book!

Lunch will be provided.

Posted in Book, Events, SALMS | Leave a Comment »

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2013

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Social psychologists have launched an international campaign to save the life of Nalini Ambady, a Stanford University social psychologist and Situationist friend who is battling leukemia and urgently needs a bone marrow transplant. To find out what you can do, visit Help Nalini Now.  Please also read Sam Sommers post: Point. Click. Save this Woman’s Life.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment »

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