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Situationism in the Blogosphere – September 2009, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 12, 2009

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during September 2009 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From Brain Blogger: “Religion – A “Natural” Phenomenon?”

“All human societies have some phenomenon that can be described as religion. It is difficult to understand why religion is so pervasive in human culture. Some theories suggest that religion is a byproduct of evolution. However, no other animal group has anything that even remotely resembles the concept that has been labeled as religion in anthropology.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “Political activism is good for you”

“Aristotle argued that we’re political animals at heart and that active involvement in society fulfils a basic human need. It’s an idea that’s been rediscovered recently by psychologists interested in well-being and human flourishing. Now the positive psychologists Malte Klar and Tim Kasser have provided some tentative evidence that activists are happier than non-activists.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “Physiognomy redux? Link found between facial appearance and aggression”

“Physiognomy – inferring personality traits from facial features – was outlawed by King George II in 1743, and has for many years been dismissed as a pseudoscience. However, modern research is showing not only that observers readily make inferences about other people’s traits based on their facial appearance, but that these inferences are often highly accurate.” Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “We’re more likely to behave ethically when we see”

“[…] So it appears that all three of our initial questions about why we cheat play into real-world cheating. We’re influenced by our chances of getting caught, by how much attention we’re paying to the ethical issues involved, and whether or not people like us are doing it. And we reserve special disdain for our rivals, taking care not to behave in the unethical ways they do. Perhaps if the University of Chicago wants to cut down on theft in their cafeteria, what they really need to do is point out how often those unethical Northwestern students steal silverware.” Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “Does rewarding altruism squelch it?”

“Imagine your neighbor has a dog that regularly escapes her yard. One day you see the dog escape and return it to her. She thanks you by giving you a piece of delicious home-made apple pie. This happens several days in a row. Then one day when you return the dog, there’s no pie, no thanks, and no explanation. Would you return the dog the next time it escapes?” Read more . . .


For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.


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Situationism in the Blogosphere – August 2009, Part III

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 29, 2009

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during August 2009 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From Neuronarrative: “Dishonesty and Emotion have a Stronger Link than We Think”

“We normally associate acting dishonestly with causing harm to others, but it’s also quite possible that a dishonest act can help someone, […].  Under what conditions we’re prone to act dishonestly to hurt or help another is what a new study in the journal Psychological Science investigated.” Read more . . .

From Orgtheory: “Framing Health Care Reform”

“The big problem with health care reform, as Surowiecki sees it, is that its proponents framed the reform as an attempt to cut costs. This framing automatically invoked the loss aversion biases of the general public. It didn’t help that reform opponents latched on to the bias and have milked it for all its worth.” Read more . . .

From Overcoming Bias: “Moral Rules Are To Check Power”

“Three recent papers from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology combine to tell an interesting tale:  We fundamentally care about outcomes, but have rule morality to keep powerful folks from doing bad things to the rest of us.  This is of course not a new idea, but new data offers new support.” Read more . . .

From PsyBlog: “Why Groups Fail to Share Information Effectively”

“In 1985 Stasser and Titus published the best sort of psychology study. Not only does it shine a new light on how groups communicate and make decisions, it also surprises, confuses and intrigues. Oddly, the results first look as if they can’t be right, then later it seems obvious they are right, then attention turns to what can be done about it.” Read more . . .


For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – August 2009 Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 22, 2009

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during August 2009 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From Frontal Cortex: “Health Insurance”

“Why do people buy insurance? On the one hand, the act of purchasing insurance is an utterly rational act, dependent on the uniquely human ability to ponder counterfactuals in the distant future. What if my a fire destroyed my house? What if my new car got totaled? What if I get cancer and require expensive medical treatments? We take this cognitive skill for granted, but it’s actually profoundly rare.” Read more . . .

From Garden of Forking Paths: “Consciousness, control and responsibility”

“I thought Gardeners might have fun grappling with a recent paper by Christopher Suhler and Patricia Churchland, […]. They argue against what they call the “Frail Control” hypothesis advanced by philosophers such as John Doris, which has it that people are far less in control than they suppose, given the influence of unconscious situational factors (lots of experimental data on this). Instead, Suhler and Churchland say that we should expand our notion of responsibility-conferring control to include unconscious and automatic processes, which they point out are robust, ubiquitous, “smart,” and essential for effective behavior.” Read more . . .

From Mind Hacks: “Placebo has strength in numbers”

“The term ‘placebo effect’ is used to refer to two things in the medical literature. The first is a statistical concept and it refers to the improvement in patients given an inactive treatment in a drug trial in comparison to those given the actual drug. The second is a psychological concept and it refers to improvement due to expectancy and belief. If you’re not sure how these are different, you may be surprised to learn that you don’t need a mind to demonstrate the placebo effect – in fact, even rocks can show it.” Read more . . .

From Neuronarrative: “I Must Be Guilty – the Video Says So”

“A minor landslide of research from the past few years points to a dismaying fact about memory — it can be manipulated, far more often and extensively than previously thought. One implication of this realization is that eyewitness testimony, a stanchion of our criminal justice system, is no longer beyond reproach. Another is that in a world dominated by endlessly plyable electronic media, you can never be 100% sure that what you’re seeing is what really happened.” Read more . . .

From Neuronarrative: “Judgments Get Heavy When Weight is on Your Mind”

“Over the course of multiple experiments, researchers investigated whether judgments of importance are tied to an experience of weight.” Read more . . .


For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – August 2009

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 15, 2009

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Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during August 2009 (they are listed in alphabetical order by source).

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From BPS Research Digest: “Talking about art can alter our appreciation of it”

“Representational paintings are realistic, with content that can be easily talked about. Abstract art, by contrast, is less grounded in reality and more tricky to talk about. The results showed that verbalising their responses to the paintings appeared to distort the participants’ subsequent preferences.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “How to turn a liberal into a conservative”

“For people who feel psychologically all at sea, the conservative values of authority, order and tradition provide a comforting anchor. That’s according to psychologists who further argue that a psychological threat, for example in the form of injustice or reminders of mortality, can even turn a liberal-minded person temporarily into a conservative – a response they call “defensive conservatism” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest: “Intervention helps reduce homophobia”

“A problem with interventions that use role-playing to beat prejudice is that bigots usually aren’t motivated to take the perspective of the groups that they discriminate against. In a new study, Gordon Hodson and colleagues have tested the effectiveness of an unusual alien-themed intervention for reducing homophobia that involves participants taking the perspective of a homosexual person, without really realising that that is what they’re doing.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology: “The Social Construction of Sex: Intersex as Evidence”

“In our society we take for granted that sex has only two categories: male and female. We learn in school that sex is caused or created by chromosomes, XX for females and XY for males. We assume that the typical path is that those sex categories create bodies with male or female characteristics. We teach in sociology classes that we then socially construct or build gender on top of the sex assignment based on those body characteristics. All of this is founded upon the premise that sex has just those two categories. We tend to ignore the facts about sex that suggest that sex itself is also a socially constructed category.” Read more . . .

From Experimental Philosophy: “Blame, Praise and the Structure of Legal Rules”

“For now, I would like to post a draft of my contribution to the conference.  Its argument is that the asymmetry between the attribution of intent for positive and negative side effects is the result of different baseline assumptions that we have for the states of mind that accompany good and bad outcomes.” Read more . . .


For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The Law and Neuroscience Blog

Posted by Thomas Nadelhoffer on July 24, 2009

Greetings!  I just wanted to let the readers of The Situationist know that the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project recently launched The Law and Neuroscience Blog.


Needless to say, we are excited about it.    In addition to posting updates concerning the various research projects being carried out by the members of our two main networks–namely, Legal Decision Making (LDM) and Criminal Responsibility and Prediction (CRP)–we will also try to provide readers with helpful links to more general developments at the cross-roads of neuroscience, law, and philosophy.  Hopefully, we will hear from some of you in the comment threads soon!

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – February Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 27, 2009

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during February 2009. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From 3 Quarks Daily: “Stephen Daldry’s The Reader

“Alan Stone in the Boston Review:  The power of The Reader, however, is that it is psychologically believable. Schlink’s book is written in short chapters; each offers at least one telling psychological insight about dreams, about memory, about the disconnect between what I do and what I am. Schlink subtly raises the vexing and intriguing problem of responsibility and agency early in the novel.” Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “Smells — even smells we don’t notice — affect our judgment of others”

“We know from studies on subliminal images and sounds that even when we’re not conscious of these things, they can affect our judgments and actions. But researchers have had difficulty finding any effect of odors that we can’t consciously identify. A team led by Wen Li saw procedural problems in those early studies: An odor that one person can’t detect might still be obvious to someone else. Even the same individual might perceive an odor sometimes and not others (“I thought I smelled smoke, officer!”). Read more . . .

From Cognitive Daily: “The words you can’t ignore, even if you see them for 1/10 of a second”

“One of stand-up comic George Carlin’s most famous routines was the seven words you can’t say on TV (obviously, not safe for work). He repeated the words over and over, and it was hilarious — especially back in the days before most people had cable. These days we’ve become desensitized to those words, and it’s hardly surprising any more to see them laced into casual conversation.  Or is it?” Read more . . .

From Dr. X’s Free Associations: “Bad Faith or Partisan Blindness on the Right?

“Sullivan says it’s bad faith: This Manzi post would be their argument going forward. Here’s why they are not being intellectually honest, and Manzi’s post includes the relevant facts. The GOP has passed what amounts to a spending and tax-cutting and borrowing stimulus package every year since George W. Bush came to office. They have added tens of trillions to future liabilities and they turned a surplus into a trillion dollar deficit – all in a time of growth. They then pick the one moment when demand is collapsing in an alarming spiral to argue that fiscal conservatism is non-negotiable. I mean: seriously.” Read more . . .

From Dr. X’s Free Associations: “The Real Media Bias”

“Eric Zorn argues that the real media bias is against complexity: Like a lot of other Illinois journalists, I’ve just spent the best part of the last year rhetorically pounding the stuffing out of the very white Rod Blagojevich and taking regular whacks at the disgraceful demagoguery of the similarly pasty John McCain. At the same time I was getting slapped around by detractors for allegedly going too easy on African-American candidate, now President Barack Obama.” Read more . . .

From Dr. X’s Free Associations: “What Systems Theory Says About Change

“Corpus Callosum comments on all the fussing: One peculiar irony of the 2008 Presidential campaign is that McCain’s theme was “maverick,” and Obama’s was “change.”  Those are different expressions of the same idea: do things differently… Those who study family dynamics are familiar with what happens in a social system when someone tries to change.  Essentially, the person who is initiating change is told it is wrong.  Then he is told to revert to the old ways (change back!), then he is warned of dire consequences.  Also, the others attempt to enlist additional parties as allies against the agent of change (this is called triangulation)… This occurs even among others who wanted the change, who welcome the change, and who think it is a good idea.”  Read more . . .

From Deliberations: “Sometimes It’s Hard to be a Woman

“Being a woman is a negative, all other things being equal, but all other things are never equal.” That’s me talking, and I can explain.  I was quoted last month in an article by Nora Tooher in Lawyers USA about challenges women lawyers face in the courtroom.  (The article was inspired by Elizabeth Parks-Stamm’s article in the November issue of The Jury Expert about how female jurors respond to successful women; Nora found me because I wrote a short comment to Ms. Parks-Stamm’s article for TJE.)” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – February 2009

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 20, 2009

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during February 2009. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From 3 Quarks Daily: “Amazonian Indigenous Culture Demonstrates a Universal Mapping of Numbers onto Space

“The ability to map numbers onto a line, a foundation of all mathematics, is universal, says a study published this week in the journal Science, but the form of this universal mapping is not linear but logarithmic. The findings illuminate both the nature and the limits of the human predisposition to measurement, a foundation for science, engineering, and much of our modern culture.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest blog: Would you give way at the photocopier?

“Back in the 70’s, a classic study (PDF) showed that people using a photocopier were just as likely to give way to a line-pusher who gave the nonsense excuse “because I need to make copies”, as they were to one who gave the more sensible excuse “because I’m in a rush”. Ellen Langer and colleagues interpreted their finding as showing how mindless we often are. As soon as we hear the word “because”, we assume the excuse that follows is justified and respond accordingly. Now Scott Key and colleagues have replicated this classic study, with the further aim of finding out if some personality types are more likely than others to give way.” Read more . . .

From International Cognition and Culture Institute: “Are dogs (and chimps) really inequity-averse?

“It seems that the closer animals are to humans, the easier it will be to explain the human phenomenon.  But it may not help social and cognitive scientists to go too far too fast. Five years ago, Brosnan and de Waal did a similar experiment with capuchins and then chimps. They showed that capuchins and chimps refuse a reward if another individual gets more for the same task. However, this does not show that monkeys are averse to inequity, only that they reject a lesser reward when better rewards are available (see also here and here).”  Read more . . .

From Sam Sommers Psychology Today blog: “Purple Tunnel of Personality?

“. . . . An intriguing hypothesis, that the ocupation, and perhaps more importantly, the personal disposition of the individuals in this crowd explained their behavior that morning. It’s an intuitively appealing hypothesis as well: it seems logical that had the tunnel been filled with professional wrestlers, Baltimore Ravens defensemen, or gubernatorial candidates from Illinois, the outcome might not have been so peaceful.  Or does it? Four decades ago, in a study that has become one of the most famous in all of psychology, John Darley and Daniel Batson wanted to test this very question, to assess the relative importance of predisposition and social context in shaping pro-social behavior.” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

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Situationism in the News

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 16, 2009


Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of the Situationist news items of February 2009. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From Boston Globe: “Aging has its benefits

“In the 1973 film “The Way We Were,” Barbra Streisand sings a haunting ballad about memories and aging. “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget,” the song goes.  Now, research suggests that the song was essentially right, and illustrates just how the brain manages to dismiss negative memories but retain the positive ones as we get older.” Read more . . .

From Calgary Herald: ‘Guilt by association’ unlikely: Study

“There’s good news for anyone still squirming over a friend’s bad dancing, excessive drinking or awkward conversation: There’s no egg on your face.  A new Canadian study that claims to be the first to examine “guilt by association” reveals that while people writhe with embarrassment when a friend commits a social faux-pas, onlookers don’t hold their associate’s behaviour against them.” Read more . . .

From CNN Health: Study: Experiences make us happier than possessions

“Even in tough economic times, you may find yourself with a bit of cash to spare. You’ve been working hard, and you want to treat yourself. Should you spend it on an experience, such as a baseball game or concert, or a material object?  Psychological research suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than possessions.” Read more . . .

From Huffington Post: Obama and the Science of Altruism

“ Investigations in social psychology and neuroscience may support Obama’s ideas about people’s willingness to pitch in. By stirring the emotions of new voters while at the same time asking them for increased service to their country, he has tapped into a set of complementary ideas about human psychology: that empathy is a deeply ingrained human tendency, and that it leads naturally to a desire to help those we feel empathy for.” Read more . . .

From Live Science: “Study Reveals Why First Impressions Count

“Getting off on the wrong foot can doom a relationship before it begins, as we all know.  Now scientists have studied one reason why this is true. When a person makes a bad first impression, the negative feelings are harder to overcome than a betrayal that occurs after ties are established.” Read more . . .

From New York Times: “An Economist’s Mea Culpa

“How could the economics profession have slept so soundly right into the middle of the economic mayhem all around us? Robert J. Shiller of Yale University, one of the sage prophets, addressed that question in an earlier commentary in this paper. Professor Shiller finds an explanation in groupthink, a term popularized by the social psychologist Irving L. Janis. In his book “Groupthink” (1972), the latter had theorized that most people, even professionals whose careers ostensibly thrive on originality, hesitate to deviate too much from the conventional wisdom, lest they be marginalized or even ostracized..” Read more . . .

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll, Life, Positive Psychology | Leave a Comment »

A Choice Worth Having

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 21, 2009

Barry SchwartzRenowned social psychologist Barry Schwartz has begun writing a blog for the Psychology Today web site called “The Choices Worth Having.”

Professor Schwartz is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College.  He studies the relationship between economics and psychology, delivering startling insights into modern life.  In his 2004 book The Paradox of Choice, for example, Schwartz tackles one of the great mysteries of modern life: Why is it that societies of great abundance — where individuals are offered more freedom and choice (personal, professional, material) than ever before — are now witnessing a near-epidemic of depression?  Conventional wisdom tells us that greater choice is for the greater good, but Schwartz argues the opposite: He makes a compelling case that the abundance of choice in today’s western world is actually making us miserable.

On his new blog, Schwartz is writing about various issues of public concern offering his insightful perspective as a psychologist interested in the intersection of psychology and economics.  Please have a look (here), and share some of his posts with anyone who you think might be interested.  We look forward to reading his posts, and we’re confident that our readers will agree that the new blog is one of The Choices Worth Having.

Here are some excerpts from Professor Schwartz’s terrific first post, titled “A New Council of Psychological Advisors for President Obama?

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After President Barack Obama figures out how to bring the economy out of recession, stabilize financial institutions, end two wars, and get every citizen health insurance, there is something else that he should consider: The United States needs a Council of Psychological Advisors.

This new body would parallel and complement the Council of Economic Advisors. When economists have the president’s ear, all their whispers concern incentives and self-interest. We need psychologists whispering in his other ear, about the economy, education, healthcare, and more.

On the Economy—Understand the “Irrational” Where did our financial institutions go wrong? Many accounts focus on greed, fear, and lack of trust. And why did things get so out of hand? Why was there a housing “bubble”? Somehow, “irrational exuberance” (Robert Schiller) or “animal spirits” (John Maynard Keynes) overwhelmed rational calculations of risk and reward. And it isn’t just that irrational optimism, or even blindness to market fundamentals, gets the better of our rational faculties. Rather, as George Soros has pointed out, these psychological phenomena can become part of a feedback loop that actually changes market fundamentals. “Reflexivity,” he calls it. The housing bubble was not the first such phenomenon, nor will it be the last.

Economists offer little that helps us understand why such bubbles occur or how they might be prevented. They also have little to tell us about how to prevent a “downward spiral of negative expectations” that makes fear of an economic downturn self-fulfilling. Economists largely make assumptions about the rationality of human decision-making and proceed from there. Witness Alan Greenspan’s recent admission that he was mistaken in assuming that markets operate rationally and efficiently. The current crisis makes it clear that ignoring the real psychology of greed, fear, trust, and irrational enthusiasm (0r pessimism) can be perilous. Economists offer little that helps us understand why such bubbles occur or how they might be prevented. A Council of Psychological Advisors could help.

On Education—More than Just Carrots and Sticks: One of President Obama’s top priorities is to improve the quality of American education. This will require recruiting and retaining excellent teachers and finding ways to motivate students. How can this worthy goal be achieved? At the moment, we’re pointing in the direction of school choice and competition to produce better schools, higher pay to produce better teachers, big tests to monitor their performance, and financial incentives to motivate students. A bunch of carrots and sticks. Will these kinds of measures be enough? Research in psychology suggests not. More important than pay (as long as it is adequate) are working conditions that allow teachers to be flexible, autonomous, and creative in their work with students, and that provide teachers with a sense that they are working in a community that has a common purpose. From this perspective, the regimentation of instruction ushered in by big-test accountability is actually counter-productive. And so is the move, now being tried in pilot projects around the country, to pay students for showing up to class and for getting good grades. A Council of Psychological Advisors could help design environments that encourage students to pursue mastery rather than money and teachers to view their work as a calling.

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Moving Beyond GDP: Finally, let us ask the most fundamental question: what is public policy for? We aim to increase collective welfare, but just what does welfare consist in? For the most part, under the sway of economic thinking, our aim has been to make the country more prosperous-to increase per capita GDP. The appeal of this goal is two-fold. First, we assume that if people are richer, they will be freer to choose as individuals the objects and activities that serve their welfare. We (the state and its technocrats) don’t have to choose for them. So wealth serves as a proxy for everything else. And second, GDP can be measured. But like a drunk looking under a lamp post for his car keys, even though he dropped them someplace else (because “that’s where the light is”), it doesn’t help much to pursue what you can measure if what you’re measuring is the wrong thing. It doesn’t help to get better at achieving goals if you’re achieving the wrong goals. Much research in the psychology of well being suggests that some wealth-enhancing policies improve welfare, but others do not. Indeed, some of what it takes to get more prosperous may be counterproductive when it comes to well being. A Council of Psychological Advisors can help here too, in the design of a system of national “psychological accounts” that does a better job of measuring well being than per capita GDP ever could.

Many of us hold out the hope that the coming Obama administration will mark a return to respect for knowledge and expertise. Agencies will be run and staffed not by political cronies, or by people who “just know in their gut” what needs to be done, or by ideologues, but by people who actually have respect for evidence. It would be a shame to bring experts on board in existing agencies, only to have them have to rely on personal intuition rather than knowledge in formulating policies and making decisions that could benefit from psychological expertise. A Council of Psychological Advisors is long overdue. This would be an excellent time to create one.

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To read the entire post, click here.  For a sample of Situationist posts discussing research by Barry Schwartz. click here.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – November 2008

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 14, 2009

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during November 2008. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From BPS Research Digest blog: “Dazzled by digits: how we’re wooed by product specifications

“From megapixels and gigabytes to calorie counts and sun protection factors, there’s barely a product out there that isn’t proudly boasting its enviable specs to would-be purchasers. A new study suggests these figures exert a powerful, irrational effect on consumers’ decision-making, even overriding the influence of a person’s direct experience with a product.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest blog: “Rare, profound positive events won’t make you happy, but lots of little ones

“Rather like a pond that soon returns to calm no matter the size of the stone you throw in it, psychological research has shown that people’s sense of happiness is stubbornly immovable, regardless of how good or bad the experiences one endures. . . . According to Daniel Mochon and colleagues, however, this is not the full story. Mochon’s team have tested the idea that whereas rare, massive events have no lasting effect on happiness, the cumulative effect of lots of little boosts may well have the power to influence happiness over the longer-term.” Read more . . .

From BPS Research Digest blog: We’re better at spotting fake smiles when we’re feeling rejected

“Bernstein’s team provoked feelings of rejection in students by asking them to write about a time they felt rejected or excluded. These students were subsequently better at distinguishing fake from real smiles as depicted in four-second video clips, than were students who’d either been asked to write about a time they felt included, or to write about the previous morning.” Read more . . .

From Everyday Sociology Blog: “Ideology

“You probably hear the word ideology used a lot, whether it is used in political or economic discussions (or in sociology classes). But what does it really mean? Put plainly, ideology is a way of seeing the world. Ideologies are like lenses through which we view just about everything. . . .” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll, Ideology, Marketing, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – October, Part III

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 1, 2008

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2008. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From Nueronarrative: “Certainty Takes the Stand: A Discussion with Robert Burton

“In On Being Certain, neurologist Robert Burton challenges his readers to ask one of the most basic—and crucial—of questions: how do we know what we know? With an engaging, conversational style, he tackles the neuropsychological underpinnings of belief and certainty, carefully examining these ubiquitous dynamics in light of what is known about how the mind works.” Read more . . .

From Nueronarrative: “The Lucifer Effect: An Interview with Dr. Philip Zimbardo

“Social psychologist [and Situationist contributor] Philip Zimbardo has been studying the anatomy of human psychology for nearly four decades. In the summer of 1971, Dr. Zimbardo created the classic Stanford Prison Experiment, a simulation of prison life that investigated a provocative question: what happens when you put good people in an evil place? The results were dramatic, and launched a decades-long journey to discover how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women. . . . In The Lucifer Effect, Dr. Zimbardo takes the reader through this often dark journey, and in the process sheds light on topics ranging from corporate malfeasance to torture at Abu Ghraib to organized genocide.” Read more . . .

From Psychology Today: “A dollar is a dollar is a dollar…Right?

“Despite the great flexibility that money permits us, people have trouble treating every dollar the same as every other dollar. Here are two examples.” Read more . . .

From Psychology Today: “The Kid-Ceiling: Women Feel It Long Before Seeing Glass-Ceiling

“The kid-ceiling seems to have little or no effect on Sarah Palin, but for most women who work having a family alters their income, their ability to advance, and their well-being. All is not right in the world of women’s work and the glaring deficiencies force women to move in the direction of the smaller, new traditional family. In this post I look at some of the more telling issues and facts. The more children you have, the more likely you’ll feel the impact of the kid-ceiling long before you see the glass-ceiling.” Read more . . .

From The Splintered Mind: “Six Ways to Know Your Mind

“Philosophers often provide accounts of self-knowledge as though we knew our own minds either entirely or predominantly in just one way (Jesse Prinz is a good exception to the rule, though). But let me count the ways (saving the fun ones for the end).”  Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

Posted in Abstracts, Blogroll, Book, Classic Experiments, Life, Naive Cynicism, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Situationism in the Blogosphere – October, Part II

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 21, 2008

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2008. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From Experimental Philosophy: “Causal Judgment and Moral Judgment

“It is now widely believed that people’s moral judgments can affect their causal judgments, but a great deal of confusion remains about precisely why this effect arises. . . . Our hypothesis draws on the idea that people’s causal judgments are based on counterfactual reasoning.” Read more . . .

From The Frontal Cortex: “Anchoring and Credit Cards

“New research by the University of Warwick reveals that many credit card customers become fixated on the level of minimum payments given on credit card bills. The mere presence of a minimum payment is enough to reduce the actual amount many people choose to pay on their bills, leading to further interest payments.”  Read more . . .

From Inquisitive Mind: “Social Judgment: Warmth and Competence are Universal Dimensions” 

“How do you make sense of Barack Obama and John McCain? The odds are that you judge them mainly on two dimensions: warm/cold and (in)competence. Depending on your experience of them, you may judge one of them as both warm and competent, evoking your admiration and pride; and perhaps the other as neither warm nor competent, which triggers a sense of contempt and disgust. Or perhaps you view one as warm but not competent, which generates pity and sympathy; or finally, you could judge one of them as cold but competent, leading to feelings of resentment and even envy. All the media hoopla boils down to these two dimensions, which determine the outcomes of Presidential campaigns, but also our ordinary perceptions of other people as individuals or as group members.” Read more . . .

From Legal Theory Blog: “Legal Theory Lexicon: Legitimacy

Legitimacy. It’s a word much bandied about by students of the law. “Bush v. Gore was an illegitimate decision.” “The Supreme Court’s implied fundamental rights jurisprudence lacks legitimacy.” “The invasion of Iraq does not have a legitimate basis in international law.” We’ve all heard words like these uttered countless times, but what do they mean? Can we give an account of “legitimacy” that makes that concept meaningful and distinctive? Is “legitimacy” one idea or is it several different notions, united by family resemblance rather than an underlying conceptual structure.” Read more . . .

From Mind Hacks: “Feeling Out of Control Sparks Magical Thinking

Psychology Today journalist Matthew Hutson covers some fascinating experiments just published in this week’s Science that found that reducing participants’ control increase the tendency for magical thinking and the perception of illusory meaning in random or patternless visual scenes.” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

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Situationism in the Blogosphere – October, Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 13, 2008

Below, we’ve posted titles and a brief quotation from some of our favorite non-Situationist situationist blogging during October 2008. (They are listed in alphabetical order by source.)

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From Cognitive Daily: “Being excluded from a social group makes you feel cold — literally”

“Chen-Bo Zhong and Geoffrey Leonardelli told a college student volunteers that they would be participating in a set of unrelated experiments. First they were asked to recall a time when they felt either socially excluded or included. Then a research assistant told them that the lab maintenance staff was working on the heating system for the room, and asked them to estimate the room’s temperature. You guessed it: the participants’ temperature estimates corresponded to whether they had been prompted to think about social exclusion or inclusion.” Read more . . .

From Research Digest blog: “How a psychological bias leads many people to pay more credit card interest”

“New financial rules in the U.K. and elsewhere mean that credit card companies have to take a monthly minimum payment from card-holders who have an outstanding balance. It’s a protective measure that’s intended to stop card-holders’ debt from spiralling out of control. However, new research by Neil Stewart shows that, thanks to a decision-making bias known as “anchoring”, printed information about compulsory minimum payments leads many card-holders to actually pay off less of their balance than they would have done, thus costing them significantly in the long-run.”  Read more . . .

From Research Digest blog: Self-belief boosts problem solving success

“Success at mental arithmetic isn’t purely a question of mathematical skill and knowledge – people’s belief in their own ability, known as “self-efficacy”, plays a key part too. Bobby Hoffman and Alexandru Spatariu who made the new finding say their research is the “first study that we know of to demonstrate the effect of self-efficacy on problem-solving efficiency when controlling for background knowledge.” Read more . . .

From Research Digest blog: “Why do we want to punish repeat offenders so harshly?”

“Do you think repeat offenders should be punished more harshly than first-time offenders for the same crime? Does it make any difference if I make it clear that the specific hypothetical crime in question has caused the same harm in each case? If you still think the repeat offender should be punished more harshly, you’re not alone. In fact this approach to justice is written into law in many countries. First time offenders can expect leniency whereas repeat offenders can expect severe punishment.” Read more . . .

From 3 Quarks Daily: “The Certainty Bias: A Potentially Dangerous Mental Flaw”

“It is quite likely that the same reward system provides the positive feedback necessary for us to learn and to continue wanting to learn. The pleasure of a thought is what propels us forward; imagine trying to write a novel or engage in a long-term scientific experiment without getting such rewards. Fortunately, the brain has provided us with a wide variety of subjective feelings of reward ranging from hunches, gut feelings, intuitions, suspicions that we are on the right track to a profound sense of certainty and utter conviction. And yes, these feelings are qualitatively as powerful as those involved in sex and gambling. One need only look at the self-satisfied smugness of a “know it all” to suspect that the feeling of certainty can approach the power of addiction.” Read more . . .

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For previous installments of “Situationism on the Blogosphere,” click on the “Blogroll” category in the right margin.

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Seeing Michael Phelps’s Gold Medal Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 19, 2008

Sam Sommers has another excellent (situationist) post, titled “The Greatest Ever? Not So Fast . . .” over at Psychology Today Blog. Sommers’s post is worth reading in its entirety (here), but here are a few particularly situationist excerpts.

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U.S. Swimmer Michael Phelps just won his 8th gold medal of the Beijing Olympics tonight, the 14th gold of his career. These are feats that have never been accomplished before, and it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that his is the greatest Olympic performance of all time. Some in the sporting world (and beyond) are also calling Phelps the greatest athlete of all time. But not so fast—a number of psychological considerations suggest that the pundits (and public) are likely getting a bit carried away.

Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear for the record. What Phelps has done is extraordinary and unprecedented. . . .

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But why would I suggest that Phelps might not truly be the “greatest athlete” ever . . . ? . . . . I can think of at least three relevant psychological issues:

First, there’s good reason to believe that a variation of the availability heuristic is at play here. This just happened. . . .

So if I ask you to name great athletes, whose name is readily available to you at the moment? Phelps, of course. More generally, even beyond the domain of sports, I’d argue that people are typically lousy at judging “the greatest ever” in any area, due to the availability heuristic among other factors. . . .

Second, in addition to availability, there’s also a self-motivated reason for us to see Phelps deemed the greatest ever. Because we were able to watch Phelps’ triumph and because we’ll have stories to tell about what we saw in these Olympics, we’re able to perceive a personal connection to what he’s done that goes so far as to make us feel good about ourselves.

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Finally, I think there’s also a compelling argument to be made that those who would call Phelps the greatest ever are doing what we humans often do in perceiving the world, namely not giving sufficient weight to the situational factors at play. . . .

[T]his debate is being pitched in largely dispositional terms (i.e., is he the greatest *athlete* ever, as opposed to is this the greatest athletic *performance* ever). And what I really mean to suggest is along the lines of the argument I made in a previous post, namely that important aspects of situations in daily life often escape our attention. In the case of Phelps, he has certainly had a terrific Olympics (now, that might be the greatest understatement of the century). But he also competes in a sport that presents its elite competitors with the opportunity to rack up multiple medals. Swimmers can compete in races of varying distances. There are races in 4 different strokes, as well as individual medleys combining strokes. Then there are relays as well. Is Mark Spitz the second-greatest athlete of all time?

The greatest of basketball and water polo players have a chance at 1 medal in an Olympics. Same with boxers and wrestlers. Track and field stars have more, but still not as many as swimmers. Consider Carl Lewis’ 1984 performance, when he won gold in the 100m, 200m, 4 x 100m relay, and long jump. Was Phelps’ 2008 demonstrably better than that? It’s hard to say. I’m quite sure this last argument will annoy the swimming fans out there, but what if Lewis had been afforded the same opportunities as Phelps to cover different distances in different ways? Swimmers have races in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and freestyle; how many medals could Lewis have won if he could’ve entered the 100m gallop, the 100m skip, and the 100m crabwalk?

OK, so you might resist that last analogy. But the crabwalk would be pretty fun to watch, wouldn’t it? And the bigger point is that Phelps’ historical milestone was attributable to a number of factors: his phenomenal training regimen, his unsurpassed drive to win, his genetic gifts, and more. But he also owes at least part of his title as greatest Olympian ever to the current set-up of the Games, which affords swimmers more opportunities to medal than most other athletes. To ignore this fact and crown Phelps greater than Lewis, Jesse Owens, Eric Heiden, Sonja Henie, Al Oerter, and others seems impulsive. Not to mention, of course, all the non-Olympic athletes who certainly merit consideration for the title of greatest ever.

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To read the entire post, which may well be the greatest post ever, click here.

For a sample related posts discussing the tendency to dispositionalize accomplishments that are largely situational, see “Promoting Dispostionism through Entertainment – Part III,” “Randomness, Luck, and other Situational Sources of Success and Failure,” ““Situation” Trumps “Disposition”- Part II,” “What’s Eating David Ortiz?,” and “David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, and Now John Edwards: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation.”

For archives of all situationist sports posts, click here.

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The Situationist Named Best Social Psychology Blog

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 2, 2008

For the second straight year, we are honored that PsyBlog has named The Situationist the best social psychology blog in its updated Guide to Psychology blogs:

Best social psychology blog

The Situationist explores the importance of the situation in human behaviour and thought. It covers social psychology, social cognition, and related fields, but it is associated with Harvard Law School and therefore has a broad subject-area. It has both original writing and interesting excerpts from relevant pieces in the media.

PsyBlog is authored by Jeremy Dean, a barrister and a graduate student in psychology at University College London. We appreciate his kind words, and recommend reading about the other on-line publications honored.

We also appreciate you, our readers. When we launched The Situationist in January 2007 we had no expectation of so quickly attracting such a loyal and often interactive readership. We hope you continue to visit the blog and comment with thoughts and reactions.

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Animated Gender Stereotypes

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 31, 2008

[via Sociological Images]

Posted in Blogroll, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Perceptions of Racial Divide

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 30, 2008

Sam Sommers has another terrific post (this one titled “Obama and the Racial Divide”) on the Psychology Today blog. Here are some excerpts.

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[T]he Times poll indicates that a majority of White and Black Americans think progress towards racial equality is being made, but only Whites seem to be getting more optimistic over time regarding the general state of race relations. Why is this? Well, in large part it seems to be the case that Whites and Blacks use different reference points in answering these questions.

In a series of research studies, Yale social psychologist Richard Eibach has observed the comparable result that White Americans typically perceive more progress towards racial equality than do Blacks. One reason for this racial gulf is that Whites typically answer the type of question found in the Times poll by comparing the present to the past, whereas Blacks tend to answer it by comparing the present to the racial ideals they envision for the future.

In other words, when you ask White Americans about race relations in this country, on average they tend to respond by thinking, well, things are certainly better now than they used to be, so I’ll say we’re doing OK. Blacks, on the other hand, are more likely to think about their personal experiences with prejudice or current racial disparities in important outcomes like health, income, or employment. Accordingly, Blacks more typically think, things still aren’t as good as they could or should be, so we’re not doing so great.

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So some of this racial disparity reflects different reference points used by Whites and Blacks in answering these questions. Anytime you ask someone for a global assessment of anything—whether marital happiness, job satisfaction, or the state of the economy—the reference point they choose to use is hugely important in determining the answer they give. . . .

But there also remains a more pessimistic interpretation of this racial divergence in opinions. Some of it clearly has to do with self-interest. In another set of studies, Eibach concludes that many White Americans view gains in racial equality as personal losses, whereas Black Americans see them as personal gains. Of course, it’s hard to get people to support movements that they see as working against their self-interests, suggesting that this gulf between Whites and Blacks can’t be bridged completely by getting everyone to focus on the same point of reference.

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To read the entire piece, click here.

For a sample of previous posts examining situational elements of voting or, specifically, the 2008 presidential election, see ” On Being a Mindful Voter,” Implicit Associations in the 2008 Presidential Election,” “Lopez-Torres, Justice Scalia, and the Situation of Elections,” “Heart Brain or Wallet?” “Your Brain on Politics,” “Al Gore – The Situationist” and “Irrelevant Third Options in Presidential Campaigns.”

Posted in Blogroll, Politics, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

New Situationists

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 25, 2008

We are delighted to introduce a new Situationist Contributor and Situationist Fellow.

Our newest contributor, Peter Ditto, is a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of California-Irvine. His research interests include “hot cognition” — the interface between passion and reason. His research examines the role of motivation and emotion in social, political, moral, medical, and legal judgment. Most generally, his work has sought to explain the phenomenon of “motivated reasoning,” or how the desire to reach a particular conclusion biases the processing of information related to that conclusion. Ditto’s early work in this area examined the role such biases play in how people respond to threatening medical information (e.g., denial).

More recently, Ditto’s work has been focused on motivated moral reasoning, particularly how people selectively recruit general moral principles to support desired moral conclusions. Another key focus of his current research is on partisan political bias. This work examines the multiple ways that political ideology biases our political judgments and behavior. Finally, he is interested in a variety of psychological issues involved in end-of-life medical decision making. This work amounts to a psychological critique of policy encouraging the use of “living wills” in end-of-life medical decision making.

Ditto will publish his first post, “A Convenient Fiction,” on Monday.

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Our most recent Situationist Fellow is Elizabeth Johnston. Elizabeth Johnston graduated cum laude from Middlebury College in 2006 with a BA in Psychology. She also minored in U.S. History and Spanish. While in college, Elizabeth interned at a law firm, at two legal service centers, and for a Federal Judge. Additionally, she volunteered for, among others, the Hurricane Relief Committee, WomenSafe, Relay for Life, various local schools, and represented her class in Student Government. In 2005, she was selected as the recipient for the Baldwin Prize, which is “Awarded to a woman in the junior class who best exemplifies the ideal type of Middlebury College student based on character, scholarship, and personality.” Since graduating, Elizabeth has worked at a law firm, been a teaching fellow at Harvard for an undergraduate psychology class, and is now in the process of finishing her Master’s in Applied Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, where she currently has GPA of 4.0. Elizabeth plans to attend law school in the fall. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys playing sports, traveling, and cooking.

Elizabeth has already put together two terrific staff posts for blog: “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning” and “The Situation of Lawyers and Practicing Law.” You can look forward to more.

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Arthur Shapiro’s Situationist Illusion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 18, 2008

Arthur Shapiro has posted another of his remarkable illusions this week on his outstanding blog, Illusion Sciences.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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This illusion has special significance to us because, it is a “situationist illusion.” As Professor Shapiro explains:

One of my favorite places on the web is The Situationist, a blog that explores how the “situation” (or context) affects interpretation. The site has numerous examples of how objects, people, and events in one context are interpreted differently from the same objects, people, and events placed in another context.

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The visual display above presents an example of the effects of the visual “situation.” In one situation (vertical orientation for the disks), the viewer interprets the disks with reference to the background context (i.e., the two curtains). One disk looks like a shadow on the curtain, and the other looks like a spotlight. The disks are therefore interpreted as a dark spot and a lighter spot on the curtains. In another situation (horizontal orientation), the viewer is able to separate the disks from the context of the curtains and therefore will identify the disks as having the same shading.

To learn why the disks look different or similar to one another depending on whether they are oriented vertically or horizontally, or to look at more of Professor Shapiro’s award-winning illusions, click here.

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The Situationist Named a Top Blog

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 7, 2008

The Criminal Justice Degrees Guide named The Situationist one of the 100 top Criminal Justice Blogs. It described our blog this way: “This smart social psychology blog uncovers research projects and findings, group behavior, child psychology, law and more.”

For those interested in criminal justice, the list of top blogs is very much worth perusing.

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