The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Social Psychology’ Category

Dan Ariely Interviewed about the Situation of Cheating

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 28, 2013

ariely honesty coverFor Time, Gary Belsky recently interviewed Dan Ariely about Ariely’s 2012 book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.  In the interview, Ariely discusses seven lessons about dishonesty.  Here are some excerpts.

1. Most of us are 98-percenters.

“A student told me a story about a locksmith he met when he locked himself out of the house. This student was amazed at how easily the locksmith picked his lock, but the locksmith explained that locks were really there to keep honest people from stealing. His view was that 1% of people would never steal, another 1% would always try to steal, and the rest of us are honest as long as we’re not easily tempted. Locks remove temptation for most people. And that’s good, because in our research over many years, we’ve found that everybody has the capacity to be dishonest and almost everybody is at some point or another.”

2. We’ll happily cheat … until it hurts.

“The Simple Model of Rational Crime suggests that the greater the reward, the greater the likelihood that people will cheat. But we’ve found that for most of us, the biggest driver of dishonesty is the ability to rationalize our actions so that we don’t lose the sense of ourselves as good people. In one of our matrix experiments [a puzzle-solving exercise Ariely uses in his work to measure dishonesty], the level of cheating didn’t change as the reward for cheating rose. In fact, the highest payout resulted in a little less cheating, probably because the amount of money got to be big enough that people couldn’t rationalize their cheating as harmless. Most people are able to cheat a little because they can maintain the sense of themselves as basically honest people. They won’t commit major fraud on their tax returns or insurance claims or expense reports, but they’ll cut corners or exaggerate here or there because they don’t feel that bad about it.”

3. It’s no wonder people steal from work.

“In one matrix experiment, we added a condition where some participants were paid in tokens, which they knew they could quickly exchange for real money. But just having that one step of separation resulted in a significant increase in cheating. Another time, we surveyed golfers and asked which act of moving a ball illegally would make other golfers most uncomfortable: using a club, their foot or their hand. More than twice as many said it would be less of a problem — for other golfers, of course — to use their club than to pick the ball up. Our willingness to cheat increases as we gain psychological distance from the action. So as we gain distance from money, it becomes easier to see ourselves as doing something other than stealing. That’s why many of us have no problem taking pencils or a stapler home from work when we’d never take the equivalent amount of money from petty cash. . . .”

4. Beware the altruistic crook.

“People are able to cheat more when they cheat for other people. In some experiments, people cheated the most when they didn’t benefit at all. This makes sense if our ability to be dishonest is increased by the ability to rationalize our behavior. If you’re cheating for the benefit of another entity, your ability to rationalize is enhanced. So yes, it’s easier for an accountant to see fudging on clients’ tax returns as something other than dishonesty. And it’s a concern within companies, since people’s altruistic tendencies allow them to cheat more when it benefits team members.”

5. One (dishonest) thing leads to another.

“Small dishonesties matter because they can lead to larger ones. Once you behave badly, at some point, you stop thinking of yourself as a good person at that level and you say, What the hell. This is something many people are familiar with in dieting. We’re disciplined until we lapse, and if we can’t think of ourselves as good people, then we figure we might as well enjoy it. And it happens with honesty as well. Cheaters too can start with one step. We conducted an experiment where participants were given designer sunglasses to wear and evaluate. Some were told their pair was authentic, others were told they were wearing fakes and others were given no information. Then, after they had been wearing their glasses for a while, we gave them matrices to solve. In all three groups, a significant portion of the participants reported solving a few more matrices than they actually had. Moderate cheating, as usual. But while 30% of the group wearing real designer sunglasses cheated, and slightly more, around 40%, of the people in the no-information group cheated, more than 70% of the group wearing the fakes exaggerated the number of matrices they solved. One moral violation leads to further immorality.”

6. Better to encourage honesty than discourage cheating.

“Most attempts to limit cheating come from a cost-benefit understanding of the problem. We think if we make the punishments harsh enough, people will cheat less. But there is no evidence that this approach works. Think of the death penalty. There is no evidence that it decreases crime. A better approach would be to ask, How can we help people stay honest? When we had an insurance company move the signature on a mileage reporting form from the bottom of the document to the top — so people were attesting that the information they were reporting was true before they filled out the form, rather than after — the amount of cheating went down by about 15%.”

7. Honesty is a state of mind.

“In one of our experiments, we split participants into two groups. We asked one group to try to recall the 10 Commandments, the other 10 books they read in high school. Then we had everyone do some matrices. What we found was that the people in the group who recalled books engaged in the same level of cheating as most people. But the participants in the group that tried to remember the 10 Commandments didn’t cheat at all. Small reminders of ethical standards can be very powerful.”

Read entire interview here.

Posted in Ideology, Positive Psychology, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Stereotyped Situation of Dumb Jocks

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 4, 2013

dumb jockFrom Michigan State News:

College coaches who emphasize their players’ academic abilities may be the best defense against the effects of “dumb jock” stereotypes, a Michigan State University study suggests.

Researchers found that student-athletes were significantly more likely to be confident in the classroom if they believed their coaches expected high academic performance, not just good enough grades to be eligible for sports.

“Coaches spend a lot of time with their players, and they can play such an important role to build academic confidence in student-athletes,” said lead author Deborah Feltz, University Distinguished Professor of kinesiology at MSU.

Published in the Journal of College Student Development, the study focused on the concept of “stereotype threat.” The theory holds that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies: They create anxiety in the stereotyped group, causing them to behave in the expected way.

Feltz and her graduate students wanted to see what factors influence student-athletes’ susceptibility to the “dumb jock” stereotype.

“It’s well-documented in the literature that many student-athletes hear prejudicial remarks from professors who say things like, ‘This test is easy enough that even an athlete could pass it,’” Feltz said. “They’re kind of the last group of students who can be openly discriminated against.”

The researchers surveyed more than 300 student-athletes representing men’s and women’s teams from small and large universities and a range of sports, from basketball and football to cross-country and rowing.

They found the more strongly student-athletes identified themselves as athletes, the less confident they were with their academic skills, and the more keenly they felt that others expected them to do poorly in school. Players in high-profile sports were more likely to feel they were weak students.

Feltz said the data suggest that coaches who put a premium on education may be in the best position to boost their players’ confidence in the classroom, but professors, academic advisers and classmates also have a part to play.

“They don’t have to do much,” she said. “It may be enough to just remind players they are college students, which is a big deal, you know? A lot of these students are the first in their family to go to college.”

Related Situationist posts:

Image by Les Stockton.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Positive Psychology, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Helpful Crisis in Psychology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 1, 2013

From The New Yorker, excerpts from an outstanding article by by :

According to the headlines, social psychology has had a terrible year—and, at any rate, a bad week. The New York Times Magazine devoted nearly seven thousand words to Diederik Stapel, the Dutch researcher who committed fraud in at least fifty-four scientific papers, while Nature just published a report about another controversy, questioning whether some well-known “social-priming” results from the social psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis are replicable. Dijksterhuis famously found that thinking about a professor before taking an exam improves your performance, while thinking about a soccer ruffian makes you do worse. Although nobody doubts that Dijksterhuis ran the experiment that he says he did, it may be that his finding is either weak, or simply wrong—perhaps the peril of a field that relies too heavily on the notion that if something is statistically likely, it can be counted on.

Things aren’t quite as bad as they seem, though. Although Natures report was headlined “Disputed results a fresh blow for social psychology,” it scarcely noted that there have been some replications of experiments modelled on Dijksterhuis’s phenomenon. His finding could still out turn to be right, if weaker than first thought. More broadly, social priming is just one thread in the very rich fabric of social psychology. The field will survive, even if social priming turns out to have been overrated or an unfortunate detour.

Even if this one particular line of work is under a shroud, it is important not to lose sight of the fact many of the old standbys from social psychology have been endlessly replicated, like the Milgram effect—the old study of obedience in which subjects turned up electrical shocks (or what they thought were electrical shocks) all the way to four hundred and fifty volts, apparently causing great pain to their subjects, simply because they’d been asked to do it. Milgram himself replicated the experiment numerous times, in many different populations, with groups of differing backgrounds. It is still robust (in hands of other researchers) nearly fifty years later. And even today, people are still extending that result; just last week I read about a study in which intrepid experimenters asked whether people might administer electric shocks to robots, under similar circumstances. (Answer: yes.)

More importantly, there is something positive that has come out of the crisis of replicability—something vitally important for all experimental sciences.

Read the rest of the article, including more about the importance of this shift toward encouraging replication, here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Classic Experiments, Social Psychology | 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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

Witnessing a Murder?: What Would You Do?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 14, 2013

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Altruism, Social Psychology, Video | 2 Comments »

Stereotype Threat for Boys

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 16, 2013

music class

From Eureka Alert:

Negative stereotypes about boys may hinder their achievement, while assuring them that girls and boys are equally academic may help them achieve. From a very young age, children think boys are academically inferior to girls, and they believe adults think so, too. Even at these very young ages, boys’ performance on an academic task is affected by messages that suggest that girls will do better than they will.

Those are the conclusions of new research published in the journal Child Development and conducted at the University of Kent. The research sought to determine the causes of boys’ underachievement at school.

“People’s performance suffers when they think others may see them through the lens of negative expectations for specific racial, class, and other social stereotypes—such as those related to gender—and so expect them to do poorly,” explains Bonny L. Hartley, a PhD student at the University of Kent, who led the study. “This effect, known as stereotype threat, grants stereotypes a self-fulfilling power.”

In three studies of primarily White schoolchildren in Britain, Hartley and her colleague investigated the role of gender stereotypes. They found that from a very young age, children think boys are academically inferior to girls, and they believe that adults think so, too.

The first study looked at children’s stereotypes about boys’ and girls’ conduct, ability, and motivation. Researchers gave 238 children ages 4 to 10 a series of scenarios that showed a child with either good behavior or performance (such as “This child really wants to learn and do well at school”) or poor behavior or performance (such as “This child doesn’t do very well at school”), then asked the children to indicate to whom the story referred by pointing to a picture, in silhouette, of a boy or a girl. From an early age—girls from 4 and boys from 7—children matched girls to positive stories and boys to negative ones. This suggests that the children thought girls behaved better, performed better, and understood their work more than boys, despite the fact that boys are members of a nonstigmatized, high-status gender group that is substantially advantaged in society. Follow-up questions showed that children thought adults shared these stereotypes.

Researchers then did two experiments to determine whether stereotype threat hindered boys’ academic performance. In one, involving 162 children ages 7 and 8, telling children that boys did worse than girls at school caused boys’ performance in a test of reading, writing, and math to decline (compared to a control group that got no such information). In the other experiment, involving 184 children ages 6 to 9, telling children that boys and girls were expected to do equally well caused boys’ performance on a scholastic aptitude test to improve (compared to a control group). Girls’ performance wasn’t affected.

“In many countries, boys lag behind girls at school,” according to Hartley. “These studies suggest that negative academic stereotypes about boys are acquired in children’s earliest years of primary education and have self-fulfilling consequences. They also suggest that it is possible to improve boys’ performance, and so close the gender gap, by conveying egalitarian messages and refraining from such practices as dividing classes by gender.”

Related Situationist posts:

Image from Flickr.

Posted in Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | 1 Comment »

Max Bazerman Speaks at HLS – Thursday!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 7, 2013

Bazerman Books

Thursday, February 7, 12-1 p.m.
Wasserstein 1015
Professor Max Bazerman (HBS)
“Bounded Ethicality”
Sponsor: Student Association for Law & Mind Sciences

Professor Bazerman will present his recent research on ethical behavior. He argues that, in contrast to the search for the few “bad apples,” the majority of unethical events occur as the result of ordinary and predictable psychological processes. As a result, even good people engage in unethical behavior, without their own awareness, on a regular basis.

Free Thai food!

Learn more about Professor Bazerman’s work here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Choice Myth, Events, Morality, SALMS, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Amy Cuddy on Body Language

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 4, 2013

Situationist friend, Amy Cuddy, delivers a fascinating TedTalk on how body language affects how others see us and on how we see ourselves.  Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Emotions, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The #1 Psychology Blog of 2012

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 1, 2013

Top 30 Psychology Blogs of 2012

We are happy to report that Best Online Psychology Schools just published their top 30 psychology blogs of 2012, and placed The Situationist at #1.

The broad field of psychology has numerous approaches, methods, and theories–some say as many of each as there are practitioners. There are numerous high quality blogs operated by psychology professionals from every facet of the field. This list consists of thirty of the most prominent blogs on the topics of psychology and the closely related field of neuroscience. The neuroscience blogs all have a psychology bent to them, explaining the relationship between the inner workings of the human brain as understood by neuroscience and how it relates to human action and thought.

Best Pscyhology and Neuroscience Blogs

1. The Situationist is a prominent social psychology blog in which the author[s] explore human social behavior, examining such phenomena as preferences, choice, and the human will. These choices are explored most often through thought experiments that consist of various situations and the the contributing factors to the choices made in those situations.
Highlight: Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t

Read about the other 29 blogs on the list here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Awards, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Rising Star Interviews – Dana Carney

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 29, 2013

Dana CarneyIn 2011, APS published a series of “Rising Star” interviews, including several of scholars who are Situationist Contributors or good friends of blog.  We will highlight some of those interviews in weeks ahead.  Here is the interview of Situationist friend, Dana Carney.

What does your research focus on?

I am interested in the incredible power of tiny, ordinary, nonverbal cues.

What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?

I was drawn to this research because of how diagnostic these cues can be when trying to make inferences about others’ mental states.

Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?

I have had so many incredible mentors and I have been influenced by so many wonderful minds — I could fill all of these pages with the names. My very first mentor was Maureen O’Sullvan. Maureen died last year. She has an incredibly special place in my heart and in my mind.

To what do you attribute your success in the science?

I do not consider myself to be successful but hard work and many hours of practice are the most powerful tools we have if we want to become good at something.

What’s your future research agenda?

I am working with my students Andy Yap and Abbie Wazlawek and my former student who is now at Kellogg, Brian Lucas, on some of the powerful ways in which ordinary, everyday, nonverbal behaviors can exert extraordinary impact on thoughts, feelings, and choice.

Any advice for even younger psychological scientists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?

What you study is an expression of who you are. Leading a life of science is much more akin to being an artist than anything else. It is a part of you, it comes everywhere with you, you see the world only through its lens, it pervades every aspect of who you are and how you think.

What publication you are most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?

I do not generally feel proud of my work but I like some of my papers more than I like others. A recent paper with my very close, dear colleague, Amy Cuddy and my wonderful student Andy Yap is one I like.

Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J., & Yap, A.J. (2010). Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21, 1363-1368.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Awards, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Rising Star Interviews – Aaron Kay

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 23, 2013

Aaron KayIn 2011, APS published a series of “Rising Star” interviews, including several of scholars who are Situationist Contributors or good friends of blog.  We will highlight some of those interviews in weeks ahead.  Here is the interview of Situationist Contributor, Aaron Kay.

What does your research focus on?

My research focuses on the relation between motivation, implicit social cognition, and broad societal issues. I have a particular interest in how basic motivations and needs – including ones that people may not be entirely aware of – manifest as specific social and societal beliefs. These include (but are not limited to) the causes and consequences of stereotyping and system justification, religious and political belief, and the attitudes people hold towards their institutions and social systems.

What drew you to this line of research? Why is it exciting to you?

I was drawn to these issues because I was (and still am) taken by how little we know about some of humankind’s most cherished and steadfastly defended belief systems. I continue working on these issues because I have now to come to realize the extent to which understanding the origins and functions of these beliefs can shed light on basic psychological processes.

Who were/are your mentors or psychological influences?

In graduate school I was very lucky to have two exceptional advisors: Lee Ross and John Jost. They are my most important mentors and their ideas are my most proximal psychological influences. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three other programs of research that deeply influenced my thinking as a graduate student. John Bargh’s research on the automatic nature of social behavior and motivation, Melvin Lerner’s research on the Belief in a Just World, and Susan Fiske and Peter Glicke’s research on hostile and benevolent forms of sexism all strongly influenced my approach to studying the social mind.

To what do you attribute your success in the science?

Two things, really: In graduate school, I had great advisors. They made it very hard for me not to be productive and excited about my research. Afterwards, my years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Waterloo were filled with brilliant and incredibly energetic social psychologist colleagues. Richard Eibach, John Holmes, Mike Ross, Steve Spencer, Joanne Wood, and Mark Zanna provided the type of support and nurturance that a fledgling academic can only dream about. They didn’t merely drop by every once in a while to see how things were going, but became actively engaged in my research, infusing it with different perspectives and methodological approaches. And while that was going on, I was surrounded by the hardest working and smartest set of graduate students one could hope for.

What’s your future research agenda?

That’s a great question, since it is one that I’d love to know the answer to. I have recently developed a model of compensatory control aimed at explaining a wide swath of beliefs and behaviors, and I imagine I will continue to work on understanding and refining that model. Where exactly that will take me, though, is an open question. Research for me is such a collaborative endeavor that I assume my future research agenda will be dictated, at least in part, by what aspects of my research my students and collaborators are most interested in.

Any advice for even younger psychologists? What would you tell someone just now entering graduate school or getting their PhD?

Lee Ross once told me that he thinks it is important to involve yourself in something “exciting” while in graduate school — that is, an idea or approach or perspective that you feel is new and different in some way. In looking back at my experience and those of my many successful peers, I now see the truth in that advice. I am not suggesting (nor do I think Lee was suggesting) that you need to develop something new yourself, but involving yourself in a larger research program that is doing that is an invaluable experience — or at least it was for me. Many of the most successful research programs  are ones that deviate from what everyone else is doing but in a way that still keeps them relevant to what everyone else is doing. To do this, you need to both understand what is happening in the field and have a desire to break new ground. The former can be learned pretty easily, but my feeling is the latter is facilitated by getting a sense for what it is like to swim in relatively uncharted waters. So, if possible, seek that out.

What publication you are most proud of or feel has been most important to your career?

Kay, A. C., Gaucher, D., Napier, J. L., Callan, M. J., & Laurin, K. (2008). God and the government: Testing a compensatory control mechanism for the support of external systems. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 18-35.

This article was directly inspired by my earliest research in graduate school and now motivates much of my current research. As such, it connects, via one common mechanism, issues I used to work on to issues I am now interested in. So it feels something like a unifying paper to my young career, both temporally and thematically.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Awards, Distribution, Ideology, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Sad News: Richard Hackman Dies at 72

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 19, 2013

Richard Hackman

From Harvard Crimson: (obituary of Richard Hackman, who was a generous and thoughtful contributor to the efforts at Harvard Law School to bridge law and the mind sciences):

Over a career spanning nearly half a century, psychology professor J. Richard Hackman garnered widespread esteem and accolades for pioneering the study of team dynamics. But on the side, Hackman quietly devoted countless hours to improving one team in particular—the Harvard women’s basketball squad, for which he volunteered as an honorary coach.

Those who knew him say that gestures like these defined Hackman, who died on Jan. 8 in Boston following complications from lung cancer. He was 72.

“He really lived what he was studying,” said Alexa S. Fishman ‘13, Hackman’s thesis advisee. “He wanted to help and give back to the undergraduate community.”

By all accounts, Hackman was a model team player who practiced what he taught. He was at once a dry wit who knew how to lighten the mood with humor, an attentive mentor and colleague skilled at putting others at ease, and a maverick unafraid to voice dissent when the situation demanded it.

According to psychology professor Daniel T. Gilbert, Hackman’s brand of humor “wasn’t standard comedy.”

“He was funny, quirky, interesting,” Gilbert said. “He was not a guy who sat down and told canned jokes.”

In a thesis prospective meeting with Hackman, Fishman recalled, Hackman deadpanned that her thesis proposal was not up to par. After she offered to take back her proposal, Hackman quickly reassured her that he was not being serious.

“He said, ‘No, no, I’m joking, it’s totally fine,’” Fishman recalled. “He wanted to add a little humor to this meeting that sort of had to happen.”

Hackman, who stood at a commanding six-foot-six-and-a-half stature, was known for taking every opportunity to relax.

“It didn’t matter if he was sitting with the President of the University—when he got comfortable and sat down, he just took off his shoes,” Gilbert said. “If it was possible for him to lay down, he would also do that.”

Those who knew him remembered Hackman for his natural generosity and attentiveness to others.

“Everyone got his attention,” Fishman said. “When he spoke to you and he was talking to you, he was 100 percent focused on you.”

Christopher M. Dial, Hackman’s assistant, said that in their conversations, Hackman was always concerned about how Dial and others were doing.

“He and I would just chat about things that were just everyday,” Dial said. “I’ll miss someone who just checks in and wants to know how you’re doing.”

Colleagues say this caring spirit was matched by an expansive intellect, one that contributed immensely to the field of organizational psychology.

“You could bring him a problem at any level of psychology, and he could help you think it through,” Gilbert said.

Hackman, who came to Harvard in 1986 after 20 years at Yale, conducted research on team dynamics that had substantial real-world implications, including new research methodology within the intelligence community for studying teams and an alternative method for training cockpit crews.

Hackman received numerous awards for his work, among them the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award within the American Psychological Association’s division on industrial and organizational psychology.

But despite the accolades, Hackman maintained a steadfast humility that translated into a distaste for boasting throughout his years of teaching.

“He looked askance at people who spent a lot of time tooting their own horn,” Gilbert said. “Richard had a silencer on his horn, so even when he did remarkable things, he would work to make sure nobody found out about them.”

Even after they had been friends for nearly 20 years, Gilbert said, he only learned about Hackman’s work for the women’s basketball team after he spotted Hackman at one of the games.

But coupled with this humility was what Hackman’s wife Judith D. Hackman described as her husband’s distinctly “contrarian” streak.

“He was often the one who voted no, and everybody else voted yes,” she said. “His ‘no’ was probably the right thing to say.”

Gilbert agreed, calling his friend “a moral beacon” who was “unendingly concerned with what was right and what was wrong.”

Yet those who were close to Hackman said it is the little things that are most irreplaceable about Hackman.

For Judith Hackman, it will be her husband’s daily phone calls; for Gilbert, it will be Hackman’s penchant for barbeque.

“In the last two decades he and I probably hit every good barbecue stand within a 50-mile radius of Boston,” Gilbert said. “I will forever more be eating brisket and ribs by myself.”

Aside from his wife Judith, Hackman is survived by two daughters, Julia B. Proffitt and Laura D. Codeanne; two sons-in-law, W. Trexler Proffitt and Matthew J. Codeanne; and four grandchildren, George R., Lauren E., and Edward M. Proffitt, and Mattox J. Codeanne.

Situationist posts related to Hackman’s research:

Posted in Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 14, 2013

Deaux Snyder Personality and Social Psychology

From PsychCentral (Judy Crook reviews new book edited by Kay Deaux and Mark Snyder):

What’s the difference between personality psychology and social psychology? In essence, personality psychology focuses on the person, while social psychology focuses on the situation—how people act in different situations, or how situations affect individuals. In exploring how and why the two fields might be integrated, The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology recounts the history of each subfield, discusses different approaches each takes to research topics, and analyzes the benefits that might come from integrating them.

This is a long reference book, and one not intended for the layperson. However, it turns out that it works quite well as a foundational text for those of us who are not research psychologists but readers simply wishing to learn about psychology. Each chapter follows a general pattern of explaining the foundational theories in each field, discussing ways these theories can be integrated, or providing new theories or frameworks for integration.

Take the book’s coverage of the Big Five Theory. The “Big Five” is a personality theory that provides a way to categorize all personality traits into five areas: extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness, and emotional stability. When researchers used it to analyze what makes leaders effective, however, the results were mixed. In the chapter on leadership, Daan van Knippenberg states that “the relationship between personality and leadership effectiveness is modest at best.” Instead, he proposes that social psychology models work better than the Big Five Theory because they analyze leaders “by taking a person-in-situation approach to leadership effectiveness.” Thus, although personality traits such as extraversion may affect one’s ability to lead, he says, we can gain a more complete perspective by analyzing leadership performance in the context of a given situation.

In a book that covers topics as disparate as motivation, prejudice, friendship, leadership, relationships, helping behavior, and antisocial behavior—each topic explored from the two perspectives of personality psychology and social psychology—a lay reader is likely to find several topics of interest. For example, in a chapter on multiculturalism, Veronica Benet-Martinez describes how the study of multiculturalism can be beneficial to both personality and social psychologists. I found her definition of multiculturalism interesting because it is so inclusive: “those who are mixed-race and mixed-ethnic, those who have lived in more than one country…those reared with at least one other culture in addition to the dominant mainstream culture, and those in intercultural relationships.” There is no commonly agreed-upon definition of the term, she tells us.

Much of what psychologists have learned in the last few years has been based on new measuring techniques, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). In a chapter called “Neuroscience Approaches in Social and Personality Psychology,” David M. Amodio and Eddie Harmon-Jones discuss how these relatively new techniques measure brain activity, and describe several theories that have been proposed based on these methods. One theory, that of the mirror neuron system, posits “a brain network devoted to understanding other people through their actions.” Amodio and Harmon-Jones state that the term mirror neurons refers “loosely to areas of the brain that are activated both when an individual observes the behavior of another person, and when one performs the same behavior”—i.e., when one mimics another’s actions.

Read the entire review here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Social Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Why Bystanders Walk By

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 7, 2013

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | 2 Comments »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 3

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 15, 2012

Part 3 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti examines assumptions about what is and is not healthy. He also looks at how product marketing can seduce consumers into buying supposed ‘healthy foods’ such as muesli and juices, both of which can be high in sugar.

He speaks with Simon Wright, an ‘organic consultant’ for Sainsbury’s in the 1990s, who explains how the food industry cashed in on the public’s concerns around salmonella, BSE and GM crops. By 1999 the organic industry was worth over £605M, a rise of 232% within two years.

How did the mainstream food producers compete? Peretti speaks with Kath Dalmeny, former policy director at the Food Commission, who explains some of the marketing strategies used by mainstream food producers to keep our custom.

The programme also explores the impact of successive government initiatives and health campaigns, such as the proposal of ‘traffic light labelling’, the introduction of which the food industry lobbied hard against.

But in 2012, when we have an Olympic Games sponsored by McDonalds and Coca Cola, has anything changed?

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 2

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 14, 2012

Part 2 of the BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Jacques Peretti investigates how the concept of ‘supersizing’ changed our eating habits forever. How did we – once a nation of moderate eaters – start to want more?

Speaking to Mike Donahue, former McDonalds Vice President, Peretti explores the history behind the idea of supersizing. 40 years ago, McDonalds hired David Wallerstein, a former cinema manager who had introduced the idea of selling larger popcorn servings in his Chicago cinema. Wallerstein realised that people would eat more but they didn’t like the idea of appearing gluttonous by going back for seconds. By increasing the portion sizes and the cost, he could sell more food. In 1972, he introduced the idea to McDonalds and their first large fries went on sale.

By the 1980s, we were eating more – and eating more often. Perretti speaks with industry professionals to examine the story behind the introduction of value meals, king-size snacks and multi-buy promotions. How did the advertising industry encourage us to eat more often?

The programme also explores the developments in dietary advice – by 2003, the Chief Medical Officer was warning of an ‘obesity time bomb.’ Peretti speaks to obesity expert Professor Philip James, who made recommendations in his 1996 report that the food industry should cease targeting children in their advertisements. He also speaks with Professor Terry Wilkin, who led a pioneering study into childhood weight gain; and former Labour MP David Hinchliffe, who chaired the 2003 Parliamentary Select Committee on Health.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of How We Became Fat – Part 1

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 12, 2012

From Introduction of BBC’s Remarkable Three-Part Series “The Men Who Made Us Fat”:

Around the world, obesity levels are rising. More people are now overweight than undernourished. Two thirds of British adults are overweight and one in four of us is classified as obese. In the first of this three-part series, Jacques Peretti traces those responsible for revolutionising our eating habits, to find out how decisions made in America 40 years ago influence the way we eat now.

Peretti travels to America to investigate the story of high-fructose corn syrup. The sweetener was championed in the US in the 1970s by Richard Nixon’s agriculture secretary Earl Butz to make use of the excess corn grown by farmers. Cheaper and sweeter than sugar, it soon found its way into almost all processed foods and soft drinks. HFCS is not only sweeter than sugar, it also interferes with leptin, the hormone that controls appetite, so once you start eating or drinking it, you don’t know when to stop.

Endocrinologist Robert Lustig was one of the first to recognise the dangers of HFCS but his findings were discredited at the time. Meanwhile a US Congress report blamed fat, not sugar, for the disturbing rise in cardio-vascular disease and the food industry responded with ranges of ‘low fat’, ‘heart healthy’ products in which the fat was removed – but the substitute was yet more sugar.

Meanwhile, in 1970s Britain, food manufacturers used advertising campaigns to promote the idea of snacking between meals. Outside the home, fast food chains offered clean, bright premises with tempting burgers cooked and served with a very un-British zeal and efficiency. Twenty years after the arrival of McDonalds, the number of fast food outlets in Britain had quadrupled.

Related Situationist posts:

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

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Distribution, Evolutionary Psychology, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Policy, Public Relations, Social Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,016 other followers

%d bloggers like this: