The Situationist

Tony Greenwald Wins the William James Fellow Award

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 8, 2013

Anthony Greenwald by Joshua Besses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Greenwald cautioned an over-interpretation of the IAT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Situationist posts:


Posted in Awards, Implicit Associations | Leave a Comment »

2013 PLMS Conference – Save the Date!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2013

2013 Conference Header

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

Here’s a draft of the day’s schedule.

Tentative Schedule

9:30 am – Coffee, tea, and pastries

9:50 – 10:10 – Welcome

10:15 – 10:40 – Noam Chomsky

10:50 – 11:15 – Francesca Gino

“Getting Sidetracked: How we are vulnerable to manipulation”

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

11:20 – 11:45 – Susan Linn

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

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

11:50 – 12:05 Q&A


12:35 – 1:00 – Stuart Ewen

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

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

1:05 – 1:30 – Michael Niman

“Journalism in a PR World”

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

1:35 – 2:00 – Sut Jhally

“Public Relations and War”

2:05 – 2:20 – Q&A

2:20 – 2:35 – Break

2:35 – 3:00 – John Stauber

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

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

3:05 – 3:30 – Thomas McGarity

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

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

3:35 – 4:00 – Jon Hanson

“Deep Capture: Attributions, Ideologies, and Policy”

4:05 – 4:20 – Q&A

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 4, 2013

Adrian Raine violence

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

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

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

Lunch will be provided.

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

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2013

Nalini Ambady Needs Our Help

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

Posted in Life | 1 Comment »

2013 PLMS Conference – Overview

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 29, 2013

2013 Conference Header

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

Economists have long recognized regulatory capture as a phenomenon that undermines the public interest.  There is also a growing awareness of the harmful effects of money in legislative and executive electoral politics and state judicial elections, suggesting that monied interests have captured our democracy through campaign spending on many levels.

Those scholars and many others, however, have largely missed the fact that the same actors have the motive and ability to capture all of the important institutions that promote or impede their interests, from the media and popular culture to universities and opinion leaders.

Public relations firms, working on behalf of both governments and market actors, manage public opinion for their clients through all of those channels, effectively capturing the institutions important to our democracy and tilting the playing field in favor of a more stratified distribution of wealth and power.

Through a series of speakers and discussions, we hope to illuminate some of the phenomena at the heart of “deep capture,” from the psychological tendencies and assumptions that render humans vulnerable to manipulation to the history of public relations in the U.S. and the industry’s strategies and tactics.  The conference will also highlight some examples of how those processes and actors shape various institutions and policies.

Visit the conference website for more information and to register here.

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | Leave a Comment »

Eliot Spitzer – Today at HLS

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 27, 2013

spitzer cover

Discussion with Eliot Spitzer on Corporations in America.  Wed., March
 27, 12 – 1 P.M.  Austin North.  Lunch served.

Courtesy of Professor Hanson’s Corporations class (aka “Like a Virgil”), please join us for a conversation with Governor Eliot Spitzer on Corporations in America.  A graduate of Harvard Law School, Eliot Spitzer has served as Governor and as Attorney General of New York, he conducted “The Wall Street Cases.”

Co-sponsored by ACS and the HLS Democrats.

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Events, Politics, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

An Interview with NYU’s Adam Alter

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 25, 2013

As detailed in a post last week, NYU marketing and psychology professor Adam Alter’s terrific new book, Drunk Tank Pink, is now out in bookstores around the country.  It is a thoroughly interesting and engaging read and well worth picking up (indeed, you can order a copy here on Amazon).

As part of what I hope will turn into a trend here at The Situationist, I interviewed Adam about his book.  My questions and his responses are found below:

1.  What led you to write a book for a trade press?

Adam:  The Boston Globe featured a piece on cognitive fluency, one of my main areas of academic interest, and several agents called me after reading the piece.  After reading the piece, which played up the striking relationship between cognitive processing and all sorts of important real-world outcomes, they were convinced that the research should be translated for the public.  I began writing a proposal, but felt that fluency alone wasn’t enough to fill an entire book, so broadened the book’s scope.  Fluency is still in there, but I also cover other drivers of behavior and thinking (e.g., names and linguistic labels, symbols, culture, the presence of other people, weather, etc.).  My agent sent the proposal to a number of publication houses, and I was delighted when Penguin Press decided to publish the book.      

2.  Had you ever written for a non-academic audience before?  What are the challenges of writing a popular book in psychology?

Adam:  I had and have since written shorter pieces for a number of non-academic sites—Psychology Today, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and Slate, for example.  I really enjoy writing for non-academic audiences, because that sort of writing forces you to think about what the research really means, to jettison the technical baggage that allows you to avoid thinking about the broader implications of the work.  Theory development is obviously critical, but it’s easy to get bogged down in minutiae, and over time you lose sight of the work’s broader importance.  When you write for a popular outlet, you’re constantly pushed to expose the broader practical implications of the work.  It’s never enough to describe, say, the fact that people prefer simpler names to complex names—you also have to explain why that’s important in a context that people find meaningful and personally relevant.

3.  What type of people do you hope will read the book?

Adam:  I wrote the book for an audience of intelligent laypeople who haven’t studied much (or any) psychology.  I’d be very happy to have psychologists and other academics read the book as well, but my aim was to describe the work with all its complexity while steering clear of arcane technical terms. 

4.  What is your favorite experiment in the book?

Adam:  One of my favorites is a study that overturned the widely held belief that the Müller-Lyer illusion is universal.  According to the illusion, people perceive the vertical line on the right, below, as longer than the vertical line on the left.  In fact the lines are identical in length, but it’s difficult for almost everyone in the world to shake the sense that they differ in length depending on the orientation of the shorter lines that extend from their ends.

Lines pic

The researchers presented the two lines to people from different cultural groups across the world, and found that it almost always held—except among African tribesmen and bushmen who had never lived in or encountered the hard geometric angles we associate with modern architecture.  If you look at the line on the left, it looks like the near edge of two walls (illustrated in Wall A, below).  In contrast, the line on the right looks like the far edge of two walls (Wall B, below).  When you look at the image below, you know that the edges at Wall A and Wall B are actually identical in height, and you automatically adjust by assuming that Wall A is relatively shorter than it appears, while Wall B is relatively taller in comparison.  Most people in the world today have learned to adjust for perspective, but the tribespeople in the study were immune to the illusion because they hadn’t been exposed to the sorts of visual scenes that train people to make these hard-to-detect mental adjustments.  The study illustrates a number of important ideas: that we’re quick to assume an effect is universal before we’ve tested it more broadly; that cultural experience shapes even the most basic perceptual processes (and not just which foods we like to eat or how we treat our elders); and that focusing our intellectual attention on a single cultural group occludes some very interesting results that aren’t clear until we venture into relatively remote cultural territory.

Room pic

5.  If you had the ability to take one insight from your book and use it to alter American policy at the local, state, or national level what would it be?

Adam:  There’s a great study showing that people donate more to hurricane relief charities when the hurricane name shares the first letter in their own first name.  So Matts, Marys, and Marks are more likely to donate to Hurricane Mitt relief than to Hurricane Katrina relief, but Kims, Kevins, and Kens are more likely to do the reverse.  The National Weather Service has named its hurricanes using a series of alphabetical lists for six or seven decades, but now that we know that people donate based on their initials, it might make sense to name hurricanes more systematically.  For example, more Americans have the first name initials J and M than the initials O and V, so perhaps we should remove Olga and Van from the 2013 list, replacing them with, say, James and Maria.  I conducted a rough simulation and calculated that, over the course of the last decade, hurricane relief agencies could have attracted $500 billion more in aid relief just by renaming hurricanes using this very simple approach.  Small tweaks like this—tweaks that are both inexpensive and non-invasive—sometimes bring about strikingly large real-world effects. 

Many thanks to Adam for doing the interview.  As I said, it’s a great book and I encourage readers to pick up a copy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

2013 PLMS Conference – Save the Date!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 23, 2013

2013 Conference Header

On April 13, 2013 the Project on Law and Mind Sciences and the National Lawyers Guild are co-hosting a conference titled “Deep Capture: Psychology, Public Relations, Democracy, and Law” at Harvard Law School.  Please save the date.  You won’t want to miss it.  More details to be announced soon.

Posted in Deep Capture, Events | Leave a Comment »

Dive into Drunk Tank Pink Today!

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 21, 2013

NYU professor Adam Alter’s new book, Drunk Tank Pink, is out today!

As I mentioned in a post last week, we are trying out a new feature here at The Situationist of interviewing authors about their books and we’ll be publishing the interview with Adam in a few days.

In anticipation of that, here is one of Adam’s interesting recent papers, Fondness makes the distance grow shorter: Desired locations seem closer because they seem more vivid:

Do appealing locations seem nearer than unappealing locations merely because they are more desirable? We examine the possibility that people represent desirable locations as nearer than equidistant undesirable locations. In three studies, participants represented a variety of locations on a university campus (Study 1) and in the greater New York City area (Studies 2 and 3) as nearer the more positive they felt about those locations. The relationship between positivity and closeness was mediated by the tendency for participants to generate particularly vivid representations of the locations when they evaluated them more positively (Studies 2 and 3). We discuss the theoretical implications of these results for mental construal, motivated perception and metacognition.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Mindfulness, Adolescence, and Depression

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 19, 2013

middle school meditation

From ScienceDaily:

Secondary school students who follow an in-class mindfulness programme report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms. The study, conducted by Professor Filip Raes (Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU Leuven), is the first to examine mindfulness in a large sample of adolescents in a school-based setting.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation therapy focused on exercising ‘attentiveness’. Depression is often rooted in a downward spiral of negative feelings and worries. Once a person learns to more quickly recognize these feelings and thoughts, he or she can intervene before depression sinks in.

While mindfulness has already been widely tested and applied in patients with depression, this is the first time the method has been studied in a large group of adolescents in a school-based setting, using a randomized controlled design. The study was carried out at five middle schools in Flanders, Belgium. About 400 students between the ages of 13 and 20 took part. The students were divided into a test group and a control group. The test group received mindfulness training, and the control group received no training. Before the study, both groups completed a questionnaire with questions indicative of depression, stress or anxiety symptoms. Both groups completed the questionnaire again directly after the training, and then a third time six months later.

Before the start of the training, both the test group (21%) and the control group (24%) had a similar percentage of students reporting evidence of depression. After the mindfulness training, that number was significantly lower in the test group: 15% versus 27% in the control group. This difference persisted six months after the training: 16% of the test group versus 31% of the control group reported evidence of depression. The results suggest that mindfulness can lead to a decrease in symptoms associated with depression and, moreover, that it protects against the later development of depression-like symptoms.

The study was carried out in cooperation with the Belgian not-for-profit Mindfulness and with support from the Go for Happiness Foundation.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Positive Psychology | 3 Comments »

New Book: Drunk Tank Pink

Posted by Adam Benforado on March 17, 2013

Here at The Situationist, we are always excited to learn about new books bringing insights from the mind sciences to broader audiences, but we are particularly excited when the book in question happens to be written by one of our friends.  And when the author has a great name (more on that later), all the better.

As a result, the publication of Adam Alter’s Drunk Tank Pink has us downright giddy.  Adam is an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at NYU and his research engages behavioral economics, marketing, and the psychology of judgment and decision-making.

Curious about his newest endeavor?  Here are the details:

Drunk Tank Pink


An illuminating look at the way the thoughts we have and the decisions we make are influenced by forces that aren’t always in our control

Why are people named Kim, Kelly, and Ken more likely to donate to Hurricane Katrina victims than to Hurricane Rita victims? Are you really more likely to solve puzzles if you watch a light bulb illuminate? How did installing blue lights along a Japanese railway line halt rising crime and suicide rates? Can decorating your walls with the right artwork make you more honest? The human brain is fantastically complex, having engineered space travel and liberated nuclear energy, so it’s no wonder that we resist the idea that we’re deeply influenced by our surroundings. As profound as they are, these effects are almost impossible to detect both as they’re occurring and in hindsight. Drunk Tank Pink is the first detailed exploration of how our environment shapes what we think, how we feel, and the ways we behave.

The world is populated with words and images that prompt unexpected, unconscious decisions. We are so deeply attracted to our own initials that we give more willingly to the victims of hurricanes that match our initials: Kims and Kens donate more generously to Hurricane Katrina victims, whereas Rons and Rachels give more openly to Hurricane Rita victims. Meanwhile, an illuminated light bulb inspires creative thinking because it symbolizes insight.

Social interactions have similar effects, as professional cyclists pedal faster when people are watching. Teachers who took tea from the break room at Newcastle University contributed 300 percent more to a cash box when a picture of two eyes hung on the wall. We’re evolutionarily sensitive to human surveillance, so we behave more virtuously even if we’re only watched by a photograph. The physical environment, from locations to colors, also guides our hand in unseen ways. Dimly lit interiors metaphorically imply no one’s watching and encourage dishonesty and theft, while blue lights discourage violent activity because they’re associated with the police. Olympic taekwondo and judo athletes are more likely to win when they wear red rather than blue, because red makes them behave aggressively and referees see them as more dominant. Drunk Tank Pink is full of revelatory facts, riveting anecdotes, and cutting-edge experiments that collectively explain how the most unexpected factors lead us to think, feel, and behave the way we do.


If you happen to be in New York on March 27th, Malcolm Gladwell will be discussing Drunk Tank Pink with Adam at 7:00 PM at the Barnes and Noble at 2289 Broadway (at 82nd Street).

In the meantime, you can order a copy from Amazon here.

As a special treat for Situationist readers, I have interviewed Adam about his experience writing Drunk Tank Pink and will share his interesting responses in an upcoming post.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Marketing | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Amy Cuddy on Power Posing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 13, 2013

From Time:

Using a few simple tweaks to body language, Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy discovers ways to help people become more powerful.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Evolutionary Psychology, Positive Psychology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Carl Hart on The Drug War – SALMS Talk Today!

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 12, 2013

drug war

The Drug War: A Psychological Problem-A Conversation with Carl Hart
Tuesday, March 12th, 12pm-1pm
Langdell South

Lunch talk featuring Dr. Carl Hart, Assistant Professor of Clinical Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry, an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, and author of the forthcoming book High Price. Dr. Hart was featured in the film “The House I Live In” where he discussed his research on the effects of meth on human subjects.carl hart high price

Non-pizza lunch served.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Politics, SALMS | 1 Comment »

Contracting Blame

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 9, 2013

complex contracts

Eric Zacks has a superb new situationist article, titled “Contracting Blame,” (forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law, Vol. 15, 2012) available for free download on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

This Article explores the impact of the cognitive biases of judges and juries in the context of contract preparation and execution. From rental car contracts to mortgage forbearance agreements, contract preparers include provisions and formatting characteristics that appear to add little to the material terms or understanding of the agreement. These features, however, make perfect sense if one considers the implications of attribution theory, which is based on our tendency to attribute blame for an event to another’s disposition or personality. We are predisposed to blame the victim, which makes us susceptible to misjudgment when examining another’s actions. This Article makes a novel link between behavioral literature and contract preparation and suggests that contract preparers may be able to manipulate adjudicators’ cognitive biases systematically. Exclusive of the economic bargain, contract provisions can provide attributional ‘clues’ about the contracting context that inform and reassure judicial interpreters that a particular contracting party is more blameworthy than another. For example, multiple signature blocks, boldfaced or highlighted warnings, and recitals depicting a particular version of events all reinforce our tendency to perceive the contracting party as being able to act freely without being influenced by his or her situation. In counterproductive fashion, however, these features are often irrelevant to a party’s decisions in the contracting context. In light of the significant implications of the existence and prospective use of such attributional clues for contract law theory and judgment, this Article proposes a broader contextual and adjudicative focus when contemplating contract law reforms.

Download the article here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Law | Leave a Comment »

Helpful Summary of Wealth Inequality in U.S.

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 7, 2013

From Politizane:

Infographics on the distribution of wealth in America, highlighting both the inequality and the difference between our perception of inequality and the actual numbers. The reality is often not what we think it is.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Ideology, Video | Leave a Comment »

Tis Happier To Give Than To Receive

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 5, 2013

aknin map 2013

From EurekaAlert:

Feeling good about spending money on someone else rather than for personal benefit may be a universal response among people in both impoverished countries and rich nations, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our findings suggest that the psychological reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts,” said lead author Lara Aknin, PhD, of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

The findings provide the first empirical evidence that “the warm glow” of spending on someone else rather than on oneself may be a widespread component of human psychology, the authors reported in the study published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers found a positive relationship between personal well-being and spending on others in 120 of 136 countries covered in the 2006-2008 Gallup World Poll. The survey comprised 234,917 individuals, half of whom were male, with an average age of 38. The link between well-being and spending on others was significant in every region of the world, and it was not affected by other factors among those surveyed, such as income, social support, perceived freedom and perceived national corruption, the study said.

The results were similar in several experiments the researchers themselves conducted with participants in wealthy and poor countries. For one analysis, they compared responses from 820 individuals recruited mostly from universities in Canada and Uganda. The participants wrote about a time they had either spent money on themselves or on others, after which they were asked to report how happy they felt. They were also asked if they spent money on another person to build or strengthen a relationship. People who remembered spending money on someone else felt happier than those who recalled spending money on themselves, even when the researchers controlled for the extent to which people built or strengthened a relationship, according to the study.

The researchers obtained the same results when they conducted an online survey of 101 adults in India. Some respondents were asked to recall recently spending money on themselves or someone else, while others were tested for their happiness level without recalling past spending. Those who recalled spending on someone else said they had a greater feeling of well-being than those who remembered spending on themselves or those who weren’t asked about spending.

In another experiment, 207 university students in Canada and South Africa reported higher levels of well-being after purchasing a goody bag for a sick child rather than buying one for themselves. Both groups went to labs where they were given a small amount of money and told to buy a bag of treats for themselves or one for a child at a local hospital.

“From an evolutionary perspective, the emotional benefits that people experience when they help others acts to encourage generous behavior beneficial to long-term human survival,” said Aknin.

Download the pdf here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Positive Psychology | Leave a Comment »

Blind Spot

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 3, 2013

Blind Spot Book Cover

From the Harvard Gazette (an article about Situationist Contributor Mahzarin Banaji’s extroardinary new book, co-authored with Anthony Greenwald):

Mahzarin Banaji shouldn’t have been biased against women. A leading social psychologist — who rose from unlikely circumstances in her native India, where she once dreamed of becoming a secretary — she knew better than most that women were just as cut out for the working world as men.

Then Banaji sat down to take a test. Names of men and women and words associated with “career” and “family” flashed across the computer screen, one after the other. As she tried to sort the words into groups as instructed, she found that she was much faster and more accurate when asked to lump the male names with job-oriented words. It wasn’t what a pathbreaking female scientist would have expected, or hoped, to see.

“I thought to myself: Something is wrong with this damned test,” said Banaji, Harvard’s Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, as she reflected during an interview in her William James Hall office on her first run-in with an Implicit Association Test (I.A.T.).

That Banaji specializes in creating just these kinds of assessments did nothing to change the results. But at least she can take comfort in knowing she’s not alone. In the past 15 years, more than 14 million such tests have been taken at Project Implicit, the website of Banaji and her longtime collaborator Anthony Greenwald.

What these curious test-takers, as well as Banaji and Greenwald, found was that many of us hold onto quite a bit of unconscious bias against all sorts of groups, no matter how unprejudiced we strive to be in our actions and conscious thoughts. It’s a counterintuitive, even unnerving proposition, and one that Banaji and Greenwald, a professor of psychology at the University of Washington, set out to explain for a lay audience in “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People.”

“This test can get under your skin in some ways,” Banaji said. “There is something annoying about us coming around and telling these good people that something may be less good here.”

But if most of us want to be good — to match our actions to our best intentions — our brains sometimes have other ideas. Just as the human eye has a blind spot in its field of vision, they write, our unconscious minds can contain hidden biases (often toward groups of which we are not a member or with which we are less familiar) that can guide our behavior. Banaji and Greenwald have devoted three decades to developing scientifically sound ways to uncover those biases.

“I’m not a good theoretician. I don’t have great ideas about how minds work or how people behave,” Banaji said, laughing. “But maybe as a result, I’ve focused a lot more on the development and understanding of a method that, if wielded appropriately, would produce evidence that would have to change our minds.”

In “Blindspot,” she and Greenwald offer people tools to overcome their hardwired biases, and to stoke conversation about the deeply ingrained, very human tendency toward bias in a country that prides itself on egalitarian values.

Banaji met Greenwald in the early 1980s at Ohio State University, where Banaji had enrolled to in a Ph.D. program almost on a whim, after picking up a cheap copy of the “Handbook of Social Psychology” in India. The subject seemed to meld science and philosophy, she said.

Until then, “I had no clue that it really was possible to conduct an honest-to-goodness experiment on human nature.”

Greenwald became her graduate adviser and, after she accepted a position at Yale, her collaborator. For years, the two worked together on a number of papers, largely by email. (“Neither of us likes talking on the phone,” Banaji said.)

They developed the I.A.T. in the 1990s at Yale with the help of Brian Nosek, then a graduate student of Banaji and now a professor at the University of Virginia. The simple tests can be taken in roughly 10 minutes and can be modified to assess unconscious bias in different categories, for example, whether white test-takers are likelier to associate “good” words with white faces more quickly than with black faces. (They are, and black test-takers show the reverse results.)

At the time, few psychology studies were conducted online. When the team members launched Project Implicit in 1998, Banaji hoped to garner 500 responses in the first year. With no advertising, they hit 45,000 in the first month. A flood of media attention followed, as did professional controversy.

Many critics were upset by the social implications of learning that humans may be unconscious unegalitarians, Banaji said. “But it’s been great for us to have the criticism. It has led to the work moving much faster. The standards the I.A.T. has been held to have been higher than anything I have seen.”

Banaji is quick to point out that an I.A.T. isn’t meant to shame people. If a patient went to a doctor and took a blood pressure test (which, she adds, is about as reliable as the I.A.T.), and was told he had hypertension, he wouldn’t beat himself up for not having detected it himself. Rather, he’d ask what he steps he could take to improve the situation.

“If somebody asked me what my kidneys are doing right now, I would have no idea,” she said. “Yet, we really do believe that we pretty much know what goes on in our heads. And that’s because we do have access to a piece of it called the conscious mind, and that wrongly gives us the feeling that we know all of it.”

Overcoming our biases, even the unconscious ones we can’t tell are influencing our actions, isn’t about striving for political correctness. In a globalized world, the tools of our primitive brains — the tendency to associate “the Other” with a threat, for instance — can often hold us back.

“When our ancestors met someone who was different from them, their first thought was probably: Are they going to kill me before I can kill them?” Banaji said. “Today, when we see someone who’s totally different from us, we have to ask: Can we outsource to them? Can we collaborate with them? Can we forge a relationship with them and beat somebody who’s genetically just like us? That’s a tall order!”

Though the idea of implicit bias has captured the public’s attention for more than a decade, Greenwald and Banaji did not conceive of a book on the topic until 2004, when both spent a year as fellows at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, where Banaji had taken a faculty appointment in 2002. Free from their normal academic obligations and once again in the same town, they began to work on “Blindspot.”

The ideas in “Blindspot” will hardly incite debate among psychologists at this point, Banaji said. Rather, she and Greenwald wrote the book in response to the many requests they received to speak to groups of physicians, business executives, lawyers, and other private-sector professionals who saw how ignoring their unconscious biases — in hiring the best candidates, treating patients of all ages and races, selecting witnesses and jury members — could hurt their bottom line.

Twenty years ago, when Banaji asked her intro-psych students whether they held any biases, 95 percent would say no. Now that number is about one-fifth, she said.

“This recognition that we have failings is, I think, a much more accepted idea — which is why I think the book is not going to be controversial,” Banaji said.

Of course, she added, that’s what happens to many once-incendiary ideas. “They’re criticized; people say they can’t be true. And then over time it becomes common sense. While we’re not quite at the common sense stage, I do think we’re getting there.”

To visit the Project Implicit website and find out more about implicit associations, click here. To review many 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.

Posted in Book, Ideology, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors | Leave a Comment »

Ryan Enos – SALMS Talk

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 1, 2013


SALMS hosted Ryan Enos at Harvard Law School on October 11, 2012, for a talk entitled “Mitt Romney Is Really, Really Good Looking: Do Attractiveness and Other Trivial Things Affect Elections?” The talk was part of the Mind Sciences & the Election series, which was cosponsored by American Constitution Society, HLS Republicans, HLS Democrats, and the Black Law Students Association. Click the link below to watch the video – enjoy!

Ryan Enos video

Related Situationist posts:

More posts on the situation of politics here.

Posted in Ideology, Implicit Associations, Politics, SALMS, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Gendered Situation of Smiling

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2013

Mona Lisa smile

By Soledad de Lemus, Russell Spears, & Miguel Moya wrote a terrific post on SPSP Blog about the mystery and meaning of the smile.  Here are some excerpts:

We  smile when we feel happy, but smiles are more than just the outward display of an inner emotion. We are far more likely to smile when we are with other people because a smile is a message: just one more way for people to communicate information to and establish social ties with other people.

A smile, though, sometimes means more than just “I am happy.” Just as many species bare their teeth to signal their dominance and rank, smiles exchanged among humans serve an interpersonal, regulatory function.  In our research we wanted to understand how smiles, which usually serve to signal  positive affiliation, also define status in the social hierarchy when the smile is coupled with other nonverbal information (e.g., posture). Specifically, we studied women’s nonverbal reaction to a man’s smile: will she, in addition to smiling back, also display signs of submissiveness, such as downcast eyes or a narrowing posture?

For social psychologists interested in gender, patronizing and paternalistic forms of discrimination have become a key focus of research in recent years. There are good reasons for this. Forms of prejudice and discrimination that are subtle make them more difficult to recognize and resist (Jackman, 1994), and these forms can be expressed more easily. For instance, gender relations are characterized by a power difference between men and women such that the men are considered as more worthy (e.g., as more competent, agentic than women) but women as friendlier, and more socially-oriented than men;  attributes that some consider to be important but less valuable in society. Further, gender stereotypes prescribe dominance to men compared to women, who are often expected to behave in a more submissive way to comply with the stereotypes of their group.

Other researchers have diligently explored how behaving in a complementary way in a social interaction helps to maintain positive relations, facilitating achievement of common goals. That is, when people are working together on a task with another person and they want to succeed in this task and also to maintain a positive interpersonal relations,  they will often respond to the other person’s behavior in a complementary way. This tendency generates interpersonal complementarity:  If one behaves in a dominant manner, the other will be more submissive (or vice versa), as long as there is a positive affiliation between them (e.g., they see each other as friendly and cooperative). These results have been found also when observing the non-verbal behavior of people during interpersonal interactions (Tiedens & Fragale, 2003).

Bringing together these two ideas (the role of power in gender relations, and the existence of complementary behavior in interpersonal relations), we hypothesized that in an affiliative setting—with smiles serving as strong signals of the situation’s positive emotional tone—people will display complementarity: in response to dominant behavior they will become more submissive, especially when gender is salient (i.e. in an intergroup context) providing a gender stereotypic basis for dominance vs. submission. When the context is more competitive (not affiliative –no smiling) the motivation will be to contest (compete with) the dominant behaviour, instead of complementing it.

We tested our hypotheses in three studies recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (de Lemus, Spears, & Moya, 2012).

. . .

Our research supports the argument that certain forms of prejudice and discrimination (sexism) that are subtle (disguised with a smile) make them more difficult to recognize and resist. The other way to frame our findings (perhaps in a more positive tone), is that when the smile is not present, women do seem to challenge male sexist dominance. This is, to some extent, a positive finding in terms of gender equality. We conclude our paper saying that “if women sustain the cycle of sexism unconsciously through their behavior this makes achieving gender equality harder than we might have thought. However, this implies that raising consciousness is literally as well as metaphorically the way forward.”

Read the rest of their post and a summary of their results here.

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Posted in Embodied Cognition, Emotions, Evolutionary Psychology, Life | Leave a Comment »

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