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Posts Tagged ‘Emily Pronin’

Kennedy and Pronin on the Spiral of Conflict

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 16, 2011

A group of  Harvard Law students are blogging over at the Law & Mind Blog.  Here is one of their posts about a chapter by Situationist Contributor Emily Pronin and Kathleen Kennedy (forthcoming in from Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson’s  book, “Ideology, Psychology, and Law”).  The post is authored by HLS student Michael Lieberman.

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In their chapter, Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict, Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin examine what they see as a major cause of breakdowns in negotiation, both small- and large-scale: a tendency of each side to view the other side’s position as biased and preference-driven (rather than based on objective facts). Kennedy and Pronin explain that we tend to see signs of bias all around us – some even posit that United States Supreme Court justices fall short of impartiality in their decisions. The only place, it seems, where the tendency to detect bias is weak is in ourselves: people have a tendency to perceive others as susceptible to the influence of biases while at the same time viewing themselves as relatively unaffected by those biases. That asymmetry has been referred to as a bias blind spot. One example of this bias blind spot with particular relevance to those of us in law school is the widespread disagreement over the validity of high-stakes standardized tests, such as the LSAT. High performers are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of poor performers who claim that the test is invalid and should not be used; poor performers, by contrast, are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of high performers who champion the tests’ use.

The first component of Kennedy and Pronin’s bias-perception conflict spiral is that disagreement leads to an even stronger perception that the other side is biased. That is, when people disagree, they view those with whom they disagree as biased or, more specifically, as unable or unwilling to view things as they are in “objective reality.” The reason is clear: “people generally have complete faith in the veridicality of their perceptions, and thus are suspicious of those who fail to share their perceptions.” Kennedy and Pronin offer support for this component with a review of several experimental and real-world cases of the tendency to perceive bias in action, including an experiment conducted among partisans involved in the struggle between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, in the wake of the “Good Friday Agreement” that established the conditions for peace in that region. Consistent with their hypothesis, partisans in the conflict tended to feel that those who led the opposing side were more prone to these biases than were those who led their own side.

The second component of the model is that the perception of the other side as biased leads to competitive and aggressive action, as opposed to cooperative and peaceful action. When dealing with an opponent whom one views as unable or unwilling to see things objectively, one may conclude that cooperative efforts (such as sitting down to talk things out, or providing relevant facts and arguments) are unlikely to be successful. The authors again cite several studies supporting the idea that people are likely to choose their responses to their opponents based at least in part on their assessment of the other side’s capacity for objectivity versus inclination towards bias.

Having outlined the framework of the bias-perception conflict spiral, Kennedy and Pronin proceed to apply their concept to the field of negotiation, both explaining when and how the spiral rears its ugly head and offering potential ways to stop it in its tracks. As the above outline would suggest, people seem to view their adversaries in negotiation as prone to bias, and that perception of bias leads them to act competitively in a way that interferes with efficient dispute resolution. After reviewing the weaknesses of strategies suggested by past research (perspective taking, epistemic motivation, and social grouping) Kennedy and Pronin suggest three strategies of their own to help achieve increased success in negotiations (strategies that may require bringing in a third-party mediator):

1. Non-counterarguing listening – Counterarguing listening, which the authors suggest most people engage in, involves thinking about ways in which one’s own position is superior and preparing counterarguments while an opponent is speaking. that can be leveled against the opposition when it is one’s chance to reply. An alternative to that listening approach would allow individuals to truly hear the other person by suppressing impulses to counterargue that content, so that individuals might reach a better understanding of their opponent’s actual position and of its underlying subtleties.

2. Introspective education – This strategy works to induce individuals to see themselves as less objective. By recognizing their own capacity for bias, individuals might be better equipped to resolve their conflicts peacefully once they realize that the other side, while biased, is no more biased than oneself and, therefore, likely has some rational reasons for believing what they believe. A mediator can implement this strategy by educating individuals on the psychology of implicit biases and providing them with concrete demonstrations of their own implicit attitudes (by administering the IAT, for example).

3. Temporal distance – Kennedy and Pronin explain: “Manipulating adversaries’ temporal distance from a conflict situation may also work to alleviate the bias-perception conflict spiral. Temporal distance (how far into the future an event is), as well as physical and social distance (how geographically distant or socially removed an event is), can increase the extent to which individuals see events in more global, indirect, or abstract terms,” which allows adversaries to adopt a cooler perspective toward the situation, including toward the disagreement itself and the opposing party. which might lead them to be more open to acknowledging both their own biases and their adversaries’ objectivity. Resulting reductions in individuals’ perceptions of either the size of their disagreement or the extent to which they are uniquely objective could interrupt or prevent the bias-perception conflict spiral.

In sum, Kennedy and Pronin’s framework focuses on the tendency of individuals to impute bias to others, especially others who disagree with them, and on the consequences of that tendency for conflictual behavior. Their examination of the psychological forces behind the conflict spiral, as well as their suggestions for overcoming it, offers valuable insight to the field of negotiation and mediation, which is particularly useful in a world that is so often divided into opposing interests and groups.

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Go to the Law and Mind Blog here.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Book, Conflict, Ideology, Naive Cynicism, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Asymmetric Introspection and Extrospection

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 5, 2009

Pronin Image - by Marc ScheffSituationist Contributor Emily Pronin recently wrote a very helpful primer on her work on the difference between “How We See Ourselves and How We See Others,” which she published in Science.  Here’s the abstract.

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People see themselves differently from how they see others. They are immersed in their own sensations, emotions, and cognitions at the same time that their experience of others is dominated by what can be observed externally. This basic asymmetry has broad consequences. It leads people to judge themselves and their own behavior differently from how they judge others and those others behavior. Often, those differences produce disagreement and conflict. Understanding the psychological basis of those differences may help mitigate some of their negative effects.

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In case you’re not already familiar with Pronin’s work, we recommend it highly.  You can download the above article (as well as a many of her other publications) on her website (here).

For some related Situationist posts, see “Emily Pronin on the Situation of Bias,” The Situation of Biased Perceptions,” I’m Objective, You’re Biased,” and “Naive Cynicism – Abstract.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Illusions, Life, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Emily Pronin on the Situation of Bias

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 11, 2009

In March of 2008, at the Second Harvard Conference on Law and Mind Sciences, Situationist Contributor Emily Pronin presented her fascinating and important work in a talk titled “Implications of Personal and Social Claims and Denials of Bias.”  Below we have pasted the abstract and the four video segments of her presentation.

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People’s efforts to make accurate, fair, and sound judgments and decisions often are compromised by various cognitive and motivational biases. Although this is clearly a problem, the solution is less clear due to the fact that people generally deny, and often are literally unaware of, their own commissions of bias – even while they readily impute bias to those around them. I will discuss evidence for this asymmetry in bias perception and for the sources that underlie it, and I will discuss its relevance to three policy concerns – i.e., corruption, discrimination, and conflict. Finally, I will discuss solutions, with a focus on potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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To read a Situationist post containing a summary of Pronin’s work and some related links, see “The Situation of Biased Perceptions.”

Posted in Ideology, Legal Theory, Life, Naive Cynicism, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Biased Perceptions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2009

Pronin ImageEmily Aronson and Ushma Patel recently wrote a nice article (pasted below) about the important work of Situationist Contributor and psychology star Emily Pronin.

Pronin’s work takes on special significance this week in light debates about the Sotomayor nomination and this week’s Supreme Court’s decision in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., in which Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that “The judge inquires into reasons that seem to be leading to a particular result. . . . To bring coherence to the process, and to seek respect for the resulting judgment, judges often explain the reasons for their conclusions and rulings. There are instances when the introspection that often attends this process may reveal that what the judge had assumed to be a proper, controlling factor is not the real one at work. . . .”

At the Situationist, we take seriously the possibility that what Justice Kennedy suggests may sometimes occur generally does occur.

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For those who consider their judgments fair and their thoughts rational, social psychologist Emily Pronin offers this piece of cautionary research: Most people think they’re objective, but they’re not.

Take, for example, physicians who are accused of skewing their patient-care decisions in order to support drug companies that give them free gifts, or judges who are accused of decisions that reflect personal friendships or political ideology. Though these individuals’ biases may seem obvious to outsiders, those involved tend to claim objectivity, Pronin noted.

While some might doubt the sincerity of these individuals’ claims of objectivity, Pronin’s studies offer a different explanation for the discrepancy. She has found that individuals often recognize bias in other people but not in themselves. As her work has concluded, this “bias blind spot” is significant because it both prevents people from being objective, and also leads them to experience conflict with others, whether domestic strife between spouses or diplomatic discord between world leaders.

“This idea that basic psychological processes can have important social consequences really interests me,” said Pronin, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs who came to the University in 2003.

Pronin’s work contributes to a longstanding interest among her Princeton psychology colleagues in questions of psychological bias and social perception. While some of the faculty explore these questions by focusing on stereotypes or racial prejudice, Pronin looks broadly at humans’ unconscious partialities and how they influence decisions.

“Emily’s work is at the center of our department’s studies about human perception and decision-making,” said [Situationist Contributor] John Darley, the Dorman T. Warren Professor of Psychology and professor of psychology and public affairs. “What she has done is articulated individuals’ failure to see themselves as biased and solved the mystery for why this happens.”

In many studies, Pronin and collaborators have found that people tend to assume bias in others’ actions but are slow to acknowledge how bias shapes their own views. Even when participants are told of this phenomenon, most will still claim to be less partisan than their peers.

What causes this dichotomy? According to Pronin’s research, it is due to a basic aspect of cognition: People have access to their own thoughts and feelings, but not the thoughts and feelings of others. As a result, people tend to look inward to thoughts and feelings when judging their own bias, even while looking outward to actions for judging the bias of others. Because biases generally operate unconsciously, looking inward blinds people to their own biases, Pronin said.

“We know the thoughts, feelings and intentions behind our actions, and that knowledge can lead us to believe we are acting impartially. But because we don’t have access to this information in other people’s heads, we tend to assume they are biased when their actions look biased,” Pronin explained.

In a May 2008 study co-written with psychology graduate student Kathleen Kennedy, Pronin found that people in disagreements have a tendency to think the other person is biased. The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, measured the degree to which University students assumed bias in people expressing views on contentious issues. In one experiment, students read a mock interview with a college president about affirmative action, while in another they were presented with two fictitious students’ opinions about a proposed grading policy. Pronin and Kennedy observed that the more a student disagreed with a presented viewpoint, the more bias they imputed to the person expressing the opinion.

“You think your view is objectively justifiable, and you have factual reasons for why it is correct. But if someone disagrees with you, you think it’s because of their biases — their ideology or their emotions are preventing them from viewing things in a fair way,” Pronin said.

Further experimentation found that such biased perceptions often fuel arguments and conflict. This can have global consequences, Pronin said, citing as examples the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and fighting political factions in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

“Believing your adversaries are biased and that you are objective can lead groups to forgo negotiatory efforts in favor of more aggressive unilateral approaches,” Pronin said. “I find it fascinating that we could potentially trace ongoing world problems to something as simple and obvious as the fact that ‘I know my thoughts, but you do not.’”

Kennedy said working with Pronin has taught her how to “think like a scientist.”

“Emily has done really compelling work to help understand where the bias blind spot comes from and, together, we’ve explored the ways it can potentially impact everyday interactions without people realizing it,” said Kennedy, a fourth-year graduate student. “Among the many valuable lessons I’ve learned from her is perseverance — not to give up when things don’t quite go as expected — and this has helped me become a successful and productive researcher.”

Going forward, Pronin said she hopes to experiment with methods for overcoming the bias blind spot as a way to de-escalate disagreements.

Such work could help the master’s in public affairs students that Pronin co-teaches in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs course “Psychology for Policy Analysis and Implementation,” with Darley and other psychology faculty.

“The class translates what we know in psychology to what people need to know in order to be effective policymakers,” Pronin said. “Princeton is a real trailblazer in picking up on the importance of psychology for public leaders.”

Pronin said her joint appointment with the Woodrow Wilson School allows her to contribute to psychology’s connection to the broader intellectual community at Princeton.

“I always want to make sure my work has one eye turned toward the real world,” Pronin said.

This aim is seen in Pronin’s other research, including her recent studies on how fast thinking influences mood and may contribute to mental disorders such as mania and depression. Scientific American and ABC News have highlighted Pronin’s finding that people could improve their moods by undertaking activities that promote rapid thinking, such as completing crossword puzzles or brainstorming ideas.

Pronin first examined perceptions of bias as a graduate student at Stanford University, where she earned her Ph.D. in psychology in 2001. She extended her research to other topics, including effects of thought speed and perceptions of free will, while a psychology postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University from 2001 to 2003.

Her interest in the intersection of psychology and the public good dates to Pronin’s undergraduate days at Yale University, where she earned a B.A. in psychology in 1996. Pronin worked in the laboratory of psychology professor Peter Salovey — now Yale’s provost — who was using psychological principles to develop cancer prevention media campaigns, finding effective ways to encourage people to wear sunscreen or get regular mammograms.

“It’s the type of research that I am still interested in today: It made a real impact on people’s lives, and it was grounded in scientific evidence,” Pronin said.

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To read other Situationist posts by Emily Pronin or about her work, see “I’m Objective, You’re Biased,”  “Naive Cynicism – Abstract,” The Magic of Jonathan Papelbon’s ‘Knuckle Knock,’” “Red Sox Magic,” and “Think You’ve Got Magical Powers?

Tomorrow we will post a video of Emily Pronin’s 2008 talk about her work at Harvard Law School.

To read a sample of Situationist posts discussing sources of judicial decisions other than the reasons judges offer, see “The Situation of Judicial Activism,” Judicial Ideology – Abstract,” The Situation of Judicial Methods - Abstract,” “The Situation of Constitutional Beliefs – Abstract,” The Political Situation of Judicial Activism,” Ideology is Back!,” “The Situation of Judges (1),” The Situation of Judges (2),” Blinking on the Bench,” “The Situation of Judging – Part I,” “The Situation of Judging – Part II,” “Justice Thomas and the Conservative Hypocrisy,” The Situation of Reason,” and “A Convenient Fiction.”

Posted in Ideology, Law, Life, Politics, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Magical Thinking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 11, 2008

lennon.jpgMatthew Hutson has an excellent piece in the latest Pscyhology Today looking at the psychological origins of magical thinking. Among other topics, Hutson highlights some research by Situationist contributor Emily Pronin. Here are a few pieces of the article.

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Last year John Lennon went on tour. He visited, among other locations, Oklahoma City, Waco, New Orleans, and Virginia Tech, spreading a message of peace and love at the sites of tragic events. You may not have recognized him, though, covered in scars and cigarette burns. But to hear him, there would have been no mistaking his presence.

On this journey, Lennon assumed the form of a piano, specifically the one on which he composed Imagine. “It gives off his spirit, and what he believed in, and what he preached for many years,” says Caroline True, the tour director and a colleague of the Steinway’s current owner, singer George Michael. Free of velvet ropes, it could be touched or played by anyone. According to Libra LaGrone, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, “It was like sleeping in your grandpa’s sweatshirt at night. Familiar, beautiful, and personal.”

“I never went anywhere saying this is a magic piano and it’s going to cure your ills,” True says. But she consistently saw even the most skeptical hearts warm to the experience—even in Virginia, where the piano landed just a month after the massacre. “I had no idea an inanimate object could give people so much.”Maybe you’re not a Beatles fan. Maybe you even hate peace and love. But you are wired to find meaning in the world, a predisposition that leaves you with less control over your beliefs than you may think. . . .

Lennon Piano on tour (AP)Magical thinking springs up everywhere. Some irrational beliefs (Santa Claus?) are passed on to us. But others we find on our own. Survival requires recognizing patterns—night follows day, berries that color will make you ill. And because missing the obvious often hurts more than seeing the imaginary, our skills at inferring connections are overtuned. No one told Wade Boggs that eating chicken before every single game would help his batting average; he decided that on his own, and no one can argue with his success. We look for patterns because we hate surprises and because we love being in control.

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“There are many layers of belief,” psychologist Carol Nemeroff says. “And the answer for many people, especially with regard to magic, is, ‘Most of me doesn’t believe but some of me does.’” People will often acknowledge their gut reaction and say it makes no sense to act on it—but do it anyway. Other times, they’ll incorporate superstition into their worldview alongside other explanations. “For example,” says Susan Gelman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, “God puts you in the path of an HIV-positive lover, but biology causes you to contract the virus from his semen.”

Often we don’t even register our wacky beliefs. Seeing causality in coincidence can happen even before we have a chance to think about it; the misfiring is sometimes perceptual rather than rational. “Consider what happens when you honk your horn, and just at that moment a streetlight goes out,” observes Brian Scholl, director of Yale’s Perception and Cognition Laboratory. “You may never for a moment believe that your honk caused the light to go out, but you will irresistibly perceive that causal relation. The fact remains that our visual systems refuse to believe in coincidences.” Our overeager eyes, in effect, lay the groundwork for more detailed superstitious ideation. And it turns out that no matter how rational people consider themselves, if they place a high value on hunches they are hard-pressed to hit a baby’s photo on a dartboard. On some level they’re equating image with reality. Even our aim falls prey to intuition.

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1. Anything can be sacred.

To some, John Lennon’s piano is sacred. Most married people consider their wedding rings sacred. Kids with no notion of sanctity will bust a lung wailing over their lost blanky. Personal investment in inanimate objects might delicately be called sentimentality, but what else is it if not magical thinking? There’s some invisible meaning attached to these things: an essence. A wedding ring or a childhood blanket could be replaced by identical or near-identical ones, but those impostors just wouldn’t be the same. What makes something sacred is not its material makeup but its unique history. . . .

In many cases the value of an object comes from who owned it or used it or touched it, an example of “magical contagion.” . . . Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania and Nemeroff contend that magical contagion may emerge from our evolved fear of germs, which, like essences, are invisible, easily transmissible, and have far-reaching consequences. Well before humans had any concept of germ theory, we quarantined the ill and avoided touching dead bodies. The deep intuition that moral or psychological qualities can pass between people, or that an object carries its history with it, could just be an extension of the adaptive tendency to pay close attention to the pathways of illness.But that doesn’t mean we’re good at evaluating sources of contagion. Nemeroff found that people draw the germs of their lovers as less scary-looking than those of enemies, and they say those germs would make them less ill. She also found that undergrads base condom usage on how emotionally safe they feel with a partner more than on objective risk factors for catching STDs.

2. Anything can be cursed.

Essences are not always good. In fact, people show stronger reactions to negative taint than to positive. Mother Teresa cannot fully neutralize the evil in a sweater worn by Hitler, a fact that fits the germ theory of moral contagion: A drop of sewage does more to a bucket of clean water than a drop of clean water does to a bucket of sewage. Traditional cleaning can’t erase bad vibes either. Studies by Rozin and colleagues show that people have a strong aversion to wearing laundered clothes that have been worn by a murderer or even by someone who’s lost a leg in an accident. Magical contagion can also flow in reverse. Many people wouldn’t want an AIDS patient taking over a hospital bed that they had just left, and about a third of undergrads would feel uncomfortable if an enemy possessed their used hairbrush. “This rests on the assumption that there is no separation of space and time,” Nemeroff says. “The hairbrush and I were in contact, we merged. At that mystical level where all is one, acting on it is acting on me.”

3. Mind rules over matter.

Wishing is probably the most ubiquitous kind of magical spell around, the unreasonable expectation that your thoughts have force and energy to act on the world. Who has not resisted certain thoughts for fear of jinxing oneself? Made a wish while blowing out birthday candles? Tried to push a field goal fair mid-flight using nothing but hope and concentration? Emily Pronin and colleagues at Princeton and Harvard convinced undergrads in a study that they had put voodoo curses on fellow subjects. While targeting their thoughts on the other students, hexers pushed pins into voodoo dolls and the “victims” feigned headaches. Some victims had been instructed to behave like jackasses during the study (the “Stupid People Shouldn’t Breed” T-shirt was a nice touch), eliciting ill will from pin pushers. Those who dealt with the jerks felt much more responsible for the headaches than the control group did. If you think it, and it happens, then you did it, right? Pronin describes the results as a particular form of seeingMichael Hargrove causality in coincidence, where the “cause” is especially conspicuous because it’s hard to miss what’s going on in your own head.

4. Rituals bring good luck.

Whenever I fly, I place my hands on the fuselage as I step onto the plane. The habit began when I was a kid innocently in awe of flying machines, but over the years as I continued to touch the plane and continued to not die horribly, my brain decided I was keeping the apparatus aloft, and now I do it for peace of mind. To witness the mindless repetition of actions with no proven causal effect, there’s no better laboratory than the athletic field. The anthropologist George Gmelch of Union College in Schenectady has paid close attention to the elaborate dances players do during baseball games. Because performance while hitting and pitching is so unpredictable (compared to fielding), most behavioral tics occur on the mound or at the plate. Mike Hargrove was nicknamed “the human rain delay” because of his obsessive shenanigans while at bat. B.F. Skinner famously showed “superstition” in pigeons by locking them in a box, feeding them at regular intervals, and watching them associate random behaviors with food rewards, eventually building up intricate routines of behavior. When you combine kicking dirt and readjusting your helmet with strikes and home runs, you can see how the batter’s box would quickly become an open-air Skinner box.

We use ritual acts most often when there is little cost to them, when an outcome is uncertain or beyond our control, and when the stakes are high—hence my communion with the fuselage. People who truly trust in their rituals exhibit a phenomenon known as “illusion of control,” the belief that they have more influence over the world than they actually do. And it’s not a bad delusion to have—a sense of control encourages people to work harder than they might otherwise. In fact, a fully accurate assessment of your powers, a state known as “depressive realism,” haunts people with clinical depression, who in general show less magical thinking.

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6. Karma’s a bitch.

. . . . Belief in a just world puts our minds at ease: Even if things are beyond our control, they happen for a reason. The idea of arbitrary pain and suffering is just too much for many people to bear, and the need for moral order may help explain the popularity of religion; in fact, just-worlders are more religious than others. . . .

7. The world is alive.

To believe that the universe is sympathetic to our wishes is to believe that it has a mind or a soul, however rudimentary. . . . It’s not that we think all matter is fully alive—even babies are surprised when inanimate objects appear to move on their own—it’s that we feel all matter has that potential. . . . Lindeman Marjaana, a psychologist at the University of Helsinki, defines magical thinking as treating the world as if it has mental properties (animism) or expecting the mind to exhibit the properties of the physical world. She found that people who literally endorse phrases such as, “Old furniture knows things about the past,” or, “An evil thought is contaminated,” also believe in things like feng shui (the idea that the arrangement of furniture can channel life energy) and astrology. They are also more likely to be religious and to believe in paranormal agents. [Eugene] Subbotsky says there are benefits to thinking animistically. “It’s much more comfortable to think that your fate is written down in a constellation of stars than that you’re one of a certain group of intelligent animals who are lost in frozen space forever.”

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To read the all of the Hutson’s article (we cut out a lot of interesting sections, including “To name is to rule,” “Magical Thinking: Positive psychology or psychosis lite?” and ” Primed For The Future,” click here. For a sample of previous, related Situationist posts, go to “Patriots Lose: Justice Restored!” and “The Magic of Jonathan Papelbon’s ‘Knuckle Knock,’” “Red Sox Magic,” and “Think You’ve Got Magical Powers?

Posted in Life, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »


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