Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category
Are humans by nature social animals? My colleague, Adam Waytz, argues in a provocative essay for Edge.org that the idea that humans are naturally social may be more myth than reality. That is, if we define human sociability as the tendency to be cooperative with others, compassionate, and empathetic, it’s hardly the case that humans will always act or think in a social way. Adam’s essay is geared towards psychologists, where the trend has been to describe humans’ brains, hormones, and cognition as innately social.
He points out various ways in which psychological research points out that this is just not true. Humans are as competitive as they are cooperative, and in certain situations competition overrides cooperation. Empathy isn’t an automatic response. Humans may have a strong in-group bias and a tendency to treat people outside of our group with suspicion and lack of trust. Social behaviors seem to be triggered by certain situational characteristics rather than being the default. Moreover, our capacity to be social may be much more limited than we have previously recognized.
Because motivation and cognition are finite, so too is our capacity to be social. Thus, any intervention that intends to increase consideration of others in terms of empathy, benevolence, and compassion is limited in its ability to do so. At some point, the well of working memory on which our most valuable social abilities rely will run dry.
Rather than sociability being the natural response to human interaction, it may actually be an achievement of society that we have created the right institutions that enable sociability. Sociologists, of course, have a lot to say about the latter.
A recent Washington Post op-ed describes recent research showing that interviews are poor predictors of future job performance. The idea is old, but the results elaborate in new ways. From Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia:
You do end feeling as though you have a richer impression of the person than that gleaned from the stark facts on a resume. But there’s no evidence that interviews prompt better decisions (e.g., Huffcutt & Arthur, 1994).
A new study (Dana, Dawes, & Peterson, 2013) gives us some understanding of why.
The information on a resume is limited but mostly valuable: it reliably predicts future job performance. The information in an interview is abundant–too abundant actually. Some of it will have to be ignored. So the question is whether people ignore irrelevant information and pick out the useful. The hypothesis that they don’t is called dilution. The useful information is diluted by noise.
Dana and colleagues also examined a second possible mechanism. Given people’s general propensity for sense-making, they thought that interviewers might have a tendency to try to weave all information into a coherent story, rather than to discard what was quirky or incoherent.
Three experiments supported both hypothesized mechanisms.
In other words, interviews encourage people to see patterns in the data where none exist. They also distract us with irrelevant information. Toss this in the file of “we have evidence it don’t work, but people will do it anyway.”
For seventy five years, Harvard University has conducted a longitudinal study of 269 men who graduated in 1938. It’s an attempt to learn, in detail, about the factors that might contribute to a good life. Business Insider has a nice summary of a new book, Triumphs of Experience, that presents the results of the study. A few take home points:
- Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives; it was strongly correlated with neurosis and depression (which tended to follow alcohol abuse, rather than precede it); and—together with associated cigarette smoking—it was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death.
- Above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t matter. I assume that it doesn’t matter for the types of life course outcomes social scientists measure (employment, health, happiness, marriage).
- Relationships matter, a lot: “Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.” and “Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—but not with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work.”
- Dad matters as well: “warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment of vacations, and increased “life satisfaction” at age 75—whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”
The formula for a good life: no alcohol or smoking; be nice too people, especially your kids; and you’re probably good enough to get what you want out of life.
The Chronicle of Higher Education features a study of valedictorians and finds that class background affects where they apply to college:
Poorer students remain underrepresented at America’s top colleges, research has shown. And their academic preparation isn’t the only reason, according to Radford’s study of valedictorians, who should be considered well-prepared.
“Less-affluent valedictorians were less likely to know someone who had enrolled in a most selective institution and thus had a harder time envisioning their own attendance,” Radford wrote in a summary of her research.
The theme of the research association’s meeting this year was “Education and Poverty.” And Radford was among many who presented research on class inequity in higher education, which academics say remains deeply problematic at most colleges. Her study comes at a time of increased focus on how, despite plenty of outreach efforts, much of the talent at low-income high schools isn’t getting recruited to top colleges.
Radford worked with data from the High School Valedictorian Project, a survey of 900 class valedictorians who graduated from public high schools between 2003 and 2006. She also drew from 55 in-depth interviews with the students. The University of Chicago Press soon will publish a book by Radford on her findings.
This is probably one of the key findings of recent stratificiation research. Class doesn’t affect life course only through material resources, but by changing the habitus.
A few weeks ago, I argued that the era of overt racism is over. One commenter felt that I needed to operationalize the idea. There is no simple way to measure such a complex idea, but we can offer measurements of very specific processes. For example, I could hypothesize that it is no longer to legitimate to use in public words that have a clearly derogatory meaning, such as n—— or sp–.*
We can test that idea with word frequency data. Google has scanned over 4 million books from 1500 to the present and you can search that database. Above, I plotted the appearance of n—– and sp—, two words which are unambiguously slurs for two large American ethnic groups. I did not plot slurs like “bean,” which are homophones for other neutral non-racial words. Then, I plotted the appearance of the more neutral or positive words for those groups. The first graph shows the relative frequencies for African American and Latino slurs vs. other ethnic terms. Since the frequency for Asian American slurs and other words is much lower, they get a separate graph. Thus, we can now test hypotheses about printed text in the post-racial society:
- The elimination thesis: Slurs drop drastically in use.
- The eclipse thesis: Non-slur words now overwhelm racist slurs, but racist slurs remain.
- Co-evolution: The frequency of neutral and slur words move together. People talk about group X and the haters just use the slur.
- Escalation: Slurs are increasing.
This rough data indicates that #2 is correct. The dominant racial terms are neutral or positive. Most slurs that I looked up seem to maintain some base level of usage, even in the post-civil rights era. The slur use level is non-zero, but it is small in comparison to other words so it looks as if it is zero. Some slure use may be derogatory, while some of it may be artistic or “reclaiming the term.” I can’t prove it, but I think Quentin Tarantino accounts for for 50% or more of post-civil rights use of the n-word.
Bottom line: Society has changed and we can measure the change. This doesn’t mean that racial status is no longer important, but it does mean that one very important aspect of pre-Civil Rights racist culture has receded in relative importance. Some people just love racial slurs, but that its likely not the modal way of talking about people. Is that progress? I think so.
* Geez, Fabio, must you censor? Well, it isn’t censoring if it’s voluntary. I just don’t want this blog to be picked up for slurs. Even my book on 1970s Black Power, when people used the n-word a bit, only uses it once, in a footnote when referring to the title of H. Rap Brown’s first book.
Over a week ago, a colleague called to let me know that our advisor, Harvard Prof. J. Richard Hackman, had passed. For months, I knew that this news would eventually come, but it’s still painful to accept. I will miss hearing Richard’s booming voice, having my eyeglasses crushed to my face from a bear hug (Richard was well over 6 feet tall), or being gleefully gifted with a funny hand-written note imparting his sage advice on a matter.
Richard was a greatly respected work redesign and teams researcher. At Harvard, his classes included a highly regular and popular (despite its “early” morning time slot) course on teamwork. For those undergraduate and graduate students who have been lucky enough to take Richard’s course on teams, the course interweaves concept and practice as students must work in teams, something that most of us get very little practice with outside of organized sports or music.
In July 2012, Richard emailed several of his former teaching fellows asking us to join him in Cambridge and help him rework this course. On short notice, we assembled at the top floor of William James Hall and went over the materials, with Richard expertly leading us as a team, with clearly designated boundaries (those of us assembled for the task), a compelling direction (revising the material to attract students across disciplines), enabling structure (norms that valued contributions of team members, no matter their place in the academic hierarchy), and a supportive context (reward = tasty food, an incentive that always works on former graduate students, and good fellowship).
During this last meeting, Richard asked us about how we thought his course on teamwork could most impact individuals. I opined that his biggest impact wouldn’t be through just the students who took his course, but via those of us who would continue to teach teamwork and conduct research in other settings. This question may have been Richard’s gentle way of telling us that he was passing on the baton.
Here are several ways that I think Richard’s legacy lives on.
Read the rest of this entry »
This weekend, Omar wrote a detail post about the “depth” of culture, the degree to which some idea is internalized and serves as a motivation or guide for action. I strongly recommend that you read it. What I’d like to do in this post is use Omar’s comments as a springboard for thinking about organizational behavior.
The reigning theory in sociology of organization is neo-institutionalism. The details vary, but the gist is that the model posits a Parsonsian theory of action. There is an “environment” that “imprints” itself in organizations. Myth and Ceremony institutionalism posits a “shallow imprinting” – people don’t really believe myth and ceremony. Iron cage institutionalism takes a very “deep” view of culture. Actors internalize culture and then do it.
Omar posits, I think, is a view of culture that is constitutive (you are the ideas you internalize) and interactive (your use of the idea modifies the cultural landscape). Omar wants to get away from the metaphor of “deep” vs. “shallow” culture. He also discusses dual process theory, which merits its own post.
What is important for organization theorists is that you get away from Parsons’ model:
Note that conceptually the difference is between thinking of “depth” as a property of the cultural object (the misleading Parsonian view) or thinking of “depth” as resulting from the interaction between properties of the person (internalized as dispositions) and qualities of the object (e.g. meaning of a proposition or statement) (the Bourdieusian point).
The implication for orgtheory? Previously, the locus of orgtheory has been the “environment” – all the stuff outside the organization that people care about. That’s highly analogous to “culture” getting internalized deep within the individual. Thus, different institutional theories reflect a deep/shallow dichotomy. If you buy Omar’s post-Swidler/post-Giddens view of things, then what is really interesting is the interaction creating at the point of contact between environment and organization. Orgs don’t passively await imprinting. Rather, there is variance in how they respond to the environment and there is interesting variation in the adoption/importation of stuff from the environment.
The issue of whether some culture is “deep” versus “shallow” has been a thorny one in social theory. The basic argument is that for some piece of culture to have the requisite effects (e.g. direct action) then it must be incorporated at some requisite level of depth. “Shallow culture” can’t produce deep effects. Thus, for Parsons values had to be deeply internalized to serve as guiding principles for action. Postulating cultural objects that are found at a “deep” level requires we develop a theory that tells us how this happens in the first place (e.g. Parsons and Shils 1951). That is: we need a theory about how the same culture “object” can go from (1) being outside the person, to (2) being inside the person, and (3) once inside, from being shallowly internalized to being deeply internalized. For instance, a value commitment may begin at a very shallow level (a person can report being familiar with that value) but by some (mysterious) “internalization” process it can become “deep culture” (when the value is now held unconditionally and motivates action via affective and other unconscious mechanisms; the value is now “part” of the actor).
One thing that has not been noted very often is that the “cultural depth” discussion in the post-Parsonian period (especially post-Giddens) is not the same sort of discussion that Parsons was having. This is one of those instances in cultural theory where we keep the same set of terms—e.g. “deep” versus “shallow” culture–but change the parameters of the argument, creating more confusion than enlightenment. In contrast to Parsonian theorists, for post-Giddensian theorists, the main issue is not whether the same cultural element can be found at different levels of “depth” (or travel across levels via a socialization process). The key point is that different cultural elements (because of some inherent quality) exist necessarily at a requisite level of “depth.”
These are not the same sort of statement. Only the first way of looking at things is technically “Parsonian”; that is Parsons really thought that
…culture patterns are [for an actor] frequently objects of orientation in the same sense as other [run of the mill physical] objects…Under certain circumstances, however, the manner of his [sic] involvement with a cultural pattern as an object is altered, and what was once an object becomes a constitutive part of the actor” (Parsons and Shils 1951: 8).
So here we have the same object starting at a shallow level and then “sinking” (to stretch the depth metaphor to death) into the actor, so that ultimately it becomes part of their “personality.”
Contrast this formulation to the (post-Giddensian) cultural depth story proposed by Sewell (1992). According to Sewell,
…structures consist of intersubjectively available procedures or schemas capable of being actualized or put into practice in a range of different circumstances. Such schemas should be thought of as operating at widely varying levels of depth, from Levi-Straussian deep structures to relatively superficial rules of etiquette (1992: 8-9).
Sewell (e.g. 1992: 22-26), in contrast to Parsons, decouples the depth from the causal power dimension of culture. Thus, we can find cultural schemas that are “deep but not powerful” (rules of grammar) and schemas that are powerful but not deep (political institutions). Sewell’s proposal is clearly not Parsonian; it is instead (post)structuralist: there are certain things (like a grammar) that have to be necessarily deep, while other things (like the the filibuster rule in the U.S. Senate) are naturally found in the surface, and need not sink to the level of deep culture to produce huge effects. Accordingly, Sewell’s cultural depth discussion should not be confused with that of the early Swidler. Swidler (circa 1986) inherited the Parsonian not the post-structuralist problematic (because at that stage in American sociology that would have been an anachronism). Her point was that for the thing that mattered to Parsons the most (valuation standards) there weren’t different levels of depth, or more accurately that they didn’t need to have that property to do the things that they were supposed to do.
The primary aim of recent work on dual process models of moral judgment and motivation seems to be to revive a modified version of the Parsonian argument. That is, in order to direct behavior the point is that some culture needs to be “deeply internalized” (as moral intuitions/dispositions). However, as I will argue below the very logic of the dual process argument makes it incompatible with the strict Parsonian interpretation. To make matters even more complicated we have to deal with the fact that by the time we get to Swidler (2001) the conversation has changed (i.e. Bourdieu and practice theory happened), and she’s modified the argument accordingly. She ingeniously proposes that what Parsons (following the Weberian/Germanic tradition) called “ideas” can now be split into “practices + discourses.” Practices are “embodied” (and thus “deep” in the post-structuralist sense) and discourses are “external” (and thus shallow).
This leads to the issue of how Bourdieu fits into the post-Parsonian/post-structuralist conversation on cultural depth. We can at least be sure of one thing: the Parsonian “deep internalization” story is not Bourdieu’s version (even though Bourdieu used the term “internalization” in Logic of Practice). The reason for this is that habitus is not the sort of thing that was designed to give an explanation for why people “learn” to have “attitudes” (orientations) towards “cultural objects” much less to internalize these “objects” so that they become part of the “personality” (which is, by the way, possibly the silliest thing ever said). There is a way to tell the cultural depth story in a Bourdieusian way without falling into the trap of having to make a cultural object a “constituent” part of the actor but this would require de-Parsonizing the “cultural depth” discussion (which is something that Bourdieu is really good for). There is one problem: the more you think about it, the more it becomes clear that, insofar as the cultural depth discussion is a pseudo-Parsonian rehash, there might not much left after it is properly Bourdieusianized.
More specifically, the cultural depth discussion might be a red herring because it still retains an implicit allegiance to the (Parsonian) “internalization” story, and internalization makes it seem as if something that was initially subsisting outside of the person now comes to reside inside the person (as if for instance, “I disagree with women going to work and leaving their children in daycare” was a sentence stored in long-term memory to which a “value” is attached.
This is a nice Parsonian folk model (shared by most public opinion researchers). But it is clear that if, we follow the substantive implications of dual process models, what resides in the person is not a bunch of sentences to which they are oriented; instead the sentence lives in the outside world (of the GSS questionnaire) and what resides “inside” (what has been internalized) is a disposition to react (negatively, positively) to that sentence when I read it, understand it and (technically if we follow Barsalou 1999) perceptually simulate its meaning, which actually involves running through modal scenarios of women going to work and leaving miserable children behind). This disposition is also presumably the same one that may govern my intuitive reaction to other sorts of items designed to measure my”attitude” towards other related things. I can even forget the particular sentence (but keep the disposition) so that when somebody or some event (I drive past the local daycare center) reminds me of it I still reproduce the same morally tinged reaction (Bargh and Chartrand 1999; Bargh and Williams 2006).
Note that the depth imagery disappears under this formulation, and this is for good reason. If we call “dispositions to produce moral-affective judgments when exposed to certain scenarios or statements in a consistent way through time” deep, so be it. But that is not because there exist some other set of things that are the same as dispositions except that they lack “depth.” Dispositions either exist in this “deep” form or they don’t exist at all (dispositions, are the sorts of things that in the post-Giddensian sense are inherently deep). No journey has been undertaken by some sort of ontologically mysterious cultural entity to an equally ontologically spurious realm called “the personality.” A “shallow” disposition is a contradiction in terms, which then makes any recommendation to “make cultural depth a variable” somewhat misleading, as long as that recommendation is made within the old Parsonian framework. The reason why this is misleading is because this piece of advice relies on the imagery of sentences with contents located at “different levels” of the mind travelling from the shallow realm to the deep realm and transforming their causal powers in the process.
If we follow the practice-theoretical formulation more faithfully, the discussion moves from “making cultural depth a variable” to “reconfiguring the theoretical language so that what was previously conceptualized in these terms is now understood in somewhat better terms.” This implies giving up on the misleading metaphor of depth and the misleading model of a journey from shallow-land to depth-land via some sort of internalization mechanism. Thus, there are things to which I have dispositions to react (endowed with all of the qualities that “depth” is supposed to provide such as consistency and stability) in a certain (e.g. morally and emotionally tinged) distinct way towards. We can call this “deep culture” but note that the depth thing does not add anything substantive to this characterization. In addition, there are things towards which I (literally) have no disposition whatever, so I form online (shallow?) judgments about these things because this dorky, suit-wearing in July interviewer with NORC credentials over here apparently wants me to do so. But this (literally confabulated) “attitude” is like a leaf in the wind and it goes this or that way depending on what’s in my head that day (or more likely as shown by Zaller 1992, depending on what was on the news last night). Is this the difference between “shallow” and “deep” culture? Maybe, but that’s where the (Parsonian version of the) internalization language reaches its conceptual limits.
Thus, we come to a place where a dual process argument becomes tightly linked to what was previously being thought of under the misleading “shallow culture/deep culture” metaphor in a substantive way. I think this will “save” anybody who wants to talk about cultural depth from the Parsonian trap, because that person can then say that “deep= things that trigger moral intuitions” and “shallow=attitudes formed by conscious, on-the-fly confabulation.” Note that conceptually the difference is between thinking of “depth” as a property of the cultural object (the misleading Parsonian view) or thinking of “depth” as resulting from the interaction between properties of the person (internalized as dispositions) and qualities of the object (e.g. meaning of a proposition or statement) (the Bourdieusian point).
A few days ago, a colleague asked about the name of my baby, whom I named after jazz musician John Coltrane. He responded, “Ah, he’ll be a saxophone prodigy!” Later, I realized my colleague didn’t have his jazz history right. Though Coltrane is regarded as one of the seminal saxophone players, he wasn’t a prodigy. Definitely a good musician as a kid, but he wasn’t remarkable. And by all accounts, he only become a leading player later in his life – in his thirties – after dedicating himself completely to the mastery of his instrument.
This leads me to the concept of “prodigy bias.” It’s the belief that someone who has achieved great skill was a young prodigy, one who succeeded on raw talent and ability, rather than practice. In academia, we see this all the time. Often, we say that an academic is successful because of talent rather than work. Academia has a cult of genius. The arts also have a cult of genius. Other fields have the same bias. In sports, we focus, we focus on “athletic talent” instead of the long hours of work.
While there are definitely some people who have abundant raw talent early in life, many – possibly most – high achievers reached their level of mastery through tireless practice and honing of the gifts they had. Though I do wish for my baby to have “talent,” I wish more that he’ll have the wisdom to realize that achieving one’s goals is more a matter of practice than effortless mastery.
This Fall’s book forum is about Andreas Glaeser’s Political Epistemics, a historical ethnography of East German socialism. This week’s installment will focus on the theoretical purpose of the book, which is to articulate and defend “the sociology of understanding.”
What is this “sociology of understanding?” Well, it draws on a number of ideas that should be familiar to cultural sociologists. First, it’s fairly Schutz/Berger and Luckmann in nature. There is a “lifeworld” built upon a common stock of knowledge. “We all know that this is true.” Second, it’s also interactional. In Glaeser’s model, people develop their understanding of the world through affirmation/negation from other people or institutions.
So far, I think the picture is well rooted in cultural sociology. What Glaeser adds is an argument about the institutionalization of the self. Rather than assume that people have fairly independent interests and beliefs about the world, he argues that selves are built from of affirmation and negation from the social environment. Now, Glaeser isn’t making a Foucault style argument about how we lose ourselves in a network of signifiers. Quite the contrary, he’s arguing about the rootedness of one’s understanding of the world. Historical events affirm one’s understanding of the world, while others disrupt that notion of self.
How does this sociology of understanding (SoU) help us to do political sociology, such as analyzing the dissolution of communism? Well, if you believe SoU, the locus of attention should be on understanding how people construct their world in both abstract terms and in daily life. Abstract theories, like Marxism-Leninism, provide a basic vocabulary for people to assess their world and produce collective action. At the same time SoU theory suggests that these understandings can only sustain a type of self when reinforced by exogenous events and institutional life. A lot of daily political life is a response to the juxtaposition of these worldviews and observation, with actors often scrambling to make sense of events that would be unsurprising to others.
The SoU theory has interesting implications. For example, SoU theory implies that Western arguments about freedom would me moot points. The ideals of individual liberty only resonates in nations with specific institutional arrangements. Instead, people in socialist nations would criticize the system from within. And there is much truth to this observation. Dissidents and reforms rarely waved their copy of Road to Serfdom in the air. Rather, they often relied on arguments articulated by dissident socialist intellectuals. Thus, the collapse of communism, in this view, is less about external pressures and more about the management or mismanagement of contradictions.
The result of SoU theory is that one should understand how historical events, ideologies, organizational behavior, and personal biography intertwine to create the political system. Social changes happens when these factors shift, not so much when outsiders, like Reagan or Kennedy, stand by a wall and proclaim freedom. Next week, we’ll see the sociology of understanding in action, when I discuss the world of the Stasi and Berlin peace activists.
Here’s a recent book chapter worth reading: “Why Behaviorism Isn’t Satanism.”
The history of comparative evolutionary psychology can be characterized, broadly speaking, as a series of reactions to Cartesian versus pragmatist views of the mind and behavior. Here, a brief history of these theoretical shifts is presented to illuminate how and why contemporary comparative evolutionary psychology takes the form that it does. This brings to the fore the strongly cognitivist research emphasis of current evolutionary comparative research, and the manner in which alternative accounts based on learning theory and other behaviorist principles generally receive short shrift. I attempt to show why many of these criticisms of alternative accounts are unjustified, that cognitivism does not constitute the radical lurch away from behaviorism that many imagine, and that an alternative “embodied and embedded” view of cognition—itself developing in reaction to the extremes of cognitivism—reaches back to a number of behaviorist philosophical principles, including the rejection of a separation between brain and body, and between the organism and environment.
Key Words: animal, cognition, behavior, cognitivism, behaviorism, evolution, learning, psychology
Yeah, it’s real. I didn’t know this, but there’s a literature on gaydar and psychologists have shown that gaydar is real, at least among college students who take psychology experiments. The latest in the genre is a new PlosOne article by Joshua Tabak and Vivian Zayas called The Roles of Featural and Configural Face Processing in Snap Judgments of Sexual Orientation.
The new study tries to figure out what facial figures trigger accurate attributions of sexual orientation. An experiment demonstrates that homosexuality in women is easier to guess because the facial features correlated with sexual orientation are more exaggerated in women. I’d be interested in what sociologists of gender and sexuality think of such experiments.
Here’s an interesting piece extending Tajfel et al by studying 5-year-olds and intergroup bias: “Consequences of ‘‘Minimal’’ Group Afﬁliations in Children” Child Development. So, do 5-year-olds have a bias toward members of their in-group, even if they are arbitrarily assigned to these groups? They do.
Interesting paper. The paper also raises questions about whether in-group bias is learned (“enculturation,” Spielman, 2000), or whether it perhaps is an evolutionary-survival-type thing, or something driven by expectations of reciprocity or competition. Or something else.
Here’s the abstract:
Three experiments (total N = 140) tested the hypothesis that 5-year-old children’s membership in randomly assigned ‘‘minimal’’ groups would be sufﬁcient to induce intergroup bias. Children were randomly assigned to groups and engaged in tasks involving judgments of unfamiliar in-group or out-group children. Despite an absence of information regarding the relative status of groups or any competitive context, in-group preferences were observed on explicit and implicit measures of attitude and resource allocation (Experiment 1), behavioral attribution, and expectations of reciprocity, with preferences persisting when groups were not described via a noun label (Experiment 2). In addition, children systematically distorted incoming information by preferentially encoding positive information about in-group members (Experiment 3). Implications for the developmental origins of intergroup bias are discussed.
Adam Galinsky’s recent work and experiment on clothing and perceptions of cognition have been getting lots of attention. Here’s the New York Times piece – “Mind games: Sometimes a white coat isn’t just a white coat.” And, the ABC News story – “Clothes make the man and career.”
Here’s the paper (with Hajo Adam) in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “Enclothed Cognition.“
(Sorry, Fabio, I don’t think the untucked shirt + Fanny Pack look gets you any extra cognition points. But I could be wrong.)
Politics is a chorus of dog whistles. Can’t say segregation, say states rights. Can’t say you hate immigrants, you just want them to “self-deport” and obey laws designed to keep them out.
That’s why I find Ron Paul to be a very telling politician. His candidacy reveals the true intentions of many Republican voters. Many voters say they want smaller government and Paul has voted in this way. He’s anti-tax, votes for program cuts, and against war, which grows government by leaps and bounds. How does he do among Tea Party, who claim they want less government? A telling summary of recent primary polling data from the New Yorker:
Polls have shown that voters who support the Tea Party are actually less likely to support Paul—some have gone for Newt Gingrich, whose denunciations of Obama are pithier, or for Rick Santorum, who is more forthright in his defense of “traditional American values.” In South Carolina, where Paul received thirteen per cent of the vote, behind Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Santorum, he did his best among voters opposed to the Tea Party. [my italics]
Two related questions:
1. What is the standard citation that addresses the difficulty in identifying when business cycles begin or end?
2. Is there a literature that describes when people think there are in a recession/recovery? For example, does public opinion follow technical definitions of how economists measure the health of the economy?
Bonus: Before we had Federal statistics on employment, did average people sit around and say “we’re in a recession?”
Eighty percent of success is showing up. – Woody Allen
I have a hypothesis, shared by many social scientists, that life course outcomes are highly correlated with self-discipline. If you are the kind of person who can follow the rules, you’ll probably do well. This is an average statement, of course. In certain contexts, rule breaking is wonderful, but life usually requires rule following and a measure of self-discipline.
To test this hypothesis, I conducted a simple statistical test with data from my social theory class (N=73). I collected two behavioral/discipline variables: did the students show up to two randomly selected classes and did students use their “free pass,” which allows them to skip a daily writing assignment. I then merged attendance, assignment completion, and midterm performance data.
- Skipping the daily writing assignment is *not* correlated with midterm performance, except for “extreme skipping.” A handful of students skipped four or more daily write ups, thus wildly exceeding the “free pass” rule. They score 19% less than the rest of the class.
- Attendance is correlated with midterm performance. Class skipping is associated with a 10.1% grade drop.
- In the OLS model with dummies for attendance on either day and skipping 1, 2, 3 and 4 (or more), the results are the same.
The R-squared? .27!!! Wow. Knowing nothing else about the students, like GPA, SAT, or SES, I can account for a lot of variance by just seeing if they show up and hand in assignments.
This case against social psychologist Diederik Stapel is something else. Unbelievable. Here’s the Science summary: Dutch ‘Lord of the Data Forged Dozens of Studies (including updates).
One of the updates is an English version of the formal case – including a response by Stapel at the end (pdf). He promises to provide a longer response by Monday.
I recently ran into Edna Ullmann-Margalit’s interesting essay about an episode where a colleague installed a CCTV camera in the office kitchen at the Center for Rationality (@ Hebrew University). Apparently cleanliness was an issue in the common area so a senior colleague thought a camera would take care of things. As you might suspect, a vigorous discussion ensued. Lots of interesting issues get raised in the essay: norms, privacy and behavior, the commons, gender, etc.
Some of the emails about the camera are great:
The real discussion should be about why a bunch of intelligent, well educated, and probably well-meaning people in the center of rationality (no less!) cannot run their affairs without surveillance. I find it remarkable. [Jonathan, 5 Jul 2007, 20:46]
Altogether, I don’t understand how the matter of privacy applies to a common kitchen. What would one want to do there ‘privately?’ [Isaac, 4 July 2007, 00:19]
I see no reason for people to object to the camera in the kitchen, UNLESS THEY HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE. And if they have something to hide, it should not be done in the common area. [Alex, 4 Jul 2007, 12:42]
The idea that the people who object to the camera have something to hide is so preposterous that it could only cross the mind of one who thinks everything in life is a simple strategic game. [Miri, 4 Jul 2007, 18:06]
Ullmann-Margalit was the director of the Rationality Center. She opposed the camera and had it removed a week later. Here’s a draft of the essay: “Regulation through Observation: The Curious Incident of the Camera in the Kitchen.”
(A side note: sadly Ullmann-Margalit passed away last year. She did some brilliant work on the emergence of norms.)
Here’s a recent piece that might interest some orgtheory readers (pdf): Boyer & Petersen, 2011. “The naturalness of (many) social institutions: evolved cognition as their foundation.” Journal of Institutional Economics.
Abstract: Most standard social science accounts only offer limited explanations of institutional design, i.e. why institutions have common features observed in many different human groups. Here we suggest that these features are best explained as the outcome of evolved human cognition, in such domains as mating, moral judgment and social exchange. As empirical illustrations, we show how this evolved psychology makes marriage systems, legal norms and commons management systems intuitively obvious and compelling, thereby ensuring their occurrence and cultural stability. We extend this to propose under what conditions institutions can become ‘natural’, compelling and legitimate, and outline probable paths for institutional change given human cognitive dispositions. Explaining institutions in terms of these exogenous factors also suggests that a general theory of institutions as such is neither necessary nor in fact possible. What are required are domain-specific accounts of institutional design in different domains of evolved cognition.
Classes started today. Somehow I still have first-day jitters. The problem could be that I am overly cognizant of the importance of first impressions, you know, those first two (!) seconds of teaching. I think the received wisdom is that one should aggressively wave one’s hands around (as modeled by Dwight) and, well, look good. That finding of course was popularized by Gladwell. Here’s Ambady’s original JPSP (pdf) piece on “predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of non-verbal behavior and physical attractiveness.” Here are the cliff notes on the six second teacher evaluation.
And, how much do students remember after the semester? Research says, not a ton. So there’s the five minute approach.
There’s lots that is nutty about the Quantified Self movement. But I love it nonetheless. Here’s the blog, Quantified Self.
And, here’s an example of someone who carefully tracked social interactions, for years.
I’m blessed in that my friends and colleagues are talented and hard working folks. Here at Indiana, Steve Bernard won the AoM award for best paper in organizational behavior. Written with Emilio Castilla, it’s called “The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations.” The abstract:
In this article, we develop and empirically test the theoretical argument that when an organizational culture promotes meritocracy (compared with when it does not), managers in that organization may ironically show greater bias in favor of men over equally performing women in translating employee performance evaluations into rewards and other key career outcomes; we call this the “paradox of meritocracy.” To assess this effect, we conducted three experiments with a total of 445 participants with managerial experience who were asked to make bonus, promotion, and termination recommendations for several employee profiles. We manipulated both the gender of the employees being evaluated and whether the company’s core values emphasized meritocracy in evaluations and compensation. The main finding is consistent across the three studies: when an organization is explicitly presented as meritocratic, individuals in managerial positions favor a male employee over an equally qualified female employee by awarding him a larger monetary reward. This finding demonstrates that the pursuit of meritocracy at the workplace may be more difficult than it first appears and that there may be unrecognized risks behind certain organizational efforts used to reward merit. We discuss possible underlying mechanisms leading to the paradox of meritocracy effect as well as the scope conditions under which we expect the effect to occur.
My friend, Trevon Logan, an economist at Ohio State wrote a very nice paper analyzing sex markets using data scraped from male escort sites. It showed up in ASR and won the ASA award for paper on sexuality. It’s called “Personal Characteristics, Sexual Behaviors, and Male Sex Work: A Quantitative
Male sex workers serve multiple groups (i.e., gay-identified men, heterosexually-identified men, and their own sexual partners), making them a unique source to test theories of gender, masculinity, and sexuality. To date, most scholarship on this topic has been qualitative. I assembled a dataset from the largest online male sex worker website to conduct the first quantitative analysis of male escorts in the United States. I find the geographic distribution of male sex workers is more strongly correlated with the general population than with the gay male population. In addition, I estimate the value of sexual behaviors and personal characteristics in this market to test sociological theories of gender and masculinity. Consistent with hegemonic masculinity, I find that male escorts who advertise masculine behavior charge higher prices for their services, whereas escorts who advertise less masculine behavior charge significantly less, a differential on the order of 17 percent. Results show that race and sexual behavior interactions exert a strong influence on prices charged by male sex workers, confirming aspects of intersectionality theory.
The Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS) has put together a way to “take action” to ensure that congress does not defund the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) directorate of the National Science Foundation.
In recent weeks, a number of U.S. House and Senate members have been critical of the National Science Foundation, especially the agency’s funding of research in the social sciences. One Senator specifically called for the elimination of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate at NSF.
Over the next several weeks, the U.S. House will vote on the appropriations bill that funds NSF. Amendments are expected to be offered during the full appropriations committee’s consideration of the bill scheduled for July 13 and again the first week in August when the bill is expected to reach the House floor.
How come I have not heard of this paper? Political scientists Robert Erickson of Columbia and Laura Stoker of Berkeley have a really outstanding working paper called “Caught in the Draft: Vietnam Draft Lottery Status and Political Attitudes.” The concept is simple: use the draft lottery as a random assignment. The main finding? The lower the draft number, the more likely you are to permanently turn antiwar and more Democratic.
In 1969, the first Vietnam draft lottery assigned numbers to birth dates, determining which young men would be called to fight in Vietnam. We exploit this natural experiment to examine how draft vulnerability influenced opinions about the Vietnam War, party identification, political ideology, and attitudes toward salient political figures and issues of the day. Data analyzed come from the Jennings-Niemi Panel Study of Political Socialization, which surveyed high school seniors from the Class of 1965 both before and after the national draft lottery was instituted. Males holding low lottery numbers became more anti-war, more liberal, and more Democratic in their voting compared to those whose high numbers protected them from the draft. Trace effects are found even when the respondents were re-interviewed in the 1990s. Draft number effects typically exceed those for pre-adult party identification and are not mediated by military service or the acquisition of higher education.
Update: Fsolt points out that this paper is now in print at the American Political Science Review.
A couple of weeks ago I linked to a blog post by Brad DeLong about the future of economics education. While most of the comments to my post were about the content of economics education, what really struck me in DeLong’s original post was how academic majors reinforced students’ pre-existing political biases, rather than informing or changing them as we like to be a good liberal arts education will do. Right-leaning students leave economics feeling justified that the market will solve every social problem (or if it doesn’t, it’s not a social problem we ought to do anything about). Left-leaning students leave sociology feeling justified in their beliefs that the state ought to do more to resolve social problems. This is a problem of confirmation bias. Our brains are not very good at evaluating evidence that doesn’t conform to our pre-existing beliefs.
New research by legal scholar Dan Kahan shows that political ideology strongly shapes our willingness to believe scientific evidence. It turns out that it’s not just a problem among Republicans. Here’s a summary by Chris Mooney in Mother Jones:
In Kahan’s research (PDF), individuals are classified, based on their cultural values, as either “individualists” or “communitarians,” and as either “hierarchical” or “egalitarian” in outlook. (Somewhat oversimplifying, you can think of hierarchical individualists as akin to conservative Republicans, and egalitarian communitarians as liberal Democrats.) In one study, subjects in the different groups were asked to help a close friend determine the risks associated with climate change, sequestering nuclear waste, or concealed carry laws: “The friend tells you that he or she is planning to read a book about the issue but would like to get your opinion on whether the author seems like a knowledgeable and trustworthy expert.” A subject was then presented with the résumé of a fake expert “depicted as a member of the National Academy of Sciences who had earned a Ph.D. in a pertinent field from one elite university and who was now on the faculty of another.” The subject was then shown a book excerpt by that “expert,” in which the risk of the issue at hand was portrayed as high or low, well-founded or speculative. The results were stark: When the scientist’s position stated that global warming is real and human-caused, for instance, only 23 percent of hierarchical individualists agreed the person was a “trustworthy and knowledgeable expert.” Yet 88 percent of egalitarian communitarians accepted the same scientist’s expertise. Similar divides were observed on whether nuclear waste can be safely stored underground and whether letting people carry guns deters crime. (The alliances did not always hold. In another study (PDF), hierarchs and communitarians were in favor of laws that would compel the mentally ill to accept treatment, whereas individualists and egalitarians were opposed.)
Head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever. In other words, people rejected the validity of a scientific source because its conclusion contradicted their deeply held views—and thus the relative risks inherent in each scenario. A hierarchal individualist finds it difficult to believe that the things he prizes (commerce, industry, a man’s freedom to possess a gun to defend his family) (PDF) could lead to outcomes deleterious to society. Whereas egalitarian communitarians tend to think that the free market causes harm, that patriarchal families mess up kids, and that people can’t handle their guns. The study subjects weren’t “anti-science”—not in their own minds, anyway. It’s just that “science” was whatever they wanted it to be.
I suppose another implication of this is that as society becomes more politically polarized, the less influential scientific evidence will be in persuading anyone to change their political positions.
The NATO intervention in Libya has made people ask: Why now? Of all the crazy, genocidal tyrants, why bother with Gadaffi? Here’s my answer: some countries are just annoying. They cultivate a particularly aggravating stance in the global community that just invites retaliation. They are the mosquito in the ears of the powerful and they get swatted.
Of course, this is not a complete account of war. Nations fights wars for all kinds of reasons – genuine security threats, national pride, humanitarian missions, or just grabbing more territory. But a nation’s charisma is also an important factor. Some nations keep doing things that rile the public. In Gaddafi’s case, he engaged in terrorism, allied himself with Hugo Chavez, and tried to usurp Western nations as a patron in Africa.
Like I said, this is by no means a complete account of war making. Other theories, I think, account for more. But charisma does pop up from time to time and it should not be ignored. For example, charisma is definitely a factor in the Iraq War. Saddam Hussein’s anti-Western stance and terrorism overseas eroded what support he had from the US in the 1980s. By 1990, conservative think tanks already had Baathist Iraq in their sights.
Similarly, Iran is frequently targeted. The Iranian regime is clearly evil, but there are all kinds of crazy governments that pose threats. The reason that some Western policy intellectuals focus on Iran is because the regime engages in nasty public displays anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism.
Bottom line: If you are a murderous dictator, we’re more likely to leave you alone if you just keep your mouth shut.
The hallmark of “Indiana institutionalism” is an emphasis on struggle and conflict. Rather than assume the influence of macro-social processes, the scholars around here tend to focus on social movements, legal challenge, and contention. I’d like to draw your attention to a nice paper by my friend and colleague Tim Hallett. The Myth Incarnate is all about coupling processes in organizations, and brings an brings an important psychological dimension to institutional theory.
His question is simple: What happens to an organization when somebody tries to make you actually do the mission statement? In institutional lingo, this is “recoupling.” His example is accountability standards in schools. He has a nice ethnographic study of school where a new principle tried to enforce new accountability procedures. The result? People freaked out:
Turmoil is foremost a state of epistemic distress, but it has another social-psychological component. Epistemic distress involves a collapse of meaning, but eventually teachers responded by reconstructing meanings in ways that defined emergent battle lines. When teachers talked to each other and to me about the past, they were not just describing their experience; they were infusing it withmeaning. ‘‘Turmoil’’was their term, and it is not a neutral one. Talk is a basic element in the politics of signification (Benford and Snow 2000; Hall 1972), and teachers’ ‘‘turmoil talk’’ had political aspects (Emerson and Messinger 1977). Teachers had no formal authority to fight recoupling, but they did have the informal symbolic power (Hallett 2003) to shape meanings. Turmoil has a negative connotation, and teachers used their version of events to construct the recoupling negatively.
I liked this study as an example of where macro-political processes hit the ground and institutions create conflict, rather than resolve them. “Must read” for folks interested in institutional work and organizational conflict.
The most recent issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives has an interesting, non-standard article analyzing the behavior of individuals during the Titanic disaster. Worth reading.
Frey, Bruno S., David A. Savage, and Benno Torgler. 2011. “Behavior under Extreme Conditions: The Titanic Disaster.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(1): 209–22.
During the night of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg on her maiden voyage. Two hours and 40 minutes later she sank, resulting in the loss of 1,501 lives—more than two-thirds of her 2,207 passengers and crew. This remains one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the most famous. For social scientists, evidence about how people behaved as the Titanic sunk offers a quasi-natural field experiment to explore behavior under extreme conditions of life and death. A common assumption is that in such situations, self-interested reactions will predominate and social cohesion is expected to disappear. However, empirical evidence on the extent to which people in the throes of a disaster react with self-regarding or with other-regarding behavior is scanty. The sinking of the Titanic posed a life-or-death situation for its passengers. The Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats, which could accommodate about half the people aboard, and deck officers exacerbated the shortage by launching lifeboats that were partially empty. Failure to secure a seat in a lifeboat virtually guaranteed death. We have collected individual-level data on the passengers and crew on the Titanic, which allow us to analyze some specific questions: Did physical strength (being male and in prime age) or social status (being a first- or second-class passenger) raise the survival chance? Was it favorable for survival to travel alone or in company? Does one’s role or function (being a crew member or a passenger) affect the probability of survival? Do social norms, such as “Women and children first!” have any effect? Does nationality affect the chance of survival? We also explore whether the time from impact to sinking might matter by comparing the sinking of the Titanic over nearly three hours to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, which took only 18 minutes from when the torpedo hit the ship.
Organizations are, in addition to being actors in their own right, physical places. People interact, live, and experience life in organizational settings, whether it be their workplaces, churches, or voluntary associations. Much of our bodily experiences is structured by organizations. Surprisingly, the physical/bodily experience of organizations doesn’t get much attention in organizational theory. Feminist perspectives are a big exception, of course. Philip Selznick also emphasized how ideals were “embodied in action” through organizations in his distinct brand of pragmatism. But most organizational theory fails to take into account the physical experience of organizations.
One of the reasons I really like Shamus Khan’s book, Privilege, is because it provides a rich empirical window into the physical embodiment of organization. Of course, Khan’s purpose in writing the book is not primarily to inform organizational theory. His study is about how privilege is reproduced in an elite private boarding school – a system that has increasingly emphasized merit over inherited wealth as the key to elite access. He shows that rather than confer elite status simply through association, the school teaches students how to feel and act like someone of high status. The school provides a setting where students can master the physical and cultural practices of the elite and learn how to physically navigate the social hierarchies they will face in their adult lives.
[The students] literally must know what the various postures feel like and internalize the many different poses necessary to succeed in the myriad dimensions of an elite existence. In learning to embody a variety of interactions – how to flop onto your teacher’s couch and compose yourself at a formal dinner, each with equal ease – students learn to negotiate the dense, yet subtle content of hierarchical relations. By learning how to comfortably yet respectfully relate to those above them – teachers – students learn a crucial mode of elite interaction. This mode consecrates hierarchy by respecting it and by acknowledging the formality required in certain situations; at the same time, the ease with which successful students navigate the density almost denies the existence of hierarchical relations. And there is a clear difference between this kind of interaction – respecting the hierarchy while making it disappear – to the one with staff – where it is the people themselves who disappear (70).
The book provides numerous examples of how students learn (or fail to learn) to feel “at ease” in these hierarchies, preparing them for life outside of the walls of the school. Students who physically acclimate themselves and embody the school’s ideals are able to translate their skills and knowledge to other settings and thereby gain access to elite circles of influence and wealth.
Khan’s private school is an extreme but accurate representation of what people experience in any organizational hierarchy. Every organization has “rules of the game” that determine how people gain access to elite circles and generate influence. In most organizations, these rules are applied situationally, requiring the individual to adapt her posture and physical demeanor to show competence and understanding. Individuals who do this excel beyond their mere capabilities or knowledge. Individuals who never quite figure out how to “feel at ease” in their organization sputter and live a frustrated existence. We all know of very capable individuals who struggle with intra-organizational politics because they just don’t seem to fit in. Sometimes it’s hard to really put our finger on what exactly makes that person a poor fit, but it’s something that we pick up in just a few minutes of observing that person interact with others. There’s something physically obvious about not knowing how to fit in.
At the psychological level we know that individuals’ physical presence matters a great deal to the outcome of an interaction. A person’s height or posture can have an impact on the balance of power in an interaction. One thing we learn from Shamus’s study is that learning physical presence is an organizational and cultural phenomenon. What works in one setting may not work in another. Therefore, to understand power dynamics across organizations, we really need to understand the ideals of that organization and pay attention to the ways that individuals learn to embody those ideals.