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Three Scholars Worth Your Time: Part 2

3 Mar

Here at Law & Mind, we are having a great time blogging about different areas of psychological research and its implications for the law. While the key to Law & Mind is both law and mind, today I want to focus only on mind sciences. Specifically, I want to take a look at three psychologists who have been researching fascinating issues. Here they are . . . .

1. Serena Chen, University of California – Berkeley, Department of Psychology

Dr. Chen focuses her research on self and identity. She wants to understand how our conceptions of self change and adapt, particularly in light of social contexts. In her view, identity is fundamental to our understanding our cognitive processes and interaction. She argues that “merging social cognition with the self, close relationships, and intergroup relations is useful because it highlights the fundamentally social nature of perceiving, interpreting, judging, and behaving.”

Professor Chen studies the psychology of the self

When examining questions of identity and social relationships, Dr. Chen also encounters “power asymmetries”: relations where one party exercises more power over the other. She wants to understand the “conitive, motivational, and behavioral effects of power.” This entails looking at “both personality and situational variables.” Tying identity into the equation, Dr. Chen has examined how self-constructs and individual differences can moderate the effects of situational power.

To further explore her research, I read Relationship Orientation as a Moderator of the Effects of Social Power, which Chen co-authored with Annette Y. Lee-Chai and John Bargh. In this article, Chen investigated how individual associations with power can affect behavior. The study described three experiments designed to test this hypothesis. I want to focus on the first one. In this experiment, the authors had students take a test that rated them for proclivity to either a “communal” or “exchange” orientation. “Communalists . . . benefit one another in response to each other’s needs.” Members in “exchange relationships,” however, “benefit one another with the specific expectation of receiving comparable benefits in return.” Continue reading


Synthesizing and Implementing Research

22 Feb

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, guest columnist Jonah Lehrer–author of How We Decide (2009)–describes the “benefits of not paying attention.”

Jonah Lehrer describes our decision making processes in his new book, How We Decide

His general point is that “not focusing” can lead to some benefits–mostly for “creativity” (a term that, as it happens, has at least three finite meaning within psychology). When describing these findings, Lehrer focuses on one particular study where researchers exposed people to varying amounts of stimuli while they completed tasks. The key finding, as Lehrer describes it, centers on individuals’ ability to “filter out” information:

Here’s where the data get interesting: Those undergrads who had a tougher time ignoring unrelated stuff were also seven times more likely to be rated as “eminent creative achievers” based on their previous accomplishments. (The association was particularly strong among distractible students with high IQs.)

These findings are part of huge body of psychology/creativity research. To put them in perspective, we have to know a (very small) bit more about prior creativity research. From 1950-70, psychologists concentrated on personality traits of creative individuals. In other words, they sought to explain creativity in terms of individual traits. By the 1970s and ’80s, though, creativity research had shifted. It became process-oriented. This approach was called “cognitive psychology.” It posited that creativity occurred in “stages”–almost linearly. While the “stages” theory is not dead, many psychologists have abandoned the notion of linearity in creative thought. Continue reading

Preference, Principle, & Casuistry

17 Feb

[T]he attribution of principle or its absence is more than an evaluative stance; it is also a lay-psychological hypothesis concerning the causes of another’s behavior.

Eric D. Knowles & Peter H. DittoPreference , Principle, & Casuistry

Peter Ditto is the Department Chair and Professor of Psychology & Social Behavior at the University of California - Irvine

We often value people who act on their principles  more than those who act solely on their preferences. In other words, we value behavior that is justified by reasons rather than emotions. This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone. It’s ostensibly why people don’t like politicians who “flip-flop,” whether they be “liberal” or “conservative.” So, when people make decisions based on emotion, rather than reason, we think they are “biased” or “irrational.” (Knowles and Ditto call this the principle-preference dichotomy.) What’s strange, though, is that we often view our political opponents as emotional decision-makers, while we view people of our own political leanings as principled decision-makers.

The question Knowles & Ditto want to answer is, why?  Continue reading

Legal Socialization in the News

9 Feb

Imagine you and your neighbor share a fence along a common border, part of which demarcates the boundary between both properties and “the wilderness.” The fence benefits both of you because it keeps out the livestock-killing coyotes. One day, a shared and critical part of the fence collapses onto your property, leaving your yard open to coyotes, who may eat your livestock. Without legal recourse, how might you resolve that dispute. Would you work with your neighbor to help reconstruct the fence? Would the solution be cooperative or adversarial? (For more on the resolution of land disputes without the aid of law, see Robert Ellickson, Order Without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes.)

Did Jack McCoy's role on Law & Order influence your perception of people as self-interested?

If we introduce law into the equation–say, by inventing a right that allowed you to sue your neighbor–how would the resolution of that dispute change? Might you claim that your neighbor ought to fix the fence herself, even if an unrepaired fence might harm you?

Mitchell J. Callan & Aaron Kay think that the answer to that last question may be “yes”: the law may in fact alter how we think about situations and how we interact (cooperatively or not) with others. This occurs, they argue, through a process called legal socialization: the process by which exposure to law can reinforce conceptions of individuals as self-interested and competitive. (This occurs, for example, by exposure to popular depictions of the legal system, such as those on Law & Order, as Beth describes in her post.) If you’re curious about how they reach this hypothesis, Becky’s blog post explains it for you. But the basic idea is this: if exposure to certain ideas influences how one thinks and acts, exposure to systems embedded with latent ideas might do the same. Because the U.S. legal system conceptualizes people as self-interested and competitive, exposure to it can reinforce notions of people as competitive and self-interested.

Identifying this phenomenon in everyday events is a bit more difficult than it sounds–largely because legal socialization seems to be gradual rather than punctuated. Nevertheless, there are instances where we can view the law as reinforcing certain conceptions of the individual.

I provide two after the jump. Continue reading

Law & Mind Blogs: Part 5

2 Feb

Have you ever wanted to know what blogs out there discuss mind sciences, law, or both? This is your lucky day. In this post I briefly review five blogs that relate to law & mind sciences. I feature one blog, Mind Hacks, and explain it in a bit more detail than the others.

The blogs:

1. The Jury Room.

Run by Keene Trial Consulting, The Jury Room–as the name suggests–is about juries! Specifically, the site focuses on how juries make decisions and react to behavior–and it generally explores questions of jury psychology (e.g., bias). The blog includes posts about current psychological research, events, and legal trends. One recent post, for example, discussed research showing how specific words correlate with individuals’ levels of trust.

2. Laura’s Psychology Blog.

Laura Freberg is a professor of psychology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where she studies biological psychology. Her eponymous  blog is a mostly a collection of psychological literature that she is reading currently. It is a great aggregator of current information on psychology.

Continue reading

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