In the past weeks, the Law and Mind Sciences blogposts have included observations about media influences and gender, including Misogyny in Music, Mindfulness and Identity in the context of yogurt advertisements, and the conformity in appearances at HLS job interviews. As these posts described, pop culture, advertisements, and cultural norms all have the power to influence perceptions of gender. No where does this media influence appear to have a wider or longer lasting impact than Barbie. From the first Barbie television advertisement ever (portrayed in the above video) to the introduction of Ken, to current television advertising, Barbie has maintained a prominent presence as a commercial phenomenon, a fashion icon, and source of gender socialization.
The focus of investigations and attitudes towards Barbie differ, but all seem to recognize that the Barbie is not just a doll, but a cultural phenomenon. Since Barbie first arrived at the World Toy Fair in 1959, wearing a Zebra bikini and stilettos, over a billion Barbies have been produced in 150 countries. According to Mattel on Barbie’s 50th Anniversary in 2009, 90% of U.S. girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll. In a Newsweek article commenting on this anniversary, Eliza Grey described Barbie as “the original bimbo, a relic of postwar paternalism that teaches its young to worship at the altar of blond hair, peach skin and formidable cleavage atop a waistline the size of a pinkie ring.”
Kingsfield lectures in "The Paper Chase"
The Christmas before I came to law school my parents gave me a DVD of The Paper Chase. It’s a common gift for future law students even though it’s dated and lacks the acting prowess of Reese Witherspoon. The movie follows Hart during his first year at Harvard Law School, focusing on the adversarial relationship between Hart and his intimidating contracts professor, Charles Kingsfield. In one memorable scene, Kingsfield calls on Hart to explain the case of Hawkins v. McGee–the case of the “Hairy Hand.” Though unprepared for class, Hart manages to fumble through the legal reasoning and arrive at the correct legal application. He emerges distraught but victorious.
Law School has become somewhat kinder since the era of Professor Kingsley, but the teaching method remains largely the same. The casebook and Socratic method endure. Professors ask students how the law should be applied in a case then expose the logical flaws in students’ arguments. The goal of this method is to teach students how to interpret theories, statutes and precedents correctly while also honing their legal reasoning skills. Those students who best navigate the delicious ambiguity and grey areas of the law are rewarded with high grades and a spot on the law review. The greatest of the legal reasoners take their skills to the Moot Court competition. The winner there is whoever best argues that the law favors their client regardless of whether it actually does.
The law school pedagogy creates a culture that values the type of work law students pursue rather than the merits of their cases. The legal community grants prestige to lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court but cares little about which side they represent. I believe these values derive from a legal education that discourages sentimentality and feeling. The renowned trial lawyer Gerry Spence found similar fault in his own legal education.
“What we really experienced in law school was a lobotomy of sorts, one that anesthetizes the law student against his emotions and attempts to reduce law to some sort of science.” – Gerry Spence (Win Your Case p. 77) Continue reading
Daniel Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of the immensely intriguing New York Times bestseller Stumbling on Happiness. He also gave several intriguing talks at TED.
In one of his talks, he says that human beings have a unconscious cognitive process that could be called “a psychological immune system”. This system helps us change our view of the world so that we can feel about our position in the world. For example, in an experiment he did, a group of people were asked to rank a series of paintings. Afterwards, they were given a painting that ranked low on their list for free. When these people came back weeks later and were asked to rank the paintings again, the painting they were given rose in rank. This shows that we unconsciously change our preferences according to what we have. His research also shows that when we have too many choices and much longer time to make a decision, we become indecisive and unhappy. This is very similar to the idea Barry Schwartz expressed in his talk The Paradox of Choice.
In addition, Professor Gilbert also does research on mistaken expectations. According to him, sometimes we are wrong about what will make us happy. For example, when there are three bottles of different wine in a store at $5, $20 and $30. We are likely to choose the $20 one, because we do not want to get the most expensive or the cheapest one. However, if there is another $50 wine on the same shelf, which makes the $30 one appear much less expensive than before, we might end up buying the $30. But when once we get home and start drinking the wine, we no longer have a comparison to make and the $30 wine might taste just as good as the $20 one. In a word, comparison changes the value of things when we are appraising a product but not when we are consuming it. This shift could impede our ability to make rational decisions.
Dr. Marty Seligman
Dr. Marty Seligman is the founder of Positive Psychology and a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. One afternoon, while he was weeding, his five-year-old daughter, Nikki, took the weeds and threw them in the air playfully. He became angry and sent her away with an irritated impatience that he claims he often exhibited. She later returned to confront him. She told him that all her life, she had been a whiner, but that on her fifth birthday, she had decided she was going to stop whining. And she did. And if she could stop whining, he could stop being such a grouch.
Dr. Seligman uses that story as his positive introduction, how he describes himself as his best. In that moment, his five-year-old daughter made him realize that he as a parent, and that psychology as a disciple, had focused on correcting weakness instead of nourishing strength. Seligman’s most famous work had involved inducing a form of depression in dogs that he termed learned helplessness. He moved his research from learned hopelessness to learned optimism.
In 1996, as president of the American Psychological Association, he declared the Positive Psychology Movement: psychology’s movement away from the empirical study of depression and pessimism towards the empirical study of happiness and optimism.
Seligman later created the Values In Action Character Strengths and Virtues, a list of twenty-four strengths he believed contributed to human greatness. He developed a method to assess an individual’s top strengths, what he deemed “signature strengths.” This inventory and other positive interventions can be found on his website. Continue reading
The epitome of a conflict spiral?
Since the 2010 election, there have been a variety of bills proposed by Republicans, at both state & federal levels, that may result in restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. This post is not designed to evaluate the merits of these proposals, but rather how the response to these proposals, particularly a recent bill proposed in South Dakota that would classify actions taken in defense of a fetus as justifiable homicide, represent the conflict spirals discussed in the article ‘Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict’ by Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin. A brief analysis of the tone and nature of the debate over this bill shows the eagerness with which sinister motives were attributed to the opposing sides in this debate. Also worthy of note was the role of the media, which emphasized negative interpretations and furthered controversy, perhaps because it was the best narrative. Continue reading