Jim Sidanius Interview

March 4, 2011

Jim Sidanius is a Professor in the departments of Psychology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Stockholm, Sweden and has taught at several universities in the United States and Europe. His primary research interests include the political psychology of gender, group conflict, institutional discrimination and the evolutionary psychology of intergroup prejudice. Prof. Sidanius was also the recipient of the 2006 Harold Lasswell Award for “Distinguished Scientific Contribution in the Field of Political Psychology” awarded by the International Society of Political Psychology and was inducted into the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

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Tom Tyler Interview

December 10, 2010

Here is an informative interview of Situationist Contributor Tom Tyler by Harvard Law student (now alum) Michal Rosenn. The interview lasts 24 minutes. It was conducted as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard.

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Professor Tyler is the University Professor of Psychology and Chair of Psychology at NYU. He received his B.A. in Psychology from Columbia in 1973, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in social psychology from UCLA in 1974 and 1978. At NYU, he heads the Tyler Lab, where he and his students research the dynamics of authority and motivations within groups, organizations, and societies. Much of Prof. Tyler’s work centers on social justice and the psychology of procedural justice — the topics addressed in this interview.

Table of Contents

0:17 — Tell us a little about your general research interests.

1:11 — Can you tell us about your research methods?

2:23 — Can you tell us about your work on procedural justice?

4:24 — What is your argument about an instrumentalist versus a values-based system as it applies to criminal law?

7:21 — What do you see as the reasons behind America’s move away from rehabilitation in the prison context?

9:43 — How do you see a values-based approach being implemented in the criminal justice system?

11:19 — How does your research on instrumentalism apply to anti-terrorism efforts?

13:18 — How does neuroimaging research complement your research findings?

14:09 — How does a values-based approach account for differences in values among a population?

18:33 — Is an over-reliance on instrumentalism a distinctly American phenomenon, or is it more universal?

19:04 — Does the relevance of your work extend beyond the context of criminal law?

20:34 — Do you have any recommendations to lawyers based on the research you’ve done?

22:29 — How do you see the relationship between law and psychology developing in the future?


Interview with Professor Joshua Greene

September 24, 2010

From The Project on Law & Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School (PLMS):

Here is an outstanding interview of Joshua Greene by Harvard Law Student Jeff Pote. The interview, titled “On Moral Judgment and Normative Questions” lasts just over 58 minutes. It was conducted as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard.


Joshua D. Greene is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He received his A.B. at Harvard University in 1997 where he was advised by Derek Parfit. He received his PhD in Philosophy at Princeton University in 2002 having written a dissertation on the foundation of ethics advised by David Lewis and Gilbert Harman. From 2002 to 2006, when he began at Harvard, he studied as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton in the Neuroscience of Cognitive Control Laboratory under Jonathan Cohen. He is currently the Director of the Moral Cognition Lab.

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Table of contents:

  • 00:00 — Logo-Title Frame
  • 00:23 — Introduction
  • 00:54 — How did your professional interests develop?
  • 04:58 — What are the questions that interest you?
  • 06:07 — What research projects are you currently working on?
  • 08:32 — Could you describe the original experiment that supported a dual-process view of moral judgment?
  • 13:13 — Has further research supported the dual-process view of moral judgment?
  • 16:43 — Could you explain how this, or any, psychological understanding could bear on normative questions of law and policy?
  • 24:39 — Could you provide an example of a situation where we should not rely on “blunt intuition?”
  • 30:42 — Can you see other places where psychological research illuminates normative questions of law or policy?
  • 37:40 — Do any of our moral judgments represent an objective moral reality (or moral facts)?
  • 44:38 — Could you provide an example of a “moral objectivist” solution that you find unpersuasive?
  • 49:33 — What is the problem of “free will” and what is its relevance for legal responsibility and punishment?
  • 56:26 — How will this emerging scientific understanding of the human animal affect law and moral philosophy?

Duration: 58:04

Thomas Nadelhoffer on Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Law

August 12, 2010

From The Project on Law & Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School (PLMS):

Below is a fascinating and enlightening 51-minute interview of Thomas Nadelhoffer by Harvard Law Student Brian Wood. The interview, titled “Developments in Neuroscience and their Implications for Criminal Law,” lasts just over 51 minutes. It was conducted the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard.


Dr. Thomas Nadelhoffer was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned degrees in philosophy from The University of Georgia (BA), Georgia State University (MA), and Florida State University (PhD). Since 2006, he has been an assistant professor of philosopy and a member of the law and policy faculty at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He is currently at Duke University as a Visiting Scholar in the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

His main areas of research include moral psychology, the philosophy of action, free will, punishment theory, and neurolaw. He is particularly interested in research at the cross roads of philosophy and the sciences of the mind. His articles have appeared in journals such as Analysis, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Mind & Language, Neuroethics, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. He is the coordinator of the blogs Flickers of Freedom and the Law and Neuroscience Blog. He is also a contributing author to blogs such as The Situationist, The Leiter Reports, and Experimental Philosophy.

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Table of contents:

  • What have you been working on recently? 0:22
  • What are some areas of the legal system in which this science is relevant? 1:07
  • What are the problems with the traditional approaches to using science in the criminal system, and how are new scientific methods relevant to fixing them? 2:15
  • How could these newer scientific methods be employed? 4:09
  • What are the rationales society has traditionally cited as justifying criminal punishment? 6:55
  • Can you explain what Compatibalism is? 10:17
  • Aren’t there problems with notions of moral responsibility under Compatibalism? 12:26
  • How do neuroscience, Compatibalism, and determinism relate to our notions of law? 12:55
  • What do you see as the problems with the classic approaches to punishment? 15:25
  • Is there anything especially strange about Retributivism to you? 20:37
  • Can you detail what you believe to be the just reasons for punishment and how society can punish people more justly? 23:41
  • In your view, how would you punish psychopaths under the consequentialist rationale? 30:40
  • Can you give an example of the distinctions psychopaths cannot draw? 34:50
  • What’s the most interesting experiment you have conducted? 37:01
  • Do you think these participants just misunderstood what determinism is? 38:15
  • What qualities do you believe you and other researchers and philosophers need to be successful? 40:03
  • How has what you have learned through your research influenced the way you live you life? 41:35
  • How do you see the relationship of law and mind science developing in the future? 44:55

Selective Attention Video

April 19, 2010

Here’s the video we discussed in class, from Prof. Daniel Simons at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It’s tricky, so pay close attention!

MBB Distinguished Lectures with Michael Gazzaniga

April 18, 2010

GazzanigaHarvard Mind, Brain & Behavior will hold its 2010 Distinguished Lecture Series this week, featuring three evening lectures with Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, psychology professor and director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara. All three events look interesting, and the final event has particular relevance to law and mind sciences. All events will be held in Harvard’s Yenching Auditorium, 2 Divinity Ave, Cambridge, MA.

  • Tuesday, April 20, 4 to 6 pm
    Building the Parallel Distributed Brain, How Do We Know?
    From Hebb, Lashley, and Sperry, and through modern research, the basics of brain organization are reviewed at both the cellular and neurological level, including a personal history of split-brain research that all lead up to the view of a parallel and distributed brain. Post-talk commentary by Professor Albert Galaburda (Neurology / HMS).
  • Wednesday, April 21, 4 to 6 pm
    Automatic Brains, Interpretive Minds
    With a massively parallel and distributed and automatic brain, how is it we believe we experience a unified conscious life? How does the sense of psychological unity become established and how does it work in the brain? Post-talk commentary by Professor Güven Güzeldere (Philosophy / FAS).
  • Thursday, April 22, 4 to 6 pm
    Feeling Free in a Mechanistic World: Where the Brain Meets the Law
    The idea of determinism and mechanism rings out from every quarter of science and society. What does this mean for the concept of personal responsibility and how might ideas on the issue impact our ideas of justice and the law? Post-talk commentary by Professor Joshua Greene (Psychology / FAS).

NYT on medical research into hallucinogens

April 12, 2010

Psychedelic pioneer Timothy Leary, whose research into therapeutic uses of hallucinogenic drugs is being taken up once again in the US. Photo via AP/Wide World Photos.

“All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating,” he recalled. “Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water’s gone. And then you’re gone.”

…thus explains retired clinical psychologist Clark Martin in today’s New York Times his first psychedelic experience, as part of a medical study on the effect of psilocybin on cancer patients.

Noting that federal regulators have recently begun again to approve controlled experiments with psychedelics, the article highlights some of the research currently being conducted from Johns Hopkins to Harvard to UCLA. Nevertheless, the NYT notes, federal funding is not so forthcoming. Studies like the one Martin participated in are mostly funded by nonprofits — notably MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, whose annual conference is taking place this weekend in California.

For more on the history of the psychedelic therapy movement, and the central role of Harvard University, see Don Lattin’s new book, The Harvard Psychedelic Club.

Law and Mind Sciences event this Thursday

April 12, 2010

FYI, the Project on Law and Mind Sciences is hosting a panel discussion this Thursday on moral biology, addressing specifically the question: How should developments in mind sciences and behavioral biology alter our understanding of law and morality?

See details below:

Thurs. April 15


Harvard Law School

Austin Hall, West Classroom

Free and Open to the Public

This panel discussion will examine how developments in evolutionary biology and the mind sciences should inform law, philosophy, and economics, focusing on subjects such as punishment, responsibility, racism, addiction, and cooperation. Participants will include

I. Glenn Cohen, Joshua Greene, William Fitzpatrick, Adina Roskies, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and Thomas Scanlon

Co-sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center and the Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School,  the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research, and the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project  with support from the Cammann Fund for Law and Medicine at Harvard.

Adding Music to Videos

April 11, 2010

FMA logoWe’ve been discussing what music to add to our videos and how. One great resource is the Free Music Archive. According to its website,

“The Free Music Archive is an interactive library of high-quality, legal audio downloads. … Radio has always offered the public free access to new music. The Free Music Archive is a continuation of that purpose, designed for the age of the internet. Every mp3 you discover on The Free Music Archive is pre-cleared for certain types of uses that would otherwise be prohibited by copyright laws that were not designed for the digital era.”

The FMA is affiliated with Jersey City-based freeform radio station WFMU and features 15 genres of music. The website has curators who filter through submissions to determine which pieces to upload, and visitors can listen to the full length and download anything that’s on the site.

FMA genres

Dear Obama: For SCOTUS decision, listen to your heart . . .

April 11, 2010

It’s official: Justice John Paul Stevens has announced that he will retire at the end of the term.  But Justice Stevens’ announcement signaled much more than the end of his honorable service; the announcement was, in effect, a signal that the Capitol should prepare for battle.  Warring factions – political parties, advocacy groups, lobbyists – have already sprung into action, releasing news releases, action messages, and flash reports excoriating one potential nominee or another.  (Political) war is coming.  And through all the chaos and cacophony of a Supreme Court nomination, one man must sift through a massive amount of chatter and make a decision.  President Obama must make a choice – a complex and sensitive choice, after healthcare reform and before the midterm election, with an inspired left and an apoplectic right.

Given the complexity and sensitivity of his task, perhaps Obama should gather all the information possible, view the situation from every angle, chew the decision over and over in his mind, ruminate and reflect – all part of a process of reaching the optimal political and moral decision.

Or, maybe he should just go with his gut.  After the jump, I introduce some classic research in cognitive science to explain why an emotional decision could be better than a holistic decision – even when a judicial nomination is at stake.

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Twelve Steps to Numeracy: A Rehab Program for Lawyers

March 22, 2010

If a Supreme Court justice stumbled upon our blog, I would not be surprised if the subject matter bored her.  Despite the tremendous value that the mind sciences could add to our legal jurisprudence – as we have been highlighting for almost a complete semester (!) – the typical justice appears unconcerned about what science has to say about the doctrine that the Court creates.  Moreover, even if the justice were interested in a certain scientific topic, it is doubtful that the justice would take the time to understand the topic thoroughly enough to employ the science in her judicial decision-making.  In fact, the entire enterprise of law appears to be deliberately non-scientific: judges, advocates, and scholars engage in the practice of argument, but rarely pay attention to whether their arguments are scientifically valid.

Professor David L. Faigman, however, is a rare breed of legal scholar: He is numerate.  That is, he has a social scientific background, he understands science, and he cares deeply about the plague of innumeracy that has infected the field of law.  In Legal Alchemy: the Use and Misuse of Science and the Law, for example, Professor Faigman suggests (perhaps somewhat facetiously) that scientifically-challenged juris doctors should enroll in “Innumerates Anonymous,” a twelve step program to cure innumeracy:

  1. I am an innumerate.
  2. The law needs the best science available or that could be made available.
  3. As a/an _____ (insert one: practicing attorney, professor, judge, administrator, legislator, or other), it behooves me to become familiar with science and the scientific culture in order to fulfill my professional obligations. . . . Read the rest of this entry »

Iceland: Land of unattended babies and free-roaming animals

March 21, 2010

Upon entering a shop in Reykjavik, Iceland—my spring break destination—one is likely to encounter a sign similar to this one at tourist shops.  More likely than not, the shopkeeper is not present, but is somewhere in the back, if not further off.  In less-touristy shops, the shopkeeper is also not present, but rather than a friendly admonition against stealing, a sign directs the shopper to a phone number (s)he can call if (s)he wants to buy something.  I never tried it, but presumably the shopkeeper would show up and make the sale.

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Summer School on Crime, Law, and Psychology in Prague, Czech Republic, July 3-10, 2010.

March 20, 2010

Prague via CC images

The Center for Public Policy is pleased to invite students to:

Summer School on Crime, Law and Psychology 2010 (CLP2010)

July 3-10, Prague

The organizer of European Summer/Spring Institute, Center for Public Policy, has teamed up with professors from the University of Aberdeen and Warwick University to launch a summer course for international students interested in the application of psychological approaches and research methods to criminal justice. The program aims to invite students of different backgrounds (psychology, legal studies, criminology and sociology), who are interested in the interrelatedness of crime, law and psychology and are willing to combine a challenging academic environment with the holiday excitement.

Students of CLP2010 will not only have an opportunity to listen to professors from the UK’s best Universities, but will also share their ideas and interests with practitioners during guest lectures and site visits. Last, but not least the participants of CLP2010 will have a chance to meet new friends and explore the magnificence of Prague during special events organized by the CLP2010 staff.

  • Learn more about the application of psychological knowledge to criminal law
  • Get involved into discussions with academics from the UK’s best Universities, practitioners and fellow students
  • Gain your own perspective on the role of psychology in criminal justice systems
  • Enjoy having fun with new friends from different parts of the world
  • Experience Prague – one of the most beautiful cultural and historical capitals in Central Europe

Early Bird Application Deadline: April 30, 2010

Final Application Deadline: May 15, 2010

Steal This Blog Post

March 12, 2010

As you might recall, a few weeks ago we discussed the possibility that excessive patenting was crowding out innovation.  On cue, Farhad Manjoo (a technology columnist) discusses the very same topic — and invokes some of the very same research — in “Patently Stupid.”  He specifically targets Apple for seeking patent protection over its multi-touch user interface — which is arguably not non-obvious technology.  It’s a quick read.

So, was he reading our blog?  No.  I would bet that it’s still just us.  Too bad for irony!

Knowles’ and Ditto’s “Warm” View of Human Reasoning:

February 28, 2010

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right)

Eric Knowles and Peter Ditto endorse what they call a “warm” view of human reasoning. This is a “hybrid view” that recognizes that human reasoning is “necessarily both” “’hot’ (rooted in motivations and emotions) [and] ‘cold’ (rooted in cognitive operations).” (15). In their estimation, this dichotomy between hot and cold reasoning — what they also refer to as the “preference-principle dichotomy” — “oversimplifies human psychology.” (4). In “Preference, Principle, and Political Casuistry,” Knowles and Ditto present empirical evidence for their favored warm, hybrid view and attempt to explain away this preference-principle dichotomy. 

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Eric Knowles and Peter Ditto: “Preference, Principle, and Political Casuistry”

February 28, 2010

In “Preference, Principle, and Political Casuistry,” Eric Knowles and Peter Ditto seek to give an account of how preference and principle interact in our reasoning process. While decisions are often reduced to being labeled either exclusively principled or exclusively driven by preferences, Knowles and Ditto believe that the reality of decision-making is that choices are often a product of our using dispassionate, cognitive processes to reason towards conclusions that we find preferential or palatable.

For example, when male subjects were asked to make a hiring decision for a stereotypically male dominated profession (construction), they generally ranked education as a more important criteria than job experience. However, faced with a male applicant with more job experience and a female one with more education, the male subjects generally reversed their rankings, holding work experience to be more important. In other words, when our dispassionate reasoning process is faced with a difficult choice (is education or work experience more important?), we may come to a decision we believe to be solely principled that is in fact a conclusion we accept because of some preference we harbor (e.g. that we would prefer to hire a man to work construction).

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The Tea Party and Blasi & Jost’s System Justification Motive

February 25, 2010

What’s been fascinating commentators about the Tea Party is the disconnect between its rhetoric and its second coming, the disconnect which seems starkly clear to the commentators, but to which the Tea Partiers themselves seem quite oblivious. Tea Partiers’ most important banner slogan is “Big Government, stay out of our lives” or any variation thereon.  The question is where were our protectors during the Bush administration, which, as a CNN reporter points out, turned a Clinton surplus into a deficit with a nearly $2 trillion swing, sending the cost of government into the $1.2 trillion figure where it stands today? After all, Obama’s contribution to the massive deficit was a drop in the bucket which was already generously filled during the Bush years.

Gary Blasi and John Jost‘s  work on System Justification Theory (aka SJT) might help explain what’s going on here. Blasi & Jost explore the non-rational decision-making that we all (including, admittedly, Blasi and Jost themselves) engage in. Specifically, they provide ample evidence that the typical self-interest and group identification biases do not fully explain our actions. Why, for example, do members of the disadvantaged groups in our society approve of the social order that continues to disadvantage them and their groups? This is the opposite of the result we would expect if we relied on self-interest and group-identification explanations alone (i.e. if self-interests and group-identification were sole drivers of decision-making we would see near-universal disparagement of the current social order among the members of the disadvantaged groups). Blasi & Jost’s argument (backed up by empirical data, of course) is that we are naturally (and unconsciously) very good at accepting the status quo as the “right” status.  Once any particular order is solidified (i.e. there is very little chance of going back to the previous status quo), we accept it as “correct” and see it “desirable.’  A perfect (and very troubling to a Dem) example was a study by Dan Gilbert where a sample of Texan Dems significantly improved their evaluation of George W. Bush only one month following his victory in the gubernatorial race against Democrat Ann Richards.

So what does all this have to do with the Tea Partiers? Let’s see after the jump.

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Seminar: Public Policies and Private Behaviors: Tapping “Moral Resources”

February 18, 2010
Democratic Governance

via Ash Center

Next Monday right before the class, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation will invite Professor Claus Offe to give a talk about the distinction of three mechanisms by which public policies can reach their goals: laws and their enforcement through (the threat of) coercive sanctions, mechanisms of taxing and spending which appeal to the rational interest of policy target actors, and finally “soft” mechanisms of appealing to social and moral norms.

Public Policies and Private Behaviors: Achieving Policy Goals through the Tapping of “Moral Resources”
February 22: 4:10 – 5:30 p.m.
124 Mount Auburn, (map)
Suite 200N, Room 226 Read the rest of this entry »

Political Ideology in the Popular Press

February 15, 2010

This past weekend, in Our Politics May Be All in Our Head, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times presented research on the psychological (and even physiological) differences between liberals and conservatives — a topic which directly relates to our discussion three weeks ago about Professor Jost’s theory of political ideology.

We all know that liberals and conservatives are far apart on health care. But in the way their brains work? Even in automatic reflexes, like blinking? Or the way their glands secrete moisture?

Although Kristof initially finds the research “utterly dispiriting” — given the difficulty of moving ideological opponents who “may not even share our hard-wiring” — he notes that the research could illuminate how to frame political arguments persuasively.

Tom Tyler & Lindsay Rankin: From Instrumentalism to Legitimacy

February 14, 2010

Image courtesy of Sophia Parkwood

Most policies in our legal system are founded on an instrumentalist approach to human behavior:  our systems are set up to encourage individuals through rewards and to deter people through the threat of punishment.  Our criminal justice system, for example, relies upon punishment and deterrence in order to achieve compliance with the law.

In their article “The Mystique of Instrumentalism”, Tom Tyler and Lindsay Rankin take a position against instrumentalism in the law, appealing to empirical data in arguing that a values-based approach would be far more effective in ensuring that individuals comply with the law.

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