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?


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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The Collective Action of Healthcare Reform

February 14, 2010
From WTRF News

From WTRF News

How should an institution inspire collective action?  What’s the best strategy?  The conventional wisdom is that to solve a collective problem, the institution should reward contributors and punish free-riders.  To prevent people from littering, fine them; to induce people to donate to charity, reward them; to move people to invent, lure them with intellectual property—as we discussed last week.  The implicit reasoning is that the typical human agent is a rational wealth-optimizer who won’t contribute to a public good unless he or she is incentivized to do.  Yet, as we also discussed last week, the rational actor model isn’t an accurate depiction of human nature.  Just as the average person doesn’t make the “rational choice” in an ultimatum bargain, the average person doesn’t jump to contribute to a public good on account of a mere carrot or stick.  The conventional wisdom—that the optimal solution for the collective action dilemma is incentive-based—is a gross oversimplification; the almighty incentive is only one aspect of a rich, complex puzzle.  Nonetheless, the conventional solution is unquestioned in our popular discourse regarding collective action.

Enter Professor Dan M. Kahan of Yale Law SchoolAs he’s done for quite a while, Professor Kahan challenges the conventional wisdom.  In the “The Logic of Reciprocity: Trust, Collective Action, and Law,” Professor Kahan argues that the traditional solution for a collective problem is often counter-productive, and offers an alternative theory that is grounded in an ecologically valid appraisal of the human animal.

Before exploring Professor Kahan’s theory, though, consider a recent example of the conventional wisdom’s influence on public discourse from an article in Slate entitled, “The Senator’s Dilemma,” published last week.  There, Christopher Beam argues that the Democratic Party’s strategic stance with respect to health care reform can be viewed as a classic collective action problem.  Although Beam’s characterization of the problem is surely correct, his policy prescription is conventional.

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Callan and Kay: The Law’s Relationship to Self-Interested, Competitive, and Trusting Behavior

February 13, 2010

In “Associations between Law, Competitiveness, and the Pursuit of Self-Interest,” Mitchell Callan and Aaron Kay present and analyze their research regarding whether the existence of law, “implicitly fosters the assumptions that people are self-interested, competitive, and cannot be trusted.” (2)

They outline two primary reasons why individuals may associate the law with notions of self-interested and competitive behavior:

  • Firstly, these associations may occur because of “legal socialization,” which is essentially gaining understanding how our legal system and laws function in society. This understanding may come to us through exposure to popular culture. As the guiding principle of our legal system is that, “the best way of eliciting the truth of a controversy is through confrontation [e.g. plaintiff vs. defendant] and the zealous pursuit of one’s self interests,” Callan and Kay contend that some people associate concepts of pursuing self-interest and competitiveness with the law. (2)
  • Secondly, Callan and Kay argue that the very fact the law has to exist at all leads some people to perceive other’s behavior differently (i.e. as self-interested in nature rather than cooperative), which can impair feelings of trust between individuals.

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Tyler: Early Life Influence on Moral Decision Making

February 13, 2010

NYU’s Professor Tom Tyler and Lindsay Rankin suggest that physical discipline toward a child leads to violent behavior, but in fact the link is more correlational than causal.

DisciplinePhysical discipline is linked directly to aggression and violence toward others in both childhood and adolescence. … Physical punishment of children is therefore not effective in leading to long-term compliance with rules and laws, and it is not effective in producing the type of social values that we argue lead to self-regulation.  Instead, physical discipline leads to just the opposite: aggressive and violent behavior. (Tyler, 28)

Perhaps the children who are physically punished at home are already more likely to engage in aggressive and violent behavior for other reasons, such as their community’s culture or lack of accessibility of positive opportunities. Moreover, in some families, forceful physical and verbal communication are not intended as hurtful but simply the modus operandi for giving instructions.  Read the rest of this entry »

Callan & Kay, on “Law, Competitiveness, and the Pursuit of Self-Interest”

February 13, 2010

The fact that law affects behavior is a truth too obvious to warrant comment.  So much of what we do all the time is in order to comply with some applicable law or another.

Consider: (see captions)

The legal system under which these drivers operate clearly has an effect on their behavior.  But the effects that law has on behavior are not always so obvious.  In, “Associations between Law, Competitiveness and the Pursuit of Self-Interest,” Callan and Kay argue that not only does “thinking about law” — where ‘thinking’ does not mean consciously thinking — lead to more competitive and self-interested attitudes, but that such thinking also produces, under some conditions, more competitive and self-interested behavior.

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Aaron Kay, “The Psychological Power of the Status Quo”

February 9, 2010

Situationist Contributor Aaron Kay is an Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Professor Kay’s research has focused on the integration of implicit social-cognitive processes with the study of broad social issues. In his primary line of work, he investigates the myriad ways by which people cope with, adapt to, and rationalize social inequalities. At the moment, this research program addresses questions such as: (1) How do people rationalize and justify their good fortune and bad fortune, others’ good fortune and bad fortune, and the social systems that dictate these outcomes? (2) What are the psychological tools employed in aiding people to cope with the internal conflict produced from participating in social systems that are, in many objective ways, unfair and capricious?

At the second annual conference on Law and Mind Sciences, which took place im March of 2008, Professor Kay’s remarkable presentation was titled “The Psychological Power of the Status Quo.” Here’s the abstract:

Although people tend to view their beliefs, values, and ideology as entirely the product of thoughtful deliberation, it is becoming increasingly clear that such a view is largely mistaken. In this talk, I will describe how the motivation to perceive the current status quo as just, legitimate, and desirable — an implicit motive known as “system justification” — exerts powerful and consequential effects on social perception and judgment. My remarks will focus particularly on the role of system justification in maintaining social inequalities.

His talk was videotaped (though with poor lighting), and you can watch it on the three (roughly 9-minute) videos below the jump.

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Tom Tyler on “Strategies of Social Control” – Video

February 9, 2010


At the 2007 Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference, Tom Tyler’s presentation was titled “Strategies of Social Control: Motivating Rule Adherence in Organizational Settigings.” Here is the abstract for his talk.

Recent examples of abuse of authority have occurred in two types of organizational settings: corporations and the armed forces.  What strategies can be used to bring behavior in such settings into line with rules and policies about appropriate conduct?  Dr.  Tyler will talk about the value of self-regulatory approaches, examining whether they work and how to make them effective.  He will illustrate his arguments using data collected in two contexts: in a multinational corporate bank and among agents of social control (e.g., police officers, federal agents, and infantry soldiers). 

Below the jump you can watch a video of Tyler’s presentation (in 3 roughly 9-minute videos).

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Crowding Out Innovation

February 8, 2010

Isn’t the iPad just an oversized iPod Touch?  (Isn’t the iPod Touch just an iPad Nano?)  Has the personal computer changed much over the last forty years?  (Check out an embryonic personal computer from Xerox PARC, known as the Alto, from 1973—see the resemblance?)  More to the point, weren’t we supposed to be traveling in flying cars by now?  How innovative are we?

Perhaps we are somewhat innovative, but it is safe to say that we are not as innovative as we could be—and it’s the patent system’s fault.  The problem isn’t that the patent system is doing too little, though; the problem is that the patent system is doing too muchFor as long as the U.S. patent regime treats “carrot” as king, the engine of innovation will run on the fuel of self-interest, and technological progress will lag as a result.

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How Behavioral Game Theory Supports Schwartz’s Theory of Self-Interested Ideology

February 7, 2010

Is self-interest a natural expression of human nature? Or, is it an ideology—an unnatural societal construct?

In “Crowding Out Morality,” Professor Barry Schwartz argues that we have created a society where our institutions and structures operate under the assumption that human nature is self-interested.  These institutions, in turn, crowd out moral motives and altruistic instincts, thereby causing us to exhibit self-interested behavior.  A central premise of Schwartz’s argument is that the ideology of self-interest is a product of society itself.  That is, the ideology of self-interest is self-fulfilling and man-made: In a society that embraces the view that self-interest is a dominant motive, self-interest will dominate; in a society that does not prize self-interest, however, altruism can move us.  To buttress Schwartz’s premise that the ideology of self-interest is an unnatural societal construct—as opposed to a natural expression of human nature—let’s play a game.

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Emily Pronin on Bias

February 2, 2010

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

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

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