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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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).

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

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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. 

Read the rest of this entry »

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Chapter Summary: “Crowding Out Morality: How the Ideology of Self-Interest Can Be Self-Fulfilling” by Barry Schwartz

February 6, 2010

Barry Schwartz’s chapter, “Crowding Out Morality: How the Ideology of Self-Interest Can Be Self-Fulfilling,” argues that modern Western society is structured on the (incorrect) assumption that self-interest is what motivates human behavior, and that this structure influences people to actually become this way.  Situations can create individual motives, according to Schwartz, and therefore motives are not always exogenous to situations.

Barry Schwartz

Schwartz begins with three examples of how morality can be “crowded out.” That is, when an individual has two reasons to engage in a certain behavior, such as (1) “because I am a citizen or community member,” or (2) “because I will receive financial compensation,” the two motives compete. Given a society where a free-market, self-interest-driven mindset is already dominant, option two frequently wins out. Not only does it win out, but it does so in a way that produces results detrimental to the public good:

  • Example 1: A daycare center in Israel tries to solve the problem of parents picking up their children late by fining latecomers. The parents perceive the fine as a “price” for coming late, and more arrive late than when the disincentive for coming late was just that it was the “wrong thing to do.”
  • Example 2: When Swiss citizens were asked whether they would be willing to have a waste dump in their community in exchange for financial compensation, fewer individuals (25% versus a previous 51%) agreed to allow the waste dump than when the same question was asked with no compensation offered—that is, when they were asked to put up with the dump “because they were citizens.”
  • Example 3: When college students were asked to help out with a study that required them to drag a ball across a screen for three minutes, students put in more effort, dragged more balls across the screen, when they were doing it for free than when offered financial compensation—that is, when their only reason to do it was “as a favor.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Jost and Gun Laws and Policy

January 31, 2010

In his article, Jost contends that conservatives, “most of all [venerate] order and authority.” (citing Erikson, Luttbeg, & Tedin, 1988, p. 75, italics added) At first glance, this contention seems difficult to reconcile with what are generally though of as conservative opinions on gun control laws. After all, if conservatives value order and authority, then why would they not support a government with more authority to control guns, thus being better able to impose order.

As I considered the matter further, I realized that Jost’s theory may not have as much trouble with this fact as it may seem. Perhaps Jost would contend that the conservative desire to live without guns control laws is motivated authority, such as the belief that the right to own a gun, as one Arizona Republican State Senator put it, is “god-given.” Or, maybe Jost would contend that without being able to own guns, conservatives feel that they would lose a sense that they could personally impose order on the world. Finally, I thought Jost may contend that owning a gun would make conservatives feel more comfortable that they could maintain their “rigid and closed-minded” ideology as society changes (i.e. gun ownership makes one feel more able to resist things in general or rebel against society).

Despite these responses, I’m not convinced that conservative views on guns can be neatly explained by Jost’s theory. The broader question that I believe conservatives position on guns control laws raises is how do Jost’s notions of psychology and ideology explain the libertarian ideas that exist in the heads of “conservatives”? Can Jost really provide an explanation, or has he greatly oversimplified the political landscape and ideology in general?

Two Views of Gun Control?


The Ideology of Populism: How the Tea Party Movement Complicates Jost’s Theory of Ideology

January 31, 2010

Ushered in by a wave of caffeinated populism, the Republican Scott Brown—the anointed Tea Party Candidate—upset Martha Coakley, his Democratic rival, in a heated race for the Massachusetts Senate seat.  The passion of the electorate—whether in the form of Republican anger (followed by excitement) or Democratic anxiety (followed by disappointment)—was palpable.  Take Paul Tusini, who recounted at a Brown rally: “I can’t sleep.  It’s all I can think about.”  Or consider Robert Fox, a Brown supporter who traveled from Wisconsin to Boston to participate in his first campaign, not only because he was angry about ObamaCare, but also because he “hate[d] the imbalance of power in Washington” and “the abuse of the system.”  The Massachusetts election demonstrated that ideology remains a vibrant force in the modern political climate.

To be sure, the ideological fervor of U.S. politics is no longer surprising.  Political polarization between liberals and conservatives is humdrum—only newsworthy when it reaches a feverish pitch.  What is noteworthy about Brown’s victory, however, is the brand of ideology that brought him to power: not old-fashioned conservatism and its predilection for the status quo, but anti-establishment Tea Party populism.

The Tea Party movement—and its triumph in Massachusetts—should make us hesitant to organize U.S. political ideologies merely in terms of the warring poles of “liberalism” and “conservatism.”  This simplistic, binary approach fails to account for the rise of the Tea Party—a movement for which, according to a recent poll, 41 percent of Americans have a positive view, compared to 35% for the Democratic Party and 28% for the Republican Party.  (The movement is gaining so much steam that, according to another poll, a Tea Party presidential candidate would beat out both the Democratic and Republican challenger in a vote by an independent polity.)  In fact, excessive emphasis on the U.S. liberal-conservative divide not only blurs political reality, but also lulled the Massachusetts Democratic Party into a false sense of optimism.  Expecting that the Blue State would vote blue, Coakley et al. neglected to run a rigorous campaign.  Matt Bai of the New York Times recently criticized the erroneous dichotomy:

[There is a] fast-growing swath of voters who can summon no affinity for either party. As in other aspects of modern American life, brand allegiance in politics is at an all-time low; more than a third of Americans (and more than half of all Massachusetts voters) identify themselves as independents rather than as members of the blue team or the red. The most prevalent ideology of the era seems to be not liberalism nor conservatism so much as anti-incumbency, a reflexive distrust of whoever has power and a constant rallying cry for systemic reform.

Not even academia is safe from the conventional, binary empahsis.  In the “End of the End of Ideology,” for example, Professor John Jost declares that ideology is far from dead—but employs the liberal-conservative distinction to prove his point.  The “weak” version of his thesis is that political attitudes arise from dispositional factors (e.g., psychological needs and desires) and situational circumstances.  This conclusion is insightful and non-controversial.  As ideology is grounded in human nature, ideology is and will remain a moving political force—a claim to which a restless a Brown supporter, such as Mr. Tusini, would attest.

Nonetheless, Josts’s article appears to stand for a more provocative proposition—i.e., the “strong” version of Jost’s piece: The political ideology of “liberalism” and “conservatism” each has a distinct, social psychological underpinning.  For example, one’s “attitude toward inequality” and “attitude toward social change versus tradition” can explain and predict whether one is likely to identify as a “liberal” or a “conservative”; meanwhile, whether one identifies as liberal or conservative can explain and predict how one is likely to vote or to think.  As Jost declares:

There is now the possibility of explaining ideological differences between right and left in terms of underlying psychological needs for stability versus change, order versus complexity, familiarity versus novelty, conformity versus creativity, and loyalty versus rebellion.

Jost further suggests that the liberal-conservative divide—with its social psychological foundation—is the dominant force in U.S. political culture:

Public opinion polls show the nation to be sharply divided along ideological lines, and these lines predict political outcomes to a remarkable degree. . . . The argument that most of the population is impervious to the liberal–conservative distinction was probably never on solid empirical ground, but it seems increasingly untenable in the current (red state vs. blue state) political climate.

Put crudely, the strong version of Jost’s thesis is that liberals and conservatives think differently.  Jost concedes that a liberal could turn more conservative in a specific situation (e.g., in response to fearful stimuli, such as 9/11); even then, however, the liberal-turned-conservative is now acting in a “conservative” manner—that is, the liberal-conservative dichotomy retains explanatory and predictive power.

Yet, Brown’s election and the Tea Party movement reveal that using “liberalism v. conservatism” as a conceptual starting point to analyze U.S. political ideology is theoretically and practically problematic.  Although the movement corroborates the weak version of Jost’s thesis, the movement undermines the emphasis and the tone of the strong version.

First, consider the theoretical issue.  If the liberal-conservative distinction defines the current political landscape, as Jost implies, on what side of the left-right line should we place the Tea Party movement?  On the one hand, no serious political observer could deny that much of the Tea Party platform falls right of center.  Brown, for his own part, opposes taxes, same-sex marriage, gun control and “lawyering up terrorists.”  On the other hand, the animating ideology of the Tea Party movement is anti-establishment populism—which, according to Jost, is the hallmark of liberalism and the antithesis of conservativism.  Columnist David Brooks notes that the movement is against “big government, big business, big media,” and the “concentrated power of the educated class.”  (And, as the New York Times reported yesterday, the Republic Party itself is uncertain how to handle the Tea Party.)  The movement feeds into the liberal psychological need for “change”; the movement markets itself as force of “complexity,” “novelty,” “creativity,” and “rebellion”—the precise psychological attributes that characterize the typical liberal.  Brown thus ran as a maverick, an “independent voter and an independent thinker” who would “look out for the best interests of the people of Massachusetts”—“it’s not Ted Kennedy’s seat,” he reminded us, “it’s the people’s seat.”

Here’s the problem: If we, like Jost, limit our analysis to the divergent social psychology of liberalism and conservativism, then we give short shrift to the broad, complex, and colorful spectrum of U.S. political ideology.  For the sake of parsimony, we misrepresent the political reality.  Populism cuts across liberalism and conservativism; its cognitive and situational underpinning is, too, worthy of study.  For example, if the ideology of the Tea Party is marked (1) by a psychological preference of social change over tradition (like liberalism, but unlike conservatism) and (2) by a psychological apathy toward inequality (like conservatism, but unlike liberalism), then does the average populist think like a liberal?  Like a conservative?  A bit of both?

Second, consider the strategic angle.  An overly simplistic outlook of political behavior (e.g., full rationality) may cause a politician to make a non-optimal decision; likewise, an overly simplistic outlook of political ideology (e.g., the liberal-conservative distinction) may cause a politician to falter.  In fact, acceptance of the strong version of Jost’s thesis is one reason that Coakley lost.  To explain: If we assume that the average voter has a robust, predictable, and systematic ideological commitment to either liberalism or conservatism, then it is reasonable to infer that a State that is predominantly liberal will most likely go Democrat.  A liberal person has a distinct psychological makeup; unless a situational variable moves her toward acting in a conservative fashion, it is safe to assume that she will act in a liberal way.  So, a deeply blue Massachusetts should go blue.  Casual observers, pundits, politicians, and White House officials alike were operating under the liberal-conservative assumption.  Primed to expect the conventional, binary liberal-conservative divide, we were shocked.  Moreover, the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the national Democratic Party ran a half-hearted campaign against Brown—assuming that victory at the primary level ensured victory at the state level.  Blinded by their faith in the liberal-conservative distinction, Coakley et al. ignored a grassroots weed growing in their blue home field: Tea Party populism.  The political terrain is complex.  Until we release our penchant for parsimony, the Tea Party will grow under the radar—for better or for worse.

Eric Kandel @ Harvard February 8, 2010

January 30, 2010

KandelExciting news:

Dr. Eric Kandel will be giving a lecture entitled “The Molecular Biology of Memory Storage and the Biological Basis of Individuality” on February 8, 2010. The lecture will be held from 3:30 – 5:30 PM at the Harvard Science Center, Lecture Hall D, 1 Oxford Street and is sponsored by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child (further details are available on the Center’s website). Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman and Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center on the Developing Child, will also participate in the lecture.

Kandel, a professor at Columbia and winner of the Nobel Prize in 2000, is one of the world’s foremost researchers of the neural mechanisms underlying memory formation and has written for both the scientific community and the general public. He is also known for wearing bow ties (no joke).

If the Pope can blog . . .

January 28, 2010

Some of you who are a bit nervous about your blogging skills (or the ethics of blogging) might be somewhat reassured by the following story.

From NPR’s All Things Considered:

Imagine the pope, dressed in his white robes and his half-moon glasses, hunched over his laptop — blogging. We don’t know whether Benedict XVI will soon start a blog, but he does have a Facebook page.

In a recent message, he showed his interest in new technologies when he called on priests to “proclaim the Gospel” through blogs, videos and Web sites.

To listen to the story, including a set of blogging tips for the Pope, click here.