Monthly Archives: March 2012

Trayvon Martin’s psychological killer: Why we see guns that aren’t there [at Scientific American]

Today, I’m honored to have a post on the Scientific American guest blog about the Trayvon Martin case, discussing Joshua Correll’s 2002 research on the disturbing ways in which cultural stereotypes — even those that we do not endorse — might impact our split-second decisions to shoot (or not shoot) potentially armed targets of different races.

An excerpt:

Over a series of four studies, participants were faster to (correctly) shoot an armed target when he was Black, and faster to (correctly) decide not to shoot an unarmed target when he was White. But the truly interesting and tragic finding lies in what happened when people decided to shoot the target when he was actually holding nothing more than a wallet or a cell phone, much like what happened in the real-life case of Trayvon Martin. As it turns out, the participants were consistently more likely to accidentally shoot unarmed targets when they were Black.

Surely this must be influenced by racism, thought the researchers. After all, it would certainly make sense that racist people would be more likely to jump to the conclusion that Black people are armed. Wouldn’t non-racist people be more likely to disregard the color of the target’s skin when making judgments? Wouldn’t non-racist people – especially those who are well aware of the negative stereotypes towards Black people in American culture, and those who consciously try to fight against prejudice in their everyday lives – be more forgiving on the trigger?

Unfortunately, that hypothesis could not be further from the truth. First of all, no matter how racist the participants were (or were not), they were equally likely to shoot unarmed Black targets; outright levels of racism did not predict the results at all. However, one thing did predict performance on the task – the participants’ level of awareness that there is prejudice towards Black people in American society, even if the participant adamantly did not support those stereotypes. Simply being highly aware of prejudice in the world, even if you don’t agree with, support, or like that prejudice, makes it more likely that you might make the fateful mistake of shooting an unarmed target when making split-second decisions in uncertain conditions. The more aware you are of cultural stereotypes, the more likely you are to make a biased mistake.

Click here to read the entire post over at Scientific American!

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Seeing the 1960s forest for the Mad Men trees.

Doesn’t it feel sometimes like the trendy thing to do is reminisce about the past?

Joan Harris (nee Holloway) on "Mad Men"

With the return of AMC’s Mad Men on Sunday, a legion of fans will be tuning in to marvel at Joan’s bodacious curves, Roger and Don’s alcohol-soaked workplace antics, and Betty Draper’s disturbingly standoffish take on parenting. Stephen King’s popular new book 11/22/63 is about a man who travels back in time to 1958. Shows like Pan Am and Playboy Club debuted this year, hoping to capitalize on audiences’ apparent love for reminiscing. It even seems like fashion has pivoted back towards the past, with retro dresses popping up in store windows across the country. But as we all sit around and revel in the nostalgic quirks of the 1960s, is there anything psychological going on beneath the surface?

There’s a fairly straightforward reason why we love to reminisce; feeling “nostalgic” tends to be associated with a variety of positive emotions, like happiness, social connection, and positive feelings about oneself. However, nostalgia might also have some sneaky side effects.

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Speeding Minds, Racy Thoughts.

Imagine that you’re procrastinating on the Internet, and you decide to watch a music video. Eventually you settle on LMFAO’s hit song, “Sexy And I Know It.” It’s an upbeat song, with a fast beat, fun lyrics, and a tune that makes it easy to dance along. Will watching this video change how you think and behave?


Warning: Video May Not Be Appropriate For Minors

Everyone loves to talk about the dangers of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll lyrics (or rap, as the case may be). But what if the lyrics aren’t the riskiest thing about those songs?

What if it’s the beat?
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You can’t put a price on a rivalry game.

This was originally blogged at IonPsych on 3/9/2011 with the title “March Madness: Priceless for Some, Overpriced for Others.” I’ve decided to re-post it from the archives today, in honor of the fact that tonight is the 2nd Duke-Carolina game of the season. You can see the original post here. And, as always, Go Duke!

When I was in college, I slept outside in a tent almost every night during the 2 coldest months of the year.

OK, before you call me crazy, there’s more to the story.

I actually did this for four years in a row.

And all four years, this ‘tenting’ experience that cost me quality sleep, socially acceptable hygiene habits, and at least a few tenths of my cumulative GPA was all for a two-hour basketball game.

Alright. I guess that doesn’t make me sound much saner. Unless I tell you it was for the annual home Duke-UNC game. Then it might make me sound a BIT more rational. But probably not, unless you’re a Duke or Carolina alum.

Here’s what I can tell you, though – I don’t regret a single second of it. In fact, it’s one of my fondest college memories. And if I had the chance to sell my spot at that game, even for a few thousand dollars, I never would have taken it. Continue reading