Episode 11: Exploit the Situation

Episode 11: Exploit the Situation

“Honesty and a helping hand … The weakness of personality … Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 1) … The strength of the situation … Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 2) … The fundamental shift … Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 3) … Shaping behavior … Uncut conversation with Lee Ross … Uncut conversation with Richard Nisbett”
(Source URL)

Summaries

  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > The weakness of personality > The weakness of personality
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > The strength of the situation > The strength of the situation
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 1) > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 1)
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 2) > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 2)
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > The fundamental shift > The fundamental shift
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > Shaping behavior > Shaping behavior
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 3) > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 3)
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > Shaping behavior > Shaping behavior
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > On campus > On campus
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > Uncut conversation with Lee Ross > Uncut conversation with Lee Ross
  • Episode 11 - Exploit the Situation > Uncut conversation with Richard Nisbett > Uncut conversation with Richard Nisbett

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > The weakness of personality > The weakness of personality

  • If you-again, in a job interview, you need to predict whether this person will perform well in their job; you want to know whether you should go on a date with somebody; you’re trying to predict whether people will buy a product that you’re developing, whether to trust somebody with a secret or not; and more important things like deciding whether, or predicting whether a criminal is likely to reoffend or not.
  • Now in fact we started off this episode by giving people a scenario: “A person is walking between two buildings and then encountered a shabbily dressed man slumped in a doorway with his head down, eyes closed, coughing and groaning. Please list one piece of information that you would like to have in order to predict whether the person would stop to help the man.” Now, we’ll tell you the responses that our online students give to this question, but we’ve already asked our on-campus students.
  • Again, they tend to list character traits; they ask for information about the person.
  • They want to know whether the person is male or female.
  • They want to know about their occupation, the history of their upbringing, whether the person is religious or not.
  • Most people would think that it would have been the priest that would have helped-he’s a very religious person and so on-but that’s not what happened.
  • A couple of researchers at Princeton tried to put this into practice in modern days and see whether the Good Samaritan experiment would actually hold up now.
  • They designed an experiment where they had a bunch of Princeton theological students in the seminary who came, and they filled out a bunch of questionnaires in an office before actually conducting the real experiment where they were going to see whether the Good Samaritan would actually hold.
  • The question is, would they stop to help them man? Now it turned out that how religious a person was didn’t matter at all, didn’t predict whether they would help or not.
  • The thing that predicted whether the students would help or not was whether they were in a hurry or not.
  • The motivating factor, the thing that actually determined whether they were going to help or not, was whether they were in a hurry.
  • In athletic performance- so how many laps the kids ran around the track then they had to report, but they actually knew how many laps they ran around the track-and whether or not they’d peek at the answers or cheat at a puzzle, at solving a puzzle.
  • The actual relationship between whether they would cheat in one circumstance or another was about 0.15.
  • If a person cheated on their-if a participant cheated by saying that they ran more laps around the oval than they actually did versus whether they cheated by peeking at the answer to a puzzle, that link was not strong.
  • This measure of honesty- this stable trait, this essence of honesty-is exuding from the person, and there was nothing there essentially.
  • What did seem to predict whether they’d cheat or not was whether they’d cheat in that particular situation across multiple instances as opposed to across situations.
  • Sometimes the person’s going to cheat in one circumstance and not in another, and you just can’t tell.
  • This is the lesson, essentially, of the first part of today’s episode: that personality characteristics-character traits, morals-the things that we normally think of as exuding from the person-how nice or honest or generous or extroverted or introverted a person is.
  • Instead, what does seem to be predictive are things like the situation, exactly as you said, whether the person is in a hurry or not.
  • We’re going to talk a lot more about different examples of how the person and the situation can be contrasted, but we talked with Lee Ross and Richard Nisbett about this distinction between the person and the situation, and here’s what they had to say.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > The strength of the situation > The strength of the situation

  • We just heard Richard and Lee talk about the difference between the person and the situation, and they provided a few really good cognitive processes, reasons for this distinction.
  • We don’t have many words for the situation-the situation where you feel brave or something, or, “Yesterday at work, I was in a very honesty situation.” You almost have to bend over backwards to make a reference to situations that illicit certain behaviors.
  • I said, “What an asshole! What kind of person would do that?” Then I’d just been preparing for this episode on the distinction between the person and the situation, and I stopped myself.
  • We tend to attribute the behavior of other people to personality situations, to character traits, but we tend to attribute the explanation for our own behavior to situational variables.
  • We’ve spoken about, already, the weakness of personality variables in predicting future behavior, but let’s talk about the strength of the situation in predicting behavior now.
  • Now the first person responds, shouts out to the experimenter, “C.” The second person responds, shouts out to the experimenter, “C.” The third person, “C.” The fourth person, “C.” Now, what do you do? Do you stick to your guns? You can quite clearly see the answer is B. Do you shout out, “B,” or do you go with the group? Now what Asch found was that, very often, people will go with the group.
  • Another really landmark classic, probably the most well-known experiment in all of psychology and probably the most controversial, is one by Stanley Milgram.
  • In this experiment, you have a similar sort of setup.
  • You have one person who is working for the experimenter and one person who’s participating in the experiment.
  • The person who’s working for the experimenter is always the learner; the person, the actually subject, is the teacher.
  • They’re completely restrained and hooks up a bunch of electrodes to that person.
  • The idea is that he takes the teacher, the participant in the experiment, into another room where you can’t see the learner.
  • What they can do is-the job of the teacher is to teach that person a bunch of word pairs.
  • Okay? Now the experimenter shows the teacher this switchboard of electric shocks.
  • “Sorry, learner,” and they shock the person, and so on.
  • Now the whole point of the experiment in this case is to see how far the teacher will go up this gradually escalating ranked set of voltages.
  • How many people will actually go to the end? Clearly, when they’re going through this experiment, often the teachers are very dismayed.
  • They elicit a shock, and they hear the learner in the other room saying, “Stop! Stop! This is hurting.” They look past, and they look back to the experimenter and say, “No, we can’t go on. This is dodgy.” All the experimenter does is just sit on the chair, and sit back and say, “The experiment requires that you continue. Please continue. Please continue.” They say, “Well, no. The guy is in the…” “Please continue the experiment. We insist,” and so on.
  • Some psychopath or something, right? In fact, the vast majority-it’s quite a few people; I can’t remember the exact number; I think 30 percent or something, 40 percent maybe -continued to the very end of the experiment and elicited very lethal shocks to that person.
  • You even hear them in the other room going, “Stop the experiment! My heart!” Then they stopped responding, and they continue to elicit shocks after the person is completely silent.
  • Just like you or I, anyone in that particular situation is going to be feeling exactly the same thing and will probably elicit shocks, just like they did in that experiment.
  • Now in this experiment, a participant comes into a room and they’re asked to fill out a questionnaire.
  • The experimenters, they’re not in the room, but they start pushing smoke through the bottom of the door in the other room, so the smoke just starts billowing in.
  • When people are in that situation, filling out a questionnaire on their own, most of the people take control of the situation.
  • Now the tricky part of this experiment here is we set up the same situation again, but this time we have more people in the room filling out a questionnaire.
  • There’s two more people to the right of you, but unbeknownst to you they’re actually working for the experimenter.
  • It’s so fundamental that most of us in the same situation would do exactly the same thing.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 1) > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 1)

  • Can you tell me about that distinction? Well, the effort in the book was to examine how people explain their own behavior and how they explain other people’s behavior.
  • There are two broad classes of factors that would help to explain someone’s behavior: what kind of situation is the person in, and what kind of person you have.
  • Obviously, any behavior that you get out of anybody is a function of what’s going on, what he’s responding to, and what’s in the person: what traits, what kind of temperament the person has, what kind of abilities the person has.
  • These are enduring aspects of a person which we call dispositions.
  • All kinds of things that have nothing-I mean, conceptually-have nothing to do with the person.
  • The person’s attributes and his current state-emotional state, and so on-and that situation are what’s producing the behavior.
  • While we’re talking about this dispositionism, one of the things that’s worth noting is that in our culture, it’s kind of overdetermined in part because we observe people in the same situations most of the time; in part just because when we see someone act, we focus on the actor, not on the situation.
  • You notice we talk about an honest person, but we don’t have a term for a situation that prompts honesty.
  • We have to say, “Well, this is the kind of situation of which the average person is honest, and only very dishonest people will be dishonest in this situation,” or, “It’s a kind of situation in which most people take some liberties, but only the most extremely honest people can be counted on.” We have to engage in this very complicated language.
  • We can say, “This is an honest person,” and that’s a shorthand for saying something about what we expect the actor to do across the situation.
  • We can say, “How would you characterize a situation in which you expect most people to be brave?” We literally don’t have a word.
  • That’s a really useful shorthand for saying we expect most people to do well at it, or only exceptionally able people to do well at it, and that kind of thing.
  • We can talk about a scary movie or a sexy poster or things like that, that again have that property that they’re telling us what to expect from the average person.
  • You can have a subject interact with someone else and say, “We want you to find out whether this person is an extrovert or an introvert. Here’s the list of questions that you’re going to ask, and I’m going to tell you which of these responses that subject is to give.” The experimenter says, “Okay. Wouldn’t you say you’ve been the life of the party sometimes?” the subject.
  • Given what we know about the weakness of personality factors and the strength of situational factors, if I were an employer hiring a new employee in my company, what sort of advice would you have then for what would be the most predictive of their future behavior? Well, obviously if you had evidence about how they’ve behaved in very, very similar situations in the past, that would be useful.
  • I asked him, fairly recently, “Why are you so good at this?” He says, “Oh, it’s easy. Most of the time you say, ‘I’m having this problem with this person,’ and people say, ‘Terrible. He’s a terrible person. Terrible you have to deal with that.'” Lee doesn’t empathize with you.
  • I need their help in solving the problem, and he can do that because he is genuinely much more attuned to situations, far more than I am.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 2) > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 2)

  • Can you tell us about the fundamental attribution error? Well, actually, I’ll tell you about the history of the fundamental attribution error.
  • Well, the term ‘the fundamental attribution error’ has a strange and interesting history, and it has led to some confusion.
  • No, what I meant is it was an error in the most fundamental task that we attempt in life, which is to say: what does that situation tell me about the actor; what does that situation tell me about the observer? The term fundamental attribution error referred to the fact that people characteristically make an error in that fundamental task.
  • Well, later he comes with a name for that: it’s the fundamental attribution error.
  • Now you read an editorial, and someone would say, “That guy made the fundamental attribution error.” There are two concepts that people understand about that.
  • One is fundamental attribution error and the other is cognitive dissonance.
  • How can we reduce the effect of the fundamental attribution error? Well, I think there’s a limit to how much you can do.
  • On the other hand, knowing that we’re subject to it-I mean, if I hear myself say, “You know, he’s a very hostile guy,” I say, “Well, wait a minute. What exactly is the evidence for that?” “Well, he shouted at his kid at the picnic.” I mean, how good is that evidence really? If you have the concept clearly in mind, which you can do by giving people many, many examples-I think it takes many examples, many illustrations from everyday life of the way that we can make those mistakes-eventually, it does pack down to a principle that we can sometimes recognize.
  • You can also point to the consistency with which situations affect people.
  • I think people find it hard to accept that generalization, actually.
  • Specifically, how much do people like that? There are some stimuli that are just very powerful, and we make a mistake in assuming that we’re not going to be one of those people.
  • The fundamental failing that really is much more basic is the tendency to assume that the way we see the world is the way the world really is.
  • We readily think that when people disagree with us, it’s because there’s something wrong with them, not something wrong with us, or at least not something that’s affecting both of us that’s making us simply disagree.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > The fundamental shift > The fundamental shift

  • Now this is related to something we learnt later on which was the false consensus effect where we tend to think that other people think the same way that we do-that other people have the same beliefs and opinions as we do.
  • Now we have the fundamental attribution error, and that’s another failure to recognize the power of the situation in making predictions about human behavior.
  • These sorts of things just roll off the tongue, and it’s a knee-jerk response that we use to explain people’s behavior in new situations.
  • Again, we’ve just seen several landmark demonstrations of the power of the situation that I think do a far better job of explaining and predicting people’s behavior.
  • It’s a fundamental shift in how we think about people and predicting behavior.
  • What are the channel factors in the experiments that we just discussed? In the Good Samaritan, it seems to be the amount of time people had available to help.
  • In the Milgram experiment, there are a couple of channel factors operating there.
  • Just putting the shocks up by 15 volts each time was probably a channel factor that led to them going all the way to the end, to the triple X. If you ask people to go from 15 up to triple X in one go, they are probably unlikely to make it.
  • The channel factor there seems to be the presence or absence of people in the room.
  • Now we spoke to Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross about the role cannel factors in predicting behavior, and here’s what they had to say.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > Shaping behavior > Shaping behavior

  • It’s not like, “Science teaches us that you have to look at the situation in order to predict human behavior.” That’s the cool thing about science.
  • How do you get out of the way? How do you-in order to bridge intention and action, what can you do to make that as easy as possible for the person that you’re trying to change the mind of? Yep.
  • How do I clear all the nonsense out of their way? The nonsense would be the things that I’m interested in.
  • Don’t put the things that you’re interested in, put the things that they’re interested in.
  • Tell them how the situation will benefit them, and then finish, with one sentence, a very clear ask from them, “What is the next physical action that I would like you to take in order to move this forward?” And, don’t send it five minutes before they’re going to clock off.
  • Send it at a time that is conducive for them to do the next thing that you want them to do.
  • We know, Matt, this is- right from the beginning, we’ve been talking about how difficult it is to put yourself in the shoes of others; to see things from their perspective.
  • Now what can I possibly do to see the world through their eyes: to make my goals their goals; to say that these are the things they’re after; these are the things that I’m after.
  • Now one of the areas that you can use this really well, I think, is in-which Lee Ross mentioned-is in donations: donating your organs, donating blood, donating to particular charities for various things.
  • If you want someone to get on board with something, to do it, to jump on the bandwagon along with everyone else, how do you do that? What are the things that you can do for them? Again, putting yourself in the shoes of the person who’s filling this out.
  • I visited a hospital recently, and you can imagine how busy people are, doctors running around trying to help people.
  • If they see a light flickering in the hallway, all they have to do is go to a whiteboard in the middle of the space, take out the pen and then write, “Light flickering in hallway five.” Then somebody else takes that and puts that into the system, in this thing.
  • I’m never going to do it because the distance between my intention-what I want to do is fix that light-and the things I have to do in order to get somebody in the room to fix it, is massive.
  • The thing that seems to make them successful is the ease with which you make it for the user.
  • In a hospital case, again, if you have to fill out a five-page report on the nature of the incident and everything else, people just aren’t going to do it.
  • Yes, that’s not great, but if you can take out your phone and text, “Sponge almost left,” boom, send, gone, and it’s taken care of at that point, people are going to use it.
  • Drawing a map from point A to point B, making it clear if you’re holding a party and you want people to come, the easier you make it for people to get there, the better it is.
  • Tell them what bus to get on; what will they need to do; what will it cost; what should they bring; all of these things.
  • There’s a group out of Chicago, I think, called-based by Richard Thaler on-the Nudge group, which you hear a fair bit about.
  • All these are working on the same idea of making it as easy as possible for you to do one thing, to bridge intention and action, to make these channel factors as easy as possible, to isolate the bits of the context that are going to make the behaviors happen that you’re looking for.
  • If we want people to go out there, to poke the world, to leave their mark, we need to make it more concrete.
  • We need to show them these channel factors in action, and how they can go out and make it work.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 3) > Conversation with Ross and Nisbett (Part 3)

  • Can you tell me a little bit about channel factors? Well, this is an idea that’s very old in social psychology.
  • You might be interested to know- I don’t think most social psychologists know this-the field of experimental social psychology was founded by a physicist.
  • That has everything to do with the fact that social psychologists are the ones who are telling us what the situations are that people confront that are going to have an impact on them.
  • I mean, you need to know what’s going on in the whole field in order to understand how to explain behavior.
  • He says, “Look, there may be a channel there through which you can achieve what you’re trying to achieve. Think about what situational barriers you might remove. Think about how you can give the person a plan that would help them to go in the direction you want them to go.” One of the channel factors that I find interesting is this idea of organ donation.
  • Is that-do you know the details or… Well, I know as much about it as most social psychologists who’ve read the study and taught about it.
  • It wasn’t a study in which someone manipulated this, although people have followed up on it, including me and my colleagues.
  • The finding, as I think most people in psychology are aware now, is that if you looked at European countries, some of those countries have the policy where you had to sign the back of your driver’s license to make you a potential organ donor.
  • I mean, you found countries as similar as Austria and Germany, or Norway and Sweden, having tremendously different rates, under 10 percent of people in some cases, and over 95 in others.
  • A lot of people look at that and say, “Well, these people are lazy,” but it was subtler than that.
  • He shows some people in extremes, locked jaw and the terrible kinds of things that could go on.
  • Now these are, by the way, Yale seniors; they know where the Health Service is.
  • Why did Joe? “Well, he’s was very conscientious; he’s very health-concerned.” Sam, why did he not do it? “Well, he’s kind of, he’s the sort of guy who doesn’t care that much; he’s kind of irresponsible; he’s kind of flighty, really.” There is the situational factor that affects what goes on, why a factor of nine, and I’m going to attribute it.
  • This idea of channel factors that you mentioned with respect to the Milgram experiment and others, it’s extremely powerful, and I think that people aren’t really taking advantage of it as far as in the Occupy movement or in climate change and so on.
  • In trying to motivate a large number of people to do one particular thing, they don’t really seem to be taking advantage of the situation as much as they could.
  • To some extent, it’s been negative in the sense that they no longer worry about persuading people.
  • Very clever and powerful techniques had been used to make people who were favorably leaning, but not likely voters, to actually vote.
  • One is getting early commitment, getting people who say that they’re going to vote, you say, “Can we count on you? Can we call you back on Election Day and make sure you voted.” Getting to register, instead of saying, “Will you go register,” you say, “Okay, let’s do it right now. Take out your cellphone and make this call, and someone will come and pick you up.” I mean, there’s many, many things that you can do but the point was to make sure that people who generally were disposed to behave in a particular way but, often in history, have not done so.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > Shaping behavior > Shaping behavior

  • It’s not like, “Science teaches us that you have to look at the situation in order to predict human behavior.” That’s the cool thing about science.
  • How do you get out of the way? How do you-in order to bridge intention and action, what can you do to make that as easy as possible for the person that you’re trying to change the mind of? Yep.
  • How do I clear all the nonsense out of their way? The nonsense would be the things that I’m interested in.
  • Don’t put the things that you’re interested in, put the things that they’re interested in.
  • Tell them how the situation will benefit them, and then finish, with one sentence, a very clear ask from them, “What is the next physical action that I would like you to take in order to move this forward?” And, don’t send it five minutes before they’re going to clock off.
  • Send it at a time that is conducive for them to do the next thing that you want them to do.
  • We know, Matt, this is- right from the beginning, we’ve been talking about how difficult it is to put yourself in the shoes of others; to see things from their perspective.
  • Now what can I possibly do to see the world through their eyes: to make my goals their goals; to say that these are the things they’re after; these are the things that I’m after.
  • Now one of the areas that you can use this really well, I think, is in-which Lee Ross mentioned-is in donations: donating your organs, donating blood, donating to particular charities for various things.
  • If you want someone to get on board with something, to do it, to jump on the bandwagon along with everyone else, how do you do that? What are the things that you can do for them? Again, putting yourself in the shoes of the person who’s filling this out.
  • I visited a hospital recently, and you can imagine how busy people are, doctors running around trying to help people.
  • If they see a light flickering in the hallway, all they have to do is go to a whiteboard in the middle of the space, take out the pen and then write, “Light flickering in hallway five.” Then somebody else takes that and puts that into the system, in this thing.
  • I’m never going to do it because the distance between my intention-what I want to do is fix that light-and the things I have to do in order to get somebody in the room to fix it, is massive.
  • The thing that seems to make them successful is the ease with which you make it for the user.
  • In a hospital case, again, if you have to fill out a five-page report on the nature of the incident and everything else, people just aren’t going to do it.
  • Yes, that’s not great, but if you can take out your phone and text, “Sponge almost left,” boom, send, gone, and it’s taken care of at that point, people are going to use it.
  • Drawing a map from point A to point B, making it clear if you’re holding a party and you want people to come, the easier you make it for people to get there, the better it is.
  • Tell them what bus to get on; what will they need to do; what will it cost; what should they bring; all of these things.
  • There’s a group out of Chicago, I think, called-based by Richard Thaler on-the Nudge group, which you hear a fair bit about.
  • All these are working on the same idea of making it as easy as possible for you to do one thing, to bridge intention and action, to make these channel factors as easy as possible, to isolate the bits of the context that are going to make the behaviors happen that you’re looking for.
  • If we want people to go out there, to poke the world, to leave their mark, we need to make it more concrete.
  • We need to show them these channel factors in action, and how they can go out and make it work.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > On campus > On campus

  • So when I ask you what your project is on, you’re saying the project is on gay marriage, or is on mental illness, or on study habits, right? What we want you help you do today in today’s class is to help clean these up, to ask questions that are going to help clarify what the project is about, and how to do it really, really well.
  • Take vaccinations, same issue: when it comes to vaccinations, it’s not “Are vaccinations effective”, or “Do vaccines cause autism”, right? It’s “Why don’t people vaccinate their children?” Sophie Collombet case – is anyone not familiar with Sophie’s murder recently? This was right in our backyard, and she took the CityGlider, she was going to get a ride from her friend but she declined and said she was going to take the bus, and something happened between her getting off at the Cultural Centre and walking along the riverside, and getting to the Go Between bridge.
  • Think about how you might scale it up, okay? If you literally wanted to show people this thing that everyone here was astounded by, that this information was available, searching the information within your own building to see the crime statistics.
  • If you wanted to tell people about that, you felt passionately about it, what could you do? Possibly, I’m thinking wrong, you know? My thinking is wrong about this and maybe I should be more careful.
  • So when someone violates that, when they want to be promoted, when they want to be assertive, when they want to get ahead, we go, well, it’s like it violates your fundamental assumptions and you just go, “Nope.” Are people’s concerns warranted? Has the world actually changed, or is this an availability effect? If people start changing their habits then everyone’s running in the morning, say, then that just creates a different target – it’s not actually going to solve anything.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > Uncut conversation with Lee Ross > Uncut conversation with Lee Ross

  • If we start with the person, can you tell us what personality factors or howthey differ from situational factors and what that difference is? Well, as laypsychologists, as ordinary people walking around, when we’re asked to explainevents or account for behavior, we characteristically cite things about theactor, the actor’s personality.
  • We talk about some people who are brave and some people who are cowardly,or some people who are adventurous or others who are shy.
  • That’s the way we normally think about things, but there’s an interestingresearch tradition in psychology which showed that if you expose people tosituations, usually novel situations under well-controlled circumstances and, tosome extent, even if you observe them in their day-to-day life, the degree ofcross-situational consistency in behavior is relatively low.
  • The people who are boisterous and loud in the dining hall aren’t necessarilythe people who are outgoing at parties or the people who are willing to put uptheir hand in class.
  • One of the things that Dick Nisbett and I began to write about was the way inwhich getting straight about the power of the situation versus the predictivepower of individual differences was something about which people commonlyhad some illusions or errors.
  • We don’t just see people responding to a situation; we see people who occupyparticular roles, have particular relationships.
  • I mean, I think probably from most people would think-I mean, when you’reexplaining that somebody’s laid-back or honest or something, it feels thatthat’s valuable, that it’s very predictive of future sorts of situations.
  • Well, I’m saying that the research that was done in the case of honesty thatlooked at people in different situations-who might cheat on an exam, whowould take more candy than their share from the table, who would perhaps lie-it just turned out that the degree of predictability was relatively low.
  • The people who I deal with and I find honest, first of all, they’re honest withme, so I’m part of the situation, and I’m always there in their dealings with me.
  • Well, if you observe people jogging on the playground, you might find that oneperson jogs faster one day; the other person jogs faster the next day.
  • We have to say, “Well, this is the kind of situation of which the average personis honest, and only very dishonest people will be dishonest in this situation,”or, “It’s a kind of situation in which most people take some liberties, but onlythe most extremely honest people can be counted on.” We have to engage inthis very complicated language.
  • We can say, “How would you characterize a situation in which you expect mostpeople to be brave?” We literally don’t have a word.
  • That’s a really useful shorthand for saying we expect most people to do well atit, or only exceptionally able people to do well at it, and that kind of thing.
  • Why do you think that is? It seems like a bit of the chicken and the eggproblem, doesn’t it? I mean, why is it so compelling if it’s so not predictive?Why is personality explanations of saying that Johnny’s honest or laid-back orsomething-I mean, if it isn’t-if we have a correlation of about 0.15, as you said,I mean, that’s not going to get us very far, so why do we stick with it? Well,because, most of the time, we’re not given the task of predicting the behaviorof a bunch of people in a novel situation.
  • What we care about, as lay psychologists, is knowing the people in our world.
  • Can you tell us a bit about some of those demonstrations for the situation?Well, let’s first say-when we say that, it’s given that we expect a great deal ofconsistency in behavior of people across situations.
  • By contrast, since we expect and think we know people well, it’s easy to designa study in which we use the various tricks and insights of social psychologistsand create a situation in which ordinary people behave in ways that we thinkare extraordinary: extraordinarily altruistic, or extraordinarily cowardly, orextraordinarily foolish, and the like.
  • What he showed is that the degree to which people seem able to resisttemptation, the extent to which people seem to have a degree of self-controland the ability to delay gratification, and he showed that the behavior ofchildren in the nursery school predicted rather well things like their success ingetting into college and things like that.
  • The finding, as I think most people in psychology are aware now, is that if youlooked at European countries, and some of those countries have the policywhere you had to sign the back of your driver’s license to make you a potentialorgan donor.
  • A lot of people look at that and say, “Well, these people are lazy,” but it wassubtler than that.
  • In the cases of the opt-out countries, it was seen as something very modestlike letting other people ahead of you in line if they were in a hurry.
  • I mean, it’s-and I think that people aren’t really taking advantage of it, as faras in the Occupy movement or in climate change and so on.
  • In trying to motivate a large number of people to do one particular thing, theydon’t really seem to be taking advantage of the situation as much as theycould.
  • To some extent, it’s been negative in the sense that they no longer worry aboutpersuading people.
  • One is getting early commitment, getting people who say they’re going to vote,you say, “Can we count on you? Can we call you back on election day and makesure you voted?” Getting them to register, instead of saying, “Will you goregister,” you say, “Okay, let’s do it right now. Take out your cellphone andmake this call, and someone will come and pick you up.” I mean, there’s many,many things that you can do, but the point was to make sure that people whogenerally were disposed to behave in a particular way but, often in history,have not done so, in this case, they would and they could be counted on.
  • When he had shown it to me, I said, “Well, that’s really interesting, Dick, butthe fundamental thing is that people overestimate the degree of cross-situational consistency, and they make trait attributions in general when theyshouldn’t.” Then, in a later paper, when I was discussing various kinds oferrors and biases in distinguishing my work from what I thought was thecentral message of social psychology, I had said, “Well, the fundamental erroris the tendency to underestimate the impact of the situation.” What I meant bythat was not that it was fundamental in the sense that it was irreducible.
  • No, what I meant is it was an error in the most fundamental task that weattempt in life, which is to say, “What does that situation tell me about theactor? What does that situation tell me about the observer?” The termfundamental attribution error referred to the fact that people characteristicallymake an error in that fundamental task.
  • The fundamental failing that really is much more basic is the tendency toassume that the way we see the world is the way the world really is, thatreasonable people should see it the same way, and if they don’t see it the sameway, it’s because there’s something wrong with them, some bias that’saffecting them.
  • We readily think that when people disagree with us, it’s because there’ssomething wrong with them, not something wrong with us, or at least notsomething that’s affecting both of us that’s making us simply disagree.
  • The books you’ve read, you’d think most other educated people have surelyread that, and when someone tells you about a book you don’t know, you say, “My, they must be really deeply educated or have this esoteric interest.” Thereis this overwhelming tendency to feel that not just the way that we see theworld but the way we respond to the world, our priorities, the things we findeasy, the things we find difficult, will be shared by other people.
  • The false consensus effect just refers to the fact that, all things being equal,people who behave in a particular way are more likely to think that other peoplewill behave in that way than people who behave in a different way.
  • We initially assume that other people would respond the same way as we do.
  • We sometimes even can understand why other people see it that way.
  • Most people I know would say that they rarely, if ever, have deliberately givenoffense to another person, that they’ve deliberately tried to hurt the feelings ofanother person.
  • Most of us, as observers or at least as the targets of action, can think of lots ofcases where people said things to us that were hurtful or painful.
  • One is what’s changing in social psychology? I think what’s changing is thatwe’re increasingly getting beyond the laboratory, classic social psychologyexperiment where you take people, expose them for a short period of time tosomething novel, and see what they do.
  • Increasingly, we’re getting interested in the kind of behavior that occurs infamiliar contexts where people know each other and have an existing role ininstitutional relationships, and we see behavior unfold over time in ways thathave cumulative consequences-much more interesting natural experiments thatoccur where different people, different institutions, do things in different ways,and looking at what we can learn from those.
  • Do you have any advice for us? Obviously, there had been several attemptsbefore to improve people’s thinking, to make them less prone to superstitionand so on that haven’t succeeded very well.
  • I know you and Dick have written before about, for example, ways of trying toget people to think, make better decisions, to think better, do better.
  • If you’re trying to influence people and it isn’t working, it may be because thething you’re doing is being understood very differently by the other personthan what you intend.

Episode 11 – Exploit the Situation > Uncut conversation with Richard Nisbett > Uncut conversation with Richard Nisbett

  • Can you tell me about that distinction? Well, the effort in the book was to examine how people explain their own behavior and how they explain other people’s behavior.
  • There are two broad classes of factors that would help to explain someone’s behavior: what kind of situation is the person in, and what kind of person you have.
  • The person’s attributes and his current state, emotional state, and so on, and that situation or what’s producing the behavior.
  • We have a problem which is that, for other people, it’s much easier to invoke these dispositions to explain their behavior because when I’m looking at you behave, I’m looking at you.
  • I’m going to see more continuity in your behavior from this situation to others than is really there.
  • I mean, I think it’s a… Some of the demonstrations of this are really embarrassing to us as people.
  • You can ask people to read a speech or an essay that was written by someone in a political science class, and the instructor said, “I want you to take a position in favor of something that the French are doing now and write a whole essay in favor of that.” Other people read an essay written by someone who’s opposed to what the French are doing right now.
  • It still seems to me that people have distinct personalities, that Jason is honest; I’m laid-back.
  • Why is it that we latch on to these personality explanations if you’re saying that they’re not very powerful? Well, some aspects of personality are powerful, and people are-we’re different from one another.
  • Now, as it turns out, I have said earlier, that some people in the world make this mistake more than others.
  • Those people are people of European culture, American, Australians, et cetera.
  • There’s been more freedom of action for the West than there is for people in the East.
  • I think it has to do a lot with the kinds of occupations, the kinds of agricultural things that people have to do, how they make it a living.
  • In any rate, Easterners have to navigate their lives paying constant attention to what other people are doing, paying constant attention to context.
  • You show them a fish tank and say-you show them a moving picture of a fish tank, and you say, “I want you tell me what you saw,” the American says, “Well, I saw three big fish swimming off to the left. They had pink stipples on their belly.” A Japanese-you say, “What do you see?” “Well, I saw what looked like a stream. The water was green. There were shells and plants on the bottom. There were three big fish swimming off the left.” In other words, they start with the context, and you’re supposed to start with context.
  • Everybody is subject to this, what Lee Ross calls the fundamental attribution error: contributing to dispositions rather than the situations.
  • They’re much more likely to correctly pinpoint situations that are having an impact.
  • We’re trying to show the differences between the attributions for behavior that the actor makes for his behavior versus the attributions for someone else when it’s really the same situation.
  • The hypothesis that I was pushing was that people are situationists for themselves to much greater extent than they are of others, “I know what situations I’m responding to, so I explain my own behavior in terms of situations. I explain other people’s behavior in terms of their dispositions.” With absolutely no hesitation, Ross says, “Yes, Dick, that’s right, but you’re missing the main point which is that everybody for everything is too much of a disposionist and too little focused on situation.” Then, well, here he comes up with a name for that: it’s the fundamental attribution error.
  • There are two concepts that people understand about that.
  • Are people’s behaviors consistent from situation to situation? Well, much less consistent than we think, and you can show that with data.
  • You understand how different you are across situations.
  • You just don’t realize how different I am across situations.
  • What we understand for abilities-that is, people really do have a level on abilities of some kind.
  • I mean, it turns out you knew those people quite well, and you were in a good mood.
  • I think that’s a very hard thing to teach people.
  • On the other hand, knowing that we’re subject to it-I mean, if I hear myself say, “You know, he’s a very hostile guy,” I say, “Well, wait a minute. What exactly is the evidence for that?” “Well, he shouted at his kid at the picnic.” I mean, how good is that evidence really? If you have the concept clearly in mind, which you can do by giving people many, many examples- I think it takes many examples, many illustrations from everyday life of the way that we can make those mistakes-eventually, it does pack down to a principle that we can sometimes recognize.
  • You can also point to the consistency with which situations affect people.
  • One thing that strikes me often is that, I say, “You should see such and such a movie. People are saying it’s great.” People’s initial reaction to that is, “Oh well, I may.” Well, listen.
  • I think people find it hard to accept that generalization, actually.
  • Specifically, how much do people like that? That’s good.
  • There are some stimuli that is very powerful, and we make a mistake in assuming that we’re not going to be one of those people.
  • Relatedly, are we good at putting ourselves in the shoes of others? We tend to be blind to some degree about many situational factors that are affecting people.
  • I mean, if you don’t see the situation, it’s very difficult.
  • Most of the time you say, ‘I’m having this problem with this person,’ and people say, ‘Terrible.
  • He says, “I’m guessing this is the situation you’re confronting.
  • I’m guessing, you did this thing…” In other words, buying completely out of me, he’s trying to scan the situation, suggest things to me that might have been going on, and it’s tremendously useful.
  • I need their help in solving the problem, and he can do that because he is genuinely much more attuned to situations, far more than I am.
  • That has everything to do with the fact that social psychologists are the ones who are telling us what the situations are that people confront that are going to have an impact on them.
  • He shows some people in extremes, locked jaw and the terrible kinds of things that could go on.

Return to Summaries List.

(image source)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *