the power of context the warren harding error and putting pieces together
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The Power of Context, the Warren Harding Error, and Putting Pieces Together. The Dark Side of Thin-Slicing. Rapid cognition can sometimes lead us astray due to unconscious prejudices. We can make snap judgments that fail to get below a surface impression.

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the dark side of thin slicing
The Dark Side of Thin-Slicing

Rapid cognition can sometimes lead us astray due to unconscious prejudices.

We can make snap judgments that fail to get below a surface impression.

e.g., 80% of IAT takers end up with “pro-white associations,” which means that it takes them longer to complete association answers when they are required to put good words into the “Black” category than when they are required to link bad things with black people (p. 84).

Of the 50,000 African Americans who have taken the Race IAT, half have stronger associations with whites than with blacks (p. 85).

the dark side of thin slicing predatory lending

Nationally, African American applicants are 2.38 times more likely to be denied a conventional mortgage loan than white applicants. Latinos are rejected 1.63 times more often than whites. Lending disparities remain even when minority groups are compared to whites of a similar income level.In fact the gap widens at higher income levels, with high-income minorities often facing steeperdenial rates than low-income whites.- In the Seattle-Everett area, for instance, African Americans earning more than $90,000 per year are 1.39 times more likely to be turned down for conventional mortgage loans than whites earning less than $39,000.

The Dark Side of Thin-Slicing: Predatory Lending
rapid cognition and the fog of war
Rapid Cognition and the Fog of War

Paul Van Riper and the Millennium Challenge (August 2002)

Paul Van Riper believes that no amount of

new technology will ever change the basic

nature of war, which he calls a "terrible,

uncertain, chaotic, bloody business."

the wisdom of crowds decentralization
The Wisdom of Crowds: Decentralization

Decentralization fosters, and is in turn fed by, specialization—of labor, interest, attention, etc.

Specialization tends to make people more productive and efficient

- Adam Smith and the advantages of specialization:

(e.g., pins and “focused factories”)

9/11 & decentralization

the wisdom of crowds decentralization6
The Wisdom of Crowds: Decentralization

The failure of 9/11 was not due primarily to the decentralization of the American intelligence community, as it was to the lack of any aggregating mechanism—e.g., stock market, casinos or bookmakers, etc—that could tap into the wisdom of: NSA people, CIA operatives, FBI agents (below), and the Pentagon (“Able Danger”).

There was, in fact, healthy decentralization but no aggregation, and therefore no organization to “connect the dots.” We had the dots.

the power of context
The Power of Context

The “Broken Windows” theory of crime epidemics . . .

- crime is contagious

- small indicators of chaos lead to more serious crimes

e.g., graffiti, fare-beating

the power of context8
The Power of Context

The “Broken Windows” theory of crime epidemics . . .

- “daisy-chains,” “rolling station houses,” squeegee men, and public urination

Result: people changed their behavior, free-rider problems eradicated

RIAA & music downloading lawsuits

- 261 lawsuits (1st round, 2004), 532 lawsuits (2nd round,’05):

suggest that you can solve big problems by changing little

things: % of Americans who download illegally has been

sliced in half (Pew Internet & American Life Study)

the power of context cont d
The Power of Context, cont’d . . .

“What we think of as inner states – preferences and emotions – are actually powerfully and imperceptibly influenced by seemingly inconsequential . . .

  • personal influences (the “Law of the Few”),
  • advertising/marketing (“Stickiness”), and also . . .

(3) certain kinds of environments

that in ways that we don’t necessarily appreciate, our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances

(the “Power of Context”)

Types of Guards in the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment
  • By the fifth day, a new relationship had emerged between prisoners and guards. The guards now fell into their job more easily -- a job which at times was boring and at times was interesting.
  • There were three types of guards. First, there were tough but fair guards who followed prison rules. Second, there were "good guys" who did little favors for the prisoners and never punished them. And finally, about a third of the guards were hostile, arbitrary, and inventive in their forms of prisoner humiliation. These guards appeared to thoroughly enjoy the power they wielded, yet none of our preliminary personality tests were able to predict this behavior (predictive validity was poor). The only link between personality and prison behavior was a finding that prisoners with a high degree of authoritarianism endured the authoritarian prison environment longer than did other prisoners.
  • In 2003 U.S. soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners held at Abu Ghraib, 20 miles west of Baghdad. The prisoners were stripped, made to wear bags over their heads, and sexually humiliated while the guards laughed and took photographs. How is this abuse similar to or different from what took place in the Stanford Prison Experiment?
the power of context cheating
The Power of Context & Cheating

Example: Hartshorne & May’s research on the concept of “honesty” among schoolchildren (n=11,000)


- Lots of cheating goes on.

- There aren’t clusters of “cheaters” and “non cheaters.”

- Honesty isn’t a fundamental trait; it is situational.

Conclusion: When it comes to personality/character, we naturally think in terms of absolutes (Myers-Briggs).

but what Zimbardo and Hartshorne & May’s research found is that this is often a mistake.

“When we think only in terms of inherent traits and forget the role of situations, we’re deceiving ourselves about the real causes of human behavior.”

the power of context cont d16
The Power of Context, cont’d . . .

Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), “which is a fancy way of saying that when it comes to interpreting other people’s behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context. We will always reach for a ‘dispositional’ explanation for events, as opposed to a contextual explanation.”


- the seminarians’ extemporaneous talk on the biblical theme

of “The Good Samaritan”

Hence, it is possible and perhaps likely to be a better/nicer person on a clean street or in a clean subway than in one littered with trash and graffiti.

change the context microeconomic incentives
Change the Context/Microeconomic Incentives

Example 1: prison-ship voyages from London to Sydney in the early part of the 20th century

Example 2: fix broken windows, eradicate graffiti and fare-beating and . . .

Result: human behavior can be changed …

harmful epidemics can be PREVENTED and perhaps healthy epidemics can be TRIGGERED

university example:

-- computer arrangements and pornography downloading