Thou Shalt Not... Copulate?

Why is Tufts, my university of employ, all over the news? Well, if you haven't yet heard, it's because we just instituted a formal policy prohibiting students from engaging in sexual activity while their roommate is present in the room.

The Toolbox of Self-Deception, Part III

When you stop to think about it (and that's what we psychologists are trained to do), we enlist an impressive array of cognitive tactics and behavioral gambits in the daily effort to feel good about ourselves. We carry around a veritable toolbox of self-deception, including well more individual tools than I can catalog here. What follows is but a sampling of the more common strategies we employ in the daily pursuit of positive self-regard...

The Toolbox of Self-Deception, Part II

When you stop to think about it (and that's what we psychologists are trained to do), we enlist an impressive array of cognitive tactics and behavioral gambits in the daily effort to feel good about ourselves. We carry around a veritable toolbox of self-deception, including well more individual tools than I can catalog here. What follows is but a sampling of the more common strategies we employ in the daily pursuit of positive self-regard...

The Toolbox of Self-Deception

When you stop to think about it (and that's what we psychologists are trained to do), we enlist an impressive array of cognitive tactics and behavioral gambits in the daily effort to feel good about ourselves. We carry around a veritable toolbox of self-deception, including well more individual tools than I can catalog here. What follows is but a sampling of the more commo

Erasing Race

A White woman, an Asian guy, and a Black guy are seated around a table. No, it's not the lead-in to a joke of questionable appropriateness. Rather, it's the source of the latest on-line controversy about race. Welcome to the tale of the competing Microsoft ads...

Da Meaninglessness of Denials

Not long ago, a baseball tradition was continued. No, not the All-Star Game or any other midsummer classic to which the old-school baseball fan has grown accustomed. I'm talking about that newest of annual rites, the anonymous leaking of additional players who failed drug tests in 2003. Clearly, there's a lot that's interesting regarding the psychology of the contemporary baseball fan...

More Gates Fallout

Last week's arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates continues to be a story with legs. There's no shortage of angles on the saga, from the question of to what extent does race influence our daily perceptions to the political matter of whether a sitting president should be commenting on local law enforcement issues. And so the debate rages on, whether or not some people are comfortable with it...

On Police, Profiling, and Henry Louis Gates

In the wake of the recent arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, the renowned scholar of African-American History at Harvard, the question is "How far have we progressed on reducing racial profiling?" Ask White Americans, and most focus on how far we’ve come. Ask Black Americans, and you’re more likely to hear how far we still have to go.

Worth More than 1,000 Words

According to Yahoo's Buzz Index, the #4 searched-for web topic by Americans right now is Sahel Kazemi. "Kazemi" and "Sahel Kazemi" are also the #2 and #3 entries on the Google Images "Rising Search" index for the past 7 days, runners-up only to Paris Jackson. Clearly, people want to know about Kazemi and see what she looks like in the wake of the apparent murder-suicide that ended in her death and that of her boyfriend, former NFL star Steve McNair. But why?

Judging Diversity, Part II

In the weeks since I posted on the topic, much of the furor has died down regarding the previous comments made by Sonia Sotomayor concerning the role of gender and racial identity in legal judgment. In fact, just days later, Newt Gingrich (sort of) retracted his previous statement that Sotomayor was a racist. I can only assume that Gingrich's regular subscription to my blog played some role in his (sort of) reversal. But the even more interesting race/gender-related question inspired by Sotomayor's nomination is how her addition to the Court might impact the tendencies of the 9-justice entity. Research in a wide range of fields provides compelling evidence that the demographic composition of a group can affect the way it goes about making decisions...

Judging Diversity, Part I

As an academic whose research focuses on 1) the effects of diversity on group decision-making and 2) psychological perspectives on the American legal system, there's a lot about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court that piques my interest. Somewhat predictably, media coverage and political reaction to her selection has focused on issues of gender and race, bringing to the forefront of public discourse the intersection of contemporary debates surrounding diversity, judicial "activism," and personal identity...

The Color of News

"What's black and white and red all over?" This i=s my 5-year-old's most recent favorite joke. The answer, of course, is the newspaper, the riddle's punchline hinging on the red/read homophone. But when I stop to think about it, it occurs to me that the news is actually pretty white, especially when it comes to particular types of stories...

Excuses, Excuses

In my last entry, I wrote about how the fiancée of Philip Markoff, the accused "Craiglist Killer," reacted to the arrest of her one-time future husband. She had a difficult time believing that her loved one could be capable of such actions, a reaction that strikes me as quite understandable–most of us would struggle to comprehend the criminal (or even just problematic) behavior of people in our own lives. Indeed, our expectations and assumptions about human nature are regularly challenged by the reality of actual behavior, as demonstrated an article in today's Associated Press with the headline "From church-going family man to bank robber?"

"Wouldn't Hurt a Fly"

The newest crime du jour to have captured popular attention is the "Craigslist Killer," so dubbed because of his fatal altercation with a woman whose massage services he had solicited via the internet bulletin board. Earlier this week, Boston police arrested a 23-year-old medical student named Philip Markoff for the crime. As often happens in such cases, the initial media reports have included a range of quotes from the suspect's classmates and teachers–past and present–not to mention family members. We've already heard the requisite "he wouldn't hurt a fly" line, in this case from Markoff's fiancée. Her exact quote: "All I have to say to you is Philip is a beautiful person inside and out and could not hurt a fly!"

Return of the Prodigal Spitzer

Last fall I was discussing with my students the psychology of second chances in American life (insert your own F. Scott Fitzgerald allusion here). I argued that today's pariah is often tomorrow's comeback kid. As an example, I suggested that within five years, I fully expected to turn on MSNBC or CNN to see Eliot Spitzer, the disgraced former governor of New York, serving as a political pundit analyzing election returns or campaign developments.So now I'm ready to admit that I was wrong. By approximately four-and-a-half years.

Unnecessary Assumptions

The subtle nature of bias in modern society is a topic I've touched on before. And a post this week from one of my fellow bloggers makes a compelling case for how this phenomenon can occur even when people have only the very best of intentions. As a case in point, consider the well-known tendency that many of us, elementary school teachers in particular, have to talk in terms of "boys and girls." There's the seemingly innocuous "good morning, boys and girls." And "how about the boys take care of cleaning out the brushes and the girls are in charge of putting the paints away." And so on. But what does this language really convey? And why is it necessary in the first place?

Not Who I Thought You Were

It seems like such an easy thing to do, to recall a person you saw weeks, days, or even hours earlier. But it's not... Student: "That reminds me of a presentation I sat through during freshman orientation." Me: "Right, I was one of those presenters." Student: "No, there was a Black professor and a White professor, but the White guy was someone else." Me: "Actually, that was me. I conduct diversity workshops, including that one at freshman orientation." Student: "No, the White professor wasn't you; it was another guy."

Email Easy Street

These days, the majority of my interactions with students outside of class don't take place in person, but rather in cyberspace. As any faculty member can tell you, these email exchanges range from the appropriately courteous and tactful to the... well, let's just say, not so much...

Purple Tunnel of Personality?

Last month I noticed that one of my Facebook friends–in this case, someone I actually still talk to, not, say, the guy I had a vague dislike for back in 6th grade summer camp who now feels the need to list my name on his wall–had just joined a group called "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom." It was the first I had heard of this phrase, which I assumed had something to do with yet another Indiana Jones sequel.  But as many of you know by now, the purple tunnel actually refers to the location in which thousands and thousands of inauguration ticket-holders were stranded for hours on the morning of January 20th...

Consequential Conversations, Part IV

This series has explored the trial and conviction of Christopher McCowen, a Cape Cod trash collector, for the murder of fashion journalist Christa Worthington. In this final chapter, McCowen's fate ultimately hinges on a matter as mundane as word choice...

Consequential Conversations, Part III

In November of 2006, a Cape Cod jury returned a guilty verdict in the murder trial of Christopher McCowen. This was supposed to be the final chapter in a murder drama that had captured attention regionally and nationally. But within days of the verdict, three different jurors came forward with concerns about the jury's verdict as well as the process by which it was reached.

Consequential Conversations, Part II

In my last post, I described the events surrounding the Cape Cod murder of fashion journalist Christa Worthington. Three years after her death, Christopher McCowen was arrested for her rape and murder.  Whatever stereotypes you may hold about residents of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, McCowen likely doesn't fit them. At the time of his arrest he was 33. He had a reasonably extensive criminal record. His IQ was just a handful of points above the classification of Mild Mental Retardation. In short, he was an African-American garbage collector that didn't fit into the murder mystery script many had been writing for the case.

Consequential Conversations, Part I

The name of this blog derives from the notion that even the most mundane of social interactions has something to tell us about human nature. That a scientific lens can be turned on even the most banal of daily conversations in the effort to better understand how people think and why we do what we do. What better way to explore this idea than by considering a situation where a simple question of word choice had implications both far-reaching and truly life-altering? It was one year ago today that an extraordinary (and extraordinarily rare) legal hearing began in a Massachusetts courtroom on Cape Cod... 

A Once-a-Year Reality Check

I've come to the conclusion that it's a great and important idea, this whole New Year's resolution business. One day out of 365 set aside for us to do what we're ordinarily not very good at–recognizing our own limitations and identifying needs for improvement. The other 364, we're more like the dieter who goes out of his way to inspect progress via "friendly" scale or mirror, feeling the need to take stock of who we are and how we're doing, but not really wanting the unvarnished, unblemished truth.

It Pays to Be Pretty

Riding the bike at the gym yesterday, my glance alternated between the three close-captioned TV screens on the wall in front of me, bouncing between a variety of uplifting news stories on mortgage foreclosures, the auto bailout, unsolved child murder cases, and an impending blizzard in New England. Sufficiently depressed, I was about to call it a day when the following gem came across the newswire and caught my attention: "Good-Looking NFL Quarterbacks Get Paid More."

Whither O.J.?

Today's the day that O.J. Simpson finds out his prison sentence for his recent convictions for kidnapping, armed robbery, and assault.  There is many a question this saga might inspire in the curious behavioral scientist: How much of a role did Simpson's past play in his current treatment by a Nevada jury and sentencing judge? How are those Americans who celebrated Simpson's acquittal in 1995 reacting to his recent legal problems? Will the available technology in the prison library be sufficient to allow Simpson to continue his fledgling literary career? And so on.

Aggressive Drivers Anonymous

 Last week I was driving my daughters to a birthday party when I pulled over to let a fire engine through. Naturally, one driver decided to use the speeding truck as his personal blocking back, tailing close behind and passing those of us who had pulled to the side. He made just enough progress before getting to the stoplight that I found myself totally cut off once the truck passed, forced to sit there and wait through yet another cycle of the light. I could have just let the transgression go, of course, but I experienced an uncontrollable urge to honk my horn as we waited at the red light. So I did. Twice. Long ones, too.

Race and the Race, Epilogue

I've never wanted this to become a one-topic blog, and I promise that it won't. But even though I've already posted a few entries on race and the election in recent weeks, it seems difficult to let the events of the past 24 hours go by without commenting. So here goes, one last set of psychological questions generated by the presidential campaign...

The Power of Us

Customers who insist on paying with a personal check at the grocery store. Waitresses who don't write down your order. People who sit right in front of you at the movies when there are other free seats in their row. 

More on Prejudice and the Election

 My colleague, Roy Baumeister, raises some interesting issues in his recent post regarding the contemporary study of racial prejudice. Specifically, he argues that researchers are missing the boat by probing this year's election for signs of racial prejudice, when instead they'd be rewarded more by exploring the more overt, less ambiguous forms of partisan prejudice practiced by both Democrats and Republicans.  Perhaps.  But consider the value in setting out for unchartered waters...