In Search of the "Real America"

I'm not much of a seafood connoisseur. Accordingly, dining companions often offer suggestions for fish that they're sure I'll like: for example, I'm often told that fresh fish doesn't taste fishy. Words can be funny that way.  And I've been pondering the non-fishiness of fish this past week as we hit the homestretch in the presidential election. Specifically, I've been thinking about how just as some fish apparently doesn't taste like fish, some Americans apparently aren't really American...

Who's Going to Vote for "That One"?

If you thought we've been drowning in political opinion polls for a while now, just wait to see what the next three weeks brings as Election Day approaches. And the $64,000 question, as always, remains how accurate are these polls? This is a particularly perplexing query this year given the potentially biasing impact of the notorious Bradley Effect...

I’ll Analyze My Own Debate Perceptions, Thank You

Tonight's second McCain/Obama debate just ended, and I've finally reached an important decision. No, I'm not one of the uncommitted voters in Ohio who gets to go on TV and become a Warholian celebrity because of my own lack of decisiveness. I mean, who knew that the inability to make up one's mind could get you so much national airtime? Really, how long does it take these people to choose what to wear each morning?  No, my decision is a different one...

Learning (Not) to Talk About Race

 I was at the grocery store not that long ago and overheard a young boy, maybe 3-years-old, say to his mother, "look mom, that man's face is brown." To me, the color of the face of the boy's mother was far more noteworthy. If she were a crayola crayon, she would have been I Just Saw A Ghost Pale. She looked horrified. She actually couldn't even muster the speech to shush her son, but rather sped away like a bank robber fleeing the scene.

''I don't think we're supposed to be talking about this...''

 There is a growing trend in America today, especially among Whites, to embrace literal colorblindness when it comes to race relations...

More on Gender, Kids, and Parenthood

Last month I posted an entry regarding children and gender stereotypes from the perspective of the father of two young daughters.  Several people emailed to share their own stories and observations.  Some asked whether I thought such concerns about gender stereotypes also applied to males.  My answer?  An absolute and unqualified yes.  And all these questions actually got me thinking even more about the one domain in my own life when I feel that I am often viewed negatively (or at least skeptically) because of my gender: parenting.

When Justice is Less than Blind

The nation's eyes have turned to Louisiana once again as the gulf coast starts the recovery from yet another natural disaster. I was originally supposed to travel to New Orleans this week to play a role, albeit minor, in addressing a different, troubling development in the region, one that predates the devastation of Hurricane Katrina three years ago. I was scheduled to testify as an expert in a post-trial hearing regarding racial bias in the legal system, yet another problem with which Louisiana appears all too familiar.

Some Advice for New Graduate Students

This past week I participated in a panel discussion as part of a training workshop for new graduate TAs. I was asked to speak briefly about how to juggle the many responsibilities of a new graduate student, specifically those of research, teaching, and classwork. So while it'll be a bit of a departure from this blog's typical focus, I thought I'd share some of these thoughts I prepared for the workshop for any interested readers who are also beginning (or thinking of beginning) graduate study.  So there's good news and bad news when it comes to balancing the responsibilities of grad school...

The Root of All Evil

Today I actually saw the root of all evil with my very own eyes. I was with my wife and daughters at the local playground. The girls were off playing in the sand together, entertaining themselves and affording us a rare peaceful moment on the park bench. This quiet was interrupted, however, by the rumbling sounds of a 6-year-old peeling around the corner while driving (that's right, driving) a motorized four-wheeler. A battery-operated, ride-on car that kids can drive at the park instead of getting any semblance of physical exercise? Corporations and parents of America, you can't be serious?

The Greatest Ever? Not So Fast...

U.S. Swimmer Michael Phelps just won his 8th gold medal of the Beijing Olympics tonight, the 14th gold of his career. These are feats that have never been accomplished before, and it’s hard to argue with the conclusion that his is the greatest Olympic performance of all time. Some in the sporting world (and beyond) are also calling Phelps the greatest athlete of all time. But not so fast—a number of psychological considerations suggest that the pundits (and public) are likely getting a bit carried away...

What Makes Someone 'Black?'

Throughout the presidential campaign, race keeps bubbling to the surface as a topic of discussion. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given that the Democratic nominee is the son of a White, American-born mother and a Black, Kenyan-born father. But why, then, is Barack Obama always referred to as “the first Black major party nominee for President?” Why do we never hear him called the first biracial nominee?

Gender Stereotypes and the Fast Food Drive-Thru

“Do you want to Supersize that combo?” “Would you like fries with that?” “Don’t you know that eating this will shave a month off your life expectancy?” These are the questions I expect to hear at the drive-thru window of a fast food restaurant—not “Boy or girl?”

All Stereotypes Are True? Since When?

Humans see the world in terms of categories. We group a chair, a table, a couch together under the category "furniture," which helps when we're confronted with unfamiliar objects. We have a similar tendency to categorize other humans...

Obama and the Racial Divide

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article titled “Poll Shows Racial Division on Obama’s Candidacy.” The story included several examples of divergence between White and Black Americans’ perceptions of the presidential campaign; for example, more than 80% of Black respondents reported a positive impression of Barack Obama, compared to closer to 30% of Whites. Some of the most interesting findings, however, have nothing to do with presidential politics, but rather speak to the persistent divide in how Americans think about race, a divide that too frequently is only discussed by behavioral researchers.

The Elusive Power of Daily Situations

Last week I had minor surgery after breaking two fingers, which explains why it’s going to take me 5 times as long to write this entry as it’ll take you to read it. Depending on my mood at the time of the question, if you ask me how I broke them, I’d either tell you by pulling orphans out of the rubble after a small earthquake or by hitting a foul ball with a wet bat during a slo-pitch softball game. I’ll let you decide which is the more impressive feat...

Red, White, and Blue, but also Black and White

As the calendar turns to July, athletes from around the globe finish their preparations for next month's Summer Olympics, that quadrennial exercise in unabashed jingoism in which fans on every continent tune in to root in unqualified terms for their fellow countrymen and women. What to make, then, of the curious case of the 2004 U.S. men’s basketball team, the team that Americans loved to hate?

The Top-Down View of the Democratic Primaries

Now that the presidential primary season that wouldn't end has ended, now that we've had a few weeks for the tempers and tensions within the Democratic party to subside at least somewhat, can we all agree that there are few domains better than politics for demonstrating the top-down manner in which people often perceive the world?

Welcome to the Science of Small Talk

Welcome to the Science of Small Talk, an exploration of social thought and behavior. Specifically, the mission of this blog is to apply principles and theories of behavioral science to the examination of everyday interactions. Because even the most mundane aspects of our social universe are amenable to scientific analysis, from dinner party conversations to job interview strategies, from TV game shows to fast-food drive-thrus...