Roy Eidelson's blog

How To Sell An Indefensible Status Quo

Stocks plummet on Wall Street. Home foreclosures mount across the country. Shameless finger pointing and disavowals swirl in the nation’s capital. And a recent Gallup poll finds that a record-low 9% of Americans are satisfied with the way things are going in the United States.

The frightening numbers and front-page headlines certainly cry out for immediate short-term solutions. But they also raise a crucial question with long-term implications: How is it that our country’s powerful and self-interested defenders of the status quo so consistently succeed at suppressing popular outrage and combating calls for broad-based, progressive social change?

Martians and Election Day

originally posted 2008-09-10 03:33:12 -- bumped and promoted - cho

It's only fitting that a truly memorable demonstration of human gullibility will mark its 70th anniversary just before Election Day. On the night of October 30, 1938, thousands of radio listeners concluded that Orson Welles' adaptation of The War of the Worlds was the real thing: a live account of Martian invaders landing in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. Those fooled by the show's air of authenticity exhibited signs of panic and hysteria. Some called the police for guidance on how they could protect themselves. Some fled their homes for greater safety farther from the invasion site. And some listeners fainted beside their radios. Within hours the hoax was fully revealed, and public outrage swiftly followed.

Today, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin seem intent on creating similar mass confusion for their own purposes.

Anchors for Progressives

Imagine people randomly divided into two groups for a simple psychology experiment. Those assigned to one group are asked two questions. First, “Did Gandhi die before or after he reached the age of 140?” And then, “How old was Gandhi when he died?” Meanwhile, those in the other group are asked the same followup question, but their first question is “Did Gandhi die before or after he reached the age of 9?”

The results of actual studies just like this one are quite consistent and robust, and they may surprise you. Participants given “140 years” as their initial comparison point think that Gandhi lived much longer than those who were given “9 years” instead. Findings like these demonstrate what psychologists call the “anchoring effect”: our strong tendency to make judgments that are biased toward arbitrary standards of comparison. The plausibility of these comparison “anchors” makes no difference to us--we rely on them regardless. As another example, research subjects asked whether Einstein’s first visit to the United States occurred before or after 1992 give a much more recent estimate of when he arrived than those asked whether he visited before or after the year 1215.

This anchoring effect might be merely a perplexing curiosity--if not for its potentially profound consequences in the real world. Consider John McCain’s recent remarks that he’d be fine with American troops in Iraq for the next 100 years, or longer. Whether he’ll be able to implement the early steps of this troubling vision will depend on many things, including who’s sworn in as the next President of the United States in January 2009. But the “100 years” anchor can--on its own--shift the public’s expectations and comfort level for how long it’s reasonable to have troops in Iraq. Several additional years suddenly seems like a brief stay when compared to a century or more.

Ten Mistakes I’ll Probably Make In 2008

promoted - cho

Many of us view the calendar's turn from 2007 to 2008 as an opportunity to start anew and to improve upon the year just past. But despite this resolve, it's easy to predict that 2008 will be another year filled with small slips and large blunders. As a psychologist whose work focuses on five core concerns--about vulnerability, injustice, distrust, superiority, and helplessness--that are especially powerful influences in our personal and collective lives, I offer this list of ten mistakes I'll probably make on the way to 2009.