Category: Psychology

The Illusion of Willpower

WENDY WOOD, professor psychology and business, Marshall School of Business, and DAVID NEIL.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Aug. 9

On a recent doctor’s visit, a compelling health video was looping in the reception room. It incorporated many of the accepted rules for achieving a healthy weight. The motivational video, tailored to the doctor’s clientele, illustrated simple ways to eat more fruits and vegetables and get exercise. It was striking, however, that many of the nursing staff, who must have heard this video a thousand times, didn’t seem to have taken it to heart. Nurses, as a national study revealed, are just as likely to overeat as the rest of the population.

Successful and Schizophrenic

ELYN SAKS, professor of law, USC Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times on Jan. 25

Thirty years ago, I was given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. My prognosis was “grave”: I would never live independently, hold a job, find a loving partner, get married. My home would be a board-and-care facility, my days spent watching TV in a day room with other people debilitated by mental illness. I would work at menial jobs when my symptoms were quiet. Following my last psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 28, I was encouraged by a doctor to work as a cashier making change. If I could handle that, I was told, we would reassess my ability to hold a more demanding position, perhaps even something full-time.

The Problem With ‘Plug-in’ Volunteering

NINA ELIASOPH, associate professor of sociology, Dornsife College.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 21.

Monday, millions of Americans will honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by volunteering for community service. They will collect cans of food for the poor, ladle soup for the hungry and help the homeless. They will talk about their rewarding experiences, and the people they help will express their gratitude. Tomorrow, everybody will return to their normal routines.

The MLK Day of Service represents an increasingly popular form of volunteerism — setting aside a day or so to help the needy. “Plug-in volunteering,” as I call it, is the essence of Big Sunday, Make a Difference Day, Family Volunteer Week and other large-scale efforts. Short-term service accounts for nearly half of all volunteer activity in America. It serves many modern-day purposes: We’re making a contribution without taking too much time from our jobs and families, adding a line to our curriculum vitae or satisfying a community service requirement. And, of course, we’re sometimes giving temporary aid to the needy.

Why Does CEO Mean White Male?

K.C. COLE, professor of journalism, USC Annenberg.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 18.

A pedestrian holding a map approaches you and asks for directions. You engage in a short conversation, which is briefly interrupted when two workers walk between you carrying a door. A second later, you continue your conversation.

What you don’t notice is that the pedestrian is now someone else. Yep, that’s right: A different person took his place when the door passed between you. And you didn’t even notice. In fact, fully 50% of people who participated in this 1998 experiment by psychologist Daniel Simons were blind to the switch.

Holding the L.A. District Attorney to a Higher Standard

DAN SIMON, professor of law and psychology, USC’s Gould School of Law.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

To its credit, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office did not ignore the cry for freedom from a condemned inmate. As a result, convicted murderer John Edward Smith is a free man after a DA investigation learned that the sole prosecution witness had falsely identified Smith as the perpetrator in a 1993 drive-by shooting. The accuser now claims that he pointed the finger at Smith only after being misled and pressured by Los Angeles police detectives.

Smith’s ordeal demonstrates how our criminal justice process can go wrong, and it highlights why fixing the process should be at the center of the race between Jacky Lacey and Alan Jackson for office of the DA.

Los Angeles County has had its fair share of faulty criminal prosecutions. Since 1989, 26 Angelinos have been declared factually innocent after having been convicted and sentenced to prison. That’s about double the rate of exonerations in the rest of California, and it doesn’t include more than 100 false convictions produced by the Rampart scandal in the late 1990s. The true number of false convictions is no doubt much greater. Smith was exonerated only because his new lawyer managed to locate his accuser, and he was eager to recant. Likewise, Brian Banks of Long Beach was exonerated months ago of his conviction for rape only because his accuser “friended” him on Facebook, agreed to meet with him, and recanted her accusation on camera.

New China Syndrome: Richer, Unhappy

RICHARD A. EASTERLIN, professor of economics, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times.

China’s new leaders, who will be anointed next month at the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress in Beijing, might want to rethink the Faustian bargain their predecessors embraced some 20 years ago: namely, that social stability could be bought by rapid economic growth.

As the recent riots at a Foxconn factory in northern China demonstrate, growth alone, even at sustained, spectacular rates, has not produced the kind of life satisfaction crucial to a stable society — an experience that shows how critically important good jobs and a strong social safety net are to people’s happiness.

Why We Can’t Let Marilyn Monroe Go

LOIS BANNER, professor of history and gender studies, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Why is Marilyn Monroe still an American icon 50 years after her death? She is endlessly analyzed in films and biographies; her image appears on T-shirts and posters; her popularity is reflected in the 52,000 Marilyn-related items for sale on EBay. My USC students, fixated on contemporary pop culture, know little about 1950s Hollywood stars, except for Monroe. Like everyone else, they puzzle over her death, respond to her beauty, recognize her paradoxes: the ur-blond child-woman, the virgin-whore of the Western imagination.

Life at the Extremes — Not Really

DAVID TREUER, professor of English, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

During the election cycle we tend to ask: What does America mean; where are we going? And then someone decides to check on the Indians to find out the answer, as though Indians represent America’s soul hidden in the attic. And of course politicians have long stood next to their “souls” and posed for pictures on the campaign trail.

Within the last year, Diane Sawyer and “20/20” did a special on the sorry conditions at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and the New Yorker featured a grim photo essay on Pine Ridge too. The New York Times published a piece on brutal crime at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and another on the deep financial problems at Foxwoods, the Pequot-owned “world’s largest” casino in Connecticut. Indians make the news, but the news

The Role of Sacred Values in the Iran Nuclear Standoff

MORTEZA DEHGHANI, research assistant professor, USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies, and SONYA SACHDEVA, postdoctoral fellow in psychology, Northwestern University.

This op-ed originally appeared at Aljazeera.

Beneath the intensifying crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme is a startling disconnect between what the two sides perceive to be the target of the West’s sanctions. To the US and its allies, the sanctions aim to cripple the Iranian economy to the point that Iran’s government will realise the error of developing nuclear weapons.

To Iranians, however, the sanctions represent an encroachment on their country’s sovereignty over an issue – nuclear energy – they believe goes to the core of national identity. This view has deep historical resonance because of previous foreign efforts to undermine the nation’s sovereignty – the Western-sponsored coup of a democratically elected government in 1953 – and to interrupt scientific advancement – Iran’s quest for nuclear technology dates to the shah. For these Iranians, the country’s nuclear programme has become a “sacred value”.

What is a “sacred value”? We all intuitively feel that there are certain things and values in our lives – the right to vote, the graves of our ancestors – that we would never give up or compromise no matter how tempting the reward or menacing the threat. What’s more, to even be asked to consider a tradeoff on such matters would be an outrage.

‘Sacred values’

Sacred values play significant roles in many socio-cultural conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian divide is a prominent example. The problem is that sacred values are beyond the reach of traditional diplomacy, which assumes rational actors weighing the costs and benefits of taking a position. Who would bargain away the sacred? But in the case of Iran’s nuclear programme, diplomacy has a chance of succeeding in upcoming talks because Iranians may consider the programme sacred only up to a point.

In 2010, we surveyed Iranian attitudes toward their country’s nuclear programme. The 2,000 participants were young (average age 30), college graduates and mostly male, a sample highly representative of the population as a whole except for the predominance of males.

We presented one group (about 1,400 Iranians) with three different tradeoff scenarios: Would they give up the nuclear energy programme in exchange for material compensation from the United Nations, under the threat of sanctions or in the absence of external pressure?