Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World [NOOK Book]


An "entertaining and engaging" exploration of the invisible forces influencing your life-and how understanding them can improve everything you do.

The world around you is pulling your strings, shaping your innermost instincts and your most private thoughts. And you don't even realize it.

Every day and in all walks of life, we overlook the enormous power of situations, of context in our lives. That's a mistake, says Sam Sommers in his ...

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Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World

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An "entertaining and engaging" exploration of the invisible forces influencing your life-and how understanding them can improve everything you do.

The world around you is pulling your strings, shaping your innermost instincts and your most private thoughts. And you don't even realize it.

Every day and in all walks of life, we overlook the enormous power of situations, of context in our lives. That's a mistake, says Sam Sommers in his provocative new book. Just as a museum visitor neglects to notice the frames around paintings, so do people miss the influence of ordinary situations on the way they think and act. But frames- situations- do matter. Your experience viewing the paintings wouldn't be the same without them. The same is true for human nature.

In Situations Matter, Sommers argues that by understanding the powerful influence that context has in our lives and using this knowledge to rethink how we see the world, we can be more effective at work, at home, and in daily interactions with others. He describes the pitfalls to avoid and offers insights into making better decisions and smarter observations about the world around us.

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Editorial Reviews

Rachel Newcomb
Situations Matter offers a blend of weighty and whimsical insights that makes for a thought-provoking and entertaining read.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
With a conversational, laid-back tone and a penchant for storytelling, Tufts University psychology professor Sommers explores the power of context, its ability to “shape our private sense of self, color our notion of the differences between men and women, determine who we love and who we hate.” Most potently, Sommers investigates the notion that “when surrounded by others, we become different people than when we’re on our own.” He finds context responsible for why we feel safer (but more impotent) in crowds, why being reminded of gender stereotypes makes girls do poorly on math tests, and how your apartment building’s floor plan determines how many dates you get. In prose peppered with pop culture anecdotes and stories from his own life, Sommers keeps reader engaged as he unpacks how self-perception affects performance and how mastery of the unspoken norms that govern situations will “alter the way you think about human nature, thereby making you a more effective person...and navigate your social universe more shrewdly.” The book shares its heritage with the bestselling Influence by Robert B. Cialdini. It trots out similar studies and cases, with only a slight twist on Cialdini’s original thesis about power and politics. With its softer approach toward deploying these techniques (referencing awareness more than power) and its personal references, Sommers’s book is the lighter, more pleasurable version. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“Thought-provoking and entertaining.”—The Washington Post

“A fascinating glimpse into the way our most important judgments are framed by the world around us.”—

“[Situations Matter] offers inspiration to outsmart any situation.”—Psychology Today 

“Perhaps the least understood forces in the universe are the social powers that drive our thoughts and behavior. Sam Sommers is an expert at identifying these influences, and in Situations Matter he takes us on an entertaining and engaging guided tour.”  —Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality

“Understanding and appreciating the power of situations gives you a leg up in life, and Situations Matter is the best place to start investigating this challenge. It is excellent, entertaining reading for anyone interested in classic human questions about morality, conformity, and the real differences between men and women.” —Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics, George Mason University, and author of Create Your Own Economy and The Great Stagnation

“It can be easy to overlook how ordinary situations shape behavior. It might seem like Sam Sommers is brilliant for choosing to write a book on this important topic, but he'd probably just explain that circumstance drove him to it. Still, we're all lucky he did.” – Leonard Mlodinow, author of The Drunkard’s Walk and co-author of The Grand Design

“I loved Situations Matter.  True, I read it while sitting on my comfortable couch, but I bet I would have loved it no matter the situation, even if I read it submerged in ice-cold water.  Sam Sommers shows us the surprising extent to which humans are influenced by external factors.  It's a fascinating read, and one that will improve your life in many ways, whether dealing with road rage, choosing a spouse, or trying to handle your boss.”  —A.J. Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically and My Life as an Experiment

“This book is a true eye-opener.  From the boardroom meeting to the dining room table, from why we love to why we hate, you'll never look at the ordinary world around you in exactly the same way again.” —Wray Herbert, author of On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits

Library Journal
Just as a frame in an art museum accentuates aspects of the painting it surrounds, so do ordinary situations impact the way people act and think. So posits Sommers (psychology, Tufts Univ.), who won the Saleem Shah Award for Early Career Excellence from the American Psychology-Law Society, as he tries to help readers better understand human behavior and become more effective in relationships with others. He uses familiar sitcom characters, advertising campaigns, and the universal experience of sitting in a traffic jam to explain how expectations and stereotypes affect behavior. He advises readers to look past labels and snap judgments and find what people have in common. Sommers here provides captivating insights into the human psyche.
Kirkus Reviews
Sommers (Psychology/Tufts Univ.) pokes holes in the comfortable assumption that our actions are driven by character. The author calls attention to how our behavior is influenced by the context of the situations we face, invoking the software term WYSIWYG to describe the way people tend to accept an "oversimplified picture of human nature, clinging as we do to the belief that what you see is what you get." He refers to a 2009 experiment--modeled on Stanley Milgram's much-cited earlier version--to illustrate how ordinary people can be induced to administer torture. Participants were partnered in what they were told was an experiment on the effect of punishment on learning. The job of one was to administer increasingly powerful shocks whenever the other (actually an actor pretending to be shocked) gave a wrong answer. A lab-coated experimenter encouraged the teacher to continue to the end of the protocol, despite agonized screams from the next room begging him to stop. When the setting for the experiment was a university, 65 percent continued to administer increasingly powerful shocks; however, when the so-called experimenter dressed informally, only 20 percent were willing to follow his prompts and continue. Sommers suggests that children are cued to the "ubiquitous societal norms regarding gender," which accounts for much of what we accept as biologically determined gender behavior. An enjoyable guide for would-be free-thinkers on how to recognize social influences that shape behavior.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101553794
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/29/2011
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 740,664
  • File size: 867 KB

Meet the Author

Sam Sommers is an award-winning psychology professor at Tufts University. His research has been covered by Good Morning America, NPR, Harper’s, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives near Boston with his wife and two daughters.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 Wysiwyg 13

2 Help Wanted 49

3 Go With The Flow 87

4 You're Not The Person You Thought You Were 125

5 Mars And Venus Here On Earth 159

6 Love 197

7 Hate 233

Epilogue 277

Acknowledgments 289

Notes 293

Bibliography 301

Index 315

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An engaging look at why people behave the way we do! Must Read!

    We've all seen the recent TV show, "What Would You Do?" where the American public is secretly video taped to see what their reactions would be for a variety of situations, will people get involved or will they simply act like they don't know what is going on, or simply chose to ignore it.

    It is more interesting to understand the dynamics behind why people will react one way in a situation that doesn't involve a group of people and in a completely different way when faced with group pressure. Most interesting too, is how people believe they will respond when simply presented with the situation without being present. So why do people do what they do and does it really matter?

    In the novel Situations Matter, Understanding How Context Transforms Your World, by Sam Sommers, the reader can easily pass up this book based on the title alone. Yet giving yourself the time to begin reading this book, gets you hooked immediately. Even reading the back introduction made me wonder, just why I agreed to review this book in the first place, but once I started only lack of sleep in the midnight hour got me to put it down for the evening only to clutch it once I woke up again.

    Throughout the book, Sam Sommers takes the readers into the different perspectives we don't often consider in any given situation. Take the following that made me rethink my own personal reactions to these day to day situations by forcing myself to see familiar situations from unfamiliar perspectives, to walk the proverbial mile in the proverbial shoes of another. When an accomplished doctor addresses graduation medical students, he always tells them that the best thing that can happen to them is to get sick. Nothing serious of course. Just enough for them to struggle to book a timely appointment, haggle with the insurance carrier, sit in waiting rooms - a refresher course on what it's like to be the patient.

    If you teach for a living, then attend the classes of other teachers once in awhile, sitting quietly in the crowd to rediscover what separates the riveting lecture from the one that sends the audience scrambling for the Sudoku puzzle. If you're a customer service representative, wait on hold while the recording assures you that your call is important. If you're an airline attendant, fly coach.

    If you're a student irritated that two hours have passed without an email response from your professor, stop to consider that your ninety-nine fellow classmates might be making simultaneous requests for attention. If you're a traveler at the lost luggage desk, remind yourself that this clerk isn't the one who personally sent your bags to St. Petersburg instead of St. Louis. If you're a patient nearing the end of your third hour in the ER, recognize that, painful as they may be, your two broken fingers don't require prompter medical attention than the asthma attack of the seven-year-old who just arrived by ambulance.

    This book is filled with countless examples of how we fail to do the right thing and instead jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts, or even considering what the facts may be. The author wants to make sure that the readers don't lose sight of the small factors that have huge impacts on the people with who we interact.

    I received this book compliments of TLC Book Tours and Riverhead Books for my honest review and really thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hands down a 5 out of 5 stars!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2012

    Excellent Read! Presented with wit and humor.

    Through social scientist maneuvering, the author studies context by creating situations and plugging it into some scientific algorithm. Okay, I made up the algorithm part. Still, Doogie Howser (he is a very young Ph.D) brilliantly plays with social situations and watches reactions, recording them. He then changes the context and finds the reaction is different. It is a fascinating read, particularly if you are a sociological nerd. Which I'm not. I just couldn't put the book down to finish any other task for a day or two.

    Well written, interesting content, and quite funny, in a professor kind of way.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2012

    The author has a point.

    This book is a result of many social psychological studies. It makes the point that most outcomes fly in the face of conventional thinking. The author cites many examples. Very interesting if you are a student of human nature. His main point is to warn us how easily we are influenced/duped into behavior and conclusions by the very situations we are in. Sometimes crowd mentality is very sad and dysfunctional. Sometimes human behavior is humorous in social situations. He shows us how the various situations manipulate our thinking. It is an intriguing premise, and I found myself in aha moments, but occasionally I thought, "Nah, I would think for myself and not follow the crowd. I have a conscience." However, I can see why people would choose to play it safe, sometimes even cold-bloodedly. The author hopes these points will illuminate his readers into analyzing the situation before acting.
    Mostly the author writes in a conversational tone so it is easy reading. Occasionally, however, I felt he talked in a roundabout way and I got a little confused. Overall, he is trying to help us be true to ourselves.

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  • Posted January 17, 2012

    Malcolm Gladwell Eat Your Heart Out

    This book, written not by a well-informed journalist but by an expert in the field of social psychology, marries the entertainment value of the old Seinfeld show with the psychological insights of Dr. Phil (scratch that--this guy actually knows what he's talking about). The book offers a lens through which to view human relationships and interactions that will make often inexplicable behavior of those around you more comprehensible. And, if you're honest, it will explain more of your own behavior. A mix of interesting anecdotes, sly wit, and many fascinating psychological studies, Situations Matter will make you a more effective person, as the author would say. Because contexts in which we live our lives impact on our choices and our perceptions, just carrying this book around in public with you is likely to improve your standing as a person once others see what you're reading. Match that, Malcolm.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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