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.)
“Thought-provoking and entertaining.”—The Washington Post
“A fascinating glimpse into the way our most important judgments are framed by the world around us.”—Salon.com
“[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
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.
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.