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Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,282 ratings  ·  145 reviews
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 co
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published December 29th 2011 by Riverhead Books
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 ·  1,282 ratings  ·  145 reviews

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Bo Bennett
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
This was a great book. As a PhD student in psychology specializing in research and social cognition, I have read close to 100 (non textbook) books within the last year alone, and this one stood out for several reasons. First let me say that I am highly critical of books in this genre, and it is rare that I write a review.

Why this book deserves to be read:

1) It is entertaining. Sommers breaks the mold of dry findings reporting and has "the audacity" to inject his own authentic humor. Granted, man
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
To kick off 2012 I thought I would start off with something in the nonfiction genre, so I picked up Sam Sommers' Situation Matters. Its a self-help type of book that has you looking at the bigger picture - looking at a situation as a whole and not just in the context of how it relates to only you. Basically, we need to expand our awareness, because the context of situations do matter and the way we react to them does in fact influence and impact the ways in which we conduct our daily lives. Pret ...more
Jeff Scott
Nov 01, 2011 rated it really liked it

Bookstores are filled with the latest in pop behavioral studies. Malcolm Gladwell is one of the more prominent writers that has made the subject so popular with books like Blink and Outliers. It is an encouragement to look closer on how we behave in certain situations and the causation. What Sam Sommers does in his new book Situations Matter is to go over the same territory, but instead of just looking at the phenomenon he also examines what to do about it. At the heart of it, is an encouragemen
Oct 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
The author is a psychology prof at Tufts and the book reads like a college course for undergrads. It is very accessible and a lot of fun. I imagine he is a popular professor. The point of the book is that your choices, decisions, and behavior are very much influenced by the context in which you find yourself. You may believe you act independently, but there is research to prove that you are heavily influenced by your surroundings. The author consistently reminds that WYSIWYG ("what you see is wh ...more
Jul 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Dr. Sam Sommers is trying to challenge my assumptions about intelligence. He presents me with a hypothetical situation in which I must hire a tutor for my child, and my choices are Alex Trebek, Pat Sajak, and Ryan Seacrest. He knows that, like most people, I will choose Alex Trebek, since seeing a game show host who always has the answers to hard questions makes me think that he is intrinsically smarter than the other two choices. Then Dr. Sommers challenges me: "But is this a wise decision? May ...more
Nov 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I won this book through a Goodreads Giveaway, and I am so glad I did. I was a little apprehensive when I first began the book, simply because it is different than what I’m used to (I’ve just started getting into nonfiction, and most of what I’ve read thus far is more creative, personal nonfiction, not research), but I was pleasantly surprised within the first few pages, as Sommers set up an engaging read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Situations Matter is a sort of self-help book (although Sommers s ...more
Tamra Karl
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
First off, my rating for this book is very personal. I suppose all book ratings are personal, but I like to think they are also based on an educated response to the quality of the writing. I rated this book pretty low because of my graduate degree in psychology which means I had already studied most of the experiments referenced in this book and thus felt bored by much of the return to those studies. Not just because I don't like reading the same thing more than once, but because there was a lot ...more
H Wesselius
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
I think I've read too many behaviourial economics/psychology lately. Although the focus may vary from book to book, many of the same experiments and observations are cited in each book. In Situations Matter, how context affects decision making is the focus yet the usual crowd behaviour, racial bias, priming, etc experiments are cited. In some ways, Sommers states the obvious -- proximity and location matter even in cases of who we marry, for example. And its unfortunate, Sommers avoids the more ...more
Dec 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 ot ...more
Dec 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
A moment of silence for all the trees who lost their lives to become the pages of this awful, dreadful book. What a complete waste of time.
Ali Sattari
Jan 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology, science
This was cool, not any deeper than books on cognitive biases and error (e.g Thinking Fast & Slow), but full of good, tangible examples.
In essence knowing you are biased isn't often sufficient, you need to counter it per case, and this book covers some well known examples of such biases and counter measures.
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Increase your self awareness of how your reactions and thoughts are affected by situations and circumstances. Read this and then watch Unbelievable about detectives catching a serial rapist, really brings the points home.
Kathleen (Kat) Smith

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
Morgan Blackledge
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Situations Matter:

This book is a lot of fun. I like this book a lot. But.........wholly shit is it corny. Not in the "trite, banal or mawkishly sentimental" sense. But rather in the chock full of cringeworthy jokes sense. The author is perhaps the hardest working comedian in psychology. And the hard work doesn't seem to be paying off.

I understand that, as with beauty, humor is largely a matter of personal opinion. This is literally the only polite explanation for the success of comedians such a
Sean Goh
Nov 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: psych
Nothing very new (then again it is 5 years old), but a good range of psych studies covered, in a readable way.
We're easily seduced by the notion of stable character. So much of who we are, how we think, and what we do is driven by the situations we're in, yet we remain blissfully unaware of it.

The feeling of anonymity in crowds affects our tendency to help as well. Crowds allow us to relinquish responsibility, because someone else will take care of this.

Knowing about bystander apathy mak
Domenico Conza
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
“Situation Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World” by Professor Sam Sommers is an enjoyable, humorous book that states that we are affected by our surroundings even if we believe that they don’t influence our decisions. Prof. Sommers is a funny, but intelligent author that creates the text easy and fun to read while teaching us topics of situational vs dispositional and nature vs nurture debates with examples that were conducted in previous studies such as Piliavin et al. “Good ...more
Oct 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
We all act a little differently in different situations, right? Sure, but this book is about so much more than that! There are so many things in our lives, from who we love to how well we do on math tests, that have to do with context. This book is a real eye-opener.

We have a false confidence in our ability to predict the behavior of others. It is easier, as the author says, to see others as "what you see is what you get," than to actually consider the context of the other person. We like to se
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was a really fantastic book detailing how the context in which individuals find themselves has everything to do with how they behave. It was along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell, but with actual research as opposed to anecdotal evidence.

I found the chapters on groupthink, gender, and race particularly fascinating. As a female of Indian descent, I think my cultural background far outweighed any stereotypes of girls not being good at math; it was simply expected, both within my family and with
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
This was a very good psychology book. It is light and funny enough to be interesting to even the most ignorant of readers but backed up with enough research and interesting facts to hook a person who already knows a lot about psychology. The author is very personable, and offers frequent humorous anecdotes illustrating his concepts. He also includes one or two “try it yourself” experiments that are super-easy to do and don't even require getting up. The book is all about how we judge people very ...more
Jan 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Most of the first half of each section is stuff any college grad will have covered in Psych101, with a few contemporary updates. The interesting part is when the author tries to turn that research into tools you can use, showing how to stand back and assess a situation and use that info to your advantage, or at least to minimize a disadvantage. Particularly thought provoking was the section about gender expectations and learning. Who would have thought that 'Good Morning Boys and Girls' could be ...more
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
A few years after I became a driver, I realized that if I used a simple trick -- a silly trick, really -- to explain away the exasperating actions of other drivers, I could keep my cool behind the wheel. When a driver ahead of me creeps along at 3 miles below the limit, or especially when that overcautious motorist takes fo-r-e-vvv-er to complete a turn, I say to myself, "He probably has a fresh pie on the seat next to him." This generates some empathy in my mind, and at least always gets a chuc ...more
Oct 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads and got it FAST!

An important read for everyone. The topics were interesting and all tied together well. A bit repetitive in some chapters, particularly towards the end. However, I enjoyed this author and feel he is probably a great professor. I may be biased since I studied Sociology in undergrad, so to those who may not have been exposed to some of the research, it may seem less repetitive. We all need to be more sensitive to others and t
Jul 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'll never look at a situation as wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) again. Really opens you mind to the peripheral context of situations that you've been in. So many situations highlighted in the book are things we've all experienced, and failed. Entertaining and informative, a great read. Highly recomend.
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
I liked it, but I didn't love it. Malcolm Gladwell has ruined me a little, I think.

I came back and changed this to a four. I keep thinking about it and it's really made me consider how I act in many many situations.

Full review here:
Jan 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
Working title was "Duh."

Note: I did not finish this book.

Written in a tone of "Oh my gosh, aren't I so clever!" this book opens with the insightful revelation that if the airline representative from whom you are hoping to recieve a hotel voucher for your cancelled flight says no when she is yelled at by the two people in front of you in line, try not yelling.
Aug 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: others
The author clearly does not understand the situation that his book is sold internationally. Too much referals to items specific to the US, for example, a particular character in a drama series. Enjoyment of reading any other part of slight better work is totally cancelled out by the continuous appearance of these referals or "joke".
Dec 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fun, informative, and a treasure-trove of teaching material. Great work, Sam!
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Almost none of the content was new to me and yet, I loved reading this. Funny and clever -- a real pleasure to read.
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have long considered myself an individual with higher-than-average empathy, but not spent nearly as much time thinking about the why or how behind that characteristic. The most that I have figured, is that I am sympathetic toward other people because I can relate to their troubles and would want other people to be equally sympathetic toward my own.

After reading this book, however, I am convinced that my empathy probably stems from an ability to imagine and understand the power of situational c
Jessica Draper
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
An entertaining tour of the booby traps and blind spots in all our brains--and how to actively avoid them.
Sommers provides a nice review of everything from assumptions about character, diffusion of responsibility, implicit bias, and more. If you’re interested in how social situations work, you’ve probably already encountered most of the examples here: our tendency to attribute a person’s actions to the “kind” of person they are, the way social pressures change our answers to (and even perceptio
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UX Book Club PDX: Thoughts after the meetup 2 26 Jul 02, 2012 04:47PM  
What's your WYSIWYG moment? 2 22 Feb 08, 2012 03:26PM  

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As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of young ad...
23 likes · 3 comments
“...incompetence is context specific.” 3 likes
“Precisely because situations are difficult to see, effort is required to recognize their influence. So we’re particularly likely to stick to internal explanations for behavior when we don’t have the mental energy to consider the alternatives.” 0 likes
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