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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.

290 pages, Hardcover

First published December 29, 2011

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Sam Sommers

2 books45 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 147 reviews
Profile Image for Bo Bennett.
Author 27 books46 followers
May 20, 2013
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, many psychology books have a touch of humor, but this is usually the kind of "humor" found on Dixie cups. Sam's humor is the kind that made me laugh out loud at times. Using humor can be risky. If humor is really "not your thing," then you may want to look for another author... and your sense of humor.

2) It is not just another "me too" book. Unfortunately, many books in this genre simply rehash the same classic experiments. If I have to hear about patient "HM" or Phineas Gage again, I will stick a large iron rod through my own frontal lobe.

If I am lucky, I encounter one "holy crap" moment in each book--an insightful idea that elucidates the mystery of human nature. This book had several of those. For example, Sam is not afraid to look at love from a practical perspective, and not afraid to tackle prejudice at the risk of being "politically incorrect." You will get great insights from this book.

3) It is a scholarly work; written for the layman. I am not afraid to admit that I like books that are easy to read. My days consist of reading textbooks and scientific papers, so I appreciate the same quality of well-researched material presented in an engaging way.

I don't know the author. I am not on his payroll and I am not one of his students. While not my favorite book of all time, this book does make my top 10 list for best psychology books. I felt compelled to write this review because I get annoyed at those who don't think humor and science mix. If you are one of those people, I urge you to read Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Feynman, or even Einstein. And if you simply don't like Sommer's brand of humor, then no problem. The Dixie company appreciates your business.
Profile Image for Nadia A.
67 reviews9 followers
June 22, 2012
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. Pretty interesting stuff, eh? Actually, it was.

Sommers writes about this topic in such an open and engaging manner that you can't help but soon become immersed in all things situational. From the beginning, Sommers has you relating to him and a situation he found himself in at the airport. The plane was delayed and he wanted a voucher for a hotel room for him and his wife, since the delay was caused by the airline. Of course, waiting in line at the airline's counter, he notices that everyone is complaining and yelling at the airline representative and as a result no one is getting anything - no vouchers! So, instead of heading to the counter and giving the rep a piece of his mind, he chats with the rep about the situation and makes sure to mention that he knows there must be something that she can do to help, even though he understands it is not the airline's policy to do anything. In a final bid to really relate to the woman, Sommers confides that his wife is two months pregnant and that the airline rep is the second person to find out the news - the first being the doctor. This secret seals the deal and soon enough, Sommers and his wife are resting at a hotel that very night. So, one can infer from this situation that it always pays to be nice and that sharing confidences can really bond strangers (to an extent).

Throughout the book, Sommers mentions a variety of scenarios that really test people's limits by gauging how far they will or will not go to help out a stranger to how quickly people judge one another if and when their actions are not to our liking. He uses pop culture references as another means of illustrating his point that raising out awareness is the key to really figuring out how to handle the various situations that life throws our way. Instead of rushing through life, we need to stop and pay attention - you know, smell the roses. Sommers is basically saying that we need to be more mindful of our actions and responses, because they are representative of who we are and can determine how we see others and how they see us. We need to be more aware.

Suffice it to say, reading this book has definitely made me more conscious of how I react to situations. In fact, I recognize now how badly I tend to overreact, which does not help me in any way. Plus, I have this horrible habit of interrupting, which again, does not do me any favors. Of course, now that I'm aware of these shortcomings, its all I see. Talk about tunnel vision. Anyhow, at least I'm working on breaking out of those bad habits. I'm also working on paying closer attention to situations, so that I can learn how to handle myself in a manner that will not only benefit me, but everyone involved. I realize that context really does matter - how you read someone or something definitely influences your reaction and the end result. Instead of getting upset over something that I have no control over, I need to really take stock of what matters and focus on the positive. I know that these ideas that Sommers discusses are ones we already know on some level, but just the same, I feel as if I am learning them all over again. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself of what you already know.

Anyhow, I just want to say this has been one fascinating read - definitely a great way to kick off 2012! I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone - you will not be disappointed!
Profile Image for Jeff Scott.
664 reviews60 followers
December 11, 2011

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 encouragement to be more aware of situations and understand what is really go on. Don't be deceived by WYSIWIG (what you see is what you get) thinking, look deeper in order to avoid being a passive bystander when an emergency is unfolding, or being deceived by emotions that are being manipulated.

It's a refreshing perspective after reading so many similar books. The hook of so many is the "wow" factor. Isn't it interesting how people act out of character? Then, the writers will just leave it there and we are supposed to be in awe of the revelation. Sommers, instead wants to give you tools to fight this type of passive thinking so hopefully, the next time Dateline pulls a candid camera "What would you do" you don't look like an uncaring bystander while someone is being kidnapped right in front of you.

From the inertia of crowds (more people means less responsibility) to how physiology and location affect your love life (an activity that quickens the heart may make you appear more appealing to your date) Sommers describes in humorous detail how we are influenced and how to take a step back and make a situational assessment in order to counter these influences. after reading you will probably see your surroundings with a whole new perspective.

I received this book through a librarything giveaway. It's an advanced reader copy so some passages may be different.

Favorite passages:

"In daily life, even when we should know better, we endorse the idea of WYSIWIG (or wizzywig, if you prefer) when we assumed the behavior we observe of another person at a particular point in time provides an accurate glimpse of the "true product" within." p. 18

"Assuming the perspective of others is one way to make sure that you don't lose sight of the small factors that have huge impacts on the people with whom you interact. And rediscovering the power of situations will do more than make you a more patient human being--it'll improve your ability to navigate social settings and make you better at your job to boot."p. 41


" For example, the next time you're in the midst of a political argument or heated negotiation, take time out before angrily concluding that you're butting heads with a zealot or hopeless curmudgeon. Instead, force yourself to see the discussion from your opponent's point of view--even if fleetingly. Not because it will make you a kindler gentler person, but because it'll make you more likely to win out in the end." p. 45

"Crowd. Lack of responsibility. Crowd. Someone else will take care of this." p. 56

"Reponsibility diffuses in groups. Chemists talk about diffusion in terms of molecules spreading from areas off high concentration to low concentration. The same thing happens to feelings of obligation and responsibility in a crowd." p. 63

"the more we understand about situational obstacles to helping, the better we're able to avoid them; knowing about bystander apathy makes mindless passivity less likely." p. 75

"even without direct consequences, few of us are comfortable with the idea of making obviously inaccurate statements in public. But this is precisely what most of Asch's respondents opted to do, demonstrating just how powerful the pressures to conform are." p. 93

"it's the shifting stands of normative conformity that accounts for how a name can go from the punchline of a movie joke--the mermaids so naive she picked "Madison off a street sign--to the fourth most popular girls name in America less than three decades later." p.97

"if you want to avoid undue conformity, you have to be vigilant-- against both the intentional efforts of others as well as you're own mindless tendnecy to go along with the crowd. The subtlest strategies of social influence usually only work when the target isn't aware of them; realizing that someone is pulling your strings is enough to get you to yank right back."p. 113

"In other words, seeing the self as a static and stable entity is what puts us on the defensive and mandates chronic self-deception. Think of a characteristic like intelligence in terms of fixed capacity and the poor exam grade or subpar performance review becomes intolerably threatening. Instead, you should train yourself to view intellect--and any other aspect of your personal skill set--as a muscle that grows with effort and atrophied with neglect. Wen you accept that the answer to "Who am I?" should be written in pencil and not pen, threats become opportunities and failures transform into life lessons. Even if this isn't how you usually see things, it's not too late to start now." p. 144
Profile Image for Caren.
493 reviews100 followers
October 31, 2011
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 what you get"), while the way Western cultures tend to view the world, is not an accurate perception, nor is it the way many other cultures see things. He says it is related to the Western emphasis on individualism. In the West we tend to see personality as a strong determining factor for one's behavior, but he illustrates that we are influenced in ways we don't readily recognize. For example, we are less likely to help someone in need if we are with large numbers of other people. In the author's words, "responsibility diffuses in groups". Also, in heavily populated ares, our brains are so busy processing so many things, we are less likely to note details of something being amiss. If you yourself need help, it is best to single out one person and ask him rather than to rely on asking from help from a group. There is also a strong urge , when in a group, to conform to the behavior of others. He says that being ostracized is actually connected to pain centers in the brain. Conversely, what researchers call the "chameleon effect" , that is, conforming to and even subconsciously beginning to mimic someone with whom we are conversing, makes us more liked. He notes that extreme conformity may be a way of controlling behavior, as in cults, or even in the military.
Prof. Sommers is quite dismissive of self-help books that urge you to seek your true inner self. He says , "Forget about this 'authentic' self business. Instead, learn to embrace the notion of the self as flexible." (p. 142). He continues, "....you should train yourself to view intellect--and any other aspect of your personal skill set--as a muscle that grows with effort and atrophies with neglect. When you accept that the answer to 'Who am I?' should be written in pencil and not pen, threats become opportunities and failures transform into life lessons." (p. 144).
Further chapters explore gender differences ('Mars and Venus Here on Earth'), and what sorts of outside influences affect love and hate. The chapter on love says that close relationships are a human need. Fortunately, finding love is strongly affected by proximity, familiarity, and reciprocity (p. 209), so you can set yourself up to find a partner no matter where you live (and he gives advice to help you out). The chapter on hate discusses racism at length, with some fascinating research to illustrate his points.
I had the great good fortune to have won this book as a Goodreads giveaway. The copy I was sent was an uncorrected proof. The book will be published in late December. Prof. Sommers has given us a very entertaining way to explore recent research on how the situations in which we find ourselves influence how we behave.
Profile Image for Tamra Karl.
110 reviews1 follower
May 6, 2014
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 of effort in this book given to convincing the reader of the experiments' importance and meaning when I was already convinced years ago. If you haven't studied many social psychology experiments and you need convincing, then you will most likely enjoy this book more than I did. Additionally, though somewhat endearing, the author's use of grandaddy-sayings every other paragraph started to grate on my nerves. He had to use a reference to modern culture or other witticism seemingly unceasingly. Again, if you are a reader who laughs every time your father said, "Don't change, I like you the way you are," when you stated a need to "go change," then you may enjoy this book more than I did.
2 reviews
December 9, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Melissa.
16 reviews3 followers
December 16, 2011
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 says within the first few pages that it’s not, in a way it is) mixed with a research-based essay. It may not sound appealing to everyone, but I promise that it’s worth the read.

The book’s main focus is to disrupt the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) philosophy that invades the minds’ of countless people throughout the world. This attitude is simply that everything is one-dimensional and nothing has any deeper layers. Of course, as humans we say “duh” to this—everyone knows that WYSIWYG exists. But Sommers proves that even though we realize it as a truth, we still don’t take it to heart and use it as a catalyst for our actions. He provides plentiful examples of people who encountered situations that had deeper meaning, but since they did not investigate further, instead taking a WYSIWYG attitude, disastrous results occurred. This WYSIWYG is the crux of the book because it determines how people interact in situations because they are less likely to invest time in any given situation due to their unwillingness to investigate further. Plus, the situations in which we are placed greatly affect our perception of them due to our WYSIWYG attitudes. Thus, situations matter!

The book further proves how the situations we are placed in affect our attitudes due to WYSIWYG through chapters based on specific principles and emotions. For example, Sommers discusses how situations and WYSIWYG affects gender, love, and hate every day. My two favorite chapters of the book, Gender and Love (I don’t have the book in front of me, so I may be getting those chapter names wrong), discuss how the situation you were born in greatly affects your gender because of society’s perceptions, and how the situations you are placed in throughout life affect your love life. Once again, these topics will give off a “duh,” but Sommers provides brilliant examples to back up his points and prove just how much situations do matter.

Even as I type this review, I am paranoid I’m not doing a good job in selling the book. I will whole-heartily admit that Sommers touches on topics that are straight-forward and known already. However, he provides such interesting, in-depth analysis and plentiful examples that he brings this knowledge to a whole new level. Trust me, if this book does not change your outlook, it will at least give you a new level of perspective. It is a really good read.

I also want to say that the best thing about this book, I think, is Sommers’s attitude towards himself. Even though this book can be identified as “self-help,” Sommers does not place himself above the reader. He openly admits countless times that he has fallen back into the WYSIWYG routine, but he uses his perspectives (the ones he shares throughout the book) to pull the veil from his eyes again so he can peel back layers and see situations as they are. Plus, he’s a pretty funny guy. I laughed numerous times throughout the book. So, those two things alone make the book an incredibly enjoyable read.
543 reviews15 followers
March 28, 2012
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 in-depth questions. He cites the evidence for contextual decision making but doesn't extend his argument to discuss nurture vs nature nor does he delve into more in-depth discussions of decision making and its biological processes. In the end, its a superficial book.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,102 reviews416 followers
December 30, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Ali Sattari.
118 reviews35 followers
January 6, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Kristine.
122 reviews1 follower
October 11, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Kathleen (Kat) Smith.
1,612 reviews81 followers
October 6, 2011

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. The examples the author uses keeps the reader engaged and often questioning ourselves and wondering just how we would have really acted in any given situation, because after all, Situations Matter! A 5 out of 5 star recommendation and great for students studying psychology as well!
Profile Image for Morgan Blackledge.
551 reviews1,850 followers
April 24, 2014
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 as Larry The Cable Guy. So I'm unwilling to come out and say the dozens, nay hundreds of unfunny jokes and puns in this book were objectively speaking, not funny. But they weren't funny.

- If you want to read a funny as hell psychologist, read Robert Kurzban's Why Everyone (else) Is A Hypocrite.

One of the legitimate fears I have when I pick up a book by or about social psychology, is that I will be subjected to (yet another) endless slow motion replay of the "classic" social psychology experiments of yore (e.g. Milgram's, Stanford Prison Experiment, Ash Conformity, and the endless variations on the bystander effect so popular with Dateline and other such salacious expose shows).

One ostensibly reliable Goodreads review I read echoed my Zimbardophobia (fear of rehashed 1960s pre ethical review board SoPsy experiments) and simultaneously assuaged it by specifically declaring that this book did not do that. But it does exactly that.

That being said. This book is pretty good. If you have never taken undergrad level Social Psychology, or if you want a fun refresher, then by all means, this book will be a blast.

-If you want current findings from the front lines of social cognitive neuroscience, try: Social by Matthew Lieberman.

Or:

-If you want a more hard edged read from conventional, regular ol' social psychologists I recommend: Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

Or:

-If you want a more detailed argument for the "good apples rotten barrel" argument i.e. situations dictate much of identity and behavior, go for The Lucifer Effect by Satan's stand in himself Phillip Zimbardo. Warning that book is bloated and fuckin dull as fuck but really convincing after all's said and done.

Situations Matter really shines in the last half of the book when the author discusses implicit racial and gender bias. This is obviously the authors zone of expertise and he argues his point very well.

I recommend this book. But with reservations detailed above. The book has exceedingly positive user reviews too. So maybe (probably) I'm just being a tool about the (corny as fuck) humor.
Profile Image for Sean Goh.
1,453 reviews83 followers
November 5, 2016
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 makes mindless passivity less likely.

Life never fails to present us with unfamiliar social terrain to navigate. And it pays to recognise how useful other people can be for resolving these confusing situations.

By looking inward, we don't gain access to a stable set of impressions regarding an unwavering, authentic self. We produce a temporary status report.

Good things happen when you embrace the self as malleable. Who you are today need not dictate who you'll be tomorrow.

Women are just as aggressive as men after provocation or in the face of direct orders. And women aren't lacking in the general drive to aggress - rather, they just tend to channel this impulse in different, less physical ways than men do.

Almost without fail, gender norms pigeonhole and patronise.

For every nineteen feet that separated two Westgate neighbours, their chances of developing a close friendship were cut by nearly half. That's how profoundly context shapes even our most intimate and meaningful social connections.

There is a possibility that the apparent gender difference in mate selectivity owes less to evolution or biology than to the established dating paradigm in most societies. Being approached means being in control. It means feeling desirable and in demand. It means having options.

Categorisation (stereotyping) leads us to exaggerate small differences between groups and overlook big differences within them.

Approaching interactions with the goal of promoting a positive outcome is far more effective than focusing on preventing a bad outcome. Life's a lot more fun - and things go more smoothly - when one thinks of diverse settings and conversations about race as learning opportunities rather than potential minefields.
The real question isn't whether or not you're a racist (or any other kind of -ist). Rather, it's are you willing to make the effort to go beyond your default tendency of relying on category based associations.
September 4, 2015
“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 Samaritaisms” where it relates to one of the books topics of diffusion of responsibility. This book is heavy on psychology theories and debates but put together in an enjoyable almost relatable manner that I found myself understanding concepts and looking at life in a different perspective. The book has an insane amounts of pop culture references and humorous information such as the “Who would you want to tutor your son” question that ended in a positive lie that you would believe true, such as Ryan Seacrest graduating from Yale. Overall this book has many references to relate to the reader and takes the risk on using humor in a subject that is unusually not blended well together. I didn’t enjoy that the author focused his attention too much to the United States, referencing mainly state side understandable jokes which to non-American reader would have difficulties understanding. Some parts felt repetitive and the author was found repetitive which got annoying in some parts. I learned to open my eyes to view the world from not just the Western perspective and the idea that nothing affects my decisions in life, but that I can influence people based on the situation to help me out in troubling times. Such as the example of the author in the airport trying to get a hotel room form the manager because of the delay but instead of complaining, just be honest and create an environment one on one with the person to create discomfort in your favor. Since most wouldn’t realize this technique I can learn to use and know when I’m being taking advantage from others. I enjoyed this book but would only recommend it to people who wouldn’t mind having the author make lots of jokes and relate to pop culture in almost every couple pages. Other than that most other people would find it annoying and too easy to waste their time on.
Profile Image for Heather.
380 reviews48 followers
February 12, 2012
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 see the world as a stable place, even if that means someone going to jail because "people like that" are always guilty. When we're preoccupied, we're even less likely to notice situational influences on others. The next time someone makes you angry, stop to think about the circumstances they are/could be facing, their background, culture, affiliations, etc. and how that effects their behavior.

Other things I learned:

-The self is flexible - we should focus more on effort than aptitude.
-We see ourselves with rose-colored glasses, and that is okay because otherwise we'd be miserable and wallowing in self-doubt. The people most content with their lives have unrealistically high opinions of themselves.
-You look at people in your in-groups with the same rose-colored glasses you use for yourself.
-The strongest influence on whether you'll stop to help someone: if you're in a rush.
-People are more helpful when they're happy.
-If you're in need of assistance, call people out individually and tell them how to help.
-If someone else is in need of assistance in a crowd, never assume that someone else will take care of it
-How we feel about ourselves varies with location, mood, time of day, etc.
-Who we love - and hate - is based on proximity.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,045 reviews1,802 followers
April 29, 2015
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 quickly, and, while we believe we are being objective, we really aren't. It talks about falling in love, hatred, prejudice, the power of crowds, conformity, how men and women are much more alike than they are different, and the power of location. This is a way of learning a lot about some basic psychology, and interesting psychology, without it seeming like a lecture, without it being boring, and by using layperson's terms to explain everything so that anyone can grasp the concepts. It was not as good as A FIRST-RATE MADNESS by Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., which I consider to be EXCELLENT, but it still deserves a 5, because it is very good in it's own way.
919 reviews4 followers
January 20, 2012
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 a provocative statement? It also casts a lot of doubt on any kind of standardized testing, especially for people with any kind of disability (diagnosed or not). When you realize how differently groups of people perform with seemingly minor diferences in setting you have to wonder what we are really learning from the results.
The author has an engaging and conversational style and I bet his classes are very popular.
Profile Image for Anya.
334 reviews
March 19, 2017
While there was nothing wrong with the information in this book and the studies referenced were valid and relevant this book had a few issues. Firstly, it dragged, one concept would be over analysed and peppered with anecdotes that didn't really add any understanding to the concept. Secondly, the book was very one dimensional, it focused so narrowly on situations and behaviour of an average healthy individual to the point of basically dismissing everything else in play, yes, situations do matter in the way we behave but so does personality, biology, health etc. how we behave isn't all there is to us either, to look at psychology from a purely behaviourist standpoint is not only outdated but wrong.
Profile Image for Robin.
581 reviews12 followers
November 4, 2011
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 their situations in this world, so any focus on that is a good focus!
Profile Image for Allison.
46 reviews6 followers
September 22, 2020
I made it to the last chapter, hoping that somewhere would be new information but it was just a repetition of most of the classic social psychology studies and stories around them.

It wasn’t bad, quite an easy and smooth read and would definitely recommend to people who want to understand more about the influence of context on life, people and decisions. But for me it was just not that exciting, seeing as I have learned about all this research and their effects in class.
Profile Image for John.
14 reviews1 follower
July 27, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Amy.
596 reviews
January 27, 2012
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.
55 reviews
August 24, 2015
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".
Profile Image for Dolly.
Author 3 books222 followers
March 30, 2012
Almost none of the content was new to me and yet, I loved reading this. Funny and clever -- a real pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Ali.
109 reviews2 followers
May 17, 2014
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 context. While I am certainly not immune to bias or the occasional kneejerk reaction, in most cases I can, as author and Internet star John Green often states, "imagine people complexly."

The first chapters of this book, consequently, were mildly interesting but on their own would have warranted a two or three star rating in terms of enjoyment and new information. I have long known about the bystander effect, and while the author claims that most readers would fall prey to assuming that someone else in a group will take care of the problem, I have prided myself on knowing that 9 times out of 10, no one else is going to take charge and doing it myself. This has usually applied to more mundane, less life-threatening issues, such as academic group projects, answering ringing phones, and planning events when no one else seems to be stepping up. It comes from the fact that I'm stubborn, generally pretty self-motivated, and I want things to HAPPEN and get frustrated when other people just shrug and let it pass by, assuming that someone else will take handle the details.

At any rate, the book started getting more interesting to me in the chapters about gender roles and love. The studies about how situations can create attraction completely independent of an individual's characteristics was especially fascinating. I tried to apply it to my own current romantic relationship: the study says that when a person seems familiar, due to certain averaged facial features or repeated exposure, they are rated as more attractive by the opposite sex. So, does this apply to my boyfriend? He can, in certain contexts, bear a striking resemblence to the actor who plays Jaime Lannister in the TV series Game of Thrones. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a very handsome man, and I had been watching that series for a few seasons before I met the boyfriend. Could that have kindled an extra boost of attraction when we first met? Who knows.

The book also emphasizes that there have been studies that show that romantic relationships often come out of proximity, that more couples end up together who happen to live close by (16 blocks or less from each other, I think it said). I was actually surprised by this statistic, considering that in the past couple of centuries people have become highly mobile and can easily meet and spend time with people on a consistent basis that live 30+ miles away. Yet proximity still matters that much. I suppose they could have met at a class, church or other event that happened to be close to their home, or at a workplace. This could cause this statistic to make a bit more sense. In my own current relationship, I feel like I took myself out of the usual situation by making my dating partners less about familiarity and happenstance, and more cerebral. The first thing I see on an online dating site message is their words, accompanied by a small picture. I can also see how closely we agree on things that matter to me. My luck with meeting someone and fostering a lasting relationship has been MUCH better when removing those situational things like "spending time with someone a lot" and "a feeling of familiarity because I've seen them somewhere before" that might cause me to think I was attracted to them. This happened to me with the worst relationship of my life: we spent a lot of time in a group of friends, drinking, having great times...then we spent time one on one....then I found out he liked me (another thing mentioned in the book as artificially raising your opinion or attraction to someone)...then we started dating. BAD IDEA.

Back to the book itself. I really enjoyed the aspects that delved into social equality issues, like gender and race. The author's views were very progressive for the most part, noting that things like gender roles are generally NOT inherent but instead learned in our culture. I loved the study that when women were told that the results of the math test were the same for men and women, they performed better and, in fact, on par with the men. Yet when they went into it with the expectation that women would score worse than men, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I knew it! That is amazing and shows how far we have to go. I even enjoyed how he thought that teachers and other people in authority (parents, etc.) should not make a big deal about how boys and girls were different, or that "the girls" were behaving one way while "the boys" were behaving another way. Do men and women have some differences? Sure. Do they need to be emphasized and placed in strict gender roles? Nope.

However, the book was still written by a man, and as such, he understandably missed a few things when it comes to women. (Just as I would if I were generalizing men's behavior.) He quoted a study, which is one that I had read about in the past, where a group of men and women on a college campus in Florida approached a member of the opposite sex, said they had noticed them on campus and were attracted to them, and then asked them one direct question: A: Would they go on a date with them tonight, B: Would they go to their apartment tonight, C: Would they "go to bed with them" tonight. And the results were unsurprising for the women: Most of them said okay to the date, but almost NONE said yes to the apartment, and not a single one said yes to having sex that night. (The men's responses surprised me a bit more...only 50% said yes to the date, but about 75% of them said yes to going to the apartment or having sex.)

The author introduced a couple of hypotheses about these results. One was evolutionary, in that women needed to be choosy about who to mate with because it was more of a commitment for them if they got pregnant and passed on their genes, while men were evolutionarily driven to pass on as much of their genes as possible. The other was about dating culture, that women can be choosier if they are the ones being approached by a potential partner. The author stops the explanation possibilities there, but he missed a HUGE one: personal safety. The women would not go to a stranger's apartment, and certainly would not have sex with them, because they have learned that this person could be a potential danger for rape, assault, etc. That's why I wouldn't if I were a part of this study, besides the fact that I would be creeped out if some guy said he'd noticed me around and wanted me to go to his place and have sex, within 10 minutes of meeting me. That's just not the way it works. We have to be careful. That is what it is like to be a woman.

Anyway, I enjoyed this book very much overall. The author had a very playful writing style, with many amusing asides that made me chuckle. I liked his quirky, a bit dorky sense of humor. And he explained things in a clear, interesting way, even if he didn't delve into the "why" as much as I would want him to. It was mostly an overview, a way to get you thinking and noticing the world around you in a different way. And on that front, I think that this book succeeded.
65 reviews2 followers
October 30, 2019
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 perceptions of) seemingly simple questions, misattributed arousal’s role in making someone attractive to us, our unconscious bias toward people who are like us, and so on. But the element Sommers provides that most other books don’t is this proactive approach: “now you know--so you can do something positive to avoid those pitfalls.” For example, he reviews the situations and research that shows it’s difficult for members of a crowd to help or act in an unusual situation--so Sommers reminds us that calling on specific members of the crowd with specific instructions to break the natural anonymity and inertia. Even better, though, he reminds us to be the one who doesn’t let inertia stop us from acting, to be aware of the situation and our own tendencies, and make the effort to do the right thing. It’s not enough to know about our tendency to prefer people similar to us and be uneasy around “others”--knowing it, we can remember to treat people as individuals, to give them the benefit of the doubt, and to be better ourselves. That’s worth an extra star right there. Plus, Sommers’ light touch and wit are a fun spice, livening up the meaty (and vegetable-y) sociological stew.
June 15, 2020
Judging a Person
“The waiter who screwed up our order? We label him as incompetent. The colleague who won’t return our emails? She’s inconsiderate. The actor who delivers the knockout soliloquy? He’s articulate”

It’s tempting, reasonable in fact to think these are true. How are these statements wrong? I judge a person based on the work he does and the quality in which he delivers it. My teachers judge me based on one exam, my boss judges me based on the piece of work that I submit. What’s wrong with that?

“When we overlook social context, we produce an oversimplified picture of human nature, clinging as we do onto the belief that what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). In daily life, we endorse this idea of WYSIWYG when we assume that the behaviour we observe of another person at a particular point in time provides an accurate glimpse of the ‘true product’ within”

Case Study: False Confessions
Consider this. A couple was discovered by their son in pools of blood. They had been stabbed to death. Their son was the only other person in and the room had no...

Read the full review at
bookruminations.com/situations-matter
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