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Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World Hardcover – December 29, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In this wonderful and witty book, Sam Sommers reveals one of the most important factors driving human nature. (Hint: Look around.) He demonstrates time and time again that who you are is shaped by where you are." — Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide

"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 coauthor 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 had 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

"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

"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

About the Author

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

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (December 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488185
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488184
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Sam Sommers is an award-winning teacher and researcher of social psychology at Tufts University outside Boston. His research specialties include how people think, communicate, and behave in diverse settings, as well as psychological perspectives on the U.S. legal system.

At Tufts Sommers is known for his engaging lecture style and has won multiple teaching awards, including being selected by the Student Senate as the Professor of the Year. Sommers has given talks at dozens of colleges and universities, his research has been featured by a wide range of media outlets, and he has testified as an expert witness in criminal trials in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Oregon.

In his free time, Sommers enjoys hanging out with his wife and two daughters, batting lead-off for the vaunted Tufts Psychology summer softball team, and exerting more effort than he probably should editing Seinfeld and Daily Show clips for use in the classroom.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For a first time writer, of a psychology book no less, Sam Sommers has a great way of taking what could be a very dry subject and gave it life with his smart aleck style of writing. I know there a lot more books out there that I wish he wrote. Heck, I even enjoyed the Acknowledgments.

This is an interesting topic, one we can all understand, how the situation we are in often will influence our behavior. I'm sure if people were to consider many of these situations upfront they would deny that they could act this way, but the data does not lie.

The chapters are: Paraphrased by me.
1. WYSIWYG: Talks about how when we see people in one situation, and assume it reflects their behavior in all situations.
2. Help Wanted: How we assume other people will address a situation observed in public, such as a call for help. Let someone else help. And more importantly, how to change this behavior.
3. Go with the Flow: The influence of crowds and authority figures on behavior.
4. You're not the person you thought you were; Everything is relative
5. Mars and Venus here on earth: Gender differences are more explained by socialization than biology.
6. Love: Who we love is more explained by geography, familiarity and state of mind than we realize.
7. Hate: Them versus Us, the bigots in us all.

Having read many a dry but interesting psychology book, this author had a way to make the subject matter come alive. I can see where this would be required reading in many a (fortunate) psychology class, however better yet, this books calls for us to be better people.

* We need to realize people are not always what they seem in one situation.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sam Sommers must be quite an engaging man especially in the classroom. The tone of his book "Situations Matter" is light even as he pitches some rather dark stats your way. With his statistics and studies he explains why crowds smother independent thinking, and then shows us how "crowds diffuse (individual) responsibility." Much of his work indicates a need for people to think for themselves, and then he illustrates what in our society mitigates against doing that.

One of the reasons social commentators leave out has to do with a strong unconscious need to protect ourselves from others' vibes, which thereby closes us down. Or, as Sommers has it, "in crowded settings we're just less tuned in to everything around us." He calls it "sensory overload." I guess the trick is to remain alert while protecting yourself against other peoples' vibes.

One part of the book teaches you how to ask for help, especially in crowds where you might not get attention: "When you need help, be direct. Target specific individuals. Paint yourself in the most empathetic light possible." Sounds a little bleak. Oh, and if you smile and you're pretty, you have the edge over the rest of us. Sorry, guys.

Sommers writes that there is no way to know what true perceptions are so "the gurus of self-help got it wrong." He seems happy about that. I think he is short- sighted. Perceptions are far more fluid than he allows and therefore self-help advice has got to be right at least some of the time. But, nicely, he also points out that authenticity isn't static. It flows over time and place and situations. You can recognize it inside yourself in any case, and others can sense it. No immutable law here, it is a creative thing that can both grow and diminish.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read this book as a member of the Amazon Vine Program. This book is about the science of situations and how situational context contributes to human behavior. More often than not, we tend to think that behavior is driven by traits or personality, so we overlook or don't see the role the situational context plays in our and others' behaviors.

By overlooking the situational context, Sommers points out that we end up with a simplified view of human behavior. Sommers calls this the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) view of life. The WYSIWYG view, according to Sommers, gives us a false confidence that we can predict the behavior of others by relying only on our internal explanations of behavior. To demonstrate the problem with WYSIWYG, Sommers explores how situations contribute to behavior by looking at confessions, crowd behavior, gender issues, love and hate.

Sommers did a great job of illuminating the role played by context in behavior through research reviews and personal stories. As I was reading the book though, I kept asking myself the question, so what? How can I use this information? While Sommers did provide a Lessons Learned at the end of each chapter, I believe the book would have been much better and of greater use to readers if the Lessons Learned material had been developed further by the author.

The book is easy to read, despite being heavy with research findings. Sommers does a masterful job of translating these research findings for the lay reader. Personally though, I could have done with less of the author's attempts at humor. I feel it detracted from the book's message.

Despite being well researched and written, this book left me flat....
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