Customer Reviews: Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon November 25, 2011
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.
* We need to realize that even in groups, we have the responsibility to help and not expect the crowd to do so.
* If something seems wrong to us, we should not let the crowd or the authority figures dictate our behavior.
* Women and Men are more similar than different and should not be so categorized, or limited in our expectations.
* Sometimes by acknowledging differences between groups, we find freedom to move on, or at least recognition of our own reactions
* Last but not least, observe and don't assume and in being more considerate, we can live together more harmoniously.

Not often you find so many gems in a psychology book...
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VINE VOICEon November 15, 2011
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.

Sometimes Sommers writes, and cites studies, as if behavior can be quantified across the board. He writes as if people do not know when they are acting, faking, or hiding their reactions. Some of us may act unconscious, but really, we know all along what we're doing!

While I did enjoy the author's voice, I confess at times I found it distracting especially when he decides to be "funny" during a serious paragraph. While writing about emotional impacts, Sommers quips, "Mostly they just looked on at the irate actor with a mix of befuddled curiosity and annoyed resignation -- a bit like the face that White House officials make when they watch Joe Biden ad-lib near a microphone." This, like much of his referential humor, will mean nothing to those reading this book in ten years time.

The book begins to fall a little short near the end when it becomes a tad preachy. The light tone is gone and earnestness replaces it. Sommers talks about "spacial relationships," which I wish he had defined more clearly, giving us the curious information that playing video games improves this skill in both boys and girls. "Just imagine the cumulative effects of an entire childhood devoted to gaming," he says. But, oh, Sam, what a missed opportunity to create and dream what those effects might be!

His take on gender gaps was a bit ho-hum, summed up in this obvious statement: "reminding people how men and women are "supposed to" act exacerbates gender gaps." He devolves into a pleading not to turn girls into "standard issue" conceptions of femininity -- about 30 years too late!

The "Love" chapter peters out into his giving advice on love. In "Hate" we get scolded about our prejudices. And yet, there are also some very good points to be made in each of these latter chapters. Which is why I gave the book 4 stars and found it worth reading.
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on November 25, 2011
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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on September 21, 2014
This book is a must read for people who are close-minded. Unfortunately, they probably don't like learning that they're wrong, sometimes. Situations Matter is a solid, research-backed attempt to help us understand that our surroundings and context affect the way we perceive the environment, situations, other people and even ourselves. While the author's humor may have been a little too much, I found his writing style to be easy to follow and kept my interesting all while challenging me to think differently.
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on July 2, 2012
This is a whole book about the fundamental attribution error. Let me repeat that. This is a ... whole ... book ... about ... the ... fundamental ... attribution ... error.

It's an interesting topic, it has some major repercussions, there have been some classic experiments that tie into it, it definitely has some important things to teach us humans. But a whole 250-page book?

So, what happens when you try to turn a decent article into a book? You repeat yourself, you drag things out, you rehash the same old experiments, you bore the reader.

I blame Malcom Gladwell. His books took a fascinating subject (people), combined that with excellent writing, and basically started a major industry. It seems every psych professor out there has now taken a shot at turning out a book now. Surprisingly, some of these are very well written (Dan Ariely, David Buss, Geoffrey Miller). But that style is not for everybody. Sommers, for example. Clunky, boring, awkward, obvious.

Okay, "Prof," have at me.
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VINE VOICEon December 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a delightful book. The author writes gracefully. He presents references and information that back his points, without being academic or abstruse.

His fundamental point: context influences our thought and decision-making processes to a much great extent than we tend to be aware. From choice of marriage partners to our reactions to advertising and other communications, context can be decisive.

This suggests that our listening and observation powers can be cultivated to our great benefit. It can also mean that simply tweaking one aspect of a situation can occasion a significant change in behavior and others' expectations. Sommers' example o the effects of having women--rather than men--circulate in speed dating is interesting and instructive.

In sum, 'Situations Matter' is an interesting read. Can be of real value in comprehending circumstances. Also useful in helping us understand the ways we frame situations that affect how others view us in work and life.
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on July 20, 2012
I've had this book for a while and I am constantly reminded why I put it down after reading a few pages, but only go back to it occasionally because i hate leaving books unread. I've had the book since it was released and I still haven't finished it. I was compelled to buy it because I heard an interview of Sam on NPR and thought his ideas about social situations/habits were interesting, but so far the book only brings to light the obvious. I suppose this would be brand new information (and amusing) if one hasn't taken an intro series to Sociology in college. But for me, a college grad, this book discuss the basic foundations of how certain situations influence certain outcomes...basic in a way that's almost common sense, but legitimize with adequate research. Basic nonfiction for Basic readers.
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VINE VOICEon January 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There used to be a time when the phrase, "It depends on the situation", used to mean something but increasingly, we seem to have gotten away from that and we believe what we see as if seeing is believing even though we may only be seeing a fraction of what is actually going on.

"Situation Matters" takes us back to that phrase and reacquaints the reader as to why the situation really does matter and how understanding the context of a situation will influence our behavior and beliefs in a sociological context.

The book is lean. Just under 275 pgs which I completely appreciated. Author Sam Sommers employs a light touch to subject matter that keep the material from seeming too detached and textbook-y. He uses examples that a light wit to his writing that helps keep what could be a dry reading exercise enjoyable. Using examples both serious and humorous, Sommers illustrates how situations can influence our on-the-ground decisions more than we think.

The first four chapters are the best to me, especially WYSIWYG (chap 1) and You're Not The Person You Thought You Were (chap 4). WYSIWYG because it seemed especially timely with the examples of how a person can be coerced into admitting something he/she didn't do and You're Not the Person because it seems so simple to say we change with the situation but I've never seen it actually discussed as Sommers does.

It is a well paced read but not sloppy and not overdone with heavy-duty psychological jargon. It is a book that is meant to be understood by anyone who can read and I liked that. Plus, it was practical. I saw value in it and how it can help me change my thinking to better adapt to what is going on around me.
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VINE VOICEon January 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The attention the book received(receives) despite the release of the Thinking, Fast and Slow by Kahneman who essentially defined the behavioral psychology field is well warranted. Sommers' focused view on the power of context in daily life explain how biases impact our behavior despite our protestations to the contrary. While some overlap with other books in the domain is to be expected, Sommers provides a very unique and informative treatment on at least two critical issues that are often ignored by other authors - gender equality and racial biases. The two chapters that address them are well worth investing in the book. The chapter that takes a very refreshing and realistic look at "romance" and essentially destroying the typical fairy tale narratives is also an excellent read. Overall, Sommers is also able to persuasively argue that one shouldn't view self as a permanent or "fixed" entity - and in almost Zen-like tone argues how one needs to remain flexible to recognize the impact of daily context in behavior and its inherent weaknesses.

The narrative style is non-academic but succeeds in educating the reader in a fairly complex and well-researched domain. The abundant citations and notes will help a reader build a good reading list for more detailed explorations. Overall, an excellent read.
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Sam Sommers argues persuasively that everyday situations matter much more for how we behave than we generally like to believe. According to the author, we tend to believe character (inborn or acquired) is much more important than it really is.

I really liked this book partly because its subject matter is one of my favorite topics of interest - human behavior. In addition the material was compelling, entertaining, and I think the thesis is important. I recommend it to anyone who is curious about why we do what we do.

I do have a couple of problems with the conclusions in this book and I think the author overstates his case. This is true in particular to his conclusions on gender differences where it appears he lets his own personal feelings override his scientific objectivity. On that subject I think he doth protest too much.

Overall this is a good book and worth reading if the subject of human behavior is at all interesting to you. Recommended.
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