Book Review: “Situations Matter”

14 May

So today I finished the book called “Situations Matter” by Sam Sommers. It felt really great to finish a book, like I finally accomplished something. The book is about how situations and context have a great affect on how people think and act. Essentially, what happens in our surroundings creates or persuades our decisions. Rarely do we ever make decisions based solely on our “gut” instinct. He shows that people may not be such indvidulaistic thinkers as they would like to be.

Sommers supports his ideas with a long list of references, and also gives examples of studies and will even run some experiments on the reader. He defies some myths and also gives explanations to why people act the way they do in certain situations.

Covering topics such as race, gender, societal norms, and love; the book explains how these characteristics affect how people think. The context affects what we say, how friendly we are, who we are attracted to, and how we perceive others.

For exploring conformity, Sommers shows how we often don’t like to be the odd man out. We want to fit in with the crowd, even if that decision or option is incorrect. When in a group, we want to fit in. When by ourselves, we are more inclined to follow our own thoughts or feelings. Imagine if everyone always thought individually instead of following the crowd? But this observations also shows that people may say or do things because of the situation they are in, not necessarily because that is how they genuinely think or feel about the issue.

When exploring gender, Sommers challenged the idea that men are naturally better than woman in certain subjects like math and science. The research and experiments he referenced showed that women often performed poorly when they were expected or aware that men were also performing the same task. Without knowledge of this preconceived judgement, women perform just as well as men on these specific topics. This is puzzling to me, as I don’t understand why women should feel the need to perform poorly based on being aware that that is normal, but maybe subconsciously they felt it was OK to not perform as well because that was expected. Being a woman, I understand this, but I would hope that after reading this book I don’t allow myself to fall into that trap.

When discussing societal norms or society’s affect on our actions, Sommers explored the preparation and raising of children. If we raise our children with the idea that girls like pink and boys like blue, than we are forcing them to listen to society at an early age, instead of making decisions for themselves, and liking things because they do, not because society says they should. We should not always concern ourselves with what society expects, as this can limit our ideas and thoughts. Straying from the norm often brings about the best ideas. If we are unaware of what is out there, than what we create will not follow all the trends that already exist.

The most interesting chapter for me was the one exploring the topic of love, and attraction. Sommers showed that we often are attracted to those that we are familiar with; kind of discounting the idea of love at first sight. We like what we know, or what we are familiar with because it is comfortable. Also, the idea of a soul mate is somewhat absurd, because if you are continually searching for that “perfect” mate, that ying to your yang, you may miss what is right next to you. We often find great relationships with those that are in close proximity to us. So our soul mates are more likely found with geography than astrology. He also explains that a rush of adrenaline will make you more attracted to the person you are with, so for your next date, go for a bike ride or go base jumping. Then you will definitly get asked on a second date.

The last chapter of the book explains how we categorize people or things subconsciously. These categorizations are different for everyone, based on where we live, our race, gender, and how we were raised. He also explains that we need to stop being so sensitive around discussing and talking about race, as often it is an obvious characteristic, yet we seem to give it a negative connotation if it is brought up. We whisper and look over our shoulders, when if we were more open and respectful when discussing it, instead of treating it like some taboo subject, we would probably relieve some anxiety.

Yes, race is a touchy subject, but if we shy away from it and avoid it, what is that saying to our children? We are so afraid of being labeled racist, that some of us just avoid the subject all together.

Overall, the book gave me insight as to how much context can affect people in certain situations. It has given me a better understanding of why people do the things they do, and I’ve also tried to relate his ideas to interaction design. If we can understand the audience better, than we can create an experience that is more comfortable for them.


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