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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2011 Sam Sommers (P)2011 Penguin Audio

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Operationalizing 'Situations Matter'

Good on Sam Sommers, Tufts University psychology professor and blogger for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.

Sam has written a terrific book in Situations Matter, one that will make you re-think how you think about your colleagues, your students, and even perhaps airline employees. His main theme, that people's behavior is always context dependent and that we overemphasize innate personality, seems blindingly obvious. But as with many things, when our actual behaviors are closely examined (as opposed to how we report how we behave), it become clear that our true actions are wildly divergent from our self-perceptions.

Turns out, we predictably and consistently make the mistake of overvaluing personality based explanations and underestimating situational reasons for behaviors. This flaw in our thinking is known as the fundamental attribution error, and none of us are immune.

Situations Matter takes us on a tour of the social psychology literature around this fundamental attribution error, with Dr. Sommers guiding us through the academic literature via some amusing storytelling (which often hinge on Dr. Sommers' own mistakes). This is definitely in the genre of pop-academic writing, accessible to a wide and general audience. But Situations Matter is also a book that undergrad psych students would learn a great deal from. One gets the sense that Sam Sommers is a wonderful teacher, in addition to being an engaging writer and an accomplished researcher - the sort of professor that we'd all like to have at our institutions.

Where Situations Matter was immediately helpful to me has been in thinking about job recruiting and project management. I am working hard to remember the lessons of Situations Matter and to think about the actions and behaviors of the people I work with (and might work with in the future) as explained by the context in which they work. In practice, this involves working to withhold initial judgements and being willing to ask many questions (and really listen) to understand the environment and constraints in which my colleagues (and job applicants) navigate.

Reading Situations Matter helped me understand not only the degree to which we make the error of discounting context, but the reasons behind our errors in judgment. This knowledge is very helpful in my own efforts to evolve my behaviors. This book has real practical value.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Lauren
  • HUNTSVILLE, AL, United States
  • 03-09-12

Unbearably pedantic and smug

What would have made Situations Matter better?

I'm sure the content in this book is valuable. I just wish an entirely different person had written it. The author's writing style makes Situations Matter unlistenable. <br/><br/>Sommers's plodding logic leads the reader to infer and understand his point long, Long before he gets around to delivering it. <br/><br/>There are books that take their time in getting to the point that are listenable with a bit of patience, but not this one. Situations Matter's delivery of content is chock full admonitions to the reader like

Has Situations Matter turned you off from other books in this genre?

No. There are fine books in this genre from people who address their subject matter without turning it into 'comedy hour for the intellectually slow.' <br/><br/>If you have read social science pop literature, this is covering familiar ground while treating it like difficult to explain, shocking revelation. Patronizing. Pedantic.

Would you listen to another book narrated by Joshua Swanson?

I find his delivery grating, but I honestly think he's doing a decent job given what he has to work with. You sound like smug and irritating if that's what is on the page. I would not avoid books narrated by him in the future.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Frustration. I really, really wanted to like this book. I thoroughly enjoy books in this genre, but this was a disappointment.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Light Informative Read

In ‘Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World,’ Sam Sommers reveals how circumstance alters our perceptions and decision-making. For example, we tend to naively accept what we see and experience without critical thought (WYSIWYG). Crowds influence how we approach issues and gender makes a difference in how we see the world. We tend to marry those we date – geographic proximity is an important determinant of who we like. Some of what Sommers tells us is routine and obvious. Other insights are not so predictable. Every chapter, however, will cause the reader to stop and think about situational factors in day-to-day living. The narration of Joshua Swanson is good.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Enjoyed Listening

I would listen to this again. It gives insight into why things happen and makes you realize that other people are not always be as problematic as they appear. You just need to pay attention to your surroundings and offer a little understanding.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Insightful.

Clear perspectives to daily and obvios matters to pay far more attention to.
Very grateful for having found and listened to it.
Congratulations to Sam Sommers for his work and Joshua Swanson for making it so entertaining.

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insightful and enjoyable.

lots of case studies and applications. the author's tone is accessible and not very academic.

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Fascinating, butoversold

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I enjoyed it. I have always been interested in the Fundamental Attribution Error - or put differently, how people behave in given situations.

If you’ve listened to books by Sam Sommers before, how does this one compare?

NA

What does Joshua Swanson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

NA

Do you think Situations Matter needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

NA

Any additional comments?

While fascinating, I think he goes overboard on his theme. For example, his analysis of the Katie Genovese murder is based on the initial, incorrect press reports. It doesnt undercut the bystander effect, but does show he's focused on his thesis to the exclusion of other explanations.<br/><br/>A similar example of his explanations of gender differences. I have no doubt that stereotype threat is a significant issue for women. But his insistence that toys and color preferences are the result of socialization and preferences is an annoyingly grinding chapter where he tries to force his round peg into a square hole.<br/><br/>The analysis of race relations, bystander effects, feedback loops, expectations, etc., on the other hand, were fascinating. I was familiar with many of the studies from other audible books I have listened to. But he brought interesting insights into familiar contexts.<br/><br/>The final chapter - how his road rage changes when he understands what is going on with the other driver - is wonderful.<br/><br/>To me, it just shows he has plenty of interesting material to share. He should prune back those instances where he stretches his thesis to breaking point.

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  • Shauna
  • Kamloops, BC, Canada
  • 01-28-13

Food for thought . . .

What made the experience of listening to Situations Matter the most enjoyable?

The actual content is remarkable. The more I listened the more I learned about things that I don't ever pay attention to, but should. The narrator did a great job, reading clearly, with great range of tone. Excellent!