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Archive for February, 2010

What do beer pong and voir dire have in common? Apparently, quite a lot! That’s what the Mass Torts blog concluded with regard to Mark Bennett’s Simple Rules for Better Jury Persuasion article in the most recent issue of The Jury Expert.

We think Mark’s a pretty creative guy and we’ve pointed our readers to his blog a number of times: here and here for example. And we like his rules. They are catchy, easy to read, fun, and likely pretty effective (since they mirror much of what we recommend!). We liked Mark’s simple rules so much, we stole the idea from him for our series on Simple Jury Persuasion. The persuasion literature is huge. Our series is meant to give you a taste of it and see how we apply emerging research findings and random thoughts to the litigation advocacy.

So we thought we’d give you a few amusing excerpts from recent juror questionnaires since Mark’s used up all the funny rules for better jury selection. It takes a LOT of preparation to make the actual work of jury selection/voir dire simple and even fun! And when you are bleary-eyed at 11pm from poring over juror questionnaires for hours and know you have hours and hours to go, every little bit of amusement goes a long way!

  • Question: What is your occupation?
    • Answer: I am a frozen food stalker at Wal-Mart.
      • Watch out frozen food!
  • Question: Have you heard anything about this case prior to today?
    • Answer: I am a physician and I will side with the physicians. I know everything about this situation and I know all the doctors involved. I know how sleazy the defense side behavior was. I am very busy.
      • Hmmm…I would say she doesn’t want to serve!
  • Question: Is there any reason you should not serve on this case?
    • Answer: I have issues. I could bring a note from my psychiatrist.
      • It’s okay judge. Let her go!

At 2am, these sorts of comments are hysterically funny. And by 4am, they are likely to make you cry with laughter. It’s tedious work. Painstaking. And that’s why we like the humor and engaging style of Mark’s 16 Simple Rules for Better Jury Selection. We hope you like it too.

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Can you assess juror morality by counting tattoos?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

Maybe you can. While ink on the skin doesn’t mean what it used to (see our post here) it still is a concern for many among us. Body art/ink has become mainstream as evidenced by its presence among a wide cross-section of the population. Even the very educated have tattoos. One of the blogs at Discover Magazine’s website recently uploaded a variety of ‘science’ tattoos which decorate the bodies of scientific researchers. Very amusing.

But parents worry. And so do litigators choosing juries. What do those tattoos mean? There’s research for that! Thanks to researchers at Texas Tech, parents and litigators everywhere can know what those tattoos mean. In essence, tattoos are like real estate: “The key factors are density and location, location, location”.

Here’s what they did:

Researchers counted the number of tattoos and piercings (and noted just where on the body the markings or piercings were located) and then assessed ‘deviance’ (in the form of marijuana use, occasional use of other drugs, being arrested for a crime, cheating on college work, binge drinking, and/or having multiple sex partners).

And here’s what they found:

Those who had 4 or more tattoos, 7 or more body piercings or piercings of their nipples and genitals (which hopefully will be difficult for most parents and litigators to assess) were more likely to report deviant behavior.

To a very significant degree, tattoos and piercing is a sign of style and fashion, rather than rebellion.  Researchers concluded that the growing acceptance of body art means those with truly deviant tendencies have to go a step further (multiple tattoos or nipple piercings) to maintain their sense of social distance. You have to try harder to make it clear that you are an outsider.  So you might be able to assess social alienation and disenfranchisement by counting tattoos, but take it easy on wondering about the ones you can’t see.

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A recent Gallup poll found that Americans are twice as prejudiced against Muslims as we are against any other religious group. This poll was conducted between October 31st and November 13, 2009 (with the Fort Hood shootings by a US-born Muslim military doctor occurring on November 5, 2009). However, the findings are not that far afield from negative attitudes toward Muslims found since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. ‘We’ don’t know many actual facts about the Muslim religion—but we don’t like or trust ‘them’.

Other recent reports include the finding that we are prejudiced toward migrants, in part, because they are awkward for us to think about. That is, thinking about someone who was born in one country and lives in another country now is tiring for us (and presumably we don’t like that).

Asian consumers reportedly thought their face-recognition cameras were faulty until they realized the camera thought they had their eyes closed because the cameras had apparently only been tested on white people. Similarly, surveillance cameras could not track the face of a black man but could track a white woman. Manufacturers say they are “looking into this”.

Racial bias emerges in many places you don’t expect it. And some where you do expect it. We’ve blogged about race and racism a lot: here and here and here. And a new study reports that racial bias also has relationship to how much help we think victims need.

Researchers at Kansas State University examined attitudes toward victims of Hurricane Katrina one year after the hurricane. They looked at measures of conservatism, empathy and racism. What they found is disturbing but not particularly shocking. In the study, the racial biases of participants led them to underestimate the help people need. In other words, the more racist the participant was, the less help they thought the victim deserved.

This has immediate applicability for litigators. When your client has been wronged, racist attitudes on the jury affect the verdict. We’ve seen this first-hand and we recommend this strategy among others. The bottom line is this: do not assume race doesn’t matter in your case. Race always matters. The question is how and in what direction. Don’t go to trial without knowing.

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Researchers have found that the mere act of posing a question such as “How likely are you to buy a Starbucks coffee today?” increases the likelihood that the person asked will do just that. It’s called the ‘mere measurement effect’. By simply having the question posed, we are likely to fulfill it positively. And what is powerful is that we do not see the question as intending to persuade us (therefore, we do not attempt to resist).

The researchers puzzle over the ethical implications of this finding for survey research (what if by simply asking people how likely they are to engage in risky behavior, you actually increase the probability that they will?). We are more interested in the application of this finding to jury deliberations.

  • How likely are you to speak up in deliberations?
  • How likely are you to insist that the reasons for the jury’s verdict don’t include [sympathy/race/emotion, etc.]?
  • How likely are you to carefully consider the evidence presented?
  • How likely are you to listen carefully for contradictions in testimony that alert you to a lack of truthfulness?
  • How likely are you to be the sort of juror you would want deliberating in a case that you might file for yourself?

The possibilities are endless. Like any valuable tool, you do not want to over use it. But when you want something to happen and don’t want the jury to resist your directive—wield the ‘mere measurement effect’.

How likely are you to try this strategy?

Williams, P., Fitzsimons, G. J. and Block, L.G. (2004). When consumers do not recognize ‘benign’ intention questions as persuasion attempts. Journal of Consumer Research, 31, 540-550.

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We are big fans of visual graphics. They condense complex ideas into digestible images. They help the layperson understand technical jargon in ways that make sense to them. Visual graphics help us to see that our fears are not necessarily in sync with the facts (as you see in this visual on the true odds of airborne terror). A good visual gives us  perspective and information that informs us quickly and thoroughly.

And similarly, if we can see a video of a person (even for only 100 milliseconds) we can infer facial expression more accurately than we can in a still photograph. The video gives us context for our interpretation. Given these pieces of information, you might think that a picture or graphic is always better than words to communicate information. And if you think that, you would be wrong. Very wrong.  How could you imagine such a thing?!

A new study reported by Research Digest blog provides an example of when we do better with text than graphics. In the hospital. Those graphs and charts are apparently often misinterpreted by harried and distracted staff! Researchers conclude that if those graphs were replaced or supplemented with short passages of text conveying the same information—fewer mistakes would be made.

It reminds me of a birth trauma case I recently consulted on that involved questions about proper interpretation of fetal monitor strips.  One problem was that there were no strips.  The entire system was digital—you read it on a monitor.  The complication is that in order to see the pattern that has evolved throughout the labor, or through the last hour, you have to page back and back and back… and you can’t flip back and forth as easily.  The image becomes less clear.

In the life and death decisions often made in hospitals, we want our medical professionals to make the most informed and accurate decisions they can. This study would indicate we should make sure medical professionals accurately interpreted graphic information in hospital charts and that their choices for intervention were consistent with those charts.

van der Meulen, M., Logie, R., Freer, Y., Sykes, C., McIntosh, N., & Hunter, J. (2010). When a graph is poorer than 100 words: A comparison of computerised natural language generation, human generated descriptions and graphical displays in neonatal intensive care. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24 (1), 77-89.

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