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Archive for February, 2011

It’s time for a new installment in our “it’s hard to be a woman” series. Some of these things are so odd, it’s hard to believe they are published in the first place. As a public service, we bring you the latest news for women. Oh yeah. It’s hard to be a woman.

And sometimes it is just plain weird. I remember taking Abnormal Psychology classes as an undergraduate and learning about all the odd ways in which our psyches twist to form strange attractions and I collected some ‘favorites’ among the oddities along the way. [No. There is no link here. Use your imagination.] So you can imagine, I was pleased to read Mind Hacks blog recently and discover a new strange oddity. There is a documented case of a man who had what was described as an “unusual perversion”. He was consumed with “the desire to be injured by an automobile operated by a woman”. Sometimes it feels creepy to be a woman.

In Granada, they did research on sexual violence in couples. More than 700 university students were asked to consider when sexual violence in an intimate relationship was more acceptable. It turns out that if a man holds socially acceptable views toward women (even if those views are sexist) he is excused for sexual violence toward his wife. A man, after all, is entitled to have sex with his wife. This perception is called “ambivalent sexism”. So if you are “nice”—it’s okay to be sexually violent with your female partner. This is alarming on its face, but a generation or two ago, I’m not so sure it was different in the US—the view that sex was an entitlement in marriage, and the ‘novelty’ of the concept of spousal rape is still the norm in many countries.

You may have heard of ‘erotomania’. It is the [delusional] belief that another (usually someone famous) is secretly in love with you. You will do anything to impress them. Hence, John Hinckley, Jr. and his assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Or Mary Margaret Ray and her repeated efforts to be close to David Letterman. Turns out it is more common to be a female with erotomania than a man. That is, we women are more likely to become fixated on another whom we strongly believe is secretly in love with us.

It’s hard to be a woman.

Comments Off on Well, if he is ‘nice’ to her, it’s okay if he is sexually violent

You truly never know what you’ll need in court. The unexpected happens. We are here to give you an edge. Back in May, 2010 we wrote about how people tend to remember things more when they are placed to their left. So we recommended you place your exhibits to the left while casually moving opposing counsels exhibits to the right.  But now there’s more on that left/right angle.

The embodied cognition research has been going strong and we’ve written about that too—in essence, how common phrases resonate both in the mind and in the body. And those researchers have another new and intriguing finding. You may already know that the French legislative assembly (way back in 1791) organized itself so that conservative members sat to the right and liberal members sat on the left.  (Come on! We don’t really think you knew that!) Anyway—over time, we began to refer to conservatives as being “on the right” of the political spectrum and liberals as “on the left”.

A new article by Daniel Oppenheimer and Thomas Trail of Princeton University explores something that may send you looking around for a screwdriver for your briefcase. Oppenheimer and Trail were curious as to whether the way you sit (and how you lean in that chair) would influence your political perspective self-report. They published their work in the journal Social Cognition.

So they subtly tinkered with chairs in the experimental room to make the chairs lean ever so slightly to the left or to the right. Those who sat in chairs leaning to the left agreed with the Democrat Party more than those who sat in chairs leaning to the right. And (we know you know this part) those who sat in chairs leaning to the right, tended to agree with the Republicans more although the relationship was not significant.

“Whether the fact that only leftist tendencies were affected by grip and posture reflects a general wishy-washiness of leftist thinking, with conservative thoughts being less flexible, or that the volunteers were significantly pro-Democrat in the first place, or something else, is unclear. According to Dr Oppenheimer, however, these findings add to the body of literature which indicates that voter behavior is irrational and that factors totally unrelated to politics affect the outcomes of elections.”

That’s what Dr. Oppenheimer says. What we say is this—if you know your case plays well to either liberals or conservatives—probably theming to speak more to one or the other would do a lot more good than some subtle tinkering with a screwdriver.  And a lot less embarrassing if you get caught.

Oppenheimer, D., & Trail, T. (2010). Why leaning to the left makes you lean to the left: Effect of spatial orientation on political attitudes. Social Cognition, 28 (5)


So which one of you has the $20,000 in cash?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

We have been traveling a lot the last while. Seeing the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. But recently we returned to an interesting area with a charming urban/rural feel. Sometimes when we read the news or listen to complaints it seems all graciousness and civility is gone. And if you think that true, we think you need to visit North Carolina. Not only were the attorneys we worked with warm, welcoming and respectful—so were the citizens.

Our mock jurors were gracious and civil even in disagreement. One of them approached on a break and said,

“Wow! I just looked around the room and did some calculating. Is one of you carrying around $20,000 in cash?”

And what was really amusing is that no one felt threatened by the query. We were mellow. We felt safe. (And yes, we were hauling around a lot of money to pay them—but not in our pockets.)

Our lawyer clients worked together collegially even when the hours got long and the going got tough. We did not hear a cross word all weekend. It was truly a pleasure.

Our local videographer (who is a great guy!) showed us what a renaissance man really looks like with a selection of music to work by, a handmade ute, and a knowledge of the esoteric—although he shrugged it off with “Well, I just drive everywhere and sit on my butt, so I listen to a lot of books on tape!”

At the small airport, the airline rep held the plane for two late passengers while entertaining those of us waiting with stories of wanting to get people where they were going. When a young woman out of breath, in tears and with a very runny nose begged to be allowed to get on a plane to say goodbye to her fiancé—the gate agent gently told her she could not board the plane and then disappeared—coming back with a young man in camouflage gear who was obviously shipping out for active duty. They were oblivious to all of us watching (and grinning) as they said their goodbyes (and I have no idea how she made it past security to the gate!).

So I realized that after two very long days of working and two pretty long days of travel that I was relaxed and pretty mellow. It’s a reminder that how we behave and interact has a powerful impact on those around us. Whether in the mock trial or in the courtroom.

If you are respectful and gracious to opposing counsel, your jurors, co-counsel and the judge (even in disagreement) you communicate that you are a person of integrity and character. Be the person that jurors want to see more of. The perception of your character may be ascribed to your client as well.


Wearing your religion on your face

Monday, February 21, 2011
posted by Douglas Keene

We’ve talked before about mock jurors believing they can ‘see’ who is lying, using drugs, or other negative behaviors litigants (or anyone else!) would want to keep private. Now we have new evidence that some of those jurors may have good radar—at least when it comes to being able to identify certain religious group members!

It’s easy to ‘see’ some religious affiliations, especially those whose faith involves a high degree of integration of religious obedience and daily life. Think of the Amish and other religious groups who are identifiable by attire or facial hair or turbans or robes, or the attire of some Orthodox Jews, Sufis, or Muslims. But most of us are not wearing particular clothing or neat labels identifying religious affiliation. In fact, when asked, many of us even lie about just how often we attend religious services!

Consider, for example, the religious group of Mormons. Think you could pick them out of a crowd? Maybe you think you couldn’t. But the subjects in a recent study could! Even when their hair was removed, eyes and mouth covered, and images were turned upside down.  That’s pretty strange. Here’s how it worked.

Researchers examined the folklore around intuition and found strong perceptions that we can ‘know things’ about people just from their faces. We think, for example, we can identify sexual orientation, age, gender—and we are so frustrated when we cannot, or race. They cite research finding that people (both Mormon and non-Mormon) were able to identify un-labeled Mormon faces at a better than chance rate. This held true both in areas with large Mormon populations and in areas with few Mormons—although Mormons were better at identifying fellow Mormons than were non-Mormons.

Ultimately, the researchers decided to explore what it was about Mormon faces that facilitated identification to the observer. They went to fairly extensive lengths to include plain faces without piercings, extra earrings, or extreme haircuts and kept all photos within a younger age range, so as to make discrimination of Mormons/non-Mormons tough. They also had people simply observe parts of the faces (like the eyebrows) and attempt to identify the person as Mormon or not. (As you might imagine, eyebrows don’t tell you much.)

The researchers concluded that while participants were indeed able to categorize Mormons and non-Mormons more accurately than chance—they were seemingly unaware of their ability to do so. The categorization of Mormons appeared to be drawn largely from the quality of facial skin—since Mormons do not drink alcohol, smoke or drink caffeine. Participants apparently infer overall good health from what they observe of the skin and identify (accurately) the participant as Mormon. So it  wasn’t so much “Mormon” they were identifying, it was the attribution of what they thought of as a Mormon trait—“healthy”.

So what does this mean for litigation advocacy? The point of this post is that we all look at very subtle cues and inform ourselves about people. We make assumptions. We doubt there will be times when you are asking a jury to identify ‘who’s the Mormon’.   But you will be challenged to deal with perceptions that someone has led a healthy or unhealthy life, that they seem virtuous or dissipated.

Many of us have read the research that says we can perceive basic things about people in split seconds. Jurors do that too. They look at you. They look at your witnesses. They look at the parties. And, in the absence of other data, they form conclusions about gender, sexual orientation, good/bad habits, character, and whether you dye your own hair or have it done professionally. You need to control this interpretation by giving jurors understanding for what they see. If you do not, they will make up their own interpretations—and you have no way of knowing what they’ll ‘intuit’.

Rule NO, Garrett JV, & Ambady N (2010). On the perception of religious group membership from faces. PloS one, 5 (12) PMID: 21151864


The skill of detecting deception is one to which many of us aspire. We track new research and news stories on strategies for identifying deception and have written about this often.  A new post at the Ambigamy blog focuses on use of the “Law of Sufficient Motivation” as a tool for identifying deception.

“Think of it as the Law of Sufficient Motivation. If someone would cling to power for ego-gratification, then helping people becomes a superfluous, un-necessary motive. Ego-gratification is sufficient motivation. He would cling to power regardless of whether he really cared about helping people. The more discreditable motivations one has, the less necessary the honorable motivators become.

The law of Sufficient Motivation is a popular way to spot liars. The recipe is straightforward. If there’s someone you just don’t trust–your gut says they’re lying or otherwise bad, just imagine an unsavory motivation he might have. Declare it to be that person’s “true” motivation and you’ll have confirmed your gut and exposed the liar.”

We see this sort of reasoning in pre-trial research routinely. We’ve written about it here and here. This sort of reasoning is predictable, but doesn’t show up  in demographics or reactions to generic questions.  It is a function of two primary factors that you can keep in mind:

1) What is the lens through which they typically examine life?

2) How curious is this person?

If their values and beliefs (aka ‘life lens’) are biased in favor of your witness, your client, or your case—it doesn’t matter whether they are curious or not.  But for them to put forth the effort required to keep an open mind and to truly consider information that they wouldn’t have found appealing prior to trial—that requires a curious mind and some effort on the juror’s part.

We use pretrial research to elicit these ideas about case narratives. For example, we’ve had jurors demonstrate this sort of thinking by saying:

“She acts like she is all sweet but I can tell she is just a backstabber.”

“He is in cahoots with someone. I am not sure just who, but I can tell and I don’t think we are being told the whole story.”

“When I watch her testimony, there is something about her I just don’t trust. I’m good with people and I know she is a liar.”

Ideally, you can identify jurors who have a world view that is skeptical of your witnesses or your story, and exclude them.  But that isn’t usually enough.  We identify these sorts of associations/reactions from mock jurors and then build case themes and story lines that will soothe those who might be skeptical.  In pretrial research we dig to discover why those hostilities emerged so strongly, and we modify the case narrative so that it will address these sorts of reactions in real jurors. In other words, we tell the story that the most dubious can find comfort in.

The story is still the story. But if those same doubts arise, the narrative will now address them rather than leaving holes which bother jurors and which they attempt to fill with their own ideas and preconceived notions.