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Archive for July, 2011

Extraverts are the ones in the jury box who are making plans for lunch and organizing jury reunion parties.  They chat up their bench-mates during voir dire, and can be seen making good-natured eye contact with everyone in the courtroom. They are also, according to some new research, more likely to believe in free will, and that may be a good thing (or perhaps a bad thing) for your case.

Researchers in Germany wanted to study whether personality characteristics (in this case, extraversion) would be related to a belief in free will (and therefore, ultimate responsibility for one’s actions).

Participants in a study in Berlin, Germany read the following scenario (of course it was presented in German, but we figured most of our readers would rather see it in English):

Most respected neuroscientists are convinced that eventually we will figure out exactly how all of our decisions and actions are entirely caused. For instance, they think that whenever we are trying to decide what to do, the decision we end up making is completely caused by the specific chemical reactions and neural processes occurring in our brains. The neuroscientists are also convinced that these chemical reactions and neural processes are completely caused by our current situation and the earlier events in our lives, and that these earlier events were also completely caused by even earlier events, eventually going all the way back to events that occurred before we were born.

So, if these neuroscientists are right, then once specific earlier events have occurred in a person’s life, these events will definitely cause specific later events to occur. For instance, once specific chemical reactions and neural processes occur in the person’s brain, they will definitely cause the person to make the specific decision he or she makes. So, once specific earlier events have occurred in a person’s life, these events will definitely cause specific later events to occur.

For example, one day a person named John decides to kill a shop owner, because he needs money and does it. Once the specific thoughts, desires, and plans occur in John’s mind, they will definitely cause his decision to kill a shop owner. (Nahmias et al., 2007).

Participants were asked to rate their level of agreement with the following statements on a scale from 1 (absolutely disagree) to 7 (absolutely agree):

1. John is morally responsible for his action.

2. John did it because of his own free will.

3. John’s decision was up to him.

Researchers found that the extraverts were more likely to focus on moral responsibility and free will in their evaluations of “John’s” behavior. They were less likely to listen to mitigating explanations [such as brain-based rationales] for John’s behavior. Data analysis showed that individual “warmth” explained much of this tendency in extraverts. It is possible that extraverts experience increased empathy for whoever is harmed in the interaction. Obviously, this would play better for one side of a dispute than the other.

The researchers also questioned (given the strong relationship of personality style to the support of free will/responsibility) whether we can really trust the objectivity of expert witnesses as they examine case data. Depending on the personality style, the expert witness may support one explanation or the other [unless accepting payment to support a particular position].

There is an old saying that floats around saying introverts are about 25% of the population and extraverts are 75%. If this were the case, your jury panel would almost always be made up of a majority of extraverts. Thankfully, there is actually no data to support that assertion. The latest actual figures from a Myers-Briggs 1998 manual show we are pretty much evenly divided between introverts and extraverts. It is simply a matter of where we find ourselves on the continuum (how introverted or how extraverted].

So when you want a free will/moral responsibility [and likely more punitive] juror, it won’t hurt to see just which jurors are the social butterflies on the panel.

 

Schulz E, Cokely ET, & Feltz A (2011). Persistent bias in expert judgments about free will and moral responsibility: A test of the expertise defense. Consciousness and cognition PMID: 21596586

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When you see a picture of Tammy Wynette on our blog, you know it’s time for another installation of “sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”. This time we have new research on how a female boss in a traditionally male job can lower her male subordinate’s salary as well as his prestige. How can this be studied? Read on.

Research participants were assigned to read a written vignette about a workplace assistant, his or her supervisor and the type of work they performed. In half of the vignettes, the supervisor was either a male construction site supervisor or a female human resources supervisor. (Traditional gender assignment to the supervisory roles.) In the other half the genders of the supervisors were reversed so that the construction site supervisor was female and the human resources supervisor was male. (Non-traditional gender assignment to the supervisory roles.)

After reading the vignettes, the research participants were asked about how much status, power or independence they believed the assistant deserved in a future job and how much of a salary they would pay to the assistant (be they male or female). And here’s what they found:

Males who worked for gender-incongruent supervisors (i.e., a female construction site supervisor or a male HR professional) were assigned lower status than males who worked for gender-congruent supervisors (i.e., a male construction site supervisor or a female HR professional). Females had no such status differential.

Further, when males worked for gender-incongruent supervisors, they received lower salaries than when they worked for gender-congruent supervisors. Again, females had no comparable salary differential.

The researchers suggest that the males working for gender-incongruent supervisors were seen as less masculine. They cite common beliefs that “a man isn’t much of a man” if he subordinates himself to a gender-incongruent supervisor [who is, by definition, low status].

Thus, it appears that only male (and not female) employees lose status when subordinated to a gender deviant boss, because being subordinate to an individual who has lowered status as a result of their gender-deviant role places these male subordinates at risk of having their gender identity (i.e., masculinity) called into question.”

So of course, they conducted a second experiment using the same vignettes but this time the assistant was always male and half the time the assistant was described in stereotypically masculine terms: as enjoying “watching football, eating steak and ribs, and driving fast cars”. The researchers called this “bolstering masculine credentials”. You can probably guess the results of these studies.

The macho-men were assigned both higher status and higher salaries. And there was no difference in how male and female research participants rated the assistants.

So the researchers went back again and compared a different set of gender-incongruent professionals—a female corporate lawyer and a male family lawyer. You guessed it. They had the same results.

So if women in gender-incongruent roles want their male employees to maintain both status and prestige—it appears they should only hire ‘manly men’. And men in positions where they report to a gender-incongruent boss should probably talk about eating red meat and the game this weekend and drive muscle cars. Or not.

Taken together, these studies suggest that a man who works for a woman is viewed as less valuable unless he is also tied to stereotypical male interests.  The implicit assumptions about men who work for women are thus that they have something to prove, as in “What kind of man works for a woman?”  If you read into this some not-too-subtle bias against men who are submissive to female authority, or perhaps homophobia, then we are reading the same research.

What this research does say is that we remain powerfully affected by deeply rooted beliefs about gender and power. Pay attention to these dynamics when they are present in your cases or with witnesses. Subtly “bolstering masculinity” may be an effective strategy in some instances.
Brescoll, VL,, Uhlmann, EL, & Moss-Racusin, C. (2011). Masculinity, Status and Subordination: Why working for a gender stereotype violator causes men to lose status. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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The literature on mock juries has been criticized for years for use of convenience samples (i.e., college students). An upcoming issue of the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law is devoted to examining mock jury research and assessing where we have been and where we need to go.

The authors argue that since we are trying to find out how people make decisions within the confines of the courtroom, with elements of law, burdens of proof and standards of evidence—we need to use real adult jury eligible volunteers. We are not that interested in how college students in Psychology 101 courses think about fact patterns and determine responsibility. And that is the mainstay of the psycho-legal literature on jury decision-making.

The authors refer to Bornstein’s (1999) conclusion that there are simply not enough comparisons between samples of convenience (i.e., college students) and actual community populations of jurors to test the generalizability of college student ‘jurors’. The entire issue contains multiple examinations of mock jury research—done with both college students and community members. Ultimately, they recommend beginning research with convenience samples and then doing comparisons with actual jurors. If you are interested in mock jury research, the entire issue is an interesting read.

It’s an interesting issue for us. If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know we make hypotheses based on social sciences research. And it’s interesting when we try those ideas out in our mock trial research. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. And when they do work out, we think of them as a sort of secret weapon.

There is though, a difference between our college student mock jurors and our employed jurors. Here’s some of what we’ve seen:

Cases that require life experiences to assess damages can leave college-student mock jurors pretty silent. They don’t ‘get’ the rationale for damages and depending on personality style—will either follow older jurors or stubbornly insist on low or no damages.

High-tech cases with high-tech college-student jurors often result in young jurors speaking up actively and being listened to and questioned for additional information by less technologically proficient jurors.

Wrongful death cases (or other cases where a damages component is ‘mental anguish’) typically result in lower awards from these younger jurors who do not yet have the life experience to empathize with the pain of the loss of a partner or child.

Patent cases or intellectual property cases are often less concerning to our younger college-student jurors. They often do not see intellectual property theft as “that big a deal” and often have a higher standard of proof for awarding damages.

There are other ways we see younger, college-student mock jurors as different than our older mock jurors. But much of it comes down to individual differences between those college-students. If they are technologically proficient, they are often useful in those cases. If they are verbally persuasive, they can be seen as a valuable group members. We don’t know the magic answers to make academic mock jury research more useful and generalizable—but we like the idea of running basic research that compares convenient college samples with actual jurors.

The issue of how much faith you can place in the outcome of mock jury research is extremely important and complex. We have discussed it before in various ways, and we will revisit in again in the future.  But for now, let’s be realistic.  Even college students know that they are different than their parents.  And their parents know how much they’ve changed since their 20’s.

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Wiener RL, Krauss DA, & Lieberman JD (2011). Mock Jury Research: Where Do We Go from Here? Behavioral sciences & the law PMID: 21706517

 

 

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Sometimes it’s sort of scary to leave the house in the morning. There is a lot of scary research out there.  And now, we are told that it only takes two simple words to influence us to view a message more positively, act in accordance with that message, and positively view the message source. Wow. Only two?  You have to admire the efficiency, but really…?

Researchers subliminally primed participants with the words “to trust” (or close variants such as “to approve”, “to accept”, or “to agree”). They did this by flashing the words for thirty milliseconds on a computer screen during a seemingly innocuous task. (When asked later, none of the participants in the study recalled seeing any words whatsoever.)

Then, participants read a statement about tap-water consumption illustrated by a woman (Mrs. Marie) who was presented as head of a regional water control organization. Here’s where it gets just a little weird—

Participants who were ‘primed’ thought Mrs. Marie was nicer (p<.05) and more trustworthy (p<.02).

They also said they would drink more tap water (p<.02) and avoid buying bottled water (p<.002).

That is, participants who were ‘primed’ with the words ‘to trust’ rated the message itself and the source (Mrs. Marie) more positively AND they expressed more behavioral intent in line with the message.

We know our readers would never use this research for evil but some (others out there who do not read our blog) might be drawn to the dark side by attempting to use these findings to persuade people to behave in ways counter to their pre-existing attitudes.

It’s an intriguing and disturbing finding. Would it have the same effect to simply incorporate that brief phrase into your communication with a jury? We can’t know if spoken word would affect jurors in the same way as words they read in bursts so fast they cannot visually detect them—at least consciously. Sometimes, it just may be better to read the research and tuck it away for a while until we have more to support it than one study.
Legal, JB,, Chappe, J,, Coiffard, V., & Villard-Forest, A. (2011). Don’t you know that you want to trust me? Subliminal goal priming and persuasion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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You probably know the answer to this question is yes. But the real answer is much more nuanced, which makes it so much more interesting. As it happens, if you are conflicted about the facts, you are more likely to be swayed by your desires than the facts themselves.  When I was in graduate school, there was a saying about flimsy research that the authors seem to have drawn their curve before they plotted the data.  What they wanted to see skewed their view of what was truly there.

Researchers had participants who planned to have children and who believed home care would be superior to day care for children participate in a study.  Half of the participants planned to provide home care for any future children and half intended to use day care despite their belief that home care would be superior. This latter half was identified as “conflicted”. Thus half of the participants (who planned to use home care) were motivated to see home care as superior and half (who planned to use day care) were motivated to see day care as superior. (Both groups came into the study believing home care was superior to day care.)

Participants reviewed two separate (and fictional) studies labeled as the “Thompson and Cummings” studies. Half of the participants were told the Thompson study favored home care and the Cummings study favored day care and the other half were told the opposite.

Participants were asked to rate which study design they thought was more valid and then listed the strengths and weaknesses of each study. Then they indicated how convincing or valid they thought each study seemed and what setting (home or day care) they thought (after reading and evaluating the studies) they thought would have better overall effect on their children.

And here’s what happened.

Participants who planned to use home care did not change their minds after reviewing the research studies. But the ‘conflicted’ group who thought home care was superior but planned to use day care changed their minds dramatically following their review of the studies.

That is, the ‘conflicted’ participants changed their view of the superiority of home care and changed their view of the positive aspects of day care. (Home care rating went down dramatically and day care ratings went up dramatically so that neither sort of care was seen as superior.)

We know if we hear a theme repeated enough we can come to belief it to be true. What this research says is that if we want to believe something enough, we will take ambiguous information and interpret it to reflect our desires rather than the facts.

What this means for litigation advocacy is this:

If you have ambiguous information, clearly interpret it for the jury. Do not allow their own desires to interpret the information for them. Unequivocal, clear interpretation gives jurors who support your case words to use in deliberations.  And it gives the fence-sitters a reason to favor your side, if they are otherwise tempted to.

If you have dueling expert witnesses pointing fingers in different directions, have your expert witness explain (clearly and matter of factly) how the evidence supports your case.  And obviously, to the extent that the research of the opposition can be discredited as being ‘suspect’, it can resolve jurors’ ambivalence.

When this is done, instead of the jurors having to figure out which expert they trust more—they can point to specific data points to advocate for in the deliberation room.

Winning the argument starts with helping the jury to see that they have a reason to ‘want’ to see the evidence as affirming both their values and your client.  Then providing them evidence (even if they don’t fully understand it) that is credibly and unequivocally interpreted as affirming that position, allows them to rest assured.  Know that people will choose evidence that they see as bolstering their own views whenever they can.

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Bastardi A, Uhlmann EL, & Ross L (2011). Wishful thinking: belief, desire, and the motivated evaluation of scientific evidence. Psychological science, 22 (6), 731-2 PMID: 21515736

 

 

 

 

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