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Most people would agree that Jeff Bezos of Amazon is a transformational leader. But many of us would likely look askance at using earlobes that are unevenly aligned as a measure of leadership potential.

But according to some new research, we might want to think again! As it happens, asymmetry occurs in-utero as a result of stress. Scientists say higher symmetry is a sign of genetic fitness. When they see asymmetry between the right and left sides of the body, scientists say those fetuses were less able to develop symmetrically in the presence of those in-utero stressors. Poor babies!

Leadership researchers talk about transactional versus transformational leaders. Many of them prefer the transformational style of leadership but we’ve seen terrific examples of both among trial lawyers.

A transactional leader is very precise and linear. Communication styles are likely factual, detail oriented, chronological and thorough. They invite you to think and consider the evidence without telling you what you should conclude, and their style of persuasion is very subtle. You are drawn to the transactional leader because they are clear, straightforward, and trustworthy. One of our very successful long-term clients has this style and jurors love it.

A transformational leader is charismatic. Communication styles are more emotive even though they may also be factual and thorough. You are drawn to the transformational leader because of their intensity, passion, and commitment to their cause. The transformational leader is able to inspire followers to put aside self-interest for the good of the group. Another of our very successful long-term clients has this style and jurors love it.

In this study, researchers looked at stereotypes of symmetrical people and asymmetrical people. Symmetrical people are seen as better looking, healthier, more intelligent and more dominant. They are the classic alphas. The asymmetrical personhas to develop more positive social skills to compensate for these perceived shortcomings.”

Then, they measured leadership style via self-report questionnaires and actual small team leadership observation over the course of 22 weeks when groups were required to complete a computer simulation task. They also measured participant earlobes, wrist widths, and finger lengths and assigned scores for overall symmetry to each participant.

What they found is interesting.

Highly asymmetrical people saw themselves as having higher [self-reported] leadership abilities. They saw themselves as more able to intuit others’ feelings and needs and as more able to inspire others.

And this was confirmed as a reality via group performance. The more asymmetrical the leader, the better the team performed (about 20% better on average).

The researchers think that if you’re born with asymmetries you likely focus on developing more “people skills” to overcome perceptions that you are unattractive or not very intelligent. It’s an intriguing idea. Perhaps it is also that people with asymmetry are more interesting looking–and the longer eye gaze from others as they assess the asymmetry leads to development of skills to sustain others’ interest.

Regardless of the reason, it’s a good visual to look for as we select jurors. Crooked ears and signs of social intelligence sparkling in those too far apart eyes? Now there’s a jury leader! [If you’d like to check your own facial symmetry, [for scientific purposes] visit this website.

Senior, C., Martin, R., Thomas, G., Topakas, A., West, M., & M. Yeats, R. (2011). Developmental stability and leadership effectiveness The Leadership Quarterly DOI: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.08.005

Senior C, Martin R, West M, & Yeats RM (2011). How earlobes can signify leadership potential. Harvard Business Review, 89 (11) PMID: 22111428



Despite the Supreme Court ruling [Skilling v US] that pretrial publicity [PTP] does not bias the public perception and limit the right to a fair trial, most of us who have experienced the impact of pretrial publicity disagree.

It is an accepted truism that older people are more conservative than younger people. So it’s interesting to see some research on how pretrial publicity affects older jurors [range = 60-80 years old, average age = 69.5] and younger jurors [range = 18-21 years old, average age = 19]. In this instance, researchers looked at the impact of both positive and negative publicity on mock juror decision-making related to a specific set of case facts.

Mock jurors read either positive or negative pretrial publicity accounts of the case (via mock news articles) and then, one week later, they watched an edited 30 minute video of the trial. (This video was used in previous research and found to be realistic, believable and ambiguous as to guilt. Pretrial publicity is believed to be most important when guilt is ambiguous.) Following viewing of the trial video, they were told to disregard any relevant information from their readings the week before and then they wrote down their individual verdicts.

Older jurors were only affected by positive pretrial publicity.

Younger jurors were only moved by negative pretrial publicity.

In other words, even though the mock jurors were given identical information “pretrial” and then viewed the same video summarizing the trial, they came to very different conclusions. Older jurors were only biased by the positive PTP while younger jurors were more conviction prone than the older jurors only when exposed to negative PTP.

The researchers summarize by saying:

the same PTP can have a large biasing effect on the decisions made by one age group while having no significant effect on decisions made by the other. [snip]

these attentional biases [in older adults] may lead to more biased decisions, when the biasing information is positive and less biased decisions when the biasing information is negative”.

They also suggest that this age-related attentional focus may be more important in terms of decision-making than overall liberal or conservative orientation.

What this research would suggest is that when you have negative pretrial publicity, older adults (early Boomers and Silents) are going to make less biased decisions than when they have been exposed to positive pretrial publicity.

If you have a well-known and positively regarded client, older adults are going to be more affected by the ‘halo’ surrounding your client than will younger adults.

If you have a high level of negative publicity and your client is a relative unknown, younger jurors are going to be more swayed (negatively) while older jurors are largely unmoved.

It’s an intriguing finding for us for two different reasons: one is that this is a demographic finding–attitudes and values are almost always more powerful in affecting decision making. The second point is the question of why the older jurors were only moved by the positive PTP. They are, for the most part, more conservative. If they were looking for reasons to be punitive, the negative PTP would be powerful.  Instead, another finding in our analysis of generational research seems to fit: older jurors are happier. They prefer to pay attention to news and information that says ‘the world isn’t so bad after all’. Setting aside our crazy aunt Freda who is fixated on conspiracy theories and Glenn Beck, you can expect older jurors to prefer positive stories, good character, and good manners.

This is an important new study (heading into press now) that we hope will see follow-on research to add nuances to our understanding.  We’ll be watching, and will keep you posted.

Ruva, C., & Hudak, E. (2011). Pretrial publicity and juror age affect mock-juror decision making Psychology, Crime & Law, 1-24 DOI: 10.1080/1068316X.2011.616509



We all know that neuro-imaging is not ready for courtroom persuasion yet, but did someone remember to tell the jurors? Apparently not–but maybe they already knew.

Are “pictures” of the brain so persuasive that they can sway juror decision making? Even though the credibility of the medical experts has to be factored in, many people believe that when you include brain scan photos (as opposed to bar charts or topographical maps for example) the viewer is more persuaded. Even though there isn’t a chance in the world that an average juror can make sense of the image.

So, the current researchers decided to look at the effect, if any, of neuroimages using a fact pattern of a capital murder case. They were trying to sort out whether it is useful to focus mitigation arguments on neuroimaging evidence, since it could “create the impression the defendant is ‘damaged goods’ and beyond repair.”

The researchers presented the facts of a murder along with evidence (included in nearly all capital trials) of the likelihood of future dangerousness and evidence about the psychiatric condition of the defendant. They divided participants into 3 conditions:

The first group was told the defendant was psychotic.

The second group was told the defendant was psychotic and was given the results of neuropsychological testing discussing damage to the defendant’s brain (specifically, the frontal lobe).

The third group was given the diagnostic information and the test results but also shown color photos of “structural and functional scans of the defendant’s brain” and given descriptions of likely consequences with this sort of damage to the brain.

The researchers expected that the more information participants were given, the less they would choose the death penalty IF the defendant was adjudged to be at low risk for future violence. And they were wrong.

When mock jurors were provided only a diagnosis, and were told the defendant had a high risk of future violence, they were overwhelmingly more likely to give a death sentence (65% voted for death penalty) than other mock jurors. When they were given additional information (either a psychological testing summary or the testing summary with neuroimaging evidence), their imposition of the death sentence dropped dramatically (down to 12% voting for death penalty). If jurors assessing these ‘dangerous’ defendants were given all three forms of information, the death penalty was selected only 8% of the time.

Oddly, low risk of dangerousness only affected those jurors who were only given the diagnosis (but no supportive test data or images). ‘Diagnosis only’ mock jurors assigned the death penalty about 17% of the time (down from 65%), while diagnosis plus testing mock jurors chose the death penalty about 21% of the time and mock jurors receiving all three types of evidence chose the death penalty about 14% of the time (essentially the same as the ‘high risk of violence’ condition).

The researchers concluded that with high risk for future violence defendants, both neuropsychological testing and neuroimaging evidence reduced the likelihood jurors would choose the death penalty. Rather than being ‘aggravating’, this additional evidence was truly mitigating in the case of the high-risk-to-violently-reoffend defendant.

Our view is that this is consistent with what is frequently seen in juror decision-making: Jurors are much more comfortable accepting a high-risk proposition if they are comforted that they have a valid reason for doing it.  This is most clearly seen in the high risk group, where they needed to be assured there is ‘scientific evidence’ that the defendant was impaired, not merely that the defense found an expert willing to make that claim.  It also suggests that in the population used in the study, there were about 15-20% who were in favor of the death penalty regardless of mitigating scientific  evidence.

It’s important to note that the neuropsychological testing results mitigated almost as much as the testing results plus the brain pictures. The verbal description alone (or verbal picture if you will) persuaded jurors. The researchers say it is possible that any additional information pertinent to the defendant’s condition ‘personalizes’ the defendant for jurors and thus may prove mitigating. We go with the former idea, as it seems unlikely that a psychological test profile or a description of neuroimaging studies causes anyone to become more ‘personal’. The jurors simply want reassurance that they are working off more than one person’s opinion.

For the practitioner, this says you don’t need bells and whistles [like brain scans] to successfully mitigate. But you do need solid and scientific information, well-presented using language and examples jurors can understand. That testimony can save a life.

Greene, E., & Cahill, B. (2011). Effects of Neuroimaging Evidence on Mock Juror Decision Making Behavioral Sciences & the Law DOI: 10.1002/bsl.1993



As I consider the Republican Presidential candidate lineup, I can’t figure out just how a ‘Republican-looking’ candidate might look. Is it the patrician and reserved Mitt Romney? The disgruntled Newt Gingrich? The intense and dry humored conservative Ron Paul? The GQ-ready Rick Perry? Or someone else? I’m not sure what a Republican looks like.  Or whether there is a ‘Republican look’. It turns out these researchers (and their participants) cannot answer that question either but it is clear there is ‘something’ communicated to the observer in photographs of Republican and Democratic candidates.

Researchers obtained photos of Republican and Democrat political candidates and removed any highly recognizable candidates from the array. The photos were simple head shots. They replaced the backgrounds with a plain gray background so that contextual cues were not available. They displayed only Republican or Democrat candidates in 256 elections and asked half the participants to identify (in a computer presented format) which candidate they thought was Democrat (thus, by default, identifying the other as Republican). They asked the other half of the participants to identify which candidate they thought was Republican (thus, by default, identifying the other as Democrat).

When they discovered participants tended to identify female or non-Caucasian candidates as Democrat, they performed an analysis of the entire sample as well as one in which they only included candidates who were both white males.

The results were disturbingly accurate. Republican or Republican-leaning participants were more accurate in identifying the candidates’ political affiliation. There was no particular bias for or against facial appearance among the Democrat or Democrat-leaning participants. The researchers concluded that conservative voters are more influenced by political facial stereotypes than are liberal voters.

To be certain, they also checked facial competence [whether participants thought the person appeared competent], attractiveness, and the sense of the candidates‘ honesty and dependability. All of these were based on their attributions to a photograph. None of these perceived traits or qualities correlated with the participants identification of the photo to a political party. When they compared “permanent facial characteristics” (like bone structure) with “transitory features” (such as facial expression, eye gaze direction or head tilt)–again, the effect seemed to be related to something permanent in facial features.

So no one can tell us just “what a Republican looks like” but Republican voters can “see it”. Seriously? We know this happens with religious affiliation where others can identify whether you are or are not a Mormon. But political affiliation? Our take is that they are responding to a sense of familiarity with leaders they prefer. The one with whom they most closely connect. The one that is most like them. It is a human inclination that we have written about before, and it appears to resonate with voters as well as jurors.

Olivola, C., Sussman, A., Tsetsos, K., Kang, O., & Todorov, A. (2012). Republicans Prefer Republican-Looking Leaders: Political Facial Stereotypes Predict Candidate Electoral Success Among Right-Leaning Voters Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550611432770

Image is one of the stimuli used in the actual study. Who’s the Republican?


Someone should give researchers a list of what sorts of things not to say when describing their research. Whether it’s “this may help explain everything from unrequited love to the uprisings of the Arab Spring!” or “men and women are almost a different species”–it’s just unwise. You can be proud of your research without absurd hyperbole. There’s always someone out there ready to burst your bubble.

In this instance, we have Europeans stepping into the spotlight with a study of the personality differences between men and women using 20 year old data. You likely know that most recent studies show small differences between the genders. Previous studies, according to these researchers, were flawed by weak measures and poor design. So, the European researchers (from Italy and the UK) used a large US sample of 10,261 people who had taken the 16PF Personality Questionnaire back in 1993, during the standardization research for the test.

The researchers found only a 10% overlap in the responses of the males and females comprising the standardization group. They interpret the findings as showing very large and very significant gender differences that have been overlooked in the past. They published their article on the PLoS ONE website. That is when their readers began to respond. Loudly.

Some agreed.

Del Giudice, Booth, and Irwing’s title employs the much-used “Mars and Venus” metaphor, suggesting a seemingly astronomical separation between the sexes. This is undoubtedly an exaggeration, reflecting a kind of poetic license. Hyde prefers to speak of the distance between North Dakota and South Dakota.” 

It is surprising that this paper is so controversial. I thought that it was obvious that men and women have different personalities, and I had assumed that psychometric testing had established this decades ago.” 

Others did not.

I don’t have a lot of patience for this sort of boys-do-this, girls-do-that flavor of schoolyard evolutionary biology. In this particular case, any observed differences between men and women can be explained in any number of ways so I see the connection to evolution as being pretty weak.” 

“Giudice et al’s study is already getting a lot of attention, and its title, “The Distance Between Mars and Venus: Measuring Global Sex Differences in Personality,” suggests that it’s tailor-made for the popular press. Many will probably claim it proves once and for all that men and women are inherently different, and those who ascribe to this view will probably be citing it for a long time to come. When they do, remember to take it with a grain of salt.”  

So I would say that these data show that, while men and women may be distinguishable in personality, they could still be similar. This is something of a semantic point but not “merely” semantic: it changes the interpretation of the numbers.”

Gender differences are well-recognized by all of us who are male or female. We know it when we see it and we “see it” all the time. Or so we think. But our pretrial research rarely finds differences between the genders that we can rely upon. Obviously, we are not doing research on 10,000 people (and not on anyone from 1993) but we see many more similarities than differences. Perhaps as some commenters opine, this is about something other than gender.

The lesson is to not trumpet your atypical findings as the whole truth. There’s plenty of truth to go around. And plenty of ways to misconstrue your findings.

Del Giudice M, Booth T, & Irwing P (2012). The distance between Mars and venus: measuring global sex differences in personality. PloS one, 7 (1) PMID: 22238596