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News You Can Use (like how Pepsi knows there was no mouse in your Mountain Dew)

Friday, February 10, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

From time to time we play catch-up with the research and include a number of things we think you would want to know. Most of it is serious. Every once in a while though, a need-to-know tidbit slips out in litigation that we cannot resist incorporating into a post.

We know there was no mouse in your Mountain Dew!

This one has to do with Mountain Dew and a litigant claiming he found a mouse (a dead mouse) in his can of Mountain Dew back in 2009. He was apparently so horrified he did not stop to take a photo or somehow memorialize the evidence. Instead, he put the mouse in a Mason jar and mailed it to Pepsi. Pepsi, according to the litigant, then destroyed the evidence. The litigant requests $50,000 in damages. Pepsi gave this tidbit to the court as they filed a motion to dismiss:

“A scientist who testified on behalf of the company said that there was no way a mouse could have made it through the bottling process intact, that its body would have dissolved into as ‘jelly-like substance’”.

Ewww. Okay. Now that that one is out of the way, here are some things you really should  know.

What do whites think of when they see a biracial person?

There’s a video up on YouTube from the recent Association for Psychological Science conference. Sabrica Barnett did some research on what whites assume when they see a biracial other. Her findings are straightforward:

Whites tend to perceive Black/White biracials as more similar, competent and warm than Blacks. However, they also perceive Black/White biracials as less similar, competent and warm than Whites.”

These are important variables (warm, competent) and we’ve written about them before. One takeaway is that biracial appearance is another “difference” we need to consider in witness preparation and case presentation. Make the witness “like” the jurors through emphasis on ways they are similar, values they share, and questions and testimony  that illustrate warmth and character.

We judge you based on your email messages

The popularity of smart phones and tablet computers means we get lots of emails with odd punctuation and spelling and abbreviations galore. This research would indicate we tend to look at those emails and cast judgment. And not only about the age of the writer. It goes way beyond that to predicting emotion, employment relationship and gender.

Researchers showed participants email messages written in either first or third person and with typographical errors versus no errors.

Messages written in third person were seen as angrier and likely written by a supervisor to an employee.

Special attention was paid to the presence or absence of punctuation (specifically exclamation points and question marks) in identification of the writer’s mood state as well as their relationship with the recipient.

Messages with a lot of “expressive punctuation” were more likely to be seen as written by a female.

Contrary to my college kid’s perceptions, grammar and punctuation does matter in email communications. Judgments are made. Take the time to thumb in commas, capital letters, periods and loosen up on the abbreviations. Use those dangerous question marks and exclamation points sparingly.  And make sure to proofread with great care, as auto-correction programs are famously erratic (and occasionally hilarious).

McAndrew, FT, & De Jonge, CR (2011). Electronic Person Perception: What do we infer about people from the style of their email messages? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2 (4), 403-407

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