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Archive for September, 2012

Are we really sick of those political ads?

Friday, September 28, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

New research would say we probably just think we’re sick of them, but they really have little impact unless we support the candidate. The researchers say that when we are listening to an ad for ‘our’ candidate, our positive feelings are amplified during the commercial. If we are listening to an ad for our candidate’s opponent, we simply tune out and become non-responsive. The research is very preliminary but anyone who has spent time observing and studying jury deliberations knows just how true this research finding is for triers of fact. It’s just another example of how people typically conduct research in daily life: Draw your results curve, and then find data points that fit it, ignoring the others.

We may well complain as the airwaves (and the internet) become choked with political ads–negative and otherwise–but like jurors hearing your case–if we disagree, we tune out and think of Ireland [Ahh– Ireland… I feel better already…]. Or something else.

People selectively focus on information that reinforces their preexisting opinions, a phenomenon that feeds what we call ‘confirmatory bias’. We do not carefully weigh the evidence in most of our decisions. If we perceive that there are missing pieces in your case narrative– they gaps will be filled with whatever  infer belongs there, based on our own ideas and predilections. And we are all quite certain that we are individually much, much better than others at detecting who is a liar by just watching their nonverbal behavior. The list goes on and on and on. The truth often is that your facts just don’t seem to matter. 

It can be very frustrating to present your case to a group of mock jurors and then hear them express what seem to be very distorted versions of what you just said during deliberations. We often see our attorney-clients throwing up their hands and saying “I did not say that!”. When this happens, what it means is that what the attorney did say, set off an alarm in the mind of that mock juror and they tuned out. It’s much much better to have that happen pretrial when you have time to fix it, rather than to have it happen at trial when you don’t know it’s happening.

So when you find yourself growing irritated at the political ads endlessly airing on your television–remember that you are having your preexisting beliefs challenged. Or more likely at this point in the cycle, your beliefs are being bludgeoned. That’s what happens for jurors too. Let this season’s aggravation serve as a cautionary tale as you plan for your next argument– whether it’s in front of a judge or a jury.

Zheng Wang, Alyssa C. Morey, & Jatin Srivastava (2012). Motivated Selective Attention During Political Ad Processing: The Dynamic Interplay Between Emotional Ad Content and Candidate Evaluation. Communication Research DOI: 10.1177/0093650212441793



The picture illustrating this post increases the likelihood you will see the post content as true. Enough said. But, you know we’ll say more. This is a fascinating addition to the visual evidence posts already on our blog.

We agree that a well-designed visual can raise comprehension for jurors in a complex trial. What this research says is that certain types of uninformative graphics can also increase the likelihood that the  written information accompanying the graphic is true. Or perhaps, truthier. After all, as Stephen Colbert is fond of saying, “You don’t look up truthiness in a book, you look it up in your gut.”

Researchers performed four different experiments with participants living in either New Zealand or Canada:

Experiment 1A and 1B: Showed participants pictures of celebrities (famous and otherwise) or no photo at all, along with statements that the celebrity was either alive or dead and participants were asked to judge the truth(iness) of this statement. When photos of the celebrity were included, the participants were more likely to assume the truth of the statement as to whether the person was alive or dead. The picture persuaded agreement.

Experiment 2: Showed participants the name of a celebrity (famous or otherwise) along with a photo (or not) and either no written description or a written description that was “nonprobative”–and always contained information on ethnicity, gender, hair, general occupation and a career-related concrete noun (e.g., “John Key is a white male, short brown straight hair, political leader, podium”). When the participants looked at these stimuli, they were equally likely to see truthiness when the stimuli had non-probative information as when there was a photo. In other words, there was not only a photo effect for truthiness of the alive or dead statement–when additional nonprobative information was added, the truthiness effect also occurred.

Experiment 3: Showed participants “nonprobative photos” (or no photo at all) along with accompanying text (which stated easy or difficult to know information). For example, a photo of a turtle accompanied a statement “Turtles are deaf” or a photo of macadamia nuts was shown next to a statement saying “Macadamia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches”. Again, photos produced a truthiness effect. When participants saw an illustrative albeit nonprobative photo, they were more likely to endorse the truth of the statement.

The researchers suggest that when we are given nonprobative information (in the form of photos or written information) we are more likely to presume the truth of that “pseudoevidence” we can see with our eyes. They describe their findings as “lovely” with the following charmingly non-academic conclusion:

“We describe the photo effect as “lovely” for two reasons. First, as compared to the other “truthiness-inducing manipulations” with which we have experience, the effect of nonprobative photos seems to be quite robust. [snip] Second, we believe that it is just plain cool that the same manipulation that can lead people to think that an obscure celebrity is alive can also lead them to think that the celebrity is dead.”

We concur (it is just plain cool). Although we think it would be a hard sell to tell that high-tech attorney (or the judge or opposing counsel for that matter) that we can just stick any old (nonprobative) photo on the visual evidence prepared for the jury or skip the photo altogether and just say “The plaintiff is correct” or “The defendant is correct” and then add some nonprobative text and it would be just as persuasive as a carefully designed piece of visual evidence.

An additional component of this phenomenon, though, seems to be one of ‘context’. People feel more comfortable making decisions if they understand the circumstances surrounding the topic, even if the circumstances are nonprobative.

We see this in focus groups all the time, when jurors listen carefully to information gathered in discovery, and start asking questions. Clients are often struck by the range of things that jurors feel would be helpful for them to know. When the juror is asked in response to their query “How would it be helpful to you to know that?” they sometimes have an answer, but often they explain “I don’t know. I’m just curious.” They seek truthiness. The attorney wishes they had held the group before discovery was closed and reports were final. And the next time around, that attorney conducts the focus group earlier in the litigation.

This is intriguing research that suggests that we are perhaps not as complex in our judgments as we would like to believe. And, it gives us a way to understand jury conclusions as to truth(iness) that otherwise make absolutely no sense to us at all.
Newman EJ, Garry M, Bernstein DM, Kantner J, & Lindsay DS (2012). Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness. Psychonomic bulletin & review PMID: 22869334



Dorothy Parker was ahead of her time. And I still recall the Marilyn Monroe movie where she bumped into things rather than wearing glasses since “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”.

While one might argue that times have changed and glasses are now “in”–recent research on the stereotypes of glasses-wearing criminal defendants and glasses-wearing civil defendants would beg to differ. In those studies, criminal defendants wearing glasses were seen as “less likely to be violent” despite their actual behavior. And civil defendants wearing glasses were seen as more likely shady and sneaky–they were not to be trusted. It was as though observers saw them as too smart and therefore as likely to be duplicitous!

There is also recent research saying glasses make you less attractive. So it may not surprise you to hear that we learn about the negative aspects of eyeglasses as children. And (even as children) we prefer to be friends with those who do not wear glasses.

BPS Digest recently highlighted this literature review (looking at studies since 1980) and since we’ve written about stereotypes of eyeglass-wearers frequently, we thought we’d point this one out as well. Here’s part of how BPS Digest described the article:

“Although the results showed glasses were far less salient to children than other identifying features, such as gender, their views on glasses-wearers were largely negative. For example, asked to compare pairs of children, one of whom was always wearing glasses, 5- to 9-year-olds consistently rated the child without glasses as prettier and better looking. Another study found that children were less interested in being friends with glasses-wearing peers.

The one positive caveat was that many children associate the wearing of glasses with superior intelligence. For example, asked to draw a smart person or a scientist, children tend to depict their creations as wearing glasses (but they don’t do so when asked to draw a stupid, nice or nasty person).”

These findings are eerily similar to what we see in the research on perceptions of the eyeglass wearer in adults. Children ages five to nine have the same stereotypes we see in adults. People who wear glasses are smart, but evidently ‘uncool’. And we’re guessing that if kids were asked who was most likely to be violent–a criminal with glasses or a criminal without glasses–they would likely choose the non-bespectacled thug–just as criminal defense attorneys espousing the “nerd defense” think adult jurors will.

In our minds, this is a terrific reminder of how early biases form and how they (often) remain consistent throughout our lives. It’s easier to be less judging of biased adults when we consider parents and society teach children how to view others–and those views often carry through to adulthood. Bias is pervasive and often invisible.

The key to shifting those views is to make your eyeglass wearing client “like” those adult jurors rather than having assumptions about “who” their weak eyes make them rule the day. That’s really a key to minimizing bias in general.

FC Jellesma (2012). Do glasses change children’s perceptions? Effects of eyeglasses on peer- and self-perception. European Journal of Developmental Psychology DOI: 10.1080/17405629.2012.700199



Tidbits–news you can use! (maybe…)

Monday, September 10, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

Blogging requires a curiosity for odd facts, and a passion for reading and writing. This blog is a terrific outlet for our curious selves, where we can spend time monitoring new research and current events, and share it with you. Usually, the items are meaty enough to form a blogpost on the issue. Sometimes, though, we find random factoids that we think you might want to know about and we save them for days like today. Think of these as delectable tidbits of information that bring a smile or a ‘hmmm’ to your day. Or as our Cajun friends would say, “lagniappe”. Enjoy.

Red lipstick and tipping behavior:

You likely recall our posts on wearing red (for both men and women) and the advantage in represents for how others see you. Here’s another twist to that research. Heterosexual men tip more when their waitress is wearing red lipstick! Adding credence to their finding–the research was conducted in France where tips are already included in the total bill, and tipping is not routinely expected. Thus, extra tipping is unusual. And here we find that waitresses with red lipstick got the bonus tips, and waitresses wearing other shades went without. We have no suggestions for any lesson for litigators with this news, but you might want to let your friends who are waitresses know about this. Also note– there is no current indication on what the tipping effect is for men who wear red lipstick. But we’re guessing that in most restaurants it isn’t nearly as helpful.

Is gaydar real?

We’ve blogged about gaydar before but the research on it keeps coming. [Did we need more research?] The Atlantic recently ran an article on the ability of college students to guess sexual orientation after 50 milliseconds to look at a photo of a face. And their accuracy was above chance even when the faces were upside down! It turns out that facial features, pupil dilation, and even right-brain or left-brain orientation has been found to accurately predict sexual orientation–although apparently it’s a bit more straightforward to predict in men than it is in women. (And a co-author of the pupil dilation study even claims their findings could be “used to help people who are confused about their sexuality sort through their desires”. Oy. We wish researchers wouldn’t say things like that. And there is no reason whatsoever for you to search out photos of the authors.)

What percentage of water on their fur can dogs shake off in 4 seconds?

That would be 70%. Now that is news you can use. For something. The Atlantic (again) brings us need-to-know information complete with a video of a wet canine shaking off wetness. Surprisingly, there is not a flexible spine to account for how efficiently dogs shake off water. It has to do with how loose the dog’s skin is and (again thanks to the Atlantic) that loose skin isn’t just so dogs look funny here.

Staying in the ICU? How many medical errors occur there anyway?

Let’s just say you want to avoid the ICU whenever possible. According to the Johns Hopkins Patient Safety Team:

Each year as many as 40,500 critically ill U.S. hospital patients die with an unknown medical condition that may have caused or contributed to their death. In a discussion of their findings, researchers say that diagnostic errors in the intensive care unit (ICU) may claim as many lives each year as breast cancer.

The actual numbers are staggering. Misdiagnosis in ICU patients is as much as 50% more common than it is in general hospital patients. In the US, about half of all deaths occur in hospitals and half of hospital deaths occur either in the ICU or immediately following ICU stays. In fairness, it isn’t called an “Emergency Room” or “Intensive Care Unit” for nothing. But this study controls for life threatening presenting problems (like massive heart attacks and gun shots), and deals with diagnostic errors. You can see a user-friendly interpretation of the study at the Atlantic.

If you walk with a swagger, are you narcissistic?

Maybe. And maybe not. Research Digest recently cited a study looking at how we interpret the personality of someone based on how they walk. That is, we see an expansive, loose walking style as related to adventurousness, extraversion, trustworthiness and warmth while a slow and relaxed walking style was associated with being neurotic. According to the personality questionnaires completed by the walkers, however, their style of walking was not correlated with their personality–but it was in the minds of the observers. We see this sort of assumption operating in our mock juror observations of witnesses. They look at witnesses or parties and “see” drug abuse, liars, conspiracy, jealousy and much more. It isn’t that those negatives are there in truth–but they are there in the minds of the observer.

So. Just because you walk with a swagger or a strut doesn’t really mean you are truly a narcissist–but if you’re being observed by someone prone to sensitivity to that trait, you could get tagged with it. Not sure what you should do about it, but don’t be surprised. People are constantly judging…

Nicolas Guéguen, & Céline Jacob (2012). Lipstick and tipping behavior: When red lipstick enhances waitresses tips. International Journal of Hospitality Management DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhm.2012.03.012

Rieger G, & Savin-Williams RC (2012). The eyes have it: Sex and sexual orientation differences in pupil dilation patterns. PLoS ONE, 7 (8) PMID: 22870196


Comments Off on Tidbits–news you can use! (maybe…)

It’s very frustrating to present logical explanations to jurors about science or technology only to have it fall on deaf ears. What we have come to understand is that if you tell a story that jurors relate to, they are globally more receptive and your scientific explanation fits more easily in their day-to-day lives.

Hard to accept the idea that education doesn’t really work? Take a look at this new (and intriguing) review of studies about scientific versus supernatural explanations for illness. Researchers from four major universities (UT Austin, Michigan, Northwestern and Harvard) collaborated to explore the relationship between scientific and supernatural explanations of why certain people contract AIDS.

Generally, we think of children as having more supernatural beliefs. As they age and gain education and information (as well as brain development) they abandon the supernatural for science. Right? Apparently not. These researchers show that we retain both supernatural and scientific ideas–flexibly combining or interchanging them to explain various events.

For example, “a person might explain AIDS using witchcraft in one instance, biology in another, or combine the two in a third instance”. Indeed, say the researchers, the tendency to invoke the supernatural explanation increases with age rather than decreases!

One of our favorite examples of this comes from some work we did in East Texas last year where an older white female mock juror [who happened to be a school teacher] described a popular social networking site as “the devil’s work”. The grins in the observation room quickly faded and jaws dropped as we saw numerous other mock jurors nodding grimly. She was a school teacher. None of them appeared to be kidding.

So to explore this combination of the scientific and supernatural explanations, the researchers reviewed more than 30 studies completed in the past decade–showing examples of how scientific and supernatural beliefs are combined. Their samples included children and adults (ranging in age from 5 to 75) across multiple cultures (America, South Africa, Mexico and more). It may be surprising for you that supernatural explanations for AIDS were not confined to developing countries.

Here are some of the supernatural explanations in comments made by study participants in studies about AIDS:

“To medical doctors it seems like AIDS but it is not. The spell was supposed to look like AIDS.”

“It’s a mixture of germs, evil spirits and magic spells.”

“Witchcraft, which is mixed with evil spirits, and having unprotected sex causes AIDS.”

These were all comments made by adults. Overall, the researchers say that many of us combine both supernatural and scientific explanations as we offer our real beliefs about various illnesses, death, the origin of the species, and/or the transmission of AIDS. Further, the inclusion of supernatural explanations (in both industrial and developing countries) is higher among adults than it is among younger children.

It is as though we struggle to incorporate our religious beliefs and our sense of the “unexplained” into our views of how things happen. We may believe that there is a scientific basis for AIDS itself, but we work to explain why AIDS happens to certain people. The how may be scientific, but our why is where the supernatural often comes into play.

It’s one of the important reasons to do pretrial research when your story involves ambiguous technology, scientific, medical or other high-level information. ‘How’ is important, but we frequently find far more effort being made to understand ‘why’ something happened. Of course causation is important, but so is motivation. When jurors are deciding issues about the previously unknown, you need to know when they might think what happened is the will of God, the influence of witchcraft, or even the work of the devil. In our experience in working in venues across the country, jurors (of all ages) are not at all embarrassed to bring up those hypotheses in deliberations.

Legare CH, Evans EM, Rosengren KS, & Harris PL (2012). The coexistence of natural and supernatural explanations across cultures and development. Child development, 83 (3), 779-93 PMID: 22417318