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Archive for December, 2012

Top 10 Most Read Posts During 2012!

Monday, December 31, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

top-10-listIt’s New Year’s Eve and many are reviewing the events of the past year. We thought it likely an opportune time to take a look at what you, our readers, thought were are most intriguing posts during the year of 2012. These are the Top 10 most visited posts during this calendar year. We list them in order of their popularity during 2012.

Walk with us down memory lane. And happy anticipation of 2013 when we will continue to bring you the latest in research and insights from our ongoing work in litigation advocacy!

  1. The glasses create a kind of unspoken nerd defense“. This is our original post on the “nerd defense” (put glasses on your criminal defendant and the jury will acquit). This idea has surprising staying power (even though the actual research does not really support this strategy) and we’ve posted half a dozen additional times on the nerd defense (as it evolves) since the original post.
  2. No one makes a deal on a handshake these days“. Mock juror reactions to handshake deals in the oil and gas industry and Dan Ariely’s work on “handshake deals” inspired this post. It’s always of interest to see “real people” reacting in the same ways our (randomly selected, jury eligible) mock jurors react prior to being told a story that helps them understand how something like a handshake deal involving millions of dollars still does happen “these days”.
  3. Women who stalk: Who they are and how they do it“. We tend to visualize men as stalkers but women, not so much. This is scary research and useful since only limited work has been done on describing female stalkers.
  4. Simple Jury Persuasion: Tattoo you?“. Ahhh–the age-old question: Should a trial lawyer be tattooed? Hmmm. The research may surprise you!
  5. A screwdriver: The new addition to your trial toolbox? (We think not)“. Sometimes we publish research we do not recommend you try at home (or in the courtroom). And sometimes you all pass it around to each other and it joins our most read posts. Such is the case with this post which describes research wherein they tinkered with the chairs in which decision-makers sat to make the chairs tilt slightly to either the right or the left. To take a look at what happened. And again, don’t try this at home.
  6. Simple Jury Persuasion: The alpha strategies“. Sometimes we struggle with posts that are lengthy and complex. We wonder if you will really embrace them since we try here to keep the information easy to digest. It’s heartening to have one of those tougher to digest posts hit the Top Ten List this year.
  7. Excuse me potential juror, but just how big is your amygdala?“. Neurolaw research is exploding in size. And some of it says the size of your individual amygdala matters and may actually set your political orientation at birth. Oy. This post is an example of debunking popular interpretations of research. And it’s one you need to read!
  8. Men: Exude confidence, masculinity, authority and power!“. The combover has never ever been “in”. This post is about shaved heads on men (but does not address women with shaved heads). We looked up the researcher’s picture. Yes. He has a shaved head.
  9. When you wear glasses you are less attractive but more smart and trustworthy“. Hmmm. Intriguing that three of our top 10 posts for 2012 have something to do with how we appear to others. This is research that shows you how to look as attractive as you can (as well as smart and trustworthy) if you wear glasses. Practical research to facilitate vanity. It doesn’t get much better than that!
  10. Have you been keeping up with the ‘sexsomniac’ defense?“. Sometimes neurolaw defenses are disturbing. Sometimes they are fascinating. And sometimes, they are both disturbing and fascinating. This one qualifies as both.

And there you have it! The ten most accessed posts for 2012. It’s a good cross-section of what we write about in general–hard core thoughts on persuasion research, more light-hearted recommendations based on current research, lessons learned from our pretrial research and witness preparation, and other things we happen upon in our day-to-day work in litigation advocacy.




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We’ve all seen the research showing that men are more physically aggressive than women. But it’s been tough for researchers to explain just why that difference exists. They’ve proposed it’s due to social learning or evolutionary pressures but there’s been no real consensus since men are not measurably more angry than women (according to what’s been measured in research). The authors of this blog each have one daughter and one son, and we can join those who are mystified by the pattern of aggressiveness. To our observation, the difference was seen in toddlerhood.

So researchers chose to explore the idea of revenge and to look at whether the revenge motive differs between men and women. Surprise! It does! Here’s what they did over three different studies.

In Study 1, 89 undergraduate students (64 women and 25 men, average age 20.1 years) at the University of Wyoming completed questionnaires on physical aggression and trait anger and revenge motivation.

Men reported more physical aggression than did women. There were no differences in reports of anger between men and women (everyone gets mad– this is consistent with past research) but men reported more motivation to seek revenge than women reported.

In Study 2, 69 undergraduate students (50 women and 19 men with an average age of 19.6 years) from the University of Wyoming completed the same questionnaires used in Study 1.

Again, men reported more physical aggression than women, anger reports for men were slightly higher than they were for women, and men were more likely to have higher levels of revenge motivation.

For Study 3, 95 undergraduate students (55 men and 40 women with an average age of 19.6 years) from North Dakota State University were seated in separated cubicles equipped with desktop computers and headphones for the delivery of noise blasts. They were told they were competing against another research participant. Their task was to press the space bar as soon as they heard a brief beep. Whomever won the competition was able to choose a loud noise blast to administer to their opponent “to encourage them to respond faster”. They were allowed to choose how loud the noise blast would be and also allowed to choose a “no-noise, non-aggressive option”.

There was no real opponent. The computer randomly chose the “winner” as well as the intensity/volume of the noise blast received by the loser. There were 20 rounds of the “game” and each participant (there really was only one) won about half of the rounds (so each participant received 10 separate noise blasts). Following the competition, they filled out questionnaires on their emotional state (having just been repeatedly blasted by their invisible competitor) and then on how much revenge motivation they experienced during the competition.

Men were more aggressive in their noise blast suggestions than women. Men were more revenge motivated than women but not more angry than women nor more generally negatively oriented. The level of revenge motivation expressed was predictive of aggression: that is, men were more aggressive and their revenge motivation was also higher than that of women.

The researchers are quick to say that revenge is not the only reason men are more aggressive than women, but it certainly appears to be one of the reasons. One theory would be that men are more territorially competitive, and want to reassert their dominance. Thus a desire for revenge or retribution would drive aggressive behavior.

What is of interest from a litigation standpoint is whether people find it acceptable, and what circumstances mitigate public dismay at aggressive behavior by men. The studies and stories of aggression by women being judged far more harshly than the same behavior by men are commonplace. But what makes aggression/retaliation seem okay? What constitutes justification, and what is seen as aggressive? And what characteristics correspond to those who are tolerant of retaliation, versus those who are most likely to punish it?

While not from different planets and certainly not different species, men and women are different. They negotiate differently and they deliberate differently. Our task is to find out when gender is a bright line divider in how jurors think about specific cases. It doesn’t happen often–but when it does, it is critical to know.

Wilkowski, B., Hartung, C., Crowe, S., & Chai, C. (2012). Men don’t just get mad; they get even: Revenge but not anger mediates gender differences in physical aggression Journal of Research in Personality, 46 (5), 546-555 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.06.001



News You Can Use (maybe!)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

It’s time for another installment of those delectable tidbits we find that won’t take a whole blog post but that are just too intriguing or amusing to toss out. And sometimes, they are life-changing. Sort of.

The Pinocchio Effect Confirmed:

For years we’ve been looking for a deception identification technique that is foolproof. And here it is! A bit impractical perhaps but just wait a few years and there will be thermographic cameras on every desk (or perhaps witness stand). Researchers at the University of Granada have been experimenting with thermography cameras and have found that when we lie we experience “an increase in the temperature around the nose and in the orbital muscle in the inner corner of the eye”. This is visible with a thermographic camera. “Excuse me while I take your photo repeatedly to determine if you are lying…”.

Guilt and the Perception of Delicious Pie

Many of us try to avoid sweet desserts but there are times we succumb. Why does it have to taste so good? New research says the guilt we feel for succumbing actually makes the treat taste even more delicious than it normally would. Guilt may not be good in and of itself, but it sure makes pie taste better!

Please! Check under your bed prior to pouring out your heart!

We knew when we discovered that scientists were feeding people dog food to see if they knew it was dog food (and not fine paté) that you just cannot trust researchers. Frankly we knew it before then but we sure had no clue it had been going on since 1938! In that year, a study was published where researchers secretly recorded conversations by “hiding under beds in students’ rooms, eavesdropping in university smoking rooms and dormitory washrooms, and listening in on phone conversations”.  And this was not considered an unreasonable invasion of privacy or violation of human subjects’ rights. All we can say is it is a good thing you can’t do that stuff anymore. But we’d look under the bed anyway!

Drink as Much Coffee as You Like!

Didn’t we say “life-changing”? You’ve seen our previous nods to the joy of coffee and now the restrictions are off! “We should embrace coffee for reasons beyond the benefits of caffeine, and that we might go so far as to consider it a nutrient”. There are, in fact, so many benefits to coffee we cannot recount them all here so follow the link to the Atlantic and enjoy another cup of coffee while you read up on why it’s so very wonderful. The comments are also instructive and quite amusing (it’s apparent that many of these commenters have had their quota of caffeine for the day).

So, identify liars with your trusty thermographic camera, know exactly why that pie tastes so very, very special, avoid pesky researchers and have a cup of caffeinated coffee with that pie. Terrific news to use every day.

Goldsmith, K., Cho, E., & Dhar, R. (2012). When Guilt Begets Pleasure: The Positive Effect of a Negative Emotion Journal of Marketing Research, 49 (6), 872-881 DOI: 10.1509/jmr.09.0421


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Ears as a tool for influence!

Monday, December 24, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

We’ve written before about how having earlobes at varying heights is a common characteristic of leaders. But who knew your ears could actually influence others?

Okay, so it’s really more about what you do with your ears–but it still enhances your level of influence and persuasion among others. And that’s a good thing.

Researchers wondered how important listening was in social influence and persuasion. So they collected data from 274 MBA students on the East Coast (36% women, average age 28.3 years) who had former work colleagues rate them on various attributes (an average of 3.87 former colleagues rated each MBA student). The MBA students were rated on influence, listening, verbal expression and the Big Five personality dimensions (agreeableness, openness, extraversion, conscientiousness and emotional stability).

The researchers came to three major conclusions:

Listening is more important than expressing yourself verbally.

Ability to listen is related to your ability to exert influence through speaking/expressing yourself.

Willingness to listen is related to others seeing you as agreeable, open and influential. In other words, you may extend your own power to influence others by “getting others to open up, reveal information, and share critical points of view”.

For trial lawyers (and other evolving humans), it’s a skill frequently overlooked in a profession valuing oration and expression. So learn to listen. Practice listening and really having interest in what others have to share with you. Your range of information will be broader, you will have more to share when you choose to speak, and you will be seen more positively by others and as more persuasive and influential. And all you have to do is listen.

Ames, D., Maissen, L., & Brockner, J. (2012). The role of listening in interpersonal influence Journal of Research in Personality, 46 (3), 345-349 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.01.010



You’ve seen our posts on wearing red (for both men and women) and the bounce you get in terms of perceived attractiveness and likability. But wait! New research says it doesn’t work for all of us!

There is some new research that confirms the results of prior research, saying once again that when men look at women wearing red they see those women as more attractive. And women expecting to interact with an attractive man were more likely to choose to wear a red shirt than a blue shirt.

The psychologists who do this research say this is not simply a Western phenomena but rather a seemingly hard-wired and universal preference/predilection as shown by recent research in rural Burkina Faso. (Of course, you already knew Burkina Faso is a landlocked and very poor area in West Africa.)

There is also something a little more disturbing being reported. And here it comes. Researchers in Germany wondered if red was equally flattering to women (in the eyes of heterosexual men) regardless of the woman’s age. They recruited participants to test this question from a shopping district and a university campus. As you perhaps can guess, no, red isn’t equally flattering to women regardless of age. At least not when it comes to making heterosexual men think of sex when they look at you.

The researchers recruited 60 young men–average age 24.7 years– and 60 (what the researchers labeled) “old men”–average age 53.5 years– who were presented with photographs of either a young female target (perceived to be about 23.7 years of age) or an “old female target” (perceived to be about 48.2 years of age). [Let’s agree that these characterizations of “old” are harsh and unreasonable, and just try to move on.] There were four photo variations (e.g., young target/white background, young target/red background, old target/white background, old target/red background) and one of the four photos was shown to every participant. The male research participants were asked the following three questions to determine sexual attractiveness [and we are not making this up]:

How much do you want to be intimate with this person?

How sexually desirable do you find this person?

How much do you want to have sex with this person?

German researchers do not mince words. Subjects were also asked a few other questions about the physical beauty, presumed intellect and likability of the female target. Finally, they were asked to estimate the age of the female target. And here are the (shocking) results:

Men (both old and young) found the young female target more sexually attractive than the old female target.

They found the young targets in front of the red background more attractive than the young targets photographed in front of the white background. As for the “old” target, no one really cared whether she was on a white or red background. There was no difference in how attractive she was described as being. Meh.

Both young and old men thought the young female target was equally sexually attractive. Old men thought the old female target more attractive than the young men did (so much for the cougar stereotype). In truth, the old men thought both young and old women equally sexually attractive (hence, the dirty old man stereotype). Takeaway: Everybody’s got a shot with Grandpa.

The young woman was seen as more physically attractive than the old woman. There were no differences in ratings of intellect or likability between the young woman and the old woman.

The researchers explain these results with hypotheses that are common among evolutionary psychologists and that make the rest of us (at least the “old women” among us) wince, gasp or growl. The researchers thought perhaps the young female target on the red background was more sexually attractive to the male participants because the “color red activates cognitive representations of ‘red-light districts’ in men, and the typical female sex worker is closer to 20 than 50 years old”. They further stick their feet in their mouth with the following: “It could also be that red is perceived as a cue to a woman’s ovulation, and our old target is clearly menopausal, so red is not a valid cue”. Evolutionary psychologists are not known for their wisdom in avoiding the application of gender stereotypes to explain their findings. It also makes one long for research on the dating aplomb of evolutionary psychologists. Not a romantic subgroup, apparently.

So. While we would say Tammy looks terrific in that red dress, this research would say it won’t help her be more persuasive or likable– in court or anywhere else. Red fades with time, and Tammy’s time has expired. Although old men will perhaps still leer since it seems as long as you are female, it works for them. Oy. Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. Or maybe it becomes easier with time. Women in your 40’s or older: Wear the outfit you like the most, and to heck with what researchers say!

Elliot, A., Greitemeyer, T., & Pazda, A. (2012). Women’s use of red clothing as a sexual signal in intersexual interaction Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.10.001

Elliot, A., Tracy, J., Pazda, A., & Beall, A. (2013). Red enhances women’s attractiveness to men: First evidence suggesting universality Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49 (1), 165-168 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.07.017

Schwarz, S., & Singer, M. (2013). Romantic red revisited: Red enhances men’s attraction to young, but not menopausal women Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49 (1), 161-164 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.08.004

***We appreciate being included in the ABA Blawg 100 for the third year in a row! If you like our blawg, take a minute to vote for us here (under the Trial Practice category). Voting ends today–December 21, 2012. Thanks! Doug and Rita***