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Simple Jury Persuasion: Women can keep the vote after all…

Friday, March 21, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

women-votersYou may recall the story posted on CNN in late 2012 about how women vote differently based on hormonal fluctuations. Unfortunately, because of how our brains work (and our attraction to outrageous stories, true or not), you may not recall that CNN removed the story in 7 hours due to internet backlash over an article based on a (then) unpublished study. One of the more amusing responses to the post suggested CNN investigate how Viagra influences male votes. Instead, CNN just took down the article.

New published research disputes the study CNN relied on. And we should note the original study did eventually publish. The current researchers set out to see if the 2013 results could be replicated and so their design was as close to the original study as possible (at least according to them). Spoiler alert: The new research discredits the basis for the CNN report.

The researchers recruited 1,206 women in an online study. The participants reported they were pre-menopausal, not pregnant, not using hormonal contraception and having regular monthly menstrual cycles (from 25 to 35 days in duration). The participants were classified as either “paired” (N = 730) or “single” (N = 476) and their specific date of ovulation identified (those in days 4-11 of their 25 day cycle, for example, were classified as fertile and those in days 14-22 were classified as nonfertile while those in any other day of the cycle [day 1-3 or day 23-25] were excluded from the primary analyses). Before you question any of these variables or how they were calculated, the researchers were simply faithfully following the criteria in the 2013 study.

The 1,206 participants (recruited prior to the 2012 election) were asked to “imagine walking into the voting booth today” and report whether they would vote for Romney (the Republican) or Obama (the Democrat). Here is what the researchers found:

There was no relationship between actual voting behavior and fertility or relationship status, or as the authors explain: “There was no association between attitudes and fertility.”

The authors go on to talk about Type 1 errors and failures to replicate other published studies on the relationship of menstrual cycles to preferences and attraction. Hot on the heels of their study is the response from the authors of the 2013 study who, not surprisingly, feel grossly misunderstood. And then, bless his heart, along comes the Neuroskeptic to talk about the errors of their ways for both of them!

What we want to talk about is different from what they all want to talk about and that is

a) the tendency of most people to recall the headline about women’s hormones and voting behavior; but

b) not recall that the study was pulled from the CNN website within hours; or

c) ever know that a follow-up failed to support their findings.

The lesson learned is the impossibility of unringing the bell. It’s a cautionary tale for trial lawyers. Motions in limine are often key to keeping the story clean and focused. And whether a case is below the media radar or on the front page, the story that is in the mind of a juror doesn’t necessarily square with what you think the evidence has established.

Just because something is heavily publicized does not mean it is true (or not true). While everyone agrees with that, it doesn’t mean that they are immune from the effect of repetition or of having heard if from a prominent source. The goal is either or both: 1) Discrediting the message, or 2) Discrediting the messenger.

Just because one pontificates loudly and insistently does not mean what they say is true (or not true). One of Ronald Reagan’s best debate lines was to summarily dismiss critics by saying “well there they go again…”, which was extremely effective in shifting the focus from the takeaway message that criticized him to one that casts a disdainful shadow on his critics.

None of us like to be fooled. Use that desire to know the truth to get jurors to listen to your truth even though it may be quieter and less strident than the other voices fighting for their attention. Caution them (as Reagan did very simply) to beware of idle rumors and loose talk–and to focus instead on character and principles.

Harris, C., & Mickes, L. (2014). Women Can Keep the Vote: No Evidence That Hormonal Changes During the Menstrual Cycle Impact Political and Religious Beliefs Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797613520236

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