Shuki. Soukias. Raheem. Samir. Jamal. Lakisha. Atholl. Tyronne. Magestic. Did you know that something as simple as a first name makes the difference between whether you even get the interview? Last weekend we were doing a focus group and one of the mock jurors had a very unique first name. One of a kind. She was African-American. It reminded us of this research and we wanted to post about it since the findings never exactly went viral (as they perhaps should have).
We are only going to cover one research article but there are several out there if you are interested in learning more. This one is more recent and that is why we chose it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if the studies are 10 years old or fairly recent: they all say the same thing. When we see names that seem ethnic to us, we are less interested in interviewing the applicant. It comes down to what is familiar and thus comfortable for us. We like common names more than unique names. And we want to hire people who have common names so that we are more comfortable.
After reviewing the literature, researchers hypothesized that common names would be liked more than unique or ethnic names. To examine the hypothesis, they completed three studies. First, researchers tested sample first names on “working adults and undergraduate business students”. They included “white” (e.g., John, Mary, Robert, Susan), “Russian” (e.g., Vladamir, Sergei, Oksana, Svetlana), “African-American” (e.g., Tyronne, Jamal, Latoya, Tanisha), and “unique” (e.g., Ajax, Atholl, Magestic, Tangerine) names in their sample. The goal of this study was to make sure the names “fit” for the participants sense of White, Russian, African-American and Unique first names.
Participants rated the “white” names as common, the “Russian” names as “likely not American”, and saw the African-American names and the “unique” names as different (as opposed to common). Further, common names were more likable, African-American and Russian names were somewhere in the middle, and unique names were liked the least.
In the second study, 166 university students enrolled in part-time graduate business courses (61% male, 39% female; 78% White, 4% African-American, 2% Hispanic, 12% Asian/Pacific Islander; and 3% “other”; average age 30 years; average work experience 8.4 years) were selected. The participants in this study were asked to evaluate the names in terms of how unique they were, how much they liked the names, and “how willing they would be to hire people with those names”.
In this study, again, participants liked the unique names less and were less likely to be hired. The “best names” (i.e., most liked and most likely to be hired) in this study were Mary and Robert and the “worst names” (i.e., least liked and least likely to be hired) were Atholl and Magestic. African-American and Russian names were seen as being in between these two extreme in both likability and willingness to hire.
So, in the third study, the researchers wanted to check actual hiring behavior to see if the same findings occurred again. In this study, participants were “105 working adults enrolled in a part-time MBA program who had not participated in either of the earlier two studies”. Average age was 28 (range was 21 to 47); they averaged 6.3 years of work experience; 55% reported they had hiring experience; 82% were White, 2% were African-American, 4% were Asian or Pacific Islander, 3% were Hispanic, and 2% were “other” (7% did not report race); 62% were male and 31% were female (7% did not report gender).
Participants in this study were told to imagine they were hiring a new administrative assistant. They were given a real newspaper ad for an administrative assistant and a booklet with 8 resumes and 8 sets of questions regarding hiring. All resumes were designed to make them reasonable candidates for the administrative assistant position. 4 resumes were males and four females with one name taken from each of the four name categories. Participants were asked to evaluate how likely they would be to hire the individual candidates.
We know you think you know what is coming. And (at least in this instance) you are likely wrong. There were no effects by name type or gender. The researchers were surprised by this (as were we) given the strong findings in the first two studies and the plethora of research on the topic.
They offer several ideas for why this happened–chief among them that the participants (as MBA students) wanted to be seen positively and so they were very careful to respond in a socially positive manner. Further, the participants took 15 to 20 minutes to review the 8 resumes and this is unlikely to happen in a regular workplace where supervisors scan resumes to make a rough cut and first impressions are more likely to determine whether a resume goes on for an interview or is discarded.
What the authors do say is that their results would indicate that rejecting unique names is not simply due to racial prejudice. If that were the case, the African-American names would have been the “worst” names for getting an interview. Instead, the studies found that how unique a name was determined which names would go in the “most disliked” category. The researchers think recruiters may well react negatively to names that are unique and thus not recruit or interview those candidates with unique names as often as they choose to recruit and interview those with common names. Anecdotal evidence confirms this theory, both in the States and abroad.
The most obvious omission in the research studies above regards Hispanic names. Would they trigger special treatment? Even in 2008 (when the research was published) the prominence of Hispanic employees in the US workforce would have made inclusion in the study obvious. So we will have to wait a bit to find out whether Javier should change his name to James, and Amelia stands a better chance if she is known as Emily. It would be a shame, but then again, none of us choose our names, so judging one another for the decisions made by our parents when we were born is probably always a shame.
So should people with unique first names change their names for career purposes? The EEOC would beg to differ and may indeed be differing (although it is not confirmed) with the owner of the Whitten Hotel in Taos, New Mexico. This is instead an issue for every organization to take responsibility for reversing. We may not be comfortable with ethnic sounding names but that is very much our problem and not the problem of the individual with the ethnic name. Here’s what you can do:
Use initials on resumes rather than names (and no pictures!) so each candidate is evaluated based on skills and abilities rather than assumptions about names or faces (and the ethnic or racial information they may communicate).
Educate your hiring managers and HR staff about ethnic first name biases. In the process, make it absolutely clear that not only is it a foolish policy to select people based on what their parents thought were nice names, it is likely illegal if construed to be racially tinged. And it usually is.
Promote a work environment that reflects the changing demographics of the country (and the world).
Cotton, J., O’Neill, B., & Griffin, A. (2008). The “name game”: affective and hiring reactions to first names Journal of Managerial Psychology, 23 (1), 18-39 DOI: 10.1108/02683940810849648
A while ago we did a focus group on a shockingly unethical healthcare provider targeting lower income zip codes for insurance fraud and the phrase “those Mexicans” came up in the deliberations.
“That’s a good business model”, an older Caucasian woman said, “because those Mexicans will do whatever you tell them to do”. She seemed oblivious to the very bright, young Hispanic male sitting next to her and the Asian American woman sitting next to him and the middle-aged Hispanic female next to her. All of their eyes opened very wide and they made extended eye contact with a young African American male with dreadlocks sitting across the table from them. The lawyers in the observation room watched with open mouths.
When asked to explain what she meant, the woman modified her statement a bit to incorporate comments about education, lack of language proficiency and poverty. Several other Caucasian jurors around the room chimed in that poor people were more likely to fall victim to financial scams since the economy had made their lives especially tough. It became apparent that “poor” would be a code word for “Mexican” and that the group was going to talk around issues of race and bias and potentially blame the victims.
More than an hour later we took a break and all four of those jurors waited until everyone else left the room and then they burst out laughing. One said, “No, she didn’t!” and they all exchanged comments about how casually racist things are said with a seeming lack of awareness from the speaker. They were surprisingly not angry (and none of them confronted her in the moment) but they definitely felt a bond with each other over their shared experiences. And if you go read the original post, you will see that another African American male completely changed the direction the discussion was headed, and again, without confrontation. They showed far more grace in the moment than I believe I would have in their position, which is the point of this blog post.
New research sheds some light on why this might happen. The researchers cite prior research findings: “Even though confrontations can be effective in curbing prejudice, most people do not directly address an offending person or behavior despite desiring and expecting to do so.” We’ve written about this reality before in a post on sexual harassment. What you believe you will do in theory is different than what you actually do when confronted with the situation yourself.
The researchers conducted three different experiments and found exactly what they expected:
When asked in a pilot study if they would confront sexist statements, women who valued confrontation said they would speak up and challenge sexist comments. However, in all three studies, when women were given the opportunity to confront sexist comments, “the vast majority failed to provide any sort of confrontational response”.
And when women who valued confrontation did not confront the sexist speaker, they compensated psychologically by giving the sexist speaker more favorable evaluations than did women who were not given the opportunity to confront the sexist speaker.
In other words, they pretended they liked the sexist speaker more than they probably did. And they went even further by minimizing how important they thought it was to confront prejudice/sexism when given the opportunity to rate the importance of that behavior after they had chosen not to confront.
The researchers believe this happens due to cognitive dissonance. We see the gap between what we anticipate we will do and what we actually do and it results in efforts to excuse ourselves to ourselves. We might see this in the idea of our inventing “racist roads not taken” and excusing ourselves because we’ve confronted prejudice in the past (even when we haven’t). Their own failure to speak up was so dissonant to them, they rated the person more highly as if to explain why they didn’t take them on.
It’s part of why it’s so important to be vigilant about facts in your case that may trigger racist beliefs, or other forms of bias. Often they make no sense– such as when race isn’t salient to your case narrative. Other times, you can see how those cognitive leaps are made but the comments can still give you pause (as we say here in Texas). The last thing you want is to be surprised when jurors go to deliberate and there are no wise middle-aged African American men to disrupt racial biases with gentleness and humor. Here are some ideas to consider as you prepare for trial:
Identify potential triggers for bias prior to trial and weave information to counter those biases into your case narrative. Give jurors who support your case concrete facts to use in deliberations.
Teach jurors how to deliberate so they know what to discuss and how to frame their arguments so that bias does not derail their work.
Consider when to raise the issue of race or ethnicity so that your jurors are aware of the need to be fair as they consider case issues. Whether you make jurors aware of the insidiousness of racial biases will likely depend on which party you represent.
Rasinski, H., Geers, A., & Czopp, A. (2013). “I Guess What He Said Wasn’t That Bad”: Dissonance in Nonconfronting Targets of Prejudice Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167213484769
PowerPoint is often maligned but new research shows a courtroom PowerPoint effect that is nothing to dismiss! When Plaintiff attorneys used PowerPoint slides, mock jurors thought the Defendant was more liable for the alleged behavior. When the Defense used PowerPoint slides, the Defendant was less liable in the eyes of the mock jurors. Seriously? Because of PowerPoint slides? Let’s look at what they did.
Researchers wanted to examine whether “PowerPoint slides may influence mock juror decision making in a civil case”. They predicted that “when either party used PowerPoint, liability judgments would be more favorable to that party”. They also examined what happened when only one side used PowerPoint. They conducted three separate studies, each with close to 200 participants.
We also need to mention the design of the PowerPoint slides used in this study. The researchers avoided “bells and whistles” and instead focused on displaying “graphs and charts to explain statistical evidence and modest animations to enhance visual contrasts”. They did not want the slides to entertain particularly–but to educate.
The study used actual case facts in which a railroad company was sued for racial discrimination by African-American employees. Participants watched one of four versions of trial videotapes. The videotapes contained only opening statements by Plaintiff and Defense attorneys. Each side was allowed 27 minutes, so the entire video was 54 minutes long. The researchers ultimately report that “lawyers’ use of PowerPoint can effect legal decision makers’ liability judgments”.
Study 1: 192 undergraduate students enrolled at two different universities were recruited (56.1% female, 59.9% White, 13.5% Asian-American, 10.9% African-American, 8.3% Hispanic-American, and 7.4% “other or missing”).
Study 2A: 180 participants enrolled in a US university as undergraduates were recruited (56.7% female, 28.9% White, 40% Asian-American, 5% African-American, and 26.1% Hispanic-American). The experimental design involved comparing 1) whether the Plaintiff used Powerpoint or not, and 2) whether the Plaintiff went first, or the Defendant. Before we go farther, we know as well as many of you that testing for an ‘order effect’ in court makes little sense legally since you start the trial with the Plaintiff opening, not a coin toss. But hey, order effects are real, so it’s good to test them.
Study 2B: 189 undergraduate university students were recruited (59.2% female, 28.6% White, 36% Asian-American, 6.9% African-American, 24.3% Hispanic-American and 4% “other or missing”). The experimental design was also a 2×2, with 1) Defense using PowerPoint or not, and 2) order of presentation– either Plaintiff first or Defense first.
When Plaintiffs used PowerPoint along with their spoken presentations, mock jurors held the Defendant company more responsible for racially discriminating against African-American employees. Conversely, when the Defense used PowerPoint slides, mock jurors saw the Defendant company as less responsible for the alleged racial discrimination. In other words, if you use PowerPoint, it strengthens whatever side of the case you represent.
On Study 1, although not in Study 2A or 2B (where PowerPoint use was manipulated by one party only), if only one party (either Plaintiff or Defense) uses PowerPoint, the effect was more extreme.
In Study 1, mock jurors recalled more information when the Defense attorney’s used PowerPoint. Defense use of PowerPoint resulted in mock juror’s more positive perceptions of the Defense attorney. In Study 2A and 2B, when an attorney used PowerPoint, participants recalled their evidence better and thought more highly of the attorney’s using PowerPoint.
Using PowerPoint also resulted in jurors endorsing the attorney’s case narrative and holding the Defendant more responsible (when the Plaintiff used PowerPoint) or less responsible (when the Defense used PowerPoint).
The researchers say that using PowerPoint helps jurors understand trial information better. At the very least, it affirms that it’s reasonable to call PowerPoint (and Keynote, and others) “Presentation Software”. It helps you construct a more effective presentation. The research on learning styles and recall of presented material makes this a pretty easy call. If you learn via multi-sensory approaches (seeing as well as hearing), your learning is going to be greater. There are ways of screwing it up (mostly by overwhelming jurors with graphic complexity and sensory overload) that can actually diminish recall and persuasion. So, use presentation software. Correctly.
This is a powerful initial foray into the role of PowerPoint in visual persuasion for the courtroom. While, as the authors say, we need more of this sort of controlled research, this information would say you likely need to use some visuals along with your verbal presentation. If you don’t, both you and your client (at least according to this study) will do less well than the opposition.
Park, J., & Feigenson, N. (2013). Effects of a Visual Technology on Mock Juror Decision Making. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27 (2), 235-246 DOI: 10.1002/acp.2900
For more information about research on multi-sensory learning and how to ‘get it right’, We recommend the following books:
Mayer, Richard E. Multimedia Learning. 2001 Cambridge University Press, New York, NY
Atkinson, Cliff. Beyond Bullet Points. 2005 Microsoft Press, Redmond, WA
Chosen, Stephen M. Clear and to the Point. 2007 Oxford Univ. Press, New York, NY
Researchers from Michigan, New York and North Carolina investigated the relationship of age and empathy in three large samples of American adults who ranged in age from 18 to 90 years. They used two nationally representative samples from the General Social Survey (GSS) and their own large (although not nationally representative) online survey of 72,580 US adults. (All three samples were predominantly White–79.7%; 14.2% African American, 2% Asian American, 2.4% Hispanic, and 1.7% others.)
Participants reported their sense of their own individual empathy for others. What the researchers found is a sort of flattened Bell curve.
Younger and older people report less empathy for others than do the late middle-aged. (“Late middle aged” was described by the authors as those in the 50 to 60 year old range.)
And, as you probably guessed, women report more empathy than men.
There was no significant difference in empathy reports by ethnicity (and the differences that were observed were small and inconsistent).
The authors point out that their differences were small but significant. [Very large sample sizes cause small differences to be statistically significant, but not necessarily meaningful on a practical level.] They also recommend a longitudinal study to more thoroughly examine the relationship of empathy to age. So what we are left with is a generalization–also known in some circles, as a stereotype. Generally speaking, the middle-aged are going to see themselves as more empathic. There is also some evidence from similar research that higher levels of education result in greater self reports of empathy. Alas, other research tells us that experiencing more privilege (often associated with higher educational achievement) results in less empathy. Well, clear as mud, eh?
So what does that mean for your case? It’s hard to say. What we typically find is that life experiences and individual differences are more significant than gender and age stereotypes. The goal of this research was not to figure out who really is more empathic but to figure out who thinks they are, and whether that self-description is relevant for your specific case in your specific venue at this particular point in time.
All other things being equal, if you want empathy for your client (and believe that would further your advocacy goals) they would tell you to take the middle-aged woman. We would tell you that it’s possibly true. Or not.
O’Brien E, Konrath SH, Grühn D, & Hagen AL (2013). Empathic concern and perspective taking: linear and quadratic effects of age across the adult life span. The Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68 (2), 168-75 PMID: 22865821
The title of this blog post comes from a post by Ainissa Ramirez on gender and racial bias in the workplace. It’s a lovely turn of phrase even for such an ugly thing. We might think of the science fields as being more neutral and unbiased. I mean, it is science, right? Not so much.
Researchers in Connecticut looked at gender bias in university science departments. And they did it very simply. They submitted application materials of a student for a lab manager position to 127 Biology, Chemistry and Physics faculty from 6 different (anonymous) universities (3 public and 3 private). The researchers were careful to make sure the faculty participating in the study matched the demographics of their overall academic departments. The samples also (impressively) matched national demographics in hard sciences departments. Here’s how the authors describe their sample of 127 science faculty:
74% male, 26% female.
81% White; 6% East Asian; 4% South Asian; 2% Hispanic; 2% African American; 2% multiracial; and 1% each for Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and other.
Average age was 50.34 years with a range from 29 to 78 years of age.
18% were Assistant Professors; 22% were Associate Professors; and 60% were Full Professors.
40% were Biologists; 32% were Physicists; and 28% were Chemists.
In short, this was a sample of science faculty with diverse backgrounds, a range of experience in academia and they were representative of the country’s Science faculty demographically.
The only difference between the application materials faculty were given for the lab manager position was that one applicant was female (Jennifer) and the other was male (John). The application materials gave the same information on Jennifer/John’s credentials. The only difference between Jennifer and John’s applications were the changing of the name and gender related pronouns. Here’s what faculty participant’s saw in Jennifer’s application for example:
You probably know what’s going to happen but we’ll say it anyway and point out that this has not yet been published officially so it’s very, very recent research and not something that’s been out there for decades. There were no differences in how male and female faculty responded to any given application in terms of rating the applicant’s competence, suitability for hire, offers of mentoring, or the initial salary offer. There were also no differences related to the faculty member’s field of specialization (Biology, Chemistry or Physics). However, every issue was significantly different (“with effect sizes ranging from moderate to large”) depending on whether the applicant was male or female.
Faculty participants (both male and female) viewed the female applicant as less competent and less hireable than the male applicant.
They offered less mentoring to the female applicant than to the male applicant.
They offered the female applicant an average annual salary of $26,507.94 and the male applicant was offered an average salary of $30,238.10.
The researchers had also had faculty members complete the Modern Sexism Scale. As they examined the faculty scores on that scale (comprised of questions so objectionable they could make you ill) they found that “the more preexisting subtle bias the participants exhibited against women, the less competence and hireability they perceived in the female applicant and the less willing they were to offer her mentoring”. In other words, the scale was validated against the observable behavior of these faculty members. The researchers believe that subtle biases against women made the faculty more likely to hire and mentor the male student applicant. Oddly, the faculty reported they liked the female applicant more. (They just didn’t want to hire or mentor her as much as the male.) I guess the women were lovely. Just not worthy.
It’s another affirmation of Sheryl Sandberg’s book. And it’s a current story about gender bias in the ivory tower for those of us who may believe this sexism stuff is a thing of the past. Whether you are a science major, a plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit, or an attorney–gender matters. We have to work to find ways to have it not factor into our decisions so insidiously. In the classroom, in the conference room, in the courtroom, and, in the deliberation room.
Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ, & Handelsman J (2012). Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109 (41), 16474-9 PMID: 22988126