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Here’s another this-and-that post documenting things you need to know but that we don’t want to do a whole post about–so you get a plethora of factoids that will entertain your family and entrance your co-workers. Or at least be sort of fun to read and (probably) as awe-inspiring as the stack of vegetables and fruit illustrating the post.

Just don’t do it: How bringing up politics ruins your workplace

You probably know this already since many people say their Facebook feeds are a toxic combination of politics and rage these days. So. Bringing up politics up at work is now officially a bad thing. We used to think that being exposed to varying ideas in the workplace broadened all our world views. But that was before this round of extreme political polarization and the strong feelings on both sides of the aisle. Here’s a survey from Wakefield Research and workplace consultants Betterworks that gives factual information on workplace conflict surrounding politics. While reading it won’t make you feel that much better, it will certainly tell you that your own workplace is not the only one so negatively charged (and give you some tips on dealing with employees obsessively checking social media).

Can you trick narcissists into actually feeling empathy?

Recent research says yes you can—simply by reminding them to take the other person’s perspective. In short, the researchers found that those high in narcissistic traits (but not meeting diagnostic criteria) were able to demonstrate perspective-taking but they had to be directed to do so. We have talked about this when it comes to implicit racial biases so the idea is not entirely new, but it is an interesting idea that narcissists would not even consider basic empathy (i.e., imagining the other person’s perspective) unless prompted to do so.

More on beards—this time in healthcare

Just like tattoos, we have covered beards a lot here and addressed issues related to beards like women’s preferences in long-term relationships, bearded men and sexism, extra punitiveness towards bearded men, bearded experts in East Texas, genetics and your bushy beard, and even identifying the elusive lumbersexual on your jury. There is so much debate and research about beards that we’ll give you that link again so you can catch up on all things beard in this blog. Mostly the only question never adequately addressed is “what is it about beards that mobilizes any sort of attitude at all?”

This particular controversy on beards has apparently been going on since the 1800s so it is a bit surprising we don’t have something on it already. Doctors. Should they have beards? Is it a hygiene issue? Should they be able to look older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than they may be chronologically by growing a beard? Scientific American blogs has an entry telling us (among other things) that “beards retained microorganisms and toxin despite washing with soap and water” and that bearded surgeons should “avoid wiggling the face mask” to prevent bacterial contamination during surgery. There are multiple other studies cited that come down on both sides of this hygiene debate. You will want to know about this one. Even though your life won’t be improved by the debate.

Earworms—they’re back!!!!

We’ve also blogged about earworms a number of times (hey—it’s an important topic!) Buzzfeed recently published a list of pop songs likely to get stuck in your head—which is what an earworm is—by definition. As a public service, here is one of our top choices for “most likely to give you an earworm” pop song.

And now that you have that list of songs to give you earworms—here’s recent research giving you a “cure” for the earworm. Chew some gum! The researchers say when you are chewing gum your brain is unable to form the associations essential for the creation and maintenance of an ear worm. Okay then. We can’t say if it’s true (and apparently it doesn’t work for everyone) but go buy some gum (it’s for science).

Throwing out advances in knowledge (is that what we want to do?)

We have lived in The Age of Reason (aka the Enlightenment) since emerging from the darkness and magical thinking of the Middle Ages. A new opinion piece from Daniel J. Levitin, an educator (published at the Daily Beast) asks us to consider whether we really want to live in an era where we avoid rational thought. It’s a brief and well-written piece that will give you talking points on why a return to the Middle Ages or even the 1950s is not a goal for which we should strive.

Beaman, CP, Powell, K, & Rapley, E (2015). Want to block eagworms from conscious awareness? Buy gum! The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,, 68 (6), 1049-1057.

Hepper EG, Hart CM, & Sedikides C (2014). Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic? Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (9), 1079-1091 PMID: 24878930


Comments Off on Don’t do this at work, beards, ear worms, narcissists, &  discarding advances in knowledge

timely-tidbits-logoYou are not seeing double. Over the last month we’ve kept reading and reading and reading but many of the articles we read for the blog were fun but just not substantive enough for a full blog post. So. Think of this as the director’s cut version of the blog—full of things you wish we’d blogged on but that are included here for your pleasure and edification.

Women just need to ask for a raise, right? It is 2016, after all!

It is 2016. And yet, managers treat some women differently than they treat men who ask for raises. Women do ask for raises. They just don’t get them—according to a new study summarized over at Pacific Standard Magazine and looking at Australian salaries in 2013–14. The large survey—it features responses from 4,600 workers at 840 workplaces, just over half of them female — asks specific questions about pay raises, of both the requested and granted variety.

Women are 25% less likely than men to receive the raises they request and there is no evidence women do not ask because they are afraid their relationship with their manager will be compromised. It is not that women need to be more assertive. We will leave it to you to think of what this really represents.

Keep yourself from designing in discrimination

Remember that Snapchat filter that got pulled because users said it was racist and mimicked a ‘yellowface’ caricature of an Asian face? Snapchat said it meant to evoke anime characters and removed the filter within hours of uploading it due to negative feedback. Lena Groeger (also writing at PacificStandard) says this is what happens when you don’t have a diverse team working on your products and services—it makes you blind to design decisions that are hurtful or discriminatory to your customers. This is a thought-provoking and easy-to-read article on how we make choices that bring indignity and discomfort to others.

More hairy information

We’ve written about beards, baldness, lumbersexuals, and more on hair that we’ve likely forgotten—but we cannot avoid this study (and we know you would not want us to miss pointing you toward it). Women (says a new study and since it is research it must not be wrong) prefer men with beards when they are looking for long-term relationships. The researchers showed women pictures of men who were either: clean-shaven, had light stubble, heavy stubble, or full beards. Stubble was rated most attractive overall but only for short-term relationships. Full beards were the most attractive when considering longer relationships. The researchers say this is likely because hirsuteness in the form of a full beard “is a signal of formidability among males and the potential to provide direct benefits, such as enhanced fertility and survival, to females”.

Oh man. They were doing so well. Then they gave themselves away as evolutionary psychologists. Admittedly, this blog has a long-standing tradition of poking those psychologists. Sometimes they hit on stereotypes we all apply (like in the “wide-faced men are thugs” research on how we stereotype by appearance) but more often they do ridiculous things like saying men are attracted to women shaped like Barbie dolls and other things our readers just know are totally untrue. For a rundown of the posts we’ve done on the work of evolutionary psychologists see this—and don’t count on the accuracy of women choosing bearded men for their virility and survival skills.

Helpfulness is just exhausting

We’re here to tell you. Being helpful to others is just very tiring. But don’t take our word for it—new research agrees. People who are helpful (on a daily basis) in the workplace are less productive and get burned out. The authors (one of whom summarized their work at Harvard Business Review) offer take-aways for both helpers and help-seekers. We think their recommendations are also useful for managers and human resource personnel as they are concrete, practical, and easy to implement.

Lanaj K, Johnson RE, & Wang M (2016). When lending a hand depletes the will: The daily costs and benefits of helping. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 101 (8), 1097-110 PMID: 27149605

Dixson BJ, Sulikowski D, Gouda-Vossos A, Rantala MJ, & Brooks RC (2016). The masculinity paradox: facial masculinity and beardedness interact to determine women’s ratings of men’s facial attractiveness. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 29 (11), 2311-2320 PMID: 27488414


Comments Off on Beards, designing in discrimination, assertion for women, and the exhausting process of helping  

sleep demonWe read a lot of articles in order to blog regularly and often find intriguing (not to mention weird, odd, esoteric, freakish) pieces of information to which we do not wish to devote an entire post—yet, also do not wish to hoard the information. At times like these, you will see a collection of the strange and wonderful tidbits that cross our path.

Sleep Paralysis’ Demons

This is a scary thing we’ve blogged about before but sort of as an aside in a post primarily about exploding head syndrome. Yes. That’s really a thing. Today though, we are focused on the horror that is sleep paralysis (made only more horrifying one might imagine, by the accompanying presence of a sleep demon). Apparently, 40% of us will suffer from sleep paralysis at some point in our lives.

“This terror-inducing experience occurs when a person on the border between wakefulness and sleep gains partial consciousness. The dreamer may perceive that a menacing, oftentimes-otherworldly intruder is in their room or bed, yet they are incapable of moving or screaming—even as the creature begins choking, crushing, raping or attacking them. Scientists believe it’s all a hallucination, but in the throes of an attack, sleep paralysis’ demons can be deeply convincing.”

A specialist on this disorder makes perhaps the biggest understatement of all time in saying this experience can be “pretty troubling”.

“It’s a pretty troubling event for at least a portion of the people who have the disorder,” says Allan Cheyne, a retired cognitive psychologist, formerly at the University of Waterloo. “They might think it was demonic possession or alien abduction, the beginnings of a stroke, incipient psychosis that’s going to get worse or that they’re never going to come out of the paralysis.”

At least if this happens to you, you will know what it is and that sleep paralysis demon is not truly real. You’re welcome.

Assassins who apparently were not reliable vendors

It can be a hard lesson to learn that one should always vet new vendors carefully. Perhaps it is an even harder lesson to learn that your spouse wants to have you killed. All’s well that ends well for the potential victim in this murder for hire story. A man paid hit men to kill his spouse and even paid them a bonus for reporting a successful kill. Then, she showed up at her own funeral and the man was unnerved to discover she was not an apparition but living and breathing. The story tells the tale of “three unusually principled hit men” and the events surrounding the failed murder plot. Her husband has been sentenced to prison for nine years in Melbourne, Australia and the woman says she is starting a new life.

A nose for criminals

You know that dogs have a terrific sense of smell and now that powerful nose is being put to work to see if someone was at the scene of a crime. Apparently dogs can get it right about 80-90% of the time and there were no false positives generated after a year of training the dogs. If the dogs erred at all, they failed to identify someone who was there—for some reason they never falsely accused anyone. Good doggie!! The study itself is open access at PLOSONE. The field of study is called the science of “odorology” and relies on the dogs powerful sense of smell and extensive training.

“It has been used in France since 2003 in police investigations to establish that an individual has been present at a crime scene. The method is based on the fact that each person has their own scent and relies on the powerful canine sense of smell (which can be 200 to 10,000 times more sensitive than that of a human being).”

How big was that spider? It was HUGE!!!

It will come as no shock to the arachnophobes among us that when you are fearful of spiders they appear to be larger to you. This was research where the scientists had participants look at photos of birds and spiders and butterflies. Only those participants who were “highly fearful” overestimated the size of the spiders compared to butterflies. The researchers, in a stunning finding, say that “perception of even a basic feature such as size is influenced by emotion”. They are hopeful their study will be useful in work with phobia treatments.

Men with beards are more likely to be sexist (and other hairy issues)

Beards keep coming up here and we dutifully write about them. In the event you missed it, back in 2011 we blogged about a study saying jurors are more likely to convict defendants with beards and this year we wrote about spotting the lumbersexual in your venire panel. Here’s a new study telling us that men with beards tend to be more sexist. The researchers hypothesized that sexist men are more likely to grow beards in order to appear more masculine and dominant. On a completely unrelated note, another study recently examined whether bald men were indeed more virile. As a public service, here is the link to that study. Finally, while we have not blogged about the virility of bald men, we have blogged about how bald men cannot help but exude confidence, masculinity, authority, and power!

Marchal S, Bregeras O, Puaux D, Gervais R, & Ferry B (2016). Rigorous Training of Dogs Leads to High Accuracy in Human Scent Matching-To-Sample Performance. PLoS ONE, 11 (2) PMID: 26863620


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You work hard to prepare your witnesses. You give them fashion advice. Practice testimony to help them tell their story truthfully and effectively. Carefully order your case narrative. And then stuff happens. We wrote almost a year ago about how facial scars, videography angles and foreign accents could derail your witness impact on jurors. And now there’s more.

People are often strange creatures.  Small things make a difference in what we assume about others. This time we want you to pay even more attention to your witness’ face. Specifically, do they have a beard and do they wear eyeglasses? (And no. This isn’t about the nerd defense.)

Michael Brown wrote a piece in The Jury Expert on his research which was popularized in the media as the “nerd defense”.  He mentions some as yet unpublished data where follow-up research on the impact of corporate defendants wearing eyeglasses was conducted. What happened in that research was that white collar crime defendants who wore eyeglasses were rated more negatively: they were seen as more intelligent but found guilty more often.

Takeaway: Be aware that jurors may see your white-collar client as sneaky and bright if they wear eyeglasses. Bright is okay. Sneaky is not. You want to avoid characterizations of your client as furtive, not trustworthy and sneaky.

And it continues. How about being bearded? Is your male client bearded? (If your client is female and bearded we are happy to provide you with private consultation.  Free.) Research shows we tend to judge bearded defendants harshly.  Seriously? Seriously.  And according to our in-house research, they find bearded experts less credible, as well.

Participants in a research study were shown two photos and told one was a defendant in a rape case.

78% of them chose the photo where the defendant had a beard.

A second study was conducted where participants were asked to draw a sketch of the face of a criminal offender.

82% of the sketches included facial hair.

Takeaway: Along with that fashion consult, you might want to supply hirsute clients with a razor. Why we see men with facial hair as more dangerous is an interesting question but this research would say we often do. Although in some circles facial hair is celebrated, apparently the circle where Americans judge character and alleged misdeeds is not one of them.

So now you know. Facial scars, check. Videography angles, check. Foreign accents, check. Eyeglasses, check.  Beard (goatee, and especially a soul patch), check.


Conti RP, & Conti MA (2004). Mock jurors’ perceptions of facial hair on criminal offenders. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 98 (3 Pt 2), 1356-8 PMID: 15291226

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ideology 2016The study we’re looking at today relates to aspects of race, gender, and background play a part in the influence that a scientist has on others. These researchers completed 5 separate experiments to examine if race (e.g., White, Black, and Asian) and gender (e.g., male or female) and socioeconomic status (high or low) of scientists made a difference in credibility ratings and why that happened (when it did). Instead of summarizing all five studies, we will simply tell you that in total there were more than 900 participants in studies in the US, Canada and India. The researchers had participants read a research report which (conveniently) included a photo of the researcher. As you may have ascertained, the race and gender of the “researchers” pictured in the photos varied so the researchers could test their hypotheses.

Their findings were the same across all five studies and across three countries (US, Canada and India). Essentially, the participants had definite opinions on the credibility of the researchers but it wasn’t about the appearance of the researchers (sex, race). Instead, how the participants perceived the credibility of the researcher in the photographs was dependent on the ideology of the participant themselves.

The researchers used a scale from the mid-1990s called the Social Dominance Oriention (SDO) Scale to assess whether participants were elitist (i.e., wanting to maintain the status quo) or egalitarian (i.e., wanting to level the playing field). The SDO Scale is unlikely to be approved for use in court (due to the language used in it) but the researchers offer examples of elitist and egalitarian beliefs by quoting questions from the SDO.

Sample elitist beliefs:

“Inferior groups should stay in their place”

“It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others”

Sample egalitarian beliefs:

“All groups should be given an equal chance in life”

“We should strive to make incomes as equal as possible”

As you read these questions and think about the idea of priming (which we’ve blogged about previously) you may have your own ideas as to why the researchers found what they did.

What the researchers found was that elitists thought White male researchers were more credible while egalitarians thought women and people of color were more credible. In other words, elitists were biased toward White men while egalitarians were biased toward women and people of color.

While this finding is interesting, what comes next in the article is very interesting.

A key finding in the work was that when ideologies were at either extreme (very elitist or very egalitarian) the support for White men versus the support for women and people of color were strongest.

Second, if the researcher pictured in the photo was shown to be of higher status (and thus academically competent) the effects were neutralized.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, what this article says is you want to strike the fringe dwellers on your panel (and we’ve typically agreed with this if your goal is for the jury to reach a verdict). We’ve always said they are too unpredictable and the researchers say they are the most likely to make decisions based on ideology rather than as a considered response to evidence and testimony.

Second, this research would say you want to clearly establish an identity for the “researcher” that jurors will identify in the way most beneficial to your case. If it is your witness or client, the more compelling their status to the kinds of jurors you have is ideal so the jurors are comfortable assuming they are competent academically.

We once were asked to help prepare a witness who was a world-famous expert in a highly technical area of intellectual property. For better or for worse, he was a professor at a famous university in the San Francisco Bay area, with a beard and an eye-catching head of frizzy hair. To many, he looked like Albert Einstein or some other science genius. But to the rural folks from the Eastern District of Texas, he simply looked like an aging hippy. If you are ‘preparing the battle ground’ for an opposing witness, finding ways to undermine their relatability or admirability is worth considering.

To this we would add that you also want to work with witnesses and parties so their testimony shows them to be not only credible, but also trustworthy, likable and confident (without being cocky). We think the idea of showing that your client (whether an individual or an organization) shares values with the jurors heightens their acceptance, even when they are talking about things no juror really understands. If the witness displays the universal values that are strongly held by the jurors, he or she is prone to being seen as “one of us”—and that’s a very good day in court.

Zhu LL, Aquino K, & Vadera AK (2016). What Makes Professors Appear Credible: The Effect of Demographic Characteristics and Ideological Beliefs. The Journal of Applied Psychology PMID: 26949817



Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: Race and gender and  scientist credibility