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curious-but-lazyIt is yet another installment of things you want to know for voir dire, your personal appearance and choices, and how our country rates on caring for others. Sit back, educate yourself, and return to the fray with tidbits that will heighten your reputation among your co-workers for useful and inspirational pieces of information.

“Need for cognition” sounds good for a juror—right?

Usually we would say the answer to that question all depends on which side of the case you represent. But here is a study that asks if the price of intellectual curiosity is [physical] laziness. Sure enough, they found those low in need for cognition (known in some circles as ‘low information voters’) were more physically active while those high in need for cognition (wanting greater amount of  information before making decisions) were less physically active. Fortunately, we really don’t need to worry about this one since what the researchers also found (after more analyses) was that for those high in need for cognition, there was lesser physical activity on weekdays but those physical activity differences [between those low or high in need for cognition] ceased on the weekend. We don’t know for sure, but it seems possible that the study might see effects for blue-collar workers versus white-collar, level of education, et cetera. So, not to worry, those curious jurors are going to be focused and alert mentally even if they sit in uncomfortable jury box chairs all day long Monday through Friday. Truth be told, sitting in those chairs might be what they do all day during the workweek.

Going bald? You may want to think about hair transplants!

So it has been more than four years since we posted about the appeal of the bald head. Heres what we said then:

You’re cute and confident with a full head of hair. You’re not seen as abnormal with thinning hair but not thought of much otherwise. And when you have a shaved head, you are dominant and tall and even more of a leader. The only real downside for men with shorn scalps is that they were perceived as significantly less attractive than men with thick and luxurious hair.

The shaved head (as opposed to the comb-over) meant you stood out and were seen as a leader. Times may have changed. A new study was just published in the JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery journal saying that when 122 adults (between the ages of 18 and 52) looked at 13 separate photos of men pictured side-by-side—all experiencing age-related hair loss but half having had hair transplants—they thought the men with the hair transplants were more attractive. Specifically, the participants in this study thought the men with the hair transplants were not only more attractive, but also younger, more successful and more approachable!

[We would point out, as a public service, that the men with age-related hair loss but no hair transplants did not have shaved heads and so perhaps that is why they were not preferred to the men with transplants. Also, while the first study was published in an academic research journal by psychologists, the second was published in an academic journal by professionals who may have a vested financial interest in increasing the number of hair transplants…].

America is #7 when it comes to empathy

While it may seem like being in the Top 10 in the list of countries in which empathy was measured is a good thing—it puts us behind countries like Peru, Korea, and even Saudi Arabia. Researchers out of Michigan State University compared 63 different countries on empathy and conclude that the US may be becoming less empathic than we once were (as they found in an earlier study of US college students and empathy). Also important to note is that the study did not differentiate between empathy for those in ones own country as compared to those outside your country. Some think that may be part of why so many Middle Eastern countries (with a lengthy history of aggression against each other) rate so high on empathy.

This may be the last chance for Boomers and our elders to get it right!

Uh-oh. Boomers are often blamed for messing up the economy, not respecting the institution of marriage, ignoring our children in pursuit of dual-career marriages, and likely a few more things not mentioned here. However, according to Pew Research Center, this may be the last time Boomers ever dominate the presidential elections. So. If you are a Boomer, please get out and vote and make sure you get it right!!! Unless you want us to also be blamed for sending not just the economy but the entire country down the chute—apparently we won’t be able to blame the Millennial generation for this one.

Chopik, W., OBrien, E., & Konrath, S. (2016). Differences in Empathic Concern and Perspective Taking Across 63 Countries Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology DOI: 10.1177/0022022116673910

McElroy T, Dickinson DL, Stroh N, & Dickinson CA (2016). The physical sacrifice of thinking: Investigating the relationship between thinking and physical activity in everyday life. Journal of Health Psychology, 21 (8), 1750-7 PMID: 25609406


Comments Off on Empathy, need for cognition, getting it right and hair  transplants

We hear a lot recently about ‘embodied cognition’. In brief, this refers to the idea that the way in which we think is tied metaphorically to the body. For example, we give someone the ‘cold shoulder’ or we see something as a ‘heavy topic’. Here are a couple of historical and powerful examples:

Pontius Pilate is famous for being the man to sentence Jesus Christ to death by crucifixion. Although he was ambivalent (thinking Jesus was innocent), he gave in to the demanding mob. And after he did that, he washed his hands and said he was innocent of the decision—Jesus’ blood would be on the hands of the insistent mob.

Lady Macbeth could never wash away her guilt over having murdered the King and his two bodyguards. Although she incessantly scrubbed her hands, she was obsessed with the sense that they were still covered in the blood of her victims.

It is strange to think that such old stories would find expression in current day research. But just like the light bulb is the universal symbol of bright ideas so hand washing has deep meaning even thousands of years down the road. Researchers are demonstrating this innate bodily reaction to emotion verbs affect our judgments. Hand washing, long associated with absolving the mind of guilt, can also erase our doubts about everyday choices.

When we make decisions, we look for ways to justify them. And oddly enough, if we can “wash our hands of it” after making choices, we feel better about our choice and feel less of a need to justify it to anyone. “It’s not just that washing your hands contributes to moral cleanliness as well as physical cleanliness, as seen in earlier research” said Lee, a doctoral candidate in social psychology. “Our studies show that washing also reduces the influence of past behaviors and decisions that have no moral implications whatsoever.”

Interesting perhaps. Even amusing. But how can you use this in litigation? Read the study information linked above and see how researchers used hand washing.

  • Let’s say your witness is wracked with guilt even though the data doesn’t support wrong-doing. It may sound odd, but consider incorporating hand washing into your preparation session.
  • Wondering if your case theme is the best one you could have chosen and this uncertainly is keeping you from moving forward? Consider the reasons you have chosen this particular theme and then wash your hands. Move forward.

There are undoubtedly many ways these findings can be used. When behavior has been used for thousands of years to help us move on and provide absolution—there is likely something to it.

Comments Off on Pontius Pilate, Lady Macbeth and Embodied Cognition

replace-fear-of-the-unkonwnEarlier this week, we wrote on the question of whether those who have a higher score on the Need for Cognition Scale are just lazy (and the answer was no, not really). If you read this blog regularly, you know that bias is where we work and focus. We also like a curious juror (sometimes) and today we focus on how curiosity can address bias by helping jurors make wiser decisions informed by new data.

You may know the authors of this paper for their work at the Cultural Cognition Project (a collaboration among filmmakers, philosophers and psychologists) and the Cultural Cognition blog—both housed at Yale Law School. We also want to be sure you know the author of the plain language interpretation of this paper—Tom Stafford who operates the MindHacks blog focusing on neuroscience and psychology. Stafford wrote an article (based on this paper) for the BBC Future that is user-friendly and easy to understand for those who want to be sure they would like to dive into the full academic article. Stafford introduces the Cultural Cognition group paper with these disheartening sentences:

…people with the most education, highest mathematical abilities, and the strongest tendencies to be reflective about their beliefs are the most likely to resist information which should contradict their prejudices. This undermines the simplistic assumption that prejudices are the result of too much gut instinct and not enough deep thought. Rather, people who have the facility for deeper thought about an issue can use those cognitive powers to justify what they already believe and find reasons to dismiss apparently contrary evidence.

He sets up the Kahan et al. academic article as containing a possible answer to this maddening reality (and thus piques your curiosity to read the full paper). Or at least it piqued our curiosity. What the researchers wanted was to see if the growing political ideology divide would predict reactions to science information. So they devised a measure of how much scientific information/knowledge individual participants had and then checked to see if their political ideology (conservative versus liberal) would be more important than their pre-existing science knowledge when it came to hot button issues like global warming and fracking.

And it was— most scientifically informed liberals judged issues like global warming and fracking as dangerous to people, while most scientifically informed conservatives think that there were fewer risks.

In other words, political ideology was more important than pre-existing science knowledge and education when it came to views toward polarizing topics such as global warming or fracking.

These researchers though, had also devised a second measure—this one assessing science curiosity. And how they structured the curiosity measure was very creative. They disguised the measure as a general social marketing survey wherein participants were asked to identify their interests in a wide variety of items related to sports, finance, politics, popular entertainment and so on. Ultimately, they had a 12-item scale to measure Science Curiosity. They also allowed participants to express a preference as to whether they preferred to read a science story that would confirm their beliefs or surprise them.

What they found was that participants who scored higher on the curiosity scale were more likely to choose the story that would disconfirm their preexisting beliefs (that is, it would surprise them) and the participants enjoyed that process of surprise.

The researchers conclude their paper as follows:

Together these two forms of evidence paint a picture—a flattering one indeed—of individuals of high science curiosity. On this view, individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly, and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, if we can identify those potential jurors who are curious and enjoy the surprise of learning new things that potentially disconfirm pre-existing beliefs—we have an increased chance of getting them to listen to case facts and come to a different conclusion than they may have come to before hearing the new information. What we have to do is figure out how to surprise them and we have several blog posts on what happens to our brains when we experience surprise.

You can read more about the development of the initial Science Curiosity Scale at the SSRN website.

Kahan, Landrum, Carpenter, Helft, & Jameson (2016). Science curiosity and political information processing. Advances in Political Psychology.

Full-text of this article is here:


Comments Off on Choosing your jurors: On bias, curiosity and  wisdom

cognitive reflection testWe just posted on reflective versus non-reflective thinkers and this is the scale with which researchers identified who was reflective (initial intuition tempered by analysis) and who was not reflective (unquestioning reliance on intuition). And this is the three-item scale they used to group participants. Yes. That is not a typo. Three questions. You will likely recognize them when you see them and groan in frustration that this seems to be a math-based IQ test rather than a test of reflective or non-reflective thinking. You likely will not, however, recognize the questions as coming from the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT).

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?  ______ cents

If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____ minutes

In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half the lake? _____ days*

The trick is that these questions often generate an intuitive, impulsive, and (unfortunately) incorrect response. Those who question or double-check their math, or generally rely on reasoning skills in their daily lives (and therefore answer correctly), are classified as reflective thinkers. Those who simply blurt out the intuitive and incorrect answer are classified as non-reflective thinkers. (If, for example, your answers to the above three questions are 10, 100 and 24—you are a non-reflective thinker. And math is likely not your strong suit.) Once the answers are explained, they are easily understandable but the initial impulsive response seems right until you realize (or are shown) that it is wrong.

The author defines cognitive reflection as having “the ability or disposition to resist reporting the response that first comes to mind”. Some believe the CRT offers a quick assessment of overall intelligence but the author says those scoring high and those scoring low on the CRT make different choices. But the question might better be asked “is the difference seen in the choice made, or the process used to arrive at the choice?”.

Men score significantly higher on the CRT than do women and the author says that may reflect men’s greater mathematical interest or ability. Lest you feel shamed by your performance on this test, this article reports that of 3,428 people participating in the research, 33 percent missed all three questions. Most people–83 percent–missed at least one of the questions.Even very educated people made mistakes. Only 48 percent of MIT students sampled were able to answer all the questions correctly.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a quick way to assess the overall tendency to think or blurt and if that is useful in your case—you may want to consider using the CRT to identify one or the other (i.e., the thinker or the blurter). When you are looking for an edge—this sort of quick and dirty assessment of intellectual function (or analytical thinking or cognitive reflection or need for cognition or whatever it measures) may be a good tool to try. It would be worthwhile to determine whether a straightforward query about their problem-solving strategy (such as, “Do you enjoy solving puzzles, or do you find them frustrating?)  Just make sure you really do know who responds better to your case—the thinker or the blurter.

Frederick, S. (2005). Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19 (4), 25-42 DOI: 10.1257/089533005775196732. You can access this article free here:


*Just so you do not think us unreasonably cruel, the correct answers to the CRT questions are: 5 cents; 5 minutes; and 47 days.

Comments Off on The Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT) Scale

highly unusual experiencesThis is a new and somewhat unusual perspective on persuasion. If you have an unusual explanation for your client’s behavior or motivations—is there a way to know which potential juror might be more predisposed to accept that unusual explanation? According to today’s research…maybe so.

Researchers in France wanted to know if non-reflective thinkers (those who trust their initial intuition) would be more likely than reflective thinkers (those who use analytic reasoning to question their initial intuition) to believe an unusual or uncanny experience was the result of some supernatural explanation such as astrology or extra-sensory perception. They conducted three separate experiments to see if participants who appeared to have their minds read “through telepathy” by a fellow participant would see the experience differently based on whether they were reflective or non-reflective in their personal style.

Of course, you have likely already guessed that the “fellow participant” was not a participant at all but rather what researchers call a “confederate” who was able to “read” the actual participant’s mind and identify the cards the participant chose at random. (In truth, the experimenter could see the cards chosen and the confederate was cued about which card it was by the language the experimenter used to tell the confederate to focus on the “image” of the card the participant was “telepathically sending” to the confederate.) So the participant (either a reflective or a non-reflective thinker) was incredibly able to telepathically send the images of the cards to the confederate. And guess what? When asked how they explained their heightened ability to telepathically communicate, the reflective and non-reflective thinkers had varying explanations.

The reflective (analytical) thinkers thought it was a fluke and the non-reflective thinkers thought they were fabulous telepathic communicators.

The researchers comment that it is traditional to avoid implying one style of thinking (reflective versus non-reflective) is better than the other. When it comes to gullibility, these researchers clearly see reflective thinking as better than non reflective thinking.

“We showed that a single uncanny experience may be enough for non-reflective thinkers to seriously consider the possibility of supernatural causation. This makes them especially vulnerable to scammers who attempt to leverage paranormal beliefs into profits. A common trick, for example, consists of pretending to detect a paranormal ability in an individual, only to offer him or her an expensive training aimed at developing this potential. Individuals with a predominantly non-reflective cognitive style should be well warned against their own reaction to such and other encounters with the supernatural.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it makes sense that those who tend to be non-reflective (likely also known as being low in “need for cognition”) would be less likely to analyze or question your unusual conclusions since doing that takes a lot of mental energy. Need for cognition and those who are more cognitively (rather than emotionally) driven has been an area of interest in jury selection for years. You likely recall that old voir dire question that has been updated a bit recently from “Do you enjoy crossword puzzles?” to questions like “Do you enjoy Sudoku?” or “Do you enjoy solving complex problems?”. That question is meant to assess whether the potential jurors’ need for cognition is high or low—or, as these researchers label it, reflective versus non-reflective thinking. So who is easiest to persuade or influence? These researchers would say it is the non-reflective thinker. The question then becomes whether they are more likely to seize on your trial story to drive that rush to judgement, or the version offered by the opposition. A topic for several dozen other blog posts…

Bouvet R, & Bonnefon JF (2015). Non-Reflective Thinkers Are Predisposed to Attribute Supernatural Causation to Uncanny Experiences. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin PMID: 25948700


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: Who is more likely to be convinced of the highly unusual?