We’ve written a few times about new research on Asian-Americans and so were eager to see a new chapter in a book on ethnic pluralism and its role in the 2008 election. It’s an intriguing treatise on the amazing diversity in the Asian-American community (composed of at least nine ethnic groups and 11 different religious affiliations).
“Asian-American” doesn’t mean one thing. It means many things. According to the chapter authors (So Young Kim and Russell Jeung), Asian-Americans are unique among American ethnic groups in that they do not predictably act as either a racial bloc or a religious bloc. Asian-Americans do not share a religious faith and 27% do not follow any religion per se. And despite their high levels of education and income–they are not particularly politically involved. In fact, Asian-Americans may have lower levels of voting than other ethnic groups (although it is hypothesized this could shift as the various Asian-American groups log in more time in the US and begin establishing a stronger pan-ethnic identity).
What is especially interesting to us is that the authors found patterns in voting among Asian-Americans during the 2008 Presidential elections. Overall, Asian-Americans were more likely to support Barack Obama during the 2008 elections than Caucasian voters with similar incomes and religious affiliations. However, within the Asian-American group, there were subgroup patterns that call out for recognition:
Asian-Americans who were agnostic, atheist, Hindu or Muslim were more likely to vote for Barack Obama (and were also reportedly more liberal).
Asian-Americans who were Protestant and Catholic and more conservative also supported Obama. (You weren’t expecting that were you?)
Finally, Vietnamese-Americans (many of whom are Catholic) were more likely to vote for John McCain.
Another important descriptor the authors use is disenfranchised. Many Asian-Americans feel they are not valued (and truly, they have not been studied to the extent of other ethnic groups in this country) and this is likely an important variable to consider in terms of identification with your case.
Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism is a data-dense book with an emphasis on political shifts and ideology based on ethnicity (featuring chapters on mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Seculars, Women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans). What is most interesting from a litigation advocacy perspective is that this chapter shows us that we know a lot less than most of us think we know about Asian-Americans. There is not a blanket description of the Asian-American just as there is not a blanket description of American women, African-Americans, American Muslims or Jews, disabled people or other identifiable groups.
It’s a terrific reminder to not assume and to maintain curiosity about those different than us. They can often surprise you.
So Young Kim, Russell Jeung. 2012. Asian Americans, Religion and the 2008 Elections (Chapter 11). In Religion, Race, and Barack Obama’s New Democratic Pluralism, Gastón Espinosa, Ed. Publisher: Routledge.
We’ve talked before about mock jurors believing they can ‘see’ who is lying, using drugs, or other negative behaviors litigants (or anyone else!) would want to keep private. Now we have new evidence that some of those jurors may have good radar—at least when it comes to being able to identify certain religious group members!
It’s easy to ‘see’ some religious affiliations, especially those whose faith involves a high degree of integration of religious obedience and daily life. Think of the Amish and other religious groups who are identifiable by attire or facial hair or turbans or robes, or the attire of some Orthodox Jews, Sufis, or Muslims. But most of us are not wearing particular clothing or neat labels identifying religious affiliation. In fact, when asked, many of us even lie about just how often we attend religious services!
Consider, for example, the religious group of Mormons. Think you could pick them out of a crowd? Maybe you think you couldn’t. But the subjects in a recent study could! Even when their hair was removed, eyes and mouth covered, and images were turned upside down. That’s pretty strange. Here’s how it worked.
Researchers examined the folklore around intuition and found strong perceptions that we can ‘know things’ about people just from their faces. We think, for example, we can identify sexual orientation, age, gender—and we are so frustrated when we cannot, or race. They cite research finding that people (both Mormon and non-Mormon) were able to identify un-labeled Mormon faces at a better than chance rate. This held true both in areas with large Mormon populations and in areas with few Mormons—although Mormons were better at identifying fellow Mormons than were non-Mormons.
Ultimately, the researchers decided to explore what it was about Mormon faces that facilitated identification to the observer. They went to fairly extensive lengths to include plain faces without piercings, extra earrings, or extreme haircuts and kept all photos within a younger age range, so as to make discrimination of Mormons/non-Mormons tough. They also had people simply observe parts of the faces (like the eyebrows) and attempt to identify the person as Mormon or not. (As you might imagine, eyebrows don’t tell you much.)
The researchers concluded that while participants were indeed able to categorize Mormons and non-Mormons more accurately than chance—they were seemingly unaware of their ability to do so. The categorization of Mormons appeared to be drawn largely from the quality of facial skin—since Mormons do not drink alcohol, smoke or drink caffeine. Participants apparently infer overall good health from what they observe of the skin and identify (accurately) the participant as Mormon. So it wasn’t so much “Mormon” they were identifying, it was the attribution of what they thought of as a Mormon trait—“healthy”.
So what does this mean for litigation advocacy? The point of this post is that we all look at very subtle cues and inform ourselves about people. We make assumptions. We doubt there will be times when you are asking a jury to identify ‘who’s the Mormon’. But you will be challenged to deal with perceptions that someone has led a healthy or unhealthy life, that they seem virtuous or dissipated.
Many of us have read the research that says we can perceive basic things about people in split seconds. Jurors do that too. They look at you. They look at your witnesses. They look at the parties. And, in the absence of other data, they form conclusions about gender, sexual orientation, good/bad habits, character, and whether you dye your own hair or have it done professionally. You need to control this interpretation by giving jurors understanding for what they see. If you do not, they will make up their own interpretations—and you have no way of knowing what they’ll ‘intuit’.
Rule NO, Garrett JV, & Ambady N (2010). On the perception of religious group membership from faces. PloS one, 5 (12) PMID: 21151864
This comes as no surprise to us. We routinely look at mock jurors with extreme views on various issues as unpredictable and thus, dangerous for our case. We think of the extremist as dwelling on the “fringe” of beliefs held by the majority. They are often conspiracy devotees and “hear” facts through a nearly impregnable filter that has more to do with their own beliefs than anything being said by the trial attorney.
It isn’t even about the matter at issue. It is, instead, about the listener.
Researchers in this study asked 527 American members of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to respond to a series of questionnaires about 9 controversial political issues (e.g., health care, illegal immigration, abortion, government role in helping the needy, voter IDs, rate of income tax, torture to obtain information from terrorists, affirmative action, and the relationship between national and state laws and religious beliefs). Participants were asked two questions on each political issue: their attitude toward the issue (measured on a Likert scale ranging from a strong liberal position to a strong conservative position) and then they were asked how much more correct they thought their belief on that issue was in comparison with other people’s beliefs. Participants also completed a measure of dogmatism.
Participants who felt most superior for beliefs in voter ID cards, taxes and affirmative action scored higher in the conservative direction. Those who felt most superior for beliefs in government aid for the needy, torturing terrorists, and basing laws on religion scored higher in the liberal direction.
However, people at the extremes of the political spectrum (whether liberal or conservative) felt most superior about their beliefs.
In other words, it is not just liberals and not just conservatives who feel superior in their beliefs. Both can. What matters is not the direction of your beliefs but the extremity of them. The researchers point this out clearly:
“People at the extreme ends of ideological positions may be strongly motivated to maintain their viewpoints, and the fact their views lie at the extremes makes it less likely they will consider alternative perspectives.”
This is what we have seen repeatedly in our pretrial research. We do not necessarily know how a person with extreme views will react to our case narrative, but we do know whatever their reaction is, it will likely be extreme, rigid, closed-minded, and resistant to other’s pleas to consider alternate perspectives. Many is the time I have observed during jury selection “we can’t predict how that person will vote in deliberations, but s/he will be serious trouble for one side or the other”. These people do not negotiate well with others. And, in our experience, that makes for an unpredictable juror for both sides of the aisle. The caveat to this, of course, is if your goal is a hung jury. Then the extremists add sparks, and often, volatility to jury deliberations.
Toner K, Leary MR, Asher MW, & Jongman-Sereno KP (2013). Feeling Superior Is a Bipartisan Issue: Extremity (Not Direction) of Political Views Predicts Perceived Belief Superiority. Psychological Science PMID: 24096379
Last weekend we did a large mock trial precipitated by deception in a business dispute. And this morning, a new article by a Canadian researcher came across my desk on who is more likely to lie for financial gain. Unlike prior research, this study found no differences by gender. They also found no differences in age, the size of the financial gain, or how often one attended religious services. What they did find is odd.
The researcher used a university sample of 400 students and did a very simple measure of lying where students chose to send (or not to send) a message they knew to be false to an unseen partner in another room. 200 students were ‘senders’ and 200 were ‘receivers’. Each research participant would be paid a different amount–the sender would be paid one of the amounts while the receiver would get the other.
The amount each participant would be paid was determined in the following way. The sender was asked to send a message to the receiver telling him or her which payment option was larger (i.e., for example the $5 payment or the $15 payment in the higher payoff condition). The sender would say, “Option A is $15 and Option B is $5.” The receiver then got to choose which of them received which amount (either the Option A for $15 or the Option B for $5). The assumption was that the receiver would choose the larger payment option for themselves. Unless (drum roll please) the sender lied to the receiver about which payment option was larger.
Perhaps the most surprising outcome to us is that just over half of the senders chose to lie. We would have guessed it was higher than that and it is a good reminder there are many honest people in the world. But just who chose to lie is intriguing.
Business majors: The researcher says this group could be more prone to lying due to either nature or training but they may also be more motivated by money (hence a major in business). In this study, business majors were 18% more likely to lie.
Children of divorced parents: This group was 29% more likely to lie and the researcher points to past research findings that the likelihood of antisocial behavior is higher among children with divorced parents. We would comment that the “past research” is from 1994 and things have hopefully changed in the past 20 years.
The self-report of the importance of religion in one’s life: The more important religion is in the participant’s lives, the more likely they were to lie. Yikes! The researcher reports that for every “point of importance” the participant increased their self-report on the importance of religion in their life, the likelihood of lying increased 3.7%. This is an odd finding and the researcher has an equally odd explanation for it: “It may be that subjects for whom religion was important feel separate from other students at this largely secular university.” In other words, they feel as though it does not really matter if they lie to the other participants in the study since, probably, their unseen partner is not religiously committed.
It’s an unusual study with unusual findings and we likely do not need to point out to you that students from a single Canadian university may not be representative of students (or non-students) everywhere. This study speaks to our desire to be able to identify–and thus protect ourselves from–liars. In hindsight, it’s an easy thing to see the lies and deception and our mock jurors tell us that over and over again.
“How could they not see s/he was just a pathological liar?”
“He had to know she was just a liar and a gold-digger!”
“Why would you trust someone who already did this to you once before?”
Unfortunately, what the research tells us (over and over again) is that no one is very good at identifying deception as it occurs. We all want to be and most of us think we are better at detecting deception than others are–but that belief is a deception in and of itself! Tom Jacobs (the always excellent writer over at Pacific Standard magazine) has a great line as he writes about this research:
“But if a friend with a business degree mentions he turned to religion to heal the wounds of his parents’ divorce … well, you may not want to make him your financial advisor.”
Childs, J. (2013). Personal characteristics and lying: An experimental investigation. Economics Letters, 121, 425-427 DOI: 10.1016/j.econlet.2013.09.005
Abortion? Stem cell research? IVF? They all involve human embryos but differ in terms of how much of a “moral issue” they are perceived as being. And, intriguingly, it doesn’t really matter what your view is on the legality of abortion. We are (yet again) grateful to the Pew Research Center for today’s survey data.
As you can see from the graphic illustrating this post (taken from the Pew site), significantly more Americans see abortion as morally wrong (when compared to attitudes about stem cell research or in vitro fertilization). From the other side of the fence, only 15% think having an abortion is morally acceptable. In comparison, twice as many (about 1/3) think stem cell research and IVF are morally acceptable.
The report also shows wide variations in the morality of abortion based on your religious affiliation. Pew highlights data from a number of different religious groups who believe abortion is morally wrong: White evangelical Protestants (75%), Hispanic Catholics (64%), Black Protestants (58%), White Catholic (53%), White mainline Protestant (38%), and those who are religiously Unaffiliated (25%). Similarly, politics makes a difference on how one views the morality of abortion. Republicans and Independents who lean Republican tend to see abortion as morally wrong (64%). Conversely, only 38% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents agree. As you might expect, conservatives (67%), moderates (40%) and liberals (31%) also disagree on whether abortion is a moral issue.
It’s an interesting survey, but in our experience, not something you can simply apply to all situations. A while back we did a focus group on a case involving salacious infidelity, strained family relations, enormous sums of money, and abortion. Hot button issues for many, but we thought especially for our Hispanic jurors for whom “family values” and religion are often driving forces in decision-making on cases. We were curious to see how Hispanic jurors in particular would hear this story. They didn’t hear it the way you might predict.
While Americans have theoretical attitudes toward the “morality” of abortion, in our experience, when a specific story is told, jurors sometimes respond to the people involved, and not to their self-reported belief systems. Of course, this can vary, according to the likability of the parties, the specifics of your story, and the proficiency of your presentation. It’s why we believe so strongly in pretrial research when the stakes are high. It’s hard to know which way your case is going to go or how a facet of the story will be judged, regardless of what survey results from one of the best survey shops in the business have to say. Ultimately, facts viewed in context can appear very different from the broad concept.
Abortion Viewed in Moral Terms: Fewer See Stem Cell Research and IVF as Moral Issues. Pew Research Center. Survey conducted March 21-April 8, 2013 by telephone (landline and cell) with a national sample of 4,006 adults.