We’ve written a lot about tattoos here and this writeup is going to be a little different from most of our posts. Rather than spending time on the research findings, we want to cite some of the more unusual and surprising findings the author reviews as a prelude to her results.
So, to be brief, the researcher found that Millennials are growing up and yes, they do know tattoos may be frowned upon in some parts of the business world. Further, many of them say that they will consider how able they will be to conceal a new tattoo in business attire as they approach the job market. That isn’t that surprising to us at all. What was surprising was some of the literature the author cited as she reviewed (oh the many) reasons someone should talk to Millennials and make sure they realize tattoos are permanent and may keep them from getting hired.
Here are just a few of the findings she cites in her review of the literature:
There is a Facebook page called “Tattoo Acceptance in the Workplace” which has over 2 million “likes”! (It seems to be more a place to show your art than to talk about the issues related to having tattoos in the workplace.)
A 2012 study showed that customers who have tattoos are more likely to trust salespeople who also have tattoos and that people associate more positive traits to salespeople with “feminine tattoos”.
Another survey completed in 2012 in a rural hospital showed patients did not view male health care professionals with tattoos positively. Caregivers with tattoos are seen as “unsanitary” or “dirty”. It is imagined that the judges of the tattoos are not, themselves, owners of tattoos. No ink-bonding there. Another 2010 health care setting survey resulted in concerns about infection control since tattoo cover ups could hamper good washing of the hands. We imagine that there is concern that some people who cover up tattoos don’t realize that they need to be uncovered for the sake of cleaning skin. An odd concern, we think.
Undergraduate accounting students in 2011 thought accounting professionals should not have visible tattoos (even though 26% of the survey participants had their own tattoos!). Further, those students had less confidence in the tattooed accountant and were less likely to recommend the services of a tattooed accountant.
A man in Pennsylvania sought employment as a “Liquor Enforcement Officer” in 2012 and was told in order to be hired he would have to remove his tattoos. He filed a lawsuit alleging multiple violations and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the lower court ruling (for the Defendant) saying “having a tattoo is not a fundamental right”.
Another ruling in 2006 involved lawsuit by several police officers who claimed their police chief did not have the authority to force employees to cover up tattoos because they were “offensive” or “unprofessional”. The court said that public employees may expect to have their first amendment rights more curtailed in order to “promote effective government”.
It is intriguing that self-expression tends to lose in court. Even more so, it is a testament to the power of the tattoo to divide even those with tattoos. Tattoos are going to be judged and they are almost always going to be judged negatively (even by those who also have tattoos)—so if you are a tattooed attorney or have a tattooed client, you may want to cover your own and have your client cover theirs as well while in court.
Foltz, KA (2015). The Millennial’s perception of tattoos: Self expression or business faux pas? College Student Journal
Recently we blogged about an emerging demographic subgroup: the lumbersexual. After reading the flurry of mainstream media articles about this group, here is how we described them:
“As far as we can tell, the lumbersexual is an urban male (typically White and heterosexual) who dresses like a lumberjack even though he is far from a lumberjack. While it is a recognizable fashion statement, there are (as yet) no attitudes, values and beliefs attributed to the lumbersexual. While there is a sense that these are men trying to look “like real men” according to a hyper masculine definition—there is no evidence that their attitudes, values and beliefs would line up with what we think of as stereotypically masculine.”
This was an emerging demographic subgroup observed in society fashion pages and written up in the mass media. We wondered if there would be research emerging to tell us more about the lumbersexual as a group. Are they conservative like the “real men” they emulate in dress or are they hipsters in search of a new look? We did not have to wonder long because, just like that, the academics weighed in with a refinement of the emerging stereotype.
You may notice that the male illustrating this post looks less like a nerd wearing lumberjack clothes and more like a male model with a colorful tattoo sleeve and an untrimmed beard. That is no mistake. The researchers we write about today see the beard and the tattoo (along with any existing piercings) as a way the male decorates himself to be more attractive to potential sexual partners. Yes, these researchers would be of the evolutionary psychology persuasion.
The researchers look at coloration and various “ornamentation” (think orange butts, big brightly colored noses, the beards of howler monkeys, and so on) and related sexual prowess in monkeys of various sorts and then apply their thoughts to human males who decorate themselves with beards and tattoos because, well, it just makes perfect sense to the evolutionary psychologist to make this (gigantic) cognitive leap.
They cite research showing that human males with beards, for example, receive higher ratings of aggressiveness, age and masculinity, but not attractiveness compared with non-bearded men. This means, say the researchers, that other men are cowed by the physical superiority of the bearded man and so they step back which leaves the bearded (and perhaps tattooed and pierced) man more access to the partner of their choice. They also attribute the same level of success to the bald man since baldness is a sign of increased testosterone and thus intimidates other men.
We actually wrote about how bald men cannot help but exude authority, confidence, power, and masculinity back in 2012. [If that sounds crazy, read the post!]
From a litigation advocacy perspective, these researchers would probably say that the bearded (and otherwise adorned male) human would be more of a leader than the non-bearded male human—their rationale would be that from physical observation the bearded male would be seen as more masculine and powerful. They would likely hold the same view of the man with the bald head (or shaved head).
We are not evolutionary psychologists and we beg to differ. Sometimes men with beards are leaders in the jury room and sometimes they are not. It isn’t so much about having or not having a beard or having or not having a full head of hair—it’s about life experiences, beliefs, attitudes and values (one of which may be presenting oneself as a more masculine man), and charisma. Overall, despite this research, we would encourage you to look for other indicators of leadership than the presence of a beard or a bald head (even when both are present in the same potential juror!) as you engage in voir dire and jury selection.
Grueter, C., Isler, K., & Dixson, B. (2015). Are badges of status adaptive in large complex primate groups? Evolution and Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.03.003
It’s been more than a year since we first wrote about the “nerd defense”. Essentially, this is the practice of sticking eyeglasses on your allegedly dangerous defendant to communicate their innocence to members of the jury. But now, the Washington Post has finally picked up the practice and we thought we’d mention it again.
Here’s how the Post describes the evolving use of the “nerd defense”.
“Attorneys say inmates trade them before hearings, while friends and family sometimes deliver them during jailhouse visits. Some lawyers even supply them themselves.
They often escape notice — as was the case with another murder defendant who wore glasses with thick, black frames during a summer murder trial. Convicted of first-degree murder in August, his glasses never came up in court.
But the eyewear sported during the trial of Carter and his friends, which began its fifth week in D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday, has attracted attention. Court observers say prosecutors seized an opportunity to suggest to jurors that the defendants were dishonest in misrepresenting their appearance.”
Some would say this is simply another example of defendants cleaning up prior to court appearances–they come in dressed in suits and with haircuts–why not eyeglasses? Others say it is going too far–like the furor over the court order to pay for makeup to cover a defendant’s racist face and neck tattoos in Florida.
But there is a flaw in the strategy that is pretty odd to overlook. The entire premise of the ‘nerd defense’ is based on a distortion of the original research (cited below). The research suggests that jurors perceive the glasses-wearer as being smarter and less threatening, but it isn’t likely to have a significant affect on the verdict. When we initially blogged about the study, it was this misunderstanding that we found most interesting.
“Our line of research suggests that the presence of eyeglasses on a defendant may significantly affect verdict outcome. However, this effect is likely to be small and indirect. In both scenarios, the presence of eyeglasses increased ratings of defendants’ intelligence. For the violent crime scenario, this increase was associated with less guilty verdicts. Eyeglasses also decreased ratings of defendants’ as threatening; however, this decrease was not significantly related to verdict. Thus, how intelligent a defendant appeared was a better predictor of verdict outcome than how physically threatening he appeared. Future research should examine if other indicators of intelligence (level of education, vocabulary, etc.) produce the similar effects.” See the full article here.
In other words, the glasses had a small pro-defense effect. No get-out-of-jail-free magic. Yet, trial lore spreads and criminal defense lawyers have defendants in eyewear for court proceedings.
We don’t think jurors are that easily fooled. Instead, we concur with the commenter on the Washington Post article from whom we stole the title of this blog post: “Glasses can’t hide neck tattoos”! [They can’t hide character, either.]
Brown, M. J., Henriquez, E., & Groscup, J. (2008). The effects of eyeglasses and race on juror decisions involving a violent crime. American Journal of Forensic Psychology , 26 (2), 25-43
It was only a matter of time before tattoos hit our Simple Jury Persuasion series. We’ve written about when to hide your client’s tattoos; when tattoos might serve as a voir dire aid; tattoos as a way for you to assess juror morality; provided a tattoo location guide for quick ‘tattoo interpretations’; and given you a secret link to a Science Tattoo Emporium where you can indulge in voyeurism without fear of being caught staring.
So it is only right that now we can answer what is, for some of you, a burning question. Should a trial lawyer be tattooed? While more research is needed, it appears that YES! You should get that tattoo!!! [But don’t cite us when you get passed over for Partnership.] Science has spoken, and Science says should be visible to your listeners.
Despite opinions of some that those with tattoos have deep-seated self-esteem issues, it is apparent in new research that the tattoo is merely a savvy means of connecting with your audience. A new form of social media: tattoo networking.
Here’s what researchers did.
Undergraduates (these are your younger jurors) viewed four photographs of a ‘college professor’. [See photo below.] In some photos she was tattooed and in some she was not. Then they rated her on nine teaching-related characteristics—based on her photo.
This is science at the pinnacle of first impressions and immediate rush to judgment. And the presence of tattoos was related to positive changes in the following variables among students: motivation of learners; imaginative assignments would be given, and the student perception they would recommend her to others.
It’s amazing how quickly a simple tattoo (or two or three) can influence your audience. Want to truly be persuasive with younger jurors? We say get thee to a tattoo parlor and pronto!
Wiseman DB (2010). Perceptions of a tattooed college instructor. Psychological reports, 106 (3), 845-50 PMID: 20712173
“The judge ordered the state to pay for a cosmetologist to apply makeup before trial each day to cover up the tattoos on John Ditullio’s face and neck, which include a swastika, barbed wire and an obscene word.”
And it got me thinking about something I call “visual identity”. How we look sends a message to others about how we see ourselves and how we want them to see us in return. As I considered this, I had a number of thoughts about why we would (or wouldn’t) consider covering tattoos on our clients.
The goal of the attorney presenting a witness is to help the jury see the witness as “kind of like me” or “someone I can trust”. Appearance is a part of that. If someone looks scary or unfamiliar, they are judged as less trustworthy and less believable. The goal is to help them be more ‘relatable’, regardless of the facts.
As a jury consultant I counsel witnesses on their ‘visual identity’. That is, what is a jury going to think of them merely by seeing them across the room. Attraction? Fear? Curiosity? Clothes, posture, grooming, and facial expression can strongly affect juror expectation before the witness is even sworn in.
Ditullio’s tattoos were selected and purchased with the intent to frighten, alienate, and offend mainstream America. Charlie Manson’s forehead swastika is another example. They might also—and fairly—be seen as anti-Semitic or racist. The very objective he embraced when he got them is what the court is trying to protect him from.
The law requires that the verdict be based on facts related to the evidence of the crime. Offensive tattoos are almost assuredly going to influence juror perception, and raise the probability that a conviction could be overturned.
It is curious that the court is obscuring the tattoos that he acquired after he was arrested– essentially, after he was aware that a jury would be passing judgment on him. An argument could be made that the post-arrest tattoos were intended as a public statement, directed toward jurors as well as others. There is no doubt that they would offend most people, but that appears to be what he was seeking. In a peculiarly mixed presentation, Ditullio submitted to neat dress, a trim haircut, and the addition of new, offensive tattoos.
Jury consultants are aware of the rules of evidence, but our focus is on the way the case is going to be perceived or distracted by juror attitudes and beliefs. We routinely advise witnesses to present an appearance to the jury that is neat and orderly, consistent with their age, occupation, and economic situation, and above all, do what is possible to avoid alienating the jury. Communicating a favorable impression is difficult enough without vulgar and offensive tattoos.
The concerns about appearance often run in a very different direction. In his case, his vulgar tattoos and disheveled appearance is the concern. But in many others, their extreme affluence is a concern.
I counseled defendants during Enron trials to remove $10,000 watches.
Usually, women should avoid very high heels, flashy jewelry, and conspicuously expensive accessories. For example, Martha Stewart was criticized by some for toting an Hermes Birkin purse into court. Flaunting accessories that cost more than the average value of the jurors’ cars are very bad judgment. The best that can be said is that the wearer is really out of touch with regular people.
Finally, one of our more affluent and successful (attorney) clients always wears the same khaki suits to court. It’s his trial suit. It says he is a working man. Like the jurors.
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