Archive for the ‘Beliefs & values’ Category
Conspiracy theories that arise during pretrial research are instructive for filling holes in the case narrative. Recently though, Popular Mechanics ran a feature on a number of conspiracy theories we haven’t heard arise in our work (so far). The conspiracy theories run the gamut from the government burying Atlanta, Georgia (very recently) in “poisonous snow” that did not burn but instead, “blackens, twists like plastic, and stubbornly refuses to melt”, to sharks involved in attacks off the coast of Egypt really being “remote-controlled Israeli spies”.
Recently we wrote about Bigfoot believers and the fact that almost 1/3 of Americans believe Bigfoot exists. (As an aside, we have been told that Bigfoot used to exist but a Las Vegas hunter has since claimed to have killed the Bigfoot near San Antonio, TX and will soon be taking the body on the road so you can see it with your own eyes). Popular Mechanics does not include Bigfoot in their list of outrageous conspiracy theories. Among the theories they do include, like the moon really being a hologram, were a few that we would love to hear jurors or mock jurors share. In public. If for no other reason but to see the reactions of the others gathered, and possibly to see whether the judge would consider them too crazy to serve. Obviously, we don’t get out enough because most of these were completely new to us. Forewarned though, is forearmed.
The lizard people: We think it possible this one could arise in cases of government corruption or political malfeasance. Only four in a hundred Brits (allegedly) believe this theory but a close friend of Princess Diana claims Diana confided that the British royal family were actually lizard people. Apparently, “cleverly disguised reptilian aliens traveled to Earth thousands of years ago to infiltrate our highest echelons of government”. There are YouTube videos described as “terrifying” and also videos to debunk the videos. Popular Mechanics opines this one may actually be true due to “lack of any better explanation for Rob Ford”.
The Siri Apocalypse: This one could come up in a high-tech patent or IP dispute as jurors debate the merits of technology in society. If you read this blog regularly, you know we have a fondness for Siri (the iPhone personal assistant). But who knew she was scheduling events without our asking, like designating July 27, 2014 as the “appointed time for the Opening of the Gates of Hades”. We tried this one and it didn’t work but Siri seems to know a lot, so who knows what Steve Jobs might be orchestrating from beyond the pale?
Denver International Airport is, quite literally, hell on earth. As far as we know, this one wasn’t started by frustrated, stranded travelers. But one can never be sure. And, like many conspiracy theories, this one is quite complex. These theorists believe DIA to be the “den of the devil”, that a FEMA death camp is hidden beneath the airport, that the terminal runways form a swastika, and the walls are lined with satanic symbols (in the guise of artwork). There is even a two-part YouTube documentary on the coverup at DIA. It’s certainly worth a tour next time you are stranded in Denver. Just don’t undertake the tour alone!
In short, there are many topics about which conspiracy theories emerge, yet, in our experience, a good conspiracy theorist is very good at connecting the dots between your case and their bizzaro-world. We’ve seen cases where fairly routine facts led to proclamations of very unlikely sexual partners imagined, cocaine use assumed when a not well-liked witness sniffled, and a social media site being described as “the devil’s work” by a school teacher to the agreement of a significant portion of other mock jurors in the room. Still, it is within the realm of possibility that you may hear about lizard people, Siri, and the devil’s den being in Denver.
When these sorts of comments are made, we always take time to make sure we understand how the connection was made and how others in the room reacted to the suggestion so we can then plug that hole in the narrative. Now, there may be no real hole in your narrative and you may just have an odd, idiosyncratic association on the part of a single juror. It is always to your benefit to consider when to plug a hole, when to leave it open (and maybe open it just a little wider), and when to add information when there isn’t a hole–but it’s better to not have jurors wondering and creating a hole where none really existed.
I did not intend to binge watch the newly-released second season of House of Cards. But once I saw the first episode, I could not stop and watched the entire season over the next 4 days. As a fellow fan, I understood Barack Obama’s tweet about the show
and thus, you will find no spoilers here. Suffice to say, the first episode destroyed any ability I had to wait and allow the story to slowly unfold. So when I saw the Atlantic’s recent story on “ruthless winners” featuring the example of Claire Underwood on House of Cards–I had to go read it (although you should not if you have not yet watched all of Season 2!). Essentially, the Atlantic piece asks why we root for the ruthless pragmatist–from Frank and Claire Underwood to Walter White in Breaking Bad to Tony Soprano in the Soprano’s. It’s a worthwhile question for us to consider. I find myself both shocked and intrigued as I watch these shows. It’s a phenomena we’ve written about before here. They are so evil and dishonest and yet, so creative in their machinations. They are evil geniuses–and now we may know why.
Harvard researcher Francesca Gino has published a new paper on the link between dishonesty and creativity. She says, “by acting dishonestly, people become more creative, which allows them to come up with more creative justifications for their immoral behavior, and therefore more likely to behave dishonestly”.
Gino recruited 153 people online and asked them to “quickly scan a series of numbers to find combinations that added up to ten”. They knew that if they were randomly selected for a bonus, they would receive $1 for every combination they found (they were self-reporting their solutions). After that they were asked to do the Remote Association Task (which measures creative thinking). In this study, 59% of the participants “over-stated” the number of problems solved on the number test. (Another way to communicate the participants over-stated their results would be to come right out and say they lied.) But, the liars performed better on the creative thinking test.
Next, Gino tried a similar experiment with 101 college students. In this experiment, 51 of the 53 participants with the opportunity to lie, lied. And yes, they performed better on the creative thinking test than did their peers who had no opportunity to lie or cheat. It was as though dishonesty was favored by participants inclined to “feel unconstrained by rules” and that freed them up to think more creatively.
Getting back to Frank and Claire Underwood, they have certainly had a lot of practice behaving dishonestly, feeling “unconstrained by the rules” and thus thinking of creative strategies to manipulate others. We’ve blogged before about a study concluding that creative people make us anxious and uncertain. Perhaps this study can explain why… we simply don’t trust them!
It’s also a good thing to consider if your client is a creative type– an artist, inventor, software writer, poet, actor, etc. Present testimony showing their good works, honest treatment of others, and overall good character. Your creative client needs to defy any “evil genius” characterization. Make sure jurors know that.
Gino F, & Wiltermuth SS (2014). Evil Genius? How Dishonesty Can Lead to Greater Creativity. Psychological Science PMID: 24549296
Most of us realize that real life stalking is a serious issue and very frightening to the victim, whether male or female and whether young or old. But what about cyber stalking? While research on real life stalking has grown over the past two decades, actual research on cyber stalking is sparse–despite ever-increasing depictions on television and in movies.
Recently, German researchers did a large scale survey of 6,379 participants on a large German social network (StudiVZ) to assess the prevalence of cyber stalking. They asked the participants to complete a measure of well-being (the WHO-5 Wellbeing Index), as well as other measures describing demographics, and level of internet use. Of the 6,379 participants, 42% were female, the average age was 24.4 years, 75% had the equivalent of a high school education, 50% were currently college students, 38% were employed and 11.4% were unemployed. The majority (59.6%) were not married. So, basically a gen-Y sample.
The researchers wanted to determine the prevalence of cyber stalking using the definitions for stalking in the real (offline) world. They required three criteria (which were used in the first population-based study on stalking in Germany): unwanted internet contacts/harassment; a duration of more than 2 weeks; and harassment that provoked fear.
The researchers are quick to say that “Facebook stalking” (referring to gathering info on someone from Facebook profiles) should not be included in cyberstalking definitions since it “trivializes the seriousness of cyberstalking”. They recommend classifying “Facebook stalking” as a “less severe method of online pursuit” under either the category of “cyber obsessional pursuit (COP)” or “online obsessive relational intrusion”. Okay, those terms sound much less severe, right?
Here is what they found about cyberstalking among users of this widely used German social media platform:
43.4% of the participants said they had experienced online harassment at least once. However, when the other two criteria for offline stalking (i.e., a duration of more than 2 weeks and the harassment causing fear), the prevalence dropped to 6.3%.
Those who had been stalked (the 6.3% meeting all three criteria), were more likely female (80.5%), less educated, more likely to be unemployed, and more likely to be single.
Thirty-two per cent of the segment that were cyberstalking victims reported their cyberstalking lasted up to a month, 45% said it had lasted up to a year, while 22% said it continued for more than a year. Twenty-seven percent were stalked several times daily, 21% were contacted daily, 30% were contacted several times a week, 11% once a month, and 11.5% were only contacted occasionally. (Keep in mind that this is a study of over 6000 participants, so the subgroup that qualified under the definition of being cyberstalked was nearly 400 strong).
The victim-participants reported being stalked through emails, defamation to others online, messages posted about them online, encouraging others to also send harassing messages to the victim (“stalking by proxy”), sent email viruses, downloaded data from the victim’s computer without the knowledge of the victim, and other avenues for online intrusion.
Victims reported their cyberstalkers were often known to them and listed cyberstalkers as distant relatives, family members, ex-partners, friends, acquaintances, or some other person. The majority of cyberstalkers (69.4%) were male although a significant proportion (28.1%) were female. The gender of the remaining 2.5% was unknown. The researchers note that this proportion of female stalkers is higher than the offline female stalker rate in Germany and hypothesize that the avoidance of the direct confrontation may make cyberstalking more attractive for women (since more women than men use indirect stalking behaviors).
Motivation(s) for the stalking (from the victim’s perspective) was mainly (62%) seen as the result of either a real or perceived rejection, jealousy (55%), a desire for a romantic relationship (49%), or revenge (40%). Thirteen percent of the victims were unable to identify any cyberstalking motive at all. These motivations are very similar to the motivations ascribed to offline stalkers.
There was overlap between cyberstalking and offline stalking with only 1/4 of the victims experiencing cyberstalking alone . Forty-two percent reported simultaneously occurring offline and cyberstalking, 16.5% said cyberstalking was followed by offline stalking, and 15.8% said offline stalking came first and cyberstalking began later.
In those cases where both offline stalking and cyberstalking were present, 12% said they had been “grabbed or held down”, 8.8% reported being hit with the hand and 3.8% reported having “been attacked with objects”.
In terms of the emotional and physical response to the cyberstalking, only 2.5% of the victims reported no symptoms at all. Among the symptoms reported were “feelings of inner unrest” (78.2%), distrust of others (68.2%), sleep disturbance (64.2%), feelings of helplessness, anger and aggression (55%), and multiple other issues often seen in victims of offline stalking (e.g., upset stomach, headaches, social withdrawal and depression, panic attacks, relationship wariness, and more).
These reactions are very similar to the reactions reported by offline stalking victims. Further, there were no differences in the reactions of male and female victims. The researchers believe this to be the result of including the presence of fear in the criteria of cyberstalking since “victims’ fear levels are the best predictor of physical and psychological health consequences”.
Overall, the researchers say the prevalence rate for cyberstalking was estimated at 6.3% which “is similar to the prevalence estimate for offline stalking in Germany”. The psychological and physical health impact is also similar. The researchers believe that cyberstalking is as serious a situation as offline stalking but also acknowledge the correlation between mental health symptoms and being a victim of cyberstalking could mean if you have mental health issues you are at higher risk for being cyberstalked. Unhealthy people often have unhealthy relationships. But with that said, it is both foolish and unfair to presume that someone who is being stalked (cyber or not) has mental health problems apart from the stalking.
In terms of litigation advocacy, this study offers a large sample where half of the sample was non-students and as the researchers put it, “this study offers a broader empirical data basis to shed light on cyberstalking and its impact upon victims”. It’s a good way to communicate the seriousness (and the impact on both men and women) of being a victim of cyberstalking.
Dreßing, H., Bailer, J., Anders, A., Wagner, H., & Gallas, C. (2014). Cyberstalking in a Large Sample of Social Network Users: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Impact Upon Victims Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17 (2), 61-67 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0231
We’ve written a number of times about the role of non-belief or of strong religious beliefs on juries and juror decision-making. The majority of research, largely based on White participants, has shown repeatedly that for White Christians, if you are an non-believer (e.g., an Atheist or a Muslim), you will be looked on less favorably than you if you were a Christian. We’ve written about countering that negative judgment at some length over in The Jury Expert.
But what about Black Christians? Will Black Christians also have a negative judgment of those who don’t share their religious beliefs? The answer, according to today’s research, is a resounding “it depends”.
The research participants were 175 Black Christian undergraduates in the United States. Seventy-six per cent were female and the average age was 19.3 years. They were shown a “target” who was named Aisha. She was “Christian, Muslim or Atheist, and either Black or White. In the Muslim condition, Aisha wore a hijab.” Participants were asked to rate Aisha on both positive and negative traits and to list the things they considered as they evaluated Aisha on these traits. They also completed demographic and personality measures assessing their “need to belong, motivation to control prejudice, social desirability, and numerous measures of religiosity”.
What this research shows is that some Black Christians will judge a nonbeliever (e.g., an Atheist or a Muslim) more negatively than they will judge a fellow Christian, but others will not take the person’s religion into account at all. Apparently, the difference is whether the individual Black Christian is “religiously conscious”. There is no standardized measure of religious consciousness and it is hard to tell exactly what that phrase means from the article itself. The authors say it refers to whether one is “conscious of the religion of others”. In other words, it relates to whether one views another in terms that include their religion, or in entirely non-religious terms.
The first and third authors “coded participant responses for explicit mentions of religion [in their description of the person being judged]; initial inter-rater reliability was 0.82 and subsequent discussion resolved all differences until the agreement reached 100%.”
Based on this method of assessing “religious consciousness”, the authors found 70 participants mentioned Aisha’s religion and 105 did not. The participants who mentioned or did not mention Aisha’s religion did not differ on demographic or personality measures. What the researchers found is this:
Only Black Christians who were religiously conscious (e.g., the 70 who mentioned Aisha’s religion) showed intergroup bias. That means the majority of the participants (e.g., the 105 who did not mention her religion) did not show any intergroup bias. (There was no significance for these participants as to whether Aisha was Black or White.)
Keep in mind that this sample may not be normative. First, most Black teenagers are not in college, which makes this sample more questionable for generalization. Second, the age of these research subjects places them firmly amidst Gen Y, a well researched group whose acceptance of out-groups such as atheists and religious minorities is higher than older people. And third, the frequency of Muslims in the African American population is more common (and possibly more accepted) than in the White American population.
Nonetheless, these findings are quite different than the patterns seen in research on White Christians (who display a strong bias in favor of those who share their beliefs). In this sample, only 40% had a more negative view of Aisha when she was an Atheist or a Muslim, than they did when she was a Christian. In this issue of The Jury Expert, Gayle Herde suggests some ways of “listening” to juror responses in voir dire to assess whether their religious beliefs are intrinsic (i.e., “religion is a way of life”) or extrinsic (“religion is a part of life”). It is possible that Herde’s distinction could explain some of the differences in “religious consciousness” but it would have to be tested with greater care for us to know.
So the answer to the question posed in the title of this post is that based upon this research, if your client is Atheist or Muslim you would prefer a Black Christian juror since they are more likely than White Christian jurors to omit the inclusion of religious beliefs in their judgment of the individual.
And, if you can figure out a way to assess whether that Black Christian is “religiously conscious” or “intrinsically religious”, you will be more clear about whether you want those particular Black Christian jurors weighing their decisions in your deliberation room.
Van Camp, D., Sloan, LR, & ElBassiouny, A. (2014). Religious bias among religiously conscious Black Christians in the United States. The Journal of Social Psychology, 154 DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2013.835708
When your evidence is weak, how can you be more persuasive? Precision. Observers want to see certain things to have confidence in what you are saying. The more precise you are, the more likely the observer is to see you as knowledgeable and accurate (even when negotiating for salary!). So what does the observer look for to assess your confidence? For eyewitnesses, the researchers say, observers (such as jurors) rely on speech rate, eye gaze, posture, and use of nervous gestures to assess accuracy. There is a longing for certainty that draws people to rely on these cues even when they are told of the gap between eyewitness accounts and actual accuracy. More recent research has focused on the use of precision to elicit confidence in you from the observer.
The researchers conducted two separate experiments: one with the ubiquitous undergraduate (N = 187) and one with Mechanical Turk (online research) participants (N = 163).
The undergraduates read answers to questions about the lengths of rivers and the heights of mountains (which had ostensibly provided earlier by other participants. They were asked to indicate their belief in the accuracy of the answers. The manipulation by the researchers was that the answers were presented as either “imprecise” (rounded to the 100s, e.g., 2600 miles) or “precise” (rounded to the first place, e.g., 2611 miles). The undergraduates were more confident in the “precise” answers to the questions.
The Mechanical Turk participants played a game akin to “The Price is Right” game show. The participants were asked to price three different products and were given help in the form of “audience suggestions”. The audience suggestions either ended with a 0 (imprecise) or ended with a 1 through a 9 (precise). Half the subjects were given estimates over the true value and half were given estimates under the true value. Then they were asked to “choose” the audience member who would “advise” them in the upcoming round of the game. The Mechanical Turk participants were more likely to choose an “advisor” who had provided a precise number (i.e., a number ending in 1 through 9).
Both undergraduates and Mechanical Turk participants believed more precise estimates were made by more confident (and likely more accurate) people. There is no real truth to this belief, but there you have it. If you are more precise, people think you are more confident and therefore are more likely to believe what you are saying. The authors use the example of “sports pundits often discuss[ing] National Football League draft prospects to hundredths of milliseconds–more precision than measurement error allows for”. People prefer precise estimates, say the researchers, “which creates incentives for such overprecise and misleading reporting”.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, the weaker your evidence, the more precise you want to be in identifying damages, settlement requests, or life care amounts. An example is to establish the amount of a life care plan to the penny, even though it is a projection and by its nature, imprecise.
“The weaker the data available upon which to base one’s conclusion, the greater the precision which should be quoted in order to give the data authenticity.” Norman Ralph Augustine
Jerez-Fernandez A, Angulo AN, & Oppenheimer DM (2014). Show me the numbers: precision as a cue to others’ confidence. Psychological Science, 25 (2), 633-5 PMID: 24317423