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This is the sort of article that can either amuse or terrify you. It will amuse you if you are charmed by all the ways in which we see ourselves as superior to others. And it will terrify you if you do not want to know that you are always being observed closely by everyone around you. The article even starts off creepily:

“People-watching is an age-old pastime. People notice and observe the people around them all the time—on trains, at cafés, waiting in line, at cocktail parties and office meetings, and beyond. Pretty much anywhere there are other people, we spend a good deal of time watching them, wondering who they are, and assessing what they are like. But despite all the watching people do of others people rarely feel as if they, themselves, are being observed as they go about their daily lives. Indeed, people feel relatively invisible.

Of course it is impossible that people (on average) observe others more than they themselves are observed. Yet this is precisely what we suspect people believe. We call this bias the invisibility cloak illusion. This is an illusion that prevents you from realizing that, whether you are on a plane, in a restaurant, or at a rodeo, when you stop watching people and taking in the social scene—when you turn your attention to whatever else you are doing—the people around you are likely to raise their eyes from whatever they were doing and watch you.”

It is just spooky. We first saw this article over at the BPS Research Digest and they poked fun at it (just a little) and poked special fun at a “particularly cruel experiment” from the year 2000, involving being required to wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt—so we went to read the actual article. (We also have a blog post poking fun at a more recent Barry Manilow reference.) But we digress. Here is what the researchers did in today’s featured research.

First, the researchers verified the existence of the invisibility cloak illusion using online participants. Then, using Yale undergraduate students, they asked two participants of the same gender to sit in a waiting room prior to the experiment beginning. (We all know the experiment had already begun.) After seven minutes (precisely), the two participants were taken to separate rooms and told they were either the “observer” or the “target”. The observer wrote down everything they noticed about the target while the participant assigned to be the target wrote down everything they expected the observer would have noticed about them. Consistent with the invisibility cloak illusion, the observers produced more detailed notes about the target than the target predicted they would. But having read that old Barry Manilow experiment, our fearless researchers were not yet done.

Next, the researchers wanted to see if the spotlight effect (featured in the Barry Manilow t-shirt experiment where people required to wear the t-shirt felt exceptionally self-conscious) could co-exist with the invisibility cloak illusion. So they had half the target-participants wear a t-shirt with the Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar on it. (We think they should have used a Barry Manilow t-shirt instead but perhaps it was deemed by the Yale Human Subjects Review committee to be unreasonably cruel—hence the Escobar attire.) They repeated the waiting room experiment with the only difference being the drug lord t-shirt foisted on one of the participants. They were left in the waiting room together for five minutes and then sent to separate rooms to once again answer questions as to what they had observed or what they thought had been observed about them. Again, observers listed more behaviors and characteristics than the target thought they would have observed.

An addition to this follow-up experiment was that the observer was asked how much they thought about the target’s shirt as they observed the target prior to the experiment. And here is where it gets even creepier—the target-participants thought the observers would look at their shirt much more when they were wearing the Pablo Escobar shirt supplied by the experimenters rather than their own shirt. The observers, however, “observed, noticed, and thought about the targets’ shirts equally across conditions, regardless of whether the target was wearing a provided shirt”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this means it is particularly important that you and your client are always aware you are on-stage at all times when in the courtroom. The most important audience is, naturally, the jury, but this research would say everyone is watching you (although the researchers remind us frequently in the article that observers go to great pains to make it appear they are not watching you). Much like the inaccurate “better than average effect”, the invisibility cloak illusion tells us we are watched even as we watch (and apparently, we are judged even as we judge). Parties and witnesses sometimes believe they are only really being observed when they are giving testimony. Alas, it is so untrue.

The researchers sum it up this way:

“The invisibility cloak illusion consists in people believing they observe others more than others observe them. This belief appears to be pervasive and persistent, despite being logically impossible in the aggregate. It cannot be true that, on average, people are noticing and observing others more than they themselves are noticed and observed. Yet everyday people experience the compelling sensation that social observations flow predominantly in one direction.

People peer out at the social world and yet they feel relatively unseen, as if they are inconspicuous consumers of their social surroundings. However irresistible this sensation may be, it is not to be trusted. The sensation of observing others while remaining relatively unseen is a mirage, obscuring the reality that we are all equally exposed to one another.”

Obviously these researchers have no interest in comforting any of us and this research is not at all comforting. What it does do though is offer an uncomfortable reminder to us—we are never off stage and certainly never off stage in the courtroom or in professional activities. And neither is anyone else.

Boothby EJ, Clark MS, & Bargh JA (2017). The invisibility cloak illusion: People (incorrectly) believe they observe others more than others observe them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112 (4), 589-606 PMID: 27977221

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If you read this blog routinely, you know we like the work done by the Pew Research Center that keeps us abreast of how demographic patterns are changing. They’ve done it again with some trends for us to watch as 2017 marches forward. Here are some of the highlights from their report on how the world around us is changing.

Millennials are now the largest generation in the US. In 2016, according to this new report, there were about 79.8M Millennials (aged 18 to 35 in 2016) compared to about 74.1M Boomers (aged 52 to 70 in 2016). The Millennial population is expected to continue to grow until 2036 as a result of immigration.

Fewer of us are marrying although we are increasingly cohabiting and Pew discusses the “gray divorce” rate (divorces among those 50 and older) which has roughly doubled between 1990 and 2015.

More of us are living in multigenerational households (with two or more generations). This is due to economic changes as well as the changing racial and ethnic makeup of the country. Also, for the first time in 130 years, more Millennial-aged people are living with their parents than in any other living situation.

Women may never make up half of the US labor force although the gender pay gap has narrowed from women earning 64 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1980 to women earning 83 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2015.

Immigrants are responsible for overall workforce growth in the US. If not for immigrants, the average working age population in the US would decrease in size by 2035. They also report public opinion has turned more positive for immigrants this year. Similarly, since 1970, the increase in the annual number of US births is driven by immigrant women. Babies born to Muslim mothers will outnumber babies born to Christian mothers by 2035.

The US admitted 84,995 refugees in 2016, this is the most admitted since 1999. The graphic illustrating this post shows which states most refugees went to live in. About half (46%) the 2016 refugees were Muslim.

There is more information in the Pew report on demographic changes shaping our country and the world this year. Read it to keep yourself abreast of changing demographics in our country and around the world—as well as in all of our panels of prospective jurors.

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One of the most common internet searches that brings people to our blog is “women who stalk” and we intermittently receive emails from men who say they have been belittled by the police for reporting a female stalker. They wonder if we can somehow help them. (No. We cannot. We typically refer them back to law enforcement in their area.)

Dangerous women are apparently intensely interesting and intensely frightening, as we’ve seen by the number of visits to our posts on women who murder or commit other violent crimes.

Female cannibals “frighten and fascinate”

We will start with the most attention-grabbing headline in our stack of recent articles all about women. Female cannibals. Can it get scarier than that? The Atlantic has an article written by a woman who has been studying female cannibals for the past five years. And yes, she knows that is an odd subject in which to immerse oneself, (i.e., not a good dinner date). The article focuses on how much female cannibals are making their way into popular culture via Netflix and popular (and current) movies. If you would like to sample this fare, you may want to read this article but if you choose to view the films or Netflix shows described therein, please do so with your doors locked and in well-lit rooms. Don’t say we did not warn you.

Babies born to “older mothers” (35-39 years of age) are doing better intellectually

This is a study comparing data from moms of babies born 40 years ago and is research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR). These turn of the century (circa 2001) newer “older mothers” are more educated, less likely to smoke, and are established in professional occupations. These tend to be women who were actively engaged in careers before motherhood, which naturally is different from women who gave birth as teenagers or young adults. The children are likely to receive more resources and attention from parents than children born to women of this age range 40 years ago. You can learn more at Science Daily.

Video games influence sexist attitudes

The debate used to be over whether video games caused violent behavior off-line but this article says that video games are encouraging adolescents to be more sexist. The researchers studied more than 13,000 adolescents (aged 11 to 19) who spent about 3 hours a day watching TV and almost 2 hours a day playing video games. (We are not told how much time they spent doing their homework.) Instead of measuring how sexist the content of the games played were, the researchers asked a simple question and asked the gamers to say how much they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:

“A woman is made mainly for making and raising children.”

Those adolescents who spent more time playing video games were more likely to agree with this statement. Before you go wrench the controller from your adolescent’s hand, we think you should also know that other video game research suggests that people remain calm as the world ends, so at least we have that.

Is this black woman the next Steve Jobs? Venture capitalists are withholding funding

This is a story worth reading. Here is a woman (who happens to be black) with credentials, accolades, and a free financial literacy product that is badly needed and yet having trouble getting funding. Why? Maybe because she is a black woman.

“Steve Jobs revolutionized the computer industry, the way we listen to music, and how we make phone calls. Angel Rich wants to revolutionize financial literacy education and level the playing field between those who have money and those who don’t. But she’s playing on an uneven field. Jobs was a white man and Rich is a black woman.”

Mindfulness meditation helps women with negative emotions more than it helps men

Usually these “hard to be a woman” posts are filled with things not so uplifting (if you are a woman) but here’s a nice finding for women (and some recommendations on how it might be made more helpful for men). If you have not heard of mindfulness meditation, you are quite unusual, but here’s a Brown University report showing that mindfulness meditation has stronger self-reported benefits for women in “reducing the intensity of negative emotions” than it does for men. A more detailed summary of the study is posted over at PSMag.

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All this week, we have focused on research about lying but there are multiple other articles we want to share with you that will not require a full post. Think of this post as an update on deception that will aid you in preparation for court (and life in general).

Small, self-serving lies change our brain and make us more likely to lie for personal gain

It really is like a slippery slope. Like much deception research these days, this project used fMRIs to scan participants brains while they lied. First they told small lies and their brain’s amygdala lit up. As they told additional lies the amygdala became less bright as their brain got used to lying. This study was published in Nature Neuroscience which is not open access but you can read a summary of the work over at Medical News Today.

Misleading ourselves to better mislead others

Scientific American recently published an article on how we can use self-deception in order to more effectively persuade others. The article describes research (soon to be published in the Journal of Economic Psychology) that was first proposed in the 1970s and focuses on how we seek information to support what we want to believe and avoid information that does not support what we want to believe. Anyone who has done any pretrial research has seen this phenomenon play out over and over again through the darkened glass of the observation room. The author quotes one of the researchers to end the article in this somewhat disturbing paragraph:

Von Hippel [one of the authors] offers two pieces of wisdom regarding self-deception: “My Machiavellian advice is this is a tool that works,” he says. “If you need to convince somebody of something, if your career or social success depends on persuasion, then the first person who needs to be [convinced] is yourself.” On the defensive side, he says, whenever anyone tries to convince you of something, think about what might be motivating that person. Even if he is not lying to you, he may be deceiving both you and himself.

Comparing fMRI and polygraphs for lie detection

You know that polygraphs are not admissible in court and that there have been many (many) questions on the utility of fMRI research on deception when we cannot really know what it means when certain areas of the brain light up. All we can say is that they light up. In this interesting research out of the University of Pennsylvania, researchers compared fMRI readings to polygraph readings and found something surprising. When neuroscience experts (who had no prior experience in lie detection) were able to use fMRI results completed by “liars”, they were much more accurate in identifying deception than were polygraph examiners looking at the same “liars”. You can read a brief news release here or a more comprehensive neuroscience blog post here.

An update on the courtroom readiness of the fMRI for lie detection

Lest you think the preceding study means fMRI is ready for a courtroom closeup—the Macarthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience has recently released a 4-page brief summarizing the state of fMRI research and readiness to be used in courts of law. Here is what they conclude [and we quote]:

At present, many of the issues that concern the scientific community with respect to the use of fMRI for lie detection are likely to be problematic for the legal community, at least in most contexts. In fact, much of the existing research on deception has no bearing on the question that matters most to judges, lawyers, defendants, and juries, i.e., “Can fMRI-based lie detection methods provide a legally relevant answer to a specific question?”

Most scientists—including many who have reported detecting lies in the laboratory with a high degree of accuracy—agree that more and different research will need to be conducted before fMRI-based lie detection is ready for its day in court.

While the short answer is “it is not ready”—you may want to go read this for yourself and impress others with your knowledge of the specifics on why not.

Garrett N, Lazzaro SC, Ariely D, & Sharot T (2016). The brain adapts to dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience, 19 (12), 1727-1732 PMID: 27775721http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v19/n12/full/nn.4426.html

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Back in 2010, we posted on an article called Artful Dodging that talked about how politicians in particular, answer the question they prefer to answer rather than the question you asked. We talked about responding to that strategy in voir dire. Now, we have another article from the same group of researchers and this one is on lying by using the truth. Here’s how a press release describes paltering:

The ability to deceive someone by telling the truth is not only possible, it has a name — paltering — it’s common in negotiations and those who palter can do serious harm to their reputations, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Before talking about paltering specifically, the researchers start by saying that most research on lying has focused on what these researchers think is a false dichotomy: either lying by omission or lying by commission.

Lying by omission: This is the passive act of misleading by failing to disclose relevant information. In this sort of lying, if I am selling you a computer with a faulty hard drive, I will not mention the hard drive if you do not specifically ask about it.

Lying by commission: This is the active use of false statements—probably what we think of as common lying. In this sort of lying, if I am selling you a computer with a faulty hard drive, I will lie and tell you the hard drive is fine.

This paper identifies a third (and commonly used) strategy for lying. Paltering is perhaps a more nuanced form of deceit. The researchers say that rather than misstating facts (lying by commission) or failing to offer information (lying by omission)—paltering involves actively making truthful statements to create a mistaken impression. That is, someone who palters, uses truth to lie. If this is still confusing to you, the authors offer perhaps the most famous paltering example of recent times.

Here is a paragraph from the article commenting on the preceding YouTube clip. [Boldface font added for clarity.]

Referring to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, U.S. President Bill Clinton claimed “there is not a sexual relationship.” The Starr Commission later discovered that there “had been” a sexual relationship, but that it had ended months before Clinton’s interview with Jim Lehrer. During the interview, Clinton made a claim that was technically true by using the present tense word “is,” but his statement was intended to mislead: Jim Lehrer and many viewers inferred from Clinton’s response that he had not had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. We categorize Clinton’s claim as paltering: the active use of truthful statements to create a false impression.

You likely have to be pretty quick-witted to palter and after seeing paltering defined and watching this classic video example—many of us can likely think of people who have paltered with us and whom we no longer trust due to this behavior. In this series of experiments, participants preferred paltering to lying by commission but the consequences they assigned to those who paltered with them were just as harsh as those who lied directly by stating false facts.

As for liars who palter—they seem to deceive themselves by not accurately predicting just how harshly someone who discovers their deception will respond. Reputations are ruined and relationships are broken (just as they often are over lying by commission).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the researchers found that paltering was often used in negotiations. Just as in personal relationships, the paltering party does not accurately predict just how much damage will be done if the deceptive paltering is discovered. Negotiations can be discontinued and those involved may be unwilling to enter in future good faith negotiations with the palterer.

The paragraph below is a selection (edited for brevity) from the article itself on paltering in negotiations.

Paltering is a common negotiation tactic. [snip] It may be effective in the short-term but harmful to relationships if discovered. Paltering is less aversive to negotiators than lying by commission and just as likely to be effective. [The researchers think this is part of why paltering is so seductive to the dishonest negotiator. They can always defend themselves by carefully saying “my statement was truthful”.]

[snip] Our findings have particular application to negotiations, where deception poses a unique challenge. Deception is prevalent in negotiations, influencing the negotiation process, negotiated outcomes, and negotiator reputations.

[snip] Our studies reveal that when detected paltering may harm reputations and trust just as much as does lying by commission. Quite possibly, however, negotiators who palter may misperceive their behavior to be more acceptable than it is and thus fail to forecast the harmful relational effects their actions trigger—if their paltering is subsequently detected.

In short, effective negotiations are no place for lies—whether they are by commission, by omission, or by parsing the truth to mislead—as in paltering. The researchers say paltering is common in negotiations but is also likely common in some long-term personal relationships and they suspect it is particularly common among politicians (at least among those bright enough to do it successfully).

Rogers T, Zeckhauser R, Gino F, Norton MI, & Schweitzer ME (2017). Artful paltering: The risks and rewards of using truthful statements to mislead others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112 (3), 456-473 PMID: 27936834

The image illustrating this post is what you would see in the dictionary if you looked up paltering. No, really. It is the photo Merriam-Webster uses to illustrate the word and we think the sly and conniving expression is perfect. If only people would telegraph their intent so obviously by looking like this when they are actively paltering—it would be much easier to catch a liar.

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