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Archive for the ‘Beliefs & values’ Category

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.

Kahn, 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

murder-method-by-genderWhile it may be 2016, there are still some judges who view women and men differently even when they commit the same offense. When it comes to killing your spouse—apparently, the difference lies in the gender of the defendant.

Australian researchers looked at the sentencing remarks from nine different judges from trials involving men killing their spouses, and they looked at five trials with women killing their spouses. Sentencing remarks are those statements made by the judge to explain sentences assigned to the defendants who had been convicted of murdering their spouse. The researchers do not identify the gender of the judges but as our fellow bloggers over at BPS Research Digest comment—“the accounts include plenty of references to “His Honor” but none to “Her Honor”.

Ultimately, with male defendants, judges often talked about the man’s character and testimony from employers or community members. They emphasized the man’s suffering and emotional state, and referred to (in those cases where relevant) the anguish, distress, and depression the man suffered when his spouse left him. In one case, the judge blamed the spouse-victim for the conflict (as in, “she started it”)—while the male defendant ended the conflict permanently and violently.

Conversely, with female defendants, judges focused on negative references to the woman’s character (such as being indebted and unable to meet expenses, or being uncaring as to the effect of her actions on her children). Such character concerns were not raised when the defendant was male. Further, some judges described the victim-husband as being a “good provider” or being “honest and hard-working”. In 3 of the 5 cases with a female defendant, the sentencing judge used the word “wickedness” (e.g., “your wickedness knew no bounds”; it is hard to think of a more callous, heartless, wicked person”; “you chose a horrendous method indeed to carry out this wicked crime”).

The researchers comment that these judges see “good men” who kill because of their (now dead) spouses being conflict-initiators (provocateurs) while women who kill their spouses are “wickedly calculating” and sentencing should send a message to prevent other women from getting the same idea. In other words, these things happen when it comes to good men murdering their difficult wives (who likely brought their demise upon themselves). However, when the defendant is female, it is unthinkably wicked, and the sentencing must be harsh to keep other women from getting the same idea.

The authors conclude with this comment, “Females received substantially longer sentences in these cases than their male counterparts. This study also demonstrated that judges expressed more exculpatory remarks for the male offenders while making damning, indeed vilifying statements about the female offenders.”

Obviously, this is an anecdotal study with a small sample size, and no statistical conclusions can be drawn from it. With that said, from a litigation advocacy perspective, it is clear (especially if you are in Australia) that we need continued focus on gender issues in sentencing and on how bias (whether we are attorney, party, defendant, juror or judge) creeps into our thoughts about the crime committed and the gender of the defendant.

Hall, G., Whittle, M., & Field, C. (2015). Themes in Judges’ Sentencing Remarks for Male and Female Domestic Murderers. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 23 (3), 395-412 DOI: 10.1080/13218719.2015.1080142


Comments Off on Are spouse killers “wicked” or  “stressed”?

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

terror-attackIn this final installment of our week on divided America, we turn to our friends at the Pew Research Center who looked at attitudes toward the ability of terrorists to strike the US as part of a 15-year anniversary of 9-11 focus and recently on US attitudes toward immigration (one of our favorite topics here).

Terrorists are more able to attack the US now

As you can see from the graphic illustrating this post (taken from the Pew site) once again, political party affiliation is responsible for the growing belief that terrorists are more able to attack the US now than they were at the time of 9/11/2001. Republicans believe most strongly (at 58%) terrorists are more able now to launch a terrorist attack, with Independents (34%) and Democrats (31%) believing this to a lesser extent. Pew also points out that the

“partisan differences in views about the tradeoff between protection from terrorism and civil liberties are about as large as at any point in more than a decade”.

“But since then, following the emergence of ISIS and terrorist attacks in this country, opinions have shifted, especially among Republicans. The share of Republicans who say their bigger concern is that government policies have done too little to protect against terrorism has risen 30 percentage points since July 2013 (38% then, 68% today), while showing much less change among Democrats (38% then, 46% today).”

How do you feel about the US immigration policy?

Despite the constant media attention to the unhappiness with immigrants and rising crime raised in the political campaigns this year—a nationally representative survey just conducted by Pew in August, 2016—shows no such opinion or perspective from American citizens.

“The new national survey, conducted August 9-16 among 2,010 adults, also finds that a large majority (76%) says that undocumented immigrants are as hard-working and honest as U.S. citizens, while 67% say they are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes. The survey also finds continued public opposition to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border: 61% oppose this proposal, which is little changed from earlier this year.”

Other attitudes toward immigration are similar different from what we hear trumpeted in the media.  For example,

“71% say undocumented immigrants living in the United States mostly fill jobs citizens do not want, while just 24% say they mostly take jobs citizens want. About three-quarters of Americans (76%) say undocumented immigrants are “as honest and hard-working” as U.S. citizens, while 67% say they are no more likely than U.S. citizens to commit serious crimes.”

undocumented-immigrantsWhen politics are considered, there is some difference but (again) nowhere near the division one might expect given media coverage of the inflammatory rhetoric around immigration policy and issues this election cycle. For example,

“There is a sharper divide in perceptions of criminality among undocumented immigrants. By a wide margin (80% to 15%), Democrats say those in the U.S. illegally are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes. Among Republicans, about half (52%) say undocumented immigrants are not more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes, but 42% say they are – more than double the share of Democrats who say this.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective (as well as if you are very interested in polling and political analysis), both the report on terrorism and the report on attitudes toward immigration are well worth your time to read. We think Pew often offers a more nuanced interpretation of data than other pollsters and we value that careful approach to data interpretation.

There are sharp partisan differences and yet some of those differences are clearly composed of a minority of partisans. While we will continue to track political affiliation and try to intuit in which cases it is a “difference that makes a difference”, we remain unconvinced that political affiliation is one of those rare, bright-line-demographic-descriptors that really does make a difference over and above deeply held attitudes, values and beliefs.


Comments Off on Divided [North] America: Terrorists and  Immigration

global_climate_changeOur scientists are not divided but we the people are very divided on the issue of climate change. You would think that when 97% of scientists agree the global weather patterns (aka “climate change”) are changing (aka “warming”) that Americans would give up and just say “okay, yeah, it’s happening”. But if you think that, you are in for a disappointment according to a new article in the Environment Magazine.

In the face of increasing political divisions here in the US, we have begun to track multiple political analysis publications for information we can glean to use in litigation advocacy. In this paper, the authors say the division on climate change is likely an outgrowth of partisan polarization here in the US:

“Even the most casual observer of American politics cannot help but notice that partisan conflict has grown sharper, unrelenting, and more ideological over recent decades.” This has resulted from both political elites and—to a lesser but noticeable degree—much of the public viewing a growing number of issues along a single liberal-conservative continuum, and from this ideological axis becoming increasingly aligned with partisan identification.

Other writers (like political analyst Lilliana Mason) say that party identification has become a sort of “social identity” and, as such, is more important to how individuals see themselves. If this is accurate, and there is some reason to believe that is true based on other articles we’ve been reading in the political analysis area, then perhaps there are ways the political social identity would show itself. In an effort to not disappoint us, the author presents data on that very question.

Here’s an example of how that “social identity” is seen in a question as to whether the majority of scientists believe global warming is real. Recall that about 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real. Whether Americans accept that scientific consensus seems to depend on their political identification.  The following graphic is taken directly from the article (cited at the bottom of this post).


As you can see in this visual demonstration (based on data from the good folks at Gallup) the political polarization has been seen since about 2001 (which we would point out was when 9/11 occurred), since which time there has actually been a decrease in the number of Republicans reporting a belief in global warming.

Over time, the public opinions on this issue have hardened with Democrats and the total public agreeing with scientists and Republicans showing the most disagreement with scientists on global warming. The authors cite others who say that Republicans have become more conservative and Democrats have become more liberal over time.

As an aside, this is also not something we’ve seen in our own mock juror data although Republicans we have sampled are more likely than Democrats we have sampled to say they are conservative and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are liberal. We just don’t think you can simplistically categorize Republicans as conservative and Democrats as liberal. We tend to think, as do our mock jurors who often write on our questionnaires asking if they are liberal or conservative—“on what issues?”.

With that said, however, we present another table from the article looking at the global warming views of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.  There is a huge difference between their perspectives. And we will add that if given a choice between self-describing as a conservative or liberal—our mock jurors who describe themselves as “very conservative” and “very liberal” are indeed outliers who respond differently than those who are “merely” either conservative or liberal. The authors think the partisan divide was first seen back in 2008 but it has grown since then. They feel strongly enough about the partisan divide to say this:

“Whether, and how, individual Americans vote this November may well be the most consequential climate-related decision most of them will have ever taken.”


While we’ve seen other trial consultants we respect saying political party affiliation is a good identifier of values, attitudes and beliefs, we haven’t seen such a bright line division in our own pretrial research. It all depends on the specific case and the way in which case narrative is framed and developed. We continually look to polls and surveys to give us guidance on the shifting attitudes and values in this country. In that vein, we have been tracking political perspective since we began working in the field of trial consulting but have been paying special attention to it since about 2006 and still cannot say we agree with dividing up Republicans and Democrats as conservatives and liberals.

In today’s article, political analyst Liliana Mason was quoted as saying that “individuals can hold somewhat moderate positions on may issues and yet be strong partisans committed to keeping the other party out of office”.

These authors think the 2016 presidential elections will be a very important election when it comes to climate change and environmental issues. We tend to agree and while the divisiveness in the country is disturbing, from a litigation advocacy perspective, the stark polarization among US citizens offers us a unique opportunity to test variables researchers identify as polarizing to see if they are related to eventual verdict decisions in pretrial research. So stay tuned.

Dunlap, R., McCright, A., & Yarosh, J. (2016). The Political Divide on Climate Change: Partisan Polarization Widens in the U.S. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 58 (5), 4-23 DOI: 10.1080/00139157.2016.1208995

Full text accessible here:


Comments Off on Divided [North] America: We are (still) divided on climate change