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mckayla_impressed_ap_328Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney had a bad day at the Olympics in 2012 and the facial expression illustrating this post went viral. She was “not impressed” said the internet—and today’s researchers would say the internet was half right. What McKayla Maroney was really showing us, according to today’s research, was the universal “not face”.

Researchers from Ohio State University wanted to know if there was a universal facial expression that spans multiple cultures. They found one and McKayla’s brief expression captures it perfectly. The researchers wanted to see if they could find clues to the evolution of spoken language. It is apparently a common belief that, before humans developed language, we had a collection of facial expressions to communicate emotions. So the researchers filmed 158 Ohio State University students while speaking in their native languages. The researchers used participants who spoke in English (a Germanic language), Spanish (based in Latin), Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language (ASL).

Past research had established that facial expressions of anger, disgust and contempt could be found in all cultures. The researchers wondered if the three universal negative facial expressions had been combined over time into a single negative facial expression. And yes it has. Here is what the researchers call the “universal not face”. You will note the similarity to McKayla’s “not impressed” face. The researchers describe the expression like this:

It consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips and raised chin, and because we make it when we convey negative sentiments, such as “I do not agree,” researchers are calling it the “not face.”

not face

Even in American Sign Language (ASL), the researchers found the “not face”. The researchers explain the word “not” can be signed with hands or it can simply be indicated by a shake of the head. However, sometimes, the researchers found, the “not face” was occasionally used in ASL without either the hand sign for “not” or the head shake. In other words, at times in ASL, the only way you know that the word “not” has been used is from the expression these researchers call the “not face”.

This study required hours and hours of painstaking frame-by-frame video analysis. The researchers now plan to automate the painstaking study of thousands of frames of films they analyzed while completing this study and then analyze one billion frames (for 10,000 hours of data) of YouTube footage of people speaking in an attempt to identify other “facial grammatical markers”. If you’d like to read more about this study, Newswise has a nice writeup.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think the lesson here is clear. If jurors listen to you with this expression (which is, as you recall, a combination of anger, disgust and contempt) it is likely not a good thing for your case. We’ve all seen this look. Most of us have probably mimicked this facial expression. Now it has a name and we can fear it in the jury boxes not just in the United States but of the world.

Benitez-Quiroz CF, Wilbur RB, & Martinez AM (2016). The not face: A grammaticalization of facial expressions of emotion. Cognition, 150, 77-84 PMID: 26872248


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mixed race cheeriosHere’s a somewhat predictable but still disturbing finding: If you live in an area where you are not exposed to other races—those of mixed race are confusing to you and that confusion leads to bias against anyone of mixed race. At least confusion is better than outrage—which is what greeted the makers of Cheerios cereal when they created a commercial with a mixed race child and her parents (which we blogged about earlier). Nonetheless, this research shows us that what is unfamiliar is often greeted with fear, and thus, negativity.

Researchers were interested in looking at how mixed race was viewed by those who were not normally exposed to other races. Conventional wisdom would suggest that people who are not exposed to diversity are less comfortable with it.

The researchers used about 350 subjects in two national samples and identified their likelihood of exposure to other races by matching US Census data with participant zip codes. The researchers measured the “zigzagging of the mouse” in tasks where the participants were shown faces (either Black or White faces or a morphed face combining the two) and asked to identify the face as either Black or White. The participants were required to make split-second decisions and the researchers watched to see how much the mouse moved back and forth between the Black and White buttons prior to making a decision.

The researchers say that those participants from low-exposure areas were more likely to have more “abrupt and unstable wavering [of the mouse] while trying to place the face into a racial category”. The researchers took this to mean that the participant was uncertain about the judgment and report that the wavering was “exclusive to decisions of racial categorization”.

In a second study, the participants were also asked to categorize the face racially but they were also asked how trustworthy they found the individual pictured. As you might guess, those with lower exposure to people of other races found these mixed race photos to be less trustworthy.

The researchers say that perhaps when you meet a lot of people from other races, you tend to see race as a bit more ambiguous than when you are someone who is rarely exposed to people of other races. The researchers say that exposure may mitigate prejudice.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study tells us that we need to carefully consider the role of race generally, as well as how to introduce mixed race clients or parties to jurors—much the same way we need to consider how to introduce anyone racially or ethnically different to jurors. We’ve written about this a lot before. You may want to review our posts on when to talk about race and our posts on mixed race issues.

The presidential campaign season has exposed the perseverance of racial intolerance in America and shown us that, despite the melting pot aspirations of most, there are plenty who have significant fear, anger and even hatred toward those different from themselves. When your client(s) are of mixed race or a minority race in general, you need to determine whether raising the flag of racial awareness will work for or against your case. And, as we have advised before, you will want to raise the flag of racial awareness especially when race is not at all salient to your case.

Racial issues are often difficult to discuss and we think it likely takes more than mere “exposure” to decrease bias. In our experience, there are surprisingly frequent instances where mock jurors express exceptionally biased attitudes and beliefs (like here and here) and few occasions when one of the other mock jurors push back against that bias unless an example is set by the moderator. And, as a helpful reminder, there are no moderators in deliberations so you will need to “set the example” during case presentation and in your closing argument as you teach jurors how to deliberate.

Freeman JB, Pauker K, & Sanchez DT (2016). A Perceptual Pathway to Bias: Interracial Exposure Reduces Abrupt Shifts in Real-Time Race Perception That Predict Mixed-Race Bias. Psychological Science PMID: 26976082


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Opened_up_a_Pandoras_boxYou likely remember the story of Pandora’s box (although it turns out the box was actually a jar) from Greek mythology. The story of Pandora was an object lesson in the possible negative outcomes of misplaced curiosity and our research article today would say we haven’t learned the lesson of Pandora’s curiosity.

Researchers in the US wanted to see if they could figure out why curiosity is often pursued even though the results of pursuit will likely be negative. What the researchers found is that people (some more than others) are so uncomfortable with uncertainty that they will work to resolve that uncertainty even if they are expecting negative consequences and no pleasure nor long-term benefits. The researchers refer to this as the “perverse side of curiosity”.

It tracks with the old axiom that you can assure failure today, but success requires patience. They conducted 4 separate experiments to see if they could figure out why we work so hard to resolve uncertainty.

The experiments are somewhat odd. In the first, they had participants click pens that resembled normal ballpoint pens—where each pen was marked with either a red sticker or a green sticker. The participants were told that the red sticker pens would deliver a “painful but harmless” electric shock if clicked but the green sticker pens would not. This was referred to as the certain-outcome condition. Other participants had pens with all yellow stickers and were told that some pens contained the batteries that would shock them and others did not but the outcome was completely uncertain.

While the researchers say the intuitive guess is that more pens would be clicked in the certain-outcome condition (the green or red stickers), more pens were actually clicked in the uncertain-outcome condition (the yellow stickers). The researchers conclude that “curiosity can even lead people to expose themselves to electric shocks”.

In the second study, they used the same idea but each participant was given 20 certain-outcome pens (with red or green stickers) and 10 uncertain-outcome pens (with yellow stickers). The number of pens of each ilk were chosen so that if the participant randomly chose pens to click, they would have clicked twice as many pens with a certain outcome. Again, participants clicked more of the uncertain-outcome pens than the certain-outcome pens.

Satisfied that the Pandora effect was robust, the researchers moved on to Experiment 3. In this experiment, the pens were abandoned and the researchers employed the sound of either nails on a chalkboard (a negative experience), water pouring into a jar (a positive experience), or an uncertain outcome where they would hear one sound or the other unpredictably. Oddly, the researchers decided to “prevent them from feeling bored” the computer would play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ at low volume in the background. (Seriously? How annoying would that be?!) The participants would press buttons to select either nails on a blackboard, water, or a button marked with a question mark (?). You know what happened.

Despite protection from boredom offered by a nursery school melody, the participants chose to be ‘surprised’ by the researchers and chose the ‘?’ button most often. They also asked the participants to rate how they felt every so often during the experiment and found (shockingly) that the more buttons pressed, the worse the participants felt. The researchers say that “curiosity led people to ‘open the box’ and then suffer”. (They do not say whether the suffering was from pressing buttons or that nursery rhyme melody.)

For the fourth study, the researchers raised the ante and made all the stimuli negative (“pictures of disgusting insects”) and the uncertainty condition would show a surprise “disgusting insect”. The insects used were a bedbug, a centipede, a cockroach, a mosquito, and a silverfish. (We agree with the researchers that these are disgusting particularly when magnified.) In this experiment, the participants were told there were 30 photos of insects that were covered and they must view three of the pictures. In the certain outcome condition, the box covering the insect was labeled with its name. In the uncertain outcome condition, the covered picture displayed a question mark only (?). Once again, participants chose to view more “uncertain condition” insects but the researchers also found that when participants  predicted how they would feel after viewing the uncertain-outcome insects—they viewed fewer of the uncertain condition insects than they did if there was no prediction of how they would feel.

In other words, say the researchers, “predicting hedonic experiences reduced people’s tendency to open the box when the outcome was a priori uncertain”.

Overall, the researchers concluded that curiosity will result in people opening a “box” if the outcome is uncertain and negative. However, urging them to ”predict hedonic consequences” will decrease their idle curiosity. The researchers think that “curiosity resolution” is not always beneficial” and a consideration of the possible consequences of the curiosity resolution process would be prudent. There are risks, they say, in seeking information.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think resolving idle curiosity of your jurors is not only beneficial but essential. We’ve seen idle curiosity take mock jurors down countless “rabbit trails” that are almost always extra-evidentiary and result in more confusion than clarity. So we make use of that idle curiosity that these researchers warn against—and use their curiosity about potentially distracting side issues that pop up in pretrial research to plug holes in the case narrative.

We want jurors as focused on the evidence as possible (except when we don’t!) and identifying holes in the narrative that lead to “idle curiosity and rumination” is the best way to help jurors avoid the titillation, conspiracy theories, fears, and general over-interpretation of evidence that can occur when a case narrative leaves a perilous hole into which jurors are prone to wander.

Hsee CK, & Ruan B (2016). The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity. Psychological Science PMID: 27000178


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ideology 2016The study we’re looking at today relates to aspects of race, gender, and background play a part in the influence that a scientist has on others. These researchers completed 5 separate experiments to examine if race (e.g., White, Black, and Asian) and gender (e.g., male or female) and socioeconomic status (high or low) of scientists made a difference in credibility ratings and why that happened (when it did). Instead of summarizing all five studies, we will simply tell you that in total there were more than 900 participants in studies in the US, Canada and India. The researchers had participants read a research report which (conveniently) included a photo of the researcher. As you may have ascertained, the race and gender of the “researchers” pictured in the photos varied so the researchers could test their hypotheses.

Their findings were the same across all five studies and across three countries (US, Canada and India). Essentially, the participants had definite opinions on the credibility of the researchers but it wasn’t about the appearance of the researchers (sex, race). Instead, how the participants perceived the credibility of the researcher in the photographs was dependent on the ideology of the participant themselves.

The researchers used a scale from the mid-1990s called the Social Dominance Oriention (SDO) Scale to assess whether participants were elitist (i.e., wanting to maintain the status quo) or egalitarian (i.e., wanting to level the playing field). The SDO Scale is unlikely to be approved for use in court (due to the language used in it) but the researchers offer examples of elitist and egalitarian beliefs by quoting questions from the SDO.

Sample elitist beliefs:

“Inferior groups should stay in their place”

“It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others”

Sample egalitarian beliefs:

“All groups should be given an equal chance in life”

“We should strive to make incomes as equal as possible”

As you read these questions and think about the idea of priming (which we’ve blogged about previously) you may have your own ideas as to why the researchers found what they did.

What the researchers found was that elitists thought White male researchers were more credible while egalitarians thought women and people of color were more credible. In other words, elitists were biased toward White men while egalitarians were biased toward women and people of color.

While this finding is interesting, what comes next in the article is very interesting.

A key finding in the work was that when ideologies were at either extreme (very elitist or very egalitarian) the support for White men versus the support for women and people of color were strongest.

Second, if the researcher pictured in the photo was shown to be of higher status (and thus academically competent) the effects were neutralized.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, what this article says is you want to strike the fringe dwellers on your panel (and we’ve typically agreed with this if your goal is for the jury to reach a verdict). We’ve always said they are too unpredictable and the researchers say they are the most likely to make decisions based on ideology rather than as a considered response to evidence and testimony.

Second, this research would say you want to clearly establish an identity for the “researcher” that jurors will identify in the way most beneficial to your case. If it is your witness or client, the more compelling their status to the kinds of jurors you have is ideal so the jurors are comfortable assuming they are competent academically.

We once were asked to help prepare a witness who was a world-famous expert in a highly technical area of intellectual property. For better or for worse, he was a professor at a famous university in the San Francisco Bay area, with a beard and an eye-catching head of frizzy hair. To many, he looked like Albert Einstein or some other science genius. But to the rural folks from the Eastern District of Texas, he simply looked like an aging hippy. If you are ‘preparing the battle ground’ for an opposing witness, finding ways to undermine their relatability or admirability is worth considering.

To this we would add that you also want to work with witnesses and parties so their testimony shows them to be not only credible, but also trustworthy, likable and confident (without being cocky). We think the idea of showing that your client (whether an individual or an organization) shares values with the jurors heightens their acceptance, even when they are talking about things no juror really understands. If the witness displays the universal values that are strongly held by the jurors, he or she is prone to being seen as “one of us”—and that’s a very good day in court.

Zhu LL, Aquino K, & Vadera AK (2016). What Makes Professors Appear Credible: The Effect of Demographic Characteristics and Ideological Beliefs. The Journal of Applied Psychology PMID: 26949817



Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: Race and gender and  scientist credibility

rich chocolate cake cutMuch like the chocolate cake staring at you from the dessert tray in that fine restaurant, the narcissist initially seems irresistible—but like the cake, when you indulge in a relationship with the narcissist, you will probably end up sick to your stomach. It’s called the Chocolate Cake Model of narcissism. And it’s  how today’s researchers begin their article on leaders who are narcissists:

“The first bite of chocolate cake is usually rich in flavor and texture, and extremely gratifying. After a while, however, the richness of the flavor makes one feel increasingly nauseous. Being led by a narcissist could be a similar experience: Narcissists might initially be perceived as effective leaders, but these positive perceptions may decrease over time.”

When I was first studying personality disorders in graduate school, a professor discussed how in social interactions narcissists are often delightful for the first couple of dates, and rapidly become very burdensome.

Today’s researchers did two separate studies, one using a group of students who were strangers to each other (first semester, first year students in their first week at a university) and a second using a group of students who knew or had information about each other (third and fourth year students psychology majors at a university) to study the relationship between narcissism and leadership.

Yes, there could be an age component to the results, but hey—not everyone does much growing up during college. Arguably, there is a range…

Essentially, in each group, the student-participants completed measures of narcissism, leadership (using a measure described in this article) and transformational leadership (using a modified version of the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire) at the very first meeting of a 12 week course. Then during the next 12 weeks each group was assigned weekly tasks to complete for points in a class competition. After completion of the weekly tasks, individual participants completed the leadership and transformational leadership questionnaires.

What they found will likely not come as much of a surprise if you have ever encountered a narcissist:

In the first experiment (where the student-participants did not know each other), initially the participants who were higher in narcissism were seen as good leaders. But that perception dissipated over time (the experiment ran for an entire semester).

In the second experiment, (with a group of students who were familiar with each other from majoring in psychology at the same school), those who measured higher in narcissism were not seen as good leaders initially but by the end of the semester their leadership capability was viewed negatively.

In other words, to strangers the narcissist was charming and thought to have strong leadership skills. Over time though, the narcissist was unable to maintain the pretense and stopped doing the things that initially curried favor with the group and was seen increasingly negatively over the course of the semester. Narcissists, say the researchers, always emerge as leaders in groups where they are unknown but over time, their leadership skills are seen to be lacking and they become increasingly unpopular.

When we are hired to work on a case, one of the early conversations includes a discussion of the style and manner of the attorneys, parties, and witnesses for both sides. A narcissistic witness often has a good bit of charm and initially comes across well. Over time, though, a skilled examiner can feed them enough rope for them to hang themselves on their own pride and arrogance.

What started out feeling bold and engaging devolves into shallow obnoxiousness (consider the current Presidential primaries for a case in point). Narcissists often love the limelight, but don’t realize when they have gone too far. A long trial (if it is an attorney or corporate rep) or a long examination (for the problematic witness) can grow old to jurors before it’s over.

Ong CW, Roberts R, Arthur CA, Woodman T, & Akehurst S (2016). The Leader Ship Is Sinking: A Temporal Investigation of Narcissistic Leadership. Journal of Personality, 84 (2), 237-47 PMID: 25487857


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