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And it doesn’t really matter if the expert is male or female, if they are young or old, and they can be any ethnicity! In other words, said the researchers—the variables we have read so much about (i.e., gender, age, ethnicity) are not as notable as whether someone “looks like” our stereotype of a “good scientist”. Very intriguing in the search for the “perfect expert”. The researchers completed six separate studies and we want to give you the results using their words because the findings are so very consistent across the studies.

In the first two studies, the researchers asked participants to rate actual “faces of scientists from physics (N = 108) and genetics/human genetics (N = 108) departments of 200 US universities” on attractiveness and intelligence and to say how interested they would be in hearing the scientist’s work. Here’s how they summarize their results:

In sum, scientists who appear competent, moral, and attractive are more likely to garner interest in their work; those who appear competent and moral but who are relatively unattractive and apparently unsociable create a stronger impression of doing high-quality research.

[As a digression, one of the most interesting lectures I sat through in undergrad social psychology a whole bunch of years ago described the LLAAT, or the “Looks Like an Astronaut Test”. Yes. NASA conducted a study to determine whether people’s visual impressions of astronaut candidates was actually predictive of their success in the training program. Supposedly, it was useful. I can’t locate this study anymore, so I can’t verify the study, but it seems a fair precedent for the current research. And, at 19, this struck me as very funny.]

In plain English, when you are less attractive and less socially skilled, you are seen as doing better quality research—perhaps because you fulfill our stereotypes of what a “nerd” should look like. Maybe the fact that you look like you have a very limited social life makes you a credible candidate for weekends in the library or laboratory.

In the next two studies, the participants were shown photos of scientists paired with various science news articles. “Study 3 examined whether the effects of face-based impressions were moderated by the scientist’s gender, academic discipline, and communication format (text versus video); study 4 explored the distinct contributions of facial competence and attractiveness, and the moderating influence of participant demographics.” And here is what they found:

Taken together, these studies show that facial appearance affects the public’s selection of science news stories. [While participants initially were drawn to the research of attractive scientists, they were more interested in listening to the less attractive scientists. We also want to insert here that the researchers describe the less attractive scientists as those with “interesting faces”.]

For the final two studies, “Finally, we tested the consequences of face-based impressions for the public’s appraisal of a scientist’s work. We paired articles from news websites with faces that did or did not look like good scientists.” [Helpful translation: whether they were “interesting looking” or more classically attractive.] The researchers describe their findings this way:

Research that was paired with the photo of a good scientist was judged to be higher quality, and this effect was unaffected by the scientist’s gender and discipline.

That was in Study 5. In Study 6, the trend continues. “Participants read four physics news stories, each paired with a male face from one cell of the design. They were subsequently shown the face–article pairings one at a time and asked to imagine that they had been selected to judge how much each piece of research deserved to win a prize for excellence in science.

More-competent-looking scientists were judged more deserving of the prize.” [We don’t say this often but are these researchers not just the nicest and kindest researchers ever? Not unattractive or nerdy, but “interesting looking” and “more competent looking”.] One of our favorite neuroscience bloggers, the Neuroskeptic, dubs this the ‘ugly Einstein’ effect. The Neuroskeptic is obviously not as kind as these researchers but his thoughts are (as usual) worth reading.

Here’s how the researchers describe their overall results:

People reported more interest in the research of scientists who appear competent, moral, and attractive; [so we are initially drawn to the kinds of photos you would see of models pretending to be scientists—but….] when judging whether a researcher does “good science,” people again preferred scientists who look competent and moral, but also favored less sociable and more physically unattractive individuals.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, what this says is you want an expert who “looks like” our stereotypical image of a friendly, but slightly nerdy, high school Chemistry or Physics teacher. Or someone who looks like many of the cast members from the popular TV show who illustrate this post. These are “real scientists” who do “good science” and who presumably will display substance over style. [This is feel good science for all the “interesting looking” and “competent looking” among us.]

This article also echoes what we’ve heard from mock jurors for years. They want to hear from “real people” who can speak to them without being condescending yet also teach them what they need to know. They see those witnesses as much more credible and believable than their more traditionally attractive, polished and urbane colleagues.

Gheorghiu, A., Callan, M., & Skylark, W. (2017). Facial appearance affects science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1620542114

(Open access here:


Comments Off on Your best bet for an expert witness is a friendly  nerd rather than an attractive scientist

Do you want to know the future? You may want to say it all depends on which aspects of your future. Typically, while we seek information routinely to make decisions in our day-to-day lives, we don’t always want to know for sure what will happen in our futures. These researchers remind us about the story of Cassandra in Greek mythology.

“According to Greek mythology, Apollo granted Cassandra, daughter of the king of Troy, the power of foreseeing the future. Yet after his failed attempt to seduce her, he placed a curse on her so that her prophecies would never be believed. Cassandra foresaw the fall of Troy, the death of her father, the hour of her own death, and the name of her murderer. To helplessly watch the approach of future horrors became a source of endless pain, suffering, and regret of her terrible solitary knowledge.”

They also invoke Bob Dylan’s classic line from the song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’,

“How many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see?”

They then summarize the research which shows us that people do not often want to know about specific results of genetic testing, or HIV tests, or even whether they are likely to become demented. What the researchers are most interested in, however, is what they call “deliberate ignorance”.

“We use the term deliberate ignorance to refer to the willful decision not to know, as opposed to the inability to access information or disinterest in the question. Deliberate ignorance can result from inaction, that is, not searching for diagnostic information, or from action, such as refusing information that someone else offers.”

In other words, when you actively choose not to know, you are willfully choosing to remain deliberately ignorant which is very different, according to the researchers, than simply not knowing—i.e., being ignorant. So the researchers did two different experiments (one in Germany and one in Spain (both with non-student populations) to see how common deliberate ignorance was and to investigate whether there was a pattern to choices to remain deliberately ignorant.

In Germany, they asked participants five positive questions and five negative questions — to ascertain in which situations the individual would choose deliberate ignorance. Here is how their sample (of more than 900 participants) responded:

Negative events:

Would you want to know today when your partner will die? No: 89.5%.

Would you want to know today from what cause your partner will die? No: 90.4%.

Would you want to know today when you will die? No: 87.7%.

Would you want to know today from what cause you will die? No: 87.3%.

Assume you are newly married. Would you want to know today whether your marriage will eventually end in divorce or not? No: 86.5%.

Positive events:

Assume you video-recorded a soccer world-champion game because you could not watch it live. While you are watching the recording, a friend enters who has already watched the game. Would you want to know from the friend how it ended (as opposed to asking not to tell)? No: 76.9%.

Would you want to know in advance what you are getting for Christmas? No: 59.6%.

Would you like to know whether there is life after death? No: 56.9%.

Assume you bought a blue sapphire for 2,000 euros during your vacation in Sri Lanka. The dealer assured you that the sapphire is genuine. Back home, you can check this, but you have no chance of lodging a complaint or returning the stone. A test would cost 50 euros. Would you have the sapphire tested to be sure whether it is genuine or not? No: 48.6%.

Assume you/your partner is pregnant. The gender of the child can be reliably determined by ultrasound. Would you want to know the gender of your child before birth? No: 40.3%.

The researchers saw this response pattern as showing “widespread deliberate ignorance” for both negative events and for positive events. They thought this inconsistent with the human desire to avoid uncertainty so they went to Spain to see if things were different there. They found the same patterns in Spain.

The researchers conclude it is common for people to choose to remain “deliberately ignorant” to avoid negative news but also to maintain the positive emotions of surprise and suspense surrounding personally important events. Cassandra, in Greek mythology, was unable to make the choice to remain deliberately ignorant. That is not the case for us—as is seen in the choices many of the German and Spanish citizens made to remain deliberately ignorant.

Additionally, the researchers found that the closer in age the participants were to the likelihood of a negative event happening (e.g., divorce, death of a partner, old-age health problems), the more likely they were to choose deliberate ignorance.

There was also an odd (and potentially useful) finding in this study. One of the questions researchers asked was what kind of insurance policies the participants had purchased. What they found was those that had purchased policies that were not mandated by the country or immediate area in which they lived, were slightly more likely to choose deliberate ignorance for future events.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a good point to remember and to educate jurors on in opening statement. There are times we simply do not want to know (whether about something positive or something negative) and so we make a choice. We have all done this and it allows us to be happier before negative things happen and to enjoy the surprise inherent in good things happening. That choice does not mean we have failed to do something, it simply means we are doing what (apparently) the majority of people do and choosing not to know.

Gigerenzer G, & Garcia-Retamero R (2017). Cassandra’s regret: The psychology of not wanting to know. Psychological Review, 124 (2), 179-196 PMID: 28221086


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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


Comments Off on The Invisibility Cloak Illusion: We are more observant (and  yet, less observed) than all others

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.


Comments Off on The appeal of the dangerous woman and more things you should want to know about women