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Archive for the ‘Beliefs & values’ Category

We are again honored by our inclusion in the ABA Blawg 100 list for 2014. If you value this blog, please take a moment to vote for us here in the Litigation Category. Voting closes on December 19, 2014. Doug and Rita

angel-and-devil-doodleWe’ve written before about moral licensing–it’s the cognitive process we use to say “I’m not prejudiced, in the past I’ve done good things for this group”. In other words, we look back in our individual histories to find examples of when we’ve been good to justify our current “bad” behavior. It doesn’t seem to matter that, often, our memory of the good we’ve done historically is either inflated or non-existent. But, it works the other direction too!

You may recall the concept of prospective memory errors also known as “forgetting to remember” (like when you say to yourself, “I will remember to pick up milk on the way home”, and then you forget). The same idea applies to a second form of moral licensing. Rather than recalling past good behavior to justify current bad behavior–we simply point to the idea that we will behave positively in the future to excuse our bad behavior in the now. And this is about much more than having that ice cream cone or an extra piece of chocolate [or even eating until you feel a little sick at a holiday spread] and promising yourself that you will be “good” later.

Researchers in Florida conducted four different studies (with close to 400 participants) to explore the effect of prospective moral licensing (i.e., planning to do something positive in the future) on decisions made currently. In the first two studies, they asked participants to commit to taking part in a fundraiser by skipping a meal. (This was a moral task.) Then, the participants were asked to complete a hiring task where they read a vignette and imagined they were the police chief in a small white and racially prejudiced town in which the police department personnel themselves can be hostile to Black officers. Participants thought the new police officer position would be more suited to a white applicant. The researchers concluded the idea of doing something “good” in the future (i.e., participating in the skip a meal fundraiser), gave participants “prospective moral licensing” to behave in a racially biased fashion in the now.

After these two studies, the researchers wanted to be sure they were interpreting the results correctly so they asked participants in the next two studies to commit to a moral task or a non-moral task. The third study asked half the students to donate blood in “the next few weeks” (a moral task) and the other half were asked about a non-moral task (asking if the student would like notifications of new studies they could participate in) and then asked them to complete a measure of racial bias (the Attitudes Towards Blacks Scale). The fourth study asked half the students to participate in the meal-skipping fundraiser used in Study 1 (the moral task) and the other half were asked about a non-moral task. The researchers then asked them all to rate their attitudes on a listing of negative stereotypes about Blacks. In both of studies 3 and 4, participants who were asked to complete a moral task in the future had higher negative attitudes toward Blacks. The researchers conclude prospective moral licensing is at work again since the participants who agreed to do a moral task in the future scored higher on negative attitudes toward Blacks than those participants who did not agree to a moral task.

In other words, say the researchers, prospective moral licensing gives us the ability to maintain our self-image as a “good person” without doing any actual “good works”. It is possible, based on these findings, that prospective moral licensing will actually result in less good being done since the individual has already received the benefit of their prospective moral licensing.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a difficult article. Seeing a sign for a blood drive and mentioning to your fellow jurors that you plan to donate blood once your jury service is over, could become prospective moral licensing for biased behavior in the deliberation room. But we really have no way of knowing. Our recommendation against the bias of the prospective moral license?

When you are Plaintiff or criminal Defense, focus your jurors on fairness and the importance of treating the Plaintiff or Defendant in a non-biased way.

Don’t leave to chance the possibility that moral licensing could subconsciously enter into their decision-making. Call it out: “We all want to do the right thing. We have all done good and generous things in the past, and we plan to do them in the future. In fact, your doing your civic duty as jurors in this case is a current good act on all of your parts. But the generosity or thoughtfulness we might have shown in the past, and no good act we might do in the future, can replace our obligation to do the right thing now. In this place, today, each of you needs to call upon what you know in your own heart and mind to do the right thing for justice.”

The authors conclude their article with very clear descriptions of how the prospective moral licensing effect works:

“Morality is an important part of a person’s self-concept. This can lead to situations where moral actions are used to license morally questionable actions. The current work provides evidence that people can feel morally licensed even for actions they anticipate doing in the future. Anticipating doing a moral action in the future licenses individuals to act in morally questionable ways in the present by permitting people to gain moral credit for actions they anticipate doing. Thus, simply planning to do good later can allow you to be bad now.”

Cascio, J., & Plant, E. (2015). Prospective moral licensing: Does anticipating doing good later allow you to be bad now? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 110-116 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.09.009


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We are again honored by our inclusion in the ABA Blawg 100 list for 2014. If you value this blog, please take a moment to vote for us here in the Litigation Category. Voting closes on December 19, 2014. Doug and Rita


We just wrote about popular blogs picking up old survey data and discussing it as though it were new and relevant. Now, Pacific Standard magazine has published a rehashing of the content of a book published in 2002 as though it was fresh and new. Our friend and colleague, Ken Broda-Bahm over at Persuasive Litigator has done a blog post that looks carefully and critically at the claims made and we encourage you to read his post as a counterpoint to the Pacific Standard article by Jane C. Hu. Ken closes his post where we wish to begin ours:

“And in the meantime, those who have questions about the foundation for trial consulting and jury selection assistance should ask an experienced practitioner, and should focus on the actual practices and not on the myths.”

If it wasn’t so annoying in its gross distortions about the practice of litigation consulting, the dated Kressel and Kressel book, Stack and Sway, would be amusing. If trial consultants actually had the power to “stack and sway” juries, we would be very, very wealthy and there would be a lot more of us than there truly are in the country today. And the system would be irreparably harmed. We are not experts in verdict slight-of-hand. We are students of–and aspiring experts in–identifying and uncovering bias. We research and seek to understand what life experiences and values bear upon the decisions juries reach, in an effort to keep those preconceptions from influencing verdicts against our clients. Yes, we would like to see our knowledge assist our clients. But the purpose of “scientific jury selection” is not to “win” but to swear in a jury that will actually listen to the presentation of evidence and make decisions based on what they hear, rather than deciding based on their pre-existing biases and predilections.

Instead of stacking and swaying, we would describe what we do as applied social science. We read voraciously in the social science research literature and apply what we find there, when relevant to our work. Rather than, as Hu suggests, “incentivizing the use of lazy stereotypes”, we work to identify stereotypes and then to excise them from voir dire, jury selection, and case presentation. As Broda-Bahm notes, a skilled and veteran trial consultant has actual knowledge about many (but not all) of the characteristics that identify biased jurors. With no knowledge or insight, all that is left is the “lazy stereotypes”. Hu poses the accusation against trial consultants, and then goes on to note the obvious contradiction–information reduces stereotyping in every area of life, including jury behavior and jury selection.

If you read this blog routinely, you know we focus intently on bias in many shapes and forms. What we know, as many of you also know, is that bias is powerful, pervasive, and persistent. We want to know where bias lurks and how it may twist and turn depending on case facts. It can take a lot of work to identify biases affecting decisions in a given case and it certainly is not a process we would describe as “lazy”.

Ironically, Hu’s example of how trial consultants use lazy stereotypes cites a case wherein a prosecuting attorney used a stereotype to strike a juror. Note to Hu: prosecuting attorneys are not typically trial consultants (nor do they typically use trial consultants).

Recently, I joined the trial team for a three-week intellectual property trial following the completion of a mock trial where we had measured the attitudes, values and beliefs of our mock jurors and looked closely at how those pre-existing characteristics were related, if at all, to eventual verdict in our mock trial. As every trial lawyer and litigant would wish, we tried to figure out as much as possible about who was in the jury box. Hu, in her recent Pacific Standard article, characterizes this as “creepy”. It really is more sensible than “creepy”. I would be intrigued to hear Ms. Hu list the information that, were she a party to a lawsuit or facing criminal prosecution, she would like to keep away from her trial counsel due to excessive creepiness.

When you work on litigation where there is a lot of money on the line, it is very likely that both sides have done pretrial research. The playing field is typically fairly balanced. Just as the trial team is looking into every legal theory that might aid in their client representation, litigation consultants are engaged to help strategize how to overcome bias in juror decision-making.

It is very likely that both sides are doing internet research to identify values, attitudes and beliefs that inform individual decision-making processes of potential jurors.

If there is no time for research on individual jurors prior to voir dire, it is likely that both sides are doing that research once a jury is seated in order to inform tweaks to case narrative.

If no jury research is done, voir dire is rushed or not permitted, and nothing else is known about the venire members–decisions will be made based on stereotypes.  And sadly, the attorneys who are making those calls will do it knowing that it is a lousy way to make strike decisions. Using demographic stereotypes (age, education, socio-economic status, race, employment, marital status, parental status, etc.) is a very crude tool, far too much like doing surgery with a very dull blade.

If you choose not to conduct pretrial research and eventual juror research in cases with budgets that can justify it, you are either naïve, over-confident, unaware, or perhaps you are just a dinosaur. Back in 2002, when Kressel and Kressel wrote their book, internet research was unable to find much. In 2014, the age of social media and online documentation of life, there is much to learn and there are ethical ways to guide that exploratory internet research.

We feel very comfortable with our work and with our attorney-clients. We are fortunate to have clients who are committed to advocacy and fairness. We are not, as Hu suggests, ethically challenged. We are not creepy. We do not stalk potential jurors and we do not attempt to friend them on Facebook. We look at what people put out there in public for all the world to see online. We are informed, educated, principled professionals who work hard to identify bias and level the playing field. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. But we always try our best to identify where a person is at risk of losing track of the evidence and revert back to their historical biases and stereotypes.

We encourage you to read Ms. Hu’s article, keeping in mind what Ken Broda-Bahm has written and what we have shared here. Ultimately, what Ms. Hu writes of is not jury consulting, it is instead, someone’s confused fantasy about what our goals are, what our methods are, and what guides our practices. Our readership is smart and discerning. You’ll figure it out. And eventually, Ms. Hu might, too.


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We are again honored by our inclusion in the ABA Blawg 100 list for 2014. If you value this blog, please take a moment to vote for us here in the Litigation Category. Voting closes on December 19, 2014. Doug and Rita

trusting too much kills youBack in August we wrote a post on a study saying women are lied to more in negotiations. One of our readers re-tweeted the post and added, “Happy Women’s Equality Day”. Another article from the same research group says women are more likely than men to trust a liar again after they learn of deception.

The authors we are studying today conducted three separate studies to assess gender differences in trust following deception (or what the authors refer to as a trust violation). Their findings were consistent:

Women trust more than men after a deception.

Women are less likely than men to lose trust in others following transgressions.

Women are more likely than men to re-establish trust after repeated transgressions.

It seems to be about socialization–women want to maintain relationships and that desire results in a gender difference in trust after a “trust violation”. If these results are accurate, it is no wonder men keep lying to women. Women are willing to believe the apology. Women, say the authors, are more forgiving, and more motivated to work through relationship problems.  We could go on at some length about these findings but instead we want to focus on one of the measures they used to assess the importance of maintaining a relationship. We had never heard of this scale before but it has a terrific name: The Unmitigated Communion Scale. And the 9 items in the scale below (taken from the article published in 1999) highlight the differences we continue to see between men and women in 2014.


Unmitigated communion scale

The items in this scale were designed to measure a focus on others even when that focus resulted in one’s own detriment back in 1999. And we still get gender differences in responses to the seemingly dated questions from this scale in 2014? Wow. Just wow.

Haselhuhn, M., Kennedy, J., Kray, L., Van Zant, A., & Schweitzer, M. (2015). Gender differences in trust dynamics: Women trust more than men following a trust violation Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 104-109 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.09.007

Fritz, H., & Helgeson, V. (1998). Distinctions of unmitigated communion from communion: Self-neglect and overinvolvement with others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75 (1), 121-140 DOI: 10.1037//0022-3514.75.1.121


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euphemism treadmillIt’s a constantly moving target. Just over a year ago, we wrote about this on-going question and cited a Gallup Poll saying 65% of Black Americans have no preference when it comes to labels used to describe their racial or ethnic group. The authors of today’s research article would disagree. They say there are consequences (and loads of meaning) behind the two labels.

Stephen Pinker first coined the phrase euphemism treadmill in 1994. The phrase refers to a descriptive term that was once acceptable, but has now become pejorative. An example would be the word “crippled”, replaced by “handicapped”, which was then replaced by the phrase “person with disabilities” or, in some circles, “differently challenged”. When you write, and use an outdated, once acceptable but now pejorative phrase, you run the risk of being seen as biased, unaware, old school, or downright insensitive.

So, in 2013, Gallup said it really didn’t matter. Today’s writers demonstrate, via four separate studies, that we have very different associations to the labels “African-American” and “Black”. Specifically, we make assumptions about “Blacks” being lower in social status, less educated, and less competent than the “African-American”. In brief, here are their findings:

The label “Black” signals lower social class and status than does the label “African-American”. Further, the label “Black” evokes more negative stereotype content (as well as assumptions of lower status and less feelings of warmth) than does the label “African-American”.

Media articles on crime reports are more negative in emotional tone when they use the label “Black” then when they use the label “African-American”.

Whites view a criminal suspect more negatively when s/he is identified as “Black” rather than “African-American”.

The dilemma with these two polarizing labels (“Black” and “African-American) is that White observers are attaching presumptions based on racial labels. Instead of using either of these long-standing descriptors, these authors propose the use of a new descriptor: Americans of African Descent (AADs). Their belief is that use of a new label will short-circuit the stereotypes (positive and negative) that accompany the currently used labels and require judgements to occur based on the individual. Whether this will catch on or not, is anyone’s guess. But, staying on top of trends and labels is an important part of the work for all of us.

So, is it “Black” or is it “African-American”?

Or, should it perhaps be “Americans of African Descent”?

As mentioned above, Gallup says it doesn’t seem to really matter to the target individuals being described. But today’s authors say it matters a lot to the listener as “Black” and “African-American” have become cognitive shortcuts for many of us. So what to say?

The cynical might say it all depends on the reaction you want to evoke in the listener. That would mean that if you want to evoke a less positive attribution to a person, use the word “Black”, and if you want to imbue them with more of an upscale aura, use “African-American”. Either can be used to evoke the more negative or the more positive associations.

Our guess would be it’s a lot more nuanced than that. While there were a few more than 370 participants across four studies, we would like to see a bit larger sample to ascertain whether this stereotyping of racial labels occurs across the country or if it is limited to certain regions. We also don’t really know what stereotypes might arise if someone was described as an “American of African Descent”. Further, who knows how long the new label will encounter resistance, or how and when it might be co-opted by time.

In short, it’s an intriguing variable to consider. Are we indeed evoking racial stereotypes when we describe individuals as either “Black” or “African-American”? Is that what we really mean to do?

Hall, EV, Phillips, KW, & Townsend, SSM (2014). A rose by any other name? The consequences of subtyping “African-Americans” from “Blacks”. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 


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mother of all gender gapsWe follow, as you may have noticed, attitudes, values and beliefs toward a wide variety of issues. So we were surprised to see this 2012 national poll from Quinnipiac University pop up in a number of recent blog posts. According to their survey, while Americans favored the legalization of marijuana (51% to 44%) there were significant age and gender gaps.

“Men support legalization 59 to 36% but women are opposed 52 to 44%.”

Younger voters, “18-29 years old support legalization 67 to 29% while voters over age 65 are opposed 56 to 35%.”

For some reason, a number of blogs picked up the survey about 2 years after it was completed and questioned why the gender gap in attitudes toward marijuana legalization existed. Michele Martinez Campbell at Narcolaw wonders if, as others have posited, it is “just that more men than women are potheads” and scoffs at that explanation as glib.Instead, she believes, “female opposition stems from questions about the impact legalization will have on public health, crime and the social fabric”.

Over at TheMoneyIllusion, Scott Sumner calls this “the mother of all gender gaps” and gets 47 comments. One of the commenters points out a similar gender gap on marijuana legalization in a 2014 survey in Germany (although he did not provide a URL), but still none of the commenters seem to notice the “new” survey they are talking about is 2 years old.

Finally, the discussion goes over to Marginal Revolution and Tyler Cowen amasses 113 comments (at this writing)–many of which are sexist although some are quite funny (“it’s hard enough to get the man to take the trash out when he isn’t stoned”). And again, despite the proliferation of comments, not a single commenter mentions the Quinnipiac survey they are hotly debating is from 2012 and not 2014.

It’s a curious pattern for sure–men trending more liberal and women more conservative. It is at odds with what tends to happen and therefore we think it could be important. But, we can’t just take 2012 data and interpret it through a 2014, post mid-term election lens. We need to see if the gender gap Quinnipiac reported in 2012, remains the same in 2014. Why? Attitudes toward marijuana legalization have been changing very quickly. In November of 2014, we simply cannot know if the “mother of all gender gaps” really does still exist based on survey data from 2012.

When using survey data and hypothesizing as to meaning in the current day, you need to be very sure your survey data is also current.

And it would be wise to go to the original source rather than parroting what others have said and furthering the inaccuracies.


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