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this and that November 2015This is a conglomeration of articles we thought were interesting and useful but chose not to devote an entire post describing them. Think of this as a series of articles that might pique your interest and make you want to learn more. We’ll provide links so it’s easy to learn more.

Christians and Science: A new stereotype threat?

You’ve probably heard about how women reminded of how men perform better in math do more poorly on math tests than those not reminded. Or about how African-Americans perform more poorly on standardized tests when reminded they tend to do so. Studies like these have been around for the past couple of decades. But here’s a new one—at least to us. A new study says that Christians are stereotyped as being less competent in science and so they do less well on scientific tests and tasks! We wonder whether this is really a “stereotype threat” since those are typically descriptive of minority groups and Christians remain a majority group in this country. Regardless, it’s an interesting factoid.

White People Have Hardships Too

Matt Damon recently apologized for whitesplaining and Miley Cyrus ran into some trouble with Nikki Minaj recently over the same issues. White people seem to have troubles accepting how their lives are so very different due to privilege. We’ve seen this before in the professional literature but the studies keep coming with very similar findings. In this new study, Whites respond to evidence they are privileged by their race by focusing on all the hardships they endure. The study says that having (White) people “self-affirm” before they are shown evidence of privilege will result in fewer claims of hardship (due to decreases in defensiveness).

When works strikes too close to home: Suppose you have the brain of a psychopath?

This is one of those things you just can’t make up. Well, you could make it up—but no one would believe you. Let’s say you have researched the brain scans of psychopaths for more than 20 years and suddenly you look at your own brain scan and it looks like a psychopathic murderer’s brain? That is apparently what happened to Jim Fallon who then went out and discovered (at least based on a story told by his mother) a familial connection to Lizzie Borden (the famous ax murderer). Because he does what he does, Fallon went out and checked the genes and brains of relatives. He was the only one with the brain of a psychopath. It is likely that the definition of ‘normal’ is now a fragile one (at least) for Jimmy Fallon.

You too can reduce prejudice and “turn people into atheists” [if you buy a big machine]

All it apparently takes is a quick zap, aka “transcranial stimulation of the posterior medial frontal cortex”. Oh is that all? A new publication collaborated on by researchers in the US and UK shows us that if you “stimulate” the brain area linked to “responses to threats”, you can reduce prejudicial views (by about 1/3 in this study) held by the person being “stimulated”. Oddly not only does it reduce prejudice (in this study against immigrants) it also reduces religious beliefs. The researchers say that when you are challenged—you defend yourself and by stimulating the brain in this area, they lower the need for defensiveness. They make no real comment on what the reduction in religious conviction means although a writeup of the study makes it clear they’ve been accused of “turning people into atheists”. And if you are left feeling vulnerable, you will likely find this quote comforting:

“It’s worth mentioning that this technique requires a very loud, very expensive, fairly large machine operated by a technician who’s an expert, and there’s no way that I can conceive of that this kind of magnetic energy could be directed into anyone’s brain without their knowledge.”

Personally, we cannot imagine what kind of people signed up to have their brains zapped by a big, loud machine that is described as changing your brain activity— in the name of science, and not as a life-saving intervention.

Phillips, LT, & Lowery, BS (2015). The hard-knock life? Whites claim hardship in response to racial inequity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 61, 12-18

Rios, K., Cheng, Z., Totton, R., & Shariff, A. (2015). Negative Stereotypes Cause Christians to Underperform in and Disidentify With Science Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6 (8), 959-967 DOI: 10.1177/1948550615598378


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racial bias in crosswalkApparently yes, at least according to today’s researchers. And you likely will be somewhat taken aback by just which group you choose to make wait.

Researchers wanted to study whether the pedestrian’s race had anything to do with yielding behavior of motorists at crosswalks. They tested with 173 motorists and 6 trained male pedestrian-confederates (3 Black and 3 White) in Portland, Oregon. The confederate pedestrians were all about the same age, were trained to walk in the same way/speed, were dressed identically and each was easily racially identifiable. The crossings were done across three separate months and always at non-peak hours and with only the confederate-pedestrian in the crosswalk.

“Black pedestrians were passed by twice as many cars and experienced wait times that were 32% longer than for White pedestrians.”

And let’s keep in mind that this is in Portland, Oregon. Having spent quite a bit of time in this wonderful city, one of the things that is strikingly peculiar is that drivers are almost annoyingly prone to yielding to both other drivers and pedestrians. Locals joke about it. Yet this is another study about implicit bias and how our attitudes are uncomfortably reflected in things we do (like deciding whether or not to yield to a pedestrian) on a daily basis. The researchers describe the differences in how Black and White pedestrians were treated by drivers as “stark”.

They are certainly not alone in their findings. Previous research on implicit bias has shown minorities to be medically misdiagnosed in greater numbers, have more difficulty having their resumes seriously considered for jobs, and famously more trouble hailing a taxi.

The researchers think their results reflect the experience of micro-aggressions for the Black pedestrian. One might say it really isn’t that big of a deal but if you consider the time this adds on to a stroll across town—it becomes increasingly significant.  And as an indicator of anonymous racism (failure to acknowledge the pedestrian rights—or perhaps the mere existence— of a Black pedestrian trying to cross the street), this is about far more than cars and walkers. The researchers are now doing a followup project over the next 18 months (also in Portland) to examine the relationship of race and gender in pedestrians and drivers and also examining the influence of crosswalk design and street signage on yielding behavior.

Another motivator behind this work is the disparity in pedestrian injuries and fatalities:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 4,735 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2013, representing 14% of all traffic fatalities.

Between 2000 and 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-American and Hispanic males were more than twice as likely than white men to die in traffic crashes.

It is possible that, as people experience micro aggressions repeatedly, they might “force the right of way when cars are not stopping, potentially putting yourself into dangerous situations”?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this work speaks to the need to carefully assess whether racial bias plays a role in how jurors respond to your case, and whether you, as an attorney, are prone to minimizing the needs or views of minority jurors. The research on classroom behavior (boys, as well as white people generally get called on to participate in discussions more often) supports this same pattern. In our work, we’ve found that when racial differences are present but non-salient, it can be particularly tricky to predict how racism emerges (to the detriment of the ethnic minority).

Despite popular sentiment—we clearly still have a long ways to go on how race influences us—especially when we are unaware.

Goddard, T., Kahn, K., & Adkins, A. (2015). Racial bias in driver yielding behavior at crosswalks Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 33, 1-6 DOI: 10.1016/j.trf.2015.06.002


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The Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale 

Monday, November 9, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

grass_crop_circleYou likely know we love a good conspiracy theorist here. For entertainment value it adds a lot to an otherwise dull story. In fact, one of our favorite blog-moments was when a conspiracy theorist left a raging comment for us regarding a post that questioned the existence of Big Foot.

We’ve posted a few scales in the past on measuring conspiracy beliefs but this one is different. It’s a “generic” conspiracy scale which doesn’t question the participant about who shot JFK or whether the Denver International Airport is literally hell on earth—but rather asks them to rate their level of agreement with fairly generic conspiracy-based questions/beliefs.

The authors think that rather than asking about specific conspiracy theories (which may become dated and irrelevant), one should instead look at basic underlying assumptions about the world which result in a tendency for belief in conspiracy theories. Even their introduction to the scale is inviting truthful completion:

“Beliefs About the World: There is often debate about whether or not the public is told the whole truth about various important issues. This brief survey is designed to assess your beliefs about some of these subjects. Please indicate the degree to which you believe each statement is likely to be true on the following scale: 1: Definitely not true; 2: Probably not true; 3: Not sure / cannot decide; 4: Probably true; 5: Definitely true.”

In brief, the authors conducted four separate studies to develop this scale—beginning with a 75-item measure which ultimately identified “five conspiracist facets” that must be included in a generic measure of conspiracist beliefs:

government malfeasance (reflecting “allegations of routine criminal conspiracy within governments”);

extraterrestrial cover-up (with content concerning the “deception of the public with regard to the existence of aliens”);

malevolent global conspiracies (“small and secret groups exert total control over global events”);

personal well-being (reflecting concerns over “personal health and liberty related to the spread of diseases and use of mind-control technology”);

and control of information (related to the “unethical control and suppression of information by organizations including the government, the media, scientists and corporations”).

The researchers do not see these five factors as reflecting what one might think of as “discrete categories” of conspiracy theory but as more about “fundamental assumptions about the world which promote beliefs in many specific conspiracy theories”. Based on factor analysis, they selected 15 items for the final scale and tested in three follow-up studies. The final measure is a “psychometrically valid measure of individual differences in conspiracist ideation” which researchers hope will “be used across a wide variety of empirical contexts, resulting in a consolidated and cohesive body of research”.

The questions are straightforward and non-judgmental as though these beliefs are commonly held. Here are a few examples:

The government is involved in the murder of innocent citizens and/or well-known public figures, and keeps this a secret.

The spread of certain viruses and/or diseases is the result of the deliberate, concealed efforts of some organization.

Technology with mind-control capacities is used on people without their knowledge.

Some UFO sightings and rumors are planned or staged in order to distract the public from real alien contact.

An unusual aspect of this scale is that the authors have published it on their blog so if you’d like to read more about it you can see the entire scale here. If you’d like to see the complete article describing how the scale was developed, that is also freely accessible online. It’s an intriguing approach to measuring conspiracist tendencies. It is still too long for us to use in pretrial research but some of the individual questions could be of utility.

As a quick-and-dirty means of decreasing the impact of the conspiracy theorist in the deliberation room—you may want to teach jurors to ask “why” those with differing opinions believe what they do. We find in our pretrial research that once the conspiracy theorist explains the “why” behind their adamant opinions, they lose most (if not all) of their traction in deliberations when others see their “facts” are not really facts at all.

Brotherton R, French CC, & Pickering AD (2013). Measuring belief in conspiracy theories: the generic conspiracist beliefs scale. Frontiers in Psychology, 4 PMID: 23734136


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do religion and science conflictYou may well answer that it depends on which Americans and you would be correct. The Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life has just published results of a survey on just which of us see religion and science as being in conflict and the results, while not that surprising, are intriguing. In short, here is how Pew summarizes the survey:

A majority of the public says science and religion often conflict, with nearly six-in-ten adults (59%) expressing this view in newly released findings from a Pew Research Center survey. The share of the public saying science and religion are often in conflict is up modestly from 55% in 2009, when Pew Research conducted a similar survey on religion and science.

From the perspective of those who watch changing American opinions closely (that would be us), there are a number of intriguing findings that echo what we see and hear in pretrial mock jury research.

Finding 1: People’s belief that there is conflict between religion and science seems to have less to do with their own religious beliefs than it does with their perceptions of what others believe.

We see this a lot in our pretrial research. When we’re doing research on cases involving hot-button themes (i.e., illegal immigration, abortion, illegal use of drugs, extramarital affairs) we always ask a variation on this question at the end, “I realize most of you are not biased against [undocumented workers] injured while on the job but when you think about your neighbors who might be assigned to this jury—do you think that would influence their opinions of the case?” We almost always see a burst of pride over their own open-mindedness, and then excited statements about how biased their neighbors would be—while of course they, themselves, are able to hear the facts clearly.

Finding 2: The level of religious commitment is related to a perception that religion and science are often in conflict. Americans who attend religious services “seldom or never” are the most likely to see religion and science as in conflict and those who attend religiously services on a weekly basis are the least likely (although still at 50% as illustrated in the graphic on this post) to see religion and science as in conflict. 

There are deep divisions in the country and one of the deepest seems to be divisions on religiosity. Those that seldom go to religious services are most likely to see conflicts between religion and science. It is as though they are most likely to see themselves as very different from regular religious services attendees and so they see religious attendees as likely in conflict with science. It is not unusual to have jurors divide parties in lawsuits into those who are “like me” and those who are “not like me”. (One recommendation you hear from us a lot is the importance of using universal values to help the jurors see your client as more “like them”. We tend to treat those like us more leniently than we treat those who are not like us.

Finding 3: The only area where religious service attendance has a strong connection to attitudes toward the biomedical issues is in the area of whether it is appropriate to modify a baby’s genes: “Those who attend religious services regularly are more likely than others to say gene modification ‘takes scientific advances too far’.” 

We always like to find questions that differentiate on hot-button issues (and we like Pew’s data to check whether questions have even asked in large-scale surveys. This one, while very interesting, is unlikely to come up often as a hot-button issue in litigation.

There are multiple other findings in this study that are intriguing to consider as we ponder how religious commitment as well as a multitude of other attitudes, values and beliefs (like political orientation, age, gender, and even differences between evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, and Catholics). Visit the Pew Research Center for more information. It’s always an interesting experience.


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12 angry men 2015Well, okay—part of why it was not called ’12 Angry Women’ is because at the time the movie was made (1957), in most venues women were not permitted to serve on juries. But the research we’re featuring today says that even while on jury duty, it’s hard to be a woman.

Today’s researchers had 210 undergraduates (65% female; average age 19 years; 31% Asian, 28% Hispanic, 27% White 8% African-American, 6% Other) read and view a 17 minute computerized presentation based on a real case where a man was charged with murdering his spouse by slitting her throat (R. v. Valevski, 2000). The defense was that she had actually killed herself due to depression. Participants read summaries of opening and closing statements and read eyewitness testimonies. They also viewed photographs of the crime scene and the alleged murder weapon.

After reading all the information on the case, participants decided on a preliminary vote of either guilty or not guilty. Then they exchanged a series of messages with peers who were also participating in the study and making their decisions as to whether to convict or acquit.

Of course, you realize already that the messages were not really from other participants but from the researchers and were part of the study.

The researchers had five specific messages that each participant received ostensibly from five other participants—four of them agreed with the participant’s verdict and one did not. So there was a holdout juror—and that holdout juror had a name either clearly female (Alicia) or clearly male (Jason) while the four “jurors” who agreed with the participant had names the researchers describe as “gender-neutral” (e.g., JJohnson or syoun96).

As the group continued to exchange their messages in this electronic version of deliberation, the researchers had the holdout type some words in all caps to express anger and/or fear. So—all the participants had read the same information prior to exchanging messages with a small group of 5 other “jurors”. Sometimes the holdout juror’s arguments were made with fear and some with anger while the others were made in an emotionally neutral tone. Throughout the discussion—participants were asked how confident they felt in their initial verdict and then were allowed to change their vote if they wished to as the deliberations concluded. Only 7% of the participants modified their original vote.

Here is some of what the researchers found:

Once the participants learned their verdict choice represented a majority vote, they said they were more confident in their initial verdict.

However, if the “holdout” in their condition was male and he expressed anger, the participants began doubting their initial opinions (at a statistically significant level). In contrast, if the “holdout” in their condition was female and she expressed anger, participants became significantly more confident in their initial opinion over the course of deliberations.

Both male and female participants responded in this way—male holdouts were more convincing when expressing anger while women holdouts lost influence when they did exactly the same thing as the male holdouts. The authors do comment that perhaps in the situation where a man is charged with murdering his wife—the angry female holdout may have been seen as over-identifying with the victim. However, this pattern of results was also in the condition where the female holdout was arguing against convicting the male defendant.

And here is what the researchers have to say about their findings:

“We entrust very important decisions to groups and reaching consensus often breeds frustration and anger expression. Our findings suggest that in decisions we are all most passionate about in society, including life and death decisions made by juries, women might have less influence than men. Our results lend scientific support to a frequent claim voiced by women, sometimes dismissed as paranoia: that people would have listened to her impassioned argument, had she been a man.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study has multiple implications—none of which are going to be particularly popular with women—although they may sound all too familiar based on life experiences.

If you are part of a trial team with both male and female attorneys, assign male attorneys to deliver angry or confrontational cross-examinations. (Remember, angry men persuade and angry women make people dig their feet into their own opposing position.) With that said, modulating anger remains important, as men are also criticized by jurors when they are seen as bullying or badgering.

When you are preparing a witness, pay attention to gender as you consider the testimony involved. (Remember, angry men persuade and are seen as more credible while angry women make people think the woman is losing emotional control and not particularly credible.)

It’s sobering to read a study from 2015 and realize that while we think we’ve come a long way, there is still a long way to go when it comes to gender and the expression of anger. It may help to think of this as an example of how to be flexible when it comes to strategically planning how to use anger, persuasion, and gender.

Salerno JM, & Peter-Hagene LC (2015). One Angry Woman: Anger Expression Increases Influence for Men, but Decreases Influence for Women, During Group Deliberation. Law and Human Behavior PMID: 26322952


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