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Archive for the ‘Beliefs & values’ Category

american marital statusWe’ve known for a while that the proportion of American adults who are married is decreasing but in mid-September, 2014 there was a flurry of media coverage over economist Edward Yardeni’s report (titled “Selfies”) that the majority of Americans are now unmarried (he calls that “remarkable”) and believes they are driving economic changes. Unfortunately, his report is behind a paywall and we cannot access it but thanks to Bloomberg, we know some of what he had to say (and much of it appears to be drawn from publicly accessible statistics from the US Census Bureau).

In short, in 1976, 37% of Americans were single and now, in 2014, more than half of Americans are single. Yardeni thinks this changing demographic will result in fewer of us having children and in fewer of us owning homes.

The numbers support his conclusion: Young singles, in particular, are more likely to rent than own.

Never-married singles are less likely to have children and (now divorced and single) older adults are unlikely to have young kids. Yardeni thinks this will have an effect on how much money they spend and what they buy since they have fewer expenses than married people with children.

The percentage of never-married singles in 1976 was 22.1% and now it is 30.4%. (The proportion that are single by divorce, separation, or death of a spouse increased to 19.8% from the 1976 level of 15.3%).

It’s an intriguing set of information, but it is hardly news. In the past ten years, just as we’ve watched political affiliations of our mock jurors shift dramatically, we’ve also been watching the marital status of our jurors shift. While we used to consistently have a majority of jurors report they were married, now we often have a majority who are either never married or have been married previously but are no longer married. It’s another short-hand that has changed for us.

We used to think of our married mock jurors as “connected” to others. Now, we look for other signs of connectedness. Are they in a relationship? Are they involved in community groups or activities? Do they volunteer?

Just as union membership (in many areas of the country) has declined as a short-hand way to assess politics and SES, we can no longer rely on political affiliation or marital status to use as short-cuts to categorize our mock jurors. It is sometimes frustrating as we struggle to understand research results but it is also reassuring to see that change happens and to know that eventually we will wrap our brains around it and have a new short-cut defined–just in time for a new shift to occur.

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how white is your network imageNot very Black at all. In fact, according to the 2013 American Values Survey from the Public Religion Institute, “the average white American’s social network is only 1% black”. But wait. It gets worse.

“Three-quarters of white Americans haven’t had a meaningful conversation with a single non-white person in the last six months.”

We are not talking about Facebook networks. Instead, we are talking about a much more meaningful definition of network. The researchers asked respondents to identify “up to seven people with whom you have discussed important matters in the past six months”. Respondents were then asked to provide descriptors of those individuals’  “gender, race and ethnicity, religious affiliation, 2012 vote preference, and relationship to the respondent”. In fairness, seven people in 6 months could mean that you have a pretty small circle for sharing significant things, but the results remain telling. For most people, this circle could mean family and close, intimate friends. For others, it could mean work collaborators and neighbors. It’s hard to predict. But what is clear is that most people live insular lives, accompanied by others much like themselves.

As you might imagine, the networks of some people were actually quite small.

While only 8% had no one identified in their network, 50% named between 1 and 3 people, and 43% named 4 or more people (up to 7).

People in the networks of Americans responding to this survey were only slightly more likely to be immediate family members (average: 1.8 people) than to be non-immediate family members (average: 1.5 people).

The picture becomes more surprising when we see just how segregated American society is by race and ethnicity. The following is a direct quote from the report.

“The degree of racial and ethnic diversity in Americans’ social networks varies significantly according to their particular race or ethnicity.

Among white Americans, 91 percent of people comprising their social networks are also white, while five percent are identified as some other race.

Among black Americans, 83 percent of people in their social networks are composed of people who are also black, while eight percent are white and six percent are some other race.

Among Hispanic Americans, approximately two-thirds (64 percent) of the people who comprise their social networks are also Hispanic, while nearly 1-in-5 (19 percent) are white, and nine percent are some other race.”

This table shows the tendency toward racial segregation among those with whom we talk about “important issues”.

how white is your network

 

You may think you know why this is the case. It is likely due to commonalities and differences other than race. But we cannot explain away the lack of racial diversity in our social networks by using our go-to arguments like age, political affiliation, gender, or even geographic residence. What differences there are, are fairly small.

It is a startling picture to contemplate considering the way race and the different ways the racial groups view race in this country have been highlighted with first, the Trayvon Martin shooting and now the Michael Brown shooting. We simply “self-segregate” says Robert P. Jones recently in the Atlantic in an article on Ferguson, Missouri. We self-segregate so much that it is no wonder white Americans and black Americans have very different perspectives on race in America. We just don’t talk to each other.

It’s another good reason to reinforce the idea that your client, witness, party is similar to the jury even if they are racially different. We need to expose our white jurors to the experience of black and brown Americans. We call it using universal values. This survey data would say our social networks and our day-to-day lives are not filled with an awareness of how universal those values actually are.

The American Values Survey: Race and Americans’ Social Networks. 2013 Public Religion Research Institute. http://publicreligion.org/research/2014/08/analysis-social-network/

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big-governmentFor a number of years now, we have been asking our mock jurors what role they think government should play in our society and giving them a number of options among which to choose. Most of them say government should play a smaller role and we certainly have all heard the media messages that tell us “smaller government is better”. The research we are covering today says that, in truth, big government (or at least bigger government) makes people more satisfied with their lives (at least if they live in advanced and industrial democracies).

The researchers examined World Values Surveys between 1981 and 2007 and focused on a question asking about life satisfaction.

“All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life these days?”

On the survey, respondents can rate their life satisfaction on a 10-point scale (with higher scores indicating higher satisfaction). The researchers were interested in examining life satisfaction in the context of how much the government intervened in the market economy. They looked at the size of the government, the country’s total social welfare expenditures compared to its GDP, used a measure of welfare state generosity (that includes how easy it is to get benefits among other things), and measured the degree of labor market regulation. (All these measures are explained in their full article which is available online here.) They also used multiple statistical controls to attempt to isolate the impact of government intervention into the economy.

What they found, over and over again, was that “citizens living in countries where the government more actively intervenes in the market economy report higher levels of life satisfaction even after accounting for a host of alternative explanations. Moreover, the substantive effect rivals or exceeds that of other traditional predictors of life satisfaction.” Poor people were no more positively impacted by government intervention than were the wealthy. That is, personal or household income had no relationship to the effect of government intervention upon life satisfaction.

The researchers are quick to state that they are not attempting an ideologically based defense of progressive public policies. They are simply attempting to answer the question of whether more or less government helps or hinders human happiness.

“We found what we believe to be conclusive evidence that indeed it does. Further, we can add that politics itself matters. Specifically, the preferences and choices of citizens in democratic polities as we have shown, have profound consequences for quality of life. In short, democracy itself thus matters.”

It’s an intriguing article when considering the debate over equalizing income differentials and the impact it would have on American society. This research would say that perhaps many of us are parroting the media and saying we think smaller government is better, when, in truth, the opposite appears to be true. In our pretrial research, we don’t care so much about whether the opinion endorsed by our mock juror is “true” or not. We care a lot more about whether their pre-existing opinion is related at all to their eventual verdict for the Plaintiff/Prosecution or the Defense. And sometimes, it is. So we’ll keep asking the question. But we’ll know (and you will know) that those citizens who live in advanced industrial democracies where government plays a larger role are most satisfied with their lives–whether they are rich or poor.

Flavin, P., Pacek, A., & Radcliff, B. (2014). Assessing the Impact of the Size and Scope of Government on Human Well-Being. Social Forces, 92 (4), 1241-1258 DOI: 10.1093/sf/sou010

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spiral of silenceWe’ve blogged a fair amount on the impact of the internet and social networking on jurors but here is something unexpected. People that engage in social media are less likely to discuss heated topics in the news, not more likely. This is according to a recent Pew Research report.

Back in 1974, Noelle-Neumann described the “spiral of silence” which basically describes a tendency to not speak up when we perceive our own beliefs and opinions to be in the minority. With the advent of intense social media involvement, researchers had hoped there would be more willingness to engage in discussion that truly reflected a variety of beliefs and values. Alas, it is not so.

The new report on the Pew website essentially says the relative anonymity afforded by the internet doesn’t make us (or at least most of us) brave enough to stand up for what we believe. It’s a sad commentary and what it seems to say is the “new transparency” of social media is just another public facade people who hold minority opinions feel they must maintain. Perhaps it is due to FoMO–another recent blog post of ours.

Regardless, here is some of what the Pew report finds in data collected from 1,801 adults between August 7th and September 16th, 2013–using the example of the Edward Snowden-NSA story. As background, the Snowden story was chosen since previous Pew surveys found the public was split on this story: 44% said the release of classified information harms the public interest and 49% said it serves the public interest. Of the 1,801 adults surveyed, 80% of the adults in this survey were internet users. 71% were Facebook users and (only) 18% of them were Twitter users.

While 86% were willing to have an in-person conversation about the Snowden-NSA story, only 42% of Facebook and Twitter users said they were willing to post about it online. The researchers believe social media users are particularly attuned to the opinions of those around them and are thus less willing to disagree with them.

Even when holding other factors (like age, gender, education, race, and marital status) constant, social media users are less likely to say they would join in (even in person) than non-social media users of the internet. Facebook users are only half as willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story at a physical public meeting as a non-Facebook user. Twitter users are less likely to be willing to share their opinions in the workplace than internet users who do not use Twitter.

Social media users who think their social media friends and followers disagree with them on the Snowden-NSA issue were “more likely to self-censor their views on the story in both social media and in face-to-face encounters”.

In both face-to-face and online environments, people were more willing to openly express their views if they thought others agreed with them. 86% said they were “very” or “somewhat” willing to have a conversation about the story in at least one face-to-face setting, but only 42% of Facebook and Twitter users would discuss the story on social media.

The Pew Foundation graphic illustrates this clearly:

Pew spiral blog insert

 

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the chilling effect of social media involvement on one’s willingness to state a differing opinion is of great concern. We have always taken the lone naysayer in pretrial research seriously and expressed appreciation for their courage in speaking up in disagreement. This survey highlights the need to establish a friendly and receptive juror-centric tone (rather than one of client advocacy and confrontation) in voir dire. And it is yet another reason to teach jurors in actual trials how to deliberate and to make clear for them the importance of allowing disagreement and the expression of differing opinions.

One day perhaps we will all feel able to express what we believe to others. Social media, contrary to the expectations of many, has not changed the desire to not make waves and to self-censor opinions we believe will be unpopular.

We have all seen the evidence of what are commonly known as “trolls” on comment pages for various news sites and high-traffic. These people are not those identified by this Pew Report and we’ve covered a research study that helped us to understand those who actually comment on major news sites are probably not people we want as jurors!

KEITH HAMPTON, LEE RAINIE, WEIXU LU, MARIA DWYER, INYOUNG SHIN, AND KRISTEN PURCELL (2014). Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’. Pew Research Internet Project.

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disgust 2014We’ve covered a lot of the disgust research so it is curious to us that somehow we missed sharing the actual Disgust Scale with you earlier. The Disgust Scale was developed by the infamous Jonathan Haidt (his surname is pronounced “height”) back in 1994 before disgust was considered cool.

In brief, the Disgust Scale was designed to “assess sensitivity to seven domains of potential disgust-eliciting stimuli (i.e., Food, Animals, Body Products, Sex, Body Envelope Violations, Death and Hygiene) and levels of Sympathetic Magic (i.e., beliefs about the transmission of contagion)”. The Disgust Scale was psychometrically refined by Olatunji et al. in 2007, reduced from 32 to 25 items, and from eight factors down to three factors of disgust. The citation on this post reflects the most recent iteration of the Disgust Scale-Revised.

In brief, what Olatunji and colleagues found is that disgust sensitivity is linked to being neurotic, behaviorally inhibited, and having low self-esteem. They cite three types of disgust: core, animal reminder, and contamination disgust.

Core disgust occurs when we consider spoiled milk or other foods, body wastes (e.g., feces and urine), and small animals (the researchers identify rats and cockroaches) often associated with trash and garbage. When we have an actual “oral incorporation” or feel we are threatened with one–then we experience “core disgust”. The researchers use the example of “eating monkey meat” or “meat covered in maggots” as an elicitor of core disgust.

Animal-reminder disgust occurs when we are reminded of our own mortality or our “inherent animalistic nature”. The researchers identify our attitudes toward various sex acts, injury to the body or death. When we think of these things, our sense of “animal-reminder disgust” can be activated. An example of an experience that can elicit animal-reminder disgust would be touching a dead body.

Contamination disgust is related to core disgust (and to animal-reminder disgust too) but has more to do with germs and disease. An example of this would be accidentally drinking from the cup of someone who is obviously ill and our fears we would catch whatever they have elicits contamination disgust. Another example could be concerns about contagion from HIV or the ebola virus.

These researchers were interested in the relationship of disgust to clinical mental health symptoms and report the anxiety disorders are particularly sensitive to disgust. For example, spider phobias, contamination-based obsessive-compulsive disorder, fear of animals, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder are all closely related to one’s “disgust sensitivity”.  So, we know you are wondering what kinds of questions would help you measure disgust sensitivity and, for once, we don’t have to tell you since you can see for yourself. You can take the Revised Disgust Scale to see your own scores by going to Haidt’s website, YourMorals.org and registering. (Then go to the ‘explore your morals’ page and choose the disgust scale).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, there are multiple ways disgust can factor into your case. We’ve seen it play often unanticipated roles in personal injury cases, contract and IP disputes, corporate misconduct cases, and even in family estate disputes. The important thing is that you know how disgust will be relevant to your case and that you work to help jurors see something that is initially disgusting as a reason for empathy, hope for the future, or as a call to action for change.

Olatunji, B. O., Haidt, J., McKay, D., David, B. (2008). Core, animal reminder, and contamination disgust: Three kinds of disgust with distinct personality, behavioral, physiological, and clinical correlates. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1243-1259

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