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Time for another combination post of various things you will want to know that will improve your conversation skills and general life knowledge. We are not saying that it will make your hair shiny or inspire your kids to do their homework. Kernels of wisdom, that’s what they are, in truth.

Talking to your kids about stereotypes

The Conversation website has a brief and very good article on how to talk to your children in order to combat stereotypes. They address the best ways to speak to kids at different ages, how to combat generalizations kids might make about whole groups of people, using specific language rather than making general claims, and rebutting gender stereotypes. They even tell you how to have sensitive conversations about generalizations kids bring home so you can actually talk to them about things that are bothering them. Put simply, “words matter”. Here’s how this psychologist-author ends her article:

“With our language, we can help children develop habits of mind that challenge, rather than endorse, stereotyped views of the people around us”.

Miss Manners on rudeness from the leader of the free world

Speaking of talking to our children, Miss Manners is not one to shy away from saying what she thinks (in the most polite and considerate way, of course) and this Atlantic article is no different. She asks, after years of mostly good manners from our political leaders, why did “so many citizens elect a president of the United States who unabashedly—even proudly—violated those expectations?” She answers by saying virtues have been redefined and we now have “alternate virtues” (which will no doubt remind you of the “alternate facts” memes). She thinks that perhaps, after “eight years of a dignified president with an exemplary family life, people are hungry for the pleasures of scandal”. It is an interesting and a bit depressing read.

Hungry or sleepy—judges are more punitive when they are uncomfortable

You probably remember the study showing judges issues harsher sentences when they were hungry. Well, it turns out they are also harsher when they are sleepy (measured on what the researchers coined as “Sleepy Monday”—the Monday after the ‘spring forward’ time change and then compared to other Monday sentences). One of the authors did a TedX talk on sleep deprivation and how it impairs us without us realizing we are impaired. Apparently, judges suffer from it along with the rest of us and their sentencing decisions on “Sleepy Mondays” are reported to be 5% longer than on other Mondays when they were (ostensibly) more well rested.

You know what assuming does…

And yet, we all seem to make assumptions about other beliefs and biases based on seeing or hearing a single biased expression. New research in the Psychological Science journal shows us that women tended to believe a person who expressed a racist belief would also be sexist and men of color thought someone who was sexist was likely also racist.

In other words, participants who saw a sexist, assumed they saw a racist as well. And those who saw a racist, assumed the person described was also sexist.

Question: How often do birds fly that high? Answer: At least once

A few years ago, we were doing pretrial research on a helicopter crash caused by a bird flying way too high (one last time) and the pilot losing control when the controls were not in an intuitive place. Our mock jurors were aghast at the freakish nature of the crash and one of them earnestly inquired just how often birds of that particular type flew that high. The moderator deadpanned, “Well, we know it has happened at least once” and the mock jurors and the observation room of attorney-clients burst into laughter. As it happens, birds are struck by aircraft more than any other type of animal—at least 70 bald eagles in the last decade alone (and that is only counting bird strikes in Alaska, Florida and Michigan).

The Atlantic probably thought they were being pretty novel asking the question in this article—How often do airplanes hit deer? Or alligators? Or bald eagles? Or armadillos?—but that’s what we love about trial consulting. We see and hear it all. But this article has more than even we could imagine (and they have pictures linked if you are ready for some pretty gruesome photos of birds (posthumous). They offer a description of aircraft hitting almost every living animal. Some of them beg for explanations as you will see, but we’ll leave that to someone else.

Also in the past decade in the United States, airplanes have hit bats, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, dessert hares, prairie dogs, cats, dogs, foxes, bull snakes, turtles, armadillos, alligators, badgers, at least one woodchuck, an elk, an antelope jackrabbit, and several rather ominous-sounding “unknown terrestrial mammals.”

After that list, I take it back. We have not seen “everything”. Just almost everything.

Sanchez DT, Chaney KE, Manuel SK, Wilton LS, & Remedios JD (2017). Stigma by Prejudice Transfer: Racism threatens white women and sexism threatens men of color. Psychological Science


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So maybe it doesn’t pay to be beautiful  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017
posted by Douglas Keene

Or at least, maybe there is no “ugliness penalty” if you are not beautiful. We’ve written a number of times here about the many benefits given to those who are seen as beautiful or attractive. This paper debunks the stereotype and says that salary goes beyond appearance and individual differences matter too.

The researchers used a nationally representative US data set (from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health aka “Add Health”) with “precise and repeated measures of physical attractiveness”. In this data set, are researcher-ratings of physical attractiveness of all participants (on a five-point scale) at four different points over a 13 year period. And what did they find? Overall, say the authors, the “beauty premium” completely disappeared when other factors (e.g., health, intelligence, better personality traits) were controlled for statistically.

“Physically more attractive workers may earn more, not necessarily because they are more beautiful, but because they are healthier, more intelligent, and have better personality traits conducive to higher earnings, such as being more Conscientious, more Extraverted, and less Neurotic,” explains Kanazawa.

Other research would say that beauty or attractiveness could account for some of these other personality characteristics as they can be shaped by how others respond to us. As the authors discuss their findings, they mention this reality and comment that (because the dataset ended at age 29) they are unable to account for the impact of life experience on Neuroticism (for example).

“To the extent that physically less attractive individuals are more likely to have negative life experiences, physical attractiveness may still be an ultimate cause of earnings via Neuroticism.”

However, there was also evidence for an “ugliness premium” (which is the opposite of an ugliness penalty)—in which the less attractive you were, the more you were paid. In this dataset, these were the people rated as “very unattractive” and, oddly, they always earned more than those rated as “unattractive”. And, even more surprising, sometimes the “very unattractive” earned more than those described as “average-looking” or even “attractive”.

The authors tell us the reason this sort of finding was not reported in earlier research was that the “very unattractive” and “unattractive” groups were often lumped together in a “below average” category that prevented researchers from seeing the benefits of being “very unattractive”.

Overall, say the authors, there is some evidence for the beauty premium but no evidence for the ugliness penalty. Further, there is strong evidence for the (very) ugliness premium. They point out that this survey did not continue after age 29 and thus cannot answer the question of whether the beauty premium or the ugliness penalty are cumulative throughout working careers. On the other hand, the inclusion of attractiveness ratings in a dataset is highly unusual and the authors hope more researchers will include these ratings in the future datasets.

“Physical attractiveness is a very neglected variable in social science data, and no other longitudinal data sets on a representative sample measures it as precisely as Add Health does.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think beauty goes a long way in a party, a witness, and even an attorney. On the other hand, there can be a beauty backlash, so you need to watch for that in pretrial research as well. The likability factor is also very important and even an unattractive witness can seem more appealing when likable. (You can see our more than 200 posts on witness preparation here.)

From a law office management perspective, this is also an area to which you need to pay special attention. You will want to modify procedures so that promotions and salary increases are based on objective performance data and not on gender, beauty, age, ethnicity, disability status and so on. (You can see 60+ posts on law office management here.)

[We want to give you full disclosure regarding the research report cited in this post. The senior author is a very controversial figure whom colleagues have criticized as unreliable and/or as a researcher who personifies “bad science”. He has been criticized for many things and fired from several writing positions due to the negative and public reactions to his work. You can make your own judgments as to the merit of this research but we wanted you to have the full picture.]

Kanazawa, S., & Still, MC (2017). Is there really a beauty premium or an ugliness penalty on earnings? Journal of Business and Psychology.


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Here’s another combination post offering multiple tidbits for you to stay up-to-date on new research and publications that have emerged on things you need to know. We tend to publish these when we’ve read a whole lot more than we can blog about and want to make sure you don’t miss the information.

Juror questions during trial and the prevalence of electronic and social media research

The National Center on State Courts just published a study authored by a judge in the Pennsylvania Lawyer on whether allowing jurors to ask questions during trial will help resolve issues of electronic and social media research during trial. The judge-author suggests the judicial directives to not conduct any form of research (the instructions usually itemize various forms of social media as examples of “what not to do”) do not stop the research from happening—it simply makes the research surreptitious rather than public. Since this publication is in the Pennsylvania Lawyer, they focus on Pennsylvania jury instructions but also discuss how other venues have used (and controlled) juror questions during trial. The article offers suggestions developed in the subcommittee on civil jury instructions. It is well worth a read if you have questions about the practice of allowing juror questions.

We should question alibis and the weight we place on them during jury deliberations

Given all the concerns about the accuracy of eye-witness testimony, it only makes sense we should also closely examine alibis and whether we simply accept them as true. A new article in Pacific Standard magazine says we need to pay attention to alibis as new research is telling us that accuracy of alibis resemble the vagaries of faulty eye-witness testimony. According to the new research, we tend not to remember mundane events (like where we were on August 17, 2009). The authors of the study described say that the wrong people can end up in jail due to alibi inconsistency and eyewitness mis-identification.

The curious impact of donning a police uniform

New research published in Frontiers in Psychology tells us that putting on a police uniform automatically affects how we see others and creates a bias against those we consider of lower social status. Essentially, say the researchers, the uniform itself causes shifts (likely due to the authority communicated by the uniform) resulting in judgment of those considered to be lower status (i.e., in this study those wearing hoodies were identified as having a lower social status). The researchers think it possible that police officers (who put on their uniforms) may perceive threat where none exists.

Identifying lies with fMRI machines

We’ve written about identifying deception using fMRIs frequently at this blog and here’s a four-page “knowledge brief” from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. You can also download this summary at SSRN. This is a terrific (and brief) summary on everything you need to know about what fMRI machines can tell us about deception and what they cannot tell us about deception. You could think of this as a primer on fMRIs and how they work (and don’t work) as well as a guide to deposition testimony of an expert witness touting the deception-identifying abilities of the machine. This resource is very worth your time.

Ciro Civile, & Sukhvinder S. Obhi (2017). Students Wearing Police Uniforms Exhibit Biased Attention toward Individuals Wearing Hoodies. Frontiers in Psychology, (February 6,)


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We’ve written before about American attitudes toward China and Asians in general and are used to seeing knee-jerk negative reactions toward Asian companies or parties across the country as we complete pretrial research.

But, like other biases and attitudes all over the media these days, American attitudes toward China have been getting worse in the past decade. You likely know we hold Pew Research in high regard for measuring shifting attitudes in this country. We often look to their work to take a “national temperature” on various issues so we can then see if those attitudes are stronger or weaker in various venues in which we work. Earlier this month, Pew published a brief article on attitudes Americans have toward China and, as you might predict, our attitudes toward China are not particularly warm.

Here are a few highlights from the Pew report:

As you can see in the graphic illustrating this post (taken from the Pew site), American attitudes toward China are now (since 2015) more negative than the attitudes of Chinese citizens toward America. In fact, as of May 2015, the majority of Americans (55%) had unfavorable attitudes toward China.

It is more common for older (ahem, Pew says you are “older” if you are 50 years of age or above) Americans to view China unfavorably. However, negative views of China increased 21 percentage points among those aged 18 to 34 in the US between 2006 and 2016 (so it isn’t just the “old folks”).

US Republicans have consistently been more negative toward China than US Democrats. However, negative attitudes have increased among members of both political parties by more than 20 percentage points over the past decade.

American citizens see their country as declining while Chinese citizens see their country as ascending.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it is imperative for you to be aware of the almost instantaneous reactivity to Chinese or Asian parties or products in your case. The vitriolic nature of the bias initially caught us off guard, but now we wait for it. Our various posts on negative attitudes we’ve seen in the literature and in our pretrial research (here, here, here, and here) may be useful for you to review in order to see ways the bias or negative attitudes arise. You may also want to review one of our perennially popular posts on when you want to talk about race and when you want to be very, very quiet.

Pew Research Center (February 10, 2017). Americans have grown more negative toward China over the past decade.


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Lately we’ve heard a lot more anti-immigrant bias expressed in public and it turns out, hate speech breeds hatred of its own. This research has pretty frightening findings and you may find it hard to believe there is such misinformed hatred in 2017. Or, perhaps you won’t find it hard to believe at all.

We will just share a few of the disturbing findings here:

The researchers (from Northwestern University) showed American participants (recruited via the internet through online subject pools and via email through university channels) the ‘Ascent of Man’ diagram (which is apparently popular in research circles and conveniently illustrates this post). They asked participants identify where they thought (whole groups of) people belonged on this scale “from the ape-like human ancestor to the modern human”. You likely can guess if you regularly read this blog what happened.

Participants placed Muslims and Mexican immigrants significantly lower on the scale than they placed Americans as a whole.

In other words, the participants saw Muslim and Mexican immigrants as significantly less than fully human. In an attempt to understand this better, the researchers statistically controlled for conservative views and racial prejudice, but still found differences.

Those participants who dehumanized Muslim and Mexican immigrants by placing them lower on the ‘Ascent of Man’ scale were also more likely to see them as threatening, to withhold sympathy for them and to support measures like increased surveillance, restricted immigration and increased deportation.

Overall, say the researchers, “the correlation between dehumanization and then-candidate Trump was significantly stronger than the correlation between dehumanization and support for any other Democratic or Republican candidates”.

And what did that dehumanization result in? The researchers asked Muslim and Mexican immigrants to report how dehumanized they felt, and found the greater the perception of dehumanization, the more likely the individual was to support violent versus non-violent collective action.

For example, Mexican immigrants who felt dehumanized by candidate Trump “were more likely to dehumanize him, want to see him personally suffer, and endorse hostile actions such as spitting in his face”.

Further, Muslims who felt dehumanized also favored violent over non-violent collective actions and were less willing to assist in anti-terrorism efforts by law enforcement.

The authors suggest two results from dehumanization of others:

Those who dehumanize are more likely to support hostile policies.

Those who feel dehumanized feel less integrated into society and are more likely to endorse violent as opposed to nonviolent responses in return (which will reinforce the idea among those who dehumanize that “these people are like animals”).

Ultimately, this results in a “vicious cycle” of what the researchers call meta-dehumanization, and make life less safe for all of us. Previous research, reported by the authors, tells us marginalization leads to radicalization.

In other words, say the authors, the subset of the American public spewing hate speech toward immigrants may result in radicalization and subsequent violence from those they hate (and dehumanize) and thus, make their fear-based prophecy come true.

Kteily, N., & Brunei, E. (2017). Backlash: The politics and real-world consequences of minority group dehumanization. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43 (1), 87-104


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