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Archive for the ‘Beliefs & values’ Category

Pitfalls of the prevaricator 

Friday, April 10, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

prevaricatorTypically we write about newly published research here at The Jury Room. But one of our favorite blogs (Mind Hacks) wrote about this article and then we went to read the actual article and discovered it was authored by some of our favorite researchers. To top it all off, it’s about liars and deception. So today, you are getting a study published in 2011—still in this decade, and still worth knowing about.

In short, the article describes experiments where participants were given IQ and general knowledge tests but some of them received question sheets with the answers “accidentally” printed on the bottom of the sheet. You will not likely be shocked to learn that the group that had the answers achieved higher average scores than those who did not have the answers at the bottom of their sheets. So the researchers passed out a second test sheet and asked participants to look at it and predict how they would perform on the follow-up test. Would they do about the same, better, or worse? This time, no answers were “accidentally” printed on the bottom of the sheet. Did those who had the answers to the first sheet acknowledge they would do more poorly on the second  test? No. They thought they would do even better.

The researchers say this is indicative of self-deception on the part of the cheaters. In other words, they tricked themselves into thinking they were smarter than they actually were. Their predicted and actual test scores (illustrated in this figure taken from the article itself) shows that tendency for self-deception clearly. (The control group did not have the answers and the answers group did.) The Mind Hacks post has a terrific summary of the actual experiments, so take a look at that and we’ll talk about the rest of the work.

prevaricator post insertSelf-deception is a special category of lying. People who live this way—are addicted to the thrill of deception so much that they forget that they made it up in the first place— are prone to being caught in their lies. Because facts and history usually find their way to the surface, it is subject to sudden discovery, like any other effort to live a secret life.

We all hate to be deceived—but what about when we deceive ourselves as well as others? We just blogged about a study purporting that Republicans self-deceive more than Democrats but our guess is self-deception is something we all share to one degree or another. The authors cite examples from 2005 of those who have been caught lying and seemed to have come to believe their own lies. And there are certainly ample current day examples of what is described as self-deception in the news. Brian Williams called it “conflating” in his public apology recently.

Essentially, this research shows that liars think they are smarter than they actually are and ultimately, they are exposed. The researchers put it this way, “self-deception that occurs at the level of the individual can be intensified in a social context, when the rewards that accrue as the result of self-deception are reinforced by others”. The researchers go on to say that while we all may engage in questionable behavior sometimes, for the liar who feels good about his or her lying, the questionable behavior results in a reward of feeling superior, confident, sneaky, or otherwise being in a one-up position.

The downside, unbeknownst to the successful prevaricator, is that they come to see themselves as trickier and smarter than they truly are and thus place themselves in situations where they are ultimately caught and often, publicly shamed.

It’s a feel-good finding for anyone who has ever been lied to—which is surely all of us. While the liar “may get away with it this time”, ultimately, “character will out”. It is heartening to see these top academic researchers reassure us that self-deception may bring some benefit in the short-term but it is ultimately costly to the liar and their deception will eventually become known.

Chance Z, Norton MI, Gino F, & Ariely D (2011). Temporal view of the costs and benefits of self-deception. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108 Suppl 3, 15655-9 PMID: 21383150


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Hipsters, SnapChat, Beer Goggles, and Pain 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

hipsterHere is another post detailing things you simply must be aware of but to which we don’t wish to devote an entire post. These might be seen as water-cooler topics or simply things that make you a much more interesting conversationalist. Or something like that.

Why hipsters all look the same (it’s just math)

You know you’ve wondered about this and now (thanks to us) you have the answer. The hipster tries to be a unique individual, but, over time, we (the non-hipsters) begin to emulate their dress and it ends up in collective conformity, says Paul Smaldino in the journal Royal Society Open Science. You can read about this in the actual math-heavy article, or you can read a summary over at Discovery Blogs where they conclude with this life-altering statement:

“Your self-expression may make you look like everyone else, but it could also throw a fork in the cultural evolution of the entire world.”

Drink alcohol and be at your most attractive

You know about the idea of beer goggles, wherein an adequate level of alcohol consumption make others look more attractive (at closing time). But did you know that drinking also makes you look more attractive to the sober observer? At least if you don’t over-do it! Researchers had sober people look at two photographs of the same person—before and after consuming a “low dose of alcohol”—and indicate which photograph the sober person thought most attractive. Two “small glasses of wine” made people seem more attractive but four of those same “small glasses of wine” made them less attractive. The authors speculate about this finding. “In addition to perceiving others as more attractive, a mildly intoxicated alcohol consumer may also be perceived as more attractive by others. This, in turn, may play a role in the relationship between alcohol consumption and risky behavior.” Using alcohol to enhance charm appears to be a slippery slope.

Gender, pain and internet commenters

Here’s another interesting experiment written up at The Crux blog. To the long-standing debate over whether males or females have higher pain tolerance, here is an answer: it is men. At least according to this (male) writer. He does comment that the heightened sense of pain women experience is made worse by bias: “According to research, nurses devote more time to treating a male patients’ pain. It’s also why, when they wake up from surgery, women get fewer pain killers, weight for weight, than men”. There are other interesting factoids in the post and the comments from readers are an interesting read. Off-topic comments by trolls are just not a thing at this blog’s site!

Jealousy? Facebook yes, but Snapchat? More!

As the younger generation departs Facebook for Instagram, Pinterest, and the “self-destructing app Snapchat”, it should not come as a surprise that academic researchers are not far behind. We’ve all seen the studies of Facebook and divorce or relationship breakups—but Snapchat may end up being even more powerful than Facebook in this regard. Researchers examined whether Snapchat or Facebook use elicited more jealousy and found that Snapchat did since “Snapchat was used more for flirting and finding new love interests”. This is, according to the authors, the first direct comparison of Snapchat and Facebook. There will likely be more to come.

Utz S, Muscanell N, & Khalid C (2015). Snapchat elicits more jealousy than facebook: a comparison of snapchat and facebook use. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 18 (3), 141-6 PMID: 25667961

Smaldino, P., & Epstein, J. (2015). Social conformity despite individual preferences for distinctiveness Royal Society Open Science, 2 (3), 140437-140437 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.140437


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happy conservativeA number of studies have been published that report conservatives are happier than liberals. These studies have historically resulted in “comment wars” between readers who are either conservative and support the findings or readers who are liberal and do not support the findings. Suffice to say that ultimately, in the comment sections, neither group appears to be very happy.

A new study is now out that says the old studies are based on self-reports of conservatives and liberals and thus are biased by the conservatives’ “self-enhancing style of self-report”. (Since the authors are mostly from California, they might be liberals. Another blog post on this article elicits the sorts of comments typically seen from both liberals and conservatives.) But, back to this article.

Researchers examined self-reports of happiness among participants at the website (a research site that allows people to complete questionnaires for researchers). They found (in a sample of 1,433) that the politically conservative participants reported they were higher in “subjective well-being” and their self-reports of higher levels of happiness (relative to liberals) were consistent with other self-reports published in the past.

However, the researchers also found conservatives to have higher scores on “self-deceptive enhancement” than did liberals. In other words, conservatives described themselves as happier than they were. After some sophisticated statistical analysis, the researchers conclude that the difference in “subjective well-being” reports of liberals and conservatives was “fully attributable to the conservatives stronger tendency to engage in self-enhancement”.

In other words, conservatives are not really happier. They just say they are happier. The researchers see this as the conservatives’ tendency to self-deceive. (Liberals everywhere are likely jumping up and down in jubilation.)

The authors go on to say that the use of self-reports in scientific research does not take into account the difference between “genuine and superficial presentations of happiness”. So once they had statistically removed the difference in happiness between liberals and conservatives, the researchers went on to examine “more objective” public data sources.

While this sounds like a reasonable follow-up, the “more objective” sources the researchers examined were social media sites (Twitter and LinkedIn) and the Congressional Record. On Twitter, they analyzed tweets of those following the Democratic Party and those following the Republican Party.

“Republican Party subscribers’ updates were significantly less likely to contain positive emotion words, joviality words, and happy emoticons, and significantly more likely to contain negative emotion words.”

They also looked at profile photographs on LinkedIn. (Yes. They looked at profile photos on a networking website.) The photos were looked at objectively [?] and analyzed “to distinguish between genuine and superficial expressions of happiness”.

“Smiles were marginally more intense among employees at ideologically liberal organizations. Individuals at conservative organizations expressed significantly less intense facial action in the muscles around the eyes that indicate genuine feelings of happiness.”

And finally, they went to the Congressional Record and examined 18 years worth of Democrat and Republican comments taken down in the Congressional Record.

“Democrats used a “higher ratio of positive to negative affect words” than their Republican counterparts.”

We think they started out well. Controlling for something like “self-deception” is clever. But then somehow, it seems they jumped the shark. Tweets and LinkedIn photos and politicians’ on-the-record comments? If anything, those sources primarily reflect what the author thinks is effective marketing strategy. And who knows why people put things into the Congressional Record? Sometimes it is debate, sometimes it is canned, but it is all calculated to please supporters and get re-elected. These researchers would have done better to stop while they were ahead, since the follow-up “proof in objective data” is hardly objective data. But we’ve discussed the likelihood of retaining information about headlines rather than the actual research article before. The headlines on this one proclaim that conservatives are not happier than liberals…both groups are about the same in happiness. Let’s just leave it at that.

Wojcik SP, Hovasapian A, Graham J, Motyl M, & Ditto PH (2015). Conservatives report, but liberals display, greater happiness. Science (New York, N.Y.), 347 (6227), 1243-6 PMID: 25766233


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democrat-republicanToday’s researchers are finding political party differences consistently on hot button issues. They simply ask if political affiliation is Republican, Democrat, or Independent, and have found it predictive. In case this paragraph is the only part of this post that you read, we hasten to add [spoiler alert!] that while on some cases it is useful to know (especially those involving tort reform issues or other politically linked controversies), there is often no predictive value related to party affiliation.

These researchers commissioned an October 2013 national survey with 2000 respondents (i.e., registered voters interviewed online) to see if Americans see science as relevant to policy making/writing. They were particularly interested in “how political attitudes, along with religious faith and education, impact views about the proper role of science in shaping public policy”. What they found was that, “most Americans view science as relevant to policy, but that their willingness to defer to science in policy matters varies considerably across issues”.

The results of this paper are complex and we are only going to focus on how they found Republicans and Democrats to be different. The survey asked about 16 different issues (with many of them being potentially divisive): embryonic stem cell research, fetus viability, global warming/climate change, gay adoption, childhood obesity and diet restrictions, AIDS prevention, birth control education, legalizing drug use, mandatory health insurance, regulation of coal production, mandatory background checks for gun permits, producing biotech food and crops, regulation of nuclear power, animal testing for medical research, mandatory childhood vaccinations, and teaching evolution and the origins of humans.

And here is what they found:

Republicans and Democrats do disagree across all 16 items surveyed with Democrats much more likely to defer to science across all 16 issues. It is not that Republicans are anti-science. It is that Democrats are very pro-science and willing to defer to scientists strongly on almost all policy issues.

Republicans and Independents have only slight differences in their responses about deference to science on policy issues. What this survey shows is that Democrats stand alone while Republicans and Independents have a more similar  perspective on scientific findings as the foundation for public policy.

What the researchers say is that identifying as Democrat is connected to a strong, pro-science stance but identifying as Republican is not indicative (at all) of being anti-science. Instead, religious beliefs and political ideology (whether you see yourself as liberal or conservative) is more important than political affiliation.

The researchers think the majority of the American public is comfortable deferring to science on public policy issues and indicate that identifying as Republican was only correlated with decreased willingness to defer to scientific opinion on gay adoption and mandatory health insurance and those decreases did not reach statistical significance.

In short, they conclude, if you want Democrats on your side, use scientific research to back up your policy positions.

From a litigation advocacy position, we see this as indicative of the importance of not making assumptions that your Republican jurors will be conservative and anti-science. While it appears you can make the assumption that Democrat jurors will be very pro-science, you cannot make the opposite assumption about Republican jurors. It is far more likely to come down to attitudes, values and beliefs—and not demographic categories like gender, race, and politics.

Blank, J., & Shaw, D. (2015). Does Partisanship Shape Attitudes toward Science and Public Policy? The Case for Ideology and Religion The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658 (1), 18-35 DOI: 10.1177/0002716214554756


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female serial killerOur posts on women stalkers are often listed in internet searches that bring people to our blog. Women stalk. Women also kill. In fact, it is believed that about 16% of serial killers (about 1 in 6) are female. Although it is hard for many to see women as capable of extreme crimes like murder, the researchers whose work we feature today have no such illusions. [If you can’t wrap your brain around that notion, we suggest you spend an evening alone in your house with all of the lights turned down, and watch the film Monster, an account of the convicted female serial killer Aileen Wuornos.]

“Contrary to preconceived notions about women being incapable of these extreme crimes, the women in our study poisoned, smothered, burned, choked, shot, bludgeoned, and shot newborns, children, elderly, and ill people as well as healthy adults; most often those who knew and likely trusted them.”

This is a chilling article to read (likely because of our stereotypes of women as nurturing caregivers). The researchers used to identify female serial killers and then followed up with research in newspapers, police reports, et cetera. They were able to verify every female serial killer listed in as having killed in the United States between 1821 and 2014.

They ended up with a sample of 64 female serial killers who killed in the United States and were almost entirely (98.4%) born in the US as well. Here’s what female serial killers (FSKs) look like in the United States:

Most were White (55, 88.7%) with six (9.7%) being Black and one (1.6%) Latina.

They were married (54.2%), divorced (15.3%), widowed (13.5%), in long-term committed relationships (8.5%) and single (8.5%).

Some were well-educated with a third (34.6%) having college degrees, 19.2% had some college or post-high-school professional training, 15.4% were high school graduates, and 30.8% dropped out of high school.

They held a wide variety of jobs including nursing, teaching, and prostitution. Many (39.2%) worked in health-related positions (such as nursing, nurse aides, or health administration). Others (21.6%) had other direct caregiving roles (babysitter, homemaker with children). The remainder (39.2%) were employed in a wide variety of jobs ranging from “farmer, gang leader, custodian, prostitute, psychic, drug dealer, and waitress”.

On average, they were about 32 years old when they first began to kill, but the age range was from 16 to age 65 so there is considerable variation. Similarly, they had an average “killing time span” of 7.25 years but the range was from all murders being committed in a single year to murders committed over a 31-year period. The 64 FSKs in this sample averaged 6.1 victims with a range of 3-31 victims.

Nearly 40% in the sample experienced some form of mental illness, while nearly one-third (31.5%) had been either physically or sexually abused (or both) by either parents or grandparents in childhood, and by husbands or long-term partners in adulthood. Even in the absence of diagnosed mental illness, the authors report “dysfunctional personality characteristics” such as lying, manipulation or insincerity in many FSKs. It’s hard to imagine being surprised that serial killers might be insincere.

Most commonly they killed for financial gain but they also killed for power, revenge, notoriety, and excitement. Women did not generally sexually assault their victims, nor did they tend to mutilate or torture like we see with male serial killers.

Their tendency was to kill both men and women (67.3%) with some killing male victims only (20%) and others killing female victims only (12.7%).They knew all or most of their victims and, in fact, were related to most of their victims (e.g., their children, their spouse, fiancé, boyfriends, mothers, mothers-in-law, fathers, aunts, cousins, and nephews). In every case, they targeted at least one victim who had little chance of fighting back (e.g., a child, the elderly, or the infirm).

The upper class (socioeconomically) was rarely represented (4.3%) with most FSKs being middle class (55.3%) and a few less being lower class (40.4%).

Their most common method of killing was poisoning (they are four times more likely than men to drug their victims).

A summary table from the article itself shows the range of killing methods used by FSKs.

FSK post insert





In short, women (like men) kill. But, say these researchers, women tend to kill for resources (e.g., profit, comfort, control) while men kill for sex (e.g., rape, sexual torture, mutilation).

Harrison, M., Murphy, E., Ho, L., Bowers, T., & Flaherty, C. (2015). Female serial killers in the United States: means, motives, and makings The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 1-24 DOI: 10.1080/14789949.2015.1007516


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