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It’s a great question just in general in terms of thinking about events that have shaped you as an individual. For us though, it’s a great question because it also speaks to generational differences (a favorite topic of ours!).

As each of us grows up, major events happen and they are called (in generational research speak) “defining moments”. They are seen as shared experiences for generational groups who were all there and experienced the event in varying (but nonetheless) life-altering ways.

So what are your own defining moments? The first moon landing? The Vietnam War? The first great depression? The second great depression? 9/11? The JFK assassination? The MLK assassination? The fall of the Berlin Wall? Stonewall? Woodstock? Watergate? The Challenger explosion? The Enron scandal? The prime mortgage meltdown? The Obama election? The recent presidential election results?

While each of us may have a few that are idiosyncratic or individual—the bulk of our “defining moments” will be those shared with others despite the fact we may never have met those “others” or discussed these events. Recently, Pew Research Center asked Americans for their individual 10 most significant events of their lifetimes.  The answers, as you might expect, reflect views through the lenses of individual respondent’s lifetimes—although 9/11 over-shadows all other events listed. Other events naturally show up on the radar of older people (such as Watergate or the Reagan election) but are not within the lifetime of the younger respondents. Here are the top 10 events listed across all respondents in the Pew survey: 

Those that surprise you are those that were not on your radar (either due to your age or priorities). But—and this is why we admire Pew Research—they do not stop with a simple rank order listing of the important events in the lifetimes of respondents to their survey. They go on to divide us up into various generational groups:

The Silent and Greatest generations remember WWII.

The Boomers remember the assassination of JFK and Vietnam.

Millennials and Gen Xers focus on 9/11 and the election of Obama.

Further, five of the Millennial generation’s Top 10 defining moments do not appear on the Top 10 for any other generation. You will want to read the article to see more on this but we will tell you which five are not on any other generation’s top list (Sandy Hook, the Orlando/Pulse nightclub shootings, the death of Osama bin Laden, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the Great Recession). It is testament to the power of age and developmental phase when it comes to how defining moments are experienced.

Participants were also asked to name the historic event that made them feel proudest of their country and the events that made them most disappointed in their country. While the “I was disappointed in America” responses are more partisan than the others, it is an intriguing list to peruse. Finally, Pew looked at responses by “race and ethnicity, gender, income, education, political party, and region of the country”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a fascinating example of how differently we see and experience and evaluate major events differently (depending on our phase of life, age, geographic location, and our attitudes, beliefs, and values–and it is required reading for anyone wanting to keep up on attitudes of importance to potential jurors.

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As Editor of The Jury Expert since 2008, I’m happy to share the table of contents of our new Winter 2016 issue! As always, The Jury Expert is brought to you free of charge by the excellent trial consultants who write for us and by the academic researchers who take their time to summarize their research and share it so we can use it in our day-to-day work for litigation advocacy.

Trial Consultants, TV Law, and a Load of Bull

Richard Gabriel takes a close look at the new television show ‘Bull’ and muses about how the show does and does not represent reality as well as how it may affect perceptions of the justice system by potential jurors (who do watch TV).

What Television Can Teach Us about Trial Narrative

Stepping back, Richard Gabriel teaches us how television shows (like ‘Bull’ but certainly not limited to ‘Bull’) can help us craft more effective courtroom narratives.

Juries, Witnesses, and Persuasion: A Brief Overview of the Science of Persuasion and Its Applications for Expert Witness Testimony

Rebecca Valez, Tess M.S. Neal, and Margaret Bull Kovera team up to offer a primer on persuasion. What modes of persuasion will work best in the testimony of your expert witness? Then we have trial consultant responses from Jennifer Cox and Stan Brodsky, John Gilleland, and Elaine Lewis and a final reply from the authors.

Graphics Double Comprehension

Jason Barnes succinctly tells us how graphics can result in your words telling a much more effective story–even doubling comprehension of the listener.

Making It Moral: How Morality Can Harden Attitudes and Make Them More Influential

Andrew Luttrell offers this intriguing strategy (based on his research) to make attitudes stronger and more influential. Trial consultants Sonia Chopra and Charli Morris react to his work with commentary on how they would use this research in day-to-day litigation advocacy.

The Hidden Lives of Court Reporters

They are always present and always silent. But what is going on in the minds of those dutiful court reporters as they type everything said in cases ranging from the mundane to the traumatizing? Claire E. Moore, Stanley L. Brodsky, and David Sams talk to court reporters and share their perspectives and coping strategies.

More Techniques for Uncovering Juror Bias before It’s Too Late

Mykol Hamilton and Kate Zephyrhawke share how to uncover bias in change of venue surveys in criminal cases by using alternate wording for time-honored questions that result in very different answers (and higher bias).

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While you may think you have heard this line recently, this is really (based on new research) what most of us think about ourselves. It is called the “better than average effect” and it is very persistent. We might smirk at politicians who actually say things like this aloud, but that’s only because we tend to keep those thoughts to ourselves. We (persistently) view ourselves as just better than others, and of course, two new research studies underscore this point.

The first study (Tappin & McKay) recruited 270 adults and asked them to judge the desirability of 30 traits representing agency (e.g., hard-working, knowledgeable, competent), sociability (e.g., cooperative, easy-going, warm) and moral character (e.g., honest, fair and principled). Participants also were asked to indicate how desirable the trait was. how much this specific trait described both the average person and how much it described themselves.

While the agency and sociability traits were rated variably, almost all the participants rated themselves much higher on moral character than they rated the average person.

In an intriguing secondary finding, while the researchers found that overall self-esteem was not related to feelings of superiority, overall self-esteem was related to a sense of moral superiority.

In the second study (Howell & Ratliff), researchers used data from the Project Implicit website where people take various psychological tests that measure unconscious or implicit biases. They focused on people who took tests involving weight biases (these are tests that ask how much you—and the average person—prefer thin people to fat people).

Once again, participants rated themselves as less biased against fat people than the average person was and when given feedback that they were indeed biased against fat people, they were defensive. The more they had rated themselves as unbiased, the more defensive about fat bias feedback they were. They were then asked whether they thought the test was valid—unsurprisingly, they did not think it was valid since it contradicted their self-assessments.

The problem with this belief that we are better than others, both in terms of moral superiority and in our belief that we are less biased than others (which apparently we all share) is that it stops us from honestly assessing ourselves. Therefore, we are prevented from taking action to combat our own prejudices and biases (since we don’t think—or won’t admit—that we have them). Typically, when we hear information about those who are biased or less good than we are, we presume the speaker is talking to “those other people” and tune out.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these studies have important implications for witness preparation, case narrative, and voir dire. We have discussed the importance of knowing when to raise juror awareness of their own biases and when to stay silent on this blog before. We’ve also posted before on when “playing the race card” works and when it doesn’t work.

This research seems to indicate the importance of using those previously published guidances to direct your decisions about witness preparation, voir dire and case narrative in your specific case. Additionally, it will be important to share “redeeming” information on your client’s involvement in positive activities and your client’s life reflecting the values shared universally by jurors (e.g., family, community, education, volunteerism, et cetera).

Tappin, B., & McKay, R. (2016). The Illusion of Moral Superiority Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550616673878

Howell JL, & Ratliff KA (2016). Not your average bigot: The better-than-average effect and defensive responding to Implicit Association Test feedback. The British Journal of Social Psychology. PMID: 27709628

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Last week the Shark Tank television show was apparently shown during a time my DVR was trying to record another show for me. As I watched it, I was amused to see a couple of entrepreneurs whispering to each other to do “power poses” before they pitched to the shark-investors.

I was amused, because I’d just read the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on new research that was unable to replicate the benefits of power posing in terms of performance. The idea (which we’ve blogged about here in the past) catapulted Amy Cuddy to the second most watched TED Talk of all time (almost 38M views at this writing) has become so mainstream her work is even cited in this webpage on doing the most perfect Shark Tank presentation!

The Chronicle article is hard on her ideas and refers to the power pose as imminently “clickable” and seems to deride Cuddy for being an “Ivy League professor” . They go on to say that while Cuddy personally became a celebrity (calling power posing a “free, low-tech, life hack”), the actual research article was crumbling with other teams failing to replicate the finding that power poses lead to hormonal changes. Even her co-author (Dana Carney) said (in a fairly unprecedented move) that she didn’t think the research effects were real—not just once, but at least twice—both on her personal website and in a story broadcast on NPR.

Bartlett, the Chronicle writer, says this story is a sign of how research used to be practiced (referencing the failures to replicate many of social psychology’s most popular findings) and perhaps a sign of how things are changing for the better (with Dana Carney’s disavowal of the results).

As you might expect, Amy Cuddy has responded to criticisms and expressed “concern about the tenor” of the discussion and that the criticisms could have a “chilling effect on science”. Some other well-known psychologists have agreed with her (questioning whether the criticism would be as vicious if Cuddy were a male researcher) and other well-known psychologists have stood with her detractors. Even officials at TED have added the following disclaimer (displayed in bold font) to the video description on their site:

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success. (Note: Some of the findings presented in this talk have been referenced in an ongoing debate among social scientists about robustness and reproducibility. Read Amy Cuddy’s response under “Learn more” below.)

It is a dilemma for blogs like this who follow emerging research in social psychology. But, know this: there was research, there was a peer-reviewed and approved paper published, and there is an ongoing controversy that has apparently gotten both personal and nasty.

Yet, as the Chronicle article points out, “power posing gains enthusiastic new adherents every day. [snip] Some people do find it inspiring. Besides, we are not talking about a cure for cancer here. Why does it matter if people stand like Wonder Woman in front of the mirror for two minutes every morning? Really, what is the harm?” [Here’s a video of surgeons using the pose prior to doing brain surgery on the Grey’s Anatomy television show.]

Bartlett, T. (2016). Power Poser: When big ideas go bad. Chronicle of Higher Education. (December 4)

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You have probably been fooled a few times as well. Facebook friends post their scores on various silly quizzes and sometimes you go take that test as well. It’s just silly fun and means nothing, right?

Wrong. Apparently, Cambridge Analytica has been using Facebook quizzes to create “a tool to build psychological profiles that represent some 230 million Americans”. They sell this data for a price—but only to Republican candidates and our new President-elect benefitted from their insights on winning the 2016 electoral college vote.

So how are they doing it? We don’t know for sure but it appears they are combining publicly available information on you with your Facebook ‘likes’ and your responses on Facebook’s innocent little quizzes to predict how you will respond to various political messages. They have used a variation on the Big Five trait theory (called OCEAN) often used in psychology research to figure out who you are and what seems to motivate you. They claim to have 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each individual they profile.

Here is how Cambridge Analytica describes what they do:

“We use the established scientific OCEAN scale of personality traits to understand what people care about, why they behave the way they do, and what really drives their decision-making.”

Their website offers to let you take the OCEAN (which measures your Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism) test to see how you score. We would really not recommend that you do this…unless you want to just give them what tattered scraps remain of your privacy.

And here is how the New York Times describes Cambridge Analytica:

“A spinoff of a British consulting company and sometime-defense contractor known for its counterterrorism “psy ops” work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seeding the social network with personality quizzes. Respondents — by now hundreds of thousands of us, mostly female and mostly young but enough male and older for the firm to make inferences about others with similar behaviors and demographics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cambridge Analytica also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Facebook, gains access to their profiles and real names.” [snip…]

“In the age of Facebook, it has become far easier for campaigners or marketers to combine our online personas with our offline selves, a process that was once controversial but is now so commonplace that there’s a term for it, “onboarding.” Cambridge Analytica says it has as many as 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each of us, be it voting histories or full-spectrum demographics — age, income, debt, hobbies, criminal histories, purchase histories, religious leanings, health concerns, gun ownership, car ownership, homeownership — from consumer-data giants.”

You may be interested in knowing that Cambridge Analytica worked for the “Leave” side in the UKs Brexit campaign. The NYT article is frightening in the detail it offers on how individual Facebook users were targeted with different messages based on what would be most persuasive given their psychological profiles. The newspaper story refers to this process as “weaponizing Facebook” and this does not seem an exaggeration. Even more disturbing is the intimation that they don’t even need all those Facebook quizzes to know enough about you to do a psychological profile. Freedom of information laws in the US give them lots and lots and lots of private information about you.

So, next time your brother’s spouse’s sister-in-law posts the results from her quiz on introversion versus extraversion, think about how the information is going to be used to manipulate your decisions and even your private voting decisions and maybe, take a little swing at the data brokers—and just say No.

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