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Brittany-MaynardBrittany Maynard, the 29-year-old woman with an aggressive and terminal brain cancer who announced her intention to take her life, has put a face on the “death with dignity” movement. Her announcement that she would take her life thanks to Oregon’s right to die laws, spurred many “offers” of advice for her. Cannabis for cancer, stem cell therapy, choose life, and multiple offers of vitamin cures, dietary changes, and other ideas proliferate in comment sections.

Others in the comment sections express the idea that Maynard herself comments on in her video–i.e., no one else can know what is best for her and many comment they wish this option of choosing the time of death had been available to their loved ones who died of cancer. Maynard initially said she would die on November 2, but then, as the date approached, changed her mind saying it simply “wasn’t the right time yet” although she ultimately did take her life on November 1. Brittany Maynard has achieved her goal of a national discussion on death with dignity.

It’s an issue that the Pew Research Center also highlighted recently, saying it is an issue that divides America. Here are some of the attitudes Pew reported in their October 22, 2014 report on American attitudes toward doctor-assisted suicide laws.

While 2/3 of Americans say there are circumstances where a patient should be allowed to die, there is more division over allowing doctor-assisted suicides for the terminally ill. Pew says Americans are almost evenly split on the issue “with 47% in favor of such laws and 49% opposed. Views on doctor-assisted suicide are little changed since 2005.”

Surprisingly, there is no real difference in attitudes toward doctor-assisted suicide by age group: “Maynard’s generation is no more supportive of such laws than are older Americans: 45% of those ages 18-29 approve of assisted-suicide laws, while 54% oppose them.”

Maynard post insert

It’s an intriguing topic to consider in the context of jury selection. We agree with the Pew finding that young Americans have given little thought to end of life issues. But our experience has been that while our mock jurors have abstract beliefs about hot-button issues, when they see and hear the facts of a story and are faced with the obstacles and experiences of a Plaintiff–they often change their minds about how they would feel “in the Plaintiff’s shoes”.

One especially powerful pretrial research project we conducted showed a “day in the life” video of the Plaintiff who was paralyzed and had made clear his wish to be allowed to die (repeatedly). One male juror quietly muttered that the Plaintiff could not even raise a hand to achieve his goal. Others grimly nodded. In that case, there was consensus in the deliberation room as to what “should” be allowed to happen.

It’s a powerful thing to consider. We can “know” how we think we feel. But once we are in a horrible position, like Brittany Maynard has faced, the choices we will make are ones that could well be foreign to use before we were forced to consider them. Telling your client’s story without the use of “hot button phrases” that will keep jurors from listening could result in an outcome unexpected if you are predicting juror behavior from current research polls.

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illegal-immigrants3You are likely familiar with the fact that African-Americans and Hispanics often receive harsher sentences than do White defendants. So where do you think the undocumented immigrant or non-citizen would fall in that lineup? The undocumented receive the harshest sentences and non-citizens (who are in the country legally) come in second. Why? The authors of this paper have a hypothesis: we jury-eligible citizens are simply afraid, and are trying to maintain control of our country.

“…dominant group members feel threatened economically, politically, criminally, or culturally, and will step up efforts to maintain control when minority group populations are increasing.”

You may be surprised to know “more than 30,000 non-US citizens from approximately 150 countries” have been sentenced to time in US prisons by the federal courts each year since 2008. In fact, about half of all the offenders sentenced today in our federal courts are non-US citizens and a “large proportion are from Latin America”–leading some scholars to question if there was a “Hispanic penalty” in sentencing. Researchers examined archival data from US federal courts (using the US Sentencing Commission’s Standardized Research Files) in an attempt to examine if sentencing disparities existed between citizens and non-citizens. The findings are nothing less than stunning.

Compared to US citizens, non-citizen offenders are “over four times more likely to be incarcerated, and this effect is larger than the effects for race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, being convicted at trial, and any of the offense types”. (In other words, being a non-citizen trumps all the other extra-legal variables your client may embody.)

Non-citizens receive “roughly an additional 3.5 months of incarceration” when compared to citizens. “As a point of comparison, Hispanics receive between one and two months of additional prison time compared to whites.” This may sound relatively small, but as the authors point out, “When combining the citizenship penalty across the incarceration and length decisions, the cumulative increase in incarceration is 5,765 total prison years for 2008 alone”. While non-citizens receive higher sentences compared to citizens, the undocumented immigrant is at even higher risk for severe punishment than the legal immigrant.

In response to the questions raised about the “Hispanic penalty”, the researchers show that the “magnitude of the citizenship penalty is over four times stronger than Hispanic ethnicity” when it comes to sentencing. They go on to report that Hispanic ethnicity really explains almost none of the overall citizenship effect. These authors suggest that the harsher punishments observed for Hispanic defendants is more a function of their citizenship status than of their ethnicity.

Every ethnic group lacking US citizenship (including white non-citizens) receive harsher punishment than do defendants who are white citizens. For all races, citizens are punished less harshly than non-citizens.

As concerns about immigration have increased, so has the citizenship penalty. That is, the length of prison sentences assigned to non-citizens has grown substantially as the country has become concerned over the “dramatic influx of non-citizens and undocumented immigrants over the past two decades”. In areas where there are a higher influx of non-citizens, there is a higher “citizenship penalty” in sentencing.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this article is useful to us in many ways. As the authors say, “citizenship appears to trump race and ethnicity when determining punishments for those who violate US law”.

Reading can help you obtain a sentence for your client that is consistent with those assigned to white defendants rather than incurring a citizenship penalty.

It can be used to educate jurors involved in sentencing decisions and judges making decisions on sentencing if your client is found guilty.

And unlike many statistically heavy articles that illustrate their findings with graphs and charts that are completely incomprehensible–this one makes the point clearly. The figure below (taken from the article itself) illustrates the differences in sentencing you see when you examine only race rather than incorporating citizenship status. This figure, presented and explained piece by piece, communicates clearly what happens with sentencing when the defendant is a non-citizen. Bias comes out in multiple ways we cannot see and, as these researchers clearly illustrate: citizenship trumps race and ethnicity.

citizenship insert

 

Light, M., Massoglia, M., & King, R. (2014). Citizenship and Punishment: The Salience of National Membership in U.S. Criminal Courts American Sociological Review, 79 (5), 825-847 DOI: 10.1177/0003122414543659

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introverted faceOur mock jurors (and many others as well) tend to believe the eyes are the “window to the soul” and that by simply looking at the eyes of another, they can intuit truthfulness and character. But it can be even easier! Just look at the face and you can actually assess introversion/extroversion, competence/incompetence, dominance/submission, and even trustworthiness/untrustworthiness. In short, if you are trustworthy, you have a more feminine face and tend to evidence positive emotions. If you are not trustworthy, you have a more masculine face and tend to evidence negative emotions. (See illustration above for an example. Doesn’t that woman on the right look more trustworthy than the man on the left?)

Unfortunately, this isn’t just some goofy research that we can make fun of and not take seriously. It is an example of the way we quickly look for shortcuts to assess character and personality traits. We all do it. And further, the consequences for the individual being judged are measurable and can be positive or negative. We know, for example, that attractive people get many benefits for simply being attractive. Apparently, we also have stereotypes about who appears trustworthy and who appears competent. We can take a glance at a face and make many assumptions. The problem is that our assumptions may be very wrong and it is very difficult to change first impressions.

The paper that forms the basis of this blog post was written to summarize the work on “facial morphological traits” and how they are linked to various social outcomes. While the early “science” of physiognomy (a system for identifying personality types and even criminality based on facial characteristics) has long been debunked, we still use many of the same sorts of shortcuts to make assumptions about each other. The research has shown many disturbing (and yet not hard to believe) results.

Politicians who possess particular facial characteristics (e.g., those viewed as reflecting competence and sociability) are more likely to win elections.

CEOs with faces that appear competent are more likely to be hired by large successful companies, even though their performance is no better than less competent-looking fellow applicants.

If you are in the military, you are more likely to be promoted to higher rank if your face appears dominant.

Defendants who have certain facial characteristics (e.g., appearing trustworthy or “baby-faced”) are less likely to be convicted of a crime than their peers who lack those characteristics.

There are multiple other findings that are clear examples of how you look being linked to social outcomes. The authors comment that there is causal evidence (not just correlational) showing facial appearance as influential in voting, economic exchanges, and legal judgments. We leap from facial appearance to character judgments of trustworthiness, competence, introversion, and dominance.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is obviously problematic if you have a deserving client who is not fortunate enough to have been born with the most acceptable facial characteristics. However, an intriguing fact is embedded in the article.

One study found that voters who have limited knowledge are more likely to vote for politicians with the most competent-looking faces. More knowledgeable voters showed no such tendency.

This bodes well for us. Educating jurors and finding likable things to show them about the client should mitigate first impressions. We often talk about the importance of using universal values in witness preparation and case narrative. The power of our stereotypes as we judge each other is shocking and illustrated clearly in the examples of trustworthy, extroverted, competent and dominant faces in the article itself. We need to pay attention to what we can do to reduce the biasing impact of facial appearance. The authors encourage awareness of just how challenging this goal will be:

“This is a challenging task because people are naturally inclined to draw inferences from faces to an extent that they may find it difficult to inhibit these tendencies. On the positive side, the evidence suggests that people sometimes rely on facial appearances less when they are armed with more relevant and valid types of information. Thus, in some contexts, educating people might be sufficient to reduce facial stereotyping. In other contexts, however, more research will be necessary to identify the best ways to mitigate the biasing influence of facial appearance. For instance, it still remains to be determined how justice can be truly blind – that is, how judges and juries can disentangle case-relevant facial information (e.g., expressions of remorse) from information that should be irrelevant to a case (e.g., facial morphological features perceived as criminal-looking).”

Olivola, C., Funk, F., & Todorov, A. (2014). Social attributions from faces bias human choices Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18 (11), 566-570 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.09.007

Image taken from article referenced above.

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Do you smell red or blue? 

Monday, November 3, 2014
posted by Rita Handrich

al pacino scent of a womanThis post might well fall into the category of “the route to tenure-track publication credits is not always the high road”. We discard lots of dicey research reports (such as this one) because they add nothing to our goal of improving litigation advocacy. But this one was so weird we found it amusing. Enjoy. But don’t bet your case on anything you learn today.

Al Pacino made fragrance tangible in his role as a blind man in the film Scent of a Woman. Today’s research is not on how women smell, but rather on how we all smell differently based on our own political ideology and the particular ideology of the sniffer. Good grief. You smell like a Libertarian? How exactly does a Libertarian smell? Perhaps a good business plan would be to develop deodorants to either mask or enhance your “political smell” depending on the situation in which you find yourself?

Before you sniff and toss your head in disbelief, the authors would like you to hear that it is well-known that many people choose spouses or partners who are more similar to them in political preference. In fact, say the researchers, political similarity is often more similar than almost any other trait in spouses and long-term partners. (James Carville and Mary Matalin are perhaps the exception that proves the rule.)

The authors say that we are simply drawn to the body odor of those who share our political ideology. And, they set out to prove it (in the inimitable style of sincere and committed researchers). They recruited 146 participants between 18 and 40 years of age (half from a university and half from the general population) and asked them to rate their political ideology on a seven point spectrum ranging from “very liberal” to “very conservative”. The researchers selected the 10 liberals and 11 conservatives with the highest scores on each end of the spectrum and collected “body odor samples”.

This collecting of body odor samples is actually quite an involved process.

“Target participants washed in fragrance free shampoo and soap and then taped one 2×2 Johnson & Johnson gauze pad to each underarm using Johnson & Johnson paper tape, all of which we provided. Participants wore these pads for 24 hours following a strict protocol that prohibited smoking, drinking, deodorants, perfumes, being around strong odors or candles, animals, eating strong-smelling foods, having sex, or sleeping in a bed with any other people or pets.”

Sample pads were then transferred into sterile containers and frozen for one week. Then, 125 participants sniffed and evaluated the body odor of the 20 liberals and conservatives (one had worn their gauze pads for 48 hours and was thrown out of the study) by smelling the vial containing the individual pads.

Each participant sniffed peppermint essential oils in between samples to “refresh the nasal canal”. Participants rated the “attractiveness” of the body odors and were asked to guess the political ideology of each body odor generator. (The researchers had already collected the political ideology of the sniffer-participants.)

So here is what they found (and given their hypotheses, you will likely be unsurprised):

Individual think those more ideologically akin to them smell better than those who are their ideological opposites.

Even more intriguing to us (as we do qualitative research) was one of the stories they told about their research participants:

“A participant asked the experimenter if she could take one of the vials home with her because she thought it was “the best perfume I ever smelled”; the vial was from a male who shared an ideology similar to the evaluator. She was preceded by another respondent with an ideology opposite to the person who provided the exact same sample; this participant reported that that vial had “gone rancid” and suggested it needed to be replaced. In this way, different participants experienced the exact same stimulus in radically different ways only moments apart.”

This seems totally ridiculous to us. We can tell you (from our pretrial research experience) that people react very differently to the same stimulus (although we never have and never will have them sniff the body odor of the witnesses, parties or attorneys). We often say that a story simply “doesn’t pass the smell test” but this particular scenario has never been what we had in mind. We have had mock jurors request to be reseated because of body odors in the room, but the requests have uniformly been motivated by repulsion, not attraction. And with good reason…

What is also odd to us is that we think political ideology is very tough to measure and we have never found that measuring it on a seven-point scale gives us any data at all relative to the mock juror’s eventual verdict. So why people’s self-description of their political ideology would make them more attracted to the body odor of politically similar others is odd to us. (Although not odd enough for us to find this worthy of further exploration.)

Hopefully, the very real consequences involved in courtroom disputes outweigh the potential attraction to the smell of an unknown other’s body odor. But, just in case, you might want to take special care (and have your client take special care) to not smell either red or blue when you appear in court (whatever that means).

McDermott, R., Tingley, D., & Hatemi, P. (2014). Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues American Journal of Political Science, 58 (4), 997-1005 DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12133

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online pornWe can hear the snickers and gasps now–and likely the immediate objection from (probably) the opposing counsel or (unquestionably) the judge. But not always. So why might this be something you want to know? According to new research in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, a distinguishing characteristic of narcissists is that they watch more porn online. That actually makes intuitive sense since narcissists would want to avoid rejection and objectify others as sexual objects. We are not sure how you would get this sort of question in though–unless the case actually involved online pornography.

More interesting to us (by far) was the information on the frequency of porn viewing online. For the study, researchers asked 257 participants (aged 18-61 years with an average age of 29 years, 63% female, 89.1% heterosexual, 70% White, 12.1% Hispanic, 7.4% Black, and 10.5% Other) to complete measures of narcissism (using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the Pathological Narcissism Inventory, and the Index of Sexual Narcissism) and report on the specifics of their internet pornography viewing (they were asked if they had ever viewed, and if they currently viewed internet porn as well as how many minutes per week they viewed internet pornography).

79% reported they had viewed internet porn.

44% reported currently (recently) viewing internet porn.

Current viewers, on average, viewed internet porn 85 minutes per week (or about an hour and a half).

Men spend more time on internet porn (an average of 3 hours per week) than do women (an average of about 1/2 an hour per week).

There was a significant difference in level of narcissism between those (79%) who had ever viewed internet porn and the 21% who had never viewed internet porn.

The researchers comment the sample of those who had viewed porn (the 79%) was skewed by gender since 96% of men reported they had viewed internet porn. Nonetheless, the 4% of men who had not viewed internet porn was lower in narcissism than the 96% who had. As for women, 68% of women had seen internet porn and again, those who had not scored lower in narcissism than women who had seen porn on the internet.

There was also a difference in level of narcissism between those who currently use internet porn for all measures of narcissism. Current users of internet porn (67% of men and 30% of women) were higher in narcissism than were non-current users.

Finally, as the frequency of internet porn use increased, so did the levels of measured narcissism.

What the researchers say is that there is a relationship between “internet pornography use, narcissistic behavior and psychological harm” to the viewer. They believe that using internet porn “inflates an individual’s narcissism (i.e., selfishness, isolation, and entitlement)”. For the researchers, this work focused on narcissism and how it harms relationships.

While we don’t recommend using this as a method for spotting narcissists (the study falls far short of suggesting that), there are clearly cases (copyright cases, sexual violence cases, premises liability cases, and various wrinkles in family law, to name a few) where attorneys and jurors need to be comfortable talking about salacious topics such as this. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this research validates being able to ask about sex and pornography in court* with a reduced fear of offending jurors.

The asterisk is that you need to tell them that virtually all men and over ⅔ of women have watched pornography on the internet. Otherwise, many will feel embarrassment and anxiety. You can normalize by pointing out the truth. When more than 3/4 of a group of 250+ have viewed internet porn, it takes much of the fear of stepping on juror sensibilities away. In fact, you could even say you’ve seen studies saying almost 80% of adults have viewed internet porn at some point in their lives.

There are many times we think the themes in our case are sure to alienate the triers of facts. What we’ve learned in our pretrial research is that when you matter of factly explain the issues, without giggling, blushing, or perspiring, jurors are willing to join you in an adult discussion of case facts.

We’ve also seen glib puns, one-liners, and shared glances with disbelieving grins shared among our mock jurors but they have always been able to quickly redirect their attention when their humor was acknowledged and a focus drawn back to the issues at hand.

Kasper TE, Short MB, & Milam AC (2014). Narcissism and Internet Pornography Use. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 1-6 PMID: 24918657

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