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Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

Phubbing_creationIt’s time to run down some articles that are curious, but not substantial enough to justify a full blog post. Once again, we have kept a few pearls in our virtual filing cabinet, and have combined them here for your curiosity and possibly entertainment. This is one of those combination posts that will offer you conversation topics and also, this time only, give you hope for the future when it comes to reading. So, if you want more water-cooler conversation fodder or more material that cements your reputation for knowing very weird trivia, get ready to take notes.

Phubbing makes you unhappy (so knock it off already!)

Phubbing is the practice of “snubbing your partner in favor of your phone” and you add an extra ‘p’ to the word (Pphubbing) if the partner involved is actually your romantic partner. This is the first time we’ve heard of this word so we’re guessing the 2012 advertising campaign for which it was coined wasn’t really that successful. But we all know when we’re doing it, and when we are having it done to us. In the research study cited at the bottom of this post, they found that Pphubbing was a particular problem for those with anxious attachment styles, and that pphubbing related to depression through relationship satisfaction and even life satisfaction. So. It hurts them and makes you feel bad. Put the phone done and make some eye contact. Unless, of course, that message is very important and you are really, really busy…

FOMO (Oh no!)

While we know it is unlikely, you may have forgotten our post on FOMO—“fear of missing out”. FOMO is “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out — that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you”. Apparently it hits young people harder than it does older folks. There’s a Texas A&M University authored suggestion for combatting FOMO over at Science Daily.

Will this finally end blonde jokes?

Probably not, but if you missed the extensive media coverage about blonde women having higher IQs than non-blonde’s—here is a link to the original article asking the question, Are Blondes Really Dumb? from the open access journal Economics Bulletin. We do want to comment that the IQ scores in the article are not statistically significant differences. Actually, Vox recently took this article to task and has a pretty heated critique on the research. But the headline is inflammatory, so it got wide attention.

People still read for pleasure!

A new paper has just been released by the Brookings Institution analyzing more than 400,000 digitally recorded stories to see what holds our attention in 2016. If you’d rather look at a summary of the report, Poynter has an exceptionally nice one. In brief, to hold our attention an article doesn’t have to be short; readers are not indiscriminately drawn to images or photos; and doing your research thoroughly pays off. It’s a wonderful counterpoint to the negative predictions we often hear about the future of reading for pleasure.

Roberts, J., & David, M. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.058

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know it allMost of us think we know more than we actually do and sometimes, that sense is taken to an extreme that can be annoying (as well as inaccurate). Two years ago, we wrote about a study on modulating political extremism and mentioned the recommended strategy was similar to one we use to topple self-appointed “experts” in litigation research, and at trial. Now, we have another study that uses the same strategy but significantly shortens the length of time it takes for the speaker to reassess their (lack of) knowledge.

The researchers say the belief that we actually understand the working of ordinary things (like a vacuum cleaner) when we really do not is called “the illusion of explanatory depth”. And they mention the paper we blogged about back in 2014 which recommended asking people to offer a detailed explanation of their understanding—at which point, most come to realize they really do not understand (for example, how the vacuum cleaner works) as much as they thought they did. Even if they cling to their belief that they are an expert anyhow, their ability to persuade others is undermined. It works well to unseat a self-appointed expert but it does take a little time. In truth, the goal of asking for the explanation in pretrial research isn’t to embarrass them, but rather to understand how someone got sidetracked onto a rabbit-trail that could distract an actual juror. We discovered that it also had some salubrious secondary benefits, though…

New research tells us it really is not necessary to have people generate those full explanations that take up time. Instead, asking the “expert” to reflect briefly, but in a very specific way, on the extent of their knowledge is often enough to shake their over-confidence and help them understand they really do not understand how a “vacuum cleaner” works. The researchers conclude that

“reflection on explanatory ability is a rare metacognitive tool in the arsenal to combat our proclivity to over-estimate understanding”.

In other words, the question provides a way to get the know-it-all to stop and assess their actual knowledge accurately and acknowledge their actual lack of understanding. So, here’s how it works. The researchers asked participants in their nine experiments to

“Carefully reflect on your ability to explain to an expert, in a step-by-step, causally-connected manner, with no gaps in your story how the object works”.

And here’s what is truly amazing. It didn’t matter if they asked the participants (across 9 separate studies) to “reflect” for 5 seconds or for 20 seconds—this was a shortcut to accurate self-knowledge assessment. The researchers say that, in their 9 experiments, the speed of the “reflecting” intervention was up to 20x faster for high complexity objects than a full verbal explanation.

The researchers tried other instructions (like “carefully reflect on your understanding of how the object works” or “type out your full explanation as if you were explaining to an expert in a step-by-step, causally-connected manner, with no gaps in your story how the object works”) and determined neither of these worked as well as the directive to “carefully reflect on your ability to explain to an expert in a step by step, casually-connected manner with no gaps in your story as to how the object works” as outlined above.

And, as in our 2014 blog post, the strategy even works to soften extreme political beliefs and attitudes. Something about the reflection task results in participants suddenly “seeing” the complexity of an object (the vacuum cleaner) or the complexity of a political policy—and they are very able to back away from their self-proclaimed expert status. As an added bonus, this effect works best on high complexity (e.g., the vacuum cleaner) as compared to low complexity objects (e.g., a manually operated can opener).

The researchers think this strategy works because it requires a shift from the vague and abstract (e.g., how well do you understand how a vacuum cleaner works) to the specific and concrete (e.g., judge how well you understand how the parts of an object enable it to work). That subtle shift from abstract to concrete results in a “mechanistic” understanding of the desired explanation which makes the difference in the individual’s ability to accurately assess their (lack of) knowledge.

Another reason the strategy works is because the person reflecting almost immediately sees the number of steps it would take to explain how a complex object works and they realize they will only be able to explain a small percentage of the total steps involved in making an object work.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a potentially powerful tool for helping jurors be open to hearing how something or some process works. You can use it directed at yourself for example, while examining a witness.

“You know, Dr. Johnson, I really thought I knew how a vacuum cleaner worked and then I stopped to think about how I would explain how the different parts all work together to an expert in a step-by-step fashion, and I decided to call you as a witness here instead.” (This will allow jurors to check in internally and realize they also do not know how a vacuum cleaner really works.)

Then, continuing with the vacuum cleaner example, your expert witness can say something like, “It’s a lot more complicated than you might think. Do you want me to explain the whole thing in great detail, or are you asking me to talk about how this one widget in dispute works to modulate the level of suction?”

You can then instruct the witness to focus on whatever level of detail serves the cause. Perhaps s/he explains the role of the widget but give us a small summary of how the overall vacuum cleaner works and why the widget in dispute is essential (or not).

It’s a really amazing thing when you see how quickly and non-defensively an “expert” will acknowledge their “gaps in causal knowledge” (as the researchers call it). We have never had a mock juror become angry over being asked to educate the group but they have always sheepishly admitted they are not quite the fount of information they previously thought they were!

Johnson DR, Murphy MP, & Messer RM (2016). Reflecting on explanatory ability: A mechanism for detecting gaps in causal knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 145 (5), 573-88 PMID: 26999047

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creepinessYou know what ‘creepy’ is and in the movie The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins personified creepiness. While it may be hard to believe, no one has ever “pinned down” what makes a person creepy. Since there must be a need for such information, enter academic Francis McAndrew of Knox University (in Galesburg, Illinois), for an impressive effort.

First he educates us on what creepiness is—as though we needed him to do that. We all know what constitutes “creepiness” and what results in us being “creeped out” but he does a pretty good job of defining it.

“Creepiness is anxiety aroused by the ambiguity of whether there is something to fear or not and/or by the ambiguity of the precise nature of the threat (e.g., sexual, physical violence, contamination, et cetera) that might be present. Such uncertainty results in a paralysis as to how one should respond.”

So in order to begin what will likely be a long academic exploration (he already has tenure!) on the topic of creepiness, he constructed a measure of just what “normal people” think is creepy. He asked 1,341 people (1,029 females and 312 males ranging in age from 18-77 with an average age of 28.97, via internet survey) to answer some questions about a hypothetical “creepy person” that a friend had encountered. He asked them to rate the person’s physical appearance, behavior and intentions on a scale from 1 (normal) to 5 (creepy). He later asked them to rate occupations and hobbies on a “creepiness scale”.

And here is some of what he found:

Participants were asked if “creepy individuals” were more often male or female. Both male and female participants thought men were more likely to be creepy.

Females were more likely to perceive a sexual threat or sexual interest from a creepy person than were males.

The creepiest occupations were: clown, taxidermist, sex shop owners, and funeral director. (Public service announcement: The full list of occupations deemed “creepy” was in the article and we carefully reviewed it. Neither attorneys nor psychologists were on the creepiness scale, although college professors were on the scale. Be careful out there.)

The creepiest hobbies were collecting things (like dolls, insects, reptiles, or body parts such as teeth, bones or fingernails); variations on ‘watching’ others, bird watchers (who knows what they are really doing?); taxidermy, and a fascination with pornography or exotic sexual activities.

Older participants had less alarm over creepy people, were less likely to feel physical or sexual threat from a creeper and had less anxiety over interacting with a creepy person.

Finally, survey participants were convinced that creepy people do not know they are creepy.

Essentially, what this research says is it is the uncertainty or ambiguity surrounding the creepy person that leads us to think they are a potential threat. It’s good for us to recognize potential threats in our environment—although that birdwatcher wariness is a little odd, unless the concern it that they are really Peeping Tom’s, and the birding interest is a transparent ruse. And it appears that is precisely what our alarm over encountering someone creepy serves to do—detect potential threats.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this falls into the category of “be aware of the impression that witnesses create in jurors”. If you are prepping a witness and it occurs to you that “this person takes a while to warm up to”, consider what impression they created in you before the warmth took over.

If you conclude that you felt wary of them until they described X or Y, or told you a story about their family or background that you found reassuring—you might have a problem witness. Testing witnesses for credibility and likability is very worthwhile, and it can give you some ideas about how to reduce their potential for “creepiness”.

As an extra piece of information for you, here’s a video that is awkward but not really creepy (at least by the researcher’s definition).

McAndrew, F., & Koehnke, S. (2016). On the nature of creepiness. New Ideas in Psychology,, 43, 10-15 DOI: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2016.03.003

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storytellingIf a man is a good storyteller, we tend to see him as more attractive and as having higher status. That is, if we are looking for a long-term relationship partner. Unfortunately, it does not work for women storytellers with male audiences nor for those looking for a short-term relationship. This is the first series of studies examining the impact of storytelling ability on attracting relationships (if you are a man). Confusing?

Rather than describing the studies done (there were three of them) we are going to focus on the results (which were consistent across all three studies) and (we think) have implications for the courtroom.

Storytelling ability resulted in women thinking the male storyteller was a more attractive prospect for a long-term relationships.

Women also thought men who were good storytellers had higher perceived social status. (This was again not the case for men listening to women tell stories.)

The authors explain their results using evolutionary theory (from a psychological perspective) and say that heterosexual women are drawn to good (male) storytellers because those men may be more efficient in obtaining resources and influencing others. We kid you not—they wrote this. If you have been a reader of this blog for long, you know we do not often agree with evolutionary psychologists, but find they are often amusing. Thus, instead of focusing on women’s desire to find a good man to provide for her (ahem) we will look at this from the perspective of litigation advocacy.

We’ve written about Melanie Green’s work on narrative transportation before and like to apply the idea to litigation advocacy. The storytelling model is familiar to us all and perhaps the most popular way to tell a story effectively in the courtroom. In 2000, she published a scale to measure the degree to which listeners were “transported” by a good story. While that scale has not become popular, we think it is a good structure to assess the degree to which jurors are going to be willing to listen to your case narrative. Here is a table from that 2000 article listing a number of questions from the Transportation Scale:

scale

You can likely see how some of these questions could be fruitful in voir dire and jury selection. You want to see who will listen and who will consider their dinner plans and how to cut deliberations short to make dinner on time.

If you have jurors who like a good story and you tell a good story—you are likely to have those jurors focused and intent on the evidence.

But—even if you’re male—don’t count on women finding you more attractive as a result. Unless you are an evolutionary psychologist. Yet we know, based on past research, being seen as attractive is likely to help you be successful at most social endeavors.

Telling a good story has been an attention grabber throughout the ages. And if being a good storyteller enhances your persuasiveness even a little, that’s a good advantage to enjoy while in court.

DONAHUE, J., & GREEN, M. (2016). A good story: Men’s storytelling ability affects their attractiveness and perceived status. Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1111/pere.12120

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mckayla_impressed_ap_328Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney had a bad day at the Olympics in 2012 and the facial expression illustrating this post went viral. She was “not impressed” said the internet—and today’s researchers would say the internet was half right. What McKayla Maroney was really showing us, according to today’s research, was the universal “not face”.

Researchers from Ohio State University wanted to know if there was a universal facial expression that spans multiple cultures. They found one and McKayla’s brief expression captures it perfectly. The researchers wanted to see if they could find clues to the evolution of spoken language. It is apparently a common belief that, before humans developed language, we had a collection of facial expressions to communicate emotions. So the researchers filmed 158 Ohio State University students while speaking in their native languages. The researchers used participants who spoke in English (a Germanic language), Spanish (based in Latin), Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language (ASL).

Past research had established that facial expressions of anger, disgust and contempt could be found in all cultures. The researchers wondered if the three universal negative facial expressions had been combined over time into a single negative facial expression. And yes it has. Here is what the researchers call the “universal not face”. You will note the similarity to McKayla’s “not impressed” face. The researchers describe the expression like this:

It consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips and raised chin, and because we make it when we convey negative sentiments, such as “I do not agree,” researchers are calling it the “not face.”

not face

Even in American Sign Language (ASL), the researchers found the “not face”. The researchers explain the word “not” can be signed with hands or it can simply be indicated by a shake of the head. However, sometimes, the researchers found, the “not face” was occasionally used in ASL without either the hand sign for “not” or the head shake. In other words, at times in ASL, the only way you know that the word “not” has been used is from the expression these researchers call the “not face”.

This study required hours and hours of painstaking frame-by-frame video analysis. The researchers now plan to automate the painstaking study of thousands of frames of films they analyzed while completing this study and then analyze one billion frames (for 10,000 hours of data) of YouTube footage of people speaking in an attempt to identify other “facial grammatical markers”. If you’d like to read more about this study, Newswise has a nice writeup.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think the lesson here is clear. If jurors listen to you with this expression (which is, as you recall, a combination of anger, disgust and contempt) it is likely not a good thing for your case. We’ve all seen this look. Most of us have probably mimicked this facial expression. Now it has a name and we can fear it in the jury boxes not just in the United States but of the world.

Benitez-Quiroz CF, Wilbur RB, & Martinez AM (2016). The not face: A grammaticalization of facial expressions of emotion. Cognition, 150, 77-84 PMID: 26872248

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