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Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

I Me Mine NarcissismConservative commentators like to say Barack Obama is cold and aloof (and narcissistic) because he uses so many personal pronouns in speeches. However, when compared to past Presidents, Obama’s personal pronoun use is actually lower than any President since 1945. It’s an interesting example of how our preexisting beliefs (and political orientation) skew how we hear things and thus form conclusions about others. Those of us who are old enough to remember the Beatles song I Me Mine, might think it an apt description of the narcissist.

Narcissists are characterized by an unrealistic sense of superiority and self-importance, and a persistent self-focus [recall Narcissus from mythology, forever gazing at his image in the water]. While they may seem charming at first, over time their grandiosity, self-focus and self-importance becomes toxic and suffocating and they lose relationships. So can we identify those who use personal pronouns excessively as narcissists? It makes some intuitive sense and it is certainly common wisdom. But, can we really use the frequency of personal pronouns as a good quick-and-dirty screening tool for narcissism? That was the question today’s researchers sought to answer. But they wanted to do it thoroughly and so used 4,811 subjects, across 5 separate labs, with 5 separate narcissism measures, and with English speakers and German speakers. So, large sample, multiple labs, multiple measures of narcissism, and multiple countries/languages.

The researchers say at the outset that while many believe there is a relationship between “I-talk” and narcissism, and this idea makes intuitive sense, there is actually little empirical evidence to support it (and what evidence exists is inconsistent). The researchers accessed 15 samples to examine the relationship of I-talk to narcissism. The samples included the ubiquitous psychology undergraduates, but also social network users in Germany, and German and US Facebook users.

Measures used included the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (in both German and English), the Dirty Dozen Scale, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (in both German and English) and several single-item measures of narcissism. Written samples of various texts participants were asked to generate across different contexts (e.g., talking about some aspect of their own identity, writing about a topic related to themselves, or an impersonal topic) were analyzed by the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software program.

Here is what the researchers found:

“Overall our analyses revealed consistent evidence of a near-zero effect. In short, our high powered investigation provided little compelling support for the often discussed connection between narcissism and I-talk.

In other words, narcissism was unrelated to total I-talk. And that means you can’t diagnose narcissism through self-referential speech. For the grammarians among us, the researchers measured first person singular pronouns as well as participant use of subjective, objective and possessive first-person singular pronouns. There were simply not relationships between the use of self-referential pronouns and narcissism.

The researchers wonder if the “intuitive association between I-talk and narcissism might be based more on a schema-based perceptual process, in the mind of the perceiver, rather than on an analytic pronoun count”. To me, that sounds like “if I don’t like you I will perceive your speech as indicating you are narcissistic”. Which is, in itself, somewhat self-referentially narcissistic.

In everyday language, what that means is that if your attitudes, beliefs and values (and even your political ideology) vary from the speaker, you may be more prone to “hear” narcissism than if you are listening to someone whose values seem to align with your own. If you had a Mom like mine, it mostly means that you talk too much about yourself.

That is a phenomena many of us have seen as we listen to mock jurors react based on mishearing facts and evidence and incorporating their own beliefs into their judgment. We understand this as a problem with the case narrative hitting on “hot button” beliefs that mean mock jurors have defend their pre-existing beliefs.

Just like the conspiracy theorist, these jurors who “just are not listening”, help us refine and re-craft case narratives so they touch on universal values rather than attitude/value/belief/ideology “hot buttons” that result in off-track reactions.

Carey, AL, Brucks, MS, Küfner, ACP, Holtzman, NS, Deters, FG, Back, MD, Donnellan, MB, Pennebaker, JW, & Mehl, MR (2015). Narcissists and Pronouns: “I”, “me” “mine”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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millennial tattooWe’ve written a lot about tattoos here and this writeup is going to be a little different from most of our posts. Rather than spending time on the research findings, we want to cite some of the more unusual and surprising findings the author reviews as a prelude to her results.

So, to be brief, the researcher found that Millennials are growing up and yes, they do know tattoos may be frowned upon in some parts of the business world. Further, many of them say that they will consider how able they will be to conceal a new tattoo in business attire as they approach the job market. That isn’t that surprising to us at all. What was surprising was some of the literature the author cited as she reviewed (oh the many) reasons someone should talk to Millennials and make sure they realize tattoos are permanent and may keep them from getting hired.

Here are just a few of the findings she cites in her review of the literature:

There is a Facebook page called “Tattoo Acceptance in the Workplace” which has over 2 million “likes”! (It seems to be more a place to show your art than to talk about the issues related to having tattoos in the workplace.)

A 2012 study showed that customers who have tattoos are more likely to trust salespeople who also have tattoos and that people associate more positive traits to salespeople with “feminine tattoos”.

Another survey completed in 2012 in a rural hospital showed patients did not view male health care professionals with tattoos positively. Caregivers with tattoos are seen as “unsanitary” or “dirty”. It is imagined that the judges of the tattoos are not, themselves, owners of tattoos. No ink-bonding there. Another 2010 health care setting survey resulted in concerns about infection control since tattoo cover ups could hamper good washing of the hands. We imagine that there is concern that some people who cover up tattoos don’t realize that they need to be uncovered for the sake of cleaning skin. An odd concern, we think.

Undergraduate accounting students in 2011 thought accounting professionals should not have visible tattoos (even though 26% of the survey participants had their own tattoos!). Further, those students had less confidence in the tattooed accountant and were less likely to recommend the services of a tattooed accountant.

A man in Pennsylvania sought employment as a “Liquor Enforcement Officer” in 2012 and was told in order to be hired he would have to remove his tattoos. He filed a lawsuit alleging multiple violations and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the lower court ruling (for the Defendant) saying “having a tattoo is not a fundamental right”.

Another ruling in 2006 involved lawsuit by several police officers who claimed their police chief did not have the authority to force employees to cover up tattoos because they were “offensive” or “unprofessional”. The court said that public employees may expect to have their first amendment rights more curtailed in order to “promote effective government”.

It is intriguing that self-expression tends to lose in court. Even more so, it is a testament to the power of the tattoo to divide even those with tattoos. Tattoos are going to be judged and they are almost always going to be judged negatively (even by those who also have tattoos)—so if you are a tattooed attorney or have a tattooed client, you may want to cover your own and have your client cover theirs as well while in court.

Foltz, KA (2015). The Millennial’s perception of tattoos: Self expression or business faux pas? College Student Journal

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murdered black maleIn December of last year, we wrote about investigative case files in Shreveport, Louisiana. One of the findings in the analysis of those investigative files was this:

Overall, say the researchers, cases with White female victims resulted in the highest number of case file pages (i.e., the most investigative work) and the most severe sentences. In contrast, Black male homicide victims received the least investigative attention and the least severe sentences.

Now, data from the Capital Jury Project has been used to see whether there was a “White female victim effect”. The “female victim effect” describes the tendency for longer sentences or the death penalty when the victim was a female and especially when the victim was a White female who was killed by a Black male.

The Capital Jury Project study involved examining 249 cases of which 57.4% resulted in the death penalty and 42.6% resulted in a life sentence. A little over half (58.2%) of the capital trials took place in a southern jurisdiction. 56.2% of the cases had White male defendants and 43.8% had Black male defendants.

In 41% of the cases, the victim was a White female and of those cases, 61.8% resulted in a death sentence and 38.2% resulted in life sentences.

37.8% of the cases involved White male victims, and of those cases, 59.6% resulted in a death sentence and 40.4% resulted in life sentences.

12% of the cases involved Black male victims, and of those cases, only 38.7% resulted in a death sentence and 61.3% resulted in life sentences.

8.8% of the cases involved Black female victims and in those 22 cases, 54.5% resulted in a death sentence and 45.5% resulted in a life sentence.

Even just reading those numbers, it is apparent that if you are a White victim, your killer is more likely to receive a death penalty sentence and if you are a Black male victim, the opposite is true. The researchers say that the difference is “not as pronounced in Black female victim cases” but for Black males, the difference is statistically significant and sobering.

If that isn’t disturbing enough, comments from the jurors seem to indicate they don’t see the Black male homicide victim as having “suffered” as much as other victims. That is, they perceived suffering for the victim in 76.8% of the White female victim cases but only in 31% of the Black male victim cases. “Nearly 79% of Black male victim cases are perceived by jurors not to involve brutality and another 69% of the cases are perceived by jurors not to involve suffering.”

Here’s a representative comment from a male juror: “you shoot somebody and they die right there and then I don’t think there is any suffering to happen”.

And a representative comment from a female juror: “I don’t know if you’d call it brutal or not. He [the defendant] just got it over with…if there was torture involved then I would call it brutal…but there was no torture involved. He just shot him.”

The researchers conclude that “victim race, not victim gender, appears to be driving juror decision-making in capital cases”. They focus on what they say is a “black male victim effect”: and define it this way:

“It appears that defendants who kill Black male victims are significantly less likely to receive a death sentence compared to defendants convicted of killing White female and White male victims”.

Ultimately, this research finds (through involved archival work and juror interviews) what they found in Louisiana by just measuring the thickness of the investigative files.

Black male victims do not get justice at either the investigative stage or the criminal trial stage. The investigations are far shorter and less thorough than for White victims.

This disparity at the investigative stage appears to be an artifact of what prosecutors deem to be most worthy of effort in homicide investigations, but it is offensively unfair to those murder victims who are Black males, and arguably, to a justice-minded populace.

For all of us, it is a sad statement when a measure like simply counting pages in a prosecutorial file shows us what the system values and then when presented in court, decisions are made that reflect what the system says is valuable.

Girgenti, A. (2015). The Intersection of Victim Race and Gender: The “Black Male Victim Effect” and the Death Penalty Race and Justice DOI: 10.1177/2153368715570060

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smartphones-thumbJust when you thought you could relax a little about jurors accessing the internet during a jury trial, we learn this factoid from the smart folks at Pew Research Center:

“64% of American adults now own a smart phone of some kind, up from 35% in the spring of 2011. Smartphone ownership is especially high among younger Americans, as well as those with relatively high income and education levels.”

Yes. Smartphone ownership has almost doubled in the past four years. While a smart phone is now more likely than not, for some Americans, the smart phone is almost the only way they can access the internet and that particular group is different from those with multiple access points in some important ways.

Here are some of the findings from the Pew survey of 2,002 adults in the United States completed between December 4th and 21st, 2014 by telephone:

10% of Americans who own a smart phone do not have any other form of high-speed internet access.

15% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 are heavily dependent on a smart phone for online access.

13% of Americans who earn less than $30K a year are smart phone dependent for internet access. (As a comparison, only 1% of American households earning more than $75K per year rely on their smartphones for internet access.)

While 12% of African-Americans and 13% of Latinos are smart phone dependent for internet access, the same is true for only 4% of Whites.

Those who are smart phone dependent for internet access are also less likely to own another type of computing device, less likely to have a bank account, less likely to have health insurance, and more likely to rent or live with a friend or family member as opposed to owning their own home. Further, nearly half of those who are smart phone dependent have had to shut off their cell phone service for a period of time since the cost was prohibitive.

Among younger smart phone users, the smart phone is popular for avoiding boredom and to avoid interacting with others. They also use their phones more often than older users to watch videos, listen to podcasts, and get turn-by-turn directions to a desired location.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is one more reminder to remain vigilant about educating jurors on why smart phone research is a problem when deciding justice. On the other hand, this may also be a good question for determining financial stability and socio-economic status if you are unable to assess it otherwise.

“Do you have other means of internet access in your home besides your smart phone?”

The answer to that question could potentially give you insight into your potential juror’s life and their access to information that other questions cannot.

Pew Internet Research. 2015. US Smartphone use in 2015.

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Millennial-NewsThe popular perception is that Millennials are passive and uninterested in civic issues and that they do not pay attention to traditional “news” since they are glued to their smartphones. According to a very recent survey, these beliefs, like many stereotypes, are simply wrong. The Media Insight Project recently published a survey of 1,046 adults aged 18-34 years (did you realize some Millennials were that old?). The findings show that Millennials actually keep up with traditional “news” stories as well as stories connecting them to friends, hobbies, culture and entertainment. The authors say that the “first digital generation is highly engaged” and that “if anything, the enormous role of social media appears to have a widening impact, not a narrowing one, on the awareness of this generation”.

Here are just a few of the results from their survey:

Millennials News Insert

Contrary to popular belief, Millennials do not see themselves as “constantly connected”. While more than 90% of them owned smartphones and half had tablets, only 51% said they were online “most or all” of the day.

Social media involvement did not narrow their perspectives. Social media network feeds exposed them to a “diverse mix of viewpoints” some similar and some dissimilar to their own, according to 70% of those surveyed.

Of interest to the trial attorney is that 73% of those exposed to different views said they investigated the differing options of others at least sometimes with a quarter saying they investigate “always or often”. (This might indicate Millennials are more willing to consider viewpoints or evidence at odds with what they currently believe.)

69% of the Millennials said they get news at least once a day and 40% got news several times a day. This does not mean they watch a television news program or visit news sites to find news. More typically, news comes to them through social contexts (social networks or friends) and then they do research to learn more about the information.

Facebook use is pretty universal although younger Millennials are expressing growing frustration with Facebook and are more likely than older Millennials to have cut back on Facebook use or even dropped it entirely.

There are news-gathering differences by age within the Millennial generation. Younger Millennials (those under age 25 and even those out of college) use social networks more to identify news stories of interest to them and they use alternative news sites more. Older Millennials see social networks as “social” rather than sources for gathering information about the world around them.

This is a good resource to challenge your stereotypes about this particular group. They (in life, and as jurors) are not all the same. There are differences within this generation by age and by gender and even by ethnicity that may be surprising to you. Millennials are maturing and changing and popular beliefs about them are often seriously in error. And the Millennial may be more open to evidence contradicting their current point of view than are older jurors. That alone may make you want to look a little more closely at the Millennial in the box.

The Media Insight Project. 2015. How Millennials get news: Inside the habits of America’s first digital generation.

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