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Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

Odds and EndsWe often do these combination posts when we do not want to devote an entire post to a single article but think the information is worth sharing (or simply too odd not to share). So read on and be a scintillating (or perhaps simply odd) conversationalist.

Smartphone alerts increase both inattention and hyperactivity

This is one of those titles that makes us think, “They had to do research to figure that one out?” Well, yes. Perhaps they weren’t sure about it, or perhaps they didn’t have a lock on tenure quite yet. You can read a summary over at ScienceDaily but the gist of it is that students were asked to put their phones on either silent, vibrate or ring for two weeks and to also report their symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. As you may have guessed (hey, you too could have tenure!) those who had their phones on vibrate or ring (as opposed to silent) had more symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. We all know what it feels like to be waiting for the phone to ring. Well, most of us anyhow.

On nasal diversity, or, Why your nose is shaped like that

You may have always thought you inherited your nose shape from your parents but that is very short-sighted thinking on your part. And while you also may have thought there was likely a gene that chooses the shape of your nose—new research shows us that as many as four genes interact to determine the ultimate shape (what these researchers describe as the “overall width and pointiness”) of your nose. There is a brief writeup on this new study looking closely at more than 6,000 noses over at NatureWorld News. If this seems like useless information, you have been reading carefully. Extra credit for anyone who can report a way to work this information into a social conversation without offending anyone!

Talk about climate change so people will listen

We’ve written about climate change before but here’s another strategy to consider. Instead of appealing to the individual—appeal to the collective (or ‘royal’) “we”. A new study in the journal Climatic Change tells us that people are willing “to donate up to 50% more cash to the cause when thinking about the problem in collective terms”. For comparison, thinking about climate change from an individual perspective produced “little to no change in behavior”. And, for reasons the researchers cannot explain, the effect seems to persist.

This actually has relevance for litigators, since it involves motivating people to action. The ‘golden rule’ bar on argument obliges attorneys not to make it relate to the lives of jurors personally, but this research suggests that you will be more successful if you argue on a broader basis (the benefit of society, et cetera) anyway.  If you cannot access the journal article itself, you can read an accurate translation over at ScienceDaily.

Sexist behavior: Can neuroscience tell us why it happens?

Christian Jarret (known to us from his long-time reign over at BPS Research Digest) is a consistently clear and accurate translator of even dense and confusing material. His recent translation of the article titled Amygdala and cingulate structure is associated with stereotype on sex-role is a good example of his ability to take incomprehensible research and make it understandable and even interesting. [Yes, we knew you were waiting on tenterhooks for this one.]

The original article is in Scientific Reports and currently is open-access but we think you’ll save a lot of time and frustration by reading Christian’s summary over at New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog! Basically he concludes that no—neuroscience isn’t able to explain sexism since there is no specific brain anatomy that points to sexist beliefs. But those who express sexist attitudes appear to be psychologically vulnerable individuals who are both fearful and competitive. [Score: Neuroscience 0, Psychology 1.]

Obradovich, N., & Guenther, S. (2016). Collective responsibility amplifies mitigation behaviors. Climatic Change DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1670-9

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screaming-womanIt’s tough to see the same old themes come up over and over again but—here we go again… Women who react emotionally are seen as less intelligent, but if they react in a “measured and manly way” they are thought not trustworthy. In other words, you can’t win for losing.

“Men were rated as both more emotionally competent and more intelligent in general when they showed restraint. For women, however, the opposite pattern emerged, in that they were perceived as more emotionally competent and intelligent when they reacted immediately.”

In other words, say the researchers, we expect men and women to act according to gender stereotypes and we are suspicious of those who fail to behave accordingly.

Participants in the first study (59 undergraduates from the University of Haifa in Israel—30 men and 29 women) were shown photos found to elicit both sadness and anger. Then they watched videos featuring different people allegedly reacting to those same images. Half of the actors reacted almost immediately (within 1/2 second) while others did not show an expression change for a second and a half. After viewing the videos of people reacting to the images, the participants rated each character for “emotional competence” and assessed their level of sensitivity, caring, and the appropriateness and authenticity of their reactions.

Men who paused for 1.5 seconds prior to changing their expression were seen as more emotionally competent. Women who paused were seen as less emotionally competent.

The second study (with 58 students) was much the same as the first but the participants also rated the perceived intelligence of the character in the video.

“Men who showed delayed reactions were perceived as significantly more intelligent than those who reacted immediately, whereas for women, delayed reactions resulted in less perceived intelligence.”

The authors say that these results reflect the strength of gender stereotypes about women as “more emotionally volatile but also more emotionally competent” and say that when women delay their reaction to an emotionally charged image they may be seen as “strategic rather than spontaneous”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this will be important when considering the impact of male and female witnesses, for preparation of parties, and even for attorney behavior in the courtroom. You are always being watched and evaluated. Assumptions are going to be made for better or worse.

Help jurors see your female witness/party/self as thoughtful and competent but as having learned to stop and consider actions and consequences prior to reacting. That is done more by offering jurors some context for respecting the witness or party, rather than trying to train them to significantly change their response style. In other words, this time it has to be about teaching the jurors how to judge quality, rather than teaching the witness how to overcome the gender bias.

Hess, U, David, S, & Hareli S (2016). Emotional restraint is good for men only: The influence of emotional restraint on perceptions of confidence. Emotion

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grammarpoliceHere’s another sneaky way researchers try to figure out your real feelings rather than your politically correct and overtly verbalized feelings. This is research from Nextions showing bias still exists in the legal field and it’s about your grammar. Well, really, it isn’t about grammar—it’s about race. On the other hand, the sample size is low (slightly above 50 law partners returned the survey) so you could say this isn’t what you would do…and in fact, not everyone would do what was found among this research group.

Here’s what they did in this very simple study. Researchers had five attorneys cooperate in writing up a legal research memo on trade secrets at internet startup companies. The researchers then placed 22 errors of various kinds into the memo. The researchers sent the legal research memo to 60 partners in law firms who were asked to assess it as an example of the “writing competencies of young attorneys”.

Fifty-three of the partners actually returned the writing sample with comments (that’s an 88% return rate which is quite good). In the event you are interested, of the original 60 partners, 23 were women, 37 were men, 21 were racial/ethnic minorities, and 39 were White. The participating partners were asked to edit the memo for “all factual, technical and substantive errors” and then asked to rate the overall quality of the memo on a scale from 1 (“extremely poorly written”) to 5 (“extremely well written”).

So here is the catch: half of the partners were told the writer was Black and half were told the writer (one Thomas Meyer who was described as a third-year associate with a degree from the NYU School of Law) was White. In other words, the associate’s credentials were exactly the same—the difference was that half thought he was Black and half thought he was White. You have likely already figured out how this turned out but we’ll tell you anyway.

When the partners were told the associate was Black, they judged his written memo much more harshly.

The following descriptions of the way Black and White associates writing was critiqued is quoted from Nextion’s report:

“In regards to the specific errors in the memo:

An average of 2.9/7.0 spelling grammar errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 5.8/7.0 spelling/grammar errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 4.1/6.0 technical writing errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 4.9/6.0 technical writing errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 3.2/5.0 errors in facts were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 3.9/5.0 errors in facts were found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

The 4 errors in analysis were difficult to parse out quantitatively because of the variances in narrative provided by the partners as to why they were analyzing the writing to contain analytical errors. Overall though, “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo was evaluated to be better in regards to the analysis of facts and had substantively fewer critical comments.”

Vox did a nice summary of this study and translated Sexton’s narrative descriptions into a chart making it easier to ‘see’ the differences identified by law partners when they thought the writing sample was from a White associate or a Black associate.

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Nextion says this study tells us that due to confirmation bias, law partners are more harsh when judging Black associates’ writing. The Vox review cautions us that we are talking about a fairly small sample here (53 partners in total) and each partner only reviewed one writing sample.

If, says Vox, the partners reviewed more than one writing sample and those who reviewed Black associates writing were always harsher—that would mean the partners were harsher for Black Thomas Meyer than they were for White Thomas Meyer. Since the partners only reviewed one writing sample—we cannot be sure if this is an artifact of some partners being harsher than others or if it is truly bias that tells us Black associates are judged more harshly. Or those who reviewed it might have been having a bad day. Maybe.

The qualitative comments shared from the partner’s reactions remind us of the inconsistent comments we often get from our mock jurors as they evaluate witnesses based on brief deposition excerpts. Remember—before reading these reactions to the writing samples—the law partners received identical memos—the only difference was whether they thought the writer was Black or White.

comment insert

From the perspective of law office management—this study reminds us (again) to pay attention to making all of our evaluations as objective as we can so our subjective (and often biased) opinions do not enter into our evaluations. What that means is that you need to look at the specific expectations of the position and list objective criteria for evaluation related to hiring, raises, promotion, and assignments to various cases.

Our biases are almost always hidden from us (it’s called a bias blind spot) and studies like this one, if reliable, tell us we are not as open to diversity as we may want to believe. If you are concerned about managing diversity effectively and other aspects of leadership, you may want to visit our other posts under the Law Office Management category.

Nextions. (2016) Written in Black and White: Exploring confirmation bias in radicalized perceptions of writing skills. http://www.nextions.com/wp-content/files_mf/14468226472014040114WritteninBlackandWhiteYPS.pdf

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Your face can get you killed… 

Monday, May 9, 2016
posted by Rita Handrich

untrustworthy-faceHere’s a sad study that tells us stereotypes are alive and well in American court systems. Let’s say you are unfortunate enough to be on trial for murder. According to this study, how wide your face is can be the difference between life and death if you are convicted–even if you are actually innocent.

We’ve written before about wide-faced men and the link with aggression and this study is similar to those but it’s done with photos of men who were actually imprisoned on death row or were serving life sentences for murder. The researchers wanted to see if jurors may have made assumptions about predilection to violence from looking at faces of defendants and if that “face analysis” resulted in sentencing disparities between those with trustworthy versus untrustworthy faces.

They pulled the photos of the men from the state of Florida (which still has the death penalty) and had 208 online volunteers look at the photographs (which were cropped to show faces only and gray-scaled so the color of the prison uniforms did not influence the raters. The researchers even controlled for whether the inmate was wearing eyeglasses or if they had visible (face or neck) tattoos. The volunteers rated the faces in the photo for trustworthiness.

Here is what they found:

Perceptions of untrustworthiness predicted death sentences as opposed to life sentences for convicted murderers in Florida. (The researchers just asked the participants to rate whether the faces in the photos were trustworthy or not. Then, they went back to look at the actual trial outcomes to see who had been sentenced to death and who’d been sentenced to life in prison.

One of the variables the researchers checked (because they are evolutionary psychologists, naturally) was facial width (which is set at puberty and not under anyone’s control). Sure enough, if you have a wide face you do not “look” trustworthy. Just as we presume the jurors did, the online raters looked at a face and deemed it untrustworthy.

Undeterred, the researchers looked to those convicted of murder and later acquitted (following an appeal usually due to Innocence Project help and DNA evidence). They used photos of 37 faces of convicts, all from states allowing the death penalty. Twenty were black and 17 were white or Hispanic, 20 sentenced to life and 17 sentenced to death. The researchers had them rated again after cropping and converting to gray-scale. The goal was the same in this second study—to have online participants rate the face as trustworthy versus untrustworthy and then look to see if there was a relationship between facial appearance and ultimate sentencing. You know what happened. The very same thing as had happened before.

If the former defendant (who’d been found guilty and then acquitted on appeal typically due to DNA evidence) had an untrustworthy face—they were more likely to have been sentenced to death.

The researchers are quick to say that this second sample was only from Florida and they comment that if you are in Florida—your face can be a ticket to death by lethal injection or life in prison.

We believe that this is likely not just a Florida thing. Take a look at the graphic illustrating this post. The man in that photo “looks like” a thug and jurors looking at him may make a determination he is more likely to kill again than his fellow defendant who looks so much more trustworthy—and so they sentence him to death.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is yet another example of how extra-evidentiary information plays into (in this case) life and death decision-making on the part of jurors. We’ve blogged before about using makeup to cover tattoos to modify the defendant’s “visual identity” and even about adding eyeglasses to change your client’s image (known as the “nerd defense”). This is just another example of how powerful our stereotypes and assumptions can be during deliberations. Facial reconstruction surgery is likely out of reach for most defendants but it would be useful to consider how to best mask the “thug look” some defendants carry with them based on simple genetics and heredity.

Wilson JP, & Rule NO (2015). Facial Trustworthiness Predicts Extreme Criminal-Sentencing Outcomes. Psychological Science, 26 (8), 1325-31 PMID: 26162847

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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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