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Archive for the ‘Bias’ Category

cat-glasses-tieHere’s another installment of things we think you might want to know but to which we don’t wish to devote an entire blog post. Keep reading to have tidbits worthy of sound bytes over drinks.

The onset of ‘real’ adulthood

Five years ago we were distressed to discover that middle age begins at 35 and now we have the definitive word on when “real adulthood” begins. It isn’t upon graduation from college, hitting age 25, or even having children. As with many things, it appears to be about money. When we hit economic milestones, we are truly considered “adult”.

“The latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll asked Americans to define what it means to be starting out in life—and what milestones mark the end of that early stage of experience. Consistently, both younger and older respondents said that adults could put the “starting out” stage of life behind them only after they had crossed major thresholds, not just taken the first steps toward independence.”

For some that means paying off student loans, for others it is having a job that is the beginning of a career, and for others it means having disposable income or a savings plan. These are not measures easily definable with a numeric age.

Watching cat videos could be a good thing!

More Americans than you can possibly imagine enjoy watching cat videos on the internet. A recent publication surveyed “almost 7,000 people” about their cat video watching behavior and found that far from this being a waste of their time, cat video viewers reported they were more energetic, positive, less anxious and less sad after watching cat videos. Future work, says the author, could explore how cat videos might serve as a low-cost form of pet therapy. It’s a good thing, says the author, who, as an assistant professor, will also move closer to tenure with an article on the impact of watching cat videos. That could be yet another positive benefit…at least for the author.

And you think frivolous lawsuits are bad in the United States!

While it is not news that mock jurors routinely bring up the “hot coffee” lawsuit as an example of frivolous lawsuits (a discussion we do not wish to reopen here), they refer far less often to the suit over the hot glue left on toilet seats in big box stores, but of course that has happened, too. Our jurors were too smart for that trick though, so when it came up they thought it was likely your own fault if you did not look before sitting. This conclusion was heightened the more they reflected on the general condition of toilets in big box stores… Mock jurors can be very cold and judgmental. But here’s a lawsuit from China about a TV watcher suing a television actor for “staring at him too intensely” through the TV set and causing “spiritual damage”. Wow. We think someone needs a cup of hot coffee.

News for witness preparation

You can appear more trustworthy, according to new research, but there are limits. You can’t fake looking competent so easily, as some researchers have determined that this is simply not alterable. All it takes, apparently, to look more trustworthy is to look happier rather than angrier. On the other hand, it matters not if your face is happy or angry when it comes to assessments of competence. Observer ratings of your competence are “immutable” say the researchers. We don’t believe this, having prepared lots of witnesses to help them demonstrate their competence and trustworthiness. That is why this one is in a post like this rather than one of its own! We share this with you in case the research achieves viral fame and you are left wondering whether to believe it. Don’t.

How open to experience are you?

We tend to believe the curiosity of an individual is an important factor in considering potential jurors during voir dire. PsyBlog has been doing a series on quick personality tests and here is one to consider: a one-minute measure of openness to experience. While the scoring is a little ambiguous (at least in this presentation) and the interpretation seems a little like a series of Barnum statements, it’s an interesting factor to consider while pondering who would be most likely to listen to your evidence rather than closing off their mind to things they do not yet understand.

Hehman E, Flake JK, & Freeman JB (2015). Static and Dynamic Facial Cues Differentially Affect the Consistency of Social Evaluations. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin PMID: 26089347

Myrick, J. (2015). Emotion regulation, procrastination, and watching cat videos online: Who watches Internet cats, why, and to what effect? Computers in Human Behavior, 52, 168-176 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.06.001


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The Bias Blind Spot Scale 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

bias blind spot 2015We’ve written about the bias blind spot here before and now there is an actual scale to measure your specific bias blind spot (since, as it turns out, we all have one or more). You may wish to disagree with the statement that we all have a bias blind spot. That is precisely why it’s called our bias “blind spot”—we cannot see it. In fact, in the sample of 661 adults used to develop the Bias Blind Spot Scale, only 1 person reported being more biased than the average person. The rest of the group thought themselves less biased than others.

As one of the authors says: “People seem to have no idea how biased they are. Whether a good decision-maker or a bad one, everyone thinks that they are less biased than their peers. This susceptibility to the bias blind spot appears to be pervasive, and is unrelated to people’s intelligence, self-esteem, and actual ability to make unbiased judgments and decisions.”

The scale itself is somewhat unusual for social science research. Items are written in very academic prose and describe 14 different kinds of biases. Participants completing the scale are asked to assess the degree to which they themselves exhibit this bias in judgment and decision-making and (in comparison) the degree to which the average American exhibits this bias in judgment and decision-making.

Fourteen biases are assessed in the scale: action-inaction bias, bandwagon effect, confirmation bias, disconfirmation tendency, diffusion of responsibility, escalation of commitment, fundamental attribution error, halo effect, in-group favoritism, ostrich effect, projection bias, self-interest bias, self-serving bias, and stereotyping. And again, participants were asked to rate the extent to which they individually exhibited this bias and the extent to which the “average American” exhibited the bias.

Here are three examples of biases included in the scale so you can get a sense of the language of scale items:

Many psychological studies have shown that people react to counter evidence by actually strengthening their beliefs. For example, when exposed to negative evidence about their favorite political candidate, people tend to implicitly counter argue against that evidence, therefore strengthening their favorable feelings toward the candidate. (Confirmation bias)

Research has found that people will make irrational decisions to justify actions they have already taken. For example, when two people engage in a bidding war for an object, they can end up paying much more than the object is worth to justify the initial expenses associated with bidding. (Escalation of commitment)

Psychologists have identified a tendency called the “ostrich effect”, an aversion to learning about potential losses. For example, people may try to avoid bad news by ignoring it. The name comes from the common (but false) legend that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid danger. (Ostrich effect)

According to the researchers, the more blind one is to the personal bias, the lower the quality of their decision-making since they listen less to the advice of others and are less likely to use de-biasing training to improve their decision-making. Obviously, these people are not going to be open to changing their minds based on expert testimony or the agreement of peers. We blogged about a bias blind spot juror (we called her Victoria) a couple of years back. We don’t think this bias blind spot scale is useful. In fact, it is so pedantic and laborious for people who are not well-educated, we feel that item comprehension is in question. The idea though, is quite interesting, and hopefully the researchers (or others in the area) will test a more ‘natural language’ version, and we can try it out in pretrial research to see if any biases are particularly relevant to our specific cases.

Overall though, the researchers say that “awareness of one’s vulnerability to bias” is an important factor in being able to benefit from training in de-biasing. We interpret this as (once again) the importance of helping jurors be fair by increasing their empathy for others and helping them see the client or party or witness as espousing the same values they themselves hold dear.

Scopelliti, I., Morewedge, C., McCormick, E., Min, H., Lebrecht, S., & Kassam, K. (2015). Bias Blind Spot: Structure, Measurement, and Consequences Management Science DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.2014.2096



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A new issue of The Jury Expert 

Monday, June 29, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

TJE_logoWe try to post the Table of Contents for new issues of The Jury Expert here when it publishes and there is a new issue up now. Here’s what you’ll see if you visit.

Does Deposition Video Camera Angle Affect Witness Credibility?

by Chris Dominic, Jeffrey Jarman, and Jonathan Lytle–all of Tsongas Consulting. Many of us have had spirited discussions about how the angle of the camera in deposition affects the impression of witness credibility. We all have strong ideas and sound reasons behind those ideas. These authors had the same sort of discussions but actually did research on it so you could benefit from this knowledge as well.

Looks Like Science, Must be True! Graphs and the Halo of Scientific Truth

by Aner Tal from Cornell with responses from visual evidence specialists Jason Barnes and Karyn Taylor. Ever wonder just how much difference there is in how persuasive charts and graphs are in the courtroom? This researcher looked at whether a simple (very simple) graph with no bells and whistles would be more persuasive to triers of fact. You will find the results odd and somewhat unsettling. Jason Barnes and Karyn Taylor respond with their perspective on making visual evidence compelling.

Jury Instructions: Work In Progress

by Steven Perkel and Benjamin Perkel, both of Perkel and Associates. The question of plain language jury instructions has been around for a while but we wanted to bring you the most recent findings and thoughts on making jury instructions easier for jurors to understand and interpret.

“Soft” vs. “Hard” Psychological Science in the Courtroom

The terms “soft science” and “hard science” are commonly applied to different scientific disciplines, and scientists have investigated and theorized about features that apply when placing scientific disciplines on a soft-hard continuum. In the minds of laypeople, however, the difference may lie in the more simple perceptions of different scientific disciplines. The very words themselves, “soft” and “hard”, may hint at different reputations. Soft sciences are fuzzy and less rigid, suggesting lower reliability, validity, and rigor than hard sciences possess.

Favorite Thing: The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

Here’s another favorite thing and this one is all about research being done (both brain and biological) that touches on ethical issues we need to understand.

Using The Other Side’s Strikes: Regulating The Information Flow To Steer Your Opponent In Voir Dire

by Roy Futterman of DOAR. Jury selection is a strategic activity that requires you to imagine how the other side will react. This author suggests you take that imagination a step further by behaving strategically to get opposing counsel to strike jurors you want them to strike–effectively giving you twice the number of strikes when you are successful. How could you not read this one?!

Loyalty, Longevity and Leadership: A Multigenerational Workforce Update

by Doug Keene and Rita Handrich, both of Keene Trial Consulting. Recently we were asked to conduct research on whether jurors of different generations responded to case themes differently. In preparation for this, we updated the generational research completed in the past few years. This article summarizes what we learned about the “real” (as opposed to anecdotal) differences between generations and how you can use a sensible approach to managing your own multigenerational office.

Top 10 Most Widely Read Jury Expert Articles Since 2011! 

Every year we have been giving you a list of the top ten articles on The Jury Expert’s website for the past year. We thought we would also show you our top ten most highly trafficked articles since we began to publish online. It’s an interesting list with some of what readers say is our best work. Don’t miss it!

Image is TJE logo

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jon_stewart 2015We are going to miss Jon Stewart. Even as we prepare for the return of Stephen Colbert and watch John Oliver on Last Week Tonight—Jon Stewart is the best voice of the satirical news and we will miss him immensely. Mostly, we think what puts him at the head of the class is that his satire is obviously authentic, and an expression of deeply held beliefs and unflagging sincerity. Not what you expect from a satirist, but Jon Stewart is an exceptional person, even setting aside the humor. Last week showed us just how much.

Shortly after the Rachel Dolezal story, and Donald Trump’s Presidential announcement, Jon was beside himself—“I’m just so happy right now. This is a gift from God”. For fans of the Daily Show, it was vintage: gleeful Stewart lampooning the simply ridiculous. But a few days later, we had the shootings in Charleston and it left Jon Stewart at a loss for funny words. On this occasion, authenticity offered no humorous outlet. Rarely has he been more eloquent in expressing heartbreak, disillusionment, and sadness.

We write a lot here about bias in all its shapes and forms. But Jon Stewart spoke for all of us who are so disheartened by the ongoing racism and violence in this country. Watch the intro to his show even if you’ve already seen it. It will break your heart—and remind you of what is truly important— all over again.


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halo effect devil effectThis is one of those clever studies where you would never guess the real purpose of the experiment. Researchers from Eastern Kentucky University wanted to see if homely men would be punished more for violating social norms than would attractive men. So they chose a black and white photo of a homely man and an attractive man (described only as “white males with brown hair, facial stubble, similar eye shape and wearing white t-shirts”).

It always bugs me when researchers do this. They tease that they used a homely man but then they won’t show you the photo so you can check to see if it’s your cousin or old classmate. They tell you they also used an attractive man (“with more prominent brow and chin and a greater degree of facial symmetry”) but again, they don’t show you what that “attractive man” looks like. They slyly say “the two faces clearly presented different levels of attractiveness”, but don’t show us so it leaves us having to trust their sense of what is attractive and what is not attractive. They do say they retrieved the male faces from an “online facial database” which is, again, unnamed. It’s very irritating. Especially for those of us who are more visually inclined.

So, the researchers recruited participants (170 female students who are not described demographically) for their study and presented them with one of two scenarios accompanied by a photo of either the “attractive man” or the “homely man”.

The first scenario involves a male asking a female classmate to borrow a pen.

You arrive early to your first class of the day. As you enter you notice only a few people are already there. While waiting for the class to begin, you search your bag for your textbook and decide to take the few extra minutes to study for today’s quiz. You flip through the chapters and find the material for today’s test. After a few minutes of going over the chapter, the individual in the next desk over coughs and speaks up: “Hey I’m sorry but do you have a pen I could use? I guess I forgot one.” You glance up and see he man sitting beside you. You do not recognize him from your class, but perhaps he changed seats.

The second scenario is about a male approaching a female on a college campus and asking to take her photograph for modeling opportunities.

After finishing your last class of the day, you decide it’s time to head home and tackle the last homework before the long weekend. You enjoy the walk to the car and think about your plans for later tonight. As you glance around you see that campus has already cleared off. Your path branches off towards the library and the parking lot beyond. You notice a man ahead around the entrance of the library. As you approach, the man stops you. “Excuse me, would I be able to take your picture? I think you would be a great model for a project I’m working on. Have you ever tried modeling before?” You don’t recognize the man from around campus.

The salient twist of course, is not whether the creepy photographer or the pen-requestor is the scenario you received but whether you are given the photograph of the attractive man or the homely man. What the researchers were interested in was whether we cut attractive men more slack when they “violate social norms”. That’s what the researchers call a man lurking in a deserted area of campus with a camera asking a lone female if she’s ever modeled before: a violator of social norms. We’d have a different term than that but then, this is not our study.

And to make a long story short—we might call this the Ted Bundy effect—attractive men get more slack when they are creepy than do homely men. While both attractive and homely men in the creepy photographer scenario were seen more negatively—the homely men got what the researchers labeled the “double devil effect”.

Specifically, when the man was “homely” and creepy, the female participants responded much more negatively.

Level of attractiveness didn’t matter when participants were asked to loan a pen in a class. But take the situation to a “creepy” one and attractiveness matters in terms of how we respond. (You will be happy to know that 93% of the women approached did not let the creepy man take their photo—although no doubt you are worried about the 7% who did pose for a photo taken by a creepy man in a desolate and deserted area of campus). And as for the pen? Ninety-six per cent of the participants would loan a pen whether the man was attractive or homely.

The researchers say this has ramifications for online dating and for the “judicial system”. We cannot make things like this up. They actually compare those two realities as settings in which these findings matter. They say that if a male posts “unusual or alarming information” in their online dating site profile and attach a homely photo—that man is “at risk for an attractiveness devil effect to occur”. Oddly, the researchers say that a “facially attractive male posting the same information” would not have the same reaction. So, on dating sites, you are supposedly only seen by others signed up to that same site—so they know (or can look to see) whether you are homely or snazzy or creepy or sweet. But in court, you are only known by what they learn by looking and listening.

Okay. This is sort of ridiculous and insulting. The researchers seem to be saying that women are so swayed by a pretty face that they would completely overlook “unusual or alarming profile information” on an online dating site. Seriously? I thought to myself that these researchers must be young. That resulted in an online search to see if that were true and the LinkedIn profile for Jeremy Gibson (who has just graduated college) and the faculty profile for his co-author, Jonathan Gore. Someone should let Dr. Gore know to not teach his student writers to make comments like the one above.

The authors also, almost as an aside, toss out the concept that those who are attractive are often given lighter sentences than “homely” defendants and cite the ample research literature to that effect.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we see this as a study that speaks to the importance of what we think of as a witness preparation basic. You need to help your witnesses speak to the universal values we all share.

Jurors may see the witness (or party) as so very different from them and your goal is to help the witness testify to their family and community involvement, church attendance, school involvement, volunteerism, and so on.

When we see that even someone so very different from us shares our same values, we tend to like them more and thus, also see them as more attractive. What this research says to us is that when your client has potentially violated norms already by being party to a lawsuit, you want to make your witness, party, or client as attractive to jurors as possible.

Gibson, J., & Gore, J. (2015). You’re OK Until You Misbehave: How Norm Violations Magnify the Attractiveness Devil Effect Gender Issues DOI: 10.1007/s12147-015-9142-5


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