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trustworthy-or-notIf you try to identify what it is that makes someone trustworthy, you might list their forthrightness, values consistent with your own, or even their willingness to embrace unpopular positions. And that is all well and good but it likely is untrue. Instead, researchers tell us, we draw “relatively stable trustworthinesss impressions from facial appearance”.

Apparently, based on the photo illustrating this post (taken from the research article) we define trust as having less prominent eyebrows and jawlines, softer lips and slightly narrower noses. Overall, a softer appearance. The more “trustworthy” photos in the left column look younger, with less prominent brows and generally more traditionally feminine than the “untrustworthy” photos in the right column. But this is merely how they strike us— we should point out the researchers described the more trustworthy faces as neutral, neither masculine nor feminine.

In this research, participants were asked to imagine they were moving to a new area and had asked real estate brokers to find a home for them. To add to the realism of the task, the participant’s only clues as to the skill of the realtor were these photos and typed statements ostensibly made by each realtor in describing the home they had identified for the participants (sensible factors for how we ourselves would choose a realtor for a cross-country move). After seeing the photos and statements, the participants were asked to respond to how willing they would be to pick the house this realtor recommended and then how trustworthy the realtor seemed to them.

Across four different experiments (and more than 400 undergraduate student-participants), the researchers found that participants spontaneously presumed trustworthinesss from facial appearance alone.

While we have blogged on this idea before, it has been in the context of not trusting men with wide faces (which is simply based on higher testosterone levels). This research is not from evolutionary psychologists but we can see the “untrustworthy” faces in the right column of the graphic illustrating this post are clearly wider. While today’s researchers say facial trustworthiness may have “pervasive consequences in everyday life” we would say you always want to assess if a witness or party would look more trustworthy with a few appearance tweaks.

We already pay attention to attire and accessories but we’ve also written about things like covering tattoos or even something as seemingly unnecessary as telling a witness to not place their fist in their mouth when testifying. And speaking of those “pervasive consequences in everyday life”, recent studies have shown us that men with wide faces are more likely to receive the death sentence (even when the conviction is later found to be wrongful).

While it may seem ridiculous to consider shaping a witness or party’s eyebrows or considering makeup techniques or glasses to make deep-set eyes appear more wide-set—it is also ridiculous to infer trustworthiness based on appearance alone. But we do it all the time. Just add this as “one more thing” to consider in preparing your witness or party for the courtroom.

Klapper, A., Dotsch, R., van Rooij, I., & Wigboldus, D. (2016). Do we spontaneously form stable trustworthiness impressions from facial appearance? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111 (5), 655-664 DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000062

Image taken from the article itself (the researchers used software to morph the faces)

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atheist-update-2016We’ve written about atheists here (and how unpopular they are in North America) a number of times. The first time was in 2010 when we wrote an article in The Jury Expert because we were so taken aback by the level of vitriol we’d seen in a blog post describing a new research article on atheists. We found the level of vitriol reserved for atheists hard to believe but, when we went to the literature, it was a consistent theme for decades.

It is hard to believe six years has passed since we wrote that article, but the authors of the original research article have published an update ten years later. Despite some religious groups improving their images in the eyes of the public in the last decade, the level of dislike for atheists has remained (although they are now statistically tied with Muslims) as “most disliked”.

In their ten-year update (drawing from the 2014 version of the nationally representative survey they used for the first article in 2003) the researchers tell us about how attitudes have not changed toward atheists and that the negativity toward atheists also colors perceptions of those who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. Here are a few quotes pulled from the new article that illustrate some of their findings.

While Muslims have surpassed atheists as the least-accepted group, Muslims and atheists still receive the most negative evaluations compared to all other groups in 2014, as they did in 2003.

…moral concerns about atheists are, in fact, relatively common in American society; for example, over a third of Americans (36 percent) either somewhat agree or strongly agree that atheists “lack a moral center”.

…it seems that the term “atheist” denotes a cultural category that signifies a general and diffuse sense of moral threat.

…public distrust of atheists is primarily motivated by cultural values, and private distrust of atheists is motivated by cultural values and private religious beliefs, but both effects are substantially mediated by respondents’ moral concerns about atheists.

Moral concerns about atheists have consequences for how Americans perceive the overall decline of religious affiliation. Overall, the spiritual but not religious (SBNRs) are more favorably perceived than are atheists; beliefs that atheists are immoral increase negative sentiment toward SBNRs.

Our analyses show that anti-atheist sentiment in the United States is persistent, durable, and anchored in moral concern. A substantial percentage of Americans see atheists as immoral, and are therefore significantly more likely to say that atheists do not share their vision of America and to disapprove of their son or daughter marrying an atheist.

Overall, atheists are still seen as “other” and devalued for having fewer morals than those with religious beliefs which may be weak but are not a complete repudiation of religiosity. The FBI has just released a report that hate crimes against Muslims are up by 67% in 2015 so (given that this survey was completed in 2014) Muslims are probably even more unpopular now.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it behooves us to pay special attention to atheists and Muslims involved (even as non-party witnesses) in jury trials. In the effort to overcome “otherness” regarding atheism, there are testimony topics that might be helpful. Atheists are thought of in terms of what they don’t believe, leaving open the question of what they do believe. Of course the answer to that is as diverse as the population, but it is a potentially positive association, rather than a negative one. Also, given the recent presidential elections and the aftermath protests and demonstrations, we would do well to pay special attention to bias against any party to litigation who is not White, and possibly also not male.

Only time will tell if the slightly more than ⅓ of the US electorate that elected Donald Trump will be emboldened in the deliberation room to actively and openly express discrimination toward parties of color. In the meantime, prepare witnesses and clients to espouse universal values and be vigilant to hidden (and not so hidden) biases whether anticipated or complete surprises.

Edgell, P., Hartmann, D., Stewart, E., & Gerteis, J. (2016). Atheists and Other Cultural Outsiders: Moral Boundaries and the Non-Religious in the United States. Social Forces, 95 (2), 607-638 DOI: 10.1093/sf/sow063

Image taken from article itself

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timely-tidbits-logoThink of these as scintillating secrets to selectively drop into casual conversation to stun and beguile your co-workers and acquaintances. Or things we thought interesting but couldn’t work into full blog posts.

Boomers DO NOT have a stronger work ethic than later generations

Despite the popularity of this belief, it is a myth. It has been disproven in study after individual study and now, some researchers took a look at all the actual data (rather than relying on anecdotal information shared repetitiously and inaccurately on the web— largely by aging Boomers) and here it is again (currently open access) from the Journal of Business and Psychology. The article is summarized at Science Daily and here is a quote from the summary:

The analysis found no differences in the work ethic of different generations. These findings support other studies that found no difference in the work ethics of different generations when considering different variables, such as the hours they work or their commitment to family and work. Zabel’s team did however note a higher work ethic in studies that contained the response of employees working in industry rather than of students.

So. Boomers. Just stop it. Millennials and Generation X are no lazier than any other generation and Boomers have no corner on work ethic. Just ask their older (Silent Generation) peers how Boomers were when they first joined the workplace.

Quick and without looking! Which is longer—your ring finger or your index finger?

Apparently most people have fingers the same length but if you do not here’s a quick interpretation for you.

If your index finger is shorter than your ring finger, you are likely better at physical and athletic tasks (but are also more prone to ADHD and Tourette’s).

If your ring finger is shorter than your index finger, you are likely better at verbal memory tasks (but more prone to anxiety and depression).

This is all about how much testosterone you were exposed to in the womb and is probably also not really true about many of us. Read more about finger-length and masculine versus feminine traits and skills over at Science Daily.

Fracking is losing favor—in the UK, support is at an all-time low… 

A few years ago we were hired to work on a fracking case and wanted to educate ourselves on public attitudes toward the practice of fracking. We wrote an article published in The Jury Expert looking at publicly available data. At that time, there was not much available that was not proprietary but what was visible made us not drink the local water on site at the pre-trial research! Four years later, there is a lot of data available (and mock jurors in other pretrial projects we’ve done on fracking-related litigation are often ambivalent).

Apparently, it is the same in the UK. A group at the University of Nottingham has been tracking public attitudes toward fracking since mid-2012. In a recent report of their work, they say support for fracking has fallen to an all-time low at 37.3% and opposition to fracking in the UK now at 41%. Scribd has the full report here.

Beyond dead salmon: What you need to know about fMRI research

We blogged about this issue but now there is an easily accessible and plain language web resource on what top neuroscientists want you to know about fMRI research and we wanted to share it with you. Brian Resnick over at the Vox site shares 7 points you need to know to knowledgeably speak on how fMRIs really work.

Secret rules on language English-speakers all know but don’t realize we know

This went viral a while back and you may have seen it but we both thought it was wonderful. So here it is again. From Mark Forsyth’s book The Elements of Eloquence on why we say Big Bad Wolf and not Bad Big Wolf.

“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”

Zabel, K., Biermeier-Hanson, B., Baltes, B., Early, B., & Shepard, A. (2016). Generational Differences in Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction? Journal of Business and Psychology DOI: 10.1007/s10869-016-9466-5

Currently open access here.

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replace-fear-of-the-unkonwnEarlier this week, we wrote on the question of whether those who have a higher score on the Need for Cognition Scale are just lazy (and the answer was no, not really). If you read this blog regularly, you know that bias is where we work and focus. We also like a curious juror (sometimes) and today we focus on how curiosity can address bias by helping jurors make wiser decisions informed by new data.

You may know the authors of this paper for their work at the Cultural Cognition Project (a collaboration among filmmakers, philosophers and psychologists) and the Cultural Cognition blog—both housed at Yale Law School. We also want to be sure you know the author of the plain language interpretation of this paper—Tom Stafford who operates the MindHacks blog focusing on neuroscience and psychology. Stafford wrote an article (based on this paper) for the BBC Future that is user-friendly and easy to understand for those who want to be sure they would like to dive into the full academic article. Stafford introduces the Cultural Cognition group paper with these disheartening sentences:

…people with the most education, highest mathematical abilities, and the strongest tendencies to be reflective about their beliefs are the most likely to resist information which should contradict their prejudices. This undermines the simplistic assumption that prejudices are the result of too much gut instinct and not enough deep thought. Rather, people who have the facility for deeper thought about an issue can use those cognitive powers to justify what they already believe and find reasons to dismiss apparently contrary evidence.

He sets up the Kahan et al. academic article as containing a possible answer to this maddening reality (and thus piques your curiosity to read the full paper). Or at least it piqued our curiosity. What the researchers wanted was to see if the growing political ideology divide would predict reactions to science information. So they devised a measure of how much scientific information/knowledge individual participants had and then checked to see if their political ideology (conservative versus liberal) would be more important than their pre-existing science knowledge when it came to hot button issues like global warming and fracking.

And it was— most scientifically informed liberals judged issues like global warming and fracking as dangerous to people, while most scientifically informed conservatives think that there were fewer risks.

In other words, political ideology was more important than pre-existing science knowledge and education when it came to views toward polarizing topics such as global warming or fracking.

These researchers though, had also devised a second measure—this one assessing science curiosity. And how they structured the curiosity measure was very creative. They disguised the measure as a general social marketing survey wherein participants were asked to identify their interests in a wide variety of items related to sports, finance, politics, popular entertainment and so on. Ultimately, they had a 12-item scale to measure Science Curiosity. They also allowed participants to express a preference as to whether they preferred to read a science story that would confirm their beliefs or surprise them.

What they found was that participants who scored higher on the curiosity scale were more likely to choose the story that would disconfirm their preexisting beliefs (that is, it would surprise them) and the participants enjoyed that process of surprise.

The researchers conclude their paper as follows:

Together these two forms of evidence paint a picture—a flattering one indeed—of individuals of high science curiosity. On this view, individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly, and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, if we can identify those potential jurors who are curious and enjoy the surprise of learning new things that potentially disconfirm pre-existing beliefs—we have an increased chance of getting them to listen to case facts and come to a different conclusion than they may have come to before hearing the new information. What we have to do is figure out how to surprise them and we have several blog posts on what happens to our brains when we experience surprise.

You can read more about the development of the initial Science Curiosity Scale at the SSRN website.

Kahn, Landrum, Carpenter, Helft, & Jameson (2016). Science curiosity and political information processing. Advances in Political Psychology.

Full-text of this article is here: http://www.culturalcognition.net/browse-papers/science-curiosity-and-political-information-processing.html

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murder-method-by-genderWhile it may be 2016, there are still some judges who view women and men differently even when they commit the same offense. When it comes to killing your spouse—apparently, the difference lies in the gender of the defendant.

Australian researchers looked at the sentencing remarks from nine different judges from trials involving men killing their spouses, and they looked at five trials with women killing their spouses. Sentencing remarks are those statements made by the judge to explain sentences assigned to the defendants who had been convicted of murdering their spouse. The researchers do not identify the gender of the judges but as our fellow bloggers over at BPS Research Digest comment—“the accounts include plenty of references to “His Honor” but none to “Her Honor”.

Ultimately, with male defendants, judges often talked about the man’s character and testimony from employers or community members. They emphasized the man’s suffering and emotional state, and referred to (in those cases where relevant) the anguish, distress, and depression the man suffered when his spouse left him. In one case, the judge blamed the spouse-victim for the conflict (as in, “she started it”)—while the male defendant ended the conflict permanently and violently.

Conversely, with female defendants, judges focused on negative references to the woman’s character (such as being indebted and unable to meet expenses, or being uncaring as to the effect of her actions on her children). Such character concerns were not raised when the defendant was male. Further, some judges described the victim-husband as being a “good provider” or being “honest and hard-working”. In 3 of the 5 cases with a female defendant, the sentencing judge used the word “wickedness” (e.g., “your wickedness knew no bounds”; it is hard to think of a more callous, heartless, wicked person”; “you chose a horrendous method indeed to carry out this wicked crime”).

The researchers comment that these judges see “good men” who kill because of their (now dead) spouses being conflict-initiators (provocateurs) while women who kill their spouses are “wickedly calculating” and sentencing should send a message to prevent other women from getting the same idea. In other words, these things happen when it comes to good men murdering their difficult wives (who likely brought their demise upon themselves). However, when the defendant is female, it is unthinkably wicked, and the sentencing must be harsh to keep other women from getting the same idea.

The authors conclude with this comment, “Females received substantially longer sentences in these cases than their male counterparts. This study also demonstrated that judges expressed more exculpatory remarks for the male offenders while making damning, indeed vilifying statements about the female offenders.”

Obviously, this is an anecdotal study with a small sample size, and no statistical conclusions can be drawn from it. With that said, from a litigation advocacy perspective, it is clear (especially if you are in Australia) that we need continued focus on gender issues in sentencing and on how bias (whether we are attorney, party, defendant, juror or judge) creeps into our thoughts about the crime committed and the gender of the defendant.

Hall, G., Whittle, M., & Field, C. (2015). Themes in Judges’ Sentencing Remarks for Male and Female Domestic Murderers. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 23 (3), 395-412 DOI: 10.1080/13218719.2015.1080142

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