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Archive for the ‘Case Presentation’ Category

pruny fingersHere again is a collection of tidbits we don’t deem worthy of a complete blog post but which might be of interest or even amusing to you.

Social media is how we get our news these days

While you may think Twitter is receding in importance, the numbers beg to differ. A new Pew Research study tells us that ever-increasing numbers of Americans get their news from Twitter and Facebook. Sixty-three per cent of users on both platforms say they use the social media sites for news outside the realm of friends and family. (These percentages are up from 52% for Twitter users and 47% for Facebook users in 2013 so the use of the platforms for news gathering is growing fast.) Both of the sites are preparing to launch news services that will undoubtedly be tailored to who you follow on Twitter and to what you “like” and what your gender is on Facebook. Social media involvement continues to be important for us to follow as we consider potential jurors but it just got a lot more complicated. To what headlines and stories has your potential juror been exposed just prior to trial?

Don’t eat fish for lunch when in trial 

Recent research examined whether people were made more suspicious when they were completing a task in a room with a “fishy smell” or a room with a neutral smell. Sure enough, the researchers conclude that “exposure to fishy smells is sufficient to elicit feelings of suspicion and distrust, which are associated with a focus on how things may differ from what meets the eye”. Probably better to not have that fish sandwich for lunch when in trial.

The best argument for childhood vaccinations thus far!

A new study just published in Science magazine pretty much kills the theory that it is better to build natural immunity than to take on the false immunity offered by vaccines. There’s never really been any fact to support that argument but here’s a huge finding from this new study: catching measles destroys any natural immunity and “resets” your immune system to that of a newborn. And, it takes two or three years for your “natural” immunity to recover. BUT WAIT! Before you share this with anyone who has an anti-vaccine stance—remember that could backfire on you.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is now a movie

You might recognize this experiment as the one where undergraduates were divided into prisoners and guards and locked in a campus building where after six days the experiment was stopped due to the guards being abusive and the prisoners becoming depressed and feeling helpless. Now it’s a movie. So if you’d rather see a movie than read about the experiment, check out The Stanford Prison Experiment.

Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome (SSSS): Do you have it?

Here’s a new disorder—although those who experience it would likely say it’s an old disorder that’s finally been given a name. It appears to result in everyday sounds being painful to the sufferer. According to a recent write-up in Pacific Standard magazine: “Those who suffer from misophonia recoil from human-made noises like chewing and whistling. The risks of being tormented by everyday experiences, like going to the movies only to find themselves sitting near a popcorn-cruncher, can make them too anxious to leave the house.” The jury is out on whether SSSS is a neurological or a psychiatric disorder.

Lee, D., Kim, E., & Schwarz, N. (2015). Something smells fishy: Olfactory suspicion cues improve performance on the Moses illusion and Wason rule discovery task Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 59, 47-50 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.03.006

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narcissist 2015We’ve written about narcissists a fair amount here and today’s post shows us that the brains of narcissists are indeed very special—but not in a good way since they have “weakened frontostriatal connectivity”.  But you probably knew that already. It’s a sort of neural disconnect, say the authors, between the self and reward. That disconnect may lead the narcissist to seek excessive reassurance from others.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky at Lexington recruited 50 undergraduate students and asked them to complete the Narcissistic Personality Index. Then they completed a specialized form of MRI with the participants: diffusion tensor imaging (a tool to measure the amount of connectivity between different brain areas). A very simplistic explanation of the technology is that it produces a spiderweb-like visualization of connections between different areas of the brain—you can literally see how much various parts of the brain are communicating.

The researchers were especially interested in an area known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is associated with thinking about ourselves, and a second and deeper region of the brain that is associated with reward and feeling good (the ventral striatum).

Even more specifically, they were interested in what they call “the density of the white matter tracts” between the two areas. The “white matter density” would highlight the level of connectivity between these areas of the brain—or, in other words, it would tell us how much these two areas of the brain are talking to each other. How often is the individual experiencing reward and feeling good about themselves?

So, the participants who have completed a measure of narcissism are lying in the MRI machine and having the number of connections between these two areas of the brain measured. Narcissists would say they have very high self-esteem and if that were true, they would have a high number of connections between these two parts of the brain since someone with high self-esteem would internally say nice things about themselves often.

Alas for the narcissists, the specialized brain scan did not show they had strong self-esteem. Instead, the higher the participants scored on the narcissism measure, the fewer connections they had between these two areas of the brain.

The researchers considered the finding and concluded that they see this as indicative of an “internal deficit in self-reward connectivity” in narcissists. In other words, if the narcissist is not having many rewarding thoughts or feelings about the self, they may seek out praise and admiration from others. Finally, the researchers suggest that the brain’s white matter can be modified: “clinical interventions can readily alter white matter integrity”. This fact, they say, suggests another way for narcissists to feel better on their own: repeated self-affirmations. This could help the narcissist refrain from what the researchers describe as characteristic “exhibitionism and immodesty”.

While intellectually interesting, from a litigation advocacy standpoint, we don’t think anyone will be putting neural evidence of neediness on the witness stand soon. But this study still points out an important reality: narcissism may indicate neediness.

Understand what to do when faced with a narcissist (in this case, the narcissistic witness).

Draw out the narcissist in cross-examination by asking for a sharing of expertise. Let jurors see how self-involved and arrogant the narcissist is when unscripted.

Use this understanding (of narcissistic neediness) to help you interact without rancor with a narcissistic colleague, client, or supervisor.

Chester, DS Lynam, DR Powell, DK DeWall, CN 2015 Narcissism is associated with weakened frontostriatal connectivity: a DTI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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humble-bragOh the “humblebrag”. It’s really not that long since career counselors were suggesting interview questions asking about weaknesses could be turned to the candidate’s advantage by responding about an alleged weakness that was really a strength. (“Weakness? I think I tend to be perfectionistic. I just can’t send in a report without double-checking it for spelling, grammar, and content errors.”) Alas, times change and now the humble brag is looked at with disdain.

We were pleased to see one of our favorite research groups publish a working paper on the art of humble bragging. And even more pleased to see the results of their work mirror the work on humble bragging we published in May of this year: it doesn’t work so just stop it. It is obnoxious. Ultimately, they say that if you want a self-promotion strategy, outright bragging is more effective than the deceptive humble bragging. Why? Because you are [oddly] seen as sincere when you brag.

They did five experiments in total:

First, they collected humblebrags from a Twitter account publishing them and asked a couple of (yes, that would be two) raters to indicate how likable, competent and sincere they thought the person who’d tweeted the humble brag was in real life. Then they were asked if they thought the person was complaining and if they thought the person might be humble bragging (showing off in the guise of a complaint).

The [two] raters didn’t like humble braggers  and did not see them as either sincere or competent. The researchers concluded that those who humble brag are seen as less likable, less sincere and less competent. [While this makes intuitive sense, we wish they had used more than two raters. In essence, we consider the character assessment aspect of this study to be without value.]

Second, the researchers examined humble bragging in job interviews. They gave 122 undergraduate students (67% female and average age 21.34 years) instructions to write detailed responses to the question “What is your weakness?” as though they were in a job interview. Then they asked the participants to explain the reason for their response (“Why would you answer the question, ‘What is your weakness?’ in this manner?”). Again, they had two raters analyze the resulting open-ended responses for humble bragging and whether the participant answered the second question that they were being honest (“This really is my weakness”) or strategic (“I want to get hired”) in their response.

77% of the participants chose to humble brag and just 23% gave a real weakness. (Just for your edification, the most common humble brag ‘weaknesses’ were identified as perfectionism, working too hard, being too nice and helpful, and being too fair and honest.) The [two] raters preferred the honest candidates who gave a real weakness.

Third, the researchers examined the effectiveness of humble bragging in comparison with both complaining and bragging when it comes to how much others like the person either bragging, complaining or humble bragging. For this experiment, 302 online research participants (average age 36.97 and 41.5% female) were told they would be evaluating another person. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three conditions: complain (“I am so bored”), brag (“People mistake me for a model”), or humble brag (“I am so bored of people mistaking me for a model”). The participants viewed the statements (based on the condition they’d been assigned to) and then rated how likable, sincere, and credible they thought the person saying this was.

As before, humble braggers were viewed more negatively than those who just brag outright and those who complained. Also again, humble braggers were seen as being insincere compared to the braggarts and complainers.

Fourth, the researchers examined whether humble bragging would affect how others perceive you. For example, someone who humble brags about “the problem with having graduated from two universities is that you get double the calls looking for donations” — may be seen as not very likable (due to the humble brag) but simultaneously as intelligent (despite the humble brag since she did graduate from two different universities). So the researchers wanted to see if the cost (being disliked) outweighed the benefit (an increase in perceived intelligence) when you humble brag. Again, they used an online sample of 201 (average age 35 years, 34.3% female) and assigned half to a brag condition (“I get hit on all the time”) and half to a humble brag condition (“Just rolled out of bed and still get hit on all the time, so annoying”). Noteworthy in this experiment is that the average age of the test subjects was 35, and the dilemma faced by the bragging conditions is the nuisance of being viewed as sexually attractive. Between the use of two raters for critical judgments and now this gaffe, we are tempted to wonder about the judgment of the researchers. But still, it is interesting. As before, the participants were asked how much they liked the person saying these things, how sincere they thought s/he was and finally, how attractive.

As before, humble braggers were seen as less likable, less sincere, and even less attractive than the braggers. The researchers concluded that humble bragging just has no real benefits. You really are better off bragging.

Finally, the (likely tired by now) researchers wanted to find out if people not only disliked the humble bragger but also treated them “less positively”. And this time, the researchers used actual cold, hard cash. Well, actually it was “virtual cash” but the idea is the same. We think. Anyway, the researchers used 154 online participants (average age 33.26 years and 35.1% female) and another 154 undergraduate students (average age 21.38 years and 70.5% female) The participants in each group were given pairs of statements (either humblebrags or outright brags) they were told came from their experimental partner and asked to rate likability, and sincerity and then to determine how they would split $5 between themselves and the (non-existent) person who’d allegedly written the comments.

Those research participants paired with humble braggers kept more of the $5 for themselves while this did not happen with the braggarts. As you have guessed by now, humble braggers are seen as insincere and that results in less likability and that results in (in this case) stingier (and meaner) treatment.

The researchers seem to think they’ve done enough work to show you that humble bragging just doesn’t work and is not useful (they go so far as to say it is “uniquely ineffective”) for impression management. We can’t speak to this being a “uniquely ineffective” strategy, but the lack of sincerity shown by the humble bragger results in quick dislike.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this has definite implications for both self-presentation and witness preparation.

Avoid humble bragging in your casual asides while in the courtroom and closely listen for humble bragging in witnesses. Sure, be proud of yourself, your company, what you have accomplished, but in a subdued way. The goal for both witnesses and attorneys is to be a likable source of useful information and to avoid aggravating your audience.  The instant dislike these researchers find for humble braggers is enough for us to recommend you watch for this increasingly ubiquitous self-promotion (in both yourself and while preparing witnesses) and avoid the negative costs in the courtroom.

Sezer, O., Gino, F., & Norton, M. (2015). Humblebragging: A Distinct And Ineffective Self-Presentation Strategy SSRN Electronic Journal DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2597626

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sc-police-shoots-unarmed-man-800Police and firefighters earned a major boost in respect and credibility after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. We routinely saw mock jurors expressing admiration and a belief that the police or firefighter client, witness or party was telling the truth. More recent news, however, has left many more suspicious of police officers’ testimony and sparked a movement: #BlackLivesMatter.

The Washington Post recently published an analysis of fatal police shootings from 2015 (almost 400 nationwide so far this year) and reported some disturbing facts:

About half those shot by police were white, half minority. But the demographics shifted sharply among those who were unarmed when shot, two-thirds of whom were black or Hispanic. Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting for the demographics of the census where the shootings occurred.

Ninety-two victims — nearly a quarter of those killed — were identified by police or family members as mentally ill.

Thus far, just three of the 485 fatal shootings have resulted in police officers being charged with a crime (less than 1%). This low rate of criminal charges against the police involved in fatal shootings mirrors the findings of a Post investigation in April that found that of thousands of fatal police shootings over the past decade, only 54 had produced criminal ­charges. Typically, those cases involved layers of damning evidence challenging the officer’s account. Of the cases resolved, most officers were cleared or acquitted.

NPR also recently wrote about the issues surrounding death while in police custody—including Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham, and Walter Scott among others. Even CNN reviewed the deaths, highlighting a number of additional men who died in police custody. Many of us [particularly those who are not African-American] have watched the news reports and videos of police officers shooting or otherwise harming/killing unarmed African-American men and wondered whether this has been happening all along and is just now coming to public awareness. Those in the African-American community likely wonder how we could not know, but also likely appreciate the growing awareness and concern across the country.

So it wasn’t really a surprise to see an article from the Detroit Free Press questioning whether police officers on the witness stand are facing more skeptical juries. This article focuses on how the recent plethora of news stories on deaths (especially of African-American men) in police custody has affected perception of police testimony. Just as police officers were imbued with a sort of ‘halo effect’ after 9/11/2001, perhaps they now have the opposite of that—regardless of how unfair that may be to the individual officer.

The Free Press article is useful for identifying questions you will want to cover in planning witness preparation or cross-examination. As one defense attorney quoted in the Free Press article says, “Maybe the scales are just being tipped back to where they’ve always belonged”.

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TVNewsLogoSo here’s a voir dire fantasy: When race is salient to your case, strike for cause all potential jurors who say they watch their local television news. For what cause?

Because they’re more likely to be racist—at least according to today’s research.

Local news coverage tends to focus on crime according to the researchers and they tend to cover crimes committed by African-Americans all out of proportion to their actual occurrence in the local community. The regular local TV News viewer might therefore be under the impression that African-Americans are a significant and dangerous criminal element in their community—and that impression is a distortion of the actual criminal activity engaged in by African-Americans in their community.

To test the hypothesis embedded in the previous sentence, researchers asked participants how many hours of local news coverage they watched on a daily basis. What they found was striking:

The more local news participants watched, the higher they scored on the Implicit Association Test (a measure of unconscious bias that we’ve written about  before).

In other words, regular exposure to stereotypical television news increases negative implicit biases in the viewer (which can, in turn, say the researchers, alter explicit attitudes and result in discriminatory behavior). This research finding is supported by a recent Media Matters report looking at local TV News coverage of crime (see graphic at right) as well as what the authors describe as a “substantial body of [additional] research” on biased news coverage. What is less clear is whether people who watch these news sources are “made more biased” by the reporting that they watch, or whether they watch the news because it reinforces the beliefs they already held.

media matters insertFrom a litigation advocacy perspective, it’s an intriguing issue. If we know that watching local news corresponds to higher levels of implicit biases (biases of which we are unaware), which increase likelihood of explicit biases (biases of which we’re aware) which, in turn, can result in discriminatory actions—would that not be an important variable to assess? It is at least of interest at the pretrial level to see if the report of local news viewing is related to eventual verdict. Hmmm. Perhaps jurors don’t need to watch the news during the trial to be affected by it; maybe it is telling that they watched local news during the week prior to jury duty.

Arendt, F, & Northup, T (2015). Effects of long-term exposure to news stereotypes on implicit and explicit attitudes. International Journal of Communication,, 9, 732-751

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