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beeper vs iPhoneBack in the early ‘90s, I had a job that required me to carry a beeper. The constant awareness that I was “on call” was a source of strain and led me to complain I was never really “off duty”. Flash forward to this century and I cannot imagine being without my smart phone. In fact, I often double-check to be sure I have my iPhone when I am on the go so I never leave it behind. It’s a whole different sort of anxiety about being separated from my iPhone than I felt toward that beeper.

And I am not alone. Today’s researchers examine how many of us are anxious when separated from our instant access to email, texting, the internet, and the ability to make phone calls. They go so far as to say “cell phone separation can have serious psychological and physiological effects on iPhone users, including poor performance on cognitive tests”. Further, they say, “iPhone are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state”. Seriously?

Researchers conducted what they call a “multistaged experiment”. They used a survey phase to recruit 208 participants from three separate journalism courses. Of those 208, 136 completed the online questionnaire to allegedly “understand media usage among a sample of college students”. (In truth, the researchers were looking for iPhone users and found 117 iPhone users in the 136 who completed the survey.)

Those 117 iPhone users were contacted again and told they could participate in a second study for additional course credit and a $50 gift card. Of the 117, 41 (73% female, average age 21.2 years, 88% White, 5% Black, 5% Asian and 2% Hispanic) agreed to participate in a 20 minute experiment.

The purpose of the 20 minute experiment was to see what happened to “perceived level of self, cognition, emotion and physiology” when the participant was separated from their iPhone and the iPhone was ringing. However, the participants were told they were testing the accuracy of a new blood pressure cuff while completing word search puzzles. The researchers had the participants complete word search puzzles while hooked up to the blood pressure cuff and either having their iPhone or not having their iPhone (since it was allegedly interfering with the blood pressure cuff operation and so the participant was asked to set their iPhone on a table four feet away from them).

The researchers found that participants separated from their iPhones had increases in heart rate, increases in self-reports of feeling unpleasant, found fewer words in their word search puzzles, increases in blood pressure levels, and higher self-reported anxiety.

The researchers conclude that being separated from your iPhone results in poorer cognitive performance and thus you may not want to be separated from your iPhone during tasks requiring significant mental performance (think test-taking, meetings, classes, and even perhaps, jury duty). The distraction and loss of your sense of self when separated from your iPhone may make you perform more poorly on those tasks. (Somewhere, Steve Jobs is smiling.)

While we wonder if this level of intrusive anxiety and poor performance is unique to college students (as measured by the FOMO scale) who have grown up with the constant presence of various cell phones and smart phones, it does raise the question of whether jurors are distracted from their deliberations by the court instructions to not use the internet, or post status updates about their experiences, or communicate with anyone, or quickly look up the definition of a word or phrase. And in Federal courts, you are usually banned from bringing the phone into the courthouse.

Being told to not use your phone is along the same lines as placing your iPhone out of your reach and not being able to answer it. Does it have the same effect? Are jurors struggling with distraction over not being able to use their phones? If yes, all the more reason to tell them why we don’t want them to use their smartphones. It probably won’t make the distraction go away, but it may help them understand why it is important.

Clayton, R., Leshner, G., & Almond, A. (2015). The Extended iSelf: The Impact of iPhone Separation on Cognition, Emotion, and Physiology Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication DOI: 10.1111/jcc4.12109

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conspiracy theoriesIt is no secret that we are intrigued by conspiracy theorists here at The Jury Room. Not only are they good for entertainment value during pretrial research, they are also very useful to help us plug holes in case narrative that could derail deliberations. When it comes to the actual trial though, conspiracy enthusiasts are usually seen as too risky for either side, and their presence often results in agreed strikes.

Here’s an interesting piece of research that doesn’t really help us to identify the individual conspiracy buff, but, does tell us the sort of environment in which the conspiracy theorist thrives.

These researchers believe that emotional uncertainty creates a desire (even a need) to compensate. We try to achieve a sense of certainty and, despite how odd it may sound, there is comfort in the conspiracy theory (since it can provide an explanation for why things are the way they are). Whether it is a reasonable or logical explanation is not what is important. And it isn’t just conspiracy theories that give us comfort in times of uncertainty. Horoscopes, seeing real or even illusory patterns, belief in a strong government or a “controlling and interventionist god”– all these things give a sense of stability and order in the world. Or as the authors put it,

“Whether one finds comfort in a strong government, astrological predictions, or vast conspiracies mapping out our fates, all are responses potentially driven by the uncertain seeking predictable structure in our capricious world.”

So, the researchers wanted to see if emotional uncertainty could affect conspiracy beliefs, beliefs in the paranormal, or the tendency to defend government actions. They used emotions that resulted in both certainty and uncertainty, as well as positive and negative emotions. Specifically, they examined happiness and contentment (certain and positive emotions); anger and disgust (certain and negative emotions); surprise and hope (uncertain and positive emotions); and worry and fear (uncertain and negative emotions). Once they identified these emotions, they asked 251 participants (112 male, average age 32.5 years) recruited from an online survey program to:

“Please recall a particular incident in which you were very [emotion]. What made you feel [emotion]? Recall this situation as vividly as you can. Please describe this situation in which you were [emotion] — what happened, how you felt, etc.”

By asking for this description of the situation, the researchers are “priming” the research subjects to re-experience the emotions. In this pretest, they found that when they asked participants to respond to this stimulus, participants felt the emotion described and their experiences were indeed experienced as either certain or uncertain (as the researchers had intended). The researchers then moved on to three separate experiments.

In the first experiment, the researchers examined the support of governmental defense and had 98 participants complete the same emotional recall task. They found that those in uncertain emotional conditions scored higher on (that is, they felt more strongly positive about government defense.

When they were uncertain, they wanted stronger governmental defense.

On the second experiment, the researchers looked at conspiracies and the paranormal. The 97 participants completed the same emotional recall task as before and were then asked to read scenarios that were purposely ambiguous “as to whether several individuals were coordinating their efforts to obtain an outcome”. Then they answered items from two scales measuring their belief in the paranormal. Again, those in uncertain emotional conditions showed greater endorsement of conspiracy beliefs and greater endorsement of belief in the paranormal.

When they were uncertain, there was higher belief in both conspiracy and the paranormal.

Finally, in the third experiment, the researchers looked at whether they could intervene in a way that would negate the power of the uncertain emotions. They cite prior research saying “having individuals contemplate and affirm important values they hold increases many positive states, including perceptions of personal control”. This time the researchers asked 161 participants (161 male, average age 29.8 years) to identify which of six values taken from  the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Values scale were most important to them. In the affirmation condition, the participants were asked to complete a subscale on the same value they had ranked most important. This, said the researchers, gave the participants the opportunity to self-affirm (that is, focus on things of greatest importance to themselves, giving them a greater sense of self-assurance). Those in the no-affirmation condition completed a subscale on the value they ranked as least important to them (and thus had no affirmation).

This time, those who had uncertain emotions but were given a chance to self-affirm, had no desire for increased government defense. In other words, self-affirmation worked to help participants feel they had control and structure and thus they did not look to external aids (like increased government defense) to help them feel safer.

Overall, say the researchers, uncertainty in emotional state–regardless of whether it is positive or negative– leads to a desire for structure and a sense of control. Thus, uncertain people are prone to accept conspiracy theories, belief in the paranormal, and to endorse agreement with higher levels of governmental defense. Those tendencies can be curbed, however, by offering the uncertain individual self-affirmation. Self-affirmation stabilizes the uncertainty and allows the individual to respond in a measured way not driven by the uncertainty.

This raises interesting questions about case presentation at trial. There is a tendency to want to satisfy jurors’ interest in “knowing” all of the facts. But this research says that in some cases, leaving jurors with a sense of uncertainty or foreboding might actually bring them to a state of mind more useful to your case.

Do you want to focus their attention on a particular alleged wrong-doer (typically a Plaintiff or Prosecution goal), or do you want to create a diffusion of responsibility, where it is borne by a number of parties, perhaps some not named in the dispute (more likely a Defense goal)?

So part of the task for the psychologically savvy trial lawyer is to give thought to what kind of emotional tone is best for jurors to carry into deliberations.

Do jurors tend to favor your position when they feel centered, focused on their values and priorities, and confident?

Do they think your way when they are worried or anxious, uncertain about life, and powerless?

This knowledge won’t change the facts, and the impact of this research is nuanced. But when you are seeking out every advantage you can identify, this is one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Whitson, J., Galinsky, A., & Kay, A. (2015). The emotional roots of conspiratorial perceptions, system justification, and belief in the paranormal Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 89-95 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.09.002

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Serial-2I like to think I keep up with trends and popular culture. Apparently though, I have been asleep at the popular culture wheel since I completely missed this until it was over. On the other hand, since the podcast had completely aired, I could binge-listen a la House of Cards. And binge-listen I did.

Serial, a podcast spinoff from This American Life (and touted as the most popular podcast of all time) is now here. You might think of Serial as a documentary of sorts—except in audio rather than video (and with enough journalistic flair to make it compelling listening). Twelve episodes (each roughly an hour) take us through what happened at trial, and review evidentiary documents and interviews as well as examining the distortions that ultimately arose. As narrator (Sarah Koenig, a journalist) says, our review of the evidence leaves us with more questions than answers.

Often described as a murder mystery or a whodunit thriller—Serial is, to my way of thinking, an exercise in understanding reasonable doubt. This true-life podcast has generated an incredible amount of media attention with witnesses and prosecutors taking issue with how they were presented in the podcast. Here’s a “rebuttal” interview on Serial from the prosecutor in the case, here’s the media reply from Serial producers saying they repeatedly attempted to make contact with the prosecutor, and another from the prosecution witness “Jay”.

Serial’s narrator, Sarah Koenig, is so naïve about the criminal justice system it can seem hard to believe. But her naïveté serves as an important reminder for us all of how foreign the criminal justice system is and how important it is for us to teach jurors what their job is so they can understand how to do their work effectively.

Here’s a snapshot of the podcast:

Adnan Syed was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend while they were both in high school. That was 1999. He is still in prison, has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and appears to have been convicted on circumstantial evidence. Mostly. Some say his conviction is the result of religious discrimination (Syed is Muslim). Others have said the podcast itself smacks of white (reporter) privilege. But you can decide for yourself.

Real. Real people. Real lives. Real jury deliberations. Real consequences (whether you agree with them or not). You can download Serial here:  http://serialpodcast.org

Addendum: Just before we posted this, Gideon at the blog apublicdefender.com posted his own thoughts about Serial. We tend to agree with commenters Larry M and Sujal about the benefits of Serial for shining a light on the fallibility of the criminal justice system.

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brain scienceIf you think neurolaw and neuroscience are everywhere–and don’t find it particularly challenging to talk about brain science, apparently you are living in a very rarified environment. It’s hard to believe but evidently, most people do not think the exploding field of brain science is fascinating! Instead, when they think of brain science they think of things that are far removed from their daily lives and things that make them anxious. [Or bore them to tears.] For litigators this has crucial ramifications, since any body of technical information that is worth presenting to a jury requires understanding if it is to be useful.

UK scientists interviewed 48 London residents about “brain science”. They found that most of the interviewees believed that they would only find themselves interested in learning more about brain science if they developed a neurological illness. Maybe… too little too late?

The researchers identified four themes in the participant’s interviews: the brain is something in the science domain; there was significant angst that something could go wrong with the brain; there was a belief that we are all in control of our brains to some extent, and that our brains are what makes us all different and unique. The individual quotes the researchers included however, highlight the lack of awareness of brain science or research:

“Brain research I understand, an image of, I don’t know, a monkey or a dog with like the top of their head off and electrodes and stuff on their brain.” [Male participant]

“It does conjure up images of, you know, strange men in white coats.” [Female participant]

“You just, like I say, blind people with science, don’t you. And then it becomes a subject that you just don’t understand. With me, I just switch off. I’m not understanding what you’re talking about here, so I just switch off.” [Male participant]

“Where do these people come from, that actually understand these things?” [Female participant]

The researchers highlight the reality that most people do not see “brain science” as something relevant or a part of their lives. However, if an individual developed a mental illness or a neurological condition–they believe they would have more interest in learning. Without those catalysts, however, they have little interest in pushing themselves to understand more. The researchers report the concept of “brain science” seemed foreign or “baffling” to most of those interviewed.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study highlights the importance of teaching the science. Whether “the science” of a specific case is patent law, high-tech and abstract concepts, or actual “brain science”–jurors need to hear it and have a sense that they understand it enough to actually make judgments on the case. Keep in mind that they are going to judge it whether it is understood or not. The question is simply whether the judgment is going to be informed by bias, by knowledge, or by a coin flip and a longing to be done with jury duty. We know from 20 years of interviewing jurors that they strongly prefer having clear understanding. And that, dear litigator, is up to you.

We have worked on cases in which animation helped jurors make sense of complex computer programming and on others where the analogy of ordering a pizza with different toppings or a hamburger with or without special sauce were used to help jurors understand different technology applications in an especially complex patent infringement case. We’ve also worked on cases where there were allegations of neurological injuries but a very normal looking Plaintiff and jurors had to “see” the injuries somehow to help them understand what had been lost.

Never lose sight of how foreign the concepts truly are, and help jurors understand so they do not have to “shut off” as one of the interviewees in this study confessed to doing. Often, our mock jurors help to make the abstract and complex both concrete and simple, or at least familiar. Just because you have been buried in a case for years and live, eat and breathe the science, doesn’t mean jurors will have a clue about what you are presenting to them. Teach them in a way that helps them relate the abstract and esoteric to their everyday lives. It empowers them to make the right call. If you don’t know how to explain it to ‘real people’, gather a group of mock jurors and ask them what makes sense, where they get lost, and what analogies are most useful to them. If you invite them to the conversation in the right way, they’ll tell you.

O’Connor, C., & Joffe, H. (2014). Social Representations of Brain Research: Exploring Public (Dis)engagement With Contemporary Neuroscience Science Communication, 36 (5), 617-645 DOI: 10.1177/1075547014549481

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Same sex marriage is okay but please, no PDA!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

We are again honored by our inclusion in the ABA Blawg 100 list for 2014. If you value this blog, please take a moment to vote for us here in the Litigation Category. Voting closes on December 19, 2014. Doug and Rita

same sex pdaWe’ve blogged a number of times about changing attitudes toward same sex marriage.  The majority of Americans now support same sex couples being allowed to marry but that doesn’t mean we want to watch “them” be publicly affectionate.

And “we” are not alone. Even gays and lesbians express some discomfort with public displays of affection (PDA) for same-sex couples. The authors see this as “entrenched prejudice” on the part of heterosexuals and perhaps, as an “internalized stigma” for gays and lesbians responding to the survey.

The researchers surveyed 1,073 Americans (258 lesbians, 310 gay men, 240 straight women and 265 straight men). They were randomly assigned to read vignettes about a couple who met, fell in love and had been living together for the past 2 years. One-third read about “Brian and Jennifer”. Another third read about “Heather and Jennifer” and the final group read about “Brian and Matt”.

After they read the vignettes describing either a heterosexual couple, a lesbian couple or a gay couple, they were asked to respond to a series of queries about this specific couple’s rights. Some of the questions were of a more formal legal nature (like about inheritance or hospital visitation rights) while others were more informal such as their right to tell others they were a couple, hold hands or kiss in public settings. For each question, participants responded on a 4-point Likert scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

On formal (legal) rights, there were no differences for heterosexual males approval for the same rights for heterosexual, gay or lesbian couples. Heterosexual women were more approving of insurance benefits for the lesbian couple than the heterosexual couple. Gay and lesbian participants were more approving of all the formal rights for gay and lesbian couples than for heterosexual couples (which makes sense, since they are seeing these couples as “in group” members).

When it comes to informal rights, the picture grows murkier.

Heterosexual males were less approving of informal privileges [defined here as holding hands in public or kissing] for both the gay and lesbian couples than for the heterosexual couple–and they were significantly less approving of the gay couple than the lesbian couple.

Heterosexual females also approved more of the heterosexual couple’s informal privileges than either the gay or lesbian couples–but they did not approve of the lesbian couple over the gay couple.

Lesbian and gay participants were sometimes more willing to grant informal privileges to the heterosexual couple over their own in-group couple. Lesbians and gays were both less approving of their own in-group couple holding hands in public compared to the heterosexual couple. Lesbians thought it was okay to kiss on the cheek or French kiss for both lesbian couples and heterosexual couples, but gays were significantly less approving of the gay couple kissing on the cheek or French kissing than they were for the heterosexual couple.

The authors say that the bias against these informal rights may reflect attitudes that are changing more slowly than our attitudes toward legal rights. They also highlight the reality that the gay couple are penalized more than the lesbian couple and more work should explore this issue.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is useful information. When we think about our changing jurors and their changing attitudes toward same-sex marriage, this survey warns us to make no assumptions on what behaviors are seen as “acceptable” in public. Homophobic responses and disapproval can arise anywhere–much like bias that arises covertly around issues of race and citizenship. Being aware of how bias against sexual orientation continues can aid you in party and witness preparation for in court appearance, behavior and testimony.

Doan, L., Loehr, A., & Miller, L. (2014). Formal Rights and Informal Privileges for Same-Sex Couples: Evidence from a National Survey Experiment American Sociological Review, 79 (6), 1172-1195 DOI: 10.1177/0003122414555886

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