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Time for an update on who lies, why they lie, and how you can spot them. We’ve written a lot about deception in the past but there’s always more to say (believe it or not). We’re going to cover several articles in this post and discuss each of them briefly so you can explore the items in greater depth if they strike a chord of interest.

60% of us lie in everyday conversation 

When we think of liars, we often think of “them”. But new research out of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst says it is more common than not to lie routinely and often. The study used 121 pairs of undergraduates who were told the purpose of the study was to examine how people interact when they meet someone new. They all had ten minutes to converse but some were told to make themselves seem likable, some were told to make themselves appear competent, and others (the control group) were not told to present themselves in any specific way. After the interaction, the research participants were shown videotapes of the interaction and asked to point out any lies they had told.

The researchers found that, in their research sample, “60% lied at least once during a 10-minute conversation and told an average of two or three lies”.

It’s hard to say if this rate of lying would occur in interactions where no one is told to behave or present themselves in a certain way. But it makes it clear that if you are trying to make a good impression, you may lie more often than not. And if you are talking with someone who is likely attempting to impress you, take their claims with a grain of salt.

Spotting a liar

We routinely see how-to articles on spotting a liar but it is easier said than done. Here’s one from NBC News that tries to summarize the research on deception but ends up sensationalizing the results a bit (aka perhaps lying). They say that if you say you never lie, you are a liar and they comment on how poorly people fare when they attempt to detect deception. And then they give you “five steps to becoming a human lie detector” and give glossy explanations of how to understand the research. We think this one is worth your time if you want a quick overview of the research and want to see how people learn their information and misinformation on spotting deception.

Are scheming and dishonesty just part of being human?

Finally here’s an article from National Geographic on “why” we lie. This is a really wide-ranging article that shares a lot of information on various types of lies and liars as well as the motivations for lying by various people. It will teach you a lot about hoaxers, con artists, and visual artists that try to fool you, and enlighten you on things that are, in fact, lies—but also very cool and funny. It’s a weirdly wonderful journey through the neuroscience of lying and all the motivations behind various kinds of lies. They even get to fake news and its proliferation as well as the advantages to us of all the technology available to us—and the reality that technology has opened up “a new frontier for deceit”.  And if you want even more, there is a good writeup in The Guardian of a pathological liar who was also very bright and a medical researcher. Despite his accomplishments, he just couldn’t stop lying.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these are important areas on which to keep informed. It is important to maintain an awareness of what jurors see as “indicators” of deception—whether those indicators are truly indicative of deception or not. The more you know about what people assume, the better you can prepare witnesses and the better you can monitor your own distracting non-verbal behaviors that might just make some juror solemnly declare to others in the deliberation room that you were obviously lying in your closing statement.

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Today’s highlighted research looks at ways to communicate with people who ignore evidence that contradicts their beliefs and values. This tendency is called “dogmatism” and essentially reflects one’s (un)willingness to revise their beliefs when presented with new evidence. And some people simply will not revise their beliefs no matter what the evidence! We’ve all seen it—the self-appointed expert who knows they are right while others are so very wrong. In fact, we’ve seen it so often in pretrial research that we wrote a post on a way to dethrone that self-appointed expert.

This is a very interesting study that may be much more broadly applicable to cherished beliefs in general (e.g., your eating habits, your political opinions, and your beliefs about climate change and evolution) rather than only to religion (which is what these researchers studied). In brief, the researchers looked at what factors drove dogmatism in people who were religious versus those who were not religious.

And they found a strange similarity: Regardless of whether you were in the religious or not-religious group—if you were a critical thinker, you were less dogmatic. But when you factor in moral concerns—the two groups have very different responses.

For religious people, emotional resonance (i.e., something that ‘feels’ right to you) results in more certainty—if a position is more morally correct from their perspective—the more certain they feel.

So, the researchers say, to effectively communicate your information, you should appeal to the religious dogmatist’s sense of moral concern. Identify their strongly held position, and support the way it applies to your case, and emphasize that “wrong is wrong”.

For nonreligious people, a position involving moral concerns actually results in less certainty.

For this group, the researchers say, to effectively communicate your information, you should appeal to the non-religious dogmatists unemotional logic. Reinforce the moral position (to the extent that it is widely held) and offer the evidence and reasoned judgment that everyone wants.

The researchers also say that whether the person was religious or not, the more rigid the individual (whether rigidly religious or rigidly logical)—the less likely the person was to be empathic (i.e., consider the perspectives of others).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, you want to be able to talk to both extremes (the religious dogmatist and the nonreligious dogmatist). Of course in an ideal world, you would not have people with strong dogmatism and/or rigidity on your jury. Since the world of voir dire and jury selection is an imperfect one, you want to build both moral concerns and logic into your case narrative.

This research really focuses on what we have talked about and blogged about for many years. You need to tell a story that resonates with the strongly held beliefs and problem-solving approaches to which jurors relate. Without appearing to pander, talk about moral right and wrong. For the dogmatic and non-religious jurors, go through the evidence that establishes the case. But you can also anchor it to the moral guideposts that the religiously dogmatic rely on, it deepens the connection.

The result of getting it just right is that both personality types will hear you supporting their sensibilities for reaching a verdict.

Friedman, JP Jack AI 2017 What makes you so sure? Dogmatism, fundamentalism, analytic thinking, perspective taking, and moral concern in the religious and nonreligious. Journal of Religion and Health.

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We’ve written about CRISPR (aka human gene editing) before, and wanted to share this new survey with you. When last we blogged, it was to cover the Pew survey on fears about gene editing (and the potential for creation of a super-human). As you can imagine, there was some ambivalence over whether this was a good thing, as well as concerns about the creation of a society where genetically enhanced people ruled those who were not genetically enhanced. Here’s what we wrote a year ago: .

You may be surprised at how ambivalent the public is about using these new tools. As Pew says, “Americans are more worried than enthusiastic” about how these tools will be used. And, as this technology veers more and more into public awareness, being aware of the ambivalence with which Americans view this ground-breaking technology is going to become increasingly important for trial lawyers.

So we were surprised to see a new headline in the online publication The Verge saying that ⅔ of Americans now approve of human gene editing to treat disease. It seemed odd since just last year, Pew’s survey told us this about sick little babies:

Even when it comes to gene editing with the promise of helping prevent diseases for their own babies [emphasis added]—48% support the idea and 50% do not.

And now ⅔ of Americans support gene editing? It just seemed like too sudden a turn around. And—as it turns out, it was. You have probably figured out by now that this is just the latest in a string of directives from us to go to the original source to make sure things are interpreted correctly in secondary source materials.

While the Verge article is based on the full survey results, it does not accurately reflect the ambivalence in the actual survey published by Science Magazine. The graphic illustrating this post shows you that what the headline writers over at The Verge did was to count those who supported human gene editing for specific use as a therapeutic tool to correct disease in human beings. But that leaves out a big part of the picture.

This headline does not include the concerns of those who don’t want the changes to be hereditary and thus change the human germline [aka, these changes would now be inheritable] down the road—which would ostensibly mean that if you are going to have gene editing done, you must either be a male or agree never to have children if you are female so that the germline remains unchanged by human intervention.

And, as you might intuitively predict, what the Science Magazine survey really showed us was that people who had high levels of knowledge on gene editing were more likely to support its use, while those who were religiously active were less likely to support the use of gene editing on humans due to ethical and moral concerns. What both groups agreed on, however, was that scientists should not make these choices alone. Both groups wanted scientists to somehow “engage the public” in a dialogue so that the eventual use of human gene editing would be one that reflected the concerns and wishes of all of American society. That’s a pretty tall bar.

We know that how you ask a question makes a huge difference. If someone is asked whether they think gene editing should be used to protect people from hereditary diseases, they may initially agree. However, when you then ask if they would agree to allow those changes to ‘permanently change the human germline’, you see more resistance to the entire process of human gene editing. As we said back when we blogged on the Pew survey of American attitudes toward gene editing,

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these responses are not necessarily intuitive. While we might intuit that allowing babies to be born without diseases would be a positive thing, respondents did not necessarily agree. They see it as being more complex. Although the parents of that baby struggling with a serious disease would likely strongly support the new technology for helping their child, others might well say “that sounds good, but this is a slippery slope and where will it lead?”.

As with all “hot button” issues, this is one that will require careful pretrial research to identify the most effective way to tell a story that will not set off knee-jerk morally based reactions to the use of new technologies. People want to feel safe from disease, but also from a world where science fiction movies come to life. Equally uncertain is how people see the role of government in nurturing innovation while protecting the public from science run amok.

We think those recommendations still make sense today. When you have an exciting whiz-bang technology like CRISPR, you may get so excited about it that you presume jurors will be excited (and support your case) too. But slow down—with any great advance in technology, there is also often great fear, so do some pretrial research to see how mock jurors respond to your presentation of the technology. It’s likely going to be a pretty complicated response that will require refining your presentation in ways you might not predict.

Dietram A. Scheufele, Michael A. Xenos, Emily L. Howell, Kathleen M. Rose, Dominique Brossard, Bruce W. Hardy. U.S. attitudes on human genome editing. Science Magazine, 11 AUGUST 2017 VOL 357 ISSUE 6351.

Images taken from Science Magazine article cited above

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released a report on racial and ethnic differences in homicides of adult women. After you read this, you will want to be very careful out there! As it happens, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women in the US who are age 44 or younger. Whether you are more likely to be murdered varies with your race and/or ethnicity. However, one thing does not vary—over half of female victims (where circumstances were known) were killed by “a current or former male intimate partner”. The CDC calls this “intimate partner violence” or IPV.

Here are some of the scary and yet evidence-based facts related to women being murdered through IPV, in data collected between 2003 and 2014.

Common events prior to IPV related homicides were “arguments [29.7%] and jealousy [12%]”. Arguments and jealousy preceding murder were most common among Hispanic victims than among non-Hispanic Black and White victims.

1 in 10 victims of IPV related homicide had experienced violence in the month prior to their death. Most in IPV related homicides were killed by either a current partner (79.2%) or a former intimate partner (14.3%).

Adult female homicide victims (between 2003 and 2014) ranged in age from 18 to 100 (yes, you read that correctly. 100). One third of female homicide victims were between 18 and 29 years old and the largest segment of victims had never married or were single at the time of death. About 15% of women victims who were of reproductive age (18-44 years as defined by the CDC) were either pregnant or less than 6 weeks postpartum.

Non-Hispanic Black women had the highest rate of death due to homicide, while non-Hispanic White women and Asian/Pacific Islander women had the lowest.

One-third of the victims had attended some college or more.

Firearms were used in almost 54% of female homicides. Other methods of killing included sharp instrument (19.8%), hanging, suffocation or strangulation (10.5%), and blunt instrument (7.9%).

To illustrate the heightened emotion and fear before women are killed, the CDC report tells us that over half (54.5%) of these homicides occurred during what is call “another crime in progress”. In these cases, the women were murdered following assault (45.6%), rape and sexual assault (11.1%), and burglary (9.9%).

The statement the CDC uses to begin their Discussion section is obvious and yet jarring.

“Homicide is the most severe health outcome of violence against women.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this data can be used to demonstrate that violence against women often has lethal consequences, and it is often the culmination of domestic violence. These data illustrate the cold reality behind the tendency for homicide investigators to suspect the spouse or intimate partner when women are killed.

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This issue has been the banner of a number of well-known male bloggers who encourage their readers to pile on [with their generally anonymous screen names] when commenters do not agree with the blogger.

These bloggers make comments like, “it’s my blog and I make the rules” to justify boorish behavior. Granted. We don’t choose to interact with bullies—online or otherwise. We have been the subject of the entire spectrum of comment for our writing over the years of The Jury Room, including bizarre and wildly over-the-top trash-talking from a few other bloggers. We do not like it. We ignore it. We move on–as does our readership.

So we were glad to see this article released by the Pew Research Center on Online Harassment in 2017. The really good news is, they released a survey on the same topic in 2014 and so can compare some of the data to see if online harassment is increasing. In a word? Yes. Pew begins by introducing the problem of online harassment this way:

To borrow an expression from the technology industry, harassment is now a “feature” of life online for many Americans. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, it can compromise users’ privacy, force them to choose when and where to participate online, or even pose a threat to their physical safety.

As usual, Pew offers information on just whom they surveyed. In this case, they surveyed 4,248 nationally representative US adults and found that 41% have been harassed themselves and 66% have witnessed the harassment of others online. In some cases, the behaviors are nuisance behaviors like name-calling or efforts to embarrass someone, but 18% of Americans (that is, nearly 1 in 5) “have been subjected to particular severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment, or stalking”.

Social media platforms are an especially harassment-prone area but there are multiple places survey respondents report they have been harassed. Most of them believe harassment is facilitated by the anonymity offered by the internet (and, we would add, the frequent use of pseudonyms). Here are a few of the numbers Pew offers on how many Americans have experienced harassment.

41% of respondents [increased from 35% in 2014] have been personally subjected to at least one type of online harassment: 27% were called offensive names, 22% say efforts were made to intentionally embarrass them, 10% were physically threatened, and 6% reported sexual harassment. The 41% total includes those who’ve experienced particularly severe forms of harassment (Pew defines this as stalking, physical threats, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time).

Young adults (aged 18-29) are especially singled out for harassment (67% have been harassed—41% severely). At the same time, 30-49 years olds experience harassment frequently as well (49%—up 10% since 2014). Americans age 50 and older report harassment at a lower rate (22% also up 5% since 2014).

Harassment online is typically very personal. 14% reported being harassed for political views, 9% for their physical appearance, 8% for their race or gender, 5% for their religion, and 3% for sexual orientation.

When we look at specific racial groups, 25% of Blacks have been harassed online for race or ethnicity as have 10% of Hispanics. The number among Whites is much lower at 3%. In terms of gender, women (11%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to report having been targeted as a result of gender.

62% of Americans see online harassment as a major problem and only 5% think it is not at all a problem. There are significant gender differences of opinion that Pew addresses in detail when it comes to the problems with online harassment. There are also significant differences among those who have been severely harassed (regardless of gender) and these differences include serious emotional distress and damage to their reputations.

These are good things to review at the report itself to help you understand how the exact same behavior is perceived so very differently based on both gender and experiences online. There is also disagreement on who should manage online civility. Some think it is the responsibility of online services while others think the services should just offer better tools to help people address harassment online. Still others think bystanders witnessing abusive behavior online should play a direct role in stopping it.

In addition to the actual survey, Pew also includes a Q&A article explaining how and why they chose to study online harassment. If you are interested in a brief summary rather than reading the entire article (which isn’t that long), they also have a key points summation.

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