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older adults and fraudOf course you did. But you may want to take a look at this study because, maybe, it isn’t true after all. It certainly is a well-known myth if it is not true. This appears to be one of those situations where we add up what we know and then come up with a conclusion that just doesn’t appear to be true. Here’s what we know: research on cognitive age-related changes and emotional age-related changes tells us there are indeed shifts that can increase the vulnerability of the older adult to consumer fraud. We conclude, thus, they are defrauded more often.

This research, which is actually simply a review of the actual data on consumer fraud, says the older adult may be more at risk but there is no data-based evidence to say they actually are defrauded at a higher rate than younger adults. In fact, the older adult may be more savvy than we assume–these researchers say perhaps it is the protective factor of “increased experience and changes in goals, lifestyle, income, as well as purchasing and risk behaviors”. Or, in less geeky language–with age comes both wisdom and caution, as well as awareness of the old saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is…”.

So why is it so commonly believed that senior citizens are taken in by con artists and scammers? The writers of the current article identify 5 reasons we may hypothesize older adults are more often victims of consumer fraud (and these are drawn from research):

Older adults have less accurate episodic memory and are at increased vulnerability to misinformation.

Older adults have slower cognitive processing and therefore take longer to review and process information than younger adults.

Abstract reasoning and novel problem-solving ability peak about age 30 and then decline across the remainder of the lifespan. (This is such a bummer, but we can slow the decline by continuing to challenge ourselves through learning new things, playing music, learning languages, and stimulating a brain that functions better under the stress of new thinking).

Mild cognitive impairment is associated with a reduction in math and financial skills such as managing a checkbook and understanding bills. (This could result in increased vulnerability to fraud.)

After experiencing a financial loss, consumers can be uncertain whether their particular loss comes from a legitimate business arrangement or from deceitful practices. None of us like to be deceived and there is conjecture that older adults may not want to believe they have been tricked and therefore do not file reports as victims of fraud.

Those 5 findings are backed up by research. Older adults could be more at risk simply by virtue of aging and some of the issues we will all face at one time or another. But being at risk does not mean you will necessarily fall prey to consumer fraud. Yet the belief that older adults are victimized by consumer fraud at a high rate relative to other age groups is part of our social fabric. We all “know” this is true. Except it does not appear to be true.

Part of the issue is that researcher interpretations about what their findings might mean have been misinterpreted by the media as fact rather than mere conjecture or hypotheses for future work. Then the ‘facts’ are picked up by other media outlets and blogs and we hear things like “fraud prevalence has reached epidemic levels in older adults” or “older adults are disproportionately vulnerable to frauds”. Hypotheses, conjectures or questions become perceived as fact and become part of our popular “wisdom” about older adults. The following graph is taken from the article cited at the end of today’s post. The graph presents the fraud reported during 2010, 2011 and 2012. Contrary to our expectations, those who are actively defrauded are more likely very young or in the middle of their lives.

You may opine that the elderly are just too embarrassed to report their being defrauded, but there is no data to support it. In fact, the authors say at this point we can neither say older adults are subject to more or less fraud. There is simply no evidence to support the idea that older adults are disproportionately the victims of consumer fraud.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is one more reason to never assume that a given belief is true. Widely held stereotypes are often untrue. This apparently is but one of those widely held (but not supported by data) beliefs.

Ross, M, Grossman, I, & Schryer, E (2014). Contrary to psychological and popular opinion, there is no compelling evidence that older adults are disproportionately victimized by consumer fraud. Perspectives on Psychological Science.

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less than fully humanHere’s an intriguing article on how some nurses cope with stress. If you think, based on the title of this post, they do it by dehumanizing their patients, you would be correct. Somehow we think this is not a good thing to admit on the witness stand, but it is an understandable and human reaction to the stressful and often upsetting work that nurses have to do.

Essentially, what these researchers found was that “the more patients are perceived as rational and moral, the more nurses are likely to suffer from stress, while the more patients are perceived in terms of instinct, drive, impulsiveness, the less nurses suffer from stress. In other words, it seems that perceiving patients as less than human makes more bearable their suffering and protects nurses from stress symptoms”.

There is no argument that those in the nursing profession experience very high levels of stress. There are likely a range of coping mechanisms nurses employ to maintain their emotional balance and avoid burnout.

A few years ago, we were in Kentucky researching juror reactions to a wrongful death case and watching deposition excerpts of a nurse struggling to maintain her composure while answering questions about her own actions during the ultimately catastrophic delivery of a child. She was clearly distraught in our eyes. However, when mock jurors observed her, several saw her as cold, uncaring, and “not even shedding a tear for this poor baby”. It was so far from what the labor and delivery nurse was really feeling that the mock juror reactions were a shock to her.

It became important in witness preparation to help her share the joy and privilege she felt at assisting in the birth of a child, feeling the joy of each family over her years of service, and then juxtaposing the trauma of seeing a childbirth go terribly wrong despite doing everything she felt able to do to prevent it. She went from being cold and uncaring during pretrial research to being one of the best witnesses for the Defense. And the best way to prep her and to structure her direct examination would not have been clear without that pretrial research. Instead of being professionally aloof, she was encouraged to join with the jurors in their emotional distress, while talking about the reasons she was unable to prevent the tragic outcome. In this case it did appear that the responsibility for the birth trauma was not hers, and once she became more ‘real’ to the jurors, they saw it the same way.

It’s interesting, with that case in mind, to review this research. It is one thing to use various strategies to cope in the moment. It is another to use that same strategy in an attempt to seem strong and competent on the witness stand when the observing jurors want to see your humanity and your caring for the person (or in this case, newborn) who died. Part of being mentally healthy is being able to flexibly move between different modes of self-presentation depending on the situation in which you find yourself.

When we are under stress (like when testifying about our role in the death of a newborn in a wrongful death suit), it is natural to become more rigid and less flexible. Anyone who has a heart is deeply disturbed by the outcome, and the best nurses want to distance themselves from the tragedy. The challenge is to understand what the listener wants from you. They want to trust your skills, but also your humanity. They want to know you care. They want to know you feel sad for the parents that will never again hold their child. You don’t have to have done anything wrong to have those feelings and jurors will understand that. It’s a strange concept, but sometimes witness preparation is a lot like a mini-therapy session wherein  the goal is to learn to communicate the whole of your message effectively.

Trifiletti, E, Di Bernardo, GA, Falvo, R, & Capozza, D (2014). Patients are not fully human: a nurse’s coping response to stress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 [THAT's TODAY!] to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

angels_and_demonsThis isn’t a teaser for Dan Brown’s book. In fact, don’t get us started on that. Instead it’s a report on two newer (circa 2013) measures of more credible interest: the Belief in Pure Evil Scale and the Belief in Pure Good Scale. We know. You’ve been waiting forever to have good and evil more clearly quantified. But don’t be so quick to dismiss. If you work in the criminal courts, these could be very useful for you.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea as ridiculous, these concepts are “reliable, unitary and stable constructs” with eight “theoretically independent dimensions”. What that means is, there really is something tangible and concrete here to measure. And the reason it matters is that those who score higher on a belief in pure evil were more likely to support the “death penalty and preemptive military aggression” and less likely to support “criminal rehabilitation, proracial policies and beneficial social programs”. It doesn’t stop there. Those who score higher on a belief in pure good are more likely to oppose “proviolent foreign relations and torture) and to support “criminal rehabilitation and diplomacy”. In other words, say the researchers, these are concepts that relate to “aggressive and prosocial” orientations toward others.

The Huffington Post covered this work and had this to say about those who believe in pure evil:

Those who believe in ‘Pure Evil’ consider bad or criminal behavior is willful, conscious and driven primarily by the wish to inflict harm, merely often for pleasure. If you believe in ‘Pure Evil’, you also deem that evil-doers will implacably continue being dangerous. This necessarily follows if certain culprits are indeed the embodiment of undiluted viciousness. On both sides of conflict, if each sees the other side as ‘evil’, this inevitably results in reciprocal and escalating prejudice with violence. People scoring higher in ‘Belief in Pure Evil’ feel that pre-emptive violence and aggression are justified to root out evil-doers.”

And they had this to say about those who believe in pure good:

Believers in ‘Pure Good’ accept the existence of pure altruism, that some people, though rare, intentionally help others just for the sake of helping, with no personal benefit or hidden agenda. They also judge that even the most ghastly perpetrators – i.e., wayward criminals, can see “the error of their ways” and reform, i.e., they are not ‘Purely Evil’. Those who more strongly believed in ‘Pure Good’, supported criminal rehabilitation and opposed the death penalty. Those who score higher in ‘Belief in Pure Good’ are more likely to believe that doing good means not harming others (unless one’s country or allies are directly endangered).” 

That’s the good news. These concepts appear to have merit and to be distinct constructs. The other news is that these scales are way too long and the individual questions are much too controversial to be permitted in most courts or most cases. But the concepts are powerfully evocative and we thought it was worthwhile to let you know they were out there and give you a glimpse of the items measuring them. We’ve done this before with the GASP Scale, the Depravity Scale, the Islamophobia Scale, the CAST Scale and even the Spitefulness Scale. So why not the Belief in Pure Evil Scale and the Belief in Pure Good Scale?

Here are a few questions from the 22-item Belief in Pure Evil Scale:

Evil people hurt others because they enjoy inflicting pain and suffering.

Evil people have an evil essence, like a stain on their souls, which is almost impossible to get rid of.

If we catch an evildoer, we should just lock them up and ensure they never get out.

Evil people are so narcissistic and full of themselves.

Here are a few questions from the 28-item Belief in Pure Good Scale:

People have to believe in “pure good” to have a peaceful and orderly society.

Purely good people always try to avoid hurting others, even when it means helping those in need.

The forces of evil will fail when they try to corrupt pure-hearted people.

Pure-hearted people respect all life and therefore believe anyone is worthy of being helped and cared for.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we look forward to these concepts being measured in language admissible in court (less creepy and much shorter). Until then, however, it is curious whether case narratives naturally evoke a variation on this theme.

Our mock jurors routinely talk about their task as being one of assessing which side is “most right” or what decision is “fair”.

Sometimes they talk about their disgust with a Defendant and, in those cases, their themes are not far from “pure evil”. We’ve also seen instances where mock jurors discuss a Plaintiff (or the spouse of a Plaintiff) in themes closely resembling “pure good”.

It’s an intriguing idea to consider. How can this narrative be framed in ways that elicit the sense of a conflict between good and evil, fair and unfair, right and wrong. Those themes often emerge in mock juror reactions to case narratives and that is the intent. The question this research raises though is just who will react in the opposite way than we expect? That is, who will choose evil over good, unfair over fair, and wrong over right? Based on the mock jurors we’ve seen, we can’t see that happening in a deliberation room and having any measurable impact on the majority of jurors. But it’s intriguing to consider.

Webster RJ, & Saucier DA (2013). Angels and demons are among us: Assessing individual differences in belief in pure evil and belief in pure good. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 39 (11), 1455-70 PMID: 23885037

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

gay or straightAt least so says CBS News. Recently, CBS News reported on the results of a 2013 Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey (the National Health Interview Survey) of almost 35,000 adults. This was the first time the CDC asked people to report their sexual orientation as part of the survey and while the numbers may be a bit low, here is how CBS described the survey respondents:

The survey, conducted in 2013, included nearly 35,000 adults. Among the participants, 96.6 percent identified themselves as straight, while 1.6 percent identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent identified as bisexual. The remaining 1.1 percent didn’t select any of the options.”

Here are some of the ways those respondents who self-identified as gay, lesbian and bisexual described their health differently than those who self-identified as straight. We point out that this is self-report and the numbers of those identifying as lesbian/gay/bisexual total only 2.3%, which is dramatically lower than population estimates from other sources. (This begs the question of how those who self-identified as lesbian/gay in the survey may differ from the actual community of people who are lesbian/gay. Is this sample representative of the lesbian/gay community, or does it differ in a meaningful way?) Nonetheless, it is the first time we’ve had a national survey that allowed respondents to self-identify sexual orientation and it is a useful tool for beginning to describe health issues and how they differ across subgroups in our society.

Gay/lesbian (35.1%) and bisexual (41.5%) respondents said they had 5 or more drinks on one day at least once in the past year compared to just 26% of those who identified themselves as straight. A higher percentage of gay/lesbian/bisexual people said they were smokers when compared to straight respondents.

Bisexual people (11%) reported higher levels of “serious psychological distress” in the past 30 days than did their straight (3.9%) counterparts.

There were no differences in level of physical activity or in the numbers of men and women saying they were in excellent or very good health. However, a lower percentage of lesbian and bisexual women had “a usual place to go for medical care” than did straight women. On the other hand, straight respondents were more likely than gay or bisexual respondents to not seek medical attention due to cost.

The new report discusses the significance of being a minority group member when  health issues are concerned, and cites differences in health based on race and ethnicity, gender, and income which are well-documented. This is the first time being a part of a sexual orientation minority has been studied on such a large scale. Hopefully, as people feel more comfortable acknowledging sexual orientation in such research the number of respondents reporting being gay, lesbian or bisexual will become more realistic. This will help us know more about specific health concerns, targeted interventions, and access to or use of healthcare. In addition to understanding more about health differences, researchers will also examine the role of social stressors (stemming from unequal treatment) in the reported health disparities.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is yet another reminder that we need to identify differences and similarities between our clients and the jury pool. The comments following the CBS article make it clear there is much anger and hatred directed at gay, lesbian and bisexual people. And it affirms our general impression of the kinds of people who make comments on popular news websites.

Health of gay and straight people compared in first major survey. CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/health-of-gay-and-straight-people-compared-in-first-major-survey/ 

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

dittohead1

Here’s an intriguing study about how consensus is assumed and how it may inspire both activism and a false sense of confidence about the future. Despite a new Pew survey showing the perception is not accurate, conservatives assume more consensus among those sharing their political perspective than do liberals.

NYU researchers conducted three separate experiments looking at assumptions of consensus as related to political beliefs (i.e., liberal or conservative). The researchers say this false sense of consensus may be related to the shock and disbelief expressed by conservatives after Barack Obama won re-election in 2012.

Study 1: 107 online participants (72 female, average age 34.7 years with a range of ages from 18 to 64) viewed photos of 30 White male undergraduates and were asked to indicate whether the man pictured was gay or straight, the likelihood that the man pictured was born in November or December, and finally, whether the man pictured preferred fruit or vegetables. Then, once that descriptive task was done, they were asked “What percent of participants overall made similar judgments as you did?” and then, “What percent of participants who do not share your political beliefs made similar judgments to one another?”. While there was no consensus on judgments about the photographs with regard to birth dates, conservative participants had a stronger desire to see other conservatives agreeing with them than did liberal participants. Oddly, conservatives did reach consensus on whether the male pictured in the photograph was likely gay or straight.

Study 2: 150 online Americans (94 women, average age 34 years with a range of 18 to 65 years of age) who described themselves as “active members of a political party” performed the same tasks as in Study 1. This time the researchers wanted to see if perceiving consensus among like-minded others would be related to seeing your political party as “efficacious”. Again, conservatives actually were more in consensus on whether the male pictured was gay or straight (perhaps conservatives have better gaydar?). And, again, conservatives believed there would be higher consensus among ideologically similar participants while liberals did not. Conservatives were also more likely to see their political party as effective.

Study 3: For this study, the researchers wondered if seeing your political party as effective would make one more likely to vote. Three hundred and eleven online American participants (210 female, average age 32.9 years with an age range of 18 to 70 years) were asked to complete a study “focusing on the beliefs of individuals who belonged to a political party”. This time the participants were divided into three conditions: one group was the control group, another group was primed with a task for affiliating and the last group was primed with a task for not affiliating. Each participant judged only one of the ratings included in the first two studies. That is, 101 participants judged sexual orientation, 106 judged birth month, and 104 judged the likelihood of eating fruits or vegetables. Again (this is so odd) conservatives had more consensus on sexual orientation. Those conservatives who saw their beliefs as more in consensus with those sharing their ideology were more likely to see their political party as more effective and more likely to report plans to vote in the 2012 elections. (The researchers do not say if the conservatives were accurate in identifying sexual orientation, they just say they were in agreement as to who “looked gay”.)

Overall, say the researchers, conservatives may be motivated to perceive consensus while liberals may be motivated to perceive their beliefs as relatively unique. They cite other 2014 research showing conservatives over-estimate their similarity in beliefs to other conservatives while liberals under-estimate their belief similarities to other liberals.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this work speaks to our belief in the importance of presenting your case with “universal values” rather than allowing hot-button (e.g., political perspective) issues to shape jurors’ perspectives on the case. To the extent that this research is accurate among your jurors, there are some important implications:

Conservative jurors are more likely to expect consensus with other conservatives and more likely to expect a lack of consensus with liberal jurors.

Don’t tell the story in a way that pushes juror’s political beliefs.

Focus on shared values of fairness, education, community involvement, and family connections.

Stern, C., West, T., Jost, J., & Rule, N. (2014). “Ditto Heads”: Do Conservatives Perceive Greater Consensus Within Their Ranks Than Liberals? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167214537834

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