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250px-Brenda_Lee_1977The phrase “I’m sorry” always reminds me of then 15-year-old Brenda Lee and her hit single. (That is, in psychology circles, called a tangential aside.) We haven’t written about apology here for a while now and a new study has just published that lists six elements to make your apology optimal. This post is to help you stay informed about the latest findings on how to make an apology most effective.

First a bit of background on the apology research. These researchers tell us that apologies typically arise in an effort to repair trust. They identified “six structural components of apologies” from prior research and presented them single and in combination to research participants to see which elements were more effective in restoring trust. Here’s a little of what they found:

Not all apologies were equally effective—those with more components were more effective than those with fewer components and certain components were more effective than others. (In other words, keep talking…and make sure you focus on everything you need to say. )

Apologies after competence-based trust violations were more effective than apologies following integrity-based violations. (One is an issue of disappointment with your actions and the other is an issue of your character.)

The six elements of apology culled from prior research were:

Expression of regret

Explanation of what went wrong

Acknowledgment of responsibility

Declaration of repentance

Offer of repair

Request for forgiveness

The authors say that the best apologies contain all six elements but the most important elements are acknowledging your responsibility and making an offer of repair for harm done. The next three elements are tied (expressing regret, explaining what went wrong, and a declaration of repentance). The least effective element may surprise you. A request for forgiveness is the least effective element of the apology and the researchers say you can leave out the request for forgiveness if you need to do that.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it seems famous people are apologizing almost all the time (we’ve written about a number of them here) but the quality of those apologies varies dramatically. When your client needs to issue an apology—encourage them to include all these components (although they can skip the last one if it is too awkward or would be seen as insincere).

Lewicki, R., Polin, B., & Lount, R. (2016). An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 9 (2), 177-196 DOI: 10.1111/ncmr.12073

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Odds and EndsWe often do these combination posts when we do not want to devote an entire post to a single article but think the information is worth sharing (or simply too odd not to share). So read on and be a scintillating (or perhaps simply odd) conversationalist.

Smartphone alerts increase both inattention and hyperactivity

This is one of those titles that makes us think, “They had to do research to figure that one out?” Well, yes. Perhaps they weren’t sure about it, or perhaps they didn’t have a lock on tenure quite yet. You can read a summary over at ScienceDaily but the gist of it is that students were asked to put their phones on either silent, vibrate or ring for two weeks and to also report their symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. As you may have guessed (hey, you too could have tenure!) those who had their phones on vibrate or ring (as opposed to silent) had more symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. We all know what it feels like to be waiting for the phone to ring. Well, most of us anyhow.

On nasal diversity, or, Why your nose is shaped like that

You may have always thought you inherited your nose shape from your parents but that is very short-sighted thinking on your part. And while you also may have thought there was likely a gene that chooses the shape of your nose—new research shows us that as many as four genes interact to determine the ultimate shape (what these researchers describe as the “overall width and pointiness”) of your nose. There is a brief writeup on this new study looking closely at more than 6,000 noses over at NatureWorld News. If this seems like useless information, you have been reading carefully. Extra credit for anyone who can report a way to work this information into a social conversation without offending anyone!

Talk about climate change so people will listen

We’ve written about climate change before but here’s another strategy to consider. Instead of appealing to the individual—appeal to the collective (or ‘royal’) “we”. A new study in the journal Climatic Change tells us that people are willing “to donate up to 50% more cash to the cause when thinking about the problem in collective terms”. For comparison, thinking about climate change from an individual perspective produced “little to no change in behavior”. And, for reasons the researchers cannot explain, the effect seems to persist.

This actually has relevance for litigators, since it involves motivating people to action. The ‘golden rule’ bar on argument obliges attorneys not to make it relate to the lives of jurors personally, but this research suggests that you will be more successful if you argue on a broader basis (the benefit of society, et cetera) anyway.  If you cannot access the journal article itself, you can read an accurate translation over at ScienceDaily.

Sexist behavior: Can neuroscience tell us why it happens?

Christian Jarret (known to us from his long-time reign over at BPS Research Digest) is a consistently clear and accurate translator of even dense and confusing material. His recent translation of the article titled Amygdala and cingulate structure is associated with stereotype on sex-role is a good example of his ability to take incomprehensible research and make it understandable and even interesting. [Yes, we knew you were waiting on tenterhooks for this one.]

The original article is in Scientific Reports and currently is open-access but we think you’ll save a lot of time and frustration by reading Christian’s summary over at New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog! Basically he concludes that no—neuroscience isn’t able to explain sexism since there is no specific brain anatomy that points to sexist beliefs. But those who express sexist attitudes appear to be psychologically vulnerable individuals who are both fearful and competitive. [Score: Neuroscience 0, Psychology 1.]

Obradovich, N., & Guenther, S. (2016). Collective responsibility amplifies mitigation behaviors. Climatic Change DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1670-9

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screaming-womanIt’s tough to see the same old themes come up over and over again but—here we go again… Women who react emotionally are seen as less intelligent, but if they react in a “measured and manly way” they are thought not trustworthy. In other words, you can’t win for losing.

“Men were rated as both more emotionally competent and more intelligent in general when they showed restraint. For women, however, the opposite pattern emerged, in that they were perceived as more emotionally competent and intelligent when they reacted immediately.”

In other words, say the researchers, we expect men and women to act according to gender stereotypes and we are suspicious of those who fail to behave accordingly.

Participants in the first study (59 undergraduates from the University of Haifa in Israel—30 men and 29 women) were shown photos found to elicit both sadness and anger. Then they watched videos featuring different people allegedly reacting to those same images. Half of the actors reacted almost immediately (within 1/2 second) while others did not show an expression change for a second and a half. After viewing the videos of people reacting to the images, the participants rated each character for “emotional competence” and assessed their level of sensitivity, caring, and the appropriateness and authenticity of their reactions.

Men who paused for 1.5 seconds prior to changing their expression were seen as more emotionally competent. Women who paused were seen as less emotionally competent.

The second study (with 58 students) was much the same as the first but the participants also rated the perceived intelligence of the character in the video.

“Men who showed delayed reactions were perceived as significantly more intelligent than those who reacted immediately, whereas for women, delayed reactions resulted in less perceived intelligence.”

The authors say that these results reflect the strength of gender stereotypes about women as “more emotionally volatile but also more emotionally competent” and say that when women delay their reaction to an emotionally charged image they may be seen as “strategic rather than spontaneous”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this will be important when considering the impact of male and female witnesses, for preparation of parties, and even for attorney behavior in the courtroom. You are always being watched and evaluated. Assumptions are going to be made for better or worse.

Help jurors see your female witness/party/self as thoughtful and competent but as having learned to stop and consider actions and consequences prior to reacting. That is done more by offering jurors some context for respecting the witness or party, rather than trying to train them to significantly change their response style. In other words, this time it has to be about teaching the jurors how to judge quality, rather than teaching the witness how to overcome the gender bias.

Hess, U, David, S, & Hareli S (2016). Emotional restraint is good for men only: The influence of emotional restraint on perceptions of confidence. Emotion

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know it allMost of us think we know more than we actually do and sometimes, that sense is taken to an extreme that can be annoying (as well as inaccurate). Two years ago, we wrote about a study on modulating political extremism and mentioned the recommended strategy was similar to one we use to topple self-appointed “experts” in litigation research, and at trial. Now, we have another study that uses the same strategy but significantly shortens the length of time it takes for the speaker to reassess their (lack of) knowledge.

The researchers say the belief that we actually understand the working of ordinary things (like a vacuum cleaner) when we really do not is called “the illusion of explanatory depth”. And they mention the paper we blogged about back in 2014 which recommended asking people to offer a detailed explanation of their understanding—at which point, most come to realize they really do not understand (for example, how the vacuum cleaner works) as much as they thought they did. Even if they cling to their belief that they are an expert anyhow, their ability to persuade others is undermined. It works well to unseat a self-appointed expert but it does take a little time. In truth, the goal of asking for the explanation in pretrial research isn’t to embarrass them, but rather to understand how someone got sidetracked onto a rabbit-trail that could distract an actual juror. We discovered that it also had some salubrious secondary benefits, though…

New research tells us it really is not necessary to have people generate those full explanations that take up time. Instead, asking the “expert” to reflect briefly, but in a very specific way, on the extent of their knowledge is often enough to shake their over-confidence and help them understand they really do not understand how a “vacuum cleaner” works. The researchers conclude that

“reflection on explanatory ability is a rare metacognitive tool in the arsenal to combat our proclivity to over-estimate understanding”.

In other words, the question provides a way to get the know-it-all to stop and assess their actual knowledge accurately and acknowledge their actual lack of understanding. So, here’s how it works. The researchers asked participants in their nine experiments to

“Carefully reflect on your ability to explain to an expert, in a step-by-step, causally-connected manner, with no gaps in your story how the object works”.

And here’s what is truly amazing. It didn’t matter if they asked the participants (across 9 separate studies) to “reflect” for 5 seconds or for 20 seconds—this was a shortcut to accurate self-knowledge assessment. The researchers say that, in their 9 experiments, the speed of the “reflecting” intervention was up to 20x faster for high complexity objects than a full verbal explanation.

The researchers tried other instructions (like “carefully reflect on your understanding of how the object works” or “type out your full explanation as if you were explaining to an expert in a step-by-step, causally-connected manner, with no gaps in your story how the object works”) and determined neither of these worked as well as the directive to “carefully reflect on your ability to explain to an expert in a step by step, casually-connected manner with no gaps in your story as to how the object works” as outlined above.

And, as in our 2014 blog post, the strategy even works to soften extreme political beliefs and attitudes. Something about the reflection task results in participants suddenly “seeing” the complexity of an object (the vacuum cleaner) or the complexity of a political policy—and they are very able to back away from their self-proclaimed expert status. As an added bonus, this effect works best on high complexity (e.g., the vacuum cleaner) as compared to low complexity objects (e.g., a manually operated can opener).

The researchers think this strategy works because it requires a shift from the vague and abstract (e.g., how well do you understand how a vacuum cleaner works) to the specific and concrete (e.g., judge how well you understand how the parts of an object enable it to work). That subtle shift from abstract to concrete results in a “mechanistic” understanding of the desired explanation which makes the difference in the individual’s ability to accurately assess their (lack of) knowledge.

Another reason the strategy works is because the person reflecting almost immediately sees the number of steps it would take to explain how a complex object works and they realize they will only be able to explain a small percentage of the total steps involved in making an object work.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a potentially powerful tool for helping jurors be open to hearing how something or some process works. You can use it directed at yourself for example, while examining a witness.

“You know, Dr. Johnson, I really thought I knew how a vacuum cleaner worked and then I stopped to think about how I would explain how the different parts all work together to an expert in a step-by-step fashion, and I decided to call you as a witness here instead.” (This will allow jurors to check in internally and realize they also do not know how a vacuum cleaner really works.)

Then, continuing with the vacuum cleaner example, your expert witness can say something like, “It’s a lot more complicated than you might think. Do you want me to explain the whole thing in great detail, or are you asking me to talk about how this one widget in dispute works to modulate the level of suction?”

You can then instruct the witness to focus on whatever level of detail serves the cause. Perhaps s/he explains the role of the widget but give us a small summary of how the overall vacuum cleaner works and why the widget in dispute is essential (or not).

It’s a really amazing thing when you see how quickly and non-defensively an “expert” will acknowledge their “gaps in causal knowledge” (as the researchers call it). We have never had a mock juror become angry over being asked to educate the group but they have always sheepishly admitted they are not quite the fount of information they previously thought they were!

Johnson DR, Murphy MP, & Messer RM (2016). Reflecting on explanatory ability: A mechanism for detecting gaps in causal knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 145 (5), 573-88 PMID: 26999047

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storytellingIf a man is a good storyteller, we tend to see him as more attractive and as having higher status. That is, if we are looking for a long-term relationship partner. Unfortunately, it does not work for women storytellers with male audiences nor for those looking for a short-term relationship. This is the first series of studies examining the impact of storytelling ability on attracting relationships (if you are a man). Confusing?

Rather than describing the studies done (there were three of them) we are going to focus on the results (which were consistent across all three studies) and (we think) have implications for the courtroom.

Storytelling ability resulted in women thinking the male storyteller was a more attractive prospect for a long-term relationships.

Women also thought men who were good storytellers had higher perceived social status. (This was again not the case for men listening to women tell stories.)

The authors explain their results using evolutionary theory (from a psychological perspective) and say that heterosexual women are drawn to good (male) storytellers because those men may be more efficient in obtaining resources and influencing others. We kid you not—they wrote this. If you have been a reader of this blog for long, you know we do not often agree with evolutionary psychologists, but find they are often amusing. Thus, instead of focusing on women’s desire to find a good man to provide for her (ahem) we will look at this from the perspective of litigation advocacy.

We’ve written about Melanie Green’s work on narrative transportation before and like to apply the idea to litigation advocacy. The storytelling model is familiar to us all and perhaps the most popular way to tell a story effectively in the courtroom. In 2000, she published a scale to measure the degree to which listeners were “transported” by a good story. While that scale has not become popular, we think it is a good structure to assess the degree to which jurors are going to be willing to listen to your case narrative. Here is a table from that 2000 article listing a number of questions from the Transportation Scale:

scale

You can likely see how some of these questions could be fruitful in voir dire and jury selection. You want to see who will listen and who will consider their dinner plans and how to cut deliberations short to make dinner on time.

If you have jurors who like a good story and you tell a good story—you are likely to have those jurors focused and intent on the evidence.

But—even if you’re male—don’t count on women finding you more attractive as a result. Unless you are an evolutionary psychologist. Yet we know, based on past research, being seen as attractive is likely to help you be successful at most social endeavors.

Telling a good story has been an attention grabber throughout the ages. And if being a good storyteller enhances your persuasiveness even a little, that’s a good advantage to enjoy while in court.

DONAHUE, J., & GREEN, M. (2016). A good story: Men’s storytelling ability affects their attractiveness and perceived status. Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1111/pere.12120

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