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We’ve written before about American attitudes toward China and Asians in general and are used to seeing knee-jerk negative reactions toward Asian companies or parties across the country as we complete pretrial research.

But, like other biases and attitudes all over the media these days, American attitudes toward China have been getting worse in the past decade. You likely know we hold Pew Research in high regard for measuring shifting attitudes in this country. We often look to their work to take a “national temperature” on various issues so we can then see if those attitudes are stronger or weaker in various venues in which we work. Earlier this month, Pew published a brief article on attitudes Americans have toward China and, as you might predict, our attitudes toward China are not particularly warm.

Here are a few highlights from the Pew report:

As you can see in the graphic illustrating this post (taken from the Pew site), American attitudes toward China are now (since 2015) more negative than the attitudes of Chinese citizens toward America. In fact, as of May 2015, the majority of Americans (55%) had unfavorable attitudes toward China.

It is more common for older (ahem, Pew says you are “older” if you are 50 years of age or above) Americans to view China unfavorably. However, negative views of China increased 21 percentage points among those aged 18 to 34 in the US between 2006 and 2016 (so it isn’t just the “old folks”).

US Republicans have consistently been more negative toward China than US Democrats. However, negative attitudes have increased among members of both political parties by more than 20 percentage points over the past decade.

American citizens see their country as declining while Chinese citizens see their country as ascending.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it is imperative for you to be aware of the almost instantaneous reactivity to Chinese or Asian parties or products in your case. The vitriolic nature of the bias initially caught us off guard, but now we wait for it. Our various posts on negative attitudes we’ve seen in the literature and in our pretrial research (here, here, here, and here) may be useful for you to review in order to see ways the bias or negative attitudes arise. You may also want to review one of our perennially popular posts on when you want to talk about race and when you want to be very, very quiet.

Pew Research Center (February 10, 2017). Americans have grown more negative toward China over the past decade. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/10/americans-have-grown-more-negative-toward-china-over-past-decade/

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Lately we’ve heard a lot more anti-immigrant bias expressed in public and it turns out, hate speech breeds hatred of its own. This research has pretty frightening findings and you may find it hard to believe there is such misinformed hatred in 2017. Or, perhaps you won’t find it hard to believe at all.

We will just share a few of the disturbing findings here:

The researchers (from Northwestern University) showed American participants (recruited via the internet through online subject pools and via email through university channels) the ‘Ascent of Man’ diagram (which is apparently popular in research circles and conveniently illustrates this post). They asked participants identify where they thought (whole groups of) people belonged on this scale “from the ape-like human ancestor to the modern human”. You likely can guess if you regularly read this blog what happened.

Participants placed Muslims and Mexican immigrants significantly lower on the scale than they placed Americans as a whole.

In other words, the participants saw Muslim and Mexican immigrants as significantly less than fully human. In an attempt to understand this better, the researchers statistically controlled for conservative views and racial prejudice, but still found differences.

Those participants who dehumanized Muslim and Mexican immigrants by placing them lower on the ‘Ascent of Man’ scale were also more likely to see them as threatening, to withhold sympathy for them and to support measures like increased surveillance, restricted immigration and increased deportation.

Overall, say the researchers, “the correlation between dehumanization and then-candidate Trump was significantly stronger than the correlation between dehumanization and support for any other Democratic or Republican candidates”.

And what did that dehumanization result in? The researchers asked Muslim and Mexican immigrants to report how dehumanized they felt, and found the greater the perception of dehumanization, the more likely the individual was to support violent versus non-violent collective action.

For example, Mexican immigrants who felt dehumanized by candidate Trump “were more likely to dehumanize him, want to see him personally suffer, and endorse hostile actions such as spitting in his face”.

Further, Muslims who felt dehumanized also favored violent over non-violent collective actions and were less willing to assist in anti-terrorism efforts by law enforcement.

The authors suggest two results from dehumanization of others:

Those who dehumanize are more likely to support hostile policies.

Those who feel dehumanized feel less integrated into society and are more likely to endorse violent as opposed to nonviolent responses in return (which will reinforce the idea among those who dehumanize that “these people are like animals”).

Ultimately, this results in a “vicious cycle” of what the researchers call meta-dehumanization, and make life less safe for all of us. Previous research, reported by the authors, tells us marginalization leads to radicalization.

In other words, say the authors, the subset of the American public spewing hate speech toward immigrants may result in radicalization and subsequent violence from those they hate (and dehumanize) and thus, make their fear-based prophecy come true.

Kteily, N., & Brunei, E. (2017). Backlash: The politics and real-world consequences of minority group dehumanization. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43 (1), 87-104

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It is disconcerting to watch the political upheaval in this country but similar things seem to be happening around the world. We just found a new group that measures societal changes in trust. Edelman has surveyed “tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries” for the past 17 years measuring levels of trust in business, media, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which are typically non-profit. According to Edelman, this year is the first time the average level of trust (“to do what is right”) in all four types of institutions decreased. They also report the following statistics:

71% of survey respondents said government officials are not at all or somewhat credible.

63% said CEOs are not at all or somewhat credible.

60% of respondents trusted “a person like yourself” (which was in line with trust in a tech expert or an academic). In other words, they say, peers are now on par with experts.

NGOs were most trusted, Business was a close second (only one point behind NGOs), media came in third, and government came in fourth. (These place finishes should be considered skeptically since their combined overall approval rating was less than 50%.)

The following graphic shows a comparison of 2016 and 2017’s trust ratings for the four areas surveyed.

In addition to the Executive Summary, you can view Global Results, and watch a video on what Edelman calls a trust implosion. When trust declines, populism rises says Edelman—and we have seen that internationally as well as here at home.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, perhaps most important for our work is their lessons on how trust has been broken—housed over at Scribd. Here are a few of their lessons we see as related to litigation advocacy:

Leading the list of societal concerns and fears we measured that are commonly associated with populist actions are corruption (69% concerned; 40% fearful); globalization (62% concerned; 27% fearful); eroding social values (56% concerned; 25% fearful); immigration (55% concerned; 28% fearful); and the pace of innovation (51% concerned; 22% fearful).

People are nearly four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they don’t believe in; don’t regularly listen to those with whom they often disagree (53%); and are more likely to believe search engines (59%) over human editors (41%).

53% agree that the pace of change in business and industry is too fast. They worry about losing their jobs due to lack of training or skills (60%); foreign competitors (60%); immigrants who work for less (58%);  jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%); and automation (54%).

The trust crisis demands a new operating model for organizations by which they listen to all stakeholders; provide context on the issues that challenge their lives; engage in dialogue with them; and tap peers, especially employees, to lead communications and advocacy efforts.

We will be paying careful attention to these issues as we pursue pretrial research and litigation advocacy in 2017. The ways that people (aka “jurors”) evaluate cases will reflect the kinds of mistrust and alienation that this study identifies. Anger seems to be intense, we are devaluing experts, concerned about those different from us, and not listening to those with whom we disagree. These states of being have direct relevance to our efforts to teach, explain, and persuade.

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Some interesting research is described in plain language over at the Vox website by Joshua Knobe (an academic from Yale). The article highlights a question we’ve been wondering about that may be important for all of us to consider over the next four years as we plan strategies for litigation.

The question is this: Just how hard is it to get people to move from a perspective of seeing some behavior as morally outrageous to seeing that same behavior as acceptable or even normal? And the answer is disturbing: it is pretty darned easy.

The author discusses how it is important that we continue to see morally outrageous behavior as not normal and that we do not move it to something as simple as bad or wrong. He offers examples of how cognitive science can help us to understand how we begin the process of moving behavior from “morally outrageous” to “bad or wrong” and perhaps, on to “that is just how s/he is”.

Recent studies have taught us a lot about what happens when people classify events as normal or abnormal. [snip] Our minds use the normal-abnormal distinction to rule out many options in advance. At the core of this research is a very simple idea: When people are reasoning, they tend to think only about a relatively narrow range of possibilities. [snip] One important question about human cognition is how people end up choosing one option over the other in a case like this.

[snip] This is where the notion of normality plays its most essential role. Of all the zillions of things that might be possible in principle, your mind is able to zero in on just a few specific possibilities, completely ignoring all the others. One aim of recent research has been to figure out how people do this. Though the research itself has been quite complex, the key conclusion is surprisingly straightforward: People show an impressive systematic tendency to completely ignore the possibilities they see as abnormal.

We make use of the normal-abnormal distinction when thinking about causality.

That last sentence from the Vox article is why we are sharing it with you here today. We know our mock jurors always want to know ‘why’ or to hear about the motivations of the parties. What this research tells us is that if jurors see behavior as abnormal—they are less likely to view the morally outrageous behavior as acceptable or valid. Or they may be more likely to see the behavior as totally unacceptable and worthy of punishment.

Yet, we have to be careful with these research findings and not assume we know how to use them. Here, again, is an example taken from the Vox article (and real life).

For an especially striking example, consider a real-world problem that arose in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. Tourists were stealing bark from the trees, and the park as a whole was gradually being destroyed. What could be done to stop this theft? The staff of the park decided in the end to put up a sign:

‘‘Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.’’

The goal was to raise awareness of the problem, making people see more clearly what was so bad about stealing from the park. Perhaps the sign did succeed in raising awareness, but it also had another, more surprising effect.

By drawing attention to the fact that people often steal, it made people see theft as normal.

Many of the park visitors might have seen theft as something that wasn’t even worth considering (like trying to eat your shoe), but the sign helped to switch them over to seeing it as something that might be bad but was still among the normal options (like eating chocolate cake). A systematic study examined the [counter-intuitive persuasive] impact of this sign.

The key result: Putting up this sign actually led to an increase in the total amount of theft.

In the story above, the park took down the sign and stopped informing visitors of the thefts (and thus normalizing theft and making it a behavioral option). From a litigation advocacy perspective, we want to work to maintain the (moral) outrage and horror associated with egregious behavior and not do or say anything that would normalize it. That is easier said than done though, as Joshua Knobe comments in closing the Vox article.

So then, what is to be done? I wish I could say that cognitive scientists have settled on a different but equally effective solution and that all we need to do now is go out and implement it. Unfortunately, however, that is not the case. Research in cognitive science has done a lot to give us a deeper understanding of the problem we now face, but it has not yet furnished us with a workable way of addressing it.

Thus, it is for all of us to focus on how we can seek to not dull jurors’ minds to the horribleness of egregious conduct.

A number of years ago we worked on a criminal case in which an employer was drugging female employees and taking nude photos of them while they were unconscious. What we noted in pretrial research was that the more often we showed the photos of the women, the less impact it had. The Defense would want to work to maximize the photos being shown while the Prosecutor would want to limit the photos to maximize the visual (and emotional/moral) impact.

The next few years will be a challenge for each of us as we work to understand more about how to either maintain the moral outrage of jurors at egregious behavior or trying to dull the impact of the egregious behavior through repeated exposure (depending on our side of the aisle). The actual research the Vox article is based upon is available here.

Thomas F. Icard, Jonathan F. Kominsky, & Joshua Knobe (2017). NORMALITY AND ACTUAL CAUSAL STRENGTH. Cognition

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The Gallup folks just published an update on LGBT adults in the US and we want to bring it to your attention to illustrate how societal change is happening and we need to keep up. We are going to highlight a few facts from the Gallup report but encourage you to read the story in its entirety.

For those interested in these things, this giant survey was conducted by telephone [60% cell phone and 40% land lines] with a random sample of 1,626,773 adults living in the US. They were all 18 or older, lived in all 50 states and in DC, and their responses were collected between June 2012 and December 2016. Of the 1.6M+ participants, 49,311 participants said “yes” to a question of whether they personally identified at LGBT.

Here are the highlights of what Gallup’s survey respondents told them:

10M US adults identify as LGBT (this is 4.1% of the population).

Millennials identifying as LGBT are up from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.3% in 2016 and are more than twice as likely as any other generation to identify as LGBT. In the same time period (2012-2016), the proportion of GenXers identifying as LGBTers remained fairly stable and Boomers identifying as LGBT decreased slightly.

More women identify as LGBT than do men.

Among ethnic minorities, the largest increase since 2012 in LGBT identification occurred among Asians and Hispanics. Gallup thinks this is likely affected by the differences in age compositions of these groups (with Asian adults being the youngest among race and ethnicity groupings and Hispanics coming in second).

Increases in LGBT identification were stable across all income and education groups (by 2016, there was “virtually no variation by education”).

Increases in LGBT identification were largely among those identifying as “not religious” (and this group is 3x more likely to identify as LGBT than those who say they are “highly religious”).

Gallup opines that Millennials are less concerned than other generations with sharing “private information” on surveys. They also think the social/cultural climate has changed since survey participants were teens and young adults and it is now more acceptable to identify as LGBT. Gallup cites the legalization of same-sex marriage to support this assertion.

Gallup also thinks it is important to note that all these changes have occurred in a span of only five years (2012-2016). They call this a “marked change” and comment that the US LGBT population has become “larger, younger, more female, and less religious”.

From a litigation advocacy standpoint, this is essential information. We are seeing more and more high-profile LGBT disclosures in the news. Gossip columns routinely report on celebrity statements on sexuality (no link to this one, you can find them on your own!). Most of us are aware of the relatively recent transgender transition of Caitlyn Jenner. Perhaps the most recent is the announcement from model Hanne Gaby Odiele that she was born intersex and had surgery she believes was unnecessary. The fact that LGBT’s are increasingly visible, their issues are discussed more openly, and (especially for younger people) LGBT folks are close friends, family, and—sometimes—themselves. And increasingly, that’s okay.

But not everywhere, or for everyone. As cases are planned and narratives developed, an awareness needs to be maintained of who your jurors might be, and what their experiences, values and beliefs may be. And that includes sexual identification as well as race, ethnicity, gender and age. It is one more variable to make sure you maintain awareness of, as it is clearly changing faster than ever before.

Gallup (January 11, 2017). In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT.

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