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replace-fear-of-the-unkonwnEarlier this week, we wrote on the question of whether those who have a higher score on the Need for Cognition Scale are just lazy (and the answer was no, not really). If you read this blog regularly, you know that bias is where we work and focus. We also like a curious juror (sometimes) and today we focus on how curiosity can address bias by helping jurors make wiser decisions informed by new data.

You may know the authors of this paper for their work at the Cultural Cognition Project (a collaboration among filmmakers, philosophers and psychologists) and the Cultural Cognition blog—both housed at Yale Law School. We also want to be sure you know the author of the plain language interpretation of this paper—Tom Stafford who operates the MindHacks blog focusing on neuroscience and psychology. Stafford wrote an article (based on this paper) for the BBC Future that is user-friendly and easy to understand for those who want to be sure they would like to dive into the full academic article. Stafford introduces the Cultural Cognition group paper with these disheartening sentences:

…people with the most education, highest mathematical abilities, and the strongest tendencies to be reflective about their beliefs are the most likely to resist information which should contradict their prejudices. This undermines the simplistic assumption that prejudices are the result of too much gut instinct and not enough deep thought. Rather, people who have the facility for deeper thought about an issue can use those cognitive powers to justify what they already believe and find reasons to dismiss apparently contrary evidence.

He sets up the Kahan et al. academic article as containing a possible answer to this maddening reality (and thus piques your curiosity to read the full paper). Or at least it piqued our curiosity. What the researchers wanted was to see if the growing political ideology divide would predict reactions to science information. So they devised a measure of how much scientific information/knowledge individual participants had and then checked to see if their political ideology (conservative versus liberal) would be more important than their pre-existing science knowledge when it came to hot button issues like global warming and fracking.

And it was— most scientifically informed liberals judged issues like global warming and fracking as dangerous to people, while most scientifically informed conservatives think that there were fewer risks.

In other words, political ideology was more important than pre-existing science knowledge and education when it came to views toward polarizing topics such as global warming or fracking.

These researchers though, had also devised a second measure—this one assessing science curiosity. And how they structured the curiosity measure was very creative. They disguised the measure as a general social marketing survey wherein participants were asked to identify their interests in a wide variety of items related to sports, finance, politics, popular entertainment and so on. Ultimately, they had a 12-item scale to measure Science Curiosity. They also allowed participants to express a preference as to whether they preferred to read a science story that would confirm their beliefs or surprise them.

What they found was that participants who scored higher on the curiosity scale were more likely to choose the story that would disconfirm their preexisting beliefs (that is, it would surprise them) and the participants enjoyed that process of surprise.

The researchers conclude their paper as follows:

Together these two forms of evidence paint a picture—a flattering one indeed—of individuals of high science curiosity. On this view, individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected—do not turn this feature of their personality off when they engage political information but rather indulge it in that setting as well, exposing themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations about facts on contested issues. The result is that these citizens, unlike their less curious counterparts, react more open mindedly, and respond more uniformly across the political spectrum to the best available evidence.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, if we can identify those potential jurors who are curious and enjoy the surprise of learning new things that potentially disconfirm pre-existing beliefs—we have an increased chance of getting them to listen to case facts and come to a different conclusion than they may have come to before hearing the new information. What we have to do is figure out how to surprise them and we have several blog posts on what happens to our brains when we experience surprise.

You can read more about the development of the initial Science Curiosity Scale at the SSRN website.

Kahn, Landrum, Carpenter, Helft, & Jameson (2016). Science curiosity and political information processing. Advances in Political Psychology.

Full-text of this article is here: http://www.culturalcognition.net/browse-papers/science-curiosity-and-political-information-processing.html

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terror-attackIn this final installment of our week on divided America, we turn to our friends at the Pew Research Center who looked at attitudes toward the ability of terrorists to strike the US as part of a 15-year anniversary of 9-11 focus and recently on US attitudes toward immigration (one of our favorite topics here).

Terrorists are more able to attack the US now

As you can see from the graphic illustrating this post (taken from the Pew site) once again, political party affiliation is responsible for the growing belief that terrorists are more able to attack the US now than they were at the time of 9/11/2001. Republicans believe most strongly (at 58%) terrorists are more able now to launch a terrorist attack, with Independents (34%) and Democrats (31%) believing this to a lesser extent. Pew also points out that the

“partisan differences in views about the tradeoff between protection from terrorism and civil liberties are about as large as at any point in more than a decade”.

“But since then, following the emergence of ISIS and terrorist attacks in this country, opinions have shifted, especially among Republicans. The share of Republicans who say their bigger concern is that government policies have done too little to protect against terrorism has risen 30 percentage points since July 2013 (38% then, 68% today), while showing much less change among Democrats (38% then, 46% today).”

How do you feel about the US immigration policy?

Despite the constant media attention to the unhappiness with immigrants and rising crime raised in the political campaigns this year—a nationally representative survey just conducted by Pew in August, 2016—shows no such opinion or perspective from American citizens.

“The new national survey, conducted August 9-16 among 2,010 adults, also finds that a large majority (76%) says that undocumented immigrants are as hard-working and honest as U.S. citizens, while 67% say they are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes. The survey also finds continued public opposition to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border: 61% oppose this proposal, which is little changed from earlier this year.”

Other attitudes toward immigration are similar different from what we hear trumpeted in the media.  For example,

“71% say undocumented immigrants living in the United States mostly fill jobs citizens do not want, while just 24% say they mostly take jobs citizens want. About three-quarters of Americans (76%) say undocumented immigrants are “as honest and hard-working” as U.S. citizens, while 67% say they are no more likely than U.S. citizens to commit serious crimes.”

undocumented-immigrantsWhen politics are considered, there is some difference but (again) nowhere near the division one might expect given media coverage of the inflammatory rhetoric around immigration policy and issues this election cycle. For example,

“There is a sharper divide in perceptions of criminality among undocumented immigrants. By a wide margin (80% to 15%), Democrats say those in the U.S. illegally are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes. Among Republicans, about half (52%) say undocumented immigrants are not more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes, but 42% say they are – more than double the share of Democrats who say this.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective (as well as if you are very interested in polling and political analysis), both the report on terrorism and the report on attitudes toward immigration are well worth your time to read. We think Pew often offers a more nuanced interpretation of data than other pollsters and we value that careful approach to data interpretation.

There are sharp partisan differences and yet some of those differences are clearly composed of a minority of partisans. While we will continue to track political affiliation and try to intuit in which cases it is a “difference that makes a difference”, we remain unconvinced that political affiliation is one of those rare, bright-line-demographic-descriptors that really does make a difference over and above deeply held attitudes, values and beliefs.

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global_climate_changeOur scientists are not divided but we the people are very divided on the issue of climate change. You would think that when 97% of scientists agree the global weather patterns (aka “climate change”) are changing (aka “warming”) that Americans would give up and just say “okay, yeah, it’s happening”. But if you think that, you are in for a disappointment according to a new article in the Environment Magazine.

In the face of increasing political divisions here in the US, we have begun to track multiple political analysis publications for information we can glean to use in litigation advocacy. In this paper, the authors say the division on climate change is likely an outgrowth of partisan polarization here in the US:

“Even the most casual observer of American politics cannot help but notice that partisan conflict has grown sharper, unrelenting, and more ideological over recent decades.” This has resulted from both political elites and—to a lesser but noticeable degree—much of the public viewing a growing number of issues along a single liberal-conservative continuum, and from this ideological axis becoming increasingly aligned with partisan identification.

Other writers (like political analyst Lilliana Mason) say that party identification has become a sort of “social identity” and, as such, is more important to how individuals see themselves. If this is accurate, and there is some reason to believe that is true based on other articles we’ve been reading in the political analysis area, then perhaps there are ways the political social identity would show itself. In an effort to not disappoint us, the author presents data on that very question.

Here’s an example of how that “social identity” is seen in a question as to whether the majority of scientists believe global warming is real. Recall that about 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real. Whether Americans accept that scientific consensus seems to depend on their political identification.  The following graphic is taken directly from the article (cited at the bottom of this post).

scientific-consensus-gallup-data

As you can see in this visual demonstration (based on data from the good folks at Gallup) the political polarization has been seen since about 2001 (which we would point out was when 9/11 occurred), since which time there has actually been a decrease in the number of Republicans reporting a belief in global warming.

Over time, the public opinions on this issue have hardened with Democrats and the total public agreeing with scientists and Republicans showing the most disagreement with scientists on global warming. The authors cite others who say that Republicans have become more conservative and Democrats have become more liberal over time.

As an aside, this is also not something we’ve seen in our own mock juror data although Republicans we have sampled are more likely than Democrats we have sampled to say they are conservative and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they are liberal. We just don’t think you can simplistically categorize Republicans as conservative and Democrats as liberal. We tend to think, as do our mock jurors who often write on our questionnaires asking if they are liberal or conservative—“on what issues?”.

With that said, however, we present another table from the article looking at the global warming views of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.  There is a huge difference between their perspectives. And we will add that if given a choice between self-describing as a conservative or liberal—our mock jurors who describe themselves as “very conservative” and “very liberal” are indeed outliers who respond differently than those who are “merely” either conservative or liberal. The authors think the partisan divide was first seen back in 2008 but it has grown since then. They feel strongly enough about the partisan divide to say this:

“Whether, and how, individual Americans vote this November may well be the most consequential climate-related decision most of them will have ever taken.”

republicans-and-democrats-on-global-warming

While we’ve seen other trial consultants we respect saying political party affiliation is a good identifier of values, attitudes and beliefs, we haven’t seen such a bright line division in our own pretrial research. It all depends on the specific case and the way in which case narrative is framed and developed. We continually look to polls and surveys to give us guidance on the shifting attitudes and values in this country. In that vein, we have been tracking political perspective since we began working in the field of trial consulting but have been paying special attention to it since about 2006 and still cannot say we agree with dividing up Republicans and Democrats as conservatives and liberals.

In today’s article, political analyst Liliana Mason was quoted as saying that “individuals can hold somewhat moderate positions on may issues and yet be strong partisans committed to keeping the other party out of office”.

These authors think the 2016 presidential elections will be a very important election when it comes to climate change and environmental issues. We tend to agree and while the divisiveness in the country is disturbing, from a litigation advocacy perspective, the stark polarization among US citizens offers us a unique opportunity to test variables researchers identify as polarizing to see if they are related to eventual verdict decisions in pretrial research. So stay tuned.

Dunlap, R., McCright, A., & Yarosh, J. (2016). The Political Divide on Climate Change: Partisan Polarization Widens in the U.S. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 58 (5), 4-23 DOI: 10.1080/00139157.2016.1208995

Full text accessible here: http://www.environmentmagazine.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2016/September-October%202016/political_divide_full.html

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what-divides-americans-norcThis week we are looking at multiple sources discussing the divisions among American citizens and trying to identify variables of interest in litigation advocacy from that discussion. We watch lots of media sources for information useful in our work and one of those sources is the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research (at the University of Chicago). They often perform large-scale surveys designed to be representative of the US household population and this time they have taken a look at what divides those of us living in the United States of America. Ultimately—it is our values and our politics.

They comment that political campaigns “especially presidential campaigns, raise both the extent and intensity of public debate” and that debate clearly shows in the NORC report of the survey results. This is a fairly quick report to read for yourself so we are just going to summarize some of the high points here. The divisions in the US are especially visible right now and you may want to take a look at the themes in the graphic illustrating this post (taken from the report itself) and see if any of those themes are represented in your specific case. If they are, you may want to consider scheduling a trial date after the presidential elections in November, 2016.

Here are just a few of the findings from the NORC survey on what divides the US::

Eighty percent say Americans are divided on most important values, and 85 percent say the country is more politically divided today than it was in the past.

However, most Americans (62%) say their local community is in agreement with their own basic values.

Most Americans (56 percent) say diversity makes the United States stronger, 16 percent say it makes the country weaker, and 28 percent say it has no effect.

Democrats are more likely than Republicans and Independents to say diversity of backgrounds make the country stronger. Men, city-dwellers, college-educated adults and Hispanics are more likely to say having mixed ethnicities makes the country stronger and those living in rural areas and those who are less educated tend to be the ones saying diversity makes no difference or actually makes the country weaker. Even presidential candidate selection weighs in here: 70% of Clinton supporters think diversity makes the US stronger while only 41% of Trump’s supporters agree.

Neither candidate for President is seen as capable of uniting the country. But, while 43 percent say Clinton’s election would increase division, 73 percent say that about Trump’s election.

Again, there are divisions based on demographic characteristics: Blacks (71%) think Clinton will unite the country as do Hispanics (49%) and then whites (21%). Whites are most likely to say Clinton will divide the country. Millennials (at least those under age 30) are more likely to say Trump will divide the country even further while those 60+ say he will unite the country (26%) and only 13% of those under age 60 agree with them.

So how does this square with people’s sense that they are in harmony with the values of their communities? How can you feel one way locally and starkly different when it comes to the nation? In our experience, the most straightforward explanation is fear and presumed differences with those unfamiliar to you. As the exposure to others increases, fear and presumed differences shrink. That’s why urbanites tend to feel less disturbed by cultural diversity—they live in the midst of it and find that it works out pretty well. For those in homogenous communities (due to location or personal preference) the suspicion and mistrust are not challenged by life experiences.

The implications for litigation advocacy are big, but also (for those who have read this blog over the years) pretty familiar. Make your client—or the issues being faced by your client—familiar. Relatable. Help the jury recognize that even if you are somehow different (culture/SES/education/race/religion/gender/sexual orientation), in the ways that matter, we still understand each other. We are motivated by the same worries, longings, dreams.

Effective jury selection and trial planning has to be vigilant about identifying how to minimize resistance.  What trial story can I tell that will reduce resistance from the least sympathetic juror? Who is going to be resistant to the story to which I am tied?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, there are such vivid divisions that it may be possible to actually see (metaphorically speaking) the demographics underlying attitudes toward your case. That doesn’t mean the juror is immovable from their initial negativity, but it does predict that they are starting out with a higher level of resistance to the story that we are going to tell them. We saw similar sorts of attitude shifts following the Enron collapse and for a magical few months in time, we could identify Plaintiff and Defense jurors pretty specifically based on their responses to a handful of questions. It’s happened a few times since then but it is fleeting. We have to pay close attention to catch it. So….

We have been tracking some of the differences in this and other articles on this divided country and are testing them in our pre-trial research to see if they are differences that respond to attempts to measure them or whether they are merely “interesting” to watch and ponder. We will let you know what we find.

National Opinion Resource Center (NORC) Center for Public Affairs Research in cooperation with the Associated Press (AP). (2016). New survey finds vast majority of Americans think the country is divided over values and politics. http://apnorc.org/projects/Pages/divided-america-perceptions-of-what-unites-and-divides-the-country.aspx

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pew-researchWe like Pew Research here and wanted to bring you two new articles they’ve recently posted that may have relevance for knowing your jurors. It’s been a while since we’ve heard the term “boomerang generation” in regard to Millennials and maybe it’s because they are not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. Yet, if you look at the definition of “boomerang generation” now, it isn’t about moving out and moving back and moving out and moving back again, it’s about staying in place. And Pew has a new article addressing the issue.

Multigenerational households: 2016 

According to Pew Research, we now have a “record 60.6 million Americans living in multigenerational households”. That translates to 1 out of every 5 Americans living in a multigenerational household (defined as two or more adult generations or a home that includes grandparents and grandchildren). Further, the trend is growing among nearly all racial groups (whites are less likely to live multigenerationally) as well as Hispanics in the US, among all age groups, multigenerationaland across genders.

While older adults used to be the ones most commonly living in multigenerational households, now it is young people for whom this living arrangement is most common. It is becoming more common for not just two adult generations to live together but even common for three generational groups. Pew thinks this is the result of immigrant families increasing in the country and a more frequent tendency in those cultures to share households. It is interesting to examine the graph (taken from the Pew site). The number has increased but not sharply. It is a gentle upward trend reflecting the changing demographic of America. As the nation  changes, so do our housing norms.

Religious affiliations of “none”: 2016

Between 2007 (16% of those surveyed) and 2013 (23% of those surveyed), Pew Research says the number of religiously unaffiliated (aka the “nones”) grew rapidly from 35.6 million Americans to 55.8 million Americans saying they had no religious affiliation. Recently, Pew interviewed religious “nones” to see why they had left the church. Their reasons vary widely and as Pew says, the “nones” are far from monolithic. Here is the largest reason those who were raised in the church say they ended up leaving as adults:

religious-nonesAbout half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God.

The others may have objections to organized religion, be religiously unsure, or simply inactive due to other obligations. Pew describes the “nones’ as composed of three groups:

They can be broken down into three broad subgroups: self-identified atheists, those who call themselves agnostic and people who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these findings are important. We need to realize both living arrangements and religious affiliations are changing. Some of this reflects the changing racial and ethnic makeup of the country and some of it reflects changing values and beliefs in our society. Sometimes these changes catch us off guard and other times we just think what we knew “back then” still applies today. Pay attention. Don’t be surprised when your assumptions (based on outdated information) are just wrong.

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