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overconfidence-man-3Many have written about men being over-confident in comparison to women–although all of us may be more confident in our abilities than we generally should be. Prior research has shown us that men are more confident than women, and that happy people tend to view themselves more positively and happy people actually often perform better on quizzes and other tasks. So today’s researchers asked 107 undergraduates recruited from introductory courses required of all students (57 male and 50 female) to participate in their study.

First, the participants completed a half-hour quiz containing 20 trivia questions (samples of which can be found here) and 10 arithmetic problems. Then half of them watched nature scenes from Alaska’s Denali National Park while half listened to Robin Williams Live on Broadway comedy sketch. (This experiment was conducted several years prior to Robin Williams’ death.) After watching these video stimuli, the participants were asked to estimate how well they had done on the quiz and given financial incentive to guess correctly. Participants were offered $5 for guessing precisely correctly, $3 for guessing within three points, and just $1 for guessing within six points of their actual score.

And here is some of what the researchers found:

Men were more confident than women (overestimating their scores by about four points to women’s overestimation of two points on average).

Men who watched Robin Williams’ stand-up comedy performance overestimated their scores by 2 points more than those men who watched the nature scenes.

Women who watched the comedy performance were in no way different in terms of estimation of their test scores than were women who watched peaceful nature scenes.

The researchers think men and women regulate their emotions differently (although both genders found the Robin Williams video funny) and that men may be more grandiose after watching a master of comedy, thus inflating their score estimates even more. The researchers suggest we can all benefit from an awareness of how our mood affects our behavior. They suggest employees may wish to (prior to important decisions or meetings) “proactively put him- or her-self into a good mood”, but evidently there are limits to how far that should be taken. And they do not suggest concrete strategies to achieve this goal.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this research offers a caution to male litigators. It is important to maintain your confidence, but don’t get carried away. The end result could be, although one study of 100 undergraduates is hardly conclusive, that jurors may see you as cocky and arrogant (i.e., over-confident) rather than a sincere advocate for your client. At the very least, know that in order to connect with your jury you need to be able to relate to where they are (emotionally and cognitively), and the jurors haven’t likely be watching comedies on the internet while they wait for the trial to get underway. Robin Williams is likely to put you over the top.

Ifcher, J., & Zarghamee, H. (2014). Affect and overconfidence: A laboratory investigation. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 7 (3), 125-150 DOI: 10.1037/npe0000022

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p300 brain waves and deceptionWe’ve written before about the inaccuracy of eye witness testimony despite the familiarity of the saying, “I know what I saw!”. But here is newly published research purporting to have been “able to discriminate perfectly between 12 knowledgeable subjects who viewed stimuli related to their activities and 12 non-knowledgeable subjects who viewed only irrelevant items”. What does that mean? Well, let us tell you (and you can also see a more complete description of the experiments here).

These researchers wanted to test eye-witness memory through the measuring of brain waves (called the P300 event-related-potential-component, as I am sure you knew already). The P300 wave is thought to represent the transfer of information to consciousness, a process that involves many different regions of the brain. Some say the P300 wave occurs when the observer sees something that stands out for them, “an oddball” stimuli. In order for a P300 wave to occur, the subject must be consciously paying attention to targets presented. These researchers thought they could present familiar (e.g., “Hey! I’ve seen this before!”) stimuli to research participants and those who had seen something similar the day before would have a corresponding P300 spike in their EEGs.

To test, they had 26 students (6 males and 20 females) wear a camera attached to their clothing for four hours. (Two participants were removed from the analysis due to concerns about the quality of their data.) The camera footage obtained was then used to construct a concealed-information-test (CIT) also sometimes referred to as the “guilty knowledge test”. What this means is that various keywords relating to events taken from their actual camera footage filmed the day before were assembled along with other unrelated words. The researchers thought that if the participants saw situation relevant words describing events/places they had actually traveled past the day before, they would recognize it and their EEGs would show a P300 spike. This spike, if it happened, would tell the researchers that the witness had indeed seen the item described.

Half the participants were put into a condition called the “knowledgeable” group. Their footage would be described in the key words they were shown the next day. The other half were put into a condition called the “non-knowledgeable” group. Their footage would be entirely composed of irrelevant words that had nothing to do with what they had seen or passed by the day before. The researchers believed that the “knowledgeable” group would show the P300 spikes on their EEGs while the “non-knowledgeable” group would see nothing familiar and thus have no P300 spiking.

And they were right. The use of the P300 brain wave was highly effective in this particular scenario and the researchers believe this work moves the CIT closer to use in the courtroom. Specifically, they think details of the crime scene or a cell phone dropped at the scene could result in the P300 spike in perpetrators being interrogated. It would not really matter what the perpetrator said out loud. We can simply look at their P300 brain waves to see what really happened. The researchers report they were able to differentiate between knowledgeable and non-knowledgeable subjects with 100% accuracy.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think, as does Loonylabs.org, that this idea is just plain creepy.

Perhaps, like the two subjects in this article whose data was thrown out, the words or objects used could have idiosyncratic meaning and the P300 spike could occur and mean something very different from that the person being interrogated had been at the scene.

Perhaps, anxiety can trigger a P300 spike.

Who knows what P300 spikes are related to in total? Or even if they are related to different things for different people?

The way in which the words were introduced seems likely to affect response. If presented on a computer screen, what size is the font? What is the subject’s reading ability? Is there music accompanying the words? If the words are spoken aloud, the person speaking the words would need to be carefully trained, and the reliability of the results could be questioned on this basis, among others.

This would surely be subject to the same limitations that lie detector tests are, and the results are far from acceptable levels of reliability.

There is so much to question when scientists suggest a brain wave can tell us information that can result in the removal of liberty and freedom. We’d say this interrogation strategy has a long long ways to go before it’s ready for prime time.

Meixner JB, & Rosenfeld JP (2014). Detecting Knowledge of Incidentally Acquired, Real-World Memories Using a P300-Based Concealed-Information Test. Psychological Science. PMID: 25231899

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online pornWe can hear the snickers and gasps now–and likely the immediate objection from (probably) the opposing counsel or (unquestionably) the judge. But not always. So why might this be something you want to know? According to new research in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, a distinguishing characteristic of narcissists is that they watch more porn online. That actually makes intuitive sense since narcissists would want to avoid rejection and objectify others as sexual objects. We are not sure how you would get this sort of question in though–unless the case actually involved online pornography.

More interesting to us (by far) was the information on the frequency of porn viewing online. For the study, researchers asked 257 participants (aged 18-61 years with an average age of 29 years, 63% female, 89.1% heterosexual, 70% White, 12.1% Hispanic, 7.4% Black, and 10.5% Other) to complete measures of narcissism (using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the Pathological Narcissism Inventory, and the Index of Sexual Narcissism) and report on the specifics of their internet pornography viewing (they were asked if they had ever viewed, and if they currently viewed internet porn as well as how many minutes per week they viewed internet pornography).

79% reported they had viewed internet porn.

44% reported currently (recently) viewing internet porn.

Current viewers, on average, viewed internet porn 85 minutes per week (or about an hour and a half).

Men spend more time on internet porn (an average of 3 hours per week) than do women (an average of about 1/2 an hour per week).

There was a significant difference in level of narcissism between those (79%) who had ever viewed internet porn and the 21% who had never viewed internet porn.

The researchers comment the sample of those who had viewed porn (the 79%) was skewed by gender since 96% of men reported they had viewed internet porn. Nonetheless, the 4% of men who had not viewed internet porn was lower in narcissism than the 96% who had. As for women, 68% of women had seen internet porn and again, those who had not scored lower in narcissism than women who had seen porn on the internet.

There was also a difference in level of narcissism between those who currently use internet porn for all measures of narcissism. Current users of internet porn (67% of men and 30% of women) were higher in narcissism than were non-current users.

Finally, as the frequency of internet porn use increased, so did the levels of measured narcissism.

What the researchers say is that there is a relationship between “internet pornography use, narcissistic behavior and psychological harm” to the viewer. They believe that using internet porn “inflates an individual’s narcissism (i.e., selfishness, isolation, and entitlement)”. For the researchers, this work focused on narcissism and how it harms relationships.

While we don’t recommend using this as a method for spotting narcissists (the study falls far short of suggesting that), there are clearly cases (copyright cases, sexual violence cases, premises liability cases, and various wrinkles in family law, to name a few) where attorneys and jurors need to be comfortable talking about salacious topics such as this. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this research validates being able to ask about sex and pornography in court* with a reduced fear of offending jurors.

The asterisk is that you need to tell them that virtually all men and over ⅔ of women have watched pornography on the internet. Otherwise, many will feel embarrassment and anxiety. You can normalize by pointing out the truth. When more than 3/4 of a group of 250+ have viewed internet porn, it takes much of the fear of stepping on juror sensibilities away. In fact, you could even say you’ve seen studies saying almost 80% of adults have viewed internet porn at some point in their lives.

There are many times we think the themes in our case are sure to alienate the triers of facts. What we’ve learned in our pretrial research is that when you matter of factly explain the issues, without giggling, blushing, or perspiring, jurors are willing to join you in an adult discussion of case facts.

We’ve also seen glib puns, one-liners, and shared glances with disbelieving grins shared among our mock jurors but they have always been able to quickly redirect their attention when their humor was acknowledged and a focus drawn back to the issues at hand.

Kasper TE, Short MB, & Milam AC (2014). Narcissism and Internet Pornography Use. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 1-6 PMID: 24918657

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ISO LibertariansBack in 2010 we blogged on a survey of more than 150,000 Libertarians. We now have an update on Libertarians in America courtesy of the Public Religion Research Institute! Unlike the original survey, this one was based on a random sample of 2,317 American adults (from people who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel). Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between September 21, 2013 and October 3, 2013. The results offer multiple tidbits potentially useful in voir dire (or simply for expanding your knowledge of Libertarians in America). The full text of their study is accessible online, but here are a few of the findings we found interesting.

Only 7% of Americans are consistent Libertarians although an additional 15% lean Libertarian.

Libertarians are nearly all non-Hispanic Whites (94%), male (68%), and under age 50 (62%).

Political affiliation skews more Republican (45%) than Democratic (5%) although (as we’ve pointed out in other posts on how the country is changing) half (50%) say they are either unaffiliated, politically independent, or belong to a third party.

Tea Partiers? A substantial portion are, but not entirely. 39% of Libertarians identify as part of the Tea Party movement but 61% do not. Libertarians are about 26% of the Tea Party movement while the majority of Tea Partiers (52%) describe themselves as part of the religious right and 35% say they are white evangelical Protestants.

Libertarians are more likely to pay attention to what is going on in government or politics than the average American. Only 38% of Americans say they pay attention to politics and government “most of the time or always”. Among Libertarians, the majority (56%) endorse this response option.

Libertarians are more strongly opposed than most to raising the minimum wage, Obamacare, and increasing environmental protections (all issues reflecting government involvement in economic policy).

The libertarian profile on social issues diverges from their conservative economic outlook: 57% of Libertarians support abortion rights, 70% support MD-assisted euthanasia, and 71% favor legalizing marijuana. Oddly, considering these liberal views on social issues–a majority of libertarians (59%) oppose same-sex marriage.

Libertarians have more positive feelings toward atheists (46%) than either Tea Party members (33%) or white evangelical Protestants (25%). They are also more positively disposed toward gay and lesbian peoples (49%) than are members of the Tea Party (44%) or white evangelical Protestants (38%).

Nearly 2/3 of Americans (65%) support making pornography more difficult to access on the internet. However, among Libertarians, only 31% favor making pornography more difficult to access while 68% oppose this movement.

This study offers a close-up view of those Americans who consistently respond to questions in a pattern the authors identify as Libertarian. Their responses, according to this report, are much more consistent than those who call themselves Libertarians but are not really identifiable as such based on their responses to a scale measuring political orientation. (We will write about this scale, the Libertarian Orientation Scale, in our next post.)

It isn’t at all clear whether there is a consistent notion of “I am Libertarian”, and whether those jurors and mock jurors we follow carefully are comparable to those in this study. Stay tuned to a post we have scheduled for Wednesday of this week, and we will let you know how to determine whether a person fits the definition of Libertarian used by researchers. And we will continue to observe and track the reactions of our mock jurors who say they are Libertarian and see how their responses relate to their eventual verdict.

Jones, RP Cox, D Navarro-Rivera, J 2013 The 2013 American Values Survey: In Search of Libertarians in America. Public Religion Research Institute.

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how white is your network imageNot very Black at all. In fact, according to the 2013 American Values Survey from the Public Religion Institute, “the average white American’s social network is only 1% black”. But wait. It gets worse.

“Three-quarters of white Americans haven’t had a meaningful conversation with a single non-white person in the last six months.”

We are not talking about Facebook networks. Instead, we are talking about a much more meaningful definition of network. The researchers asked respondents to identify “up to seven people with whom you have discussed important matters in the past six months”. Respondents were then asked to provide descriptors of those individuals’  “gender, race and ethnicity, religious affiliation, 2012 vote preference, and relationship to the respondent”. In fairness, seven people in 6 months could mean that you have a pretty small circle for sharing significant things, but the results remain telling. For most people, this circle could mean family and close, intimate friends. For others, it could mean work collaborators and neighbors. It’s hard to predict. But what is clear is that most people live insular lives, accompanied by others much like themselves.

As you might imagine, the networks of some people were actually quite small.

While only 8% had no one identified in their network, 50% named between 1 and 3 people, and 43% named 4 or more people (up to 7).

People in the networks of Americans responding to this survey were only slightly more likely to be immediate family members (average: 1.8 people) than to be non-immediate family members (average: 1.5 people).

The picture becomes more surprising when we see just how segregated American society is by race and ethnicity. The following is a direct quote from the report.

“The degree of racial and ethnic diversity in Americans’ social networks varies significantly according to their particular race or ethnicity.

Among white Americans, 91 percent of people comprising their social networks are also white, while five percent are identified as some other race.

Among black Americans, 83 percent of people in their social networks are composed of people who are also black, while eight percent are white and six percent are some other race.

Among Hispanic Americans, approximately two-thirds (64 percent) of the people who comprise their social networks are also Hispanic, while nearly 1-in-5 (19 percent) are white, and nine percent are some other race.”

This table shows the tendency toward racial segregation among those with whom we talk about “important issues”.

how white is your network

 

You may think you know why this is the case. It is likely due to commonalities and differences other than race. But we cannot explain away the lack of racial diversity in our social networks by using our go-to arguments like age, political affiliation, gender, or even geographic residence. What differences there are, are fairly small.

It is a startling picture to contemplate considering the way race and the different ways the racial groups view race in this country have been highlighted with first, the Trayvon Martin shooting and now the Michael Brown shooting. We simply “self-segregate” says Robert P. Jones recently in the Atlantic in an article on Ferguson, Missouri. We self-segregate so much that it is no wonder white Americans and black Americans have very different perspectives on race in America. We just don’t talk to each other.

It’s another good reason to reinforce the idea that your client, witness, party is similar to the jury even if they are racially different. We need to expose our white jurors to the experience of black and brown Americans. We call it using universal values. This survey data would say our social networks and our day-to-day lives are not filled with an awareness of how universal those values actually are.

The American Values Survey: Race and Americans’ Social Networks. 2013 Public Religion Research Institute. http://publicreligion.org/research/2014/08/analysis-social-network/

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