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macho nachoAccording to a new study in the journal Social Psychology, it’s because we are willing to pay more for less healthy food in macho packaging or healthier food in pretty feminine packaging. You may protest at being stereotyped in this way but, apparently it works (or food package designers wouldn’t do it) because it’s just easier for us to process cognitively.

The researchers say the packaging reflects our beliefs about gender and food preferences: women prefer to eat more healthfully than men. Evidently, men can’t be bothered with health and nutrition. They explored these beliefs in three separate studies and draw conclusions about how “packaging” can use these stereotypes to influence behavior.

In Study 1, the researchers “primed” participants with a word scramble task wherein sentences contained either masculine, feminine, or neutral words embedded in the sentences. After completing the word task (and being “primed” for either a masculine, feminine or neutral state) the participants ranked 10 foods in terms of how likely they were to eat them in the next month. The researchers then looked at whether there was a relationship between the priming condition (masculine, feminine, or neutral) and their choice of the foods they were most likely to eat.

Sure enough, the researchers found that participants exposed to masculine priming were more likely to prefer unhealthy versions of food (e.g., soda, fried chicken, movie theater popcorn, donuts, potato chips, French fries) than were those exposed to the feminine priming (who tended to prefer bananas, oatmeal, spinach, or an orange).

In Study 2, the researchers wanted to vary the way food was packaged or presented. They used the same food (a muffin) in all conditions but the muffin was either presented as low-fat (“Health Muffin”) or full-fat (“Mega Muffin”) and it was packaged in either masculine, feminine or gender-neutral packaging.

Once again, the researchers beliefs as to how participants would respond were supported. When the packaging (masculine or feminine or neutral) and health (low-fat or full-fat) matched, participants thought the product more attractive, said they were more likely to buy it, and were willing to pay more money for it than when the packaging and health did not match (e.g., feminine packaging and an unhealthy muffin or masculine packaging and a healthy muffin). Oddly, participants also thought the muffin actually tasted better when packaging and health matched. We know they didn’t really taste better since the researchers used Entenmann’s Blueberry Muffins only so they would taste the same regardless of packaging.

In Study 3, the researchers wanted to see if these preferences would remain if the appeals to gender were more explicit—they thought if the appeal was obvious, participants would react against the appeal to gender in product marketing. To test their question, they added a condition where the packaging contained a “blatantly gendered slogan: ‘the muffin for real men’”. Participants again looked at the packaging (masculine, feminine or neutral—but in this case the masculine appeal was printed on the box (in certain conditions): “The Muffin for Real Men”) and indicated how much they would be willing to pay for a box of two dozen miniature muffins. Then they filled out a few measures for the researchers that allowed the researchers to share these results.

The participants who scored highest on psychological reactivity were most likely to react against the gender appeal of the muffin for real men and otherwise the findings paralleled those in Study 2.

The researchers think subtly activated gender stereotypes about food preferences influenced the participants to prefer either masculine/less healthy or feminine/more healthy foods regardless of their gender; that when gender (as communicated via packaging) and health (low-fat or full-fat) match up, we really like that consistency. And finally—no one likes to have gender pushed on them to “bias” their decisions—even though this research clearly communicates that marketers bias our purchases with gender-based packaging on a daily basis. They think these results could well be used to help policymakers consider how “appealing to cultural beliefs can shape food choices”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this article is a little disturbing. We all know how powerful implicit effects are—they fly beneath the radar and we often miss them completely. And the packaging used in this study escaped conscious notice but imposed powerful notice on the unconscious to result in gender-based food preferences. So how something is “packaged” makes a big difference.

Could trial graphics benefit from being “packaged” in either a male or female appearance? What is the influence of words, images, or color palette on juror acceptance?

Should you include masculine or feminine priming words in your closing statement to attempt to influence the way jurors view your case?

Do these results suggest anything about how you might want to choose your attire in court?

The researchers conclude their work by discussing the power of cultural stereotypes to “implicitly shape food preferences”. It seems to us that those cultural stereotypes are more powerful than we often given them credit for being—especially, as this study illustrates, stereotypes around gender.

Zhu, L., Brescoll, V., Newman, G., & Uhlmann, E. (2015). Macho Nachos Social Psychology, 46 (4), 182-196 DOI: 10.1027/1864-9335/a000226


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this and that November 2015This is a conglomeration of articles we thought were interesting and useful but chose not to devote an entire post describing them. Think of this as a series of articles that might pique your interest and make you want to learn more. We’ll provide links so it’s easy to learn more.

Christians and Science: A new stereotype threat?

You’ve probably heard about how women reminded of how men perform better in math do more poorly on math tests than those not reminded. Or about how African-Americans perform more poorly on standardized tests when reminded they tend to do so. Studies like these have been around for the past couple of decades. But here’s a new one—at least to us. A new study says that Christians are stereotyped as being less competent in science and so they do less well on scientific tests and tasks! We wonder whether this is really a “stereotype threat” since those are typically descriptive of minority groups and Christians remain a majority group in this country. Regardless, it’s an interesting factoid.

White People Have Hardships Too

Matt Damon recently apologized for whitesplaining and Miley Cyrus ran into some trouble with Nikki Minaj recently over the same issues. White people seem to have troubles accepting how their lives are so very different due to privilege. We’ve seen this before in the professional literature but the studies keep coming with very similar findings. In this new study, Whites respond to evidence they are privileged by their race by focusing on all the hardships they endure. The study says that having (White) people “self-affirm” before they are shown evidence of privilege will result in fewer claims of hardship (due to decreases in defensiveness).

When works strikes too close to home: Suppose you have the brain of a psychopath?

This is one of those things you just can’t make up. Well, you could make it up—but no one would believe you. Let’s say you have researched the brain scans of psychopaths for more than 20 years and suddenly you look at your own brain scan and it looks like a psychopathic murderer’s brain? That is apparently what happened to Jim Fallon who then went out and discovered (at least based on a story told by his mother) a familial connection to Lizzie Borden (the famous ax murderer). Because he does what he does, Fallon went out and checked the genes and brains of relatives. He was the only one with the brain of a psychopath. It is likely that the definition of ‘normal’ is now a fragile one (at least) for Jimmy Fallon.

You too can reduce prejudice and “turn people into atheists” [if you buy a big machine]

All it apparently takes is a quick zap, aka “transcranial stimulation of the posterior medial frontal cortex”. Oh is that all? A new publication collaborated on by researchers in the US and UK shows us that if you “stimulate” the brain area linked to “responses to threats”, you can reduce prejudicial views (by about 1/3 in this study) held by the person being “stimulated”. Oddly not only does it reduce prejudice (in this study against immigrants) it also reduces religious beliefs. The researchers say that when you are challenged—you defend yourself and by stimulating the brain in this area, they lower the need for defensiveness. They make no real comment on what the reduction in religious conviction means although a writeup of the study makes it clear they’ve been accused of “turning people into atheists”. And if you are left feeling vulnerable, you will likely find this quote comforting:

“It’s worth mentioning that this technique requires a very loud, very expensive, fairly large machine operated by a technician who’s an expert, and there’s no way that I can conceive of that this kind of magnetic energy could be directed into anyone’s brain without their knowledge.”

Personally, we cannot imagine what kind of people signed up to have their brains zapped by a big, loud machine that is described as changing your brain activity— in the name of science, and not as a life-saving intervention.

Phillips, LT, & Lowery, BS (2015). The hard-knock life? Whites claim hardship in response to racial inequity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 61, 12-18

Rios, K., Cheng, Z., Totton, R., & Shariff, A. (2015). Negative Stereotypes Cause Christians to Underperform in and Disidentify With Science Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6 (8), 959-967 DOI: 10.1177/1948550615598378


Comments Off on Things You Want to Know: Stereotypes, biases,  defensiveness, and when work strikes awfully close to home

racial bias in crosswalkApparently yes, at least according to today’s researchers. And you likely will be somewhat taken aback by just which group you choose to make wait.

Researchers wanted to study whether the pedestrian’s race had anything to do with yielding behavior of motorists at crosswalks. They tested with 173 motorists and 6 trained male pedestrian-confederates (3 Black and 3 White) in Portland, Oregon. The confederate pedestrians were all about the same age, were trained to walk in the same way/speed, were dressed identically and each was easily racially identifiable. The crossings were done across three separate months and always at non-peak hours and with only the confederate-pedestrian in the crosswalk.

“Black pedestrians were passed by twice as many cars and experienced wait times that were 32% longer than for White pedestrians.”

And let’s keep in mind that this is in Portland, Oregon. Having spent quite a bit of time in this wonderful city, one of the things that is strikingly peculiar is that drivers are almost annoyingly prone to yielding to both other drivers and pedestrians. Locals joke about it. Yet this is another study about implicit bias and how our attitudes are uncomfortably reflected in things we do (like deciding whether or not to yield to a pedestrian) on a daily basis. The researchers describe the differences in how Black and White pedestrians were treated by drivers as “stark”.

They are certainly not alone in their findings. Previous research on implicit bias has shown minorities to be medically misdiagnosed in greater numbers, have more difficulty having their resumes seriously considered for jobs, and famously more trouble hailing a taxi.

The researchers think their results reflect the experience of micro-aggressions for the Black pedestrian. One might say it really isn’t that big of a deal but if you consider the time this adds on to a stroll across town—it becomes increasingly significant.  And as an indicator of anonymous racism (failure to acknowledge the pedestrian rights—or perhaps the mere existence— of a Black pedestrian trying to cross the street), this is about far more than cars and walkers. The researchers are now doing a followup project over the next 18 months (also in Portland) to examine the relationship of race and gender in pedestrians and drivers and also examining the influence of crosswalk design and street signage on yielding behavior.

Another motivator behind this work is the disparity in pedestrian injuries and fatalities:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 4,735 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in 2013, representing 14% of all traffic fatalities.

Between 2000 and 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that African-American and Hispanic males were more than twice as likely than white men to die in traffic crashes.

It is possible that, as people experience micro aggressions repeatedly, they might “force the right of way when cars are not stopping, potentially putting yourself into dangerous situations”?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this work speaks to the need to carefully assess whether racial bias plays a role in how jurors respond to your case, and whether you, as an attorney, are prone to minimizing the needs or views of minority jurors. The research on classroom behavior (boys, as well as white people generally get called on to participate in discussions more often) supports this same pattern. In our work, we’ve found that when racial differences are present but non-salient, it can be particularly tricky to predict how racism emerges (to the detriment of the ethnic minority).

Despite popular sentiment—we clearly still have a long ways to go on how race influences us—especially when we are unaware.

Goddard, T., Kahn, K., & Adkins, A. (2015). Racial bias in driver yielding behavior at crosswalks Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 33, 1-6 DOI: 10.1016/j.trf.2015.06.002


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12 angry men 2015Well, okay—part of why it was not called ’12 Angry Women’ is because at the time the movie was made (1957), in most venues women were not permitted to serve on juries. But the research we’re featuring today says that even while on jury duty, it’s hard to be a woman.

Today’s researchers had 210 undergraduates (65% female; average age 19 years; 31% Asian, 28% Hispanic, 27% White 8% African-American, 6% Other) read and view a 17 minute computerized presentation based on a real case where a man was charged with murdering his spouse by slitting her throat (R. v. Valevski, 2000). The defense was that she had actually killed herself due to depression. Participants read summaries of opening and closing statements and read eyewitness testimonies. They also viewed photographs of the crime scene and the alleged murder weapon.

After reading all the information on the case, participants decided on a preliminary vote of either guilty or not guilty. Then they exchanged a series of messages with peers who were also participating in the study and making their decisions as to whether to convict or acquit.

Of course, you realize already that the messages were not really from other participants but from the researchers and were part of the study.

The researchers had five specific messages that each participant received ostensibly from five other participants—four of them agreed with the participant’s verdict and one did not. So there was a holdout juror—and that holdout juror had a name either clearly female (Alicia) or clearly male (Jason) while the four “jurors” who agreed with the participant had names the researchers describe as “gender-neutral” (e.g., JJohnson or syoun96).

As the group continued to exchange their messages in this electronic version of deliberation, the researchers had the holdout type some words in all caps to express anger and/or fear. So—all the participants had read the same information prior to exchanging messages with a small group of 5 other “jurors”. Sometimes the holdout juror’s arguments were made with fear and some with anger while the others were made in an emotionally neutral tone. Throughout the discussion—participants were asked how confident they felt in their initial verdict and then were allowed to change their vote if they wished to as the deliberations concluded. Only 7% of the participants modified their original vote.

Here is some of what the researchers found:

Once the participants learned their verdict choice represented a majority vote, they said they were more confident in their initial verdict.

However, if the “holdout” in their condition was male and he expressed anger, the participants began doubting their initial opinions (at a statistically significant level). In contrast, if the “holdout” in their condition was female and she expressed anger, participants became significantly more confident in their initial opinion over the course of deliberations.

Both male and female participants responded in this way—male holdouts were more convincing when expressing anger while women holdouts lost influence when they did exactly the same thing as the male holdouts. The authors do comment that perhaps in the situation where a man is charged with murdering his wife—the angry female holdout may have been seen as over-identifying with the victim. However, this pattern of results was also in the condition where the female holdout was arguing against convicting the male defendant.

And here is what the researchers have to say about their findings:

“We entrust very important decisions to groups and reaching consensus often breeds frustration and anger expression. Our findings suggest that in decisions we are all most passionate about in society, including life and death decisions made by juries, women might have less influence than men. Our results lend scientific support to a frequent claim voiced by women, sometimes dismissed as paranoia: that people would have listened to her impassioned argument, had she been a man.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study has multiple implications—none of which are going to be particularly popular with women—although they may sound all too familiar based on life experiences.

If you are part of a trial team with both male and female attorneys, assign male attorneys to deliver angry or confrontational cross-examinations. (Remember, angry men persuade and angry women make people dig their feet into their own opposing position.) With that said, modulating anger remains important, as men are also criticized by jurors when they are seen as bullying or badgering.

When you are preparing a witness, pay attention to gender as you consider the testimony involved. (Remember, angry men persuade and are seen as more credible while angry women make people think the woman is losing emotional control and not particularly credible.)

It’s sobering to read a study from 2015 and realize that while we think we’ve come a long way, there is still a long way to go when it comes to gender and the expression of anger. It may help to think of this as an example of how to be flexible when it comes to strategically planning how to use anger, persuasion, and gender.

Salerno JM, & Peter-Hagene LC (2015). One Angry Woman: Anger Expression Increases Influence for Men, but Decreases Influence for Women, During Group Deliberation. Law and Human Behavior PMID: 26322952


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gruesomeReviewing gruesome photographs and listening to emotional testimony about terrible injuries is something we do routinely. When we need to test their impact in our pretrial research, sometimes mock jurors (and occasionally trial jurors as well) are given the option of not looking at the photographs. They are put in an envelope, the envelope is passed around, and whoever wants to open it can do so. Gruesome photographs can be powerful. So can emotional testimony when seen as sincere and resulting from love and loss. So sometimes it’s hard to understand how research like this can lead to tenure since the answer is obviously “yes” for at least some jurors. But on this sort of work, careers are made, curriculum vitae are built, and academic research programs expand. So it goes.

These Japanese researchers wanted to see how strongly emotional testimony or gruesome photographs would affect eventual verdict decisions. So they gathered 127 participants (38 males and 89 females; aged 18 to 48 years with an average age of 20.83 years; 70 of the participants were over 20 years old and 57 were less than 20 years old) who attended a local university. Participants were asked to complete the Juror Negative Affect Scale (JUNAS) which they describe as an adjective list categorized into four subclass (fear/anxiety, anger, sadness and disgust—and for this study all the adjectives were translated into Japanese and listed in random order). The JUNAS was used to measure participant emotional states prior to the experiment and they rated each adjective on a 5 point scale from ‘not at all’ to ‘extremely’.

Then, jurors were assigned to a condition (photographs either gruesome or not gruesome and evidence either emotional or not) and listened to a trial transcript designed to be a weak case for a guilty verdict. The transcript was of a murder case where a homeless man randomly chose a young female victim and killed her so he would go to prison and have a place to live. Initially the homeless defendant confessed, but later he withdrew his confession and said he was innocent. The transcript (ranging from 20 – 23 minutes to review) contained opening statements, evidence presentations, cross-examination, eyewitness testimony and two kinds of circumstantial evidence. In those participants who were included in the emotional evidence presentation—they were read testimony by the victim’s father about the impact of his child’s death. In those participants who were in the gruesome photos condition, participants saw “six gruesome photographs taken from different angles” while they listened to the transcript being read with a description of the scene for about two minutes. At the end of the transcript, the Prosecutor asked for the death penalty while the Defense attorney asked for acquittal.

Finally, after listening to the transcript, participants again rated their emotional state using the JUNAS (with the adjectives presented in a different order than during the initial completion). They they made an individual verdict decision (guilty or not guilty) and if they chose guilty, they offered a sentencing decision and rated their confidence in their verdict decision (1=absolutely not guilty and 10=absolutely guilty). They were also asked to respond to how convincing the evidence was and how shocking the photos were to them. (Some of the participants did not complete the JUNAS completely and had to be removed from the study. The results are thus based on 112 participants.) Here is some of what the researchers found:

74 participants said the Defendant was guilty [despite the fact the transcript was designed to create uncertainty about guilt] and 38 participants said he was not guilty.

Participants who both heard testimony from the victim’s father and saw gruesome photographs were more likely (79%) to find the defendant guilty than those participants who either heard testimony from the victim’s father or saw gruesome photographs but not both (70%) and those who heard no emotional testimony from the victim’s father and also did not see gruesome photographs were even less likely to find the defendant guilty (46%). In other words, while all the participants heard the same trial transcript—the difference was whether they heard emotional evidence (e.g., the father’s testimony or the gruesome photos).

Emotional testimony was most powerful on guilty verdicts while gruesome photographs alone was a much weaker finding (although still significant) and the researchers think their professionally prepared but still fake photographs may have not been “gruesome enough”. However, when the photographs were combined with the father’s testimony, the power of the effect was startling according to the researchers.

Additionally, the participants who heard the emotional father’s testimony and saw gruesome photos also had more negative emotions on the JUNAS at the end of the experiment. The researchers think this reflects the use of “affect-as-information” whereby since the participants felt badly, they tended to punish the defendant with a guilty verdict.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study tells us that if there are both gruesome photographs and emotional testimony in the form of a victim impact statement, it would be good to use both of them during trial. This is likely not a newsflash for you. But the simple explanation the researchers offer may be new to you.

The reason this works is because emotional evidence elicits negative feelings in listeners/jurors and they then want to punish the defendant.

Oh wait. That isn’t news either! What this is though, is recent research that tells us what we believe to be true about the role of anger (what the researchers describe as “negative emotions”) in jurors appears to still be true. When jurors are angry, they look for someone to punish. Sometimes, that person may be your client.

Matsuo, K., & Itoh, Y. (2015). Effects of Emotional Testimony and Gruesome Photographs on Mock Jurors’ Decisions and Negative Emotions Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 1-17 DOI: 10.1080/13218719.2015.1032954


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