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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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aha-moments-IGWhen I was younger, I would have moments of clarity I referred to as epiphanies. I learned pretty quickly that if I did not somehow reinforce that epiphany in my mind, I would forget it—only to (sometimes) realize it again at some point in the future.

So now, when I am working on a project and have a seemingly idle association, I write it down so it doesn’t disappear and I often find that idle association turns out to be very informative later on. These insights are what some refer to as “aha!” moments, and today’s research article focuses on just how accurate and intuitive those moments can be for all of us. In fact, these “insight solutions” are correct more often than our analytic solutions according to this research. Albert Einstein once referred to his own insights as “great speculative leaps” to a conclusion and then tracing back the connections to verify the idea. (You can read the entire article here courtesy of the senior author.)

Today’s researchers wanted to know how accurate insights would be when compared to analytical solutions. The researchers had participants in four studies take on puzzle solving tasks. One study used only linguistic puzzles, one used only visual puzzles, and the last two used puzzles with both linguistic and visual elements. The participants had a set period of time (i.e., 15 or 16 seconds) in which to solve the puzzles and each experiment contained between 50 and 180 puzzles.

Here is an example of a linguistic puzzle used in the research. These words would appear on a computer screen:

crab pine sauce

Participants were asked to offer a word that would fit all of them to make a compound word (apple, in this case). As soon as the participants had solved the puzzle, they would hit a button and say their answer and then tell the experimenter whether they had derived their answer via analytical thinking or insight (they had received training in how to tell the difference between the two). The researchers say that the insight solutions were overwhelmingly more correct than the analytical thinking solutions.

In the linguistic puzzles, 94% if the responses classified as insight were correct compared to 78% of the analytical responses.

In the visual puzzles, 78% of the insight oriented responses were correct compared to only 42% of the analytic responses.

Additionally, solutions offered during the last five seconds of the task had a lower probability of being correct and the majority of those answers were based on analytical thinking.

The researchers say that insightful thinkers tend not to guess but rather, they wait for an aha! moment. And, when an aha! moment does emerge, that solution tends to seem obvious and the individual is certain the solution is correct. The researchers conclude that if you want a creative idea or solution to a problem, it is better to not have a hard deadline for completion. While a drop-dead deadline will get results, they are less likely to get creative results.

The researchers say this is because insight oriented solutions are an all-or-nothing process while analytical problem resolution is incremental and allows partial information on which the individual can base a guess (which often is incorrect).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we often see the aha! moment in process during pretrial research with mock jurors. We urge our attorney clients not to draw conclusions for the jurors but rather, to allow jurors to come to their conclusions and solutions. What we see over and over again is that the mock juror who is given enough information to connect the dots but not force-fed a solution—is a juror who is a fierce advocate for one side of the case or the other. You may accept what you are given, but you own what you discover for yourself.

We pay attention during pretrial research and watch for gaps in the case narrative that result in distortions or conspiracy theories about the case and plug those holes for eventual courtroom presentation. We’ve always thought the conclusions drawn by jurors with a road map of what happened were much more powerful than the conclusions presented to jurors by the attorney and this research article shows us why.

Giving jurors an aha! moment as they connect the dots in your case will result in jurors who feel confident in their conclusions and will advocate for you in deliberations.

Salvi, C., Bricolo, E., Kounios, J., Bowden, E., & Beeman, M. (2016). Insight solutions are correct more often than analytic solutions. Thinking & Reasoning, 1-18 DOI: 10.1080/13546783.2016.1141798

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mckayla_impressed_ap_328Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney had a bad day at the Olympics in 2012 and the facial expression illustrating this post went viral. She was “not impressed” said the internet—and today’s researchers would say the internet was half right. What McKayla Maroney was really showing us, according to today’s research, was the universal “not face”.

Researchers from Ohio State University wanted to know if there was a universal facial expression that spans multiple cultures. They found one and McKayla’s brief expression captures it perfectly. The researchers wanted to see if they could find clues to the evolution of spoken language. It is apparently a common belief that, before humans developed language, we had a collection of facial expressions to communicate emotions. So the researchers filmed 158 Ohio State University students while speaking in their native languages. The researchers used participants who spoke in English (a Germanic language), Spanish (based in Latin), Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language (ASL).

Past research had established that facial expressions of anger, disgust and contempt could be found in all cultures. The researchers wondered if the three universal negative facial expressions had been combined over time into a single negative facial expression. And yes it has. Here is what the researchers call the “universal not face”. You will note the similarity to McKayla’s “not impressed” face. The researchers describe the expression like this:

It consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips and raised chin, and because we make it when we convey negative sentiments, such as “I do not agree,” researchers are calling it the “not face.”

not face

Even in American Sign Language (ASL), the researchers found the “not face”. The researchers explain the word “not” can be signed with hands or it can simply be indicated by a shake of the head. However, sometimes, the researchers found, the “not face” was occasionally used in ASL without either the hand sign for “not” or the head shake. In other words, at times in ASL, the only way you know that the word “not” has been used is from the expression these researchers call the “not face”.

This study required hours and hours of painstaking frame-by-frame video analysis. The researchers now plan to automate the painstaking study of thousands of frames of films they analyzed while completing this study and then analyze one billion frames (for 10,000 hours of data) of YouTube footage of people speaking in an attempt to identify other “facial grammatical markers”. If you’d like to read more about this study, Newswise has a nice writeup.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think the lesson here is clear. If jurors listen to you with this expression (which is, as you recall, a combination of anger, disgust and contempt) it is likely not a good thing for your case. We’ve all seen this look. Most of us have probably mimicked this facial expression. Now it has a name and we can fear it in the jury boxes not just in the United States but of the world.

Benitez-Quiroz CF, Wilbur RB, & Martinez AM (2016). The not face: A grammaticalization of facial expressions of emotion. Cognition, 150, 77-84 PMID: 26872248

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manipulatorWe’ve written a lot about those with what are called the “dark triad” of personality characteristics. Narcissists. Psychopaths. Machiavellians. These are not people we recommend doing business with—either personally or professionally. Their only interest is self-interest. So this is an interesting study as it shares a possible way to inoculate yourself against these untrustworthy folks who can be (for brief periods of time) quite persuasive and charming.

Here is how the authors of today’s article describe those with dark triad personality characteristics:

They “are callous and interpersonally exploitative. [snip] Psychopathy is related to an antisocial lifestyle, Machiavellianism to  calculated manipulation and being goal-oriented, and narcissism to grandiosity and self-adoration.”

Or as my kids would say, “they will cut you”. In short, they are not nice people and cannot be trusted. The authors note that there is ample evidence of exploitative behavior from these “dark personalities” in face-to-face interactions but that no one has yet explored whether their negotiation skills will be preserved when forced to negotiate in a text-based (“computer-mediated”) environment (which would delete their interpersonal presence and non-verbal behavior).

To cut to the chase, what the researchers found was that when you take away the impact of interpersonal presence—dark triad personalities are much less persuasive in text and they are much less threatening to those intimidated by interacting with them face-to-face.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it is unlikely you will be able to conduct actual negotiations via text. However, if you end up in mediation, remember that much of the bluster of the machiavellian, the manipulation of the psychopath, and the preening behavior of the narcissist will be eliminated when they are interacting with you not in person, but through the mediator.

Make yourself think concretely—not “what does that really mean?” but, “what was offered?”.

If you find yourself feeling threatened or charmed, remind yourself that the person embodying the dark triad is not in the room; give yourself time to step back and consider how to respond.

The reality of the dark triad character is that there is a large display of style but not much substance. When you distance yourself from their interpersonal impact (by texting, memorandum, or an interacting through an intermediary) they simply become bad people, but not particularly productive, persuasive or threatening people at that.

And when you have to interact in person, say in the courtroom—focus on being as likable, sincere, and straightforward as you can and trust that the jury will see your genuineness. The contrast will be refreshing for them. You are there to do a job for your client and that means advocating for them and not focusing on the malevolence of your opponent.

Crossley, L., Woodworth, M., Black, P., & Hare, R. (2016). The dark side of negotiation: Examining the outcomes of face-to-face and computer-mediated negotiations among dark personalities Personality and Individual Differences, 91, 47-51 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.11.052

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