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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Resting Bitch Face’ is, in case you missed it, the condition of having a neutral facial expression that people perceive as sour, unpleasant, and generally bitchy. Long before was RBF was a thing, a woman in my graduate school class told me that professors often thought she was angry because her face carried a flat expression when she was thinking. “It’s just how my face is!” she protested. Years later, allegedly not until 2013 (although it hit the Urban Dictionary in 2011), the phrase went viral.

It is a “real thing” say scientists, is seen in the famous and the not-famous, has caused some to become depressed, is mostly attributed to women but also seen in men, and some say it reflects contemptuousness. There is support for RBF from social media (sort of), it inspires creativity and career advice, and constant social directives to ‘smile’ or ‘be kind’. There have also been multiple (tenure-seeking) scientific studies on first impressions (which includes the impressions made about RBF particularly in women). RBF even resulted in a video parodying all those direct-to-consumer medical ads.

The term has many detractors who do not think it is at all funny (for the most part) and they wonder why women are expected be always smiling and inviting. They say it is a variation on the “Smile honey!catcalls from men congregated in groups as the woman walks by. As the name would suggest, it is a sexist distinction. There are slide shows designed to show multiple other meanings for expressions deemed to be RBF. Detractors also have career advice, decry the constant focus on women expending energy to appear pleasant to everyone, have created posters, have published articles on the costs of RBF at work, and made angry comments about health professionals giving advice on avoiding the RBF expression as you mature.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we actually rely on first impressions when doing pretrial research with mock jurors and have blogged about the importance of the first impression and strategies for being more likable a lot here. But the concept of RBF is not something we’ve discussed, and frankly, it is a dilemma. Gravity and age give all of us a more RBF facial expression. We need to disconnect the initial negative impression some jurors may have formed due to RBF. Some good advice comes from, of all places, the Business Insider:

“I’ve heard people with resting bitch face sometimes tell me that they’ll contextualize it verbally for other people. That they’ll say, “I’m not unhappy with you. I’m not displeased with the situation. I just look this way.” And that’s a really honest way to talk about this facial expression that they’re giving, because facial expressions are so critical to how we perceive what other people are telling us.”

This is just part of the video transcript on the website (with the author publicizing his new book) and this may be a good way to talk to witnesses, or parties, or yourself (if you have RBF). The message is so similar to what my friend in graduate school said to me as we first met, “That’s just how my face is”. Humanizing the party/witness with the RBF can help jurors (many of whom will have RBF themselves) reshape their first impressions of him or her.

What is instructive is that the speaker on the video has a constant grin on his face (perhaps Resting Happy Face) that makes his spoken message much less empowering than the written transcript provided under the video.

When you are testifying in court, interposing a laugh, or learning to ‘force’ a slight lift to the corners of your mouth can negate the ‘resting’ expression that may look a bit sour or unhappy.

Perhaps the best advice to give to someone who is concerned about being observed (and judged for having RBF) is just this:

So listen to me. You do not have Resting Bitch Face. You just have a face. There’s nothing wrong with it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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Here’s another combination post offering multiple tidbits for you to stay up-to-date on new research and publications that have emerged on things you need to know. We tend to publish these when we’ve read a whole lot more than we can blog about and want to make sure you don’t miss the information.

Juror questions during trial and the prevalence of electronic and social media research

The National Center on State Courts just published a study authored by a judge in the Pennsylvania Lawyer on whether allowing jurors to ask questions during trial will help resolve issues of electronic and social media research during trial. The judge-author suggests the judicial directives to not conduct any form of research (the instructions usually itemize various forms of social media as examples of “what not to do”) do not stop the research from happening—it simply makes the research surreptitious rather than public. Since this publication is in the Pennsylvania Lawyer, they focus on Pennsylvania jury instructions but also discuss how other venues have used (and controlled) juror questions during trial. The article offers suggestions developed in the subcommittee on civil jury instructions. It is well worth a read if you have questions about the practice of allowing juror questions.

We should question alibis and the weight we place on them during jury deliberations

Given all the concerns about the accuracy of eye-witness testimony, it only makes sense we should also closely examine alibis and whether we simply accept them as true. A new article in Pacific Standard magazine says we need to pay attention to alibis as new research is telling us that accuracy of alibis resemble the vagaries of faulty eye-witness testimony. According to the new research, we tend not to remember mundane events (like where we were on August 17, 2009). The authors of the study described say that the wrong people can end up in jail due to alibi inconsistency and eyewitness mis-identification.

The curious impact of donning a police uniform

New research published in Frontiers in Psychology tells us that putting on a police uniform automatically affects how we see others and creates a bias against those we consider of lower social status. Essentially, say the researchers, the uniform itself causes shifts (likely due to the authority communicated by the uniform) resulting in judgment of those considered to be lower status (i.e., in this study those wearing hoodies were identified as having a lower social status). The researchers think it possible that police officers (who put on their uniforms) may perceive threat where none exists.

Identifying lies with fMRI machines

We’ve written about identifying deception using fMRIs frequently at this blog and here’s a four-page “knowledge brief” from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. You can also download this summary at SSRN. This is a terrific (and brief) summary on everything you need to know about what fMRI machines can tell us about deception and what they cannot tell us about deception. You could think of this as a primer on fMRIs and how they work (and don’t work) as well as a guide to deposition testimony of an expert witness touting the deception-identifying abilities of the machine. This resource is very worth your time.

Ciro Civile, & Sukhvinder S. Obhi (2017). Students Wearing Police Uniforms Exhibit Biased Attention toward Individuals Wearing Hoodies. Frontiers in Psychology, (February 6,)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The authors suggest two results from dehumanization of others:

Those who dehumanize are more likely to support hostile policies.

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

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

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

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

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It’s time again for another combination post featuring fascinating tidbits you may have missed were it not for our eagle eyes and constant efforts to keep you informed. And yes, we’ll start at the end since we know you are wondering if smart-phone blindness is really a thing. Would we steer you wrong?

Smart-phone blindness (Yes. It’s really a thing)

You can think of this as a public service announcement meant to protect you from lying in bed and reading your phone when you should be sleeping. Or at least making sure you are looking at your phone with both eyes rather than just one. The condition itself is “transient smartphone blindness” which doctors say is caused when you lie on your side and look at your smartphone in a dark room with one eye inadvertently blocked. Apparently the condition only lasts a few minutes but it is frightening enough that (at least two) people sought medical treatment for it. Let that be a lesson to keep your hands off the phone at night.

Bias at work and at home

Many of us are speaking up when we see or hear bias these days and here are two good resources to help you do that effectively. First, from Harvard Business Review is an article on speaking up when you see bias at work. They offer a three-step process to confront bias that will not embarrass the biased speaker and will not leave you feeling ineffective. It’s a face-to-face process for confronting difficult topics. [Note: The internet is not a face-to-face environment.]

Second, you may wonder how kids are taught social biases and researchers think they learn biases from the adults around them. A recent Scientific American blog explains how the nonverbal behavior kids observe from adults is contagious when it comes to transmitting social biases. So it is not enough to simply not say biased things. When we send mixed signals, kids pick up on them and learn who we like and don’t like, who we think of good and who we think of as bad. The researchers say, in fact, that the nonverbal behavior of adults is especially powerful and formative for kids since they are looking to us to understand their world.

Who judges you if you do not change your surname after marriage?

This research comes from a study of data collected in 2010 from 1,243 US residents. According to this study, done based on reactions to Hillary Rodham Clinton, women and highly educated men do not think about this issue much. However, men with lower levels of education have a more negative view of women who do not take their husband’s name after marriage. According to the research, men with lower education think a woman who does not change her last name is less committed to her marriage and that her spouse had more grounds to divorce her!

We think it quite possible that this study is confounded with attitudes toward Hillary Rodham Clinton since she is something of a lightning rod—and likely especially so among men with lower levels of education.

Share, EF (2017). Hillary Rodham versus Hillary Clinton: Consequences of surname choice in marriage. Gender Issues

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Time for another one of those combination posts on things much too good to overlook. This time we are almost all about various sorts of bias to keep you up to speed on the different ways we make (and teach) biased judgments.

Bias is taught—even to artificial intelligence

We hear a lot about how parents pass biases on to their children but how about how the creators of artificial intelligence devices pass on their own biases to their creations? Scientific American has an article explaining how those who create artificial intelligence program in their own biases. Say it isn’t so, you exclaim! Here’s an example of a “computer algorithm that identifies black defendants as more likely to commit a future crime even though the program was not designed to consider race” in computation. Some have referred to this as a “white guy problem” in artificial intelligence and it has been linked to the problem of fake news. There’s an intriguing story of a researcher who set out to prove stereotypes on criminal-physiognomy wrong—and found quite the opposite and leaped to a “reckless conclusion” that “facial structure predicts criminality”. Yikes. You will want to read this one!

Your friends are secretly accessing your Facebook account

You should probably change your password. According to a study of more than 1300 Facebook users, new research found that 24% of them (more than one in five) had snooped “on the Facebook accounts of their friends, romantic partners, or family members, using the victims’ own computers or cellphones”. You may have seen examples of this where the status of a parent with multiple children is changed to say something like “Kelsey is my favorite child” (and that would mean Kelsey has accessed that parental account). The more concerning access is the “jealous snoop” who, according to the researchers, will access your personal messages for 15 minutes or longer (typically to the detriment or even dissolution of the relationship). You can read the entire research paper here.

The bamboo ceiling: Where are the Asian-Americans in leadership? 

Harvard Business Review blogs posts an intriguing article on diversity and how Asian-Americans out-perform other minorities and Whites in terms of education, employment and income. However, Asian-Americans are under-represented in leadership leading to the term “the bamboo ceiling”. The bamboo ceiling is actually worse than the glass ceiling effect for women. Why is this happening? The writers suggest it happens because of stereotypes about Asian-Americans. Further, those who stand up and behave differently than their ethnic stereotypes often experience a backlash (meaning they still do not advance). The authors recommend that we rethink what a “good leader” looks like as the worker population in the US continues to diversify. (You may also find the lessons we’ve learned about attitudes toward Asian-Americans in litigation interesting.)

How fast does racial bias kick in? The time it takes for your heart to beat

New research in Nature Communications tells us that our heartbeat itself can increase pre-existing racial biases. When participants saw a Black person approaching during a heartbeat (as opposed to in between their heartbeats) they were more likely to see the situation as life-endangering. We are impressed that they could time the image display that precisely. As you might imagine, this is thought to have strong implications for addressing the high number of shootings of unarmed Blacks. We wrote about this sort of research in a paper following the Trayvon Martin shooting and this work focuses again on whether a Black (or White) individual was holding a gun or simply a mobile phone. The researchers found that when the image of the approaching (either Black or White) person was flashed at them at the moment their heart beat (rather than in between heartbeats) they were about 10% more likely to perceive the object held by the Black person as a gun. Multiple news outlets have picked up this story. You can read summaries at Science Daily, Science Newsline, or Newswise. You can read the complete article here.

Can you really overcome unconscious bias?

Yes, says Jordan Axt writing in Scientific American blogs. He describes a series of studies published recently in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Axt and his co-author, had participants play a card game where either black or white avatar faces were (randomly) selected to represent their player. What they found was that those participants who wanted to behave in non-biased ways were more resistant to “learning” black faces as avatars would mean a losing hand. The author says that “performance only suffered when the task supported potentially unwanted racial associations”. They believe that our underlying attitudes “may have the first word but not the final say in behavior”.

Azevedo, R., Garfinkel, S., Critchley, H., & Tsakiris, M. (2017). Cardiac afferent activity modulates the expression of racial stereotypes Nature Communications, 8 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13854

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