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We are now in ABA’s Blawg 100 Hall of Fame!

Monday, November 30, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene


We’ve recently been informed that The Jury Room has been inducted into the ABA Journal Blawg 100 Hall of Fame! Okay, it’s not a Pulitzer, but we are wildly happy about it. To our way of thinking, it is the greatest honor The Jury Room could be given. We appreciate the recognition. Closer to truth, we are shocked. Every December from 2010-2014 we have been delighted to be included in the Blawg 100, but this was not even on our radar screen. Here’s a link to the 2015 ABA Blawg Hall of Fame and a link to the 2015 Blawg 100 honorees.

Here’s how the ABA describes the Blawg 100 Hall of Fame:

In 2012, we established the Blawg 100 Hall of Fame for those blogs which had consistently been outstanding throughout multiple Blawg 100 lists. The inaugural list contained 10 inductees; this year, we added 10 more, bringing the total to 40.

And here is how they described this blog on their roster:

Trial consultants Douglas Keene and Rita Handrich find the research to alternately back up what you think you already know about human psychology (Is rudeness contagious? Yes.) and alert you to the unexpected (Are “beer goggles” real? No.) Posts are both fascinating reads and lessons on how not to base your cases on stereotypical assumptions.

We were inspired to begin blogging by Anne Reed (formerly of Deliberations blog and now leading the charge at the Wisconsin Humane Society). Once we got started blogging, we realized it was a wonderful way to keep up with the changing literature and to share what we were learning along the way. Looking back over the 900+ posts, we still find it interesting to blog as well as a great impetus for our own continuing education. Thank you, ABA Journal, for your recognition of our work over the last 6-1/2 years.

Doug and Rita

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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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The Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale 

Monday, November 9, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

grass_crop_circleYou likely know we love a good conspiracy theorist here. For entertainment value it adds a lot to an otherwise dull story. In fact, one of our favorite blog-moments was when a conspiracy theorist left a raging comment for us regarding a post that questioned the existence of Big Foot.

We’ve posted a few scales in the past on measuring conspiracy beliefs but this one is different. It’s a “generic” conspiracy scale which doesn’t question the participant about who shot JFK or whether the Denver International Airport is literally hell on earth—but rather asks them to rate their level of agreement with fairly generic conspiracy-based questions/beliefs.

The authors think that rather than asking about specific conspiracy theories (which may become dated and irrelevant), one should instead look at basic underlying assumptions about the world which result in a tendency for belief in conspiracy theories. Even their introduction to the scale is inviting truthful completion:

“Beliefs About the World: There is often debate about whether or not the public is told the whole truth about various important issues. This brief survey is designed to assess your beliefs about some of these subjects. Please indicate the degree to which you believe each statement is likely to be true on the following scale: 1: Definitely not true; 2: Probably not true; 3: Not sure / cannot decide; 4: Probably true; 5: Definitely true.”

In brief, the authors conducted four separate studies to develop this scale—beginning with a 75-item measure which ultimately identified “five conspiracist facets” that must be included in a generic measure of conspiracist beliefs:

government malfeasance (reflecting “allegations of routine criminal conspiracy within governments”);

extraterrestrial cover-up (with content concerning the “deception of the public with regard to the existence of aliens”);

malevolent global conspiracies (“small and secret groups exert total control over global events”);

personal well-being (reflecting concerns over “personal health and liberty related to the spread of diseases and use of mind-control technology”);

and control of information (related to the “unethical control and suppression of information by organizations including the government, the media, scientists and corporations”).

The researchers do not see these five factors as reflecting what one might think of as “discrete categories” of conspiracy theory but as more about “fundamental assumptions about the world which promote beliefs in many specific conspiracy theories”. Based on factor analysis, they selected 15 items for the final scale and tested in three follow-up studies. The final measure is a “psychometrically valid measure of individual differences in conspiracist ideation” which researchers hope will “be used across a wide variety of empirical contexts, resulting in a consolidated and cohesive body of research”.

The questions are straightforward and non-judgmental as though these beliefs are commonly held. Here are a few examples:

The government is involved in the murder of innocent citizens and/or well-known public figures, and keeps this a secret.

The spread of certain viruses and/or diseases is the result of the deliberate, concealed efforts of some organization.

Technology with mind-control capacities is used on people without their knowledge.

Some UFO sightings and rumors are planned or staged in order to distract the public from real alien contact.

An unusual aspect of this scale is that the authors have published it on their blog so if you’d like to read more about it you can see the entire scale here. If you’d like to see the complete article describing how the scale was developed, that is also freely accessible online. It’s an intriguing approach to measuring conspiracist tendencies. It is still too long for us to use in pretrial research but some of the individual questions could be of utility.

As a quick-and-dirty means of decreasing the impact of the conspiracy theorist in the deliberation room—you may want to teach jurors to ask “why” those with differing opinions believe what they do. We find in our pretrial research that once the conspiracy theorist explains the “why” behind their adamant opinions, they lose most (if not all) of their traction in deliberations when others see their “facts” are not really facts at all.

Brotherton R, French CC, & Pickering AD (2013). Measuring belief in conspiracy theories: the generic conspiracist beliefs scale. Frontiers in Psychology, 4 PMID: 23734136


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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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lies-are-liesWe write often about lying and deception and none of us like to discover we’ve been lied to by either a stranger or by someone whom we know [or thought we knew] well. Despite how often we encounter dishonesty, there is a tendency to presume honesty in what we hear from others. So is it better to be wary of others and presume dishonesty until proven otherwise? Today’s researchers wanted to figure that out.

They asked 190 undergraduates (average age 19.3 years and 67.6% female) to participate and assigned them to random pairs (some were same-sex pairings and others were not). Two participants arrived at the experiment location at a time and were told they would be participating in a mock job interview—with one playing the role of the interviewer and the other playing the role of the job candidate. The participants were sent to separate rooms to prepare for the interviews and the candidates were given instructions to convince the interviewer they were the best person for the job (and told that “convincing” may involve them telling lies or exaggerating their credentials). Only some of the interviewers were told the candidates might lie or exaggerate their qualifications (the researchers label these two conditions naïve versus informed).

Following preparation, the pair was reunited in a room where they engaged in a 5 to 8 minute interview which was recorded. After the interview concluded the researchers had participants review the videos.

First, the candidates reviewed the video and indicated points at which s/he had thoughts or feelings during the interview. After reviewing the video and marking points where they’d had feelings or thoughts, the candidates then reviewed the video again and were asked at each point they’d marked as one where they had thoughts or feelings—how honest were you being as you expressed that thought or feeling on the videotape.

Then, the interviewer reviewed the video and as it was paused at each point the candidate reported thoughts or feelings—and the interviewer would attempt to identify the thoughts or feelings the candidate was having and then rated how honest they thought the candidate was being with them.

So—in this study both the interviewer and the candidate each rated candidate honesty. That is, the candidates rated how honest they were about thoughts and feelings at various points on the videotape and the interviewers rated how honest they [the interviewer] thought the candidate was being at the same points in time.

The researchers were interested in two main things: empathic accuracy (how closely the interviewers were able to identify the feelings of the candidates) and deception detection (how well they could tell that the interviewee was lying to them).

They measured empathic accuracy as the level at which the candidate’s report of thoughts and feelings matched the interviewer’s assessment of what they believed the candidate was feeling. Higher levels of agreement between the candidate and interviewer, demonstrates higher levels of empathic accuracy on the part of the interviewer.

Deception detection was measured in the same way. If the candidate reported they’d been dishonest and the interviewer assessed them as being dishonest, then the interviewer had correctly detected deception.

According to the researchers, these two “processes used to infer the thoughts and feelings of another person” had never been studied together before. They report the level of empathic accuracy attained by the interviewers was similar to that found in earlier studies of empathic accuracy alone. However, it did make a difference whether the interviewer was in the “naïve” group or the “informed” group. And this is an odd finding:

“regardless of the actual honesty of the thoughts [expressed by the candidate], naïve interviewer/perceivers were more empathically accurate than were informed perceivers”.

In other words, if you trust the person you are talking with, you are able to identify their feelings more accurately. Intuitively, it seems to us that if you are not struggling with trust issues (e.g., “is she lying to me?”) you are more likely to attend to the emotions of the person you are focused on.

From a litigation advocacy standpoint, what this tells us is that verbal content is still the best way to assess if someone is telling you the truth or not. What this research leaves out is the reality that in pairs of people who believe they know each other well, there is likely more room for errors in deception detection since the listener/target of the lie would have no reason to believe they were being deceived.

Nonetheless, it does remind us of just how complex detecting deception is and how wrong many people are when they believe someone is not being truthful. It doesn’t matter if they are wrong when it comes to your witness or party though—if they believe the witness is lying, things are unlikely to turn out well for your case.

DesJardins, N., & Hodges, S. (2015). Reading Between the Lies: Empathic Accuracy and Deception Detection Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6 (7), 781-787 DOI: 10.1177/1948550615585829


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