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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

screaming-womanIt’s tough to see the same old themes come up over and over again but—here we go again… Women who react emotionally are seen as less intelligent, but if they react in a “measured and manly way” they are thought not trustworthy. In other words, you can’t win for losing.

“Men were rated as both more emotionally competent and more intelligent in general when they showed restraint. For women, however, the opposite pattern emerged, in that they were perceived as more emotionally competent and intelligent when they reacted immediately.”

In other words, say the researchers, we expect men and women to act according to gender stereotypes and we are suspicious of those who fail to behave accordingly.

Participants in the first study (59 undergraduates from the University of Haifa in Israel—30 men and 29 women) were shown photos found to elicit both sadness and anger. Then they watched videos featuring different people allegedly reacting to those same images. Half of the actors reacted almost immediately (within 1/2 second) while others did not show an expression change for a second and a half. After viewing the videos of people reacting to the images, the participants rated each character for “emotional competence” and assessed their level of sensitivity, caring, and the appropriateness and authenticity of their reactions.

Men who paused for 1.5 seconds prior to changing their expression were seen as more emotionally competent. Women who paused were seen as less emotionally competent.

The second study (with 58 students) was much the same as the first but the participants also rated the perceived intelligence of the character in the video.

“Men who showed delayed reactions were perceived as significantly more intelligent than those who reacted immediately, whereas for women, delayed reactions resulted in less perceived intelligence.”

The authors say that these results reflect the strength of gender stereotypes about women as “more emotionally volatile but also more emotionally competent” and say that when women delay their reaction to an emotionally charged image they may be seen as “strategic rather than spontaneous”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this will be important when considering the impact of male and female witnesses, for preparation of parties, and even for attorney behavior in the courtroom. You are always being watched and evaluated. Assumptions are going to be made for better or worse.

Help jurors see your female witness/party/self as thoughtful and competent but as having learned to stop and consider actions and consequences prior to reacting. That is done more by offering jurors some context for respecting the witness or party, rather than trying to train them to significantly change their response style. In other words, this time it has to be about teaching the jurors how to judge quality, rather than teaching the witness how to overcome the gender bias.

Hess, U, David, S, & Hareli S (2016). Emotional restraint is good for men only: The influence of emotional restraint on perceptions of confidence. Emotion

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grammarpoliceHere’s another sneaky way researchers try to figure out your real feelings rather than your politically correct and overtly verbalized feelings. This is research from Nextions showing bias still exists in the legal field and it’s about your grammar. Well, really, it isn’t about grammar—it’s about race. On the other hand, the sample size is low (slightly above 50 law partners returned the survey) so you could say this isn’t what you would do…and in fact, not everyone would do what was found among this research group.

Here’s what they did in this very simple study. Researchers had five attorneys cooperate in writing up a legal research memo on trade secrets at internet startup companies. The researchers then placed 22 errors of various kinds into the memo. The researchers sent the legal research memo to 60 partners in law firms who were asked to assess it as an example of the “writing competencies of young attorneys”.

Fifty-three of the partners actually returned the writing sample with comments (that’s an 88% return rate which is quite good). In the event you are interested, of the original 60 partners, 23 were women, 37 were men, 21 were racial/ethnic minorities, and 39 were White. The participating partners were asked to edit the memo for “all factual, technical and substantive errors” and then asked to rate the overall quality of the memo on a scale from 1 (“extremely poorly written”) to 5 (“extremely well written”).

So here is the catch: half of the partners were told the writer was Black and half were told the writer (one Thomas Meyer who was described as a third-year associate with a degree from the NYU School of Law) was White. In other words, the associate’s credentials were exactly the same—the difference was that half thought he was Black and half thought he was White. You have likely already figured out how this turned out but we’ll tell you anyway.

When the partners were told the associate was Black, they judged his written memo much more harshly.

The following descriptions of the way Black and White associates writing was critiqued is quoted from Nextion’s report:

“In regards to the specific errors in the memo:

An average of 2.9/7.0 spelling grammar errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 5.8/7.0 spelling/grammar errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 4.1/6.0 technical writing errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 4.9/6.0 technical writing errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 3.2/5.0 errors in facts were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 3.9/5.0 errors in facts were found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

The 4 errors in analysis were difficult to parse out quantitatively because of the variances in narrative provided by the partners as to why they were analyzing the writing to contain analytical errors. Overall though, “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo was evaluated to be better in regards to the analysis of facts and had substantively fewer critical comments.”

Vox did a nice summary of this study and translated Sexton’s narrative descriptions into a chart making it easier to ‘see’ the differences identified by law partners when they thought the writing sample was from a White associate or a Black associate.

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Nextion says this study tells us that due to confirmation bias, law partners are more harsh when judging Black associates’ writing. The Vox review cautions us that we are talking about a fairly small sample here (53 partners in total) and each partner only reviewed one writing sample.

If, says Vox, the partners reviewed more than one writing sample and those who reviewed Black associates writing were always harsher—that would mean the partners were harsher for Black Thomas Meyer than they were for White Thomas Meyer. Since the partners only reviewed one writing sample—we cannot be sure if this is an artifact of some partners being harsher than others or if it is truly bias that tells us Black associates are judged more harshly. Or those who reviewed it might have been having a bad day. Maybe.

The qualitative comments shared from the partner’s reactions remind us of the inconsistent comments we often get from our mock jurors as they evaluate witnesses based on brief deposition excerpts. Remember—before reading these reactions to the writing samples—the law partners received identical memos—the only difference was whether they thought the writer was Black or White.

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From the perspective of law office management—this study reminds us (again) to pay attention to making all of our evaluations as objective as we can so our subjective (and often biased) opinions do not enter into our evaluations. What that means is that you need to look at the specific expectations of the position and list objective criteria for evaluation related to hiring, raises, promotion, and assignments to various cases.

Our biases are almost always hidden from us (it’s called a bias blind spot) and studies like this one, if reliable, tell us we are not as open to diversity as we may want to believe. If you are concerned about managing diversity effectively and other aspects of leadership, you may want to visit our other posts under the Law Office Management category.

Nextions. (2016) Written in Black and White: Exploring confirmation bias in radicalized perceptions of writing skills. http://www.nextions.com/wp-content/files_mf/14468226472014040114WritteninBlackandWhiteYPS.pdf

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middle aged womanIf you are seeking empathy and understanding from jurors hearing your case—go for middle-aged adults—and, in particular, middle-aged women. If you are thinking the sample size of this study cannot possibly be large enough to draw that sort of conclusion—think again! This is a study based on 75,263 adults in the US.

In the study, late middle-aged adults said they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others and that they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others. Both men and women “of a certain age” were more likely to report higher empathy but women were especially likely to do so. (And in case, like us, you are finding it more difficult to ascertain just when “late middle age” might be—the researchers define this as someplace between 50 and 60 years of age.)

Basically, the researchers examined responses from the General Social Survey which measured empathy in both 2002 and 2004. And surprisingly, these were the two smallest samples (1,353 adults in 2002 and 1,330 in 2004). Additionally, the authors conducted an online survey of 72,580 US adults between 18 and 90 years of age wherein they measured both empathy and perspective taking. (Note: While the GSS surveys are random and nationally representative, the researchers large online sample is not.)

Here is what they found on empathy:

Women reported higher empathy than men in all three samples.

In 2002, the GSS sample showed no significant differences in empathy based on ethnicity. In 2004, African-Americans had lower empathic concern than European-Americans. And in the online survey—African-Americans, Asian Americans and “especially Hispanic Americans” reported higher empathic concern than European Americans. (The authors make a point of stressing that the effects were fairly small.)

The effects of age were consistent across all three samples. Empathic concern was higher in older than in younger adults. The most common interpretation of this is that younger jurors haven’t experienced enough pain and suffering to appreciate its debilitating effects.

And here is what they found on perspective taking (which is akin to empathy and basically assesses how likely you are to attempt to put yourself in the “shoes” of another). Note: perspective taking was only assessed in the online sample and not in the GSS samples.

Women had higher self-reported levels of perspective taking than did men.

European Americans had lower perspective-taking than those of other ethnic origins (this effect was small).

And older adults had higher perspective taking than younger adults.

The researchers explain their results in clear and easy-to-understand language. “Specifically, empathy was expected to show an inverse-U-shaped function across the adult life span, with middle-aged adults scoring higher than young adults and older adults. Indeed, we found empirical evidence for this pattern in the case of both empathic concern and perspective taking in all three samples.”

For the non-statisticians among you, what that means is that both younger and older adults are less empathic and less likely to take the perspective of others than are middle-aged adults.

The researchers don’t know whether this is a true age effect or the result of generational experiences since this age range reflects younger Baby Boomers who grew up during sweeping societal changes that emphasized the feelings and perspectives of others.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is an intriguing study. If we know that women report higher levels of empathy than do men and we know the same pattern holds true for self-reports of perspective-taking—and, we know that empathy seems to peak between ages 50 and 60—when all else is equal—you likely would be better off choosing the woman between 50 and 60 for your jury.

As an aside, we always caution against blanket assumptions that “women are better for Plaintiffs and men are better for Defendants”. It simply is untrue. But this finding, when coupled with other information from careful pretrial research, can be instructive in voir dire and jury selection.

O’Brien E, Konrath SH, Grühn D, & Hagen AL (2013). Empathic concern and perspective taking: linear and quadratic effects of age across the adult life span. The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences, 68 (2), 168-75 PMID: 22865821

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Civility_69187189Back in 2010, after a stream of pretrial research projects, we wrote about what we’d learned and included a great line from one of our client-litigators: “What has become of our country?”. It was a theme that resonated—even 6 years ago. We’ve mentioned the incivility of our current political campaigns a few times and here’s a new study to say that Americans think our “manners” are declining dramatically over the past 30 years—especially in the political arena.

The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently conducted a survey on civility (executive summary available here) with 1,004 American adults (from all 50 states and the District of Columbia).  Here are a few of their findings and we hope you will take a look at all their results as it says something about what Americans agree and disagree on when it comes to civility and our political process.

74% of Americans in this survey think manners and behavior have deteriorated in this country over the past several decades.

There are clear differences in what younger and older Americans consider to be generally rude. (For example, younger Americans think it acceptable to use cell phones in restaurants while only 22% of those over age 60 agree.)

A quarter of the American public say they use the “f-word” daily—this is up 10 points since a 2006 survey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger people are more likely to acknowledge using this word daily.

Remarks or jokes based on race, gender or sexuality, are considered inappropriate by 80% even though only a small percentage (7%) of Americans admit to making these sorts of jokes themselves.

With regard to politics, 80% think politicians should be held to a higher standard of behavior than other people and only 15% think candidates should not be sensitive to the possibility of offending or upsetting others while campaigning.

The Republican nomination campaign is viewed as rude and disrespectful by nearly twice as many (78%) as those who describe the Democratic nomination fight that way (41%).

Finally, 68% think the politicians in this years’ Presidential campaigns have outdone the public in levels of rudeness and they want more civility from their leaders.

Overall, it is a somewhat reassuring picture of how real Americans (as opposed to those shown in mass media depictions) feel about civility and incivility in this country—especially when it comes to the political process. You can see the full report at the NORC website and you can read our other assorted posts on civility in America here. All that remains is for people to display the behavior that they claim to miss so much.

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Phubbing_creationIt’s time to run down some articles that are curious, but not substantial enough to justify a full blog post. Once again, we have kept a few pearls in our virtual filing cabinet, and have combined them here for your curiosity and possibly entertainment. This is one of those combination posts that will offer you conversation topics and also, this time only, give you hope for the future when it comes to reading. So, if you want more water-cooler conversation fodder or more material that cements your reputation for knowing very weird trivia, get ready to take notes.

Phubbing makes you unhappy (so knock it off already!)

Phubbing is the practice of “snubbing your partner in favor of your phone” and you add an extra ‘p’ to the word (Pphubbing) if the partner involved is actually your romantic partner. This is the first time we’ve heard of this word so we’re guessing the 2012 advertising campaign for which it was coined wasn’t really that successful. But we all know when we’re doing it, and when we are having it done to us. In the research study cited at the bottom of this post, they found that Pphubbing was a particular problem for those with anxious attachment styles, and that pphubbing related to depression through relationship satisfaction and even life satisfaction. So. It hurts them and makes you feel bad. Put the phone done and make some eye contact. Unless, of course, that message is very important and you are really, really busy…

FOMO (Oh no!)

While we know it is unlikely, you may have forgotten our post on FOMO—“fear of missing out”. FOMO is “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out — that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you”. Apparently it hits young people harder than it does older folks. There’s a Texas A&M University authored suggestion for combatting FOMO over at Science Daily.

Will this finally end blonde jokes?

Probably not, but if you missed the extensive media coverage about blonde women having higher IQs than non-blonde’s—here is a link to the original article asking the question, Are Blondes Really Dumb? from the open access journal Economics Bulletin. We do want to comment that the IQ scores in the article are not statistically significant differences. Actually, Vox recently took this article to task and has a pretty heated critique on the research. But the headline is inflammatory, so it got wide attention.

People still read for pleasure!

A new paper has just been released by the Brookings Institution analyzing more than 400,000 digitally recorded stories to see what holds our attention in 2016. If you’d rather look at a summary of the report, Poynter has an exceptionally nice one. In brief, to hold our attention an article doesn’t have to be short; readers are not indiscriminately drawn to images or photos; and doing your research thoroughly pays off. It’s a wonderful counterpoint to the negative predictions we often hear about the future of reading for pleasure.

Roberts, J., & David, M. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.058

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