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spiral of silenceWe’ve blogged a fair amount on the impact of the internet and social networking on jurors but here is something unexpected. People that engage in social media are less likely to discuss heated topics in the news, not more likely. This is according to a recent Pew Research report.

Back in 1974, Noelle-Neumann described the “spiral of silence” which basically describes a tendency to not speak up when we perceive our own beliefs and opinions to be in the minority. With the advent of intense social media involvement, researchers had hoped there would be more willingness to engage in discussion that truly reflected a variety of beliefs and values. Alas, it is not so.

The new report on the Pew website essentially says the relative anonymity afforded by the internet doesn’t make us (or at least most of us) brave enough to stand up for what we believe. It’s a sad commentary and what it seems to say is the “new transparency” of social media is just another public facade people who hold minority opinions feel they must maintain. Perhaps it is due to FoMO–another recent blog post of ours.

Regardless, here is some of what the Pew report finds in data collected from 1,801 adults between August 7th and September 16th, 2013–using the example of the Edward Snowden-NSA story. As background, the Snowden story was chosen since previous Pew surveys found the public was split on this story: 44% said the release of classified information harms the public interest and 49% said it serves the public interest. Of the 1,801 adults surveyed, 80% of the adults in this survey were internet users. 71% were Facebook users and (only) 18% of them were Twitter users.

While 86% were willing to have an in-person conversation about the Snowden-NSA story, only 42% of Facebook and Twitter users said they were willing to post about it online. The researchers believe social media users are particularly attuned to the opinions of those around them and are thus less willing to disagree with them.

Even when holding other factors (like age, gender, education, race, and marital status) constant, social media users are less likely to say they would join in (even in person) than non-social media users of the internet. Facebook users are only half as willing to discuss the Snowden-NSA story at a physical public meeting as a non-Facebook user. Twitter users are less likely to be willing to share their opinions in the workplace than internet users who do not use Twitter.

Social media users who think their social media friends and followers disagree with them on the Snowden-NSA issue were “more likely to self-censor their views on the story in both social media and in face-to-face encounters”.

In both face-to-face and online environments, people were more willing to openly express their views if they thought others agreed with them. 86% said they were “very” or “somewhat” willing to have a conversation about the story in at least one face-to-face setting, but only 42% of Facebook and Twitter users would discuss the story on social media.

The Pew Foundation graphic illustrates this clearly:

Pew spiral blog insert

 

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the chilling effect of social media involvement on one’s willingness to state a differing opinion is of great concern. We have always taken the lone naysayer in pretrial research seriously and expressed appreciation for their courage in speaking up in disagreement. This survey highlights the need to establish a friendly and receptive juror-centric tone (rather than one of client advocacy and confrontation) in voir dire. And it is yet another reason to teach jurors in actual trials how to deliberate and to make clear for them the importance of allowing disagreement and the expression of differing opinions.

One day perhaps we will all feel able to express what we believe to others. Social media, contrary to the expectations of many, has not changed the desire to not make waves and to self-censor opinions we believe will be unpopular.

We have all seen the evidence of what are commonly known as “trolls” on comment pages for various news sites and high-traffic. These people are not those identified by this Pew Report and we’ve covered a research study that helped us to understand those who actually comment on major news sites are probably not people we want as jurors!

KEITH HAMPTON, LEE RAINIE, WEIXU LU, MARIA DWYER, INYOUNG SHIN, AND KRISTEN PURCELL (2014). Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’. Pew Research Internet Project.

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disgust 2014We’ve covered a lot of the disgust research so it is curious to us that somehow we missed sharing the actual Disgust Scale with you earlier. The Disgust Scale was developed by the infamous Jonathan Haidt (his surname is pronounced “height”) back in 1994 before disgust was considered cool.

In brief, the Disgust Scale was designed to “assess sensitivity to seven domains of potential disgust-eliciting stimuli (i.e., Food, Animals, Body Products, Sex, Body Envelope Violations, Death and Hygiene) and levels of Sympathetic Magic (i.e., beliefs about the transmission of contagion)”. The Disgust Scale was psychometrically refined by Olatunji et al. in 2007, reduced from 32 to 25 items, and from eight factors down to three factors of disgust. The citation on this post reflects the most recent iteration of the Disgust Scale-Revised.

In brief, what Olatunji and colleagues found is that disgust sensitivity is linked to being neurotic, behaviorally inhibited, and having low self-esteem. They cite three types of disgust: core, animal reminder, and contamination disgust.

Core disgust occurs when we consider spoiled milk or other foods, body wastes (e.g., feces and urine), and small animals (the researchers identify rats and cockroaches) often associated with trash and garbage. When we have an actual “oral incorporation” or feel we are threatened with one–then we experience “core disgust”. The researchers use the example of “eating monkey meat” or “meat covered in maggots” as an elicitor of core disgust.

Animal-reminder disgust occurs when we are reminded of our own mortality or our “inherent animalistic nature”. The researchers identify our attitudes toward various sex acts, injury to the body or death. When we think of these things, our sense of “animal-reminder disgust” can be activated. An example of an experience that can elicit animal-reminder disgust would be touching a dead body.

Contamination disgust is related to core disgust (and to animal-reminder disgust too) but has more to do with germs and disease. An example of this would be accidentally drinking from the cup of someone who is obviously ill and our fears we would catch whatever they have elicits contamination disgust. Another example could be concerns about contagion from HIV or the ebola virus.

These researchers were interested in the relationship of disgust to clinical mental health symptoms and report the anxiety disorders are particularly sensitive to disgust. For example, spider phobias, contamination-based obsessive-compulsive disorder, fear of animals, social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder are all closely related to one’s “disgust sensitivity”.  So, we know you are wondering what kinds of questions would help you measure disgust sensitivity and, for once, we don’t have to tell you since you can see for yourself. You can take the Revised Disgust Scale to see your own scores by going to Haidt’s website, YourMorals.org and registering. (Then go to the ‘explore your morals’ page and choose the disgust scale).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, there are multiple ways disgust can factor into your case. We’ve seen it play often unanticipated roles in personal injury cases, contract and IP disputes, corporate misconduct cases, and even in family estate disputes. The important thing is that you know how disgust will be relevant to your case and that you work to help jurors see something that is initially disgusting as a reason for empathy, hope for the future, or as a call to action for change.

Olatunji, B. O., Haidt, J., McKay, D., David, B. (2008). Core, animal reminder, and contamination disgust: Three kinds of disgust with distinct personality, behavioral, physiological, and clinical correlates. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1243-1259

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smartphone distractionsWe know smartphones can be really annoying when they distract our lunch or meeting companions from our scintillating repartee. There is even recent (2013) research showing women are twice as likely to be annoyed by smart phone interruptions as are men.

But that research is already a year old and perhaps we’ve gotten used to being ignored in favor of some unknown other. So here’s some very new (July, 2014) research showing that no, we have not gotten used to being disrespected as our companions choose their smartphones over us.

These researchers say that smartphones create a state of “polyconsciousness” wherein our attention is divided between the people we are with in person and those to whom we are connected by our mobile device. They examined the effect by going to “selected coffee shops” (surely it had to be Starbucks…) in the Washington, DC area and asking 100 random pairs of people (109 women and 91 men; average age 33; 72% Caucasian) to chat for 10 minutes discussing their “thoughts and feelings about plastic holiday trees” (a trivial topic) or discussing the “most meaningful events of the past year”.

Researchers observed “from a discreet distance” and documented if one of the people either put a mobile device on the table or held one in their hand. After the 10 minutes had elapsed, the two people filled out questionnaires about the conversation and about their conversational partner. The participants were asked to rate the closeness of their relationship on a Likert Scale (from “not at all close” to “extremely close”), asked how “connected” they felt to their companion during the conversation (via the connectedness subscale of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory), how “empathic” they saw their companion as being (via the Empathic Concern Scale), and their age, gender, ethnicity, and positive or negative mood (as measured by the Emmons Mood Indicator) so the self-report of mood could also be factored in to the results.

And here is what they found:

Of the 100 dyads, 29 dyads had mobile devices present and the remaining 71 dyads did not. (This is not to say that they didn’t have smartphones in a purse or pocket, but they weren’t ‘present’ during the conversation.)

If either member of the dyad placed a cell phone on the table or just held it in their hand, the “quality of the conversation was rated to be less fulfilling compared with conversations that took place in the absence of mobile devices”.

When mobile devices were present (on the table or in the hand), participants in the conversation also reported they felt their companion was less empathically concerned about them (and the closer they had rated their relationship, the more they felt the lack of empathy).

And get this: It didn’t matter if the dyad was discussing “festive holiday trees” or “important events”. The mere presence– not necessarily the use of– the cell phone was enough to cast a chill over the conversation, especially when the conversation is between close friends/confidants.

The researchers say that smartphones are just way too distracting since “in their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and other worlds”.

It’s a fascinating series of results (and not just for the idea of how hard jurors would find it to not just “check something” or communicate with friends about what they are doing). It’s another reason to consider the ubiquitous presence of the phone and how it may affect the person with whom we are conversing. Whether it is a new client, a long-standing client, a co-worker, a significant other, or merely an acquaintance–everyone is effected by the mere presence of that smart phone. And if you should by chance stroke it, look at a message, respond to a message, or pick up a call….who knows what could happen?

Those of us who live (and in many cases sleep with) our phones tend to take them for granted and often use them to gather information without consideration of the impact on others. This research should give us all pause (as we say here in the heart of Texas).

Misra, S., Cheng, L., Genevie, J., & Yuan, M. (2014). The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices. Environment and Behavior DOI: 10.1177/0013916514539755

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why-we-lieI listen to a lot of audiobooks while traveling. But sometimes I want something less lengthy than a full book and so I turn to podcasts. Recently, I was on a plane and turned on an episode of the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast on Why We Lie. It’s an interesting and wide-ranging look at all the reasons we lie and the research that’s been done on identifying liars. Some of it we have covered on the blog and some of it was new to me. But it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour in the middle seat of a sold-out plane.

So when I saw the research report that inspired this blog post, I wondered just how differently these researchers would perceive deception from the more entertaining TED speakers (who, in some cases, were also researchers). Today’s researchers say having a face-to-face interaction promotes honesty. And they didn’t look at face-to-face interactions where there was back and forth conversation. Instead, they did a simple hallway face-to-face where two research participants exchanged a paper form indicating their gender and age (and were then more honest with each other during the experiment than the participants who did not have that face-to-face experience).

Researchers recruited 297 participants (148 were male) to participate in a task with another research participant. In the task, participants were informed that they would “engage in a one-shot strategic game with another research participant and that their payment would depend on the choices made by both players”. Participants then circled their gender and age on a written introduction form and either saw the other participant in the hallway as they exchanged introduction forms or were informed the experimenter would deliver the introduction form to their research partner. Then the individual participants chose whether they would send a truthful or deceptive message to their partner. (The message was telling the partner to choose one of two options because it would result in their being paid more money for participation in the experiment. The participant could either tell the truth or instead, send a message that was false to their partner.)

The research found that those participants who looked at another research participant (even without speaking) were more honest than those who did not see the other participant (since the form was ostensibly delivered by the experimenter).

While this research offers a feel-good answer that we want to believe (when people look at you, it’s harder for them to lie), not all researchers agree with it. It’s an interesting example of how research can find many different things even when researching the same topic. The TED Radio Hour podcast offers a variety of findings, some of which will surprise you (like, we are more honest in email with people we know than we are when on the phone).

When you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear Dan Ariely talk about how introducing some (even small) amounts of moral accountability can increase honesty but there is a slippery slope to which all of us are susceptible. In another segment, Pamela Meyer talks about how to spot a liar and how we practice various lying strategies throughout our lives. Jeff Hancock talks about whether technology makes us more honest or not, while Michael Shermer tells us why we believe in unbelievable things. Finally, Eric Mead talks about how magicians help us see reality in a very different way. Overall, it’s a quick and easy way to get a diverse understanding of what we now know about deception. The information is not all consistent, but it is consistently interesting.

Van Zant, A., & Kray, L. (2014). “I can’t lie to your face”: Minimal face-to-face interaction promotes honesty Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 234-238 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.07.014

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immigration 2014We’ve blogged about immigration a number of times here and now it’s popped up again.  After the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, we found a question on attitudes toward immigration successfully differentiated between Plaintiff and Defense jurors for several years. Attitudes differentiating “us” versus “them” have always had utility when anticipating some kinds of juror attitudes, but the lines seemed to become more sharply drawn after 9/11/2001. The Christian Science Monitor recently published the results of a Reuters survey on attitudes toward immigration and cited the following:

70% of Americans (and 86% of Republicans) believe that undocumented immigrants threaten traditional US beliefs and customs.

63% said undocumented immigrants place undue burden on the US economy.

45% think the number of immigrants allowed to legally enter the country should be reduced and only 17% thought the number should increase.

17% see immigration as the #1 national problem (up from just 5% in July, 2014).

The authors of the CSM article think this sudden shift may be due to the 50,000 unaccompanied children apprehended at the border since October 2013. They also suggest that these revitalized attitudes against immigration may spur Republican votes in upcoming elections. The new Pew political typology report (and our interpretation of the key Pew findings to the jury trials) certainly highlights the “issue-specific” way in which voter turnout can swing in our “new normal” political environment.

It’s as though the political landscape is becoming more like the deliberation room, wherein the attitudes, values and beliefs of those gathered together can be more important than the actual evidence presented. Some of our most vociferous and verbal mock jurors actually have very limited information on the topic at hand. We always listen carefully and question thoroughly as to why they came to their expressed belief. That process typically results in their losing ‘authority’ in the discussion, because the emptiness of their reasoning is less persuasive than their passion. But their questions and comments offer us valuable information on how to patch holes in the case narrative so their loudness will gain little, if any, traction in the (unsupervised and unobserved) deliberation room.

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