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morality in everyday life

The researchers recruited a sample of 1,252 adults ranging in age from 18 to 68 years of age who reside in the US and Canada. Each participant completed measures of religiosity and political ideation prior to participation in the actual study. All participants had smartphones and were randomly signaled on their phone for 3 days between 9am and 9pm. “At each signal, participants indicated whether they committed, were the target of, witnessed, or learned about a moral or immoral act within the past hour”.

The participants wrote a text back to the researcher describing the event, where it happened, and completed a scale describing their emotional experience. In total, participants sent in 13,240 text message “reports”.

On close to a third of the text message reports (28.9%), they reported either a moral (15.3%) or an immoral (13.6%) event.

They were more likely to report either committing or being the target of a moral act and more likely to learn about an immoral act. The researchers say the participants were more likely to learn about an immoral act via personal communications–also known as gossiping.

Political ideology was associated with moral content with liberals mentioning events related to fairness/unfairness, liberty/oppression, and honesty/dishonesty, while conservatives were more likely to mention events related to loyalty/disloyalty, sanctity/degradation, and authority/subversion.

There was no real difference in the frequency of positive moral experience by religiosity. Religious people did not commit moral acts more frequently than nonreligious people but they did report fewer immoral experiences (the researchers think this might be a reporting issue rather than one of the religious actually having fewer immoral experiences). Religious people experienced more “intense self-conscious emotions such as guilt, embarrassment, and disgust in response to the immoral deeds they had committed, and more pride and gratefulness in response to moral deeds”.

For all participants, moral acts were associated with higher happiness levels than immoral acts. Benefitting from the good (moral) acts of others resulted in the highest levels of happiness while doing good (moral) acts for others resulted in the highest sense of purpose.

Finally, when participants did a good (moral) act earlier in the day, they were more likely to commit a bad (immoral) act later in the day and less likely to do another good (moral) act.

In other words, we are inveterate gossips. We see the world through our particular political ideology’s lens. Religious people commit the same number of immoral acts as the nonreligious but they feel worse about those acts. Conversely, when behaving well, the religious feel better. We all feel better when we do good and worse when we do bad.  Having someone else do something nice for us makes us happiest but doing something for others gives us the highest sense of purpose. And, finally, if we do something nice at the start of the day, we seem to believe we have a license to act in any way we so choose for the rest of the day.

From the perspective of litigation advocacy–there are some important lessons buried in this very short (4 pages!) article.

We like salaciousness and are likely to pay close attention to it. Where morally questionable behavior might be perceived, it will be. If it concerns you, make sure  you address it– someone on the jury is likely to be guessing something improper occurred. 

Give jurors a choice to do the right thing. They want a constructive motive, not just to punish. That’s what we find our jurors want to do in every case and this research says it will make them feel good and give them a sense of purpose!

We all see the world through our own particular lens–crafted of our attitudes, beliefs, values and political ideology. Make sure to tell your story in a way that focuses on universal values rather than merely pressing hot buttons.

In other words, give jurors something to vote for, not against.

Hofmann W, Wisneski DC, Brandt MJ, & Skitka LJ (2014). Morality in everyday life. Science (New York, N.Y.), 345 (6202), 1340-3 PMID: 25214626

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how white is your network imageNot very Black at all. In fact, according to the 2013 American Values Survey from the Public Religion Institute, “the average white American’s social network is only 1% black”. But wait. It gets worse.

“Three-quarters of white Americans haven’t had a meaningful conversation with a single non-white person in the last six months.”

We are not talking about Facebook networks. Instead, we are talking about a much more meaningful definition of network. The researchers asked respondents to identify “up to seven people with whom you have discussed important matters in the past six months”. Respondents were then asked to provide descriptors of those individuals’  “gender, race and ethnicity, religious affiliation, 2012 vote preference, and relationship to the respondent”. In fairness, seven people in 6 months could mean that you have a pretty small circle for sharing significant things, but the results remain telling. For most people, this circle could mean family and close, intimate friends. For others, it could mean work collaborators and neighbors. It’s hard to predict. But what is clear is that most people live insular lives, accompanied by others much like themselves.

As you might imagine, the networks of some people were actually quite small.

While only 8% had no one identified in their network, 50% named between 1 and 3 people, and 43% named 4 or more people (up to 7).

People in the networks of Americans responding to this survey were only slightly more likely to be immediate family members (average: 1.8 people) than to be non-immediate family members (average: 1.5 people).

The picture becomes more surprising when we see just how segregated American society is by race and ethnicity. The following is a direct quote from the report.

“The degree of racial and ethnic diversity in Americans’ social networks varies significantly according to their particular race or ethnicity.

Among white Americans, 91 percent of people comprising their social networks are also white, while five percent are identified as some other race.

Among black Americans, 83 percent of people in their social networks are composed of people who are also black, while eight percent are white and six percent are some other race.

Among Hispanic Americans, approximately two-thirds (64 percent) of the people who comprise their social networks are also Hispanic, while nearly 1-in-5 (19 percent) are white, and nine percent are some other race.”

This table shows the tendency toward racial segregation among those with whom we talk about “important issues”.

how white is your network

 

You may think you know why this is the case. It is likely due to commonalities and differences other than race. But we cannot explain away the lack of racial diversity in our social networks by using our go-to arguments like age, political affiliation, gender, or even geographic residence. What differences there are, are fairly small.

It is a startling picture to contemplate considering the way race and the different ways the racial groups view race in this country have been highlighted with first, the Trayvon Martin shooting and now the Michael Brown shooting. We simply “self-segregate” says Robert P. Jones recently in the Atlantic in an article on Ferguson, Missouri. We self-segregate so much that it is no wonder white Americans and black Americans have very different perspectives on race in America. We just don’t talk to each other.

It’s another good reason to reinforce the idea that your client, witness, party is similar to the jury even if they are racially different. We need to expose our white jurors to the experience of black and brown Americans. We call it using universal values. This survey data would say our social networks and our day-to-day lives are not filled with an awareness of how universal those values actually are.

The American Values Survey: Race and Americans’ Social Networks. 2013 Public Religion Research Institute. http://publicreligion.org/research/2014/08/analysis-social-network/

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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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