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Pew on racial attitudesPew Research Center often impresses us with their in-depth explorations of various social issues. Last month, they published an article looking at racial bias as measured by the Implicit Association Test (IAT). This is work that’s been done a lot, the twist this time is that Pew looked at the differences in racial biases among biracial adults as compared to Black, Asian and White Americans.

What we also admire about Pew’s work is that they tell you when you can generalize their findings and when you cannot. They say that this pool was not representative of the adult population of the country (since they had to limit participation to certain racial groups) and so they want us to view the study as “exploratory”. It’s still a good-sized sample though (with 2,517 participants) and the findings are intriguing.

The study was composed of people who identified as White, Black, Asian, White-Black biracial, and White-Asian biracial. The question behind the survey was simple enough—will multiracial adults be less likely to have those biases or will they just be more divided in their racial preferences? We’ll skip to the outcome and tell you that the answer was “fairly definitively” the latter.

We think it’s a survey worth your time to go see but here are the highlights:

About 3/4 of the respondents in each of the five participant groups demonstrated some level of implicit racial bias. That means only 20% to 30% in the entire sample had little to no bias against the races on which they were tested.

The majority of Black and White respondents were biased in favor of their own racial group, but single-race Asians were more evenly divided in their responses to the IAT. Specifically, single-race Asians were about as likely to show a bias for Whites over Asians (38%) as they were to regard Asians more positively than Whites (42%)

Half of all single-race Whites preferred Whites over Asians and only 20% preferred Asians. Three out of ten White respondents didn’t favor either race.

45% of single-race Blacks were quicker to associate positive words with Blacks and negative words with Whites. Of that 45%, 28% showed a moderate to strong automatic preference for Blacks.

Only 23% of White-Black biracial adults and 22% of White-Asian biracial adults have little or no bias. Few biracial adults are race-neutral says Pew. White-Black biracial adults “looked more like” single-race White adults on their IAT scores. Asian-White biracial adults are more divided in their racial preferences much like single-race Asians.

IAT from Pew

The Pew article explains the process of testing bias with the IAT and discusses multiple topics in addition to the findings we’ve listed here. We wanted to draw your attention to this survey since it highlights an issue we talk about a lot: you cannot know from external appearances what specific attitudes, values, and beliefs an individual will hold dear. In other words, demographics don’t (ever) tell the whole story.

Pew Research Center. 2015 Exploring racial bias among biracial and single-race adults: The IAT. http://


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Barry-White-at-the-Printe-008I watched the second Republican debate last week after reading two more articles on voice pitch and winning elections. Not coincidentally, I had to struggle to keep from focusing on who had the deepest voice among the candidates. We’ve written about this line of research before and tend to think of it as the Barry White or James Earl Jones effect. Deep resonant (and yes, male) voices are tied in our minds with strength, competence and leadership.

Oddly, when you (and your deep male voice) are running against a female opponent (like Carly Fiorina in the Republican debates) you won’t do as well. Researchers looked at the 2012 outcomes of the US House of Representatives elections.

When two males competed, the one with the lower voice won a larger vote share.

However, when facing female opponents, those candidates with higher voices were more successful, especially for male candidates. Why? Perhaps (says Casey Klofstad who authored both of today’s studies) a male candidate with a lower voice will be seen as too aggressive when paired against a female opponent.

Those most biased in favor of lower voices are older, well-educated and politically engaged voters (and also the most likely to vote).

In the second study, researchers asked study participants (400 men and 400 women in each of two studies) to listen to pairs of recorded voices that had been manipulated to vary only in pitch. Participants were asked to choose a voice in each pair who they believed was stronger, more competent, older, and which voice they would vote for. Again, lower pitched voices were preferred as leaders and were seen as significantly stronger and more competent.

Overall, even when you are educated, older, and politically engaged—deeper voices persuade us more unless there is a mixed gender competition and then we prefer men who have higher voices (although we may still choose the female candidate).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this has several implications:

Voters (and therefore jurors) are not as sophisticated as they might believe themselves to be. A deep voice is more appealing to the senses and may have undue influence on our decisions as to which candidate we vote into office. Be thoughtful as you consider hiring an expert witness— does voice quality have impact on how your expert will be received?

Just as tall men are often believed to be good leaders, deep voices seem to communicate strength and competence so if you have a deep and resonant voice, use your power for good. If your expert has a deep voice, use that to your benefit.

Just because your witness or the client has a deep voice, don’t forget the importance of witness preparation. If you have that deep voice but don’t seem credible or likable to the listener—your deep voice will not help you. If, on the other hand, you are seen as credible and likable and you have a deep voice, it isn’t going to hurt you at all. If anything, it is likely to pull in your favor with jurors.

While we’ve seen studies on voice pitch before, this is the first one we’ve seen that says voice pitch actually influences election outcomes. That makes us wonder if it isn’t also influential in jury deliberations.

Klofstad, C. (2015). Candidate Voice Pitch Influences Election Outcomes Political Psychology DOI: 10.1111/pops.12280

Perceptions of Competence, Strength, and Age Influence Voters to Select Leaders with Lower-Pitched Voices. 2015 Casey A. Klofstad, Rindy C. Anderson, Stephen Nowicki. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133779


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bikes and full laneHere’s a study about road safety that doesn’t know it’s a nice indication of why litigators need good graphics. We have blogged before about the value of graphics so it’s good to see more research that is so sensible to highlight the value of the visual in the courtroom.

Today’s researchers wanted to see which common road sign was the best way to clearly communicate rules of the road to both auto drivers and cyclists. The sign illustrating this post is the one they found best communicated the fact that cyclists can bike in the center of the lane legally.

They used Twitter to recruit 1,800 survey takers and checked to see which sign communicated that bicyclists do not have to “get out of the way” to allow motorists to pass without changing lanes. What is really nice about this signage (the one that says “MAY USE FULL LANE”) is that those who saw it were more likely to recognize the biker’s right to use the road than those who did not see a sign. And the effect was strongest in those who themselves biked less than 10 miles a week or who commuted primarily by car.

Those who saw the traditional “share the road sign” with a bicycle image showed no significant difference in response than those who saw no sign at all. It’s a clearly better communicator than the two other signs often seen along our roadways.

all bike signs

This is research we can directly apply to our work. When the question is which graphic most clearly communicates the rather complex message that reflects the rules of the road all across the United States—the answer is pretty clear. And the value of a good graphics person on your trial team is pretty clear as well.

Hess G, & Peterson MN (2015). “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” Signage Communicates U.S. Roadway Rules and Increases Perception of Safety. PloS one, 10 (8) PMID: 26317355


Comments Off on Better signs equals less friction: Why you need a good graphics  person

As you know by now, I edit The Jury Expert for the American Society of Trial Consultants and we try to alert you when new issues upload 4 times a year. This issue is special since it focuses on the perhaps premature reports of the death of the civil jury trial. Here’s the Editor Note from the new issue of The Jury Expert explaining how it all evolved and with some extra  links thrown in so you can go directly to the articles themselves. –Rita

When we at The Jury Expert saw Renée Lettow Lerner’s writing on the collapse of the civil jury system in the Washington Post when she guest-blogged for the Volokh Conspiracy it was clear the ideas she expressed were not ideas that resonated with our own experiences in the courtroom. So we asked her to write for our readers here at The Jury Expert and she graciously agreed. Professor Lerner discusses her perspective and a trial consultant (Susie Macpherson) and a well-known litigator (Tom Melsheimer) offer very different points of view.

After Professor Lerner’s thoughts on problems with the US justice system, we have an article on changes in the Swiss civil system as they moved to abolish jury trials. This article is by two Swiss scholars (Gwladys Gilliéron and Yves Benda) and an American scholar (Stanley Brodsky). It describes the existing Swiss system and how abolishing the civil jury trial changed (and did not change) the application of justice in Switzerland.

Shortly after Renée Lerner’s work in the Washington PostAdam Benforado wrote an excerpt from his new book UNFAIR that was published at The Atlantic website and titled: “Reasonable Doubts About the Jury System: Trial consultants allow the affluent to manipulate the biases of those who judge them, putting justice up for sale”. As you might expect, the article isn’t likely to fit the point of view of most trial consultants, so his viewpoint is important for any trial consultant to understand. I contacted Professor Benforado, and invited him to write an article for us that addressed the issues he raised in The Atlantic. He agreed, in the face of knowing there was vigorous disagreement among trial consultants with the position he took in The Atlantic. His article elicited thorough responses from Diane Wiley (representing all trial consultants), Jason Barnes and Brian Patterson (representing visual trial consultants), and Stanley Brodsky (representing academic and research trial consultants).

Following those first three articles about problems in our justice system, Hailey Drescher (a trial consultant) offers an interview with Steve Susman (a well-known litigator) and Tara Trask (a trial consultant) on Susman’s new Civil Jury Project at New York University. This ambitious, long-range project is unlike anything that’s been done before in this country and will attempt to examine the civil jury trial and offer suggestions for improving it. Read the interview if you want to know more about this project or the upcoming conference they will be sponsoring.

Then we move on to other exciting new research and ideas on the jury system from here in the United States. Krystia Reed and Brian Bornstein (academic researchers) offer recommendations on how to use joinder differently if you are in a civil versus a criminal trial. Sonia Chopra and Charli Morris (trial consultants) respond to this article and offer insightful questions and suggestions on implementing the research. Richard Gabriel (a trial consultant) saw the issue of peremptory strikes in the New York Times (again) and provides us with new ways to think about strikes (both peremptory strikes and strikes for cause). Allen Campo (a trial consultant) describes a newer way he’s been helping attorneys understand their cases—he calls it a feedback group. And finally, Bill Grimes updates us on the research literature about deception—do we know how to tell who’s lying yet?

It’s an intriguing quandary—the numbers of civil juries are declining, yet there is a plethora of ideas, programs, research, and strategies for improving our ability to work together to improve litigation advocacy. Is our system dying? That is questionable, although it is undoubtedly changing, as it always has. The energy around these new and exciting ideas makes me think perhaps our system isn’t dying. It is merely evolving and thus has to face hard questions as a new definition of our justice system emerges.

The role of trial consultants has evolved over time, as well. The idea that the trial consulting profession contributes to bias (while most trial consultants feel they are in the business of rooting out bias, not creating it) produced deep reactions from responders who are members of the American Society of Trial Consultants. Many of the founders of the profession are still alive and actively practicing—trial consulting is a young profession. I appreciate the measured responses from our trial consultant members in this issue and I appreciate the generosity and courage shown by Renée Lettow Lerner and Adam Benforado in writing about and standing behind their convictions despite disagreement. Both their offerings and the thoughtful commentary by ASTC members give us all much to consider. Combined, these contributors keep The Jury Expert an intellectually and morally stimulating forum, for which we are all grateful.

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2015 climate-changeWe recently posted new research on the secret to combatting distrust of science. Now we have more research on how to talk about climate change without setting off automatic and defensive reactions from listeners. Not many of our readers are going to be litigating climate change issues, but the challenge of discussing complex scientific issues with potentially controversial impact covers a far broader scope.

These researchers wondered if there were ways to weaken the ideological divide (around climate change) and so did an experiment to see what sort of language “framing” would be most persuasive in terms of moving people to action.

They prepared seven different papers for participants, each paper having different arguments for the consequences of climate change. The seven papers were attempts to move people to action on climate change awareness. One of the papers focused on a basic recitation of facts about climate change and the remaining six papers were framed with science, morality, and economics—each of these three ‘frames’ had two versions. It would have been a lot easier had the researchers given us simple explanations of the various ‘frames’ or even shown us the seven papers so we had examples of the language. But they did not. So here is our best explanation of what participants saw based on the condition to which they were assigned.

Participants in the science frame would either get a positive explanation or a more negative version. Essentially, say the authors, the “negative science frame articulates the problem of climate change by highlighting the negative consequences of inaction, whereas the positive science frame highlights the positive consequences of action”.

Those in the moral frame looked at either a religious or secular explanation. The researchers conceptualize this frame as one reflecting either our “duty” to take care of God’s creation or doing something because it is simply “the right thing”. (Their actual explanation in the article is dense and lengthy with the added benefit of being very vague.)

And those in the economic frame received language stressing fairness or harm that could place the entire nation at risk. The researchers describe these two ends of the continuum as follows: “The economic frames assume two forms, an equity frame that emphasizes the uneven distributional effects of climate change among poor island countries and an efficiency frame that emphasizes the costs and benefits to the United States in taking up climate change action. ” Wow. There are times when I wonder who is teaching these researchers to write clearly.

So, after writing seven papers with climate change explanations which are not provided for public review, the researchers recruited 360 adults (all we know about these participants is that they were US citizens older than 18 years of age) through an online research site and asked them each to read one of the 7 papers. After the participants read the paper they received, the researchers had them each rate their level of support for one of four policies calling for the regulation of carbon, gas taxes, carbon taxes or climate treaties.

So which frames on climate change resulted in people taking more action?

“Frames that emphasize science, secular morality and economy equity have the potential to increase public support for climate change policies.”

The researchers had expected that frames emphasizing religious morality and economic efficiency would be the most intriguing for conservatives. This, however, was not the case. Those frames made no difference across ideological lines. What did make a difference across ideological lines (i.e., conservative versus liberal, for example), were the “positive science frame and the equity frame”.

In (plainer) English, what this means is that both liberals and conservatives in the positive science frame (i.e., highlighting the positive consequences of action) and the economic equity frame (i.e., being fair to everyone) supported climate change policies after reading their vignettes and even though their views changed to support of climate change—conservatives always supported the climate change policies less strongly than liberals.

In other words, both liberals and conservatives will support climate change given these frames but the conservatives will not support it as strongly as do the liberals. Basically, the ideological divide is reduced significantly when explanations are presented in these frames. In conclusion, the authors comment that climate change is a “hot button” issue largely tied to political affiliation/beliefs. Yet, a simple change in how the explanation is framed (i.e., “presented”) can minimize the ideological divide of even a “hot button” issue. The researchers tend to think this straightforward framing exercise may mean that action on climate change may not be as hard to achieve after all.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study adds to the findings about the “gateway belief” we posted earlier this month. That earlier research found that giving listeners information about the 97% scientific consensus on climate change led to impressive changes in belief in climate change. Today’s research adds another step:

In addition to educating jurors about scientific consensus, you will also want to consider framing your case narrative to emphasize the explanations above: positive science (science highlighting the positive consequences of action) and equity (i.e., “being fair”). Jurors will want to believe that you support fairness with objective truth, and that their conclusions are safely rooted in credible evidence. The language used to describe that evidence can reduce resistance of those who might ideologically oppose a position.

We are reminded of a mock jury deliberation held in early 2002, when a very conservative white male voted in favor of very substantial damages in a personal injury case. When asked about why he voted in favor of damages after completing a screening questionnaire that indicated that he was opposed to large awards, he said “I know. It feels inconsistent to me, too. But you know, after 9/11 I have been forced to rethink a lot of things, and what I am now convinced of is that we all have to look out for one another. And this man [the plaintiff] needs us to look out for him.”

Severson, A., & Coleman, E. (2015). Moral Frames and Climate Change Policy Attitudes* Social Science Quarterly DOI: 10.1111/ssqu.12159


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