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NomophobiaThe smartphone has changed our lives. Just last fall, we wrote about the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) Scale. As a reminder, that post was about how smartphones allow us to obsessively check our email and social media sites to see what our friends and followers and family members are doing— out of a fear of the grave danger that we are missing out on something somehow. Now, the smartphone has inspired yet another concept and another yardstick to measure it, as academicians struggle to find novel paths to tenure. This scale isn’t about obsessively checking your phone—it’s about how you feel when the phone is not available to you. Nomophobia is considered “a 21st century disorder resulting from new technologies” and even has an entry in the Urban Dictionary which is suitably brief so as to more succinctly illustrate the horror that is nomophobia:

Fear of being away from a mobile phone.

“That guy has serious nomophobia.”

Technically, nomophobia refers a fear of being unable to communicate via a mobile phone or via the internet. It is seen as a “situational phobia” and obviously, a phobia this severe demands a scale to measure our level of nomophobia (which stands for No Mobile Phone Phobia). Researchers in Iowa wanted to measure reactions to being without use of a smartphone and so, set out to create a scale to measure our fear of being without our smartphones. Does not having your phone create anxiety? Are you in a full-blown panic at being off the grid, even for a little while? Researchers interviewed 300 undergraduates who “heavily depended on their smart phones” and ultimately devised a 20-item scale to measure nomophobia. [As an admittedly cynical aside, we would like them to find a sample of 300 undergrads who are not “heavily dependent on their smart phones”. A far more challenging research project.] They validated the questionnaire on a small group of students to ensure the scale produced reliable scores and then they administered the scale to the sample of 300 undergraduates to perform exploratory factor analysis.

Here are a few of the 20 items on the NMP-Q scale:

If I could not check my smartphone for a while, I would feel a desire to check it.

If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.

If I did not have my smartphone with me, I would be worried because my family and/or friends could not reach me.

If I did not have my smartphone with me, I would feel weird because I would not know what to do.

If I did not have my smartphone with me, I would be anxious because I would be disconnected from my online identity.

The authors identify four separate factors that emerged in their analysis. When participants were without their cell phones, these concerns arose: not being able to communicate instantly with others, losing connectedness with others, not being able to access information, and giving up convenience of having a smartphone to use if one chose to do so. While many of us would undoubtedly worry about being stranded someplace without a smartphone—many of the items on the scale refer to losing a sense of connection to your social media identity/persona. Like the fear of missing out, nomophobia is likely more pronounced among the young.

From an outside perspective, there is nothing terribly surprising about the research. If you are accustomed to wearing a wristwatch every day and it is the only timepiece you have available, you will be uncomfortable if you are without it. You will worry about being late. You will wonder whether there will be problems associated with your not knowing what time it is frequently. We get accustomed to tools we use frequently, and we don’t like them to be suddenly unavailable to us.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study (again) speaks to the power of court admonitions to not use smartphones or social media during jury service. The smartphone is ubiquitous these days and increasingly, current studies are showing us that being unable to use one’s smartphone is a bitter pill for some to swallow. Last fall, we summed up the Fear of Missing Out Scale (FOMO) post this way:

Heavy social media users are likely to be more distracted, have a shorter attention span, more likely to reflexively use social media during trial, and want to get jury duty over ASAP so they can get back to tracking what really matters. You probably already knew that but with this new information you can impress everyone you know by saying, “This juror is going to be trouble for us since s/he has a high FoMO”. Thank goodness for academic research on scale development.

Now you can say, “this juror is very nomophobic” and consider if you want that level of angst in the jury room.

Yildirim, C., & Correia, A. (2015). Exploring the dimensions of nomophobia: Development and validation of a self-reported questionnaire Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 130-137 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.02.059

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The Dirty Dozen Scale 

Friday, May 22, 2015
posted by Rita Handrich

dirtydozenThis is not a scale to help you determine if your fruits and vegetables are dirty. This is for a different kind of dirt commonly referred to as the dark triad. Psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism make up the dark triad of personality traits and they are traits we all want to identify at different points in time. You might think of the dark triad as ubiquitous in the truly “bad boy” to whom many are drawn (for brief periods).

This research scale is short (only 12-items) and it is quickly gaining popularity among researchers for ease of use and accuracy in assessment of the traits. The authors of the Dirty Dozen [scale items] Scale wanted to reduce the requirement of using 90 items across three different scales to measure the dark triad and so designed this measure. We’ll just tell you it is psychometrically valid and reliable rather than going into explanations of how the scale was designed across multiple studies.

We first became aware of this scale when reading about it in the study of narcissism and first person pronouns. It’s a great name for a scale and hence, we wanted to share it with you here.

These are a few sample questions from this 12-item scale (although the full-scale has also been published on Facebook—complete with scoring information).

I tend to manipulate others to get my way.

I tend to be unconcerned with the morality of my actions.

I tend to seek prestige or status.

I tend to expect special favors from others.

The remaining questions are equally brief and plain language. The author’s comment that, in addition to being correlated with longer measures of the dark triad, scores on the Dirty Dozen Scale tend to show “a consistent pattern of disagreeableness, aggression, and short-term mating.

It’s a nice, face-valid (i.e., it looks like it measures what it is supposed to measure) scale that is brief enough to use in research while also accurate in assessing the presence of narcissistic traits that make up the dark triad. What is amazing—and perhaps adds face validity to the scale—is that people who are low on this scale also are the kind of folk who would consider saying “yes” to these items to indicate very bad character. Those who earn high scores on it? The questions are equally obvious to them, but they don’t mind owning those “yes” answers! A quick review of the Facebook page posting the entire scale shows commenters expressing awe at the scale’s proficiency in describing their “ex”. While we don’t really recommend you do that, it is an interesting scale for consideration in a wide variety of contexts.

Jonason PK, & Webster GD (2010). The dirty dozen: a concise measure of the dark triad. Psychological Assessment, 22 (2), 420-32 PMID: 20528068

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I Me Mine NarcissismConservative commentators like to say Barack Obama is cold and aloof (and narcissistic) because he uses so many personal pronouns in speeches. However, when compared to past Presidents, Obama’s personal pronoun use is actually lower than any President since 1945. It’s an interesting example of how our preexisting beliefs (and political orientation) skew how we hear things and thus form conclusions about others. Those of us who are old enough to remember the Beatles song I Me Mine, might think it an apt description of the narcissist.

Narcissists are characterized by an unrealistic sense of superiority and self-importance, and a persistent self-focus [recall Narcissus from mythology, forever gazing at his image in the water]. While they may seem charming at first, over time their grandiosity, self-focus and self-importance becomes toxic and suffocating and they lose relationships. So can we identify those who use personal pronouns excessively as narcissists? It makes some intuitive sense and it is certainly common wisdom. But, can we really use the frequency of personal pronouns as a good quick-and-dirty screening tool for narcissism? That was the question today’s researchers sought to answer. But they wanted to do it thoroughly and so used 4,811 subjects, across 5 separate labs, with 5 separate narcissism measures, and with English speakers and German speakers. So, large sample, multiple labs, multiple measures of narcissism, and multiple countries/languages.

The researchers say at the outset that while many believe there is a relationship between “I-talk” and narcissism, and this idea makes intuitive sense, there is actually little empirical evidence to support it (and what evidence exists is inconsistent). The researchers accessed 15 samples to examine the relationship of I-talk to narcissism. The samples included the ubiquitous psychology undergraduates, but also social network users in Germany, and German and US Facebook users.

Measures used included the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (in both German and English), the Dirty Dozen Scale, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (in both German and English) and several single-item measures of narcissism. Written samples of various texts participants were asked to generate across different contexts (e.g., talking about some aspect of their own identity, writing about a topic related to themselves, or an impersonal topic) were analyzed by the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software program.

Here is what the researchers found:

“Overall our analyses revealed consistent evidence of a near-zero effect. In short, our high powered investigation provided little compelling support for the often discussed connection between narcissism and I-talk.

In other words, narcissism was unrelated to total I-talk. And that means you can’t diagnose narcissism through self-referential speech. For the grammarians among us, the researchers measured first person singular pronouns as well as participant use of subjective, objective and possessive first-person singular pronouns. There were simply not relationships between the use of self-referential pronouns and narcissism.

The researchers wonder if the “intuitive association between I-talk and narcissism might be based more on a schema-based perceptual process, in the mind of the perceiver, rather than on an analytic pronoun count”. To me, that sounds like “if I don’t like you I will perceive your speech as indicating you are narcissistic”. Which is, in itself, somewhat self-referentially narcissistic.

In everyday language, what that means is that if your attitudes, beliefs and values (and even your political ideology) vary from the speaker, you may be more prone to “hear” narcissism than if you are listening to someone whose values seem to align with your own. If you had a Mom like mine, it mostly means that you talk too much about yourself.

That is a phenomena many of us have seen as we listen to mock jurors react based on mishearing facts and evidence and incorporating their own beliefs into their judgment. We understand this as a problem with the case narrative hitting on “hot button” beliefs that mean mock jurors have defend their pre-existing beliefs.

Just like the conspiracy theorist, these jurors who “just are not listening”, help us refine and re-craft case narratives so they touch on universal values rather than attitude/value/belief/ideology “hot buttons” that result in off-track reactions.

Carey, AL, Brucks, MS, Küfner, ACP, Holtzman, NS, Deters, FG, Back, MD, Donnellan, MB, Pennebaker, JW, & Mehl, MR (2015). Narcissists and Pronouns: “I”, “me” “mine”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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murdered black maleIn December of last year, we wrote about investigative case files in Shreveport, Louisiana. One of the findings in the analysis of those investigative files was this:

Overall, say the researchers, cases with White female victims resulted in the highest number of case file pages (i.e., the most investigative work) and the most severe sentences. In contrast, Black male homicide victims received the least investigative attention and the least severe sentences.

Now, data from the Capital Jury Project has been used to see whether there was a “White female victim effect”. The “female victim effect” describes the tendency for longer sentences or the death penalty when the victim was a female and especially when the victim was a White female who was killed by a Black male.

The Capital Jury Project study involved examining 249 cases of which 57.4% resulted in the death penalty and 42.6% resulted in a life sentence. A little over half (58.2%) of the capital trials took place in a southern jurisdiction. 56.2% of the cases had White male defendants and 43.8% had Black male defendants.

In 41% of the cases, the victim was a White female and of those cases, 61.8% resulted in a death sentence and 38.2% resulted in life sentences.

37.8% of the cases involved White male victims, and of those cases, 59.6% resulted in a death sentence and 40.4% resulted in life sentences.

12% of the cases involved Black male victims, and of those cases, only 38.7% resulted in a death sentence and 61.3% resulted in life sentences.

8.8% of the cases involved Black female victims and in those 22 cases, 54.5% resulted in a death sentence and 45.5% resulted in a life sentence.

Even just reading those numbers, it is apparent that if you are a White victim, your killer is more likely to receive a death penalty sentence and if you are a Black male victim, the opposite is true. The researchers say that the difference is “not as pronounced in Black female victim cases” but for Black males, the difference is statistically significant and sobering.

If that isn’t disturbing enough, comments from the jurors seem to indicate they don’t see the Black male homicide victim as having “suffered” as much as other victims. That is, they perceived suffering for the victim in 76.8% of the White female victim cases but only in 31% of the Black male victim cases. “Nearly 79% of Black male victim cases are perceived by jurors not to involve brutality and another 69% of the cases are perceived by jurors not to involve suffering.”

Here’s a representative comment from a male juror: “you shoot somebody and they die right there and then I don’t think there is any suffering to happen”.

And a representative comment from a female juror: “I don’t know if you’d call it brutal or not. He [the defendant] just got it over with…if there was torture involved then I would call it brutal…but there was no torture involved. He just shot him.”

The researchers conclude that “victim race, not victim gender, appears to be driving juror decision-making in capital cases”. They focus on what they say is a “black male victim effect”: and define it this way:

“It appears that defendants who kill Black male victims are significantly less likely to receive a death sentence compared to defendants convicted of killing White female and White male victims”.

Ultimately, this research finds (through involved archival work and juror interviews) what they found in Louisiana by just measuring the thickness of the investigative files.

Black male victims do not get justice at either the investigative stage or the criminal trial stage. The investigations are far shorter and less thorough than for White victims.

This disparity at the investigative stage appears to be an artifact of what prosecutors deem to be most worthy of effort in homicide investigations, but it is offensively unfair to those murder victims who are Black males, and arguably, to a justice-minded populace.

For all of us, it is a sad statement when a measure like simply counting pages in a prosecutorial file shows us what the system values and then when presented in court, decisions are made that reflect what the system says is valuable.

Girgenti, A. (2015). The Intersection of Victim Race and Gender: The “Black Male Victim Effect” and the Death Penalty Race and Justice DOI: 10.1177/2153368715570060

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When to use humor in the courtroom 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

humor in courtA few weeks ago, headlines proclaimed that Justin Bieber was going to be the target of a comedy roast. Then, after the roast, all anyone could talk about was Martha Stewart and her bawdy contribution. Some people enjoy comedy roasts. Shortly after the Bieber roast, Max Ufberg at Pacific Standard wrote about both the danger and the allure of comedy roasts.

Ufberg says “deprecating humor is satisfying because it helps people feel superior”. In other words, when you put someone down with a demeaning comment or a joke at their expense, you feel better by comparison. Ufberg goes on to describe how comedy roasts began and then quotes experts who say the emotional tone of a comedy roast and “create a social environment more accepting of prejudiced forms of expression”.

So, if Mr. Ufberg is correct, humor that marginalizes its target or otherwise makes fun of or demeans the target is potentially making some of us more accepting of prejudice. And we all know there is a time and a place for everything—humor included. So when does it make sense to use humor in the courtroom? One would think it might help build rapport with jurors.

Or perhaps not. The Supreme Court’s guidebook for attorneys recommends they not use humor as “attempts at humor usually fall flat”. Thanks to often-present cameras in the courtroom, many of us have seen a joke proffered by the attorney attempting to win over a jury, fall flat. You may recall the Zimmerman defense attorney offering a knock-knock joke in his opening statement.

Our own advice to the attorney who desperately wants to crack a joke is “don’t. But if you must, only use self-deprecating humor”. For example, you might say to the expert witness, “you know, I was never good with statistics, but this just makes no sense to me…can you help me understand?”. The problem with self-deprecation by attorneys about technical matters is that jurors don’t usually believe it. They are sure that by the time you get to trial you know what you are speaking about, and they are skeptical of what you say if you claim otherwise. Especially when you demonstrate a significant depth of knowledge when you cross-examine the opposing expert witness.

Gentle, infrequent humor at your own expense that furthers your connection to the jurors and helps them to understand your case (through the expert testimony) is better than humor that someone may see as marginalizing their own deeply held beliefs.

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