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i-am-powerfulWe have written about power poses and other strategies to help yourself feel powerful.  Be clear, though—you do not become more powerful by doing such things, but it might make you feel that way, which in itself can be communicated as confidence or authority. This post isn’t about how to make yourself feel powerful, it is about those who perceive themselves as already powerful. In short, those who see themselves as powerful draw more inspiration from themselves than they do from others. It apparently doesn’t matter if you really are powerful, only that you think you are powerful. The authors begin by quoting from Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar acceptance speech in 2014.

McConaughey “recalled someone asking him ‘Who’s your hero?’. He replied: “You know who it is? It’s me in ten years”. [snip] Apparently, Matthew McConaughey derives inspiration from his future self.”

So the researchers took a look at how this happens. How do you draw inspiration from yourself rather than drawing inspiration from the example of others. They give the example of the sort of  person we have all encountered, who goes on and on about their accomplishments and experiences. The dynamic is not only one exemplified by famous actors.

The researchers planned four separate studies with 555 participants across all four studies (3 studies performed with Dutch undergraduates and one with undergraduates at UC Berkeley). In the first three experiments all participants completed a measure of their personal sense of power, and other tasks (including writing tasks and various efforts to measure how the participants were “inspired”). In the final study, the researchers “primed” the participants to experience either a high or low sense of personal power. What the researchers wanted to know was if the participants who felt “powerful” would report they drew more inspiration from themselves than they drew from others.

Their findings are consistent with Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar speech (even in the fourth study where participants were “primed” for high power sense of self rather than just reporting it was the way they saw themselves).

The powerful are more inspired by their own experiences than are those that do not see themselves as powerful.

And the powerful are more inspired by their own experiences than by the experiences of others.

The authors conclude that the reason powerful people talk more, are poor perspective takers, are less prone to consider the opinions of others, and less likely to take expert advice (all findings in previous research) is because “the powerful prefer to entertain their own rather than other people’s experiences and ideas, because they are more inspired by their own internal states than by those of others”. The authors close by returning to consider the case of Matthew McConaughey. They say,

“Inspiration is always within reach for their powerful—entertaining their own uplifting experiences is enough to spark the flame.”

It brings to mind how important it is to look at how a persuasive person with high socio-economic status and confidence  (a “powerful” person) may function in jury deliberations. If you want to avoid having a jury dominated by this person, take the time to teach all jurors “how to deliberate” so if they feel run over by jurors who feel empowered to drive the verdict—others have ammunition with which to disrupt that intention.

Van Kleef, G., Oveis, C., Homan, A., van der Lowe, I., & Keltner, D. (2015). Power Gets You High: The Powerful Are More Inspired by Themselves Than by Others Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550614566857

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williams and stewartI grew up listening to the television news with (Uncle) Walter Cronkite and my dad every night. I had a morbid fascination with his recitation of the body count of soldiers in the Vietnam War and silently said his sign-off line along with him: “And that’s the way it was…” and then a repeat of the day’s date. Walter Cronkite reported the news. He had credibility and gravitas. He was a cultural icon in a more innocent time.

Flash forward to the present and I have not watched the evening news with any regularity for at least two decades. There is simply no need with breaking news alerts and NPR while I am on the road. So when the Brian Williams “misremembers” memes began, after his story of being shot down in a helicopter was refuted, I was saddened, but neither surprised nor particularly interested. But the buzz turned to scandal and scandal  turned to NBC news dropping Mr. Williams name from the show title. Conservative websites published “32 Lies” that Williams told regularly about his experiences. He was mocked mercilessly on the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special. Time Magazine wondered if Williams was a narcissistic liar or the victim of false memories.

Brian Williams is likely not the only well-known news personality to embellish his experiences and even to tell stories easily proven to be untrue. Yet, he seems to have believed nothing bad would happen to him even if he continued to exhibit very poor judgment. Just like Anthony Wiener. Eliot Spitzer. Tiger Woods. Even David Letterman (on whose show Brian Williams told falsehoods to a national audience). And so on. David Letterman appears to have not forgotten the glare of the spotlight when his own deceptions were made public. He combined his support of Brian Williams with a Top 10 List of Things Brian Williams Has Said That May or May Not Be True on a recent show and said he believes this will “blow over” and it will all “be fine”.

But how can we trust the mass media when a highly respected and well-liked spokesperson for the media has fallen so publicly and so hard? Well, says Gallup Polls, we don’t trust the mass media anyway and while Brian Williams’ actions may reinforce that distrust, he certainly has not created the distrust of the mass media. One Gallup chart shows clearly that TV news now enjoys less confidence from the American people than any institution in the country—other than Congress! A second chart shows how dramatically our trust in television news has been declining for the past two decades.

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So Brian Williams’ “misremembering” and offering a glib apology that only made things worse will hardly sink all of television news. That ship appears to have sailed, largely propelled by the cable news industry. In some ways, I miss the days when Uncle Walter intoned and I believed. But I was a kid then and the news cycle is very different. Faster. Constant. Now I have more information about the world from a multitude of sources. I understand how various media outlets slant their reporting to meet political ideology demands, the demographics of their desired audience, or biased but real demands of their owners. Frankly, as I have considered all this attention for Brian Williams’ falsehoods, it has been hard for me to think anything but, “what will we do without Jon Stewart?”. That, to me, is the larger loss as I contemplate my own news consumption habits. And the answer may turn out to be John Oliver.

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Miscellaneous_396x264From time to time, we bring you tidbits that we don’t want to devote a whole blog post to but still find interesting. Today we’ll cover medical devices that are not FDA approved, the belief that social media has killed privacy, and a novel experiment in which jurors help judges make sentencing decisions.

You might want to make sure that medical device is FDA approved…

This one is hard to believe but a non-FDA approved medical device was sold (and ostensibly used) about 18,000 times before the government shut it down. The device was the OtisKnee which was used in surgeries for knee replacement. It is essentially like a specialized carpentry device which allowed the surgeon to line up a bone saw precisely and (allegedly) speed both surgery and recovery. The corporation making OtisKnee had not sought FDA approval and when they did, they were rejected due to failing to prove the product safe and effective. Read more about this situation at Pacific Standard magazine and remain aware of how easy it is, in the $110 billion a year medical device industry, for tools to be used quite widely without FDA approval.

Privacy is dead in the age of social-networking

Most of us likely won’t find this hard to believe but it is still eye-opening. In September and October of 2014, 6,063 adults were surveyed about privacy in the age of social media. What is unusual, is that the sample included people from all around the world— and in every country— the majority believe privacy is dead.
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There was no real difference between the scores in developed versus developing countries. We all seem to know (at least intellectually) there is no longer any real privacy. The article itself lists a couple of apps to use to enhance your privacy. One allows you to create “self-destructing social media posts” and another lets you “securely share” an image with specific Facebook friends only—all other friends “see a picture of a kitten” instead. These probably won’t work to keep your social media presence entirely invisible but they appear to help keep what you don’t want public hidden (for now).

Judges asking for sentencing recommendations from jurors who heard the case

One of the questions sometimes posed to jurors is whether the conduct of the litigants reflects how they want business to be conducted in their community. It takes the question from a purely legal one to one that has a relationship to their day-to-day lives, their values, and their belief about business and society. In other words, it taps into their community sense of justice. And here’s a story of a judge asking jurors for their sense of community justice. This was a case involving an unrepentant man convicted of “possessing, receiving, and distributing child pornography” with more than 1500 sexually explicit images of children on his computer (some less than 12 years old). The prosecutor wanted 20 years (the statutory maximum). The judge polled the jurors and the average of their sentence recommendation was only 14 months. The judge then sentenced the defendant to “the statutory minimum of five years in prison”. The article itself has multiple perspectives on whether the judge should have done this polling and then apparently made a decision for sentencing informed by juror sensibilities. It is well worth reading.

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Would you rather go to jail or prison? 

Friday, February 6, 2015
posted by Douglas Keene

jail or prisonYou cannot really answer “neither” to this question, it’s an either/or sort of query. If you know little about either, you may blurt out “jail”, and that would be a little unwise according to today’s research. Apparently, those that do know a little about jail versus prison would much rather go to prison than spend much time at all in jail.

The researchers offer a convincing literature review positing that jail is a much more volatile and dangerous environment than prison. They then describe how they randomly selected 3,620 adults living in Kentucky and mailed questionnaire packets and several follow-up postcards encouraging completion of the questionnaires. Of the 3,620 packets mailed out, 1,313 questionnaires were returned (a 36.3% response rate). The sample was generally representative of the Kentucky state population although slightly more educated and male. Most of those returning questionnaires were either Black or White and so the researchers only included those who reported being either White or Black in the final sample of 1,183 respondents. The final sample was 55% male and 93.9% White. Most of the respondents (71.3%) were either married or cohabiting, the average age was 51.4 years and the average educational level achieved was 13.33 years of formal education. One in five had annual incomes over $75K and thirty-four (2.9%) reported they had been convicted of a felony at some point in their lives.

The questionnaire packet itself was 8 pages long. Respondents were given brief descriptions of county jail and a number of alternative sanctions (such as boot camp, electronic monitoring, or regular probation). They were then asked to consider having been sentenced to 12 months of medium-security imprisonment and asked how many months of an alternative sanction they were willing to serve (in various environments/alternatives) in order to avoid the year in prison.

Here are some of the findings:

Prison was not seen as the most punitive sanction—that award was given to boot camp with county jail time coming in second. In fact, boot camp was believed to be twice as punitive as a medium security prison and county jail was not far behind. (Respondents were willing to spend 6 months in boot camp or 8.37 months in county jail in order to avoid a year in prison.)

Respondents ranked regular probation as the least punitive sanction and said they would serve 26.59 months on probation to avoid a year of prison.

Those who had been convicted of felonies at some point in their lives responded differently. They were only willing to spend 6.55 months in jail to avoid prison, compared to those without felony convictions who said they would spend 8.44 months in jail to avoid a year in prison.

When considering both those with lower incomes (below $20K annually) and those with felonies, the researchers reported these two groups felt that jail was more punitive than prison to a higher degree than others in the sample. Since, according to the researchers, these two groups are more likely to have been to jail or experienced vicarious jail time of neighbors and relatives—their sense that jail is a harsher environment than prison gives credibility to the overall study results.

In summary, say the researchers, everyone participating in the study seemed to believe that jail was significantly more punitive than prison. And if you still are not convinced, here’s a table from the article itself that shows a comparison of jail and prison. If you can choose, it seems it is likely better to choose prison.

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May, D., Applegate, B., Ruddell, R., & Wood, P. (2013). Going to Jail Sucks (And It Really Doesn’t Matter Who You Ask) American Journal of Criminal Justice, 39 (2), 250-266 DOI: 10.1007/s12103-013-9215-5

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conspiracy theoriesIt is no secret that we are intrigued by conspiracy theorists here at The Jury Room. Not only are they good for entertainment value during pretrial research, they are also very useful to help us plug holes in case narrative that could derail deliberations. When it comes to the actual trial though, conspiracy enthusiasts are usually seen as too risky for either side, and their presence often results in agreed strikes.

Here’s an interesting piece of research that doesn’t really help us to identify the individual conspiracy buff, but, does tell us the sort of environment in which the conspiracy theorist thrives.

These researchers believe that emotional uncertainty creates a desire (even a need) to compensate. We try to achieve a sense of certainty and, despite how odd it may sound, there is comfort in the conspiracy theory (since it can provide an explanation for why things are the way they are). Whether it is a reasonable or logical explanation is not what is important. And it isn’t just conspiracy theories that give us comfort in times of uncertainty. Horoscopes, seeing real or even illusory patterns, belief in a strong government or a “controlling and interventionist god”– all these things give a sense of stability and order in the world. Or as the authors put it,

“Whether one finds comfort in a strong government, astrological predictions, or vast conspiracies mapping out our fates, all are responses potentially driven by the uncertain seeking predictable structure in our capricious world.”

So, the researchers wanted to see if emotional uncertainty could affect conspiracy beliefs, beliefs in the paranormal, or the tendency to defend government actions. They used emotions that resulted in both certainty and uncertainty, as well as positive and negative emotions. Specifically, they examined happiness and contentment (certain and positive emotions); anger and disgust (certain and negative emotions); surprise and hope (uncertain and positive emotions); and worry and fear (uncertain and negative emotions). Once they identified these emotions, they asked 251 participants (112 male, average age 32.5 years) recruited from an online survey program to:

“Please recall a particular incident in which you were very [emotion]. What made you feel [emotion]? Recall this situation as vividly as you can. Please describe this situation in which you were [emotion] — what happened, how you felt, etc.”

By asking for this description of the situation, the researchers are “priming” the research subjects to re-experience the emotions. In this pretest, they found that when they asked participants to respond to this stimulus, participants felt the emotion described and their experiences were indeed experienced as either certain or uncertain (as the researchers had intended). The researchers then moved on to three separate experiments.

In the first experiment, the researchers examined the support of governmental defense and had 98 participants complete the same emotional recall task. They found that those in uncertain emotional conditions scored higher on (that is, they felt more strongly positive about government defense.

When they were uncertain, they wanted stronger governmental defense.

On the second experiment, the researchers looked at conspiracies and the paranormal. The 97 participants completed the same emotional recall task as before and were then asked to read scenarios that were purposely ambiguous “as to whether several individuals were coordinating their efforts to obtain an outcome”. Then they answered items from two scales measuring their belief in the paranormal. Again, those in uncertain emotional conditions showed greater endorsement of conspiracy beliefs and greater endorsement of belief in the paranormal.

When they were uncertain, there was higher belief in both conspiracy and the paranormal.

Finally, in the third experiment, the researchers looked at whether they could intervene in a way that would negate the power of the uncertain emotions. They cite prior research saying “having individuals contemplate and affirm important values they hold increases many positive states, including perceptions of personal control”. This time the researchers asked 161 participants (161 male, average age 29.8 years) to identify which of six values taken from  the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Values scale were most important to them. In the affirmation condition, the participants were asked to complete a subscale on the same value they had ranked most important. This, said the researchers, gave the participants the opportunity to self-affirm (that is, focus on things of greatest importance to themselves, giving them a greater sense of self-assurance). Those in the no-affirmation condition completed a subscale on the value they ranked as least important to them (and thus had no affirmation).

This time, those who had uncertain emotions but were given a chance to self-affirm, had no desire for increased government defense. In other words, self-affirmation worked to help participants feel they had control and structure and thus they did not look to external aids (like increased government defense) to help them feel safer.

Overall, say the researchers, uncertainty in emotional state–regardless of whether it is positive or negative– leads to a desire for structure and a sense of control. Thus, uncertain people are prone to accept conspiracy theories, belief in the paranormal, and to endorse agreement with higher levels of governmental defense. Those tendencies can be curbed, however, by offering the uncertain individual self-affirmation. Self-affirmation stabilizes the uncertainty and allows the individual to respond in a measured way not driven by the uncertainty.

This raises interesting questions about case presentation at trial. There is a tendency to want to satisfy jurors’ interest in “knowing” all of the facts. But this research says that in some cases, leaving jurors with a sense of uncertainty or foreboding might actually bring them to a state of mind more useful to your case.

Do you want to focus their attention on a particular alleged wrong-doer (typically a Plaintiff or Prosecution goal), or do you want to create a diffusion of responsibility, where it is borne by a number of parties, perhaps some not named in the dispute (more likely a Defense goal)?

So part of the task for the psychologically savvy trial lawyer is to give thought to what kind of emotional tone is best for jurors to carry into deliberations.

Do jurors tend to favor your position when they feel centered, focused on their values and priorities, and confident?

Do they think your way when they are worried or anxious, uncertain about life, and powerless?

This knowledge won’t change the facts, and the impact of this research is nuanced. But when you are seeking out every advantage you can identify, this is one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Whitson, J., Galinsky, A., & Kay, A. (2015). The emotional roots of conspiratorial perceptions, system justification, and belief in the paranormal Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 56, 89-95 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.09.002

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