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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

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This is an odd study from which researchers draw conclusions about sexual aggression that seem unwarranted. The research involved causing men to feel their identity as men was being insulted by women, and gauging the hostility of the reaction. The methods they used to elicit aggression from their male research participants are unusual, and the angered men were certainly more aggressive when allowed to believe they were aggressing against a woman who had insulted their manhood/sense of identity.

Essentially, the researchers believed that past research findings (e.g., men “giving” more painful electric shocks to a woman who criticized them, or men whose masculine identity was threatened agreeing to harass a feminist woman by sending her pornographic photos) would be stronger among those men who are ashamed of their bodies.

“Such men may be under chronic masculinity threat, making them more sensitive to acute instances.”

So, naturally, the two researchers thought of ways to threaten their research participant’s masculinity through shaming them (because that is what researchers do). First, they recruited 127 male undergraduate students (50% White, 35% Asian, 6% Latino, 4% Black and 5% Other) to participate in a study of “effective remote teamwork”. The men completed a measure of personality and submitted a photo (ostensibly to be seen by the attractive female they had been assigned to work with in a remote location).

Half the men were told there was a computer crash and they would be unable to do the teamwork task. This group served as the control group. The other half of the men were told the woman had said she didn’t want to work with them and that she had been told this was really a dating study. The woman (who really did not exist) sent a note the researchers shared with the male participants:

“I heard about this study from my roommate. She said it was actually about dating, after the test she had to hang out with the guy and answer a bunch of questions about attraction. Looking at this photo, I’m really not attracted to this guy. He’s not my type at all and I don’t want to have to go out with him. I’d rather do the other study for the points.”

Then all the men (the control group and those who had been rejected) completed additional questionnaires asking if they felt angry, insulted or sad; measuring their level of body shame; their general proneness to shame, and their “rape proclivity”. Yes. You read that right. The rape proclivity measure asked the men to say how likely it was they would be aroused by, attracted to, or likely to commit rape or other forms of sexual aggression if they knew they would never be caught.

Men who scored high on body shame and who felt bad after the rejection, were the most likely to show higher levels of “rape proclivity”.

So the researchers went back to their offices to consider how to shame men in a different way. They then recruited 214 heterosexual male participants, and caused them to feel rejected by their fictional research partner. Again, half served as a control group and were told their had been a computer malfunction. The other half were again rejected and shamed.

“I don’t think we have anything in common and won’t be a good team. It would be a waste of time to work on an experiment together if we can’t win the money. I’d rather work with someone else, or complete a different study than work with this guy on teamwork tasks. Looking at his profile, I get the impression he is gay. We won’t work well together if he likes men.”

This time, however, the alleged and rejecting partner was either male or female and no photo was shown to the research participants who had just been told they “looked gay”.

Men who felt bad after this rejection (by either the male or female alleged partner) also showed evidence of heightened sexual aggression (as measured by their selection of photos to be shown to future female research participants). However, the heightened sexual aggression was only present if they scored high on body shame and if they were rejected by the (unseen) female team-mate. (There was no heightened sexual aggression when rejected by the unseen male team-mate.)

The researchers say the work shows that attention should be paid to men high in body shame when it comes to the study of sexual aggression. They also admit their study was not particularly realistic even though “young men are especially likely to sexually aggress against women” based on past research. They want to see more work done on the body image of men and how it interacts with sexual aggression toward women.

We would comment that the concept of “rape proclivity” is a strange one and while there is obviously work to be done on the concept of male body image/shame and aggression–the leap to rape proclivity and sexual aggression against women is a big one.

Mescher K, & Rudman LA (2014). Men in the Mirror: The Role of Men’s Body Shame in Sexual Aggression. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (8), 1063-1075 PMID: 24839983

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost of us have seen the information that a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous for our physical well-being. Today’s researchers wondered if standing (rather than sitting) for group brainstorming sessions would result in more effective and positive group dynamics and outcome.

They recruited 214 undergraduate students to participate in 3-5 person group-brainstorming tasks. Each group was asked to develop ideas for a university recruitment video which they recorded at the end of their sessions. Each group was filmed as they completed the brainstorming project in a room with a table, whiteboard and notepads. Half of the groups had five chairs around the table and the other half had no chairs. Each participant was given a wristband which measured their level of “physiological arousal” (i.e., how much their skin sweated during the task).

The researchers found the groups without chairs had higher arousal (i.e., they did more sweating) than the groups with chairs.

The groups without chairs were also less possessive of the ideas they individually generated. The researchers called this “reduced territoriality”. The researchers think this might have been due to the closer physical proximity of the groups who had no chairs. They shared the physical space and the researchers think perhaps they shared the intellectual product as well.

The groups without chairs also generated more ideas that were then modified through combining them with the ideas of other group members or improved upon by others. The researchers call this “idea elaboration”.

So in all, it looks like the groups without chairs performed better although they were sweatier. And indeed, the researchers say the group process was better. All groups designed and produced the university recruitment videos as an outcome measure, but there were no differences in the videos produced by groups with chairs and the groups without chairs.

“That is, videos produced by groups working in a room with no chairs were rated by judges as no more polished or creative, than videos produced by groups working in a room with chairs.”

In other words, you might enjoy the process more and standing up is physically better for you, but the resulting product will not be improved. Nonetheless, the authors recommend workplace leaders may want to get rid of chairs and give employees an open space to make collaboration easier.

Obviously, you won’t likely be inclined to ask jurors to stand as they deliberate (and most jury rooms tend to be on the crowded side). However, in your office, “stand-up meetings” or brainstorming sessions might improve both morale and collaboration skills. This research would say you won’t get a better product because of standing, but it might be more fun and create a more effective team.

Knight, AP, & Baer, M. (2014). Get up, Stand up: The effects of a non-sedentary workspace on information elaboration and group performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 

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dialysis-graphicWe do a lot of pretrial research where complicated processes, inventions, ideas, software, tools, widgets, and other intellectual property ideas are explained. And we do a lot of pretrial research where something that doesn’t seem complicated (like a family estate, for example) gets very complicated, very quickly. We’ve found there are often vocal mock jurors who will pontificate on whatever the topic is (from highway guard rails, to heated patches for sore backs, to hair straighteners, to types of pizza crust, to coin counting machines in grocery stores, and more) and so we defer to their expertise by politely and with great interest asking them to explain to the group how it works, in their own words. They rarely can. They often sheepishly say they guess they don’t really understand after all and their standing as an expert rapidly evaporates.

Today’s research speaks to this issue directly by saying that extreme political views are often based on a false sense of understanding. That is, people typically know a lot less about complex political policies than they think they know. Their understanding is typically quite simplistic (like that of our mock jurors) and when they are asked to explain how a policy works–they are unable to do so (like our mock jurors).

What the researchers found in their first experiment is that when people who loudly support a particular policy are asked to explain how it works in their own words, they are unable to do so. Subsequently, they report their support for the policy they initially supported so strongly has become only moderate. In other words, the initial strong support for a policy was based in “unjustified confidence in understanding” the policy. When asked to explain the policy, the research participants (like our mock jurors) realized they didn’t really understand the policy after all.

The researchers designed another study where participants were asked to rate their position on a given policy and then either explain how the policy worked or list their reasons for supporting or opposing it. Finally, they would choose whether or not to donate a bonus payment to a relevant (i.e., either pro or con) advocacy group. Since prior research shows, according to the authors, that enumerating your reasons for supporting or not supporting a policy reinforces your support/lack thereof, they hypothesized that those who enumerated reasons would be more likely to donate than those who explained how the policy worked. They were right. Those who enumerated reasons were more likely to donate the bonus payment to the relevant advocacy group.

The authors explain their findings as follows:

Asking people to explain how a policy (for example) works, leads them to endorse more moderate positions on the policy and makes them less likely to donate to advocacy groups. The authors say these people are forced to confront their own ignorance.

Asking people to list reasons they support a policy (when those reasons can include values, hearsay and general principles) merely reinforces their belief systems and makes them more likely to donate to relevant advocacy groups.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, you can assist jurors in “confronting their own ignorance” by using the strategy we discussed here earlier on embedding skepticism into your case narrative. [Tip: This strategy is designed to gently embarrass the opinionated extremist, so it’s crucial that you do this gently and politely so you aren’t seen as humiliating him or her. Appearing to be a bully will result in voir dire ending sooner than you had in mind, as no one will talk to you.] As the attorney expresses skepticism (or a lack of understanding of how something works), the jurors resistance to hearing the full explanation is weakened.

Fernbach PM, Rogers T, Fox CR, & Sloman SA (2013). Political extremism is supported by an illusion of understanding. Psychological Science, 24 (6), 939-46 PMID: 23620547

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sheep-goatsSeriously. Sheep are believers and goats are doubters. In the paranormal, that is. The Australian Sheep Goat Scale is not a measure we’d ever heard of prior to writing about skepticism as a narrative tool in convincing others of a paranormal event. Perhaps it never really caught on. But we knew you would want to know about it, so, like the Spitefulness Scale, the Guilt and Shame Proneness Scale, the Depravity Scale, the Comprehensive Assessment of Sadistic Tendencies Scale, and the Islamophobia Scale, here it is. Besides, we would have published this blog post  just so we could share that adorable photo.

The Australian Sheep Goat Scale is a simple tool for assessing your beliefs in the paranormal. If you endorse a high number of statements on the 16-item scale as true, you are a sheep (a believer) and if you endorse a high number of statements as false, then you are a goat (a doubter) when it comes to the paranormal.  Here are a few sample items:

I  believe  I  have  had  a  personal  experience  of  ESP.

I  have  had  at  least  one  dream  that  came  true  and  which  (I  believe) was  not  just  a  coincidence.

I  believe  that  it  is  possible  to  gain  information  about  the  future before  it  happens,  in  ways  that  do  not  depend  on  rational prediction  or  normal  sensory  channels.

I  have  had  at  least  one  vision  that  was  not  an  hallucination  and from  which  I  received  information  that  I  could  not  have  otherwise gained  at  that  time  and  place.

I  believe  that  inexplicable  physical  disturbances,  of  an  apparently psychokinetic  origin,  have  occurred  in  my  presence  at  some  time in  the  past  (as  for  example,  a  poltergeist).

As you can see, a positive response to the item indicates support of the existence of paranormal experiences and negative responses indicate rejection of the paranormal. A ‘true’ response merits a score of ‘1’ and a ‘false’ response gets a zero score. This is a fairly dated scale at more than twenty years old.

There are newer measures. Here is one from 2004: The Revised Paranormal Belief Scale. It has more interesting questions (26 items in all) than the Sheep Goat Scale but the name is not as evocative. Here are some samples from the Paranormal Belief Scale.

Your mind or soul can leave your body and travel (astral projection).

The abominable snowman of Tibet exists.

Witches do exist.

If  you break a mirror, you will have bad luck.

The Loch Ness monster of Scotland exists.

A person’s thoughts can influence the movement of a physical object.

Through the use of formulas and incantations, it is possible to cast spells on persons.

It is possible to communicate with the dead.

Overall, we cannot see a single way either of these measures might find their way into a litigation setting, but we suppose it is possible if your case involved alleged paranormal events. And if it does, you read it here first! But insofar as we are in the business of figuring out why people believe in their verdict choice, it isn’t entirely out of place in The Jury Room. Well, maybe. But at least it’s fun. And that photo…

Thalbourne, MA, & Delin, PS (1993). A new instrument for measuring the sheep-goat variable: Its psychometric properties and factor structure. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 59, 172-186

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bolshevik revolutionWe read a lot and routinely run across tidbits we think you might enjoy and that we would not really want to use an entire blog post to discuss. So here are a few things from here and there that we’ve found in our travels…

Can’t remember all those complicated passwords? It’s a complication of modern-day life. Many sites want complex or at least lengthy passwords and if you don’t use a password manager software–you can spend a lot of time typing in various password combinations and end up locked out for 24 hours (or forever). So here are a few tricks from Slate Magazine. Hint: It’s The Bolshevik Revolution.

Think narcissists can’t be empathic? Think again! Apparently it’s all about shifting their perspective. New research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows narcissists are actually capable of empathy for others. How can it be, you may find yourself thinking? You simply have the narcissist take the other person’s perspective. British researchers measured the heart rates of their research participants to have an objective measure rather than relying on self-report. They report that when participants are instructed to take the perspective of someone who is suffering, all of their heart rates increased whether low in narcissism or high in narcissism. The researchers conclude it is possible, given instruction to take another’s perspective, for the narcissist to be “moved by another’s suffering”.

The psychology of belief and the latest challenge: Gluten sensitivity. The recent research questioning the actual existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity has been popping up everywhere. We ran across an interesting perspective on it from Derek Halpern over at Social Triggers blog. Derek discusses this latest research finding and all those folks saying, “Yeah, well tell my gut there is no such thing as gluten sensitivity!” in the context of the psychology of belief. It’s confusing, and the science is far from consistent or complete. We’ve seen plenty of examples among mock jurors of data and evidence not having impact on their preexisting beliefs. The dilemma is in part one of which way the wind is blowing in the medical community, as well as the fact that it isn’t just belief if you had the problem before you heard the label. We think you’ll find Derek’s article an interesting foray into the psychology of belief and why it’s so hard to crack a deeply seated belief with data and evidence alone. And it also raises the question about the limits of scientific knowledge and the meaning of data…

If I can just get a bunch of business people on my jury, they will make decisions based on logic. Well, maybe not. The Wall Street Journal recently published a story on how some of the best business minds make decisions–and it isn’t based on data and evidence. The best decisions are made with a combination of data, evidence, and feelings–in a way the researchers see as exemplifying “visionary leadership”. This an interesting article to read for understanding decision-making and for thinking through organization leadership strategies.

Hepper, E., Hart, C., & Sedikides, C. (2014). Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167214535812

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