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icky-sickWe’ve written about American attitudes toward interracial marriage a fair amount here and (at least once) questioned poll results suggesting dramatic improvement in attitudes toward  interracial marriage among Americans (an 87% approval rating?!). While interracial relationships may be more acceptable to many more Americans, there is also the recent report of an attack on an interracial couple in Washington State. Additional reports about the self-proclaimed white supremacist who stabbed the interracial couple without provocation said if he was released by the police he would attend the Trump rally and “stomp out more of the Black Lives Matter group”.)

Recently, we found an article that reflects some of what we think about the state of race relations and attitudes toward interracial marriages. And, as if in response to the event linked to above (which had not yet happened at the time the article was published), here is how the authors close their paper (after reporting that interracial couples were dehumanized relative to same race couples):

“These findings are meaningful given the negative consequences associated with dehumanization, most notably, antisocial behaviors such as aggression and perpetration of violence”.

The researchers say that they skeptically question the increased approval poll numbers when it comes to comfort with interracial marriage. They also express a general belief that if the poll questions used subtler measures about racial attitudes (rather than asking explicitly how approving the respondent was of interracial marriage)—the results would reflect significantly lower levels of approval for interracial marriage.

They refer to, as an example of attitudes toward interracial marriage, a 2013 Washington Post column by Richard Cohen saying that the interracial family of New York mayor Bill de Blasio must result in a “gag reflex” among conservatives.

The researchers conducted three separate studies (all with undergraduate student participants). We mention the participant pool for two reasons—one, because undergraduate students are perhaps a bit different from jury-eligible citizens, and two, because the Millennial generation is seen as most accepting of interracial marriages (according to Pew Research, Fusion’s Massive Millennial Poll, and CNN) although PBS, Politico and the Washington Post question whether that really means Millennials are overall more racially tolerant. It would seem to us that, if Millennials show evidence of implicit bias against interracial marriage, older generations would likely show even more.

And sure enough, Millennials (the undergraduate participants) did show bias against interracial couples. The implicit measures showed reactions of disgust as well as a tendency to dehumanize the interracial couples compared to same race couples.

The researchers hypothesize there is still a tremendous amount of emotional and under-the-surface bias (aka implicit bias) against interracial couples and, they say, emotional bias (aka disgust) is more predictive of discriminatory behavior than are racially based stereotypes.

The researchers also describe what happens when we dehumanize others—as the participants in these experiments dehumanized the interracial couples. We do fewer nice things and increase our “antisocial behavior” toward dehumanized others. There is less empathy, and more avoidant behavior. We are less likely to help and more likely to use aggression and perpetrate violence against dehumanized targets. We are more accepting of police violence against a black suspect and more accepting of violence against black people in general. We see the dehumanized targets as less evolved and civilized. These statements represent past research findings summarized in the article by the researchers.

The researchers also say that their results indicate the individuals in the interracial couples would likely not be dehumanized if evaluated separately, but there was something about the interracial pairing that elicited both the emotional and dehumanizing responses.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is very disturbing and certainly brings to mind our work on when to talk and when to stay quiet about racial bias in court. We are not living in a post-racial society, and basing your case strategy on such a rosy assumption is likely to be hazardous to your client. When race is absent from the relevant facts— but not from extra-evidentiary optics—think carefully about how to proceed. Remember that when the case facts are not salient to the fact your client is in an interracial relationship—that is when the bias is most likely to emerge. It’s a tricky and frustrating situation.

Skinner, A., & Hudac, C. (2017). “Yuck, you disgust me!” Affective bias against interracial couples. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 68, 68-77 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2016.05.008

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hot-hot-hotIt’s time again for a combination post of things that didn’t make the cut for a full post but that we thought interesting (or odd) enough to want to share with you. We hope you enjoy this latest collection of factoids that will make you memorable when (and if) you re-share them.

Hot, hot, hot: And it isn’t a good thing for good behavior

We’ve written about the negative impact of hot, hot, hot weather before and here’s another story supporting the idea that there is a link between summer heat, bad moods, and poor self-control. When, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research, people report they lack energy or feel tired during the heat of the day, they were also more likely to report being stressed and angered. Lest you think this is a small scale study, the study looked at the reactions of 1.9 million Americans. The researchers think that, even if you live in a very warm climate, you are no better at adapting to it than those living in a cooler climate. (This is bad news for those in the southwest.)

However, it looks as though simply looking at pictures of cold weather can help you to improve your self-control. All you need to do is look at cold photos and imagine yourself being there—it will improve your self-control (which is good news for those in the southwest since we sure don’t want to live “there”). Perhaps hot and muggy locales need to post large billboards of icy landscapes and encourage viewers to think about what it would be like to be there rather than in the heat. Hmmm.

And as a helpful aside, the summer of 2016 has been, according to the NASA Earth Observatory, the hottest on record in 136 years! That’s hot! If you’d like to see the graphic illustrating this post in an animated gif form that covers 35 years, look here.

Will you learn more in a physics lecture if your instructor is attractive to you?

Apparently so. This is a research paper that attempted to test information from the popular website RateMyProfessor.com/ which apparently now asks students to “rate the hotness” of their instructor. (As though the tenure process was not difficult enough—now you have to suffer the indignity of how “hot” your students think you may be? Wow.) According to research published in The Journal of General Psychology, physics students who thought their instructor was attractive actually learned more as measured on quizzes following the lectures. The difference was “small but significant”. While you can read the full text of the article here, it was summarized accurately by Christian Jarrett over at BPS Research Digest.

Are pot smokers increasing or are people just responding more honestly to survey questions?

It’s hard to say but Gallup tells us that 13% reported being current marijuana users in an August 2016 survey—and that number is up from just 7% in 2013. The more often you attend church services, the less likely you are to report using marijuana. Further, one in five adults under the age of 30 report current use—and this is at least “double the rate seen among each older age group”. Gallup points out that nine different states are voting on marijuana legalization this fall and legalities could significantly shift. Perhaps Gallup should speak to the Drug Enforcement Association who recently announced marijuana would stay a Schedule 1 drug (like heroin and other drugs with “no medicinal value”).

How often do you check your smartphone? 

You will have trouble believing this one! According to a recent survey, the average American checks their smartphone between 150 times a day and in the UK, it’s even higher! . We’ve written a lot here about smartphones and our increasing use and dependence on them—as well as the distractions caused by them while walking, working, and serving on juries. Time Magazine recently published an article on smartphone addiction that is worth reading—it’s eye-opening (which is the first time many of us grab our smartphones—even before we get out of bed).

Who owns your tattoo? The answer is apparently not entirely obvious

A recent article in The Conversation, tells us that while more than 20% of Americans have at least one tattoo (and 40% of Millennials)—your own tattoo could be violating either (or both) copyright and trademark rights and tattoo-related lawsuits are not uncommon. If you have or plan to have a tattoo—you likely want to read this one!

Identifying liberals and conservatives in voir dire (a shortcut when time is tight?)

This is a ridiculous study out of the UK which concludes that the taller one is, the more likely they are conservative. We do not recommend using this in voir dire, but here are a few author quotes:

“If you take two people with nearly identical characteristics – except one is taller than the other – on average the taller person will be more politically conservative,” said Sara Watson, co-author of the study and assistant professor of political science at The Ohio State University.”

How big were these differences? “The researchers found that a one-inch increase in height increased support for the Conservative Party by 0.6 percent and the likelihood of voting for the party by 0.5 percent.”

And there were gender differences—although they were not statistically significant! “The authors discovered that the link between height and political views occurred in both men and women, but was roughly twice as strong for men.”

The article itself was published in the British Journal of Political Science but there seems to be a version of the paper here. We will not use this one as our eyesight is not good enough to tell a 0.6% difference in height when potential jurors are seated.

Noelke, C., McGovern, M., Corsi, D., Jimenez, M., Stern, A., Wing, I., & Berkman, L. (2016). Increasing ambient temperature reduces emotional well-being Environmental Research, 151, 124-129 DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.06.045

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dont-trust-bookHere’s a round-up of articles that could be “all about voir dire” or simply interesting things to ponder as you go about your daily tasks.

You may not think of Lemony Snicket as an expert on voir dire but he may have a point with the quote illustrating this post when it comes to voir dire.

In this post, we are combining four separate research articles to give you multiple examples of how academic research can assist you in thinking as you complete voir dire.

Want people with more empathy for others?

We’ve written before about the power of a good story to transport the reader (or the watcher since it works with videos and films as well). When it comes to voir dire, new research tells us that people who read have more empathy for others and are thus, more capable of taking the other’s point of view. The important thing is that they are reading narrative fiction as opposed to non-fiction. The researchers say the process of entering a fictional world allows the reader to have more empathy than a non-reader or a non-fiction reader (citation below the post) would have.

And on another (not voir dire related) note, a new study from Yale University tells us those who read more than 3.5 hours a week live “a full 23 months” longer than those who do not read—so you may want to stop and buy a book once you’re done reading here! (Just for your edification, we’ve also included the citation to this article at the bottom of the post.)

On self-appointed experts in the jury pool…

We’ve also written about the self-appointed expert who is not really an expert (but thinks they are) who lands on your jury. Here’s some new research that explains why being over-confident can lead to poor decision-making (and why you want to read our earlier posts on this topic to teach jurors how to “de-throne” that self-appointed expert). The researchers in this new study say that when you are exceptionally confident in your knowledge, you are less able to carefully think through your decisions and so you make bad decisions.

It is like the group agreement that undermined decisions about the Bay of Pigs invasion during the Kennedy administration. Follow the preceding link for more information on how JFK changed decision-making processes after that horrible lesson in bad decision-making.

What happens to the disempowered when they become a juror?

Finally, here’s a fairly creepy study (summarized impeccably by Alex Fradera over at BPS Research Digest). The study examines how someone given “high power over another” on a temporary basis can result in sexualized aggression (like sending sexualized text messages to a co-worker whom you find attractive but who has never given you any reason to believe the attraction is reciprocal and other strange and creepy things). What the researchers found (and this is interesting to consider in voir dire) is that when you put temporary power in the hands of those who have been chronically powerless, they will be more likely to exploit their temporary power (by doing sexually inappropriate things in this example—and we’d hypothesize they might also be more prone to more extreme responses to whichever party they most dislike). We’ve written a number of times on the differences in how powerful people are perceived versus how powerless people are perceived—but haven’t really tapped into sexual aggression and powerlessness before on this blog. (You’re welcome for that.)

In the article itself, the researchers say that those who see  themselves as “chronically denied power appear to have a stronger desire to feel powerful”. They also note that there was no definitive demographic information (as we’ve always said!) to identify those with chronic feelings of powerlessness and they recommend future research to explore identification of a low subjective sense of power (and the hostility and aggression often accompanying it). Some researchers have said (according to the current researchers whose article is also cited at the end of this post) that there may be a difference “between construing power as an opportunity to do as one wishes, versus a responsibility to look out for others”. It’s an intriguing idea to consider during voir dire.

We should also note that three of the five experiments run by the researchers writing this article used exclusively male participants while the remaining two used both male and female participants—so these results may be more generalizable to men than women.

So there you have it. Who is reading fiction? Who is over-confident about their knowledge (when they clearly do not have a lot of it)? And who has likely been chronically powerless? Food for thought when conducting voir dire and otherwise preparing for trial.

Oatley, K. (2016). Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20 (8), 618-628 DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.06.002

Bavishi, A., Slade, M., & Levy, B. (2016). A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity. Social Science & Medicine, 164, 44-48 DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.07.014

Williams, M., Gruenfeld, D., & Guillory, L. (2016). Sexual Aggression When Power Is New: Effects of Acute High Power on Chronically Low-Power Individuals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000068

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ppi-rWe wrote about this scale in our last post when researchers (trying to convince the reader there is such a thing as a good psychopath for you to hire) used it in a study of German adults. The PPI-R is apparently a measure of psychopathy that is able to “detect relatively mild levels of psychopathy traits in non-forensic samples” (the Psychopathy Personality Inventory—Revised—the measure is on page 82 of the pdf to which this link takes you—although it has more than 180 questions on it which is different from what is advertised for the final scale).

The researchers featured in our last post also say this scale is useful for workplace settings since it measures subclinical psychopathy and thus, will not run afoul of the ADA with regard to employment discrimination. We question their conclusion and should perhaps mention the scale has 154 questions on it and some of them are quite odd. We think you could use the administration time for this test much more productively with more face-time spent with your applicant.

Respondents are asked to answer each item with four choices: False, Mostly False, Mostly True, or True. They are also given the following instructions: “Even if you feel that an item is neither false nor true as applied to you, or if you are unsure about what response to make, try to make some response in every case. If you cannot make up your mind about the item, select the choice that is closest to your opinion about whether it is false or true as applied to you.”

The items on the test range from mundane to fairly odd. Here’s a random selection of 10 consecutive items from the many, many questions on this scale.

I would not mind wearing my hair in a “Mohawk.”

I occasionally forget my name.

I rarely find myself being the center of attention in social situations.

It might be fun to belong to a group of “bikers” (motorcyclists) who travel around the country and raise some hell.

I tell many “white lies.”

I often hold on to old objects or letters just for their sentimental value.

I am a good conversationalist.

A lot of people in my life have tried to stab me in the back.

I am so moved by certain experiences (e.g., watching a beautiful sunset, listening to a favorite piece of music) that I feel emotions that are beyond words.

I often find myself resenting people who give me orders.

Some of the more odd questions in the measure include those like “I look down at the ground whenever I hear an airplane flying above my head”, or “I have had “crushes” on people that were so intense that they were painful”, or “I frequently have disturbing thoughts that become so intense and overpowering that I think I can hear claps of thunder or crashes of cymbals inside my head”, or even “When I am under stress, I often see large, red, rectangular shapes moving in front of my eyes”. These are not really the sorts of questions one would think bear much relationship to work environment behaviors.

[NB: As we read over our work on this blog we are occasionally concerned about a critical edge that many posts have toward the research done by social scientists, and its lack of applicability to the legal arena. We own our guilt in that regard, but it has nothing to do with the value of much of the research, such as today’s post, that is worthwhile but not useful for litigators. In every endeavor (chemistry, engineering, genetics, sociology, etc.) there are many milestones that have no practical application, apart from their value as stepping stones for the next innovation. While we don’t see many psychological assessment indexes or personality tests as making a contribution to trial practice, we don’t mean to suggest that it has no value in another context or as a research tool. It is simply that our focus is intended to be more narrowly aimed, and very practical.]

From a law office management perspective, we don’t see this as a useful tool for screening new associates or staff. To the contrary, anyone who does not find this sort of employment test disturbing and intrusive would likely not be someone you would wish to hire. You have no real reason to be assessing an applicant for level of psychopathy and it would be difficult to justify why you turned people down for employment based on a psychopathy score on a screening test. A very slippery slope.

Lilienfeld, S. O., & Widows, M. R. (2005). Psychological Assessment Inventory–Revised (PPI-R). Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

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danger will robinsonWhile those of you who have worked with (or lived with) functional psychopaths before may want to scream “Danger, Will Robinson!” — an international group of researchers (studying German research participants) have identified a “good psychopath” and a “bad psychopath” (when it comes to employment) and they even suggest a scale measuring sub-clinical forms of psychopathy (and earnestly tell the reader this will get around that pesky US ADA restriction against measuring psychopathy on “clinical” scales in an employment setting). They take issue with even the label psychopathy as it loosely means “disease of the soul”. We can quibble about terminology, but their results highlight factors to consider when hiring anyone.

Here’s a brief look at how they came to their conclusions and recommendations for hiring people, some of whom are likely to fall on the troubling end of a psychopathology continuum. First, they explain the differences between primary and secondary psychopathy.

Primary psychopathy, according to the researchers, is characterized by “fearless dominance” (which they describe as wanting to get your own way no matter what the consequences of your actions). Their traits, say the researchers, include “an egotistical personal style characterized by self-promotion and prioritization of one’s own needs before those of others”. Yet, primary psychopaths, they say, are often described by coworkers as helpful, cooperative and pleasant if and only if, the psychopath also had good social skills that were present in the workplace (and those social skills helped them keep their arrogance , egocentrism, and prioritization of own needs and wants over those of others at bay). Or, we imagine, as long as their views are supported by others.

Secondary psychopathy, according to the researchers, is characterized by “self-centered impulsivity”. These psychopaths, according to the researchers, lack an inner braking system and thus have no self-control—they also have no consideration for others. Their traits, say the researchers, include “behavioral impulsivity characterized by disregard for rules and responsibilities”, thrill-seeking, and blaming others for their misfortunes. Consistent with this trait description of secondary psychopaths, coworkers often characterize the secondary psychopath as destructive, not helpful to others, and weak in terms of work performance when it comes to self-disciplined behaviors such as working hard, following workplace rules, taking initiative, being considerate and cooperative, or helping others with their tasks.

By definitions embraced elsewhere, Primary psychopathy might be considered more narcissistic, while the lack of control and the heartlessness of Secondary psychopathy is more aligned with the traditional view of psychopathy.

The researchers think our tendency is to assume that all psychopaths have “the malevolent, exploitive, agentic, and callous personality traits” characterizing heinous criminal offenders. However, they say, that description is only relevant for the “clinical psychopaths” which comprise only about 1% of the entire population of psychopaths. Psychopathy, like other human traits, lies on a continuum and the researchers believe that about 10% of individuals with psychopathic traits have “subclinical” levels of psychopathy. (They do not indicate what this means about the remaining 90% of people in the pool of psychopaths—although they do conclude they do not consider “cold-heartedness” in their model since it was not statistically related to what they we’re trying to measure.)

The issue with employment, the researchers say, is not whether you have multiple (sub-clinical) psychopathic tendencies—but rather, how well your particular form of psychopathy fits with your job description (as well as, naturally, your level of social skill). They opine in their 30+ page paper that primary psychopaths can “be selfless heroes in everyday life, such as life-savers, emergency physicians, or fire-fighters” and think we should differentiate more carefully in the large class of psychopaths—both primary and secondary types.

Again, the paper has to be read with a willingness to accept their use of the term “Primary Psychopath”, which by its definition is a milder form.

The researchers used a measure of psychopathy that is able to “detect relatively mild levels of psychopathy traits in non forensic samples (the Psychopathic Personality Inventory—Revised, we’ll blog about this scale in our next post) and they mention the scale is useful for workplace settings since it measures subclinical psychopathy. (We should perhaps mention the scale has 150+ questions on it and some of them are quite odd—but more on that in our next post.)

Overall, say the researchers, the primary psychopath with good interpersonal skills is a good bet for the workplace but if they do not have good interpersonal skills, they will likely be as destructive as the secondary psychopath for workplace productivity and morale.

From a law office management perspective, we really would not recommend this sort of strategy. What they seem to intimate is that you want to find the 10% of the psychopathic population who have moderate psychopathic tendencies and then, divide them into primary and secondary psychopaths and then, figure out which of the primary psychopaths have really good social skills so their behaviors will not wreak havoc in your workplace.

Putting on our duly licensed Psychologist hats for a moment, the distinction seems to be a very slippery slope. Secondary psychopaths are trouble from the beginning. Primary psychopaths have better social skills so they can manage the day to day more successfully, but under stress they are going to create havoc, too. And we have never seen a trial team that isn’t under terrific stress. It is the nature of litigation, and stress tolerances need to be higher than average, not a potential area of weakness.

The authors put a troubling amount of faith in a psychological trait scale, when you can assess the same things by looking at work history, length of relationships, and having your own warning signs on high alert during the interview process. Use your intuition about whether someone will be a good fit. It is also risky to assume you can “get around” the Americans with Disabilities Act by using the PPI-R scale with job applicants when what you are measuring is psychopathy and resulting goodness of fit in your workplace.

And a high-functioning psychopathic attorney is just the kind of person to drag you through a lawsuit by claiming that you rejected him or her based on an ADA protected factor.

Schutte, N., Blickle, G., Frieder, R., Wihler, A., Schnitzler, F., Heupel, J., & Zettler, I. (2015). The Role of Interpersonal Influence in Counterbalancing Psychopathic Personality Trait Facets at Work Journal of Management DOI: 10.1177/0149206315607967

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