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narcissism savage chickenWe are all about short measures of psychological constructs. You might say watching the development of various scales is a hobby here (just look at all these posts!). With rare exception, courts don’t permit lengthy questionnaires, or questions that sound like a psychological screening test. So when the Neuroskeptic blogged about a new one-item scale for narcissism, it got our attention quickly. True to his name, the Neuroskeptic isn’t so sure this is a good measure of actual narcissism–although it is highly correlated with other self-report measures of narcissism.

We have different goals than the Neuroskeptic. To our way of thinking, it isn’t so important whether the single-item scale measures actual narcissism–but rather, how the individuals answer the question. That is, if someone describes themselves as either low or high in narcissism–does that make a difference in their ultimate verdict preference? Without further ado, here is the question:

To what extent do you agree with this statement: I am a narcissist? (Note: The word ‘narcissist’ means egotistical, self-focused, and vain.) Answer on a scale from 1 (not very true of me) to 7 (very true of me).

The article itself is published on PLoSONE and thus accessible to everyone (for which we thank the lead author, Sara Konrath). According to the researchers, people who score high on this single-item measure (aptly named the Single Item Narcissism Scale–SINS) also report both negative and positive traits.

“For example, they report more positive affect, more extraversion, and marginally less depression. Yet the SINS is also associated with less desirable intrapersonal outcomes, for example, less agreeableness, more anger, shame, guilt and fear, delayed/reactive aggression, having less committed relationships with others, and showing less prosocial behavior when ego threatened.”

In other words, say the researchers,

“…this scale may capture the more fragile, pathological and unhealthy aspects of narcissism. Not only do these people think they are great, but they also suffer from feelings of shame, guilt and fear”.

This single-item measure, while suspect to the Neuroskeptic, is of interest to us. It is both very brief (you can’t get much briefer) but also has the element of stealth. Who would know whether this query would be good or bad for their case unless they completed some pretrial research? From a litigation advocacy perspective, we don’t care whether a potential juror meets diagnostic criteria for narcissism. We just care whether their self-report is a variable that ultimately matters.

Konrath S, Meier BP, & Bushman BJ (2014). Development and Validation of the Single Item Narcissism Scale (SINS). PLoS ONE, 9 (8) PMID: 25093508

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 [THAT's TODAY!] 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

angels_and_demonsThis isn’t a teaser for Dan Brown’s book. In fact, don’t get us started on that. Instead it’s a report on two newer (circa 2013) measures of more credible interest: the Belief in Pure Evil Scale and the Belief in Pure Good Scale. We know. You’ve been waiting forever to have good and evil more clearly quantified. But don’t be so quick to dismiss. If you work in the criminal courts, these could be very useful for you.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea as ridiculous, these concepts are “reliable, unitary and stable constructs” with eight “theoretically independent dimensions”. What that means is, there really is something tangible and concrete here to measure. And the reason it matters is that those who score higher on a belief in pure evil were more likely to support the “death penalty and preemptive military aggression” and less likely to support “criminal rehabilitation, proracial policies and beneficial social programs”. It doesn’t stop there. Those who score higher on a belief in pure good are more likely to oppose “proviolent foreign relations and torture) and to support “criminal rehabilitation and diplomacy”. In other words, say the researchers, these are concepts that relate to “aggressive and prosocial” orientations toward others.

The Huffington Post covered this work and had this to say about those who believe in pure evil:

Those who believe in ‘Pure Evil’ consider bad or criminal behavior is willful, conscious and driven primarily by the wish to inflict harm, merely often for pleasure. If you believe in ‘Pure Evil’, you also deem that evil-doers will implacably continue being dangerous. This necessarily follows if certain culprits are indeed the embodiment of undiluted viciousness. On both sides of conflict, if each sees the other side as ‘evil’, this inevitably results in reciprocal and escalating prejudice with violence. People scoring higher in ‘Belief in Pure Evil’ feel that pre-emptive violence and aggression are justified to root out evil-doers.”

And they had this to say about those who believe in pure good:

Believers in ‘Pure Good’ accept the existence of pure altruism, that some people, though rare, intentionally help others just for the sake of helping, with no personal benefit or hidden agenda. They also judge that even the most ghastly perpetrators – i.e., wayward criminals, can see “the error of their ways” and reform, i.e., they are not ‘Purely Evil’. Those who more strongly believed in ‘Pure Good’, supported criminal rehabilitation and opposed the death penalty. Those who score higher in ‘Belief in Pure Good’ are more likely to believe that doing good means not harming others (unless one’s country or allies are directly endangered).” 

That’s the good news. These concepts appear to have merit and to be distinct constructs. The other news is that these scales are way too long and the individual questions are much too controversial to be permitted in most courts or most cases. But the concepts are powerfully evocative and we thought it was worthwhile to let you know they were out there and give you a glimpse of the items measuring them. We’ve done this before with the GASP Scale, the Depravity Scale, the Islamophobia Scale, the CAST Scale and even the Spitefulness Scale. So why not the Belief in Pure Evil Scale and the Belief in Pure Good Scale?

Here are a few questions from the 22-item Belief in Pure Evil Scale:

Evil people hurt others because they enjoy inflicting pain and suffering.

Evil people have an evil essence, like a stain on their souls, which is almost impossible to get rid of.

If we catch an evildoer, we should just lock them up and ensure they never get out.

Evil people are so narcissistic and full of themselves.

Here are a few questions from the 28-item Belief in Pure Good Scale:

People have to believe in “pure good” to have a peaceful and orderly society.

Purely good people always try to avoid hurting others, even when it means helping those in need.

The forces of evil will fail when they try to corrupt pure-hearted people.

Pure-hearted people respect all life and therefore believe anyone is worthy of being helped and cared for.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we look forward to these concepts being measured in language admissible in court (less creepy and much shorter). Until then, however, it is curious whether case narratives naturally evoke a variation on this theme.

Our mock jurors routinely talk about their task as being one of assessing which side is “most right” or what decision is “fair”.

Sometimes they talk about their disgust with a Defendant and, in those cases, their themes are not far from “pure evil”. We’ve also seen instances where mock jurors discuss a Plaintiff (or the spouse of a Plaintiff) in themes closely resembling “pure good”.

It’s an intriguing idea to consider. How can this narrative be framed in ways that elicit the sense of a conflict between good and evil, fair and unfair, right and wrong. Those themes often emerge in mock juror reactions to case narratives and that is the intent. The question this research raises though is just who will react in the opposite way than we expect? That is, who will choose evil over good, unfair over fair, and wrong over right? Based on the mock jurors we’ve seen, we can’t see that happening in a deliberation room and having any measurable impact on the majority of jurors. But it’s intriguing to consider.

Webster RJ, & Saucier DA (2013). Angels and demons are among us: Assessing individual differences in belief in pure evil and belief in pure good. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 39 (11), 1455-70 PMID: 23885037

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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

pinnocchio motivational speaker

The deception research is enough to make you lose faith in humanity. You are left to conclude that everybody lies. You can trust no one. And to make matters worse, most of us can’t identify a liar very well. We’ve written a bit about the deception literature but the work we are covering today is good for the soul. Overall, the researchers say lying is a less frequent occurrence than one might think based on the deception research and the frequency of lying is not distributed evenly across the population. In other words, not everyone lies after all!

The large majority [95%] of us are “everyday liars”–we tell small lies that are not particularly hurtful. Think of an everyday lie as “Those pants don’t make your butt look big”. But a small minority of us [5%] are “prolific liars” who lie about big and small things. The prolific liar is the one to beware of, as they are responsible for 50% of the lies told. Most of us are able to distinguish between what we think of as “small lies” and what lies constitute “big lies”. For every single big lie told by the everyday liar, the prolific liar tells 19 big lies! Maybe for entertainment, or for personal gain, or just out of habit.

The researchers found patterns and differences between everyday and prolific liars in the US and then found very similar patterns in the UK except they lie more frequently across the pond with almost 9.7% of the UK sample being prolific liars compared to 5% in the US. Here are some of the differences found between the everyday liar and the prolific liar:

The everyday liar is most likely to lie to their mother while the prolific liar is most likely to lie to their partners and children.

Prolific liars are more likely male, younger and to work in management roles.

Prolific liars were more likely to say their lying had led to losing jobs and relationships.

While there are apparently more liars in the UK, the researchers explain how to determine if someone is “just” an everyday liar or is a prolific liar. The cutoff number of lies told (to categorize someone as an everyday liar versus a prolific liar) is different for the US and the UK.

In the US, it is common for people to report telling 0 to 2 lies a day. In the UK, it is common for people to report telling 0 to 4 lies a day.

So, the researchers say that in the US, the prolific liar will tell 3 or more lies a day while the UK prolific liar will tell 5 or more lies a day.

Everyday liars say they tell perhaps one small lie a day and one big lie a week. The prolific liar tells almost 3 big lies a day in addition to the 6 small lies they acknowledge each day.

You may question whether prolific liars would admit their lying ways. The researchers say that self-reports of lying seem to be quite accurate (based on past research) and that since these “how much do you lie?” surveys were completed anonymously, they think that gives the data more credibility since social desirability responding would have been minimized.

Everyday liars say they lied more as children but the prolific liars have practiced their craft throughout their lifetimes. The prolific liar tells lies in every area of their life–whether it is work, friendships, or intimate personal relationships. And their behavior has consequences. Prolific liars are 4x more likely to report losing a significant other due to their lies and 9x more likely to have been fired for dishonesty.

Prolific liars feel, however, no more guilt about lying than everyday liars. The prolific liar has a high frequency of lies and a low-level of guilt while the everyday liar has a low-frequency of lies and a low-level of guilt. The researchers point to this discrepancy as a reason the two groups should be studied separately.

As the researchers say, “it is normal for people to tell a few lies, and many lies are minor transgressions or simply efforts to avoid being hurtful”. The prolific liar (whether in the US or the UK) operates outside the norms for lying and thus needs to be studied separately.

Alas, there is nothing in the article to tell us how to differentiate between the everyday liar and the prolific liar except asking them how often they lie. Then we are in the ironic position of relying on a liar to tell us the truth (face-to-face) as to who they really are and thus, how we can expect to be treated.

Serota, K., & Levine, T. (2014). A Few Prolific Liars: Variation in the Prevalence of Lying Journal of Language and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1177/0261927X14528804

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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

dittohead1

Here’s an intriguing study about how consensus is assumed and how it may inspire both activism and a false sense of confidence about the future. Despite a new Pew survey showing the perception is not accurate, conservatives assume more consensus among those sharing their political perspective than do liberals.

NYU researchers conducted three separate experiments looking at assumptions of consensus as related to political beliefs (i.e., liberal or conservative). The researchers say this false sense of consensus may be related to the shock and disbelief expressed by conservatives after Barack Obama won re-election in 2012.

Study 1: 107 online participants (72 female, average age 34.7 years with a range of ages from 18 to 64) viewed photos of 30 White male undergraduates and were asked to indicate whether the man pictured was gay or straight, the likelihood that the man pictured was born in November or December, and finally, whether the man pictured preferred fruit or vegetables. Then, once that descriptive task was done, they were asked “What percent of participants overall made similar judgments as you did?” and then, “What percent of participants who do not share your political beliefs made similar judgments to one another?”. While there was no consensus on judgments about the photographs with regard to birth dates, conservative participants had a stronger desire to see other conservatives agreeing with them than did liberal participants. Oddly, conservatives did reach consensus on whether the male pictured in the photograph was likely gay or straight.

Study 2: 150 online Americans (94 women, average age 34 years with a range of 18 to 65 years of age) who described themselves as “active members of a political party” performed the same tasks as in Study 1. This time the researchers wanted to see if perceiving consensus among like-minded others would be related to seeing your political party as “efficacious”. Again, conservatives actually were more in consensus on whether the male pictured was gay or straight (perhaps conservatives have better gaydar?). And, again, conservatives believed there would be higher consensus among ideologically similar participants while liberals did not. Conservatives were also more likely to see their political party as effective.

Study 3: For this study, the researchers wondered if seeing your political party as effective would make one more likely to vote. Three hundred and eleven online American participants (210 female, average age 32.9 years with an age range of 18 to 70 years) were asked to complete a study “focusing on the beliefs of individuals who belonged to a political party”. This time the participants were divided into three conditions: one group was the control group, another group was primed with a task for affiliating and the last group was primed with a task for not affiliating. Each participant judged only one of the ratings included in the first two studies. That is, 101 participants judged sexual orientation, 106 judged birth month, and 104 judged the likelihood of eating fruits or vegetables. Again (this is so odd) conservatives had more consensus on sexual orientation. Those conservatives who saw their beliefs as more in consensus with those sharing their ideology were more likely to see their political party as more effective and more likely to report plans to vote in the 2012 elections. (The researchers do not say if the conservatives were accurate in identifying sexual orientation, they just say they were in agreement as to who “looked gay”.)

Overall, say the researchers, conservatives may be motivated to perceive consensus while liberals may be motivated to perceive their beliefs as relatively unique. They cite other 2014 research showing conservatives over-estimate their similarity in beliefs to other conservatives while liberals under-estimate their belief similarities to other liberals.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this work speaks to our belief in the importance of presenting your case with “universal values” rather than allowing hot-button (e.g., political perspective) issues to shape jurors’ perspectives on the case. To the extent that this research is accurate among your jurors, there are some important implications:

Conservative jurors are more likely to expect consensus with other conservatives and more likely to expect a lack of consensus with liberal jurors.

Don’t tell the story in a way that pushes juror’s political beliefs.

Focus on shared values of fairness, education, community involvement, and family connections.

Stern, C., West, T., Jost, J., & Rule, N. (2014). “Ditto Heads”: Do Conservatives Perceive Greater Consensus Within Their Ranks Than Liberals? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167214537834

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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

Gallup on lost confidenceLost-confidenceGallup

For several years now, we have watched our mock jurors express increasing disgust at government, large corporations, and politicians. We have written before about their unwillingness to identify with a national political party and the 2014 Gallup Poll showing the same pattern we have been seeing on a national basis.

In a recent pretrial focus group involving an auto accident resulting in death, jurors began spontaneously talking about General Motors and their ignition problems and the choice to keep it a secret (even though GM was not involved in the fact pattern and was not raised in the presentations). They expressed high levels of disgust with GM and then acknowledged that disgust colored their perceptions of the auto manufacturer involved in the current dispute. Then a juror mentioned Wall Street and the mortgage collapse and another mentioned political logjams in Congress and they had to be refocused on the case at hand.

As they deliberated, the themes of disgust and distrust returned repeatedly with jurors who were all-too-willing to assume the worst of the Defendants. From the jurors’ perspectives, the auto maker’s advertising/marketing plan was a lie, the consumer trusted the safety testing as reported, purchased the vehicle, and now they were dead. It could have been any one of them (and when one of them commented on this reality, most of them shook their heads in continued disgust). The damage award was large. The punitive award was larger. And it all seemed affected– or at least consistent with– feelings of disgust and distrust in our institutions.

So when Gallup came out with their recent poll on how Americans are losing confidence in all branches of government, we thought of our mock jurors.

Gallup

In the past 25 years, confidence in our government has eroded pretty consistently with all three branches (the US Supreme Court, Congress, and the Presidency) taking hits as Americans express lower and lower levels of confidence. Currently, fewer than 1 in 10 Americans have confidence in Congress. Does that surprise us? Not really. We’ve been tracking the loss of confidence in public institutions in pretrial research projects over the last 10 years.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the important thing for defendants is to craft an identity for your client that sets your client corporation apart from the rest. Frame your particular client as different from, or changed from what they once were, and allow jurors to line up in support of corporate change. But you better have credible evidence to show them you really are different because at this point, the public assumes the worst unless you show them something better.

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