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Phubbing_creationIt’s time to run down some articles that are curious, but not substantial enough to justify a full blog post. Once again, we have kept a few pearls in our virtual filing cabinet, and have combined them here for your curiosity and possibly entertainment. This is one of those combination posts that will offer you conversation topics and also, this time only, give you hope for the future when it comes to reading. So, if you want more water-cooler conversation fodder or more material that cements your reputation for knowing very weird trivia, get ready to take notes.

Phubbing makes you unhappy (so knock it off already!)

Phubbing is the practice of “snubbing your partner in favor of your phone” and you add an extra ‘p’ to the word (Pphubbing) if the partner involved is actually your romantic partner. This is the first time we’ve heard of this word so we’re guessing the 2012 advertising campaign for which it was coined wasn’t really that successful. But we all know when we’re doing it, and when we are having it done to us. In the research study cited at the bottom of this post, they found that Pphubbing was a particular problem for those with anxious attachment styles, and that pphubbing related to depression through relationship satisfaction and even life satisfaction. So. It hurts them and makes you feel bad. Put the phone done and make some eye contact. Unless, of course, that message is very important and you are really, really busy…

FOMO (Oh no!)

While we know it is unlikely, you may have forgotten our post on FOMO—“fear of missing out”. FOMO is “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out — that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you”. Apparently it hits young people harder than it does older folks. There’s a Texas A&M University authored suggestion for combatting FOMO over at Science Daily.

Will this finally end blonde jokes?

Probably not, but if you missed the extensive media coverage about blonde women having higher IQs than non-blonde’s—here is a link to the original article asking the question, Are Blondes Really Dumb? from the open access journal Economics Bulletin. We do want to comment that the IQ scores in the article are not statistically significant differences. Actually, Vox recently took this article to task and has a pretty heated critique on the research. But the headline is inflammatory, so it got wide attention.

People still read for pleasure!

A new paper has just been released by the Brookings Institution analyzing more than 400,000 digitally recorded stories to see what holds our attention in 2016. If you’d rather look at a summary of the report, Poynter has an exceptionally nice one. In brief, to hold our attention an article doesn’t have to be short; readers are not indiscriminately drawn to images or photos; and doing your research thoroughly pays off. It’s a wonderful counterpoint to the negative predictions we often hear about the future of reading for pleasure.

Roberts, J., & David, M. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.058


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aha-moments-IGWhen I was younger, I would have moments of clarity I referred to as epiphanies. I learned pretty quickly that if I did not somehow reinforce that epiphany in my mind, I would forget it—only to (sometimes) realize it again at some point in the future.

So now, when I am working on a project and have a seemingly idle association, I write it down so it doesn’t disappear and I often find that idle association turns out to be very informative later on. These insights are what some refer to as “aha!” moments, and today’s research article focuses on just how accurate and intuitive those moments can be for all of us. In fact, these “insight solutions” are correct more often than our analytic solutions according to this research. Albert Einstein once referred to his own insights as “great speculative leaps” to a conclusion and then tracing back the connections to verify the idea. (You can read the entire article here courtesy of the senior author.)

Today’s researchers wanted to know how accurate insights would be when compared to analytical solutions. The researchers had participants in four studies take on puzzle solving tasks. One study used only linguistic puzzles, one used only visual puzzles, and the last two used puzzles with both linguistic and visual elements. The participants had a set period of time (i.e., 15 or 16 seconds) in which to solve the puzzles and each experiment contained between 50 and 180 puzzles.

Here is an example of a linguistic puzzle used in the research. These words would appear on a computer screen:

crab pine sauce

Participants were asked to offer a word that would fit all of them to make a compound word (apple, in this case). As soon as the participants had solved the puzzle, they would hit a button and say their answer and then tell the experimenter whether they had derived their answer via analytical thinking or insight (they had received training in how to tell the difference between the two). The researchers say that the insight solutions were overwhelmingly more correct than the analytical thinking solutions.

In the linguistic puzzles, 94% if the responses classified as insight were correct compared to 78% of the analytical responses.

In the visual puzzles, 78% of the insight oriented responses were correct compared to only 42% of the analytic responses.

Additionally, solutions offered during the last five seconds of the task had a lower probability of being correct and the majority of those answers were based on analytical thinking.

The researchers say that insightful thinkers tend not to guess but rather, they wait for an aha! moment. And, when an aha! moment does emerge, that solution tends to seem obvious and the individual is certain the solution is correct. The researchers conclude that if you want a creative idea or solution to a problem, it is better to not have a hard deadline for completion. While a drop-dead deadline will get results, they are less likely to get creative results.

The researchers say this is because insight oriented solutions are an all-or-nothing process while analytical problem resolution is incremental and allows partial information on which the individual can base a guess (which often is incorrect).

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we often see the aha! moment in process during pretrial research with mock jurors. We urge our attorney clients not to draw conclusions for the jurors but rather, to allow jurors to come to their conclusions and solutions. What we see over and over again is that the mock juror who is given enough information to connect the dots but not force-fed a solution—is a juror who is a fierce advocate for one side of the case or the other. You may accept what you are given, but you own what you discover for yourself.

We pay attention during pretrial research and watch for gaps in the case narrative that result in distortions or conspiracy theories about the case and plug those holes for eventual courtroom presentation. We’ve always thought the conclusions drawn by jurors with a road map of what happened were much more powerful than the conclusions presented to jurors by the attorney and this research article shows us why.

Giving jurors an aha! moment as they connect the dots in your case will result in jurors who feel confident in their conclusions and will advocate for you in deliberations.

Salvi, C., Bricolo, E., Kounios, J., Bowden, E., & Beeman, M. (2016). Insight solutions are correct more often than analytic solutions. Thinking & Reasoning, 1-18 DOI: 10.1080/13546783.2016.1141798


Comments Off on Eureka! Epiphanies and aha! moments: Trust them  

mckayla_impressed_ap_328Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney had a bad day at the Olympics in 2012 and the facial expression illustrating this post went viral. She was “not impressed” said the internet—and today’s researchers would say the internet was half right. What McKayla Maroney was really showing us, according to today’s research, was the universal “not face”.

Researchers from Ohio State University wanted to know if there was a universal facial expression that spans multiple cultures. They found one and McKayla’s brief expression captures it perfectly. The researchers wanted to see if they could find clues to the evolution of spoken language. It is apparently a common belief that, before humans developed language, we had a collection of facial expressions to communicate emotions. So the researchers filmed 158 Ohio State University students while speaking in their native languages. The researchers used participants who spoke in English (a Germanic language), Spanish (based in Latin), Mandarin Chinese and American Sign Language (ASL).

Past research had established that facial expressions of anger, disgust and contempt could be found in all cultures. The researchers wondered if the three universal negative facial expressions had been combined over time into a single negative facial expression. And yes it has. Here is what the researchers call the “universal not face”. You will note the similarity to McKayla’s “not impressed” face. The researchers describe the expression like this:

It consists of a furrowed brow, pressed lips and raised chin, and because we make it when we convey negative sentiments, such as “I do not agree,” researchers are calling it the “not face.”

not face

Even in American Sign Language (ASL), the researchers found the “not face”. The researchers explain the word “not” can be signed with hands or it can simply be indicated by a shake of the head. However, sometimes, the researchers found, the “not face” was occasionally used in ASL without either the hand sign for “not” or the head shake. In other words, at times in ASL, the only way you know that the word “not” has been used is from the expression these researchers call the “not face”.

This study required hours and hours of painstaking frame-by-frame video analysis. The researchers now plan to automate the painstaking study of thousands of frames of films they analyzed while completing this study and then analyze one billion frames (for 10,000 hours of data) of YouTube footage of people speaking in an attempt to identify other “facial grammatical markers”. If you’d like to read more about this study, Newswise has a nice writeup.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think the lesson here is clear. If jurors listen to you with this expression (which is, as you recall, a combination of anger, disgust and contempt) it is likely not a good thing for your case. We’ve all seen this look. Most of us have probably mimicked this facial expression. Now it has a name and we can fear it in the jury boxes not just in the United States but of the world.

Benitez-Quiroz CF, Wilbur RB, & Martinez AM (2016). The not face: A grammaticalization of facial expressions of emotion. Cognition, 150, 77-84 PMID: 26872248


Comments Off on How you do not want jurors to look at you: The  universal “not face” 

manipulatorWe’ve written a lot about those with what are called the “dark triad” of personality characteristics. Narcissists. Psychopaths. Machiavellians. These are not people we recommend doing business with—either personally or professionally. Their only interest is self-interest. So this is an interesting study as it shares a possible way to inoculate yourself against these untrustworthy folks who can be (for brief periods of time) quite persuasive and charming.

Here is how the authors of today’s article describe those with dark triad personality characteristics:

They “are callous and interpersonally exploitative. [snip] Psychopathy is related to an antisocial lifestyle, Machiavellianism to  calculated manipulation and being goal-oriented, and narcissism to grandiosity and self-adoration.”

Or as my kids would say, “they will cut you”. In short, they are not nice people and cannot be trusted. The authors note that there is ample evidence of exploitative behavior from these “dark personalities” in face-to-face interactions but that no one has yet explored whether their negotiation skills will be preserved when forced to negotiate in a text-based (“computer-mediated”) environment (which would delete their interpersonal presence and non-verbal behavior).

To cut to the chase, what the researchers found was that when you take away the impact of interpersonal presence—dark triad personalities are much less persuasive in text and they are much less threatening to those intimidated by interacting with them face-to-face.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it is unlikely you will be able to conduct actual negotiations via text. However, if you end up in mediation, remember that much of the bluster of the machiavellian, the manipulation of the psychopath, and the preening behavior of the narcissist will be eliminated when they are interacting with you not in person, but through the mediator.

Make yourself think concretely—not “what does that really mean?” but, “what was offered?”.

If you find yourself feeling threatened or charmed, remind yourself that the person embodying the dark triad is not in the room; give yourself time to step back and consider how to respond.

The reality of the dark triad character is that there is a large display of style but not much substance. When you distance yourself from their interpersonal impact (by texting, memorandum, or an interacting through an intermediary) they simply become bad people, but not particularly productive, persuasive or threatening people at that.

And when you have to interact in person, say in the courtroom—focus on being as likable, sincere, and straightforward as you can and trust that the jury will see your genuineness. The contrast will be refreshing for them. You are there to do a job for your client and that means advocating for them and not focusing on the malevolence of your opponent.

Crossley, L., Woodworth, M., Black, P., & Hare, R. (2016). The dark side of negotiation: Examining the outcomes of face-to-face and computer-mediated negotiations among dark personalities Personality and Individual Differences, 91, 47-51 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.11.052


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Opened_up_a_Pandoras_boxYou likely remember the story of Pandora’s box (although it turns out the box was actually a jar) from Greek mythology. The story of Pandora was an object lesson in the possible negative outcomes of misplaced curiosity and our research article today would say we haven’t learned the lesson of Pandora’s curiosity.

Researchers in the US wanted to see if they could figure out why curiosity is often pursued even though the results of pursuit will likely be negative. What the researchers found is that people (some more than others) are so uncomfortable with uncertainty that they will work to resolve that uncertainty even if they are expecting negative consequences and no pleasure nor long-term benefits. The researchers refer to this as the “perverse side of curiosity”.

It tracks with the old axiom that you can assure failure today, but success requires patience. They conducted 4 separate experiments to see if they could figure out why we work so hard to resolve uncertainty.

The experiments are somewhat odd. In the first, they had participants click pens that resembled normal ballpoint pens—where each pen was marked with either a red sticker or a green sticker. The participants were told that the red sticker pens would deliver a “painful but harmless” electric shock if clicked but the green sticker pens would not. This was referred to as the certain-outcome condition. Other participants had pens with all yellow stickers and were told that some pens contained the batteries that would shock them and others did not but the outcome was completely uncertain.

While the researchers say the intuitive guess is that more pens would be clicked in the certain-outcome condition (the green or red stickers), more pens were actually clicked in the uncertain-outcome condition (the yellow stickers). The researchers conclude that “curiosity can even lead people to expose themselves to electric shocks”.

In the second study, they used the same idea but each participant was given 20 certain-outcome pens (with red or green stickers) and 10 uncertain-outcome pens (with yellow stickers). The number of pens of each ilk were chosen so that if the participant randomly chose pens to click, they would have clicked twice as many pens with a certain outcome. Again, participants clicked more of the uncertain-outcome pens than the certain-outcome pens.

Satisfied that the Pandora effect was robust, the researchers moved on to Experiment 3. In this experiment, the pens were abandoned and the researchers employed the sound of either nails on a chalkboard (a negative experience), water pouring into a jar (a positive experience), or an uncertain outcome where they would hear one sound or the other unpredictably. Oddly, the researchers decided to “prevent them from feeling bored” the computer would play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ at low volume in the background. (Seriously? How annoying would that be?!) The participants would press buttons to select either nails on a blackboard, water, or a button marked with a question mark (?). You know what happened.

Despite protection from boredom offered by a nursery school melody, the participants chose to be ‘surprised’ by the researchers and chose the ‘?’ button most often. They also asked the participants to rate how they felt every so often during the experiment and found (shockingly) that the more buttons pressed, the worse the participants felt. The researchers say that “curiosity led people to ‘open the box’ and then suffer”. (They do not say whether the suffering was from pressing buttons or that nursery rhyme melody.)

For the fourth study, the researchers raised the ante and made all the stimuli negative (“pictures of disgusting insects”) and the uncertainty condition would show a surprise “disgusting insect”. The insects used were a bedbug, a centipede, a cockroach, a mosquito, and a silverfish. (We agree with the researchers that these are disgusting particularly when magnified.) In this experiment, the participants were told there were 30 photos of insects that were covered and they must view three of the pictures. In the certain outcome condition, the box covering the insect was labeled with its name. In the uncertain outcome condition, the covered picture displayed a question mark only (?). Once again, participants chose to view more “uncertain condition” insects but the researchers also found that when participants  predicted how they would feel after viewing the uncertain-outcome insects—they viewed fewer of the uncertain condition insects than they did if there was no prediction of how they would feel.

In other words, say the researchers, “predicting hedonic experiences reduced people’s tendency to open the box when the outcome was a priori uncertain”.

Overall, the researchers concluded that curiosity will result in people opening a “box” if the outcome is uncertain and negative. However, urging them to ”predict hedonic consequences” will decrease their idle curiosity. The researchers think that “curiosity resolution” is not always beneficial” and a consideration of the possible consequences of the curiosity resolution process would be prudent. There are risks, they say, in seeking information.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think resolving idle curiosity of your jurors is not only beneficial but essential. We’ve seen idle curiosity take mock jurors down countless “rabbit trails” that are almost always extra-evidentiary and result in more confusion than clarity. So we make use of that idle curiosity that these researchers warn against—and use their curiosity about potentially distracting side issues that pop up in pretrial research to plug holes in the case narrative.

We want jurors as focused on the evidence as possible (except when we don’t!) and identifying holes in the narrative that lead to “idle curiosity and rumination” is the best way to help jurors avoid the titillation, conspiracy theories, fears, and general over-interpretation of evidence that can occur when a case narrative leaves a perilous hole into which jurors are prone to wander.

Hsee CK, & Ruan B (2016). The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity. Psychological Science PMID: 27000178


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