Archive for the ‘Forensic evidence’ Category
How about trying this: Make it interesting. Despite stereotypes that older adults may not have the intellectual or memory capabilities to serve as good jurors in complex cases, reaching the older adult juror appears to rely on the same principle we apply to jurors in general: engage them. In fact, some new research says that when they find it interesting—they remember more than younger people do even a week later. In other words, there is really no reason to assume older jurors won’t keep up. If they are curious and you present your case in an interesting way—you will find them invested and engaged as jurors.
Here’s a brief description of the research:
Researchers used 24 older adults (13 female/11 male with an average age of 72.9 years) and 24 younger adults (16 females/8 males with an average age of 20.3 years). The participants were recruited from the Los Angeles area—both in the community and through UCLA. They all had good self-reported health ratings and the ability to repeat a series of numbers from memory (known to psychologists as the Digit Span test) was not significantly different between the younger and older participants.
They were asked to respond to a series of “60 obscure trivia questions”. First they answered the questions and rated how confident they were in their response. Immediately thereafter, they were shown the correct answer for 6 seconds and then rated how interesting they thought it was now that they knew the correct answer. Finally, they were asked how likely they thought it was that they would remember the answer to the question.
After this, the participants were involved in an unrelated task for an hour and then given an unexpected “quiz” on half of the “obscure trivia questions”. After a week, they were contacted by phone and were tested again on the other half of the questions.
What the researchers found was unexpected (at least unexpected if you think the memory of older adults is faulty).
Whether you are young or old, if you find material interesting, your memory for the material is enhanced. (There was no age-related difference in performance on memory for the trivia questions.)
Younger adults scored a little better on the hour delay than they did on the week delay when it came to recalling the answers to the trivia questions. However, for older adults, the effect was reversed. Older adults remembered more on the week after telephone follow-up than they did in the initial hour delay task. (The researchers think this may say something about the importance of being interested in a topic for older adults to retain the information a week later.)
While these were healthy and non-memory-impaired older adults, there was no sign of memory gap between younger and older participants. And in truth, our experience tells us that most older adults with health issues that might impact their ability to see/hear, their energy, attention, fatigue, pain, et cetera, are not shy about discussing them in voir dire if asked.
What that means for litigation advocacy is that memory and recall is likely not a function of the individual juror but the quality (engaging or not) of the case presentation in court. You can not only rely on older jurors to engage and invest (and thus remember), you can rely on them as much (and perhaps more) than you can rely on younger jurors. We have often seen this in our pretrial research. We look for curiosity and involvement in the world today. We’ve had long-retired bankers who were able to explain banking practices to younger jurors who did not believe attorney presentations of fact. We’ve had long-retired teachers and college professors help to organize how a presentation unfolds for maximum understanding. We’ve had a retired African-American male defuse racial tension during mock deliberations with grace and good humor.
Whether a venire member will be an attentive juror isn’t about age, it’s about whether they find the presentation interesting and engaging.
McGillivray, S., Murayama, K., & Castel, A. (2015). Thirst for Knowledge: The Effects of Curiosity and Interest on Memory in Younger and Older Adults. Psychology and Aging DOI: 10.1037/a0039801
Here it is, the penultimate (that means one more is coming!) 2015 collection of things you may find intriguing to know (or not) that we found in our travels but to which we do not choose to devote an entire post. For the most part, these tidbits are based in scientific research and have helped some academic somewhere to obtain tenure. And for that, they deserve to be publicized in some form—right?
Men—are you strangely drawn to women with ponytails?
No? Then you reflect some new research just published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology and you likely prefer women whose “hair falls naturally on her neck, shoulders and upper back”. This is one in a series of articles by academic researcher Nicolas Guégen and his female confederates. Guégen (who appears to do some fairly odd research) had the confederates walk down the street with their hair either loose, or in a ponytail or in a bun and had them “accidentally drop a glove”. And they found that men (although not women) were more likely to help women with their hair down (as opposed to those in a bun or ponytail). In the event you are interested, Guégen has also done experiments which prove men prefer women in high heels and that men approach women with larger breasts more often than they approach women not as well endowed. And yes. He has indeed made tenure with this “body of work”. At the risk of digressing, it also leaves us to wonder what organizations funded his research grants.
Solving a problem like an earworm…
We’ve been intrigued with the concept of earworms for a number of years now as previous blog posts attest. What is an earworm? It is something most of us have experienced—in brief, it’s when a song gets stuck in your head and will not go away. For most of us, it lasts briefly (although it may not feel that way)—yet for some, it becomes chronic.
But this has got to be some kind of record! Here’s a woman who’s had the same earworm for more than three decades! It’s just nine notes from a tune she has never been able to name. And as you might imagine, she is writing about the research on how to stop an earworm. She also says none of those techniques worked for her—but in all fairness—she can’t do one of them since she has no idea what the song is from whence her earworm sprang. Another candidate for publication in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.
Are tattooed college student women trying to disassociate from their past?
Speaking of odd topics for tenure—how about college women with tattoos? [And on a completely unrelated note, tattoos are also a topic with which we’ve been intrigued. But when you are faced with a venire full of tattoos, where else are you going to turn for understanding about whether it should matter to your case?] Jerome Koch has made his academic path on the topic of tattoos and college students—starting in 2002 and continuing through the present. In an upcoming article for Social Science Journal (cited below), Koch found that women are twice as likely as men to want to have tattoos removed—presumably in an effort to dissociate from their past. However, the addition of a tattoo could also serve the same desire to dissociate from their pasts. Hmmm. Perhaps you will see a full blog post on that article after all!
You know you’ve been wondering about the evidentiary impact of emoticons and emojis
Well, wonder no more because Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP covers the literature on the issue and even shows us the difference between emoticons (the traditional made from keyboard symbols) and emojis (the modern version of the emoticon—😂—this one is ‘tears of joy’ which apparently has appeared in nearly 1B tweets in the last two years). This is an entertaining and amusing read since they review litigation in which emoticons and emojis prominently feature.
Koch, J., Roberts, A., Armstrong, M., & Owen, D. (2015). Tattoos, gender, and well-being among American college students. The Social Science Journal DOI: 10.1016/j.soscij.2015.08.001
This is a fascinating study on how those that kill significant others or family members are different from those who kill strangers. The first author explains how these murderers are different, saying
“These murders are usually in the heat of passion and generally involve drugs or alcohol and often are driven by jealousy or revenge following a separation or a split. This is grabbing the kitchen knife out of the drawer in a fit of anger and stabbing her 42 times.”
The differences between those that kill family members and those that kill others are striking. The authors think the differences may mean we can discern a “criminological phenotype” and perhaps prevent family homicides. The researchers interviewed 153 men and women charged with and/or convicted of first degree murder in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Colorado and Arizona who were referred for neuropsychological evaluations to determine fitness to stand trial, criminal responsibility or to determine appropriate sentencing.
Each participant received a “detailed clinical interview, comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, review of pertinent records including police reports, crime scene photographs, autopsy reports, criminal history reports, correctional records, court documents, and interviews of collaterals and attorneys”. The participants were largely male (88.2%) and African-American (64.7%), ranged in age from 15 years of age to 67 years of age (with an average age of 33.1 years), and had a wide range of education—with an average education of 10.5 years and a range of 4 years education to 19 years.
Firearms were the most common weapon (40.5%), then knives (29.4%), and strangulation or suffocation (15.7%). Other weapons “included baseball bats, hammers, clubs, rocks and fists and other methods included drowning and fire (22.2%)”. The total number of victims for the 153 participants was 263 with the majority of murders (62.1%) involving one victim. For male perpetrators, almost half (48.4%) the victims were women. Female perpetrators killed nearly twice as many men (65%) as women.
As is often the case in research, there were no significant differences in the groups (those who killed family members and those who killed others) with regard to multiple demographic variables (e.g., age, education, ethnicity, employment). There were also no differences between the groups in terms of neurologic history, neurodevelopmental history, history of abuse (physical or sexual) or lifetime prevalence of drug use. Both groups had what the researchers call a “high incidence of illicit drug use and head trauma and a high prevalence of psychiatric disorders”.
Features common to both groups were a high prevalence of head trauma (80%), a history of special education (52.9% compared to a national average of 7.66%), psychotic disorders (45.1% in the spontaneous domestic homicide perpetrators and 19.4% in the non-domestic homicide perpetrators compared to about 3% average in the community), substance abuse histories consistent with prison inmates in general and incarcerated homicide offenders which the authors think may have further weakened already low inhibitions against homicide.
Here is a list of how those that murder family members (the authors refer to this as “spontaneous domestic homicide”) are different from those who kill others (non-domestic homicides).
They were twice as likely to carry a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder but less likely to have a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.
They were more likely to have been prescribed an antipsychotic or antidepressant and slightly less likely to have a prior history of felony convictions.
The average number of victims was lower for those that killed family members than those who killed non family members.
They were less likely (14%) to use a gun in their crimes compared to non-domestic homicide perpetrators (59%). They were more likely instead to use knives, baseball bats, clubs, or fists.
They had lower IQ scores and poor attention, executive function and memory but language skills were about the same.
The authors think these differences may be useful in discerning when concerned family members are at risk for harm and help them understand when it is time to remove themselves from the situation before it is too late. This article, while frightening to read, is a good step toward knowing when an impaired family member is dangerous and breaking through the denial that a family member would not hurt you. These are probably good things to know.
Hanlon, R., Brook, M., Demery, J., & Cunningham, M. (2015). Domestic Homicide: Neuropsychological Profiles of Murderers Who Kill Family Members and Intimate Partners Journal of Forensic Sciences DOI: 10.1111/1556-4029.12908
We’ve written about narcissists a fair amount here and today’s post shows us that the brains of narcissists are indeed very special—but not in a good way since they have “weakened frontostriatal connectivity”. But you probably knew that already. It’s a sort of neural disconnect, say the authors, between the self and reward. That disconnect may lead the narcissist to seek excessive reassurance from others.
Researchers from the University of Kentucky at Lexington recruited 50 undergraduate students and asked them to complete the Narcissistic Personality Index. Then they completed a specialized form of MRI with the participants: diffusion tensor imaging (a tool to measure the amount of connectivity between different brain areas). A very simplistic explanation of the technology is that it produces a spiderweb-like visualization of connections between different areas of the brain—you can literally see how much various parts of the brain are communicating.
The researchers were especially interested in an area known as the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is associated with thinking about ourselves, and a second and deeper region of the brain that is associated with reward and feeling good (the ventral striatum).
Even more specifically, they were interested in what they call “the density of the white matter tracts” between the two areas. The “white matter density” would highlight the level of connectivity between these areas of the brain—or, in other words, it would tell us how much these two areas of the brain are talking to each other. How often is the individual experiencing reward and feeling good about themselves?
So, the participants who have completed a measure of narcissism are lying in the MRI machine and having the number of connections between these two areas of the brain measured. Narcissists would say they have very high self-esteem and if that were true, they would have a high number of connections between these two parts of the brain since someone with high self-esteem would internally say nice things about themselves often.
Alas for the narcissists, the specialized brain scan did not show they had strong self-esteem. Instead, the higher the participants scored on the narcissism measure, the fewer connections they had between these two areas of the brain.
The researchers considered the finding and concluded that they see this as indicative of an “internal deficit in self-reward connectivity” in narcissists. In other words, if the narcissist is not having many rewarding thoughts or feelings about the self, they may seek out praise and admiration from others. Finally, the researchers suggest that the brain’s white matter can be modified: “clinical interventions can readily alter white matter integrity”. This fact, they say, suggests another way for narcissists to feel better on their own: repeated self-affirmations. This could help the narcissist refrain from what the researchers describe as characteristic “exhibitionism and immodesty”.
While intellectually interesting, from a litigation advocacy standpoint, we don’t think anyone will be putting neural evidence of neediness on the witness stand soon. But this study still points out an important reality: narcissism may indicate neediness.
Understand what to do when faced with a narcissist (in this case, the narcissistic witness).
Draw out the narcissist in cross-examination by asking for a sharing of expertise. Let jurors see how self-involved and arrogant the narcissist is when unscripted.
Use this understanding (of narcissistic neediness) to help you interact without rancor with a narcissistic colleague, client, or supervisor.
Chester, DS Lynam, DR Powell, DK DeWall, CN 2015 Narcissism is associated with weakened frontostriatal connectivity: a DTI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.