Archive for the ‘Generation or Age of Juror’ Category
You know what ‘creepy’ is and in the movie The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins personified creepiness. While it may be hard to believe, no one has ever “pinned down” what makes a person creepy. Since there must be a need for such information, enter academic Francis McAndrew of Knox University (in Galesburg, Illinois), for an impressive effort.
First he educates us on what creepiness is—as though we needed him to do that. We all know what constitutes “creepiness” and what results in us being “creeped out” but he does a pretty good job of defining it.
“Creepiness is anxiety aroused by the ambiguity of whether there is something to fear or not and/or by the ambiguity of the precise nature of the threat (e.g., sexual, physical violence, contamination, et cetera) that might be present. Such uncertainty results in a paralysis as to how one should respond.”
So in order to begin what will likely be a long academic exploration (he already has tenure!) on the topic of creepiness, he constructed a measure of just what “normal people” think is creepy. He asked 1,341 people (1,029 females and 312 males ranging in age from 18-77 with an average age of 28.97, via internet survey) to answer some questions about a hypothetical “creepy person” that a friend had encountered. He asked them to rate the person’s physical appearance, behavior and intentions on a scale from 1 (normal) to 5 (creepy). He later asked them to rate occupations and hobbies on a “creepiness scale”.
And here is some of what he found:
Participants were asked if “creepy individuals” were more often male or female. Both male and female participants thought men were more likely to be creepy.
Females were more likely to perceive a sexual threat or sexual interest from a creepy person than were males.
The creepiest occupations were: clown, taxidermist, sex shop owners, and funeral director. (Public service announcement: The full list of occupations deemed “creepy” was in the article and we carefully reviewed it. Neither attorneys nor psychologists were on the creepiness scale, although college professors were on the scale. Be careful out there.)
The creepiest hobbies were collecting things (like dolls, insects, reptiles, or body parts such as teeth, bones or fingernails); variations on ‘watching’ others, bird watchers (who knows what they are really doing?); taxidermy, and a fascination with pornography or exotic sexual activities.
Older participants had less alarm over creepy people, were less likely to feel physical or sexual threat from a creeper and had less anxiety over interacting with a creepy person.
Finally, survey participants were convinced that creepy people do not know they are creepy.
Essentially, what this research says is it is the uncertainty or ambiguity surrounding the creepy person that leads us to think they are a potential threat. It’s good for us to recognize potential threats in our environment—although that birdwatcher wariness is a little odd, unless the concern it that they are really Peeping Tom’s, and the birding interest is a transparent ruse. And it appears that is precisely what our alarm over encountering someone creepy serves to do—detect potential threats.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, this falls into the category of “be aware of the impression that witnesses create in jurors”. If you are prepping a witness and it occurs to you that “this person takes a while to warm up to”, consider what impression they created in you before the warmth took over.
If you conclude that you felt wary of them until they described X or Y, or told you a story about their family or background that you found reassuring—you might have a problem witness. Testing witnesses for credibility and likability is very worthwhile, and it can give you some ideas about how to reduce their potential for “creepiness”.
As an extra piece of information for you, here’s a video that is awkward but not really creepy (at least by the researcher’s definition).
McAndrew, F., & Koehnke, S. (2016). On the nature of creepiness. New Ideas in Psychology,, 43, 10-15 DOI: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2016.03.003
At least according to this analysis of more than 14 million college student reviews on RateMyProfessors.com where students post anonymous reviews of their professors. In an open access article available at PLOS ONE, the authors found that students writing reviews on the popular website most often used the words “brilliant” and “genius” to describe male professors AND those two words were most often used in reviews of academic disciplines where women and African-Americans are under-represented.
It is disturbing that with 14 million reviews, just two words (brilliant and genius) effectively predict the fields where African-Americans and women are scarce. That is, those two words are not often used for women professors or African-American professors—they are mostly used to describe men (those are White or Asian men) who work in areas where there are typically few African-American and women faculty.
We’ve been seeing increasing reports of research similar to this, where the authors go to a website with many, many comments and use that data to answer questions in a more “naturalistic” setting than the laboratory where research participants are asked to respond to a set stimuli. You cannot beat the sample size these researchers drew from. The huge number of responses through which they sifted makes it pretty hard to say they are wrong either!
The researchers arrived at some interesting conclusions. Instead of saying college students are biased, what they say points back to research they did in 2015 which was published in Science. In that study, the researchers went to academics (i.e., graduate students, researchers and faculty) and asked them to name the qualities most predictive of success in their field of study. The researchers found that participants who emphasized the importance of “brilliance” or “genius” as necessary for success were from fields in which women and African-Americans were under-represented. I guess the smart folks are in engineering, math, and science, rather than humanities and the social sciences. The gender and racial distribution between these two general categories of scholarship is vastly different.
The researchers think perhaps stereotype threat (e.g., “a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of confirming stereotypes about their social group”) is at work here and that we need to change what is emphasized for success in traditionally male-dominated fields in order to increase the diversity of researchers in those fields.
“The present study suggests that a focus on inherent intellectual abilities may discourage participation by groups who are stereotypically portrayed as lacking those abilities. In light of these data it seems likely that turning the spotlight away from sheer brilliance—and toward the importance of sustained effort in achieving professional success—may bring about improvements in the diversity of many fields.”
While we applaud the sensitivity of the researchers, their very conclusion is somewhat offensive, as it still presumes that the smart kids are in fields in which African-Americans and women are underrepresented. Clearly, the researchers in those fields are very smart, but it is most obviously intelligence that favors a particular style of thinking and problem-solving, and they might struggle as mightily in translating a foreign novel or integrating social science research in analyzing a new problem as a psychologist might in understanding string theory. There isn’t evidence to conclusively support the assumption.
There has been a lot of research on how few women and African-Americans are in STEM fields. This research says we do need to encourage more women and African-Americans to enter those fields but, the researchers add, we also need to change the way we talk about success in those fields in order to welcome those who have traditionally been taught to think they are not as smart as White (and now Asian) men. And while that might be true, they might also want to understand that brilliance can take many forms. It is a trend that big business and technology firms are finally coming to appreciate, in their hiring increasing numbers of liberal arts graduates in addition to engineers.
Storage, D., Horne, Z., Cimpian, A., & Leslie, S. (2016). The Frequency of “Brilliant” and “Genius” in Teaching Evaluations Predicts the Representation of Women and African-Americans across Fields PLOS ONE, 11 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150194
Not life and death important like commas can be, but if you do not make a point of ending your text reply with a period you may be misinterpreted. Just last week we blogged about the sarcasm emoticon and now we are blogging about periods? It’s true. Punctuation can not only save lives, it apparently can also get you tenure. And, as the image to the left suggests, it can also lead to some funny mistakes. One of my favorites is “Grammar: the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse, and helping your uncle jack off a horse.” Okay. Now stop laughing and read the rest of this.
We all know that texting is now ubiquitous, with 63% of teens saying they text daily according to the researchers although that percentage seems low to us. The researchers say that texting is most like a face-to-face conversation due to the possibility of “rapid and reciprocal” exchange between the texters. This study, published in Computers in Human Behavior, reports that when reviewing text message replies—those that end with a period are seen as less sincere than those that do not end with a period. (This does not make intuitive sense to me but then, I guess it means I am quite a lot older than those that define the rules of text messaging.) The researchers clearly and succinctly explain the purpose of their study as follows:
“The current study provides an empirical exploration of readers’ understanding of the pragmatics of the sentence-final period.”
To further support their argument, the authors point us to a piece from 2013 on the emotionality of the period in New Republic. In this article, the question is raised as to when punctuation developed feelings—specifically, “The Period is Pissed”. The author quotes academics (who obviously have been attuned to this phenomena longer than most of us) on the use of punctuation in text messages. One is tempted to suggest that they take up bowling.
“In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all,” Liberman wrote me. “In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”
This article in the New Republic apparently stimulated today’s researchers to see if the “period is pissed off” when it comes to the recipient’s interpretation of the text reply. In the study, 126 undergraduates from Binghamton University (91 female, 35 male) participated and read exchanges printed on pictures of cell phones or “handwritten notes” printed on pictures of loose-leaf paper. Here is what the participants reviewed so that you can see just why these notes were seen as less sincere.
“Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna come?”
“Yeah” or “Sure.” “Yup” and “Okay.” were the responses (with either a period or no period).
The experimental materials were printed in booklets (with some participants receiving copies of “text messages” and others receiving copies of “handwritten notes”. Participants were asked to rate the sincerity of the receiver’s response on a Likert scale ranging from 1 (very insincere) to 7 (very sincere). Those text messages that ended with a period were rated as less sincere than text messages that did not end with a period.
And to make this even more complicated—when the note was handwritten (i.e., photos of messages printed on loose-leaf paper) there was no impact from the period. It was only in text messages (or rather in those messages printed on photos of a phone) that the period or lack of a period after the response was seen as communicating insincerity.
The researchers explain the findings this way: “Our findings indicate that readers treat the period as pragmatically meaningful in text messages, but not in handwritten notes.”
That is, believe it or not, the most understandable explanation they offer although they offer more—much more. The period in texting, say the researchers, serves as an “extra linguistic cue”. What we would say is that this likely varies by age with older viewers seeing the lack of a period as a sign of haste or carelessness and younger viewers assessing the recipient’s sincerity.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is one more example of how quickly you can get into difficulty in electronic communications.
In our experience with mock jurors, they do not pay as much attention to periods as they do to the tendency to use sarcasm (without this 😜 or this 😏) in electronic communications and so they often dismiss one side’s “smoking gun” email or text as indicative of carelessness or poor judgment. While mock jurors readily admit it is not wise to communicate that way at work, they also tend to not see it as particularly persuasive of ill intent—particularly when the sender is younger. Hopefully, there is a difference in how email and text messages are viewed in litigation than in casual invitations to a social event.
Text messages are not the only electronic communication imbued with special messages—at least not according to tweens and teens. Instagram ‘likes’ and comments communicate special hidden meanings as to your social status and popularity.
We wouldn’t recommend developing fluency in these new “dialects” of computer facilitated communication. Just remember to communicate at work as though your communication (whether written memo, email, or text—or even voice mail) will be displayed on a large screen in the courtroom or, in the case of voice mail, played in the courtroom for the jury to judge. 😱
Gunraj, D., Drumm-Hewitt, A., Dashow, E., Upadhyay, S., & Klin, C. (2016). Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 1067-1075 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.003
Here are our top ten blog posts of 2015—as chosen by our readers. This is not necessarily the top 10 we would have chosen out of our 2015 writing but, it is the top 10 you have chosen. Take a look to see what our readers especially enjoyed.
The Witness Credibility Scale. The Witness Credibility Scale was developed by Stan Brodsky and his then-students at the University of Alabama. If you don’t recognize his name, trust us on this one: the fact that this scale was developed by Stan Brodsky makes it worth careful consideration.
Female Serial Killers: Who they are and how they kill. Women stalk. Women also kill. In fact, it is believed that about 16% of serial killers (about 1 in 6) are female. Although it is hard for many to see women as capable of extreme crimes like murder, the researchers whose work we feature today have no such illusions. [If you can’t wrap your brain around that notion, we suggest you spend an evening alone in your house with all of the lights turned down, and watch the film Monster, an account of the convicted female serial killer Aileen Wuornos.]
Nomophobia: What happens when you are without your smartphone. Nomophobia is considered “a 21st century disorder resulting from new technologies” and even has an entry in the Urban Dictionary which is suitably brief so as to more succinctly illustrate the horror that is nomophobia: Fear of being away from a mobile phone. “That guy has serious nomophobia.” Technically, nomophobia refers a fear of being unable to communicate via a mobile phone or via the internet.
The Personal Sense of Power Scale. Essentially, this is an 8-item measure you can use to determine the sense of personal power an individual believes they have. And even if you have no intention of making use of the scale, you can look at it to understand what researchers identify as the characteristics of personal power.
Cognitive biases: A pictorial primer. You may have seen the Wikipedia page devoted to cognitive biases but here’s something novel: a pictorial representation of 20 common cognitive biases that you can print out on a single 8.5×11 page of paper. And it’s published in an unexpected place: The Business Insider website.
Simple Jury Persuasion: Who is more likely to be convinced of the highly unusual? This is a new and somewhat unusual perspective on persuasion. If you have an unusual explanation for your client’s behavior or motivations—is there a way to know which potential juror might be more predisposed to accept that unusual explanation? According to today’s research…maybe so.
The Dirty Dozen Scale. This is not a scale to help you determine if your fruits and vegetables are dirty. This is for a different kind of dirt commonly referred to as the dark triad. Psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism make up the dark triad of personality traits and they are traits we all want to identify at different points in time. You might think of the dark triad as ubiquitous in the truly “bad boy” to whom many are drawn (for brief periods).
Simple Jury Persuasion: Hey, look over here for a second! This is sort of scary research. We all like to think our views on moral issues are pretty consistent and not easily shaken. That would be incorrect. They are not consistent and they are easily shaken. At least these are the conclusions reached by this research.
Why does Adam Benforado gotta be so mean? I have not read Adam’s book. I have only read reviews of it and many of them are good although the book has not yet been released. The book was brought to my attention by trial consultants who saw early reviews and were disturbed by it. It was hard for me to believe that such a champion of the intersection between psychology and the law would trash the trial consulting profession as a whole with only one unattributed quote from a trial consultant who apparently speaks (in Benforado’s mind) for the profession. So I went to the Amazon webpage of the book which allowed me to peer at the book’s index and then review the pages about trial consulting (pages 249-256). Oh, Adam. I am so disappointed.
Psychopaths cannot understand punishment: What does that mean for the courtroom? There actually are researchers who would say that because the brains of psychopaths are abnormal—they should not be punished for their behavior. Today’s spotlight is on an article which is of that ilk. These researchers say “one in five violent offenders is a psychopath”. That number is not really surprising since prevalence rates for psychopathy have been estimated at 15% to 25% of the male offender population. The researchers continue by saying psychopaths have higher rates of recidivism and do not seem to benefit from rehabilitation. The researchers say they know “why” this happens and they hope their work will improve childhood interventions to prevent or at least decrease violent behaviors in those with psychopathy.