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Archive for the ‘Generation or Age of Juror’ Category

letseatgrandmaNot 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


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Our top ten blog posts of 2015 

Monday, February 15, 2016
posted by Douglas Keene

top 10 2015Here 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.


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What can we learn from a look back at 2015? 

Thursday, February 11, 2016
posted by Rita Handrich

2015 Year-in-Review-HighlightMany things most likely but we especially like to look at how attitudes change and how reports of what is important varies from year to year in North America. And for that, we turn to the Pew Research Center and they do not fail us! They offer us their 15 “striking findings” from 2015 complete with graphs that show the historical perspective.

It’s hard to choose among their 15 but to encourage you to visit this document yourself, we are only going to highlight 6 of their 15 highlighted findings from 2015. Some we’ve blogged about over the course of the past year and others we missed (and you may have too).

“I trust the federal government always or most of the time”: Consistent with what we’ve seen over the past few years, only 19% of Americans endorse this belief now. Pew notes it is among the lowest levels of trust in the government over the past 50 years.

More immigrants from Mexico are leaving the US than are coming into the country. While we’ve blogged on attitudes toward immigrants, we missed this factoid or perhaps it was drummed from our memory by the constant monologues about making Mexico pay to build a border wall from a Republican presidential candidate. Immigration from Mexico actually fell to below zero after the Great Recession of 2008(ish).

News source preference varies by generation. We blogged about how Millennials get their news but not based on the Pew report. This is perhaps a useful fact for us to examine. 61% of online Millennials get their political news from Facebook while Boomers turn to local TV (which inspired an intriguing post on racism and watching local news on TV). Social networking sites will, according to Pew, become increasing important as a part of American’s news procuring habits.

People in countries with significant Muslim populations don’t like ISIS. Here’s another potentially surprising finding given the political themes we are hearing in the Presidential race. Pew surveyed 11 countries with significant Muslim populations and in all but one country (that would be Pakistan) the majority of the population viewed ISIS negatively. (In Pakistan, the majority said they did not know what their attitude toward ISIS was rather than responding either negatively or positively.)

Where immigrants come from has changed over the past 50 years. Currently, 14% of the US population is foreign-born (this is a near record in the past 50 years). While in the 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants were largely European—those arriving since 1965 hale largely from Latin America (51%) and Asia (roughly 25%).

Who is multiracial? We guess our post on multiracial identity early in 2016 doesn’t count as having caught this in 2015 but it’s an area we often ponder. Pew says multiracial Americans make up almost 7% of US adults and this group is growing 3x faster than the population as a whole. While there is more embracing of a multicultural identity/history, there are still a majority (55% according to Pew) who have been recently subjected to racial slurs or jokes due to their racial background.

Pew Research also has findings on climate change and attitudes toward science, population shifts, demographic shifts and religious affiliations. It’s a short-cut to seeing what Pew sees as the most striking issues they surveyed the American public on in 2015.

15 striking findings from 2015, December 22, 2015. Pew Research Center.


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landline phoneSometimes we think change goes slowly and other times it goes fast! And the older you get the faster time seems to move! So here is proof that times change quickly! Pew Research Center has announced that in 2016 they will call 75% cellphones to complete their surveys in order to allow for the fact that almost half of American households use only wireless telephone services and the proportion of interviews conducted on cell phones has risen steadily since 2009.

They include some interesting facts about just how much times are changing when it comes to telephone use.

9 in 10 Americans have a cellphone with those adult Americans who use cellphone-only steadily increasing since 2004 according to the US government.

Roughly half of US adults (47%) have only wireless phone service.

People who rely only on cellphones are demographically different from those with landlines as well. They are considerably younger, less educated and lower-income. They are more likely to be Hispanic and urban. If you do not sample cellphone-only users, you do not get a sample representative of US adults. (This is why we follow Pew’s publications closely. They pay attention to societal changes.)

When adults have cellphones whose area code does not match the area they live in, it isn’t a problem in national polls but can be in regional or state polls. So respondents are always asked where they are located so the survey does not end up skewed. Sometimes there are addresses associated with cellphone numbers but not always.

And here is what is most surprising. Contrary to what you may experience when you pick up a call from an unknown number and get the background noise from a call center and a long delay prior to a person coming on the line—federal regulations say cellphones have to be manually dialed by an interviewer and not an autodialer. Obviously not everyone is doing it since it adds significant costs to interviewing (twice the cost of landline interviews, according to Pew).

Overall, this is invaluable information. If people who rely on cellphones-only are younger, poorer, less educated, and more likely to be Hispanic and urban—they represent a different group than the regular population and we need to pay attention to that difference as we conduct pretrial research. On the other hand, the explosion of cell-only users is obviously growing far beyond the profiles of who uses cellphones exclusively. And clearly, polling or sampling that doesn’t incorporate cell phones is missing much of the voter/juror population.

Pew Research Center (January 5, 2016). Pew Research Center will call 75% cellphones for surveys in 2016.


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mom in prisonWhile idealistically we might want to think people whose mom is (or was) in prison would view their Mom’s plight as a cautionary tale, and be less likely to go to prison themselves, a new study shows that “children of incarcerated mothers are twice as likely to be arrested, convicted and incarcerated as adults”. The study was completed by researchers at Sam Houston State University and is based on findings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health (a 20 year study following a nationally representative sample of those who were in 7th to 12th grades in 1994-1995).
Here is a sampling of what the researchers describe as “unintended consequences of maternal incarceration”:

Women make up only 7% of the overall prison population but growth in the rate of incarceration for females is surpassing males (64% increase for women between 1991 and 2011 compared to a 22% increase for men during that same time frame). The researchers say the growth in incarceration rates for women reflect sentencing guidelines, mandatory minimum sentencing, enhanced sentences for certain crimes and the war on drugs.

Two-thirds of the women in prison are mothers and those children are more likely to live with relatives away from home, which, say the researchers, “increases the risk of attachment disruptions, separation anxiety, depression, sadness, and preoccupation with the loss of a parent”.

Adult children of incarcerated mothers were only half as likely to be college graduates.

Children with incarcerated mothers were significantly more likely to be involved in delinquent behavior or to have close peers who were engaging in delinquent behavior. It was also more likely that their fathers had also spent time in prison.

Adult children of incarcerated mothers were also nearly twice as likely to “report an adult arrest, an adult conviction, and an adult incarceration”.

It’s a sad set of statistics and we’ve only included some of the findings. Having an “absent mother”, say the researchers, increases the likelihood that children will be involved in the criminal justice system in the future. However, having an incarcerated mother has a much stronger effect—although at this point, we do not know enough to know if there is a differing impact on male and female children with an incarcerated mother.

While we don’t take issue with the authors about their conclusions, it can’t be ignored that the children of an incarcerated woman are likely subject to the same socio-economic forces that played a part in shaping their mother. Drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, incomplete or inadequate education, et cetera. Add to that the chaos of losing a mother, and it starts to feel amazing that any kid could climb out of that environment and lead a traditional, pro-social life. The ripple effect of maternal imprisonment involves a cost to society far greater than merely that single incarceration.

While some of these numbers are likely due to socioeconomic status, education, and poor adult role models, it is frightening to think of just how many children are going to end up in the criminal justice system as more and more women (who are also mothers) are incarcerated. It’s a call for fathers to step up but also a reminder to us as a society that we need to consider the unintended consequences of societal choices to incarcerate the parents of children and take steps to protect children from negative choices that will perpetuate the cycle of incarceration down the generations.

Muftic, L., Bouffard, L., & Armstrong, G. (2015). Impact of Maternal Incarceration on the Criminal Justice Involvement of Adult Offspring: A Research Note. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 53 (1), 93-111 DOI: 10.1177/0022427815593988


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