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Archive for the ‘Generation or Age of Juror’ Category

blackisbeautifulAt least according to this analysis of more than 14 million college student reviews on 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


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naked millennialOnce again it is time for another installment of this and that and other things you need to know. These are tidbits we find here and there as we collect items to blog about and find that some are not substantive enough for an entire post but are amusing or quirky and about which you, dear reader, deserve to know.

Naked Millennials need pity too

Recently, the New York Times featured an article on locker room designers taking pity on the naked Millennial and illustrated it with this graphic. They describe the problem of showering and changing without actually being nude in front of others.

“It’s funny, they’re more socially open with everything—Facebook, social media—yet more private in their personal space,” said Kevin Kavanaugh, the president of David Barton Gym.

While 60-year-old men (according to this article) are comfortable with old-style open locker rooms and group nudity, not so for younger generations. So, there’s been a cultural shift in what is expected when you pay for a membership at a gym: privacy and space are now required.

How long before eye contact is “too long”?

This is, despite the title, not at all related to group nudity in locker rooms. It is instead about that subtle point when a look becomes an intrusive stare. In a presentation to the Vision Sciences Society 2015 conference, some London-based psychologists examined how much was too much when it came to eye contact. Their research found participants preferred for actors to maintain eye contact for about 3.2 seconds and then look away. They were okay with a longer duration of eye contact if they felt the actor was trustworthy and not threatening. Consider the implications of this when you are next asked by a witness “Should I look at the jury when I answer?”

You know Judge Judy and John Kerry have not served on the Supreme Court, right?

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni recently conducted a poll of 1,000 college graduates and asked questions to assess their level of civic knowledge.

“There is a crisis in American civic education. Survey after survey shows that recent college graduates are alarmingly ignorant of America’s history and heritage. They cannot identify the term lengths of members of Congress, the substance of the First Amendment, or the origin of the separation of powers.  They do not know the Father of the Constitution, and nearly 10% say that Judith Sheindlin—“Judge Judy”—is on the Supreme Court.”

That isn’t all. Another 5.5% of these college graduates also think John Kerry has served on the Supreme Court in the past. The report summarizing the results expresses significant concern (as we think makes sense).

In a country that depends upon an educated populace, ignorance of our history and founding documents will be disastrous. An annual survey by the Newseum Institute gives point to the alarm: When asked to identify the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, one-third of Americans could not name a single right; 43% could not even name freedom of speech as one of those rights.

Social media and kids these days

They’re opting out of the publicly viewed social media in droves—apparently more than 11 million young people have left Facebook since 2011. Instead, apparently they are going to Facebook Messenger or Snapchat and sometimes Instagram where they can talk in relative privacy with their friends. While you may think you can view their Facebook page—what you see is an increasingly curated page meant for impression management (at least according to this article) while their “real selves” are shared in less permanent places. This is a nice article to read to get a sense of what is happening on social media as younger users take their “business” out of the public square and into private areas where no one is watching. And for those of us who are regularly shocked at the personal disclosures people make on Facebook, it may not be a moment too soon.


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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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