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Archive for the ‘Generation or Age of Juror’ Category

middle aged womanIf you are seeking empathy and understanding from jurors hearing your case—go for middle-aged adults—and, in particular, middle-aged women. If you are thinking the sample size of this study cannot possibly be large enough to draw that sort of conclusion—think again! This is a study based on 75,263 adults in the US.

In the study, late middle-aged adults said they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others and that they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others. Both men and women “of a certain age” were more likely to report higher empathy but women were especially likely to do so. (And in case, like us, you are finding it more difficult to ascertain just when “late middle age” might be—the researchers define this as someplace between 50 and 60 years of age.)

Basically, the researchers examined responses from the General Social Survey which measured empathy in both 2002 and 2004. And surprisingly, these were the two smallest samples (1,353 adults in 2002 and 1,330 in 2004). Additionally, the authors conducted an online survey of 72,580 US adults between 18 and 90 years of age wherein they measured both empathy and perspective taking. (Note: While the GSS surveys are random and nationally representative, the researchers large online sample is not.)

Here is what they found on empathy:

Women reported higher empathy than men in all three samples.

In 2002, the GSS sample showed no significant differences in empathy based on ethnicity. In 2004, African-Americans had lower empathic concern than European-Americans. And in the online survey—African-Americans, Asian Americans and “especially Hispanic Americans” reported higher empathic concern than European Americans. (The authors make a point of stressing that the effects were fairly small.)

The effects of age were consistent across all three samples. Empathic concern was higher in older than in younger adults. The most common interpretation of this is that younger jurors haven’t experienced enough pain and suffering to appreciate its debilitating effects.

And here is what they found on perspective taking (which is akin to empathy and basically assesses how likely you are to attempt to put yourself in the “shoes” of another). Note: perspective taking was only assessed in the online sample and not in the GSS samples.

Women had higher self-reported levels of perspective taking than did men.

European Americans had lower perspective-taking than those of other ethnic origins (this effect was small).

And older adults had higher perspective taking than younger adults.

The researchers explain their results in clear and easy-to-understand language. “Specifically, empathy was expected to show an inverse-U-shaped function across the adult life span, with middle-aged adults scoring higher than young adults and older adults. Indeed, we found empirical evidence for this pattern in the case of both empathic concern and perspective taking in all three samples.”

For the non-statisticians among you, what that means is that both younger and older adults are less empathic and less likely to take the perspective of others than are middle-aged adults.

The researchers don’t know whether this is a true age effect or the result of generational experiences since this age range reflects younger Baby Boomers who grew up during sweeping societal changes that emphasized the feelings and perspectives of others.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is an intriguing study. If we know that women report higher levels of empathy than do men and we know the same pattern holds true for self-reports of perspective-taking—and, we know that empathy seems to peak between ages 50 and 60—when all else is equal—you likely would be better off choosing the woman between 50 and 60 for your jury.

As an aside, we always caution against blanket assumptions that “women are better for Plaintiffs and men are better for Defendants”. It simply is untrue. But this finding, when coupled with other information from careful pretrial research, can be instructive in voir dire and jury selection.

O’Brien E, Konrath SH, Grühn D, & Hagen AL (2013). Empathic concern and perspective taking: linear and quadratic effects of age across the adult life span. The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences, 68 (2), 168-75 PMID: 22865821


Comments Off on Got pain? Middle-aged women may be your go-to jurors 

creepinessYou 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


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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


Comments Off on Black may be beautiful but apparently black isn’t brilliant and  females are not geniuses 

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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