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credibility and smilingWomen smile more than men. Men are typically seen as more credible than women. So these researchers decided to see if there was a relationship between smiling and assessments of credibility on actual witnesses in the courtroom. 

The researchers used the Witness Credibility Scale to assess actual witnesses overall credibility. They thought that if smiling influenced observer evaluations of likability, confidence, trustworthiness and knowledge (the facets of credibility measured by the Witness Credibility Scale) then smiling could influence witness credibility. So off to the courtroom they went to collect observational data from real courtroom testimony. They observed both criminal and civil trials (including proceedings related to worker’s compensation, assault, domestic violence, drug trafficking, and capital murder) over a period of 6 months and, in total, observed 22 male and 10 female witnesses. The majority of the ratings (87.5%) were based on direct examination by the prosecution (84.4%).

There were 21 Caucasian witnesses and 11 African-American witnesses and witnesses ranged in age from 19 to 70 years. The researchers used four trained raters–two assessing the frequency of “smiling behavior” and two assessing credibility using the Witness Credibility Scale. (The credibility raters were trained to use the scale but had no awareness of the study’s hypotheses. The raters counting smiles included the principal investigator and one other person who knew the hypotheses.)

Here is what the researchers found:

Of the 32 witnesses observed, 23 smiled (71.9%) and nine (28.1%) did not.There were more women that smiled than men and although the difference between male and female smiling witnesses did not reach significance, it “trended that way” according to the researchers.

Male witnesses were seen as more trustworthy than female witnesses.

Witnesses who smiled were seen as more likable and female witnesses who smiled were significantly more likable than both smiling male witnesses and non-smiling female witnesses. Oddly, smiling female witnesses were not more likable than non-smiling male witnesses. (The researchers wonder if the smiling male witnesses were seen as behaving in a way incongruent with gender norms and thus the smiling male witnesses were less likable than the non-smiling males.)

The researchers say that, “Contrary to expectations, gender and smiling did not impact ratings of trustworthiness”. Men were found more trustworthy than women witnesses, but when women smiled, they were more likable than everyone but unsmiling men. The researchers recommend female witnesses smile during testimony since it is expected of them (by virtue of gender roles).

As with the research on female expert witnesses we covered earlier this month, there is not a lot of good news for women witnesses here but what we do know now is that women witnesses can relax a little and smile–it won’t make them more credible than stoic men but it will make the women witnesses a little more likable. And every little bit helps.

Nagle JE, Brodsky SL, & Weeter K (2014). Gender, Smiling, and Witness Credibility in Actual Trials. Behavioral sciences & the law PMID: 24634058



woman expert witnessFemale attorneys know they a special challenge to being accepted as authoritative, just because they are women. Looks like things are about the same for expert witnesses who are women. A new literature review just published by Tess M.S. Neal in Behavioral Sciences and the Law offers a succinct picture of what the research has found over the years. This is an article well worth reading and we are only going to cover the main effect summary findings. There are few rays of sunshine in this research but it’s important information to know (and we bet Tess Neal will be around doing good work for some time to come).  

Neal first discusses stereotypes and gender roles and looking at the historical (and unfortunately current) reality that men are expected to be leaders and logical while women are expected to be more emotional followers. Research as recent as 2009 shows we still value what we continue to define as masculine characteristics (e.g., competence, assertion, rationality) above those characteristics defined as feminine (e.g., warmth and expressiveness).

She reviews research findings on the gender of experts, finding women experts twice as likely as men to believe gender is a factor in the selection of an expert witness. Women experts report being sometimes told explicitly that the hiring attorney thought their gender would help the case (e.g., being a female expert in a sexual harassment or sexual assault case). Another study found 55% of female attorneys but only 13% of male attorneys thought judges assigned more credibility to male experts than to female experts. A 1994 study showed women made up only 11% of experts identified in written court opinions, and testifying in 21% of cases overall. The good news was the number increased over time (and Neal points out that trend has likely continued since 1994). And then she summarizes the research on the gender of the expert witness. Here are the highlights of only the main effects findings:

Male experts are rated as more likable, believable, trustworthy, confident, and credible than female experts in a 2010 study. (Yes. 2010–aka, yesterday.)

Expert gender (when the expert was an automotive engineer) made no difference in terms of verdict in a civil case involving an auto accident. However, female experts elicited higher compensatory damages than did the male experts in a 2002 study.

A 1984 study tentatively suggested that female experts might be preferred over male experts when the testimony concerned opinions about child custody. The researchers think research participants could think (due to gender role stereotypes) that women would be better judges of what children need than would men.

There is much more covered in this article. Neal examines the importance of context (what is the gender “domain” of the case, how complex is the information the expert must convey, when is the expert giving testimony in the overall case presentation, and will the experts violate expectations for behavior of men or women). The author of the 1994 study cited earlier observed that women were more likely to be testifying in disputes that had a “human” face–like education, family court or social services. Women accounted for only 4% of experts in corporate cases and 0% of those in contract disputes (again, in 1994). However, the traditional division of labor still seems to be in force in the more recent research Neal reviews.

Finally, she makes recommendations for both experts and attorneys hiring experts, based on the findings in the literature.

Consider if the case revolves around a traditionally male or traditionally female domain. Either gender may have an edge if the conflict is in their domain.

Consider whether the testimony is complex, because jurors may grant men an advantage. When testimony is not complex, women may have an advantage.

Competence is important for both men and women witnesses, but paying attention to gender role expectations may also matter. A 2008 study showed male witnesses were seen as more credible if they maintained high levels of eye contact with the questioner (“assertive eye contact”) but women’s eye contact with the questioner did not matter in terms of their credibility.

Being likable is more important for women experts than for men (according to 2009 and 2012 findings). She recommends the use of informal speech, explaining key terms, using the Plaintiff or Defendant’s name rather than referring to them as either the plaintiff or the defendant, among other things.

Overall, Neal says there are indeed gender differences in how male and female experts are perceived but those differences tend to be relatively small and largely determined by context. So, a little good news and a fair amount of what female expert witnesses likely already knew. Times are changing, albeit slowly. What was a major obstacle documented in 1994 now appears to be a lower barrier.

Neal TMS (2014). Women as Expert Witnesses: A Review of the Literature. Behavioral Sciences & the Law PMID: 24623554



women-votersYou may recall the story posted on CNN in late 2012 about how women vote differently based on hormonal fluctuations. Unfortunately, because of how our brains work (and our attraction to outrageous stories, true or not), you may not recall that CNN removed the story in 7 hours due to internet backlash over an article based on a (then) unpublished study. One of the more amusing responses to the post suggested CNN investigate how Viagra influences male votes. Instead, CNN just took down the article.

New published research disputes the study CNN relied on. And we should note the original study did eventually publish. The current researchers set out to see if the 2013 results could be replicated and so their design was as close to the original study as possible (at least according to them). Spoiler alert: The new research discredits the basis for the CNN report.

The researchers recruited 1,206 women in an online study. The participants reported they were pre-menopausal, not pregnant, not using hormonal contraception and having regular monthly menstrual cycles (from 25 to 35 days in duration). The participants were classified as either “paired” (N = 730) or “single” (N = 476) and their specific date of ovulation identified (those in days 4-11 of their 25 day cycle, for example, were classified as fertile and those in days 14-22 were classified as nonfertile while those in any other day of the cycle [day 1-3 or day 23-25] were excluded from the primary analyses). Before you question any of these variables or how they were calculated, the researchers were simply faithfully following the criteria in the 2013 study.

The 1,206 participants (recruited prior to the 2012 election) were asked to “imagine walking into the voting booth today” and report whether they would vote for Romney (the Republican) or Obama (the Democrat). Here is what the researchers found:

There was no relationship between actual voting behavior and fertility or relationship status, or as the authors explain: “There was no association between attitudes and fertility.”

The authors go on to talk about Type 1 errors and failures to replicate other published studies on the relationship of menstrual cycles to preferences and attraction. Hot on the heels of their study is the response from the authors of the 2013 study who, not surprisingly, feel grossly misunderstood. And then, bless his heart, along comes the Neuroskeptic to talk about the errors of their ways for both of them!

What we want to talk about is different from what they all want to talk about and that is

a) the tendency of most people to recall the headline about women’s hormones and voting behavior; but

b) not recall that the study was pulled from the CNN website within hours; or

c) ever know that a follow-up failed to support their findings.

The lesson learned is the impossibility of unringing the bell. It’s a cautionary tale for trial lawyers. Motions in limine are often key to keeping the story clean and focused. And whether a case is below the media radar or on the front page, the story that is in the mind of a juror doesn’t necessarily square with what you think the evidence has established.

Just because something is heavily publicized does not mean it is true (or not true). While everyone agrees with that, it doesn’t mean that they are immune from the effect of repetition or of having heard if from a prominent source. The goal is either or both: 1) Discrediting the message, or 2) Discrediting the messenger.

Just because one pontificates loudly and insistently does not mean what they say is true (or not true). One of Ronald Reagan’s best debate lines was to summarily dismiss critics by saying “well there they go again…”, which was extremely effective in shifting the focus from the takeaway message that criticized him to one that casts a disdainful shadow on his critics.

None of us like to be fooled. Use that desire to know the truth to get jurors to listen to your truth even though it may be quieter and less strident than the other voices fighting for their attention. Caution them (as Reagan did very simply) to beware of idle rumors and loose talk–and to focus instead on character and principles.

Harris, C., & Mickes, L. (2014). Women Can Keep the Vote: No Evidence That Hormonal Changes During the Menstrual Cycle Impact Political and Religious Beliefs Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797613520236




Gender and Leadership: When Do Women Excel?

Monday, December 30, 2013
posted by Rita Handrich

gender-leadershipWe’ve written a lot here about the lack of parity for women in income, career mobility, and leadership. Recently, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University published a special issue of KelloggInsight on Gender and Leadership. Rather than highlighting a specific article, we are going to tell you (briefly) about all of them with the individual URLs so you can go directly to any of particular interest to you. It’s a really nice line-up of work where you are sure to find something new even if you follow the gender and leadership literature closely. 

Braggarts become leaders: Women don’t become leaders because they don’t speak up about their abilities, talents, and accomplishments. Men, on the other hand, do. Men become leaders. This article summarizes the research on tooting your own horn and how organizations need to understand that men are more likely to over-state their past accomplishments.

Queen Bees? Not so much: Women who rise to top positions (against the odds) are very likely to help other women gain promotions as well. For example, a woman’s presence on the Board of Directors not only increases the number of female executives but increased salaries for women, as well.

There really is a female leadership style: Comparing companies in both Norway and the United States, the authors find that companies with female CEOs tend to have fewer reductions in force (i.e., layoffs) in difficult economic times.

Woman in charge and economic growth: Countries with high levels of economic diversity often have slower economic growth. That changes when there is a woman in charge.

A discussion of the latest in gender research and equality: Alice Eagly (a well-known researcher) discusses the latest research findings and advises managers who want to promote gender equality in their organizations.



how leaders lookTwo weeks ago we did a mock trial with a group of attorneys who were passionate about their case and yet got along very well with each other. It was a high-adrenalin experience that lasted 48 hours. On the morning of the second day, the Plaintiff attorney went into the presentation room a little early and sat down. There was good-natured commenting from his colleagues in the observation room that he was trying to influence the jurors.

Suddenly, one of the jurors complimented him on his necktie and others (all middle-aged women) chimed in as well. The attorney smiled and said he had three daughters and the middle daughter picked out his ties. There was uproar in the observation room as the opposing attorney’s protested the unfairness of this personal interaction with the jurors. When the Plaintiff attorney returned to the observation room after his presentation, he grinned and stroked his (very attractive) tie as his colleagues griped about ‘undue influence’. Later, we found multiple comments on written questionnaires about how “very, very likable” the “first attorney” was for the mock jurors.

We always assess likability, credibility, and trustworthiness as mock jurors view witness deposition excerpts and assess the attorney’s presentations. But new research on ‘what leaders look like’ has us contemplating adding dominance to this lineup of personal characteristics assessed by our mock jurors. Apparently, dominance cuts both ways, but competence and trustworthiness are a golden pairing.

Researchers from the University of Delaware examined how participants inferred personality traits of political candidates based on looking at their faces. According to these researchers, the literature on competence, trust and dominance is very mixed.

Some studies show that a first impression of dominance can lead to positive social outcomes in real life for politicians and CEOs, and even managing partners of the top 100 law firms in the US. Others show that impressions of dominance can backfire when people resent feeling controlled by dominant leaders. The authors think there is a fine line between when dominance feels like competence and when it veers off into feeling like coercion. They also report multiple studies have combined dominance and competence into a single composite score and this, opine the researchers, could mean dominance is given credit for positive outcomes that should be explained by competency.

So, the researchers designed their studies to separately assess dominance and competence inferences made when participants examined photos of faces of candidates for the U.S. Senate. The outcome measure was whether the candidate actually won their election in the real world. Findings were consistent across three studies:

Being seen as trustworthy increased the chance the candidate actually won the election, but only if they were also perceived as competent.

Being seen as dominant increased the chance the candidate won the election, but only if they were also perceived as competent. When competence perceptions were controlled, dominance was not related to electoral success.

The researchers say that when you are highly competent, if you also “look trustworthy”, this increases your chances of positive outcome. And when you are perceived as dominant, it can create a backlash against you (when benefits associated with competence are removed) due to the possibility of fear (on the part of voters) of an authoritarian leadership style. In these studies, candidates who were seen as dominant, were also seen as being unlikable and untrustworthy.

The analogy that came to my mind as I read this material involved driving a car. If you drive authoritatively—then you are fast, aggressive, and dominant. It’s a high-risk approach that works well in the minds of some people as long as you are a really good driver. But the risk of doing harm is far greater with someone like that than it is for someone who is less dominant and aggressive.

It’s an intriguing characteristic to ponder in the litigation setting. We have assessed trustworthiness, credibility and likability for years now. But dominance? It would be an intriguing wrinkle for us to consider.

What about a witness leads jurors to assess him or her as dominant?

Is that a good thing in litigation or a bad thing like in political candidacy?

In the particular mock trial noted above, jurors tended to think the Plaintiff attorney’s case was more credible. But they also liked his tie and his story of his middle daughter picking out his ties. He was likable and he created a friendly connection. He was competent. And in the mock juror’s perceptions–he was also dominating his opponents. This is one we will consider at length in designing new research questions and strategies.

As an aside and unrelated to this research [although not to the larger issue], apparently leaders also look like men. An image search for “how leaders look” came up with entirely male faces. To see female faces, we had to select “famous women leaders”. While it’s hard to miss Oprah gracing this post, the question of why women don’t look like leaders is likely a whole ‘nother post.

Chen, FF, Jing, Y., & Lee, JM (2013). The looks of a leader: Competent and trustworthy, but not dominant. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.10.008