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Archive for the ‘It’s hard to be a woman’ Category

this-n-thatHere are a few articles that did not act as a catalyst to stimulate an entire post but that tweaked our fancy enough that we wanted to share them with you. Think of them as “rescue items” if you have social anxiety and want to seem scintillating….or something like that.

So have you seen this in the last second?

Here’s an interesting memory study where the researchers found that if participants didn’t know they were going to be tested on things they’d seen repeatedly, they would have no idea when asked to identify if they’d seen a specific item before. Specifically, they asked participants to do a simple memory test to replicate memory for different kinds of information (e.g., numbers. letters or colors). For example, participants would be shown four characters on a screen that were arranged in a square. They would be asked to report which corner the letter was in (when the other characters were either numbers or colors). The researchers repeated this task many, many times and the participants rarely made mistakes. But then (because researchers cannot leave well enough alone) the researchers asked the participants to respond to an unexpected question. Specifically, the participants were asked which of the four letters appearing on their computer screen had appeared on the previous screen. Only 25% responded correctly (which is random chance of accuracy). The question was asked again after the following task but this time it wasn’t a surprise and participants gave correct answers between 65% and 95% of the time. The researchers call this effect “attribute amnesia” and say it happens when you use a piece of information to perform a task but are then unable to report what that information was as little as a single second later.

Remember that post on uninterrupted eye contact causing hallucinations?

We wrote about it in one of these ‘tidbit’ posts back in 2015 and even included a very awkward video from a Steve Martin/Tina Fey movie. This time researchers were looking for the optimal length of uninterrupted eye contact that would be experienced positively by the most people. Think of this as a potential answer to the question witnesses often have about how long to maintain eye contact with individual jurors or just use this as a guide for comfortable eye contact with strangers at Starbucks. On average, the close to 500 participants were most comfortable with eye contact that lasted slightly over three seconds. The majority preferred a duration of eye contact between two and five seconds and no one liked eye contact of less than a second or longer than nine seconds. We conclude that less than a second is too furtive, and longer than 9 seconds is intolerably intrusive. One problem with the study was that it used filmed clips rather than actual live interactions but it is an approximate guide to “normal” eye contact versus “creepy” eye contact.

Oh no! There may be a problem with all those fMRI studies!!!

A new article published in the journal PNAS tells us there is a fMRI software error that could result in the invalidation of 15 years (and more than 40,000 papers) of fMRI research. We know you are likely thinking of the article on that poor dead salmon who still showed brain activity. This article was cited all over the internet in July of 2016 as proof that all the work done on fMRI machines was likely flawed. Even though the bug was corrected in 2015, it was undetected for more than a decade and the researchers thought perhaps every study should be replicated to ensure accuracy in the literature upon which we rely. The fMRI software error and the resulting shambles of the literature was seen as a devastating bombshell with headlines like this one from Forbes suggesting “tens of thousands of fMRI brain studies may be flawed”. Fortunately, hysteria like this is likely why the Neuroskeptic was born and certainly why the Neuroskeptic blog makes such a contribution to knowledge in this field. Is this software glitch really serious? Yes, says the Neuroskeptic. It is a serious problem but it is not invalidating years of fMRI research. In fact, in an update posted to Neuroskeptic blog on July 15, 2016, the author of the paper in PNAS had requested some corrections to the publication to avoid these sensationalist headlines but PNAS refused so he put the updates onto another accessible site. Visit the Neuroskeptic’s excellent blog to read a common-sense and rational explanation of what the fMRI software bug really means and how those familiar with the fMRI work have known about this for some time now.

Yes, Virginia—women are still harassed for choosing STEM careers even though it is 2016

You’ve likely heard the lament that there are too few women in STEM careers and that we need to fix the problem. The Atlantic has published a very well-done article on how women are pushed out of STEM careers and that as many as 2 out of 3 women science professors reported being sexually harassed. And those are just the ones who made it through to graduation. The stories of those still in training having photos taken of their breasts, being harassed at conferences, or being hand-fed ice cream by male professors are disturbing. There is also “pregnancy harassment” and stories of PIs (principal investigators on grants who are typically faculty members) insisting pregnant postdocs return to the lab weeks after giving birth and then harassing the postdoc for having “baby brain” and questioning their experimental results. It is well worth your time to read.

Chen H, & Wyble B (2015). Amnesia for object attributes: failure to report attended information that had just reached conscious awareness. Psychological Science, 26 (2), 203-10 PMID: 25564523

Binetti, N., Harrison, C., Coutrot, A., Johnston, A., & Mareschal, I. (2016). Pupil dilation as an index of preferred mutual gaze duration Royal Society Open Science, 3 (7) DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160086


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he-man voiceAlmost five years ago, we wrote about research saying men with deep voices were more persuasive. Science has moved forward though and now, women can also be more persuasive when using a deeper voice. Some call it a “sultry voice”. New work tells us your voice doesn’t have be a deep and resonant baritone to be persuasive—you simply have to lower your speech pitch over the course of your interactions with others to be more persuasive. And—it works for both genders! If you don’t want to read the article itself, Scientific American has a nice summary that you can either listen to as a podcast or just read the full transcript.

Basically what the researchers did is recorded 191 undergraduate students (Canadian subjects, ranging in age from 17 to 52 years, 54% male) who debated in small groups about the equipment most useful after a disaster on the moon. [This is an old team-building exercise found on the internet under many different names but officially called “Lost on the Moon”] You are told you have crash landed on the moon and need to identify what items present in the spaceship will be most useful. The recorded discussions for the first study were held in same sex groups ranging in size from four to seven participants.

Researchers also did a second study online with 274 participants (ranging in age from 15 to 61 years and 60.58% female)—181 were recruited from a “large Canadian university and the remaining 93 participants were recruited from an online database of research volunteers. The reason for the second experiment being online was so they could be sure there were not visual factors interfering with persuasion by lowered voice pitch.

Results from both studies (that is, in person or online where the voice was heard but the person’s appearance was not seen) were consistent. Those participants, both male and female, who lowered their voice pitch during the negotiations required to rank 15 items in order of importance for survival on the moon were seen as more persuasive and given a higher “social ranking” in the group than those who kept their voice pitch the same or raised it.

It is a victory for women. You do not have to have a deep baritone voice in order to be persuasive. It is more a matter of shifting tonal ranges for effect—just go into negotiations or discussion with your ‘regular’ voice and then, over the course of discussion, lower your voice. Of course, it’s hard to recreate this finding in the real world since you are rarely negotiating in single-sex groups. On the other hand, it’s an interesting strategy to try. Does lowering your voice during day-to-day decision-making make you more persuasive? If it does, you might try it in lower stakes situations at work and if it still works try it out in other situations as well!

Note: If at any point during your practice, you are challenged about “faking” a deeper voice—you may need a bit more practice! It can also be thought to connote silly dramatics when overdone.

Cheng JT, Tracy JL, Ho S, & Henrich J (2016). Listen, follow me: Dynamic vocal signals of dominance predict emergent social rank in humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, 145 (5), 536-47 PMID: 27019023


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screaming-womanIt’s tough to see the same old themes come up over and over again but—here we go again… Women who react emotionally are seen as less intelligent, but if they react in a “measured and manly way” they are thought not trustworthy. In other words, you can’t win for losing.

“Men were rated as both more emotionally competent and more intelligent in general when they showed restraint. For women, however, the opposite pattern emerged, in that they were perceived as more emotionally competent and intelligent when they reacted immediately.”

In other words, say the researchers, we expect men and women to act according to gender stereotypes and we are suspicious of those who fail to behave accordingly.

Participants in the first study (59 undergraduates from the University of Haifa in Israel—30 men and 29 women) were shown photos found to elicit both sadness and anger. Then they watched videos featuring different people allegedly reacting to those same images. Half of the actors reacted almost immediately (within 1/2 second) while others did not show an expression change for a second and a half. After viewing the videos of people reacting to the images, the participants rated each character for “emotional competence” and assessed their level of sensitivity, caring, and the appropriateness and authenticity of their reactions.

Men who paused for 1.5 seconds prior to changing their expression were seen as more emotionally competent. Women who paused were seen as less emotionally competent.

The second study (with 58 students) was much the same as the first but the participants also rated the perceived intelligence of the character in the video.

“Men who showed delayed reactions were perceived as significantly more intelligent than those who reacted immediately, whereas for women, delayed reactions resulted in less perceived intelligence.”

The authors say that these results reflect the strength of gender stereotypes about women as “more emotionally volatile but also more emotionally competent” and say that when women delay their reaction to an emotionally charged image they may be seen as “strategic rather than spontaneous”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this will be important when considering the impact of male and female witnesses, for preparation of parties, and even for attorney behavior in the courtroom. You are always being watched and evaluated. Assumptions are going to be made for better or worse.

Help jurors see your female witness/party/self as thoughtful and competent but as having learned to stop and consider actions and consequences prior to reacting. That is done more by offering jurors some context for respecting the witness or party, rather than trying to train them to significantly change their response style. In other words, this time it has to be about teaching the jurors how to judge quality, rather than teaching the witness how to overcome the gender bias.

Hess, U, David, S, & Hareli S (2016). Emotional restraint is good for men only: The influence of emotional restraint on perceptions of confidence. Emotion


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creole-jambalaya-2If you have not guessed by the title, it’s another installment of ‘things you want to know’. As we go through many articles to blog about, we discard many, keep a few, and collect tidbits we don’t want to expend an entire post on but also don’t want to toss. That is how you are gifted with these tidbits—interesting things you want (maybe) to know. Think of it as a jambalaya where you creatively incorporate leftovers from the refrigerator.

What do you know about science?

We’ve blogged before about the disturbing lack of knowledge we see in our mock jurors when it comes to science and technology. A new examination suggests that adults in the US are improving in science knowledge in over the past two decades. But (naturally) there is a catch. The study of American adults knowledge on general science is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and summarized here with correct answers to the questions courtesy of the Business Insider. Apparently, getting correct answers on the science quiz depends on how the question is worded. Let that be a lesson to you as you craft your next case narrative.

Yes, there are occasions when women like to be sexually objectified

In December 2014, we blogged about a video of a woman being harassed and whistled at that was presented as “research” and getting a lot of attention but was not particularly well done when looked at more closely by observers. So when we saw this article (citation at the bottom of the post), we thought of that video and the idea that for some reason, some men think that “cat-calling” a woman they do not know is going to be a good thing. These researchers note the conflicting literature in this area: on one hand there are articles that say women do not like being sexually objectified, but on the other hand, women spend a lot time of appearance (according to these researchers) that is meant to “enhance their sexual appeal”. Naturally, these academics wanted to clear this up for all of us. What they found was that when women were in a committed relationship, they enjoyed a little objectification as long as it was from the person to whom they were committed. From other people? Not so much. Perhaps the cat-calling video makers should revisit those streets and hand out this article to all those cat-callers. We are quite sure that would stop the behavior altogether.

Who earns less money and is it all in your genes? 

New research from the University of Exeter says if you are a short man or an overweight women—you earn less than those who are taller or slimmer. Is it due to discrimination? Perhaps, but the researchers looked at genetic data from almost 120,000 people between 40 and 70 years of age. Specifically, they examined “400 genetic variants” associated with height and “70 genetic variants” associated with body mass index (BMI). They compared these genetic variants (along with the actual height and weight of the people involved) to participant-provided information on their living situations and income. They found that shorter men and heavier women earned less than their taller and slimmer peers—and that was regardless of all other factors. The study is open-access and published in the British Medical Journal.

Are you green with Facebook envy or red with Twitter rage?

You’ve likely seen the studies that say spending a lot of time on Facebook decreases your overall well-being. A new article in Scientific American looks at some of the literature and says that when you react to Facebook posts, it is often with envy (especially if you read but do not comment or post yourself). The authors recommend that if you are going to spend time on Facebook, you do so by actively commenting and posting which will allegedly reduce your experience of Facebook envy.

After solving Facebook issues, the writers move on to Twitter (which we’ve also blogged about) and say that Twitter users who rant online often see it as cathartic even though those who read their angry tweets may simply see them as “Twitter ragers”—so common there are even self-help lists for surviving the attack of the ragers. The writers also comment that Twitter ragers are also likely to be angry and aggressive offline as well. That doesn’t really come as a surprise to us at all.

Do you have a unibrow, gray hair or a bushy beard?

You can rest easier knowing it is all in your genes and product developers (as well as forensic scientists) are paying very, very close attention. While many genes are being discovered, the genes for the rate at which your hair goes gray, how bushy your beard or eyebrows are, or whether your eyebrows form a unibrow—have only just now been discovered. Apparently, forensic scientists want to use this information to figure out how to create images of criminal suspects when all they have is the suspect’s DNA. Product developers are expected to use the genetic information to aid in new product development. And, believe it or not, hair growth patterns are related to some diseases so it is believed medical researchers can learn from this seemingly frivolous study as well.

Meltzer, AL McNulty, JK Maner, JK (2016) Women like being valued for sex, as long as it is by a committed partner. Archives of Sexual Behavior.


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We’re unsure if this strategy would work for women but it seems to work for men—at least in medical schools and teaching hospitals. We do presume those male leaders with mustaches do not have the sort of mustache illustrating this post but what do we know? We also tend to believe that if a woman were to grow this sort of mustache, she would also not be selected to advance as a leader. But, we digress. On to the real point of this blog post.

Each year, the British Medical Journal publishes a Christmas issue where they offer a more light-hearted look at important issues of the day. We posted about one of their articles on Christmas Day. Here is another important paper that (alas) reflects what women know all too well when it comes to women in leadership. These researchers (two medical residents, a professor of law ,and a professor of dermatology) examined (carefully and presumably visually) “clinical department leaders (n=1018) at the top 50 US medical schools funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)” to see if they were male or female and whether they had mustaches. None of the women in the sample had a mustache. The researchers defined a mustache in the following way: “the visible presence of hair on the upper cutaneous lip” and they included the presence of both standalone mustaches and mustaches in combination with other facial hair. They specifically did not include facial hair such as “mutton chops” or “chin curtains” as mustaches.

According to the researchers women accounted for only 13% of department leaders in the sample (137 women out of 1,018 department leaders).

Leaders with mustaches (none of them, as mentioned earlier, women) accounted for 19% of the sample (190/1,018 total leaders). And according to them, less than 15% of men in the country have mustaches so mustached men are over-represented among medical department leadership. .

The proportion of female leaders ranged from 0% to 26% across institutions and from 0% to 36% across specialties.

Only seven specific institutions and five specialties had more than 20% of female department leaders.

The researchers developed a novel unit of measure called the mustache index. (Essentially this is computed by looking at the number of mustached leaders versus the number of female leaders.) “The overall mustache index of all academic medical departments studied was 0.72 (p<.004). In other words, a medical department is much more likely to be led by a man with a mustache than by a woman. Only six of 20 separate medical specialties had “more women than mustaches” (for a mustache index > 1).

The researchers recommend that “mustachioed” individuals should number less than the number of women in medical department leadership (and they state they clearly do not mean a “no mustache” policy). They want to call attention to the disparity in these leadership positions between men and women—hence the tongue-in-cheek “mustache index”. They offer a number of suggestions to help increase the number of women in leadership positions that revolve around developing job criteria prior to evaluating candidates, flexible work schedules as well as increased personal control over work time and cite the high levels of satisfaction among women physicians in specialties that allow “controllable lifestyle” such as dermatology and anesthesiology.

From a litigation perspective, this really applies most to law office management and we’ve written before about the importance of hiring practices that do not discriminate against applicants by gender or race and ethnicity (as well as other descriptive characteristics). You can see all those posts by looking at our blog category on law office management. Do a quick count in your own office. Do leaders with mustaches outnumber leaders who are women?

Wehner MR, Nead KT, Linos K, & Linos E (2015). Plenty of moustaches but not enough women: cross sectional study of medical leaders. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 351 PMID: 26673637


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