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Archive for the ‘On being a man’ Category

Your face can get you killed… 

Monday, May 9, 2016
posted by Rita Handrich

untrustworthy-faceHere’s a sad study that tells us stereotypes are alive and well in American court systems. Let’s say you are unfortunate enough to be on trial for murder. According to this study, how wide your face is can be the difference between life and death if you are convicted–even if you are actually innocent.

We’ve written before about wide-faced men and the link with aggression and this study is similar to those but it’s done with photos of men who were actually imprisoned on death row or were serving life sentences for murder. The researchers wanted to see if jurors may have made assumptions about predilection to violence from looking at faces of defendants and if that “face analysis” resulted in sentencing disparities between those with trustworthy versus untrustworthy faces.

They pulled the photos of the men from the state of Florida (which still has the death penalty) and had 208 online volunteers look at the photographs (which were cropped to show faces only and gray-scaled so the color of the prison uniforms did not influence the raters. The researchers even controlled for whether the inmate was wearing eyeglasses or if they had visible (face or neck) tattoos. The volunteers rated the faces in the photo for trustworthiness.

Here is what they found:

Perceptions of untrustworthiness predicted death sentences as opposed to life sentences for convicted murderers in Florida. (The researchers just asked the participants to rate whether the faces in the photos were trustworthy or not. Then, they went back to look at the actual trial outcomes to see who had been sentenced to death and who’d been sentenced to life in prison.

One of the variables the researchers checked (because they are evolutionary psychologists, naturally) was facial width (which is set at puberty and not under anyone’s control). Sure enough, if you have a wide face you do not “look” trustworthy. Just as we presume the jurors did, the online raters looked at a face and deemed it untrustworthy.

Undeterred, the researchers looked to those convicted of murder and later acquitted (following an appeal usually due to Innocence Project help and DNA evidence). They used photos of 37 faces of convicts, all from states allowing the death penalty. Twenty were black and 17 were white or Hispanic, 20 sentenced to life and 17 sentenced to death. The researchers had them rated again after cropping and converting to gray-scale. The goal was the same in this second study—to have online participants rate the face as trustworthy versus untrustworthy and then look to see if there was a relationship between facial appearance and ultimate sentencing. You know what happened. The very same thing as had happened before.

If the former defendant (who’d been found guilty and then acquitted on appeal typically due to DNA evidence) had an untrustworthy face—they were more likely to have been sentenced to death.

The researchers are quick to say that this second sample was only from Florida and they comment that if you are in Florida—your face can be a ticket to death by lethal injection or life in prison.

We believe that this is likely not just a Florida thing. Take a look at the graphic illustrating this post. The man in that photo “looks like” a thug and jurors looking at him may make a determination he is more likely to kill again than his fellow defendant who looks so much more trustworthy—and so they sentence him to death.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is yet another example of how extra-evidentiary information plays into (in this case) life and death decision-making on the part of jurors. We’ve blogged before about using makeup to cover tattoos to modify the defendant’s “visual identity” and even about adding eyeglasses to change your client’s image (known as the “nerd defense”). This is just another example of how powerful our stereotypes and assumptions can be during deliberations. Facial reconstruction surgery is likely out of reach for most defendants but it would be useful to consider how to best mask the “thug look” some defendants carry with them based on simple genetics and heredity.

Wilson JP, & Rule NO (2015). Facial Trustworthiness Predicts Extreme Criminal-Sentencing Outcomes. Psychological Science, 26 (8), 1325-31 PMID: 26162847

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storytellingIf a man is a good storyteller, we tend to see him as more attractive and as having higher status. That is, if we are looking for a long-term relationship partner. Unfortunately, it does not work for women storytellers with male audiences nor for those looking for a short-term relationship. This is the first series of studies examining the impact of storytelling ability on attracting relationships (if you are a man). Confusing?

Rather than describing the studies done (there were three of them) we are going to focus on the results (which were consistent across all three studies) and (we think) have implications for the courtroom.

Storytelling ability resulted in women thinking the male storyteller was a more attractive prospect for a long-term relationships.

Women also thought men who were good storytellers had higher perceived social status. (This was again not the case for men listening to women tell stories.)

The authors explain their results using evolutionary theory (from a psychological perspective) and say that heterosexual women are drawn to good (male) storytellers because those men may be more efficient in obtaining resources and influencing others. We kid you not—they wrote this. If you have been a reader of this blog for long, you know we do not often agree with evolutionary psychologists, but find they are often amusing. Thus, instead of focusing on women’s desire to find a good man to provide for her (ahem) we will look at this from the perspective of litigation advocacy.

We’ve written about Melanie Green’s work on narrative transportation before and like to apply the idea to litigation advocacy. The storytelling model is familiar to us all and perhaps the most popular way to tell a story effectively in the courtroom. In 2000, she published a scale to measure the degree to which listeners were “transported” by a good story. While that scale has not become popular, we think it is a good structure to assess the degree to which jurors are going to be willing to listen to your case narrative. Here is a table from that 2000 article listing a number of questions from the Transportation Scale:

scale

You can likely see how some of these questions could be fruitful in voir dire and jury selection. You want to see who will listen and who will consider their dinner plans and how to cut deliberations short to make dinner on time.

If you have jurors who like a good story and you tell a good story—you are likely to have those jurors focused and intent on the evidence.

But—even if you’re male—don’t count on women finding you more attractive as a result. Unless you are an evolutionary psychologist. Yet we know, based on past research, being seen as attractive is likely to help you be successful at most social endeavors.

Telling a good story has been an attention grabber throughout the ages. And if being a good storyteller enhances your persuasiveness even a little, that’s a good advantage to enjoy while in court.

DONAHUE, J., & GREEN, M. (2016). A good story: Men’s storytelling ability affects their attractiveness and perceived status. Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1111/pere.12120

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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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strong man circusIt wasn’t long ago we said all you had to do to be seen as a leader was grow a mustache but apparently this also helps! Men who look “strong” physically are presumed to be good leaders compared to men who do not look strong physically. These researchers had mastered Photoshop so we know their results reflect our (stereotypical) beliefs accurately.

The researchers showed groups of men and women photographs of different men (from the waist up in a white tank top to reveal his shoulder, chest and arm muscles) and told their task was to rate some men recently hired by a consulting firm. The participants were asked to rate the men in the photographs on the basis of how much they admired the individual, how much they held him in esteem, and how much they believed he would rise in status. They were asked specifically about whether they thought the man in the photograph would be a good leader and whether they thought he would be effective in dealing with others in a group.

You already know what happened here. The participants chose the men who appeared physically stronger to be leaders and rated them as having higher status than those who appeared physically less strong.

Undeterred, the researchers went to Photoshop and switched the bodies of the strong and weak (rated) men in the photos. That is, strong bodies went to the faces of men who’d been rated as weaklings and poorer leaders and weak bodies went to the faces of men who’d been rated as strong. The same questions were asked of participants in the Photoshopped experiment.

And yes. The results reversed with the previously weak men now being seen as strong and higher in status and leadership qualities. Buff bodies won.

So then the researchers returned to Photoshop and this time used their powers to vary the height of the photographed men who were now presented in small groups (a lineup as the researchers call it). Each subject’s appearance was manipulated so he appeared short, tall, and of equal height to the other men in the lineup.

Yes. Yes. You know. Taller men were seen as stronger and were also rated as being better leaders and having higher status than shorter men.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this tells us that first impressions matter but then you knew that. But we’ve seen solid testimony and a likable demeanor endear witnesses who do not appear physically strong to juries.

In a mock trial a number of years ago, one of our attorney-clients was curious as to how his witness would be perceived since he was not classically attractive and had a medical condition that affected his voice and appearance. The witness, well aware of the way he came across, was in attendance at the mock trial and also wanted to see if his presentation would be a detriment to the case.

After some planning (since this is not something we usually do—and usually urge that it not be done— at mock trials), the witness went in and engaged in direct and cross-examination in front of the mock jurors. On direct, the attorney asked him about his voice and appearance and the witness answered directly and concisely with a smile. With that matter dispatched, the remainder of the questioning was done and as the witness’ voice cracked and squeaked, the jurors listened intently. What they told us afterwards was that they found him extremely likable and when they knew what caused the “differentness” in his appearance and voice—they were able to focus instead on what he said and how it fit into the case.

First impressions are important but they can be altered and restructured. In our experience with pretrial research—jurors often are very supportive of a case when the attorney tells a good story. But then, if witness depositions do not match up with the juror’s picture of that witness—their predisposition to like the witness shifts and they begin to eye the attorney with suspicion.

The takeaway for litigation advocacy is a simple one: Remember that attractive, strong, tall men (in this case) are seen as better in many ways. Our suspicion is that part of it is related to beauty being admired, but it is likely also related to research on obesity. People who are obese are often seen as less disciplined, less careful, less capable, and less credible than people who are more trim. It seems likely that obviously fit and buff witnesses represent the opposite end of the spectrum, with all of the positive attribution that comes with that.

When your client is not buff or beautiful, focus instead on likability and relatability. Close the gaps in testimony that leave the listener wondering about sincerity and trustworthiness, and help your client tell a story that emphasizes their similarity to the jury—whether that is through shared values, treasured activities, or shared experiences—the more your client is “like” the jurors, the more the jurors are likely to embrace the client and his or her perspective as presented in testimony.

Lukaszewski, A., Simmons, Z., Anderson, C., & Roney, J. (2015). The Role of Physical Formidability in Human Social Status Allocation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000042

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sleep demonWe read a lot of articles in order to blog regularly and often find intriguing (not to mention weird, odd, esoteric, freakish) pieces of information to which we do not wish to devote an entire post—yet, also do not wish to hoard the information. At times like these, you will see a collection of the strange and wonderful tidbits that cross our path.

Sleep Paralysis’ Demons

This is a scary thing we’ve blogged about before but sort of as an aside in a post primarily about exploding head syndrome. Yes. That’s really a thing. Today though, we are focused on the horror that is sleep paralysis (made only more horrifying one might imagine, by the accompanying presence of a sleep demon). Apparently, 40% of us will suffer from sleep paralysis at some point in our lives.

“This terror-inducing experience occurs when a person on the border between wakefulness and sleep gains partial consciousness. The dreamer may perceive that a menacing, oftentimes-otherworldly intruder is in their room or bed, yet they are incapable of moving or screaming—even as the creature begins choking, crushing, raping or attacking them. Scientists believe it’s all a hallucination, but in the throes of an attack, sleep paralysis’ demons can be deeply convincing.”

A specialist on this disorder makes perhaps the biggest understatement of all time in saying this experience can be “pretty troubling”.

“It’s a pretty troubling event for at least a portion of the people who have the disorder,” says Allan Cheyne, a retired cognitive psychologist, formerly at the University of Waterloo. “They might think it was demonic possession or alien abduction, the beginnings of a stroke, incipient psychosis that’s going to get worse or that they’re never going to come out of the paralysis.”

At least if this happens to you, you will know what it is and that sleep paralysis demon is not truly real. You’re welcome.

Assassins who apparently were not reliable vendors

It can be a hard lesson to learn that one should always vet new vendors carefully. Perhaps it is an even harder lesson to learn that your spouse wants to have you killed. All’s well that ends well for the potential victim in this murder for hire story. A man paid hit men to kill his spouse and even paid them a bonus for reporting a successful kill. Then, she showed up at her own funeral and the man was unnerved to discover she was not an apparition but living and breathing. The story tells the tale of “three unusually principled hit men” and the events surrounding the failed murder plot. Her husband has been sentenced to prison for nine years in Melbourne, Australia and the woman says she is starting a new life.

A nose for criminals

You know that dogs have a terrific sense of smell and now that powerful nose is being put to work to see if someone was at the scene of a crime. Apparently dogs can get it right about 80-90% of the time and there were no false positives generated after a year of training the dogs. If the dogs erred at all, they failed to identify someone who was there—for some reason they never falsely accused anyone. Good doggie!! The study itself is open access at PLOSONE. The field of study is called the science of “odorology” and relies on the dogs powerful sense of smell and extensive training.

“It has been used in France since 2003 in police investigations to establish that an individual has been present at a crime scene. The method is based on the fact that each person has their own scent and relies on the powerful canine sense of smell (which can be 200 to 10,000 times more sensitive than that of a human being).”

How big was that spider? It was HUGE!!!

It will come as no shock to the arachnophobes among us that when you are fearful of spiders they appear to be larger to you. This was research where the scientists had participants look at photos of birds and spiders and butterflies. Only those participants who were “highly fearful” overestimated the size of the spiders compared to butterflies. The researchers, in a stunning finding, say that “perception of even a basic feature such as size is influenced by emotion”. They are hopeful their study will be useful in work with phobia treatments.

Men with beards are more likely to be sexist (and other hairy issues)

Beards keep coming up here and we dutifully write about them. In the event you missed it, back in 2011 we blogged about a study saying jurors are more likely to convict defendants with beards and this year we wrote about spotting the lumbersexual in your venire panel. Here’s a new study telling us that men with beards tend to be more sexist. The researchers hypothesized that sexist men are more likely to grow beards in order to appear more masculine and dominant. On a completely unrelated note, another study recently examined whether bald men were indeed more virile. As a public service, here is the link to that study. Finally, while we have not blogged about the virility of bald men, we have blogged about how bald men cannot help but exude confidence, masculinity, authority, and power!

Marchal S, Bregeras O, Puaux D, Gervais R, & Ferry B (2016). Rigorous Training of Dogs Leads to High Accuracy in Human Scent Matching-To-Sample Performance. PLoS ONE, 11 (2) PMID: 26863620

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