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morality in everyday life

The researchers recruited a sample of 1,252 adults ranging in age from 18 to 68 years of age who reside in the US and Canada. Each participant completed measures of religiosity and political ideation prior to participation in the actual study. All participants had smartphones and were randomly signaled on their phone for 3 days between 9am and 9pm. “At each signal, participants indicated whether they committed, were the target of, witnessed, or learned about a moral or immoral act within the past hour”.

The participants wrote a text back to the researcher describing the event, where it happened, and completed a scale describing their emotional experience. In total, participants sent in 13,240 text message “reports”.

On close to a third of the text message reports (28.9%), they reported either a moral (15.3%) or an immoral (13.6%) event.

They were more likely to report either committing or being the target of a moral act and more likely to learn about an immoral act. The researchers say the participants were more likely to learn about an immoral act via personal communications–also known as gossiping.

Political ideology was associated with moral content with liberals mentioning events related to fairness/unfairness, liberty/oppression, and honesty/dishonesty, while conservatives were more likely to mention events related to loyalty/disloyalty, sanctity/degradation, and authority/subversion.

There was no real difference in the frequency of positive moral experience by religiosity. Religious people did not commit moral acts more frequently than nonreligious people but they did report fewer immoral experiences (the researchers think this might be a reporting issue rather than one of the religious actually having fewer immoral experiences). Religious people experienced more “intense self-conscious emotions such as guilt, embarrassment, and disgust in response to the immoral deeds they had committed, and more pride and gratefulness in response to moral deeds”.

For all participants, moral acts were associated with higher happiness levels than immoral acts. Benefitting from the good (moral) acts of others resulted in the highest levels of happiness while doing good (moral) acts for others resulted in the highest sense of purpose.

Finally, when participants did a good (moral) act earlier in the day, they were more likely to commit a bad (immoral) act later in the day and less likely to do another good (moral) act.

In other words, we are inveterate gossips. We see the world through our particular political ideology’s lens. Religious people commit the same number of immoral acts as the nonreligious but they feel worse about those acts. Conversely, when behaving well, the religious feel better. We all feel better when we do good and worse when we do bad.  Having someone else do something nice for us makes us happiest but doing something for others gives us the highest sense of purpose. And, finally, if we do something nice at the start of the day, we seem to believe we have a license to act in any way we so choose for the rest of the day.

From the perspective of litigation advocacy–there are some important lessons buried in this very short (4 pages!) article.

We like salaciousness and are likely to pay close attention to it. Where morally questionable behavior might be perceived, it will be. If it concerns you, make sure  you address it– someone on the jury is likely to be guessing something improper occurred. 

Give jurors a choice to do the right thing. They want a constructive motive, not just to punish. That’s what we find our jurors want to do in every case and this research says it will make them feel good and give them a sense of purpose!

We all see the world through our own particular lens–crafted of our attitudes, beliefs, values and political ideology. Make sure to tell your story in a way that focuses on universal values rather than merely pressing hot buttons.

In other words, give jurors something to vote for, not against.

Hofmann W, Wisneski DC, Brandt MJ, & Skitka LJ (2014). Morality in everyday life. Science (New York, N.Y.), 345 (6202), 1340-3 PMID: 25214626

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Libertarian orientation scaleAfter years of not having a way to measure those who consistently respond in a Libertarian direction, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) has offered us a new scale to do just that. We posted on Monday about their survey of Libertarians and this is the measure they used to determine who was really Libertarian, who tended to lean Libertarian, who was not Libertarian, and who was a mixture of Libertarian and non-Libertarian attitudes. It’s an intriguing scale. But first, some terminology is in order.

Libertarians are–in some cases rugged–individualists and thus notoriously (and probably proudly) difficult for researchers to pigeon-hole or label. A 1984 publication defined libertarianism as composed of two dimensions: personal freedom and government intervention. Since 1984, these current authors say, the “issue agenda has evolved” and they therefore used 9 separate questions to examine three dimensions of present-day Libertarianism: national security and international intervention, economic policy, and personal liberty issues.

Second, they define non-Libertarians as “Communalists”. Why? Because their responses were the opposite of the Libertarian responses on this scale. Libertarians score low in their desire for government intervention at the cost of personal liberties–while Communalists preferred (i.e., scored higher on desire for) government intervention even when it cost some personal liberties.

As you can see in the graphic illustrating this post, 54% of Americans have Mixed Libertarian and Communal attitudes/beliefs. Those who respond consistently Libertarian or Communalist each make up 7% of the population, while 15% lean Libertarian and 17% lean Communalist.

So. With those definitions in mind, the researchers asked the respondents if they would identify with the label “Libertarian”. Thirteen percent did (but their response pattern was less consistent ideologically than those who were identified by the Libertarian Orientation Scale as either Libertarian or Libertarian leaning). Without further ado, here are the questions (from page 7 in the full report) the researchers used to identify the Libertarians in their sample.

Libertarian Orientation Scale items

Each question was placed on a 7-point Likert scale (ranging from 1 to 7) with a low score representing the Libertarian position and a high score representing the Communal position. Thus, the most Libertarian score would be a 9 and the most Communal score a 63 for the total scale. Scores in this sample ranged from 12 to 63. Scores from 9-25 were classified as Libertarians, scores of 26-31 were classified as Libertarian Leaning, scores from 32-42 were classified as Mixed, scores from 43-48 were classified as having Communalist Leanings, and those with scores from 49-63 were classified as Communalists.

The remainder of the PRRI report looks closely at the difference between the groups (i.e., Libertarian, Lean Libertarian, Communalist, Lean Communalist, Mixed) as defined by this measure. It is interesting and easy reading, as well as a nice way to modify your beliefs (aka stereotypes) about this group. While these are not likely questions you can use in voir dire to classify potential jurors based on these categories, it is a clear look at the issues that may be particularly important to those with either Libertarian or Communalist leanings.

Libertarians, like the rest of us, have changed over the years. Thanks to PRRI for bringing our awareness up to date.

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ISO LibertariansBack in 2010 we blogged on a survey of more than 150,000 Libertarians. We now have an update on Libertarians in America courtesy of the Public Religion Research Institute! Unlike the original survey, this one was based on a random sample of 2,317 American adults (from people who are part of GfK’s Knowledge Panel). Interviews were conducted online in both English and Spanish between September 21, 2013 and October 3, 2013. The results offer multiple tidbits potentially useful in voir dire (or simply for expanding your knowledge of Libertarians in America). The full text of their study is accessible online, but here are a few of the findings we found interesting.

Only 7% of Americans are consistent Libertarians although an additional 15% lean Libertarian.

Libertarians are nearly all non-Hispanic Whites (94%), male (68%), and under age 50 (62%).

Political affiliation skews more Republican (45%) than Democratic (5%) although (as we’ve pointed out in other posts on how the country is changing) half (50%) say they are either unaffiliated, politically independent, or belong to a third party.

Tea Partiers? A substantial portion are, but not entirely. 39% of Libertarians identify as part of the Tea Party movement but 61% do not. Libertarians are about 26% of the Tea Party movement while the majority of Tea Partiers (52%) describe themselves as part of the religious right and 35% say they are white evangelical Protestants.

Libertarians are more likely to pay attention to what is going on in government or politics than the average American. Only 38% of Americans say they pay attention to politics and government “most of the time or always”. Among Libertarians, the majority (56%) endorse this response option.

Libertarians are more strongly opposed than most to raising the minimum wage, Obamacare, and increasing environmental protections (all issues reflecting government involvement in economic policy).

The libertarian profile on social issues diverges from their conservative economic outlook: 57% of Libertarians support abortion rights, 70% support MD-assisted euthanasia, and 71% favor legalizing marijuana. Oddly, considering these liberal views on social issues–a majority of libertarians (59%) oppose same-sex marriage.

Libertarians have more positive feelings toward atheists (46%) than either Tea Party members (33%) or white evangelical Protestants (25%). They are also more positively disposed toward gay and lesbian peoples (49%) than are members of the Tea Party (44%) or white evangelical Protestants (38%).

Nearly 2/3 of Americans (65%) support making pornography more difficult to access on the internet. However, among Libertarians, only 31% favor making pornography more difficult to access while 68% oppose this movement.

This study offers a close-up view of those Americans who consistently respond to questions in a pattern the authors identify as Libertarian. Their responses, according to this report, are much more consistent than those who call themselves Libertarians but are not really identifiable as such based on their responses to a scale measuring political orientation. (We will write about this scale, the Libertarian Orientation Scale, in our next post.)

It isn’t at all clear whether there is a consistent notion of “I am Libertarian”, and whether those jurors and mock jurors we follow carefully are comparable to those in this study. Stay tuned to a post we have scheduled for Wednesday of this week, and we will let you know how to determine whether a person fits the definition of Libertarian used by researchers. And we will continue to observe and track the reactions of our mock jurors who say they are Libertarian and see how their responses relate to their eventual verdict.

Jones, RP Cox, D Navarro-Rivera, J 2013 The 2013 American Values Survey: In Search of Libertarians in America. Public Religion Research Institute.

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american marital statusWe’ve known for a while that the proportion of American adults who are married is decreasing but in mid-September, 2014 there was a flurry of media coverage over economist Edward Yardeni’s report (titled “Selfies”) that the majority of Americans are now unmarried (he calls that “remarkable”) and believes they are driving economic changes. Unfortunately, his report is behind a paywall and we cannot access it but thanks to Bloomberg, we know some of what he had to say (and much of it appears to be drawn from publicly accessible statistics from the US Census Bureau).

In short, in 1976, 37% of Americans were single and now, in 2014, more than half of Americans are single. Yardeni thinks this changing demographic will result in fewer of us having children and in fewer of us owning homes.

The numbers support his conclusion: Young singles, in particular, are more likely to rent than own.

Never-married singles are less likely to have children and (now divorced and single) older adults are unlikely to have young kids. Yardeni thinks this will have an effect on how much money they spend and what they buy since they have fewer expenses than married people with children.

The percentage of never-married singles in 1976 was 22.1% and now it is 30.4%. (The proportion that are single by divorce, separation, or death of a spouse increased to 19.8% from the 1976 level of 15.3%).

It’s an intriguing set of information, but it is hardly news. In the past ten years, just as we’ve watched political affiliations of our mock jurors shift dramatically, we’ve also been watching the marital status of our jurors shift. While we used to consistently have a majority of jurors report they were married, now we often have a majority who are either never married or have been married previously but are no longer married. It’s another short-hand that has changed for us.

We used to think of our married mock jurors as “connected” to others. Now, we look for other signs of connectedness. Are they in a relationship? Are they involved in community groups or activities? Do they volunteer?

Just as union membership (in many areas of the country) has declined as a short-hand way to assess politics and SES, we can no longer rely on political affiliation or marital status to use as short-cuts to categorize our mock jurors. It is sometimes frustrating as we struggle to understand research results but it is also reassuring to see that change happens and to know that eventually we will wrap our brains around it and have a new short-cut defined–just in time for a new shift to occur.

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how white is your network imageNot very Black at all. In fact, according to the 2013 American Values Survey from the Public Religion Institute, “the average white American’s social network is only 1% black”. But wait. It gets worse.

“Three-quarters of white Americans haven’t had a meaningful conversation with a single non-white person in the last six months.”

We are not talking about Facebook networks. Instead, we are talking about a much more meaningful definition of network. The researchers asked respondents to identify “up to seven people with whom you have discussed important matters in the past six months”. Respondents were then asked to provide descriptors of those individuals’  “gender, race and ethnicity, religious affiliation, 2012 vote preference, and relationship to the respondent”. In fairness, seven people in 6 months could mean that you have a pretty small circle for sharing significant things, but the results remain telling. For most people, this circle could mean family and close, intimate friends. For others, it could mean work collaborators and neighbors. It’s hard to predict. But what is clear is that most people live insular lives, accompanied by others much like themselves.

As you might imagine, the networks of some people were actually quite small.

While only 8% had no one identified in their network, 50% named between 1 and 3 people, and 43% named 4 or more people (up to 7).

People in the networks of Americans responding to this survey were only slightly more likely to be immediate family members (average: 1.8 people) than to be non-immediate family members (average: 1.5 people).

The picture becomes more surprising when we see just how segregated American society is by race and ethnicity. The following is a direct quote from the report.

“The degree of racial and ethnic diversity in Americans’ social networks varies significantly according to their particular race or ethnicity.

Among white Americans, 91 percent of people comprising their social networks are also white, while five percent are identified as some other race.

Among black Americans, 83 percent of people in their social networks are composed of people who are also black, while eight percent are white and six percent are some other race.

Among Hispanic Americans, approximately two-thirds (64 percent) of the people who comprise their social networks are also Hispanic, while nearly 1-in-5 (19 percent) are white, and nine percent are some other race.”

This table shows the tendency toward racial segregation among those with whom we talk about “important issues”.

how white is your network

 

You may think you know why this is the case. It is likely due to commonalities and differences other than race. But we cannot explain away the lack of racial diversity in our social networks by using our go-to arguments like age, political affiliation, gender, or even geographic residence. What differences there are, are fairly small.

It is a startling picture to contemplate considering the way race and the different ways the racial groups view race in this country have been highlighted with first, the Trayvon Martin shooting and now the Michael Brown shooting. We simply “self-segregate” says Robert P. Jones recently in the Atlantic in an article on Ferguson, Missouri. We self-segregate so much that it is no wonder white Americans and black Americans have very different perspectives on race in America. We just don’t talk to each other.

It’s another good reason to reinforce the idea that your client, witness, party is similar to the jury even if they are racially different. We need to expose our white jurors to the experience of black and brown Americans. We call it using universal values. This survey data would say our social networks and our day-to-day lives are not filled with an awareness of how universal those values actually are.

The American Values Survey: Race and Americans’ Social Networks. 2013 Public Religion Research Institute. http://publicreligion.org/research/2014/08/analysis-social-network/

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