Archive for the ‘Pre-trial research’ Category
Remember Walter Mitty? He was a fictional character who escaped his dull day-to-day existence by constructing elaborate daydreams wherein he was the hero rather than a wallflower. Well, apparently Walter was not so unusual. There are people who spend as much as 60% of their time lost in daydreams. These are people who realize their fantasies are not real but find the fantasies so enjoyable they cannot seem to stop engaging in the behavior. They are calling it maladaptive daydreaming.
Maladaptive daydreaming was defined by Eli Somer (in 2002) as “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal or vocational functioning”. Somer also characterizes maladaptive daydreaming as having “themes that typically include highly complex fantasies of social attractiveness, power, fame, and love, as well as other fanciful plots, accompanied by acted out behaviors”.
There is an incredible amount of information on the internet about this condition—driven mostly by people who have it and want to educate others and relieve the isolation that often accompanies the condition. They have created information pages, symptom lists, descriptions of the behavior being uncontrollable by the person experiencing it, and much more.
The Atlantic recently shared a very readable article on the issue by an author who had experienced maladaptive daydreaming. One of the most descriptive sentences is this: “I made a lot of close friends [in college] and had a few boyfriends, but I found it tiring to keep up with their conversations while watching TV in my mind”. The author describes the proliferation of information on the disorder on the internet and concludes that her 12-year-old self (lost in maladaptive daydreaming) was certainly not alone.
One of the researchers mentioned in the Atlantic piece was Eli Somer (who defined the phenomenon) who is one of the authors of the new paper on maladaptive daydreaming we are looking at today. This article offers information on the daydream qualities of 340 “self-identified maladaptive daydreamers” in comparison to 107 controls—all 447 of whom responded to an online announcement for participation and then completed multiple questionnaires on-line. Here are some of the differences researchers identified between “maladaptive daydreamers” and their control subjects:
Maladaptive daydreamers “differed significantly from normative daydreaming in terms of quantity, content, experience, controllability, distress, and interference with life functioning”.
Maladaptive daydreamers reported higher symptoms of “attention deficit, obsessive compulsive and dissociation symptoms than did controls”.
Maladaptive daydreamers reported spending about 57% of their awake hours daydreaming—compared to 16% for control subjects.
Maladaptive daydreamers reported higher levels of difficulty limiting their daydreaming while at the same time being distressed over how much time they spent in daydream than did the control subjects.
There is now a discussion occurring as to whether maladaptive daydreaming is a condition of its own or symptomatic of another condition. Whichever decision is made, the authors believe that maladaptive daydreaming causes significant distress, interferes with life function, and needs more attention.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is an intriguing description of maladaptive daydreaming. While those who maladaptively daydream report they are rarely confused as to what is fantasy and what is reality—we anticipate this defense could certainly arise in the not to distant future.
An expert might testify that while the defendant did not usually have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality, in this instance the content of the maladaptive daydream was so disturbing, the dreamer sought to defend against a perceived attacker in the real world.
While another expert could counter that argument by pointing to the numbers of maladaptive daydreamers who do not report confusion between fantasy and reality—we suspect any juror hearing about the richness, depth and texture of maladaptive daydreams—and knowing the proportion of awake time invested in maladaptive daydreaming—would conclude it would be hard for the daydreamer to not be confused by the power of maladaptive daydreaming.
Our mock jurors would ask whether someone should not be held responsible for their actions while also getting treatment for a debilitating condition—they always want to address personal responsibility, and that would certainly be a good point for the prosecution to make. We foresee a lively deliberation room debate if this one ever makes it to the courtroom.
Bigelsen J, Lehrfeld JM, Jopp DS, & Somer E (2016). Maladaptive daydreaming: Evidence for an under-researched mental health disorder. Consciousness and Cognition, 42, 254-66 PMID: 27082138
Earlier this week we wrote a post about how to invoke morality as a persuasive strategy with your jurors. Now Gallup has helped us by identifying the moral values most Americans agree on and the five about which they most disagree.
Gallup measures views on moral issues each year (since 2001) as part of their tracking of attitude shifts on social issues. They assign respondents to one of five religious groups (e.g., No religion, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon) and then measure their attitudes on various social issues to determine what they see as moral and not moral. True, it is not a complete religious typology, but it is an interesting start.
They vary a bit from their typical single (annual) survey presentations by combining all their data from 2001 through 2016: “Results for this Gallup poll are based on combined telephone interviews in Gallup’s 2001 through 2016 annual Values and Beliefs poll, conducted each May with random samples of U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia”. This gives them a total sample size of 16,754 Americans opining on moral issues.
Here are the moral issues which most religious groups in the US generally agree are either “morally acceptable” or “not morally acceptable”:
Divorce, death penalty, wearing clothing made of animal fur, medical testing on animals—are all viewed as morally acceptable with more than 50% of respondents agreeing.
On the other hand, suicide, cloning humans, polygamy, and extramarital affairs are seen as not morally acceptable (again, as measured by less than 50% of Americans surveyed agreeing they were morally acceptable behaviors).
And here are the moral issues which religious groups in the US generally disagree on (that is, some see them as acceptable and but the majority do not):
Abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, cloning animals, gay-lesbian relations, having a baby outside marriage.
We’d consider these five to be “hot button issues” which may make jurors close their minds to the facts of your case rather than considering the circumstances involved. Intriguingly, one of the religious groups measured (the Mormons) was distinctly different when it came to their views on premarital sex, stem-cell research, and gambling.
Mormons are more likely than other religious groups to view stem cell research negatively by a slight margin (54%). They see premarital sex as clearly morally unacceptable (71%) and gambling is viewed askance as well (with 63% saying gambling is morally unacceptable).
While it is important to stay abreast of research pointing toward new litigation advocacy strategies like our post on “making it moral”, it is also important to keep up with changing attitudes toward social issues and how religious beliefs and affiliations may result in differing attitudes from the norm. Know your venue, know your jurors, and keep up to date as societal attitudes shift and sway.
John Oliver recently took on mass media coverage of scientific findings on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. The result is a searing video mocking the distortions and misinterpretations (and even flat-out lies) about research findings as presented in mass media. Since his episode aired (a link to the video is at the end of this post) another one came out. You perhaps read about how taking acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) will make you less likely to feel empathy for the pain of others. The article (full article here) makes note that this is an initial research effort and more work obviously needs to be done but the headlines were sensational and they were everywhere:
Medical News Today: Does acetaminophen reduce empathy?
Washington Post: This popular painkiller also kills kindness
Before it’s News: Tylenol PROVEN to KILL emotions, ERASE empathy!
There were many, many more headlines along these lines—135,000 according to a quick Google search. And then, slowly, science bloggers emerged with posts saying the media translation was, in too many cases, just plain wrong.
Neurocritic: Acetaminophen probably isn’t an “empathy killer”
One of the problems was of, course, that this is a single study. Second, the sample was undergraduate students and only 200 of them at that (so, a small sample). Third, the effect was fairly small and if true, would probably not be noticeable. And that doesn’t even include the statistics behind the work. Neurocritic goes into extensive detail on why he doesn’t think the statistical tables are reported accurately. Even readers of the Washington Post version were appalled at how the study was described with hyperbole and offer multiple common sense reasons they would not take this study seriously. “I call horse dooky” says one reader, and others use a few more words but communicate essentially the same message. Gizmodo weighs in on the controversy by balancing a flashy headline and making sure cautions are pointed out (albeit in a single paragraph at the tail end of the article).
From a litigation advocacy perspective, one way to apply this cautionary lesson is to think about it in terms of your expert witness. A discredited expert can torpedo your case. So how do you ensure you know about potential landmines in your experts’ testimony?
It is critically important that someone read (and understand) the original source document that is being relied on to support the testimony. That seems pretty obvious but it’s easy to overlook all the original source documentation when skimming summaries for salient details.
Make sure your expert knows what is published but also knows how to explain it to jurors in a way they can understand.
Make sure your expert witness includes supporting documentation for any opinion the opposing expert may present as a rebuttal.
This can easily be introduced on direct examination with a question like, “Okay. Now what would someone who disagreed with your opinion have to say?” and after the witness has responded, follow-up with “And how would you respond to that?”
There are other suggestions for expert witnesses and if you are interested in those, please read our prior posts on expert witnesses. Now, in the event you missed it, here’s John Oliver mocking mass media accounts of research findings. While he doesn’t say it here, we believe he would echo our call to “read the primary source”.
Mischkowski D, Crocker J, & Way BM (2016). From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience PMID: 27217114
We’ve written a lot about other kinds of self-appointed experts on your jury (and how to dethrone them) but today’s work is a reflection of another aspect of perceived expert status.
When you think you already know a lot about something, you can become closed-minded. You finish the testimony before the witness does. A closed mind is a problem everywhere, but in a jury room it is dangerous.
We’ve seen this a lot in pretrial research (like this post about a retired teacher named ‘Victoria’) but today’s research tells us that when you see yourself as a relative expert on an issue—you are less likely to be open to other information and/or opinions.
It’s an assumption that is somewhat counter-intuitive since “real experts” need to be open to new information in order to remain “experts” as new knowledge is identified. Yet, these “self-appointed” experts, became quite dogmatic across all six experiments the researchers conducted. The researchers label this tendency the “earned dogmatism effect”—likely a close relative of the Dunning -Kruger effect.
A relatively easy example is when someone (for example, a doctor or a nurse in a personal injury case) is required to set aside their professional knowledge and rely solely on the testimony offered in trial. Their training and experience is not evidence, so if they believe something to be true that is inconsistent with the evidence, they are to rule out their experience, not the evidence.
Of course, humans rarely can do that. Typically, such actual ‘experts’ are stricken from the jury. The greater problem are informal ‘experts’, who think that because they can fix cars they know why a jet engine failed, or because they are married to a bookkeeper they understand the nuances of complex tax fraud. These informal experts are often much more difficult to identify, especially in courts where attorney voir dire is limited or prohibited.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, you want jurors to be listening to new information you are presenting and we’d encourage you to review our earlier posts on how to maximize the chances of that happening and how to teach jurors to disrupt this self-appointed expert during deliberations. Self-appointed experts can range from retired schoolteachers like Victoria to shade tree mechanics and everything in between—you often don’t know they are there until they make themselves known verbally.
Ottati, V., Price, E., Wilson, C., & Sumaktoyo, N. (2015). When self-perceptions of expertise increase closed-minded cognition: The earned dogmatism effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 61, 131-138 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.08.003
The phrase “I’m sorry” always reminds me of then 15-year-old Brenda Lee and her hit single. (That is, in psychology circles, called a tangential aside.) We haven’t written about apology here for a while now and a new study has just published that lists six elements to make your apology optimal. This post is to help you stay informed about the latest findings on how to make an apology most effective.
First a bit of background on the apology research. These researchers tell us that apologies typically arise in an effort to repair trust. They identified “six structural components of apologies” from prior research and presented them single and in combination to research participants to see which elements were more effective in restoring trust. Here’s a little of what they found:
Not all apologies were equally effective—those with more components were more effective than those with fewer components and certain components were more effective than others. (In other words, keep talking…and make sure you focus on everything you need to say. )
Apologies after competence-based trust violations were more effective than apologies following integrity-based violations. (One is an issue of disappointment with your actions and the other is an issue of your character.)
The six elements of apology culled from prior research were:
Expression of regret
Explanation of what went wrong
Acknowledgment of responsibility
Declaration of repentance
Offer of repair
Request for forgiveness
The authors say that the best apologies contain all six elements but the most important elements are acknowledging your responsibility and making an offer of repair for harm done. The next three elements are tied (expressing regret, explaining what went wrong, and a declaration of repentance). The least effective element may surprise you. A request for forgiveness is the least effective element of the apology and the researchers say you can leave out the request for forgiveness if you need to do that.
From a litigation advocacy perspective, it seems famous people are apologizing almost all the time (we’ve written about a number of them here) but the quality of those apologies varies dramatically. When your client needs to issue an apology—encourage them to include all these components (although they can skip the last one if it is too awkward or would be seen as insincere).
Lewicki, R., Polin, B., & Lount, R. (2016). An Exploration of the Structure of Effective Apologies. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, 9 (2), 177-196 DOI: 10.1111/ncmr.12073