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Archive for the ‘Pre-trial research’ Category

Pew on white aging in USPew Research often comes up with data-based pictures that tell us things we may have known, but in a very visual way.  Most of us have heard that minorities in the US will outnumber whites before long but this is a very clear depiction of how that is happening.

When you look at the ages of everyone in the US in 2015, there are more 24-year-olds than any other age. But—if you only look at white Americans, 55 was the most common age according to Pew’s review of US Government Census Bureau data. The graphic (one of several in their report) shows a comparison of white people and minority group members by age (in the US in 2015).

You can see by just looking at this graphic that as the Millennial generation ages and are replaced by the Post-Millennial generation (which has yet to receive a moniker although Neil Howe is trying to popularize Homeland Generation as a label for this upcoming group). In fact, Pew says that those under age 5 are already a “majority minority” although only by a small margin.

There are multiple facts in this brief report worth reading. Here are a few of them:

In 2015, more than half (56%) of minorities were Millennials or younger.

Americans identifying with two or more races were the youngest group (with a median age of 19 years) in the Census Bureau data. And, almost half (46%) of multiracial Americans were between the ages of 0 and 17 years (meaning they were not yet part of any named American generation).

In 2015, the relative youth of Hispanics was driven by the US-born Latino population—nearly 3/4 of whom are Millennials or younger.

Asians grew the fastest of all ethnic or racial groups in the US in 2015. The majority of Asians were Millennials (27%) and Gen Xers (25%)—so older than other minorities but younger than whites.

About half of blacks were Millennials (26%) or younger (25%) in 2015.

Take the time to read this report from Pew—your potential jurors are diversifying.

Pew Research Center, July 7, 2016. Biggest share of whites in U.S. are Boomers, but for minority groups it’s Millennials or younger.


Comments Off on So you’re White? On average (at least in the US), you’re kinda old…

atheist symbolBack in 2010, we published an article on atheists and how they are distrusted in the United States. The level of vitriol we saw in the research at that time surprised us. But the number of atheists in this country continues to increase.  Pew Research has just offered a 2016 update on atheists in the United States that shows us the number of those identifying as atheists in the US has “roughly doubled” since 2007. The numbers are still small (currently 3.1% according to Pew) with an additional 4% currently identifying as agnostic (that is up also from 2.4% in 2007). Here are a few of the multiple tidbits Pew offers on atheists in the US as of 2016.

Atheists in the US are more likely to be male (68%) and younger than the overall population (34 compared to 46 for all US adults).

Atheists are also more likely to be white (78% compared to 66% for the general public) and have a college degree (43% compared to 27% of the general public).

About 2/3 of atheists in the US identify as Democrats (69%) and a majority (56%) call themselves political liberals.

While virtually no atheists (1%) say they turn to religion for guidance on questions of right and wrong—roughly a third (32%) look to science for guidance on questions of right and wrong. As a comparison, 44% of US atheists still cite “practical experience and common sense” as their primary guide on questions of right and wrong.

As you might imagine, this article from Pew has more comments than we’ve ever seen on a Pew report (968 at this writing) so it is obviously a topic of extreme interest to readers.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it is well worth your time to update your awareness of atheists in this country (and on your jury panel). We regularly work on cases where the litigant or the trial team (or both) are deeply religious. For many, there is an immediate sense of disconnect with atheists. They are as misunderstood and mistrusted in much the same way that other socio-cultural minorities (such as gays and lesbians) have been. In contrast, research needs to be conducted on what biases this subgroup might bring into the jury room with them—are they as wary of those who profess their faith as the believers are of them? What do each think of the other? What is the common ground?

The comments section of the Pew report is like a very disturbing focus group with a few rational and erudite comments thrown in! Reading the first 100 or so comments will show you just how strong and knee-jerk the bias against atheists is in the US. If it is not salient to your case, it is certainly a good topic for a motion in limine. And as we have discussed before, if it is salient, it has to be discussed, both for the purposes of inoculation of irrelevant toxic attitudes and for strikes for cause.

Pew Research Center 2016. Ten facts about atheists.


Comments Off on Everything you ever wanted to know about atheists  (the 2016 update)

school lunches repulsiveIt’s time for another installment of strange tidbits we’ve gathered as we have read potential articles for blog posts. This week we have information on why you would stick something icky and repulsive into your mouth, online anonymity, bias against homosexuals, and what horrible things can happen should you choose to ‘unfriend’ that person on Facebook who really annoys you.

Disgusting and repulsive is what that is—tell me more!

The popularity of television shows like Fear Factor tells us that we humans are drawn to disgusting and repulsive things. Some researchers (Hsee and Ruan cited below) think our curiosity drives us to risk negative outcomes (much like Pandora). There is a thorough write-up on this article over at Scientific American that is worth your time to review—although it is likely a good idea to not eat while doing so.

You are likely not as anonymous online as you think

Now this is sort of scary. Many of us want to be anonymous online as we go about our daily business. But a new research study says they can identify who you are just by the way you browse the internet. Apparently, each of us creates a “unique digital behavioral signature” and “they” can know way too much about you based on how you wield that electronic mouse or touchpad. Within a half hour of monitoring you, the researchers say they can measure personality characteristics like “openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism”. That’s pretty scary. The researchers appear to be very excited about this and appear to long to sell their strategies to online marketers. [I think these researchers should be denied tenure just on principle.]

How do we feel now about lesbian women and gay men?

There has been a cultural shift underway in the US in attitudes toward homosexuals. Some have wondered if there really is a change underway or if people just feel pressured to express more support for gay men and lesbian women. Now there is research published in a new open access journal called Collabra that says this societal change really has occurred. A team of researchers found that implicit or unconscious bias against lesbians and gays was down 13% in 2013 when compared to 2006. Nearly all demographic groups showed decreases in bias against homosexuals over that 7 year period which suggests the change is not just politically correct but actually real.

You may want to consider alternatives to “unfriending” on Facebook once you read this

Imagine you live in a “sleepy mountain town” with your young spouse and infant child. Then imagine you have been murdered (although your child survived) and no one can figure out who did it because, “everyone” liked you. You don’t really have to imagine since you can read the story of what happened to a young couple after they ‘unfriended’ a woman on Facebook. It’s a sadly bizarre tale of catfishing and loneliness and perhaps some psychopathy. Here’s a quote from the assistant district attorney’s opening statement to the jury:

“This is going to be the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. This is going to be the craziest thing you’ve ever heard. There is nothing in your lives or background that has prepared you to understand the Potter family.”

And to that we say, “Amen”. And we would like also to mention you can ‘unfollow’ rather than ‘unfriend’ to get them out of your timeline but not incite homicidal rage.

Hsee CK, & Ruan B (2016). The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity. Psychological Science, 27 (5), 659-66 PMID: 27000178


Comments Off on The power of curiosity and other things you want to know 

liar with pinocchio shadowHere is some new research that says while we cannot identify liars through our intuition — there are ways we can increase our ability to identify liars. Most of you know that successful lie detection is not something at which the majority of us are skilled. New research suggests a way to improve deception detection (which we’ve blogged about frequently) and it makes intuitive sense.

Someone should tell our mock jurors who see themselves as expert deception detectors about this work! (See their allegations of lying based on a few minutes of witness deposition excerpts here.)

The researcher, Chris Street, says our ability to detect deception is poor because we are trying to juggle multiple cues we believe indicate deception. Our focus is so scattered that we are not usually successful. Instead, we should perhaps focus on a single cue—such as whether or not the person is obviously thinking hard—as a sign of deception. This is not a matter of improving our access to intuition or our “implicit knowledge” that someone is lying as described in past research. These researchers describe it this way:

“Indirect lie detection does not access implicit knowledge, but simply focuses the perceiver on more useful cues.”

It is not that deep down inside we have the ability to intuit lies if we would just free our intuition—it is simply that we’ve been trying to process too many different small signs (or cues) of deception and diluting our ability to zero in on behaviors associated with deception. The researchers call this an indirect lie detection approach.

In an indirect lie detection approach, you don’t look for signs of deception. Instead you look for behaviors known to be associated with lying. For example, the researchers point to “appears to be thinking hard” or “appears tense” as two behaviors associated with lying. To practice indirect lie detection then, you focus on a “single diagnostic cue” such as “thinking hard” as you appraise a speaker for either accuracy or deception.

In multiple studies, the authors found that when observers focused on the single deception clue of “thinking hard”, their accuracy in deception detection increased.

The researchers say that whether there truly is an “implicit awareness” of deception should be left for others to explore. Instead, we can focus on concrete and behavioral indicators and have improved accuracy. Their findings lead them to suggest that researchers focus on the single most important diagnostic cue and to simply ignore those that are less powerful or not at all indicative of deception. According to the researchers, attempting to apply multiple “signs of deception” as you listen to someone will result in lower levels of accuracy than will watching for one specific diagnostic cue.

We have talked about similar recommendations here before, and think the best way to improve your accuracy is to watch a single strong indicator of whatever behavior you are trying to assess (whether lies or some other behavior) in order to avoid confusion while trying to juggle multiple (and sometimes conflicting) cues to the behavior you are assessing.

Street CN, & Richardson DC (2015). The focal account: Indirect lie detection need not access unconscious, implicit knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 21 (4), 342-55 PMID: 26301728


Comments Off on Identifying deception: “Look for indirect cues” 

memory blindnessThis isn’t really about bad memory—it’s about something much scarier—the power of others to modify your memory without your awareness. New research out of California tells us that it is possible to change the statements of the person giving testimony in such a way that they may not even notice! To make matters worse, it is possible the altered testimony will be so firmly accepted as truth by the fact-teller that they even develop a false memory supporting the account.

The researchers label this effect “memory blindness” and define it as our failure to recognize our own memories. For those of you who remember the flurry of controversies about implanted memories and “False Memory Syndrome” (such as the McMartin Daycare scandal from 1983), and the research done by Ralph Underwager, Elizabeth Loftus, and Richard Ofshe, this will sound familiar. It was seen as something fairly common in children, but this research addresses how susceptible adults are, too.

You may think this impossible but the researchers found it not only possible but disturbingly easy to achieve. The researchers conducted two experiments. In the first, they showed 165 undergraduate student-participants a slideshow of a woman who interacted with three different people—one of whom ultimately stole her wallet. Fifteen minutes after they had watched the slideshow, participants were asked questions similar to what the police would ask (e.g., how tall was the thief, what was the thief wearing) and their responses were written down. Fifteen minutes after that response, the participants were shown their responses in written form but, the researchers had randomly changed three of their answers so they were incorrect. The researchers let another 15 minutes pass and then asked the participants the same “police type” questions to see if they changed their answers.

The majority of the group did not notice their responses had been changed and when asked the questions the second time, repeated the information that was not what they had initially reported but instead was the incorrect information inserted by the researchers.

As an aside, only 18% said they thought “something was odd” in how the experiment was conducted. The researchers do not know what the other 82% were thinking but had to assume they did not notice anything amiss with their responses.

In the second experiment, the researchers gathered 379 participants to watch a slide show of a man stealing a radio from a car. This time, instead of asking the participants what they had seen happen, they were asked to pick the thief out of a photo lineup (with “relatively dissimilar faces”). The misinformation in this second study was telling the participants they had selected a different person from the lineup than they had originally identified.

Over half (53.7%) changed their answer in the final photo array to match the false feedback—which means that 47.3% realized their choices had been changed.

The researchers say that eye witnesses given typed copies of their statements to sign may not notice errors (due to typographical mistakes or more nefarious reasons) and that reviewing their incorrect statements alone may contaminate their memories. Even though almost anyone would say that they wouldn’t fall for this kind of mistake, the majority of participants did not notice changes and modified their reports to match inaccurate reports of past behavior.

Still others might say the police would never alter statements intentionally, and to them we would encourage a review of the Hillsborough disaster in the UK (more than 25 years ago) where almost 100 people were crushed to death during a football match. A recent inquest uncovered the reality that eye-witness testimonies had been “deliberately altered” by the police.

It is disturbing to realize that our memories can be so easily messed with by researchers and more disturbing to see examples of the same thing done by the police. While we’ve blogged before about the lack of reliability of eye-witness testimony, this is certainly another one to add to the list of reasons to question the memory of those who assert they “saw it with my own eyes”. If memory can be altered in as short a time delay as 15 minutes, it can certainly be altered over the time it takes a case to come to trial.

Cochran KJ, Greenspan RL, Bogart DF, & Loftus EF (2016). Memory blindness: Altered memory reports lead to distortion in eyewitness memory. Memory & Cognition PMID: 26884087


Comments Off on Another explanation for poor eye witness IDs:  Memory Blindness