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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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grammarpoliceHere’s another sneaky way researchers try to figure out your real feelings rather than your politically correct and overtly verbalized feelings. This is research from Nextions showing bias still exists in the legal field and it’s about your grammar. Well, really, it isn’t about grammar—it’s about race. On the other hand, the sample size is low (slightly above 50 law partners returned the survey) so you could say this isn’t what you would do…and in fact, not everyone would do what was found among this research group.

Here’s what they did in this very simple study. Researchers had five attorneys cooperate in writing up a legal research memo on trade secrets at internet startup companies. The researchers then placed 22 errors of various kinds into the memo. The researchers sent the legal research memo to 60 partners in law firms who were asked to assess it as an example of the “writing competencies of young attorneys”.

Fifty-three of the partners actually returned the writing sample with comments (that’s an 88% return rate which is quite good). In the event you are interested, of the original 60 partners, 23 were women, 37 were men, 21 were racial/ethnic minorities, and 39 were White. The participating partners were asked to edit the memo for “all factual, technical and substantive errors” and then asked to rate the overall quality of the memo on a scale from 1 (“extremely poorly written”) to 5 (“extremely well written”).

So here is the catch: half of the partners were told the writer was Black and half were told the writer (one Thomas Meyer who was described as a third-year associate with a degree from the NYU School of Law) was White. In other words, the associate’s credentials were exactly the same—the difference was that half thought he was Black and half thought he was White. You have likely already figured out how this turned out but we’ll tell you anyway.

When the partners were told the associate was Black, they judged his written memo much more harshly.

The following descriptions of the way Black and White associates writing was critiqued is quoted from Nextion’s report:

“In regards to the specific errors in the memo:

An average of 2.9/7.0 spelling grammar errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 5.8/7.0 spelling/grammar errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 4.1/6.0 technical writing errors were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 4.9/6.0 technical writing errors found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

An average of 3.2/5.0 errors in facts were found in “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo in comparison to 3.9/5.0 errors in facts were found in “African American” Thomas Meyer’s memo.

The 4 errors in analysis were difficult to parse out quantitatively because of the variances in narrative provided by the partners as to why they were analyzing the writing to contain analytical errors. Overall though, “Caucasian” Thomas Meyer’s memo was evaluated to be better in regards to the analysis of facts and had substantively fewer critical comments.”

Vox did a nice summary of this study and translated Sexton’s narrative descriptions into a chart making it easier to ‘see’ the differences identified by law partners when they thought the writing sample was from a White associate or a Black associate.

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Nextion says this study tells us that due to confirmation bias, law partners are more harsh when judging Black associates’ writing. The Vox review cautions us that we are talking about a fairly small sample here (53 partners in total) and each partner only reviewed one writing sample.

If, says Vox, the partners reviewed more than one writing sample and those who reviewed Black associates writing were always harsher—that would mean the partners were harsher for Black Thomas Meyer than they were for White Thomas Meyer. Since the partners only reviewed one writing sample—we cannot be sure if this is an artifact of some partners being harsher than others or if it is truly bias that tells us Black associates are judged more harshly. Or those who reviewed it might have been having a bad day. Maybe.

The qualitative comments shared from the partner’s reactions remind us of the inconsistent comments we often get from our mock jurors as they evaluate witnesses based on brief deposition excerpts. Remember—before reading these reactions to the writing samples—the law partners received identical memos—the only difference was whether they thought the writer was Black or White.

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From the perspective of law office management—this study reminds us (again) to pay attention to making all of our evaluations as objective as we can so our subjective (and often biased) opinions do not enter into our evaluations. What that means is that you need to look at the specific expectations of the position and list objective criteria for evaluation related to hiring, raises, promotion, and assignments to various cases.

Our biases are almost always hidden from us (it’s called a bias blind spot) and studies like this one, if reliable, tell us we are not as open to diversity as we may want to believe. If you are concerned about managing diversity effectively and other aspects of leadership, you may want to visit our other posts under the Law Office Management category.

Nextions. (2016) Written in Black and White: Exploring confirmation bias in radicalized perceptions of writing skills. http://www.nextions.com/wp-content/files_mf/14468226472014040114WritteninBlackandWhiteYPS.pdf

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Civility_69187189Back in 2010, after a stream of pretrial research projects, we wrote about what we’d learned and included a great line from one of our client-litigators: “What has become of our country?”. It was a theme that resonated—even 6 years ago. We’ve mentioned the incivility of our current political campaigns a few times and here’s a new study to say that Americans think our “manners” are declining dramatically over the past 30 years—especially in the political arena.

The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently conducted a survey on civility (executive summary available here) with 1,004 American adults (from all 50 states and the District of Columbia).  Here are a few of their findings and we hope you will take a look at all their results as it says something about what Americans agree and disagree on when it comes to civility and our political process.

74% of Americans in this survey think manners and behavior have deteriorated in this country over the past several decades.

There are clear differences in what younger and older Americans consider to be generally rude. (For example, younger Americans think it acceptable to use cell phones in restaurants while only 22% of those over age 60 agree.)

A quarter of the American public say they use the “f-word” daily—this is up 10 points since a 2006 survey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, younger people are more likely to acknowledge using this word daily.

Remarks or jokes based on race, gender or sexuality, are considered inappropriate by 80% even though only a small percentage (7%) of Americans admit to making these sorts of jokes themselves.

With regard to politics, 80% think politicians should be held to a higher standard of behavior than other people and only 15% think candidates should not be sensitive to the possibility of offending or upsetting others while campaigning.

The Republican nomination campaign is viewed as rude and disrespectful by nearly twice as many (78%) as those who describe the Democratic nomination fight that way (41%).

Finally, 68% think the politicians in this years’ Presidential campaigns have outdone the public in levels of rudeness and they want more civility from their leaders.

Overall, it is a somewhat reassuring picture of how real Americans (as opposed to those shown in mass media depictions) feel about civility and incivility in this country—especially when it comes to the political process. You can see the full report at the NORC website and you can read our other assorted posts on civility in America here. All that remains is for people to display the behavior that they claim to miss so much.

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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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