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Archive for the ‘Self Presentation’ Category

This issue has been the banner of a number of well-known male bloggers who encourage their readers to pile on [with their generally anonymous screen names] when commenters do not agree with the blogger.

These bloggers make comments like, “it’s my blog and I make the rules” to justify boorish behavior. Granted. We don’t choose to interact with bullies—online or otherwise. We have been the subject of the entire spectrum of comment for our writing over the years of The Jury Room, including bizarre and wildly over-the-top trash-talking from a few other bloggers. We do not like it. We ignore it. We move on–as does our readership.

So we were glad to see this article released by the Pew Research Center on Online Harassment in 2017. The really good news is, they released a survey on the same topic in 2014 and so can compare some of the data to see if online harassment is increasing. In a word? Yes. Pew begins by introducing the problem of online harassment this way:

To borrow an expression from the technology industry, harassment is now a “feature” of life online for many Americans. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, it can compromise users’ privacy, force them to choose when and where to participate online, or even pose a threat to their physical safety.

As usual, Pew offers information on just whom they surveyed. In this case, they surveyed 4,248 nationally representative US adults and found that 41% have been harassed themselves and 66% have witnessed the harassment of others online. In some cases, the behaviors are nuisance behaviors like name-calling or efforts to embarrass someone, but 18% of Americans (that is, nearly 1 in 5) “have been subjected to particular severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment, or stalking”.

Social media platforms are an especially harassment-prone area but there are multiple places survey respondents report they have been harassed. Most of them believe harassment is facilitated by the anonymity offered by the internet (and, we would add, the frequent use of pseudonyms). Here are a few of the numbers Pew offers on how many Americans have experienced harassment.

41% of respondents [increased from 35% in 2014] have been personally subjected to at least one type of online harassment: 27% were called offensive names, 22% say efforts were made to intentionally embarrass them, 10% were physically threatened, and 6% reported sexual harassment. The 41% total includes those who’ve experienced particularly severe forms of harassment (Pew defines this as stalking, physical threats, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time).

Young adults (aged 18-29) are especially singled out for harassment (67% have been harassed—41% severely). At the same time, 30-49 years olds experience harassment frequently as well (49%—up 10% since 2014). Americans age 50 and older report harassment at a lower rate (22% also up 5% since 2014).

Harassment online is typically very personal. 14% reported being harassed for political views, 9% for their physical appearance, 8% for their race or gender, 5% for their religion, and 3% for sexual orientation.

When we look at specific racial groups, 25% of Blacks have been harassed online for race or ethnicity as have 10% of Hispanics. The number among Whites is much lower at 3%. In terms of gender, women (11%) are twice as likely as men (5%) to report having been targeted as a result of gender.

62% of Americans see online harassment as a major problem and only 5% think it is not at all a problem. There are significant gender differences of opinion that Pew addresses in detail when it comes to the problems with online harassment. There are also significant differences among those who have been severely harassed (regardless of gender) and these differences include serious emotional distress and damage to their reputations.

These are good things to review at the report itself to help you understand how the exact same behavior is perceived so very differently based on both gender and experiences online. There is also disagreement on who should manage online civility. Some think it is the responsibility of online services while others think the services should just offer better tools to help people address harassment online. Still others think bystanders witnessing abusive behavior online should play a direct role in stopping it.

In addition to the actual survey, Pew also includes a Q&A article explaining how and why they chose to study online harassment. If you are interested in a brief summary rather than reading the entire article (which isn’t that long), they also have a key points summation.


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Researchers actually study the factors that go into making others see you as a jerk—and help us figure out how to avoid those behaviors. Today’s research is from an international team of researchers in the Netherlands, the US and the UK. Their work is interesting to consider from the perspective of witness preparation of the difficult witness.

According to the researchers, most of us work to manage the impressions others have of us and some of us do it quite well. Others fail miserably, however, and these researchers think that failure stems from making poor choices on which impression management strategies to adopt. Instead of choosing strategies that work well, these people choose strategies that fail and result in negative perceptions of them by others. The researchers caution to not use these strategies in your self-presentation if you want to be perceived positively. They also tell us (as if we would not already know) that people using these strategies are likely to score higher on measures of pomposity, self-centeredness, self-aggrandizement, dominance, and narcissism. And the reason narcissists fail to self-present positively?

It’s Witness Preparation Lesson 101: They fail to consider the audience’s perspective.

So here, in the order presented in the paper, are the behaviors you want to avoid if your goal is to make a good impression. From a litigation advocacy perspective, these are also bad habits you want to watch out for as you are preparing witnesses.

Hubris: The researchers refer to hubris as “self-aggrandizing displays”. We’d call it “showing off”. Observers especially disliked statements wherein the speaker claims s/he was better than others as a choice of whom to befriend. According to the researchers, these sorts of displays result in observers viewing the speaker with hostility. We’ve blogged in the past about how the “hubris penalty” is applied to Black athletes.

Humblebrag: The researchers describe the humblebrag as “irksome efforts to mask bragging in the guise of complaining or appearing humble”. It is another misguided effort to appear better than others that, we’ve also blogged about in the past. The authors give this example from Twitter: “Hair is not done, just rolled out of bed from a nap, and still get hit on, so confusing!” This sort of comment results in the observers perceiving insincerity.

Hypocrisy: The third failing strategy the researchers discuss is hypocrisy. They describe this as attempts by the speaker to transmit a certain image verbally while their behavior does not live up to those standards. As long as the behavior that contradicts their verbiage remains hidden, they may get away with it. However, if the “discrepant behavior” becomes public, the hypocrite is judged more harshly than even those who did the same thing but didn’t try to claim they were above it. The researchers say this form of failed impression management is especially despised by observers and is more likely to occur among narcissists. And yes, we’ve also blogged about hypocrisy—particularly in the case of high-profile falls from grace.

Backhanded compliments: The final failed impression management strategy involves giving a backhanded compliment (e.g., “You are smart for an intern”). The intent with this strategy is to remind the recipient of the compliment of your (much) higher status and to make the person like you. The reality of the strategy is that it is experienced as a subtle but strategic put-down. Again, this strategy is more likely to be employed by the narcissist who typically fails to disregard the audience’s perspective. Sadly, we have not blogged about back-handed compliments, but we have blogged about an experience in a mock trial where one of the attorney’s formed a strong connection with the mock jurors with his “very attractive” necktie [for which he was complimented most sincerely].

So, why, when it is clear to the observer that these strategies do not work—do people keep using them? The researchers think that it results from a lack of accuracy in estimating others’ perceptions of us. Perhaps we do not get enough feedback (which is crucial to improving one’s performance and should be a central component of the witness preparation process). We have multiple posts on witness preparation that you may want to read.

Steinmetz, J. Sezer, O. Sedikides, C 2017 Impression mismanagement: People as inept self-presenters. Social Personality Psychology Compass, 11.



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Women often think that “one day” they will garner the professional respect and standing that will stop men from interrupting them when the woman is speaking. Today we are presenting two studies of women who’ve reached heights in their professions which most women (and most men for that matter) will never achieve. Both studies tell us the fantasy of speaking without interruption is likely untrue.

Harassment of female “Space Scientists

Despite all the professed desire to increase the number of women in STEM fields, the working environment experienced by women scientists continues to be hostile. A recent survey of astronomers and planetary scientists asked whether they had been harassed either in school or at work. The survey (for those who like to know such things) was distributed online in early 2015. The researchers received responses from 474 planetary scientists and astronomers.

What is important to know here is that this was not a random sample. The authors report the sample was different from the entire field of space scientists in the following ways: the participants were earlier in their careers than would be a randomly selected sample, were more likely to be women or racial minorities, and were probably savvier about social media than the average space scientist. The researchers say the results are not generalizable to all space scientists but the results do answer (with a resounding yes) the question of whether there really is a problem.

The results were even worse than expected by the supervising professor. Here are a sample of the findings:

Female scientists were more likely than male scientists to report having heard racist or homophobic remarks and to have experienced both verbal and physical harassment (at work and at school) during the five most recent years.

Scientists who were ethnic or racial minority group members were more likely than white scientists to have heard racist and homophobic remarks and to have been harassed.

40% of scientists who were women of color said they had felt unsafe at work because of their gender.

Among female non-white scientists, 28% reported feeling unsafe because of their race.

White women (12%), women of color (18%) and one man of color (6% of his male of color cohort) reported having skipped at least one class, meeting or other professional event because they felt unsafe.

The authors of this paper (which is available on-line) make some recommendations for reducing this harassment. They suggest both schools and labs have diversity training as well as a code of conduct that is enforced. They suggest leaders in the field model “appropriate behavior” (unlike, for example, the example set by leading “planet finder”/space scientist and tenured professor Geoff Marcy who harassed women in his field for decades), and that the profession actually follow their written codes and sanction offenders quickly and fairly.

Surely women who are Supreme Court Justices are free of interruptions!

Nope. Not even. “There is no point at which a woman is high-status enough to avoid being interrupted”. The Harvard Business Review recently summarized the results of a new empirical study [available at SSRN] by Northwestern University researchers. The results mirror the results from the survey of space scientists. If you are a female or a minority (or both) and happen to be a Supreme Court Justice—prepare to be interrupted (and keep reading to see the strategies used by real Supreme Court Justices who are women to decrease the number of interruptions from men).

The HBR summary first tells us that Neil Gorsuch will fit in well at the current Supreme Court since he “repeatedly interrupted” liberal female senators during his Senate hearings. Then, they move on to summarize the new study (the result of reviewing transcripts from 15 years of Supreme Court oral arguments) which shows the following disheartening information:

As more women join the Supreme Court, male justices are increasing their interruptions of the women justices rather than decreasing them (as one might hope). As an example, in the last 12 years, women were 24% (on average) of the Supreme Court composition. During that time frame, 32% of the interruptions were of the female justices (by either their male colleagues or by the male advocates arguing cases). In comparison, only 4% of the interruptions came from the female justices. The researchers looked at transcripts all the way back to 1990 to see if the pattern of interrupting women was the same when there fewer female justices.

In 1990, Sandra Day O’Connor was the only female justice and 35.7% of all interruptions were directed at her.

In 2002, there were two female justices (O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) and 45.3% of all interruptions were directed at them.

In 2015, there were three female justices (Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan) and, maintaining the increasing frequency of interrupting female justices, 65.9% of all interruptions were of those three women.

In fact, in 2015, Sonia Sotomayor (the only woman of color on the bench) was the most common justice target for interruption by male advocates. (This despite the Supreme Court rule mandating advocates stop talking immediately when a justice begins speaking). The total number of interruptions by male advocates was 10% of the interruptions with 8% (of the 10%) directed at Justice Sotomayor.

Conservative justices are more likely to interrupt liberal justices (70% of the interruptions made by conservative justices) than to interrupt their conservative colleagues (30%).

“Junior” status on the bench also results in more interruptions (at a statistically significant level) from senior justices. However, the researchers say gender is about 30x more powerful a predictor of interruption than length of time on the bench. The researchers expect the introduction of Gorsuch as the most junior colleague will result in an intensification of the gender over seniority interruption relationship.

So if both male Supreme Court advocates and male Supreme Court Justices are increasing their interruptions of women justices, what does a woman do to make a difference? The women who are Supreme Court justices adapt, according to the researchers. They change their speech patterns to mirror those of the male justices. They are, again according to the researchers, less polite. Here’s how the researchers summarize it:

Early in their tenure, female justices tend to frame questions politely, using prefatory words such as “May I ask,” “Can I ask,” “Excuse me,” or the advocate’s name. This provides an opportunity for another justice to jump in before the speaker gets to the substance of her question.

We found that women gradually learn to set aside such politeness. All four of the female justices have reduced their tendency to use this polite phrasing. Justice Sotomayor adjusted within just a few months. Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg gradually became less and less polite over decades on the court, eventually using the polite phrases approximately one-third as much as they did initially. Justice Kagan is still learning: She uses polite language more than twice as often as the average man, although half as often as she did in 2010. We do not see a similar trend with the men, because male justices rarely use these polite speech patterns, even when they first enter the court. It is the women who adapt their speech patterns to match those of the men.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the results of this study are instructive. Female litigators would perhaps do well to modify their speech patterns to mirror those of men. This raises the question that has dogged women in authority forever—conduct and speech which is acceptable and expected from men often results in women being viewed as emasculating or ‘bitchy’. There is a double standard, and ignoring it risks alienating jurors on the one hand, or getting run over by men on the other. Women litigators and female witnesses would do well to review our blog posts on traditionally feminine speech patterns and work to minimize their frequency.

The researchers also call upon the Chief Justice to intervene in the interruptions of women justices and we would say the same for senior partners at law firms. If women are interrupted, speak up and demonstrate an environment that is receptive to both female and male opinions. (It matters.)

Clancy, K. B. H., K. M. N. Lee,E. M. Rodgers, and C. Richey (2017). Double jeopardy in astronomy and planetary science: Women of color face greater risks of gendered and racial harassment, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. 122. Open access pdf at:


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We mentioned this scale last week in a combination post but decided it deserved a post of its own as with other scales we’ve featured here in the past. You are likely aware of the terms “driving while black” or “flying while brown” and this scale means to document that experience of discrimination and accompanying health impact. Despite a plethora of research on general stress and race-related stress—the researchers developing this scale say they “are not aware of any psychometric instruments that specifically focus on assessing Black men’s experiences with law enforcement discrimination”.

In order to develop a valid scale, the researchers did “exploratory qualitative interviews” with 90 Black men from three towns in the state of Georgia (in the US). From those interviews, the researchers developed 8 “distinct dimensions” of negative experience with the police:

being accused of drug-related behavior, being unfairly pulled over while driving, being unfairly stopped and searched, being assumed a thief, experiencing verbal abuse, experiencing physical abuse, unfair treatment associated with attire, and being unfairly arrested.

Their next step was to develop scale items (i.e., questions) based in the 8 dimensions they identified through the 90 qualitative interviews. They tested the questions generated in a couple of focus groups by asking focus group members to consider the individual questions and to talk with the researchers about their thought processes as they answered the questions. They revised the questions following the focus group feedback and followed up a second time with individual interviews of another sample of 15 Black men. The researchers again sought feedback on question content and thoughts associated with the questions. They were then ready to pilot test 8 questions to a small group of 22 men.

They screened the men with the following “filter question”: “Have you had any experiences with police or law enforcement in the past year?” Thirteen of the 22 men responded “Yes” and they were asked to complete the questionnaire. After this phase of scale development, they changed the “filter question” time period from one year to 5 years to get a larger experience base to sample and dropped the overall scale length from the initial 8 questions to the following five questions.

In the past five years, how often have police or law enforcement…

  1. …accused you of having or selling drugs?
  2. …pulled you over for no reason while you were driving?
  3. …been verbally abusive to you?
  4. …been physically abusive to you?
  5. …treated you unfairly because of how you dress?

The final effort of scale validation used 1,264 Black men who ranged in age from 18 to 65 years with an average age of 43.99. Participants were recruited via a random-digit-dial method in four Georgia counties (Fulton, DeKalb, Lowndes, and Muskogee) located in three metropolitan areas (Atlanta, Columbus and Valdosta). Basically the interviewers called random numbers and asked if any Black males lived at the phone number. Those that did not hang up on them were asked if there was more than one Black male residing at the address and if yes, a single Black male at that phone number was selected for participation. Each Black male was asked all five questions on the PLE Scale.

Here is what they found:

Younger men had higher scores on all of the scale questions (including the filter question) when compared to older men.

Men with lower incomes scored higher on the scale questions and reported more accusations of drug abuse, more physical abuse, and more unfair treatment because of attire than men reporting higher incomes.

Men with less education reported more accusations of drug abuse, being pulled over, more unfair treatment due to attire, and more general experiences (in response to the filter question) compared to men with more education.

Men who had been in prison reported higher frequencies on all questions on the scale than did men who had no history of incarceration.

Higher scores on the scale were associated with more racial discrimination experiences and depressive symptoms.

The researchers believe this scale is culturally rooted in the experiences of Black men and can aid in describing the impact of police behaviors on Black men in a consistent way. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this scale may be used to help educate jurors on the day-to-day experiences of Black men as they encounter police and law enforcement officers.

English, D, Bowleg, L, del Rio-Gonzalez, M, Tschann, J Agans, RP Malebranche, DJ 2017. Measuring black men’s police-based discrimination experiences: Development and validation of the Police and Law Enforcement (PLE) Scale. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 25(2), 185-199.



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I was in graduate school in the early 1980s when Carol Gilligan’s book (In a Different Voice) came out and we thought we were quite amusing when we always voiced the title in a high-pitched tone. Thirty-five years later, we have research telling us we really may pitch our voices differently when speaking to someone we perceive as having higher status.

Today’s researchers wondered if how dominant or prestigious the person to whom one was speaking was perceived to be, would influence voice pitch in undergraduates. They planned a simulated interview task and wrote up brief descriptions of the photos to help pilot study participants categorize the photos as Dominant, Prestigious, or Neutral (i.e., photos perceived as either Dominant, Prestigious or Neutral).

Here are the descriptions they used:

Dominant: An approximately 36-45 year old male. He is an extremely dominant individual. This person likes to be in control and to get their way. They will use force, coercion, and intimidation to achieve their goals if necessary.

Prestige: An approximately 36-45 year old male. He is a highly valued, prestigious and influential individual. He has many valued skills and qualities and others follow him freely. This ultimately leads to his achieving his goals.

Neutral: These descriptions were not given. These photos were composed of those that scored neither high in Dominance or high in Prestige.

Then, the researchers had participants (48 total, 24 men and 24 women; average age 20.8 for the men and 20.2 for the women) complete a simulated job interview task. Participants were told they were pilot testing a new form of interviewing that did not require the interviewer and the interviewee to be in the same room for the interview. They were shown different photographs (with either Dominant, Prestigious or Neutral photos of the interviewers presumably asking the questions) and recorded their answers to varying interview questions with the idea that the photograph at which they looked was the person asking the questions.

The researchers found that the individual participants would alter their pitch (and other vocal characteristics) in response to people of high social status. This would happen even when the participant perceived themselves as having a high social status.

The researchers think an interview situation is one where the interviewer has a perceived dominance and so the interviewee raises the pitch of their voice to show the interviewer they are not a threat.

This was not the case with participants who described themselves on pre-study questionnaires as dominant—they actually lowered their voices! Conversely, those that described themselves as low in dominance, pitched their voices higher for the responses.

People that rated themselves as high in prestige, do not change the volume of their speech no matter to whom they are speaking. The researchers think this is meant to signal the person is calm and in control in the situation.

We have several concerns with this study. It has a small sample of participants and they are all quite young and may have been intimidated by the high dominance or high prestige descriptions of their alleged interviewers. Nonetheless, it seems intuitive that we would modify our voice pitch or other characteristics depending on to whom we were speaking. But it is an initial venture, and not conclusive.

Does the voice rise due to tension (which affects vocalization) or deference of some sort?

Is there a reason to imagine that anything but fearfulness might produce the vocal shift?

Do people respond differently to those whose pitch rises, or to those who are at a lower pitch?

Is it (as Carol Gilligan explored 35 years ago) mainly another manifestation of gender bias, or can anyone enhance their credibility and acceptance by working at keeping their voice in a lower register? [Gilligan’s book includes considerations of how women’s gender-informed voices (i.e., perspective, values, life experiences, insights) are crucial for a balanced understanding of life.] The study does raise questions about how to interpret the results, but certainly offers worthwhile considerations for witness presentation.

You want your witnesses voice pitch and tone to be the same whether a dominant attorney or a seemingly kind attorney is questioning them. Don’t let them hear you sweat.

Videotaped practice can be useful in helping witnesses see and hear how their voice pitch changes depending on their emotional reactions to the questioner’s tone or visual appearance.

Experience tells us clearly that a more credible witness is going to have similar tone and pitch during direct and cross-examination. I wonder what the future research will tell us?

Leongómez JD, Mileva VR, Little AC, Roberts SC (2017) Perceived differences in social status between speaker and listener affect the speaker’s vocal characteristics. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0179407.


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