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Archive for the ‘Self Presentation’ Category

The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

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This is an odd study from which researchers draw conclusions about sexual aggression that seem unwarranted. The research involved causing men to feel their identity as men was being insulted by women, and gauging the hostility of the reaction. The methods they used to elicit aggression from their male research participants are unusual, and the angered men were certainly more aggressive when allowed to believe they were aggressing against a woman who had insulted their manhood/sense of identity.

Essentially, the researchers believed that past research findings (e.g., men “giving” more painful electric shocks to a woman who criticized them, or men whose masculine identity was threatened agreeing to harass a feminist woman by sending her pornographic photos) would be stronger among those men who are ashamed of their bodies.

“Such men may be under chronic masculinity threat, making them more sensitive to acute instances.”

So, naturally, the two researchers thought of ways to threaten their research participant’s masculinity through shaming them (because that is what researchers do). First, they recruited 127 male undergraduate students (50% White, 35% Asian, 6% Latino, 4% Black and 5% Other) to participate in a study of “effective remote teamwork”. The men completed a measure of personality and submitted a photo (ostensibly to be seen by the attractive female they had been assigned to work with in a remote location).

Half the men were told there was a computer crash and they would be unable to do the teamwork task. This group served as the control group. The other half of the men were told the woman had said she didn’t want to work with them and that she had been told this was really a dating study. The woman (who really did not exist) sent a note the researchers shared with the male participants:

“I heard about this study from my roommate. She said it was actually about dating, after the test she had to hang out with the guy and answer a bunch of questions about attraction. Looking at this photo, I’m really not attracted to this guy. He’s not my type at all and I don’t want to have to go out with him. I’d rather do the other study for the points.”

Then all the men (the control group and those who had been rejected) completed additional questionnaires asking if they felt angry, insulted or sad; measuring their level of body shame; their general proneness to shame, and their “rape proclivity”. Yes. You read that right. The rape proclivity measure asked the men to say how likely it was they would be aroused by, attracted to, or likely to commit rape or other forms of sexual aggression if they knew they would never be caught.

Men who scored high on body shame and who felt bad after the rejection, were the most likely to show higher levels of “rape proclivity”.

So the researchers went back to their offices to consider how to shame men in a different way. They then recruited 214 heterosexual male participants, and caused them to feel rejected by their fictional research partner. Again, half served as a control group and were told their had been a computer malfunction. The other half were again rejected and shamed.

“I don’t think we have anything in common and won’t be a good team. It would be a waste of time to work on an experiment together if we can’t win the money. I’d rather work with someone else, or complete a different study than work with this guy on teamwork tasks. Looking at his profile, I get the impression he is gay. We won’t work well together if he likes men.”

This time, however, the alleged and rejecting partner was either male or female and no photo was shown to the research participants who had just been told they “looked gay”.

Men who felt bad after this rejection (by either the male or female alleged partner) also showed evidence of heightened sexual aggression (as measured by their selection of photos to be shown to future female research participants). However, the heightened sexual aggression was only present if they scored high on body shame and if they were rejected by the (unseen) female team-mate. (There was no heightened sexual aggression when rejected by the unseen male team-mate.)

The researchers say the work shows that attention should be paid to men high in body shame when it comes to the study of sexual aggression. They also admit their study was not particularly realistic even though “young men are especially likely to sexually aggress against women” based on past research. They want to see more work done on the body image of men and how it interacts with sexual aggression toward women.

We would comment that the concept of “rape proclivity” is a strange one and while there is obviously work to be done on the concept of male body image/shame and aggression–the leap to rape proclivity and sexual aggression against women is a big one.

Mescher K, & Rudman LA (2014). Men in the Mirror: The Role of Men’s Body Shame in Sexual Aggression. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (8), 1063-1075 PMID: 24839983

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The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and Rita

communicateWe are used to the idea that when speaking, some of us focus more on details and others focus more on the big picture. That preference may communicate more about us to the listener than we are aware. Newly published research says powerful people focus on the big picture rather than on the details. The authors give this example:

“A speaker discussing a massive earthquake might either state that 120 people died and 400 were injured (a concrete statement conveying specific details), or that the earthquake is a national tragedy (an abstract statement conveying higher-level meaning.”

The researchers conducted 6 separate studies with online participants and each study found the same results. It did not matter if the speaker was discussing “a person, a societal issue, or a product; describing something negative or positive; or saying a few words or several sentences”. Those that focus on the “big picture” were simply more powerful in the eyes of the listener/receiver.

The findings are mainly discussed in terms of political leadership where there is danger of being labeled a “policy wonk” (and thus written off as an egghead who does not understand the people) if you speak concretely to show off your knowledge about an area.

On the other hand, politicians who focus on the big picture will communicate more abstractly and often with appeal to the emotion–and will be seen as smarter, more “in touch” and competent.

The researchers offer the example of the 2004 election characterization of John Kerry as a flip-flopper in an ad for the George W. Bush campaign. The ad intimated that a lack of consistency (as seen in John Kerry’s flip-flopping on specific issues) was a negative trait for a leader. The researchers say the power of the flip-flopper label could also be seen as indicative of concrete communication sending a “low-power signal”.

On the other hand, say the researchers, if you only communicate abstractly, you could be seen as having insufficient knowledge about an issue. It’s a tricky balance. The researchers also question the idea of order effects–should you start with concrete communication or with abstract communication? Do you talk about the individual trees (demonstrating concrete knowledge), about the forest (demonstrating a grasp of the big picture), or both?

Effective litigation advocacy requires both approaches to communication. At the start of your interactions with the jurors, you have little standing and no credibility. Your task is to both advocate for your client and to build and maintain rapport with them, for which initially relying on abstract or high-level characterizations may be more effective. It communicates best the answer to “why should I care about this dispute?” To be seen as credible and substantive requires facts, knowledge, and support for the high-level statements, which addresses “Is this a person I can rely on for accurate information?”. While some people tend to think in details while others are more comfortable with the big picture, ultimately both are required, in just the right balance.

Wakslak CJ, Smith PK, & Han A (2014). Using abstract language signals power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107 (1), 41-55 PMID: 24956313

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how women leadWe’ve written about women and leadership before. While some new research shows female leaders handle stress more effectively than male leaders, we’re not going to write about that one today. Instead, here is a report on a study showing some other good news: women are no longer punished for behaving assertively in a leadership role!

It’s a positive change. The past research showed us that women who were assertive were seen negatively due to perceived violations of their gender role expectations. That is, men are assertive and women are sweet. And when women are not sweet, we call them witches (or something like that). So. The news that what these researchers call “agentic behavior” (i.e., acting like a leader) is now acceptable for women (as long as they are not aggressive and ruthless as they exhibit leadership behavior) is good news indeed.

Alas, though. Every silver lining seems to have a cloud and the battle is not yet won. As it happens, while women are now evaluated just as positively as men leaders for behaving assertively in their leadership role–women leaders who are tentative or submissive are rated much more negatively than are tentative or submissive men who lead. Leaders frequently fake their confidence and strength, but if a woman is seen as doing that, reactions they get are worse than those accorded to men.

The researchers used 185 participants (47% female, average age 28.3 years, either undergraduate students or graduates from an Australian university) who were told they were participating in a study on effective communication. The participants read a transcript of a speech (on climate change) which was identified as being given by an Independent (non-party-affiliated) candidate for national office. They were told the speech was given by a female (Annette Hayes or Susan Hayes) or a male (David Hayes or Andrew Hayes).

The speech itself was written in either an assertive voice (indicating dominance, confidence and strength) or a tentative voice (indicating deference, hesitancy, and a lack of confidence). After reading the transcripts, the participants rated the candidate’s likability and influence (i.e., how persuasive they were and therefore how likely to convince others of their position). They also rated the leaders on agency (i.e., how dominant, forceful and confident they were) and communality (i.e., how friendly, sensitive and warm they were).

Assertive female leaders were rated more likable than tentative female leaders but there was no difference in likability between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while there was no difference in likability between assertive male and assertive female leaders, tentative males were more likable than tentative females.

Assertive female leaders were significantly more influential with participants than were the tentative female leaders. There was no difference in influence exerted on participants between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while participants saw no difference in influence by the assertive women and assertive men leaders, they saw the tentative man as more influential than the tentative woman.

In other words, say the authors, women in political leadership will only be as effective as men if they are always confident, strong and decisive. When their behavior deviates from these male-stereotypic leadership ideals, they will be punished far more than their male counterparts. A follow-up study found the same pattern. The authors summarize their findings as follows:

“Based on men’s continued dominance in positions of power, expectations of women to show unwavering signs of confidence and strength will provide a considerable challenge. While a few women will be able to meet this expectation, the majority who cannot remain disadvantaged, with men avoiding similar penalties for equivalent non-agentic behaviors. Therefore, this subtle form of prejudice towards women demands our attention and effort if gender equality is to be achieved.”

It’s a societal double standard recently highlighted by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. When male leaders display emotion– even inappropriate emotion– it is often celebrated. When women display even a little emotion, it is interpreted very negatively. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as you consider the behavior and leadership potential of male and female attorneys. We are all subject to bias– until we pay attention to it. Merely by being conscious of its potential, it can become a much smaller problem.

Bongiorno, R., Bain, P., & David, B. (2013). If you’re going to be a leader, at least act like it! Prejudice towards women who are tentative in leader roles. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12032

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some of my best friends areIt’s a common line, typically heard right before some sort of slur. It reminds me of the ‘friends’ who make some ruthless joke at the expense of someone, then say “Hey, I was only kidding! Some of my best friends are Black/Gay/Women/Disabled/Old.”

New work from the researcher who wrote Racist Roads Not Taken, says what we probably knew all along: it’s a self-protective move, masking the underlying bias the speaker is trying to avoid disclosing. We don’t want others to think we are racist/homophobic/sexist/ or biased against the disabled or old(er) folks. So we protest, like Lady MacBeth, just a bit too much.

Daniel Effron is following up on his earlier work to explain why, based on more than mere intuition and anecdote, we tend to defend decisions that might make us seem biased to others, by invoking the presence of our “friends”. Essentially, Effron calls this tendency a defensive reaction in response to a sense our “moral identity” is being threatened/questioned. In other words, the belief that we might be seen as racist (or homophobic, sexist, ageist or biased against the disabled) results in us overestimating how past “non-discriminatory” actions or choices are indicative of our actual lack of bias against the current target group.

One question raised by Effron is “does over-estimating the value of your ‘non-racist credentials’ work?” That is, do observers see your reported history of having a Black friend or of standing up for a gay colleague at work as indicative of a lack of prejudice? It must work, right? Otherwise why would it be such a common strategy? Turns out it doesn’t really work at all. Others see right through us:

Overestimating your non-racist credentials (e.g., saying you are not racist because you have a Black friend) is more likely to be seen as prejudiced than underestimating your non-racist credentials (e.g., not justifying your decision).

It’s probably more common than we think and Effron’s seven studies show our tendency is to “protest too much” in our own defense, over and over again. We want others to see us positively. Unfortunately, those self-protective (“I really am a good person”) protests have the opposite effect from what we intend since others see the excuse/explanation itself as a sign of prejudice.

Effron does identify multiple strategies we can use when our moral identity is questioned. We can act virtuously, distort our memory of our [past] moral track record, or lower our standards for what we believe will count as moral credentials [this is what happened in the current research findings]. Regardless of how we make efforts to magnify or overestimate our moral credentials, observers will likely find us wanting. In short, it’s probably better to just keep your mouth shut rather than put your foot in it.

An unrelated observation that we reflect on from time to time in our work on cases with issues or themes that touch on social evolution is that of the tipping point. At what point does society start looking at an issue or an action as being socially unacceptable? It varies depending on various factors including the societal subset one moves in, region of the country, and economic security. For example, gay rights was not a widely embraced value a decade ago, and now it is a foregone fact of life. Legalization of marijuana was controversial less than a decade ago, and now a majority of the country favors it. There is always a mountain to climb in terms of cultural bias, though, and the challenge will remain to be aware of who the social out-groups are, and how to neutralize bias against our clients and key witnesses. It always boils down to who is “not like me”, or “not like people I love”.

Effron DA (2014). Making Mountains of Morality From Molehills of Virtue: Threat Causes People to Overestimate Their Moral Credentials. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin PMID: 24793359

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spite voodoo dollWe’ve been down this road before and brought you the Depravity Scale, the Comprehensive Assessment of Sadistic Tendencies Scale, the Guilt and Shame Proneness Scale and the Islamophobia Scale. Now however, it’s time for a check on how spiteful you are. We all know spite when we see it. Dawdling in their parking space because someone is hovering, waiting to get in. Deliberately slowing down on the highway to irritate a tailgater. Spreading gossip that is perhaps less than wholly true because a co-worker angered you. My mother described it as “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. The list is endless. There is even an old Eastern European folk tale where a genie offers a man anything he wishes–providing his hated neighbor gets double the prize. And the spiteful man says, “Genie, put out one of my eyes.” Spite has been with us a long, long time. But now, it is possible to measure one’s spitefulness. Scientifically. In case we want to. Researchers have recently published a 17-item measure of spitefulness. As they developed the scale, they learned some interesting things.

Men are more spiteful than women.

Young adults are more spiteful than older adults.

Ethnic minority members were more spiteful than members of ethnic majorities.

And spitefulness is often accompanied by aggression, psychopathy, narcissism, callousness [low empathy and low kindness], Machiavellianism, guilt-free shame and poor self-esteem. (This one did not come as a surprise.)

However, spitefulness does not tend to co-exist with agreeableness, conscientiousness, self-esteem, or a tendency to feel guilt.

When we are upset, like about partisan politics (when our candidate is losing) or going through a bitter divorce–even agreeable people may have spikes of spitefulness. The authors describe spiteful suicides (intended to traumatize the person who finds them) and spiteful suicides meant to look like homicides framing someone toward whom they (obviously) felt anger and spite. They describe suicide bombers as motivated to get revenge on a hated enemy. Spiteful people are angry. Even if the anger becomes self-destructive. The researchers think the scale is useful in predicting behavior in laboratory settings but also in everyday life (where they see it as contributing to diagnoses of personality disorders and oppositional defiant disorder). They also casually mention applicability to the legal domain where spite has been defined as “the willingness of a litigant to reduce his payoff in order to reduce his opponent’s payoff”. These people would be difficult to mediate with, since they define their self-interest largely in terms of how much distress they can cause the opponent, rather than how much benefit they can achieve for themselves. You can look at the article itself for information on scale development (we will tell you it was scientifically sound) but here, we are skipping right to some sample items because we know you are curious. The scale is only 17 items long and here are a few of the questions used to measure spite.

If a neighbor complained that I was playing my music too loud then I might turn up the music even louder just to irritate him or her, even if it meant I could get fined.

There have been times when I was willing to suffer some small harm so that I could punish someone who deserved it.

I would be willing to take a punch if it meant that someone I didn’t like would receive two punches.

I would consider tapping on my brakes to scare a driver who was tailgating me.

And so on. The idea is that the more items endorsed in a spiteful direction, the more spiteful the person. That makes sense. It is probably true that most of us can be spiteful from time to time, but we know we are being naughty or dumb even while we do it. We don’t embrace it as a life strategy. The question is how often and whether it is a staple of our character. It’s an interesting idea and an intriguing scale to consider. Whether people high in spitefulness are more litigious is a question for future research but it’s an interesting concept to consider as you listen to that new client or applicants for an opening at your firm. Marcus DK, Zeigler-Hill V, Mercer SH, & Norris AL (2014). The Psychology of Spite and the Measurement of Spitefulness. Psychological Assessment PMID: 24548150 Image

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