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So maybe it doesn’t pay to be beautiful  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017
posted by Douglas Keene

Or at least, maybe there is no “ugliness penalty” if you are not beautiful. We’ve written a number of times here about the many benefits given to those who are seen as beautiful or attractive. This paper debunks the stereotype and says that salary goes beyond appearance and individual differences matter too.

The researchers used a nationally representative US data set (from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health aka “Add Health”) with “precise and repeated measures of physical attractiveness”. In this data set, are researcher-ratings of physical attractiveness of all participants (on a five-point scale) at four different points over a 13 year period. And what did they find? Overall, say the authors, the “beauty premium” completely disappeared when other factors (e.g., health, intelligence, better personality traits) were controlled for statistically.

“Physically more attractive workers may earn more, not necessarily because they are more beautiful, but because they are healthier, more intelligent, and have better personality traits conducive to higher earnings, such as being more Conscientious, more Extraverted, and less Neurotic,” explains Kanazawa.

Other research would say that beauty or attractiveness could account for some of these other personality characteristics as they can be shaped by how others respond to us. As the authors discuss their findings, they mention this reality and comment that (because the dataset ended at age 29) they are unable to account for the impact of life experience on Neuroticism (for example).

“To the extent that physically less attractive individuals are more likely to have negative life experiences, physical attractiveness may still be an ultimate cause of earnings via Neuroticism.”

However, there was also evidence for an “ugliness premium” (which is the opposite of an ugliness penalty)—in which the less attractive you were, the more you were paid. In this dataset, these were the people rated as “very unattractive” and, oddly, they always earned more than those rated as “unattractive”. And, even more surprising, sometimes the “very unattractive” earned more than those described as “average-looking” or even “attractive”.

The authors tell us the reason this sort of finding was not reported in earlier research was that the “very unattractive” and “unattractive” groups were often lumped together in a “below average” category that prevented researchers from seeing the benefits of being “very unattractive”.

Overall, say the authors, there is some evidence for the beauty premium but no evidence for the ugliness penalty. Further, there is strong evidence for the (very) ugliness premium. They point out that this survey did not continue after age 29 and thus cannot answer the question of whether the beauty premium or the ugliness penalty are cumulative throughout working careers. On the other hand, the inclusion of attractiveness ratings in a dataset is highly unusual and the authors hope more researchers will include these ratings in the future datasets.

“Physical attractiveness is a very neglected variable in social science data, and no other longitudinal data sets on a representative sample measures it as precisely as Add Health does.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think beauty goes a long way in a party, a witness, and even an attorney. On the other hand, there can be a beauty backlash, so you need to watch for that in pretrial research as well. The likability factor is also very important and even an unattractive witness can seem more appealing when likable. (You can see our more than 200 posts on witness preparation here.)

From a law office management perspective, this is also an area to which you need to pay special attention. You will want to modify procedures so that promotions and salary increases are based on objective performance data and not on gender, beauty, age, ethnicity, disability status and so on. (You can see 60+ posts on law office management here.)

[We want to give you full disclosure regarding the research report cited in this post. The senior author is a very controversial figure whom colleagues have criticized as unreliable and/or as a researcher who personifies “bad science”. He has been criticized for many things and fired from several writing positions due to the negative and public reactions to his work. You can make your own judgments as to the merit of this research but we wanted you to have the full picture.]

Kanazawa, S., & Still, MC (2017). Is there really a beauty premium or an ugliness penalty on earnings? Journal of Business and Psychology.

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The Gallup folks just published an update on LGBT adults in the US and we want to bring it to your attention to illustrate how societal change is happening and we need to keep up. We are going to highlight a few facts from the Gallup report but encourage you to read the story in its entirety.

For those interested in these things, this giant survey was conducted by telephone [60% cell phone and 40% land lines] with a random sample of 1,626,773 adults living in the US. They were all 18 or older, lived in all 50 states and in DC, and their responses were collected between June 2012 and December 2016. Of the 1.6M+ participants, 49,311 participants said “yes” to a question of whether they personally identified at LGBT.

Here are the highlights of what Gallup’s survey respondents told them:

10M US adults identify as LGBT (this is 4.1% of the population).

Millennials identifying as LGBT are up from 5.8% in 2012 to 7.3% in 2016 and are more than twice as likely as any other generation to identify as LGBT. In the same time period (2012-2016), the proportion of GenXers identifying as LGBTers remained fairly stable and Boomers identifying as LGBT decreased slightly.

More women identify as LGBT than do men.

Among ethnic minorities, the largest increase since 2012 in LGBT identification occurred among Asians and Hispanics. Gallup thinks this is likely affected by the differences in age compositions of these groups (with Asian adults being the youngest among race and ethnicity groupings and Hispanics coming in second).

Increases in LGBT identification were stable across all income and education groups (by 2016, there was “virtually no variation by education”).

Increases in LGBT identification were largely among those identifying as “not religious” (and this group is 3x more likely to identify as LGBT than those who say they are “highly religious”).

Gallup opines that Millennials are less concerned than other generations with sharing “private information” on surveys. They also think the social/cultural climate has changed since survey participants were teens and young adults and it is now more acceptable to identify as LGBT. Gallup cites the legalization of same-sex marriage to support this assertion.

Gallup also thinks it is important to note that all these changes have occurred in a span of only five years (2012-2016). They call this a “marked change” and comment that the US LGBT population has become “larger, younger, more female, and less religious”.

From a litigation advocacy standpoint, this is essential information. We are seeing more and more high-profile LGBT disclosures in the news. Gossip columns routinely report on celebrity statements on sexuality (no link to this one, you can find them on your own!). Most of us are aware of the relatively recent transgender transition of Caitlyn Jenner. Perhaps the most recent is the announcement from model Hanne Gaby Odiele that she was born intersex and had surgery she believes was unnecessary. The fact that LGBT’s are increasingly visible, their issues are discussed more openly, and (especially for younger people) LGBT folks are close friends, family, and—sometimes—themselves. And increasingly, that’s okay.

But not everywhere, or for everyone. As cases are planned and narratives developed, an awareness needs to be maintained of who your jurors might be, and what their experiences, values and beliefs may be. And that includes sexual identification as well as race, ethnicity, gender and age. It is one more variable to make sure you maintain awareness of, as it is clearly changing faster than ever before.

Gallup (January 11, 2017). In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT.

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In 2015, we wrote a one of our combination (“tidbit”) posts that included a bit of information on how extended eye contact can cause hallucinations. As it turns out, it also makes it hard to think (which seems reasonable if you are having hallucinations). The researchers we are covering today say that maintaining eye contact can (essentially) deplete your mental bandwidth since it uses the same mental resources we call upon to perform complex tasks. Not to mention it can be awkward and uncomfortable to have unbroken eye contact—even with someone we know well.

Apparently, we only maintain eye contact (in Western countries) between 30% and 70% of a conversation (with highly invested people maintaining more eye contact). And, in other cultures, the researchers say, there are very different norms for eye contact during conversations that can vary quite dramatically depending upon who is talking to whom. For this experiment, the researchers asked participants to make “eye contact” with a person’s face on a computer screen. And even with such a “false” representation of eye contact, they found differences.

Specifically, they found that when given a cognitively demanding task, the participants were prone to break their eye contact with the face on the computer screen in order to consider their answer to the task.

The researchers think eye contact somehow takes up our mental energy and so (in order to think) we break eye contact to free up extra brain-power to focus on our answer to a thought-provoking question.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it’s an interesting study. Witnesses often ask how long they should steadily gaze at jurors during their testimony and we’ve blogged about that before too (based on another research study). Here’s what we found from that 2016 study:

On average, the close to 500 participants were most comfortable with eye contact that lasted slightly over three seconds. The majority preferred a duration of eye contact between two and five seconds and no one liked eye contact of less than a second or longer than nine seconds. We conclude that less than a second is too furtive, and longer than 9 seconds is intolerably intrusive. One problem with the study was that it used filmed clips rather than actual, live interactions but it is an approximate guide to “normal” eye contact versus “creepy” eye contact.

While you may want to take in the recommendations above for comfortable eye contact, this study also seems to give permission to break eye contact when thinking about your response to a question and maintaining your credibility. It’s a good strategy to teach in witness preparation for cross-examination. Just remember to re-initiate eye contact once you have retrieved or formulated your response!

Kajimura, S., & Nomura, M. (2016). When we cannot speak: Eye contact disrupts resources available to cognitive control processes during verb generation Cognition, 157, 352-357 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2016.10.002

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As Editor of The Jury Expert since 2008, I’m happy to share the table of contents of our new Winter 2016 issue! As always, The Jury Expert is brought to you free of charge by the excellent trial consultants who write for us and by the academic researchers who take their time to summarize their research and share it so we can use it in our day-to-day work for litigation advocacy.

Trial Consultants, TV Law, and a Load of Bull

Richard Gabriel takes a close look at the new television show ‘Bull’ and muses about how the show does and does not represent reality as well as how it may affect perceptions of the justice system by potential jurors (who do watch TV).

What Television Can Teach Us about Trial Narrative

Stepping back, Richard Gabriel teaches us how television shows (like ‘Bull’ but certainly not limited to ‘Bull’) can help us craft more effective courtroom narratives.

Juries, Witnesses, and Persuasion: A Brief Overview of the Science of Persuasion and Its Applications for Expert Witness Testimony

Rebecca Valez, Tess M.S. Neal, and Margaret Bull Kovera team up to offer a primer on persuasion. What modes of persuasion will work best in the testimony of your expert witness? Then we have trial consultant responses from Jennifer Cox and Stan Brodsky, John Gilleland, and Elaine Lewis and a final reply from the authors.

Graphics Double Comprehension

Jason Barnes succinctly tells us how graphics can result in your words telling a much more effective story–even doubling comprehension of the listener.

Making It Moral: How Morality Can Harden Attitudes and Make Them More Influential

Andrew Luttrell offers this intriguing strategy (based on his research) to make attitudes stronger and more influential. Trial consultants Sonia Chopra and Charli Morris react to his work with commentary on how they would use this research in day-to-day litigation advocacy.

The Hidden Lives of Court Reporters

They are always present and always silent. But what is going on in the minds of those dutiful court reporters as they type everything said in cases ranging from the mundane to the traumatizing? Claire E. Moore, Stanley L. Brodsky, and David Sams talk to court reporters and share their perspectives and coping strategies.

More Techniques for Uncovering Juror Bias before It’s Too Late

Mykol Hamilton and Kate Zephyrhawke share how to uncover bias in change of venue surveys in criminal cases by using alternate wording for time-honored questions that result in very different answers (and higher bias).

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Last week the Shark Tank television show was apparently shown during a time my DVR was trying to record another show for me. As I watched it, I was amused to see a couple of entrepreneurs whispering to each other to do “power poses” before they pitched to the shark-investors.

I was amused, because I’d just read the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on new research that was unable to replicate the benefits of power posing in terms of performance. The idea (which we’ve blogged about here in the past) catapulted Amy Cuddy to the second most watched TED Talk of all time (almost 38M views at this writing) has become so mainstream her work is even cited in this webpage on doing the most perfect Shark Tank presentation!

The Chronicle article is hard on her ideas and refers to the power pose as imminently “clickable” and seems to deride Cuddy for being an “Ivy League professor” . They go on to say that while Cuddy personally became a celebrity (calling power posing a “free, low-tech, life hack”), the actual research article was crumbling with other teams failing to replicate the finding that power poses lead to hormonal changes. Even her co-author (Dana Carney) said (in a fairly unprecedented move) that she didn’t think the research effects were real—not just once, but at least twice—both on her personal website and in a story broadcast on NPR.

Bartlett, the Chronicle writer, says this story is a sign of how research used to be practiced (referencing the failures to replicate many of social psychology’s most popular findings) and perhaps a sign of how things are changing for the better (with Dana Carney’s disavowal of the results).

As you might expect, Amy Cuddy has responded to criticisms and expressed “concern about the tenor” of the discussion and that the criticisms could have a “chilling effect on science”. Some other well-known psychologists have agreed with her (questioning whether the criticism would be as vicious if Cuddy were a male researcher) and other well-known psychologists have stood with her detractors. Even officials at TED have added the following disclaimer (displayed in bold font) to the video description on their site:

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success. (Note: Some of the findings presented in this talk have been referenced in an ongoing debate among social scientists about robustness and reproducibility. Read Amy Cuddy’s response under “Learn more” below.)

It is a dilemma for blogs like this who follow emerging research in social psychology. But, know this: there was research, there was a peer-reviewed and approved paper published, and there is an ongoing controversy that has apparently gotten both personal and nasty.

Yet, as the Chronicle article points out, “power posing gains enthusiastic new adherents every day. [snip] Some people do find it inspiring. Besides, we are not talking about a cure for cancer here. Why does it matter if people stand like Wonder Woman in front of the mirror for two minutes every morning? Really, what is the harm?” [Here’s a video of surgeons using the pose prior to doing brain surgery on the Grey’s Anatomy television show.]

Bartlett, T. (2016). Power Poser: When big ideas go bad. Chronicle of Higher Education. (December 4)

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