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smartphone distractionsWe know smartphones can be really annoying when they distract our lunch or meeting companions from our scintillating repartee. There is even recent (2013) research showing women are twice as likely to be annoyed by smart phone interruptions as are men.

But that research is already a year old and perhaps we’ve gotten used to being ignored in favor of some unknown other. So here’s some very new (July, 2014) research showing that no, we have not gotten used to being disrespected as our companions choose their smartphones over us.

These researchers say that smartphones create a state of “polyconsciousness” wherein our attention is divided between the people we are with in person and those to whom we are connected by our mobile device. They examined the effect by going to “selected coffee shops” (surely it had to be Starbucks…) in the Washington, DC area and asking 100 random pairs of people (109 women and 91 men; average age 33; 72% Caucasian) to chat for 10 minutes discussing their “thoughts and feelings about plastic holiday trees” (a trivial topic) or discussing the “most meaningful events of the past year”.

Researchers observed “from a discreet distance” and documented if one of the people either put a mobile device on the table or held one in their hand. After the 10 minutes had elapsed, the two people filled out questionnaires about the conversation and about their conversational partner. The participants were asked to rate the closeness of their relationship on a Likert Scale (from “not at all close” to “extremely close”), asked how “connected” they felt to their companion during the conversation (via the connectedness subscale of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory), how “empathic” they saw their companion as being (via the Empathic Concern Scale), and their age, gender, ethnicity, and positive or negative mood (as measured by the Emmons Mood Indicator) so the self-report of mood could also be factored in to the results.

And here is what they found:

Of the 100 dyads, 29 dyads had mobile devices present and the remaining 71 dyads did not. (This is not to say that they didn’t have smartphones in a purse or pocket, but they weren’t ‘present’ during the conversation.)

If either member of the dyad placed a cell phone on the table or just held it in their hand, the “quality of the conversation was rated to be less fulfilling compared with conversations that took place in the absence of mobile devices”.

When mobile devices were present (on the table or in the hand), participants in the conversation also reported they felt their companion was less empathically concerned about them (and the closer they had rated their relationship, the more they felt the lack of empathy).

And get this: It didn’t matter if the dyad was discussing “festive holiday trees” or “important events”. The mere presence– not necessarily the use of– the cell phone was enough to cast a chill over the conversation, especially when the conversation is between close friends/confidants.

The researchers say that smartphones are just way too distracting since “in their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and other worlds”.

It’s a fascinating series of results (and not just for the idea of how hard jurors would find it to not just “check something” or communicate with friends about what they are doing). It’s another reason to consider the ubiquitous presence of the phone and how it may affect the person with whom we are conversing. Whether it is a new client, a long-standing client, a co-worker, a significant other, or merely an acquaintance–everyone is effected by the mere presence of that smart phone. And if you should by chance stroke it, look at a message, respond to a message, or pick up a call….who knows what could happen?

Those of us who live (and in many cases sleep with) our phones tend to take them for granted and often use them to gather information without consideration of the impact on others. This research should give us all pause (as we say here in the heart of Texas).

Misra, S., Cheng, L., Genevie, J., & Yuan, M. (2014). The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices. Environment and Behavior DOI: 10.1177/0013916514539755

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why-we-lieI listen to a lot of audiobooks while traveling. But sometimes I want something less lengthy than a full book and so I turn to podcasts. Recently, I was on a plane and turned on an episode of the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast on Why We Lie. It’s an interesting and wide-ranging look at all the reasons we lie and the research that’s been done on identifying liars. Some of it we have covered on the blog and some of it was new to me. But it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour in the middle seat of a sold-out plane.

So when I saw the research report that inspired this blog post, I wondered just how differently these researchers would perceive deception from the more entertaining TED speakers (who, in some cases, were also researchers). Today’s researchers say having a face-to-face interaction promotes honesty. And they didn’t look at face-to-face interactions where there was back and forth conversation. Instead, they did a simple hallway face-to-face where two research participants exchanged a paper form indicating their gender and age (and were then more honest with each other during the experiment than the participants who did not have that face-to-face experience).

Researchers recruited 297 participants (148 were male) to participate in a task with another research participant. In the task, participants were informed that they would “engage in a one-shot strategic game with another research participant and that their payment would depend on the choices made by both players”. Participants then circled their gender and age on a written introduction form and either saw the other participant in the hallway as they exchanged introduction forms or were informed the experimenter would deliver the introduction form to their research partner. Then the individual participants chose whether they would send a truthful or deceptive message to their partner. (The message was telling the partner to choose one of two options because it would result in their being paid more money for participation in the experiment. The participant could either tell the truth or instead, send a message that was false to their partner.)

The research found that those participants who looked at another research participant (even without speaking) were more honest than those who did not see the other participant (since the form was ostensibly delivered by the experimenter).

While this research offers a feel-good answer that we want to believe (when people look at you, it’s harder for them to lie), not all researchers agree with it. It’s an interesting example of how research can find many different things even when researching the same topic. The TED Radio Hour podcast offers a variety of findings, some of which will surprise you (like, we are more honest in email with people we know than we are when on the phone).

When you listen to the podcast, you’ll hear Dan Ariely talk about how introducing some (even small) amounts of moral accountability can increase honesty but there is a slippery slope to which all of us are susceptible. In another segment, Pamela Meyer talks about how to spot a liar and how we practice various lying strategies throughout our lives. Jeff Hancock talks about whether technology makes us more honest or not, while Michael Shermer tells us why we believe in unbelievable things. Finally, Eric Mead talks about how magicians help us see reality in a very different way. Overall, it’s a quick and easy way to get a diverse understanding of what we now know about deception. The information is not all consistent, but it is consistently interesting.

Van Zant, A., & Kray, L. (2014). “I can’t lie to your face”: Minimal face-to-face interaction promotes honesty Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 55, 234-238 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2014.07.014

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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

Eating-Disorder_Body-Dysmorphia-994x350

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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