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overconfidence-man-3Many have written about men being over-confident in comparison to women–although all of us may be more confident in our abilities than we generally should be. Prior research has shown us that men are more confident than women, and that happy people tend to view themselves more positively and happy people actually often perform better on quizzes and other tasks. So today’s researchers asked 107 undergraduates recruited from introductory courses required of all students (57 male and 50 female) to participate in their study.

First, the participants completed a half-hour quiz containing 20 trivia questions (samples of which can be found here) and 10 arithmetic problems. Then half of them watched nature scenes from Alaska’s Denali National Park while half listened to Robin Williams Live on Broadway comedy sketch. (This experiment was conducted several years prior to Robin Williams’ death.) After watching these video stimuli, the participants were asked to estimate how well they had done on the quiz and given financial incentive to guess correctly. Participants were offered $5 for guessing precisely correctly, $3 for guessing within three points, and just $1 for guessing within six points of their actual score.

And here is some of what the researchers found:

Men were more confident than women (overestimating their scores by about four points to women’s overestimation of two points on average).

Men who watched Robin Williams’ stand-up comedy performance overestimated their scores by 2 points more than those men who watched the nature scenes.

Women who watched the comedy performance were in no way different in terms of estimation of their test scores than were women who watched peaceful nature scenes.

The researchers think men and women regulate their emotions differently (although both genders found the Robin Williams video funny) and that men may be more grandiose after watching a master of comedy, thus inflating their score estimates even more. The researchers suggest we can all benefit from an awareness of how our mood affects our behavior. They suggest employees may wish to (prior to important decisions or meetings) “proactively put him- or her-self into a good mood”, but evidently there are limits to how far that should be taken. And they do not suggest concrete strategies to achieve this goal.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this research offers a caution to male litigators. It is important to maintain your confidence, but don’t get carried away. The end result could be, although one study of 100 undergraduates is hardly conclusive, that jurors may see you as cocky and arrogant (i.e., over-confident) rather than a sincere advocate for your client. At the very least, know that in order to connect with your jury you need to be able to relate to where they are (emotionally and cognitively), and the jurors haven’t likely be watching comedies on the internet while they wait for the trial to get underway. Robin Williams is likely to put you over the top.

Ifcher, J., & Zarghamee, H. (2014). Affect and overconfidence: A laboratory investigation. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics, 7 (3), 125-150 DOI: 10.1037/npe0000022

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online pornWe can hear the snickers and gasps now–and likely the immediate objection from (probably) the opposing counsel or (unquestionably) the judge. But not always. So why might this be something you want to know? According to new research in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, a distinguishing characteristic of narcissists is that they watch more porn online. That actually makes intuitive sense since narcissists would want to avoid rejection and objectify others as sexual objects. We are not sure how you would get this sort of question in though–unless the case actually involved online pornography.

More interesting to us (by far) was the information on the frequency of porn viewing online. For the study, researchers asked 257 participants (aged 18-61 years with an average age of 29 years, 63% female, 89.1% heterosexual, 70% White, 12.1% Hispanic, 7.4% Black, and 10.5% Other) to complete measures of narcissism (using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, the Pathological Narcissism Inventory, and the Index of Sexual Narcissism) and report on the specifics of their internet pornography viewing (they were asked if they had ever viewed, and if they currently viewed internet porn as well as how many minutes per week they viewed internet pornography).

79% reported they had viewed internet porn.

44% reported currently (recently) viewing internet porn.

Current viewers, on average, viewed internet porn 85 minutes per week (or about an hour and a half).

Men spend more time on internet porn (an average of 3 hours per week) than do women (an average of about 1/2 an hour per week).

There was a significant difference in level of narcissism between those (79%) who had ever viewed internet porn and the 21% who had never viewed internet porn.

The researchers comment the sample of those who had viewed porn (the 79%) was skewed by gender since 96% of men reported they had viewed internet porn. Nonetheless, the 4% of men who had not viewed internet porn was lower in narcissism than the 96% who had. As for women, 68% of women had seen internet porn and again, those who had not scored lower in narcissism than women who had seen porn on the internet.

There was also a difference in level of narcissism between those who currently use internet porn for all measures of narcissism. Current users of internet porn (67% of men and 30% of women) were higher in narcissism than were non-current users.

Finally, as the frequency of internet porn use increased, so did the levels of measured narcissism.

What the researchers say is that there is a relationship between “internet pornography use, narcissistic behavior and psychological harm” to the viewer. They believe that using internet porn “inflates an individual’s narcissism (i.e., selfishness, isolation, and entitlement)”. For the researchers, this work focused on narcissism and how it harms relationships.

While we don’t recommend using this as a method for spotting narcissists (the study falls far short of suggesting that), there are clearly cases (copyright cases, sexual violence cases, premises liability cases, and various wrinkles in family law, to name a few) where attorneys and jurors need to be comfortable talking about salacious topics such as this. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this research validates being able to ask about sex and pornography in court* with a reduced fear of offending jurors.

The asterisk is that you need to tell them that virtually all men and over ⅔ of women have watched pornography on the internet. Otherwise, many will feel embarrassment and anxiety. You can normalize by pointing out the truth. When more than 3/4 of a group of 250+ have viewed internet porn, it takes much of the fear of stepping on juror sensibilities away. In fact, you could even say you’ve seen studies saying almost 80% of adults have viewed internet porn at some point in their lives.

There are many times we think the themes in our case are sure to alienate the triers of facts. What we’ve learned in our pretrial research is that when you matter of factly explain the issues, without giggling, blushing, or perspiring, jurors are willing to join you in an adult discussion of case facts.

We’ve also seen glib puns, one-liners, and shared glances with disbelieving grins shared among our mock jurors but they have always been able to quickly redirect their attention when their humor was acknowledged and a focus drawn back to the issues at hand.

Kasper TE, Short MB, & Milam AC (2014). Narcissism and Internet Pornography Use. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 1-6 PMID: 24918657

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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

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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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