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Archive for the ‘Simple Jury Persuasion’ Category

black baby white babyWho’s scarier? Connor or Jamal? Or consider these names and think of who’s scarier: Wyatt or DeShawn? Raven-Symone recently got into trouble on the television show The View for saying she would not hire someone with a “ghetto name” (“I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea”). We blogged about this issue back in 2013 and Raven-Symone is certainly not alone in her assessment (at least based on that research from 2008). Things have probably changed by now though.

Or not, according to today’s research. The researchers completed a series of studies (with participants totaling more than 1,500 people) to explore what’s in a name—or rather, what our assumptions are about others based solely on their first name. They add to the body of literature on “formidability representation hypothesis” (the idea that the relative threat someone poses is represented by a conceptual metaphor of physical size and strength). This is not an easy study to read. In fact, the lead author commented “I’d never been so disgusted by my own data”.

Science Daily has a very thorough write-up on the article and how the research was conducted. Go there to read it and then come back for our reactions. As a comment to clarify, there were several conditions—a control group read a neutral vignette, while others read a successful vignette of a college graduate who owned a business (with a character having either a black- or white-sounding name) and others read a threatening vignette (where the character with either a black- or white-sounding name had been convicted of aggravated assault). The researchers wanted to see if participants would imagine the black characters in the vignettes as looming larger and thus more dangerously than when the character had a white-sounding name. And they did. It’s also important to note that all the participants identified as politically “left of center”. Even liberally minded people have inaccurate and racist stereotypes—a point made by the senior author that he was sure would make his liberal participants feel badly about their reactions.

Here are just some of the various findings in the work:

Participants thought the characters with black-sounding names were larger in size (in their mind’s eye) than those characters with the white sounding names. But it went further than that.

If the character had a black-sounding name, the participants thought they were not only physically larger but also less financially successful, had less social influence and had less respect in their community.

If the character had a white-sounding name, the more status participants imbued them with—they were financially more successful, had more social influence and more respect from their community.

When the participants were asked to rate each character on muscularity, height and size and the researchers combined those ratings into a composite score—what they found was that the participants had imagined the black neutral character to be statistically similar to the white criminal character (e.g., the threatening scenario).

When the researchers varied the project using Asian and Hispanic names, men with the Hispanic names were seen as “physically more formidable and aggressive” than were the men with Asian names. (However, the association of Hispanic males names and aggression was below Black male name level of aggression.)

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this research is consistent with our long-standing recommendations to enlist universal values on behalf of helping jurors see your (very different) client as more like them. First names leave a first impression that can be laced with racist stereotypes even though most of us do not have the luxury of choosing our first names. In short, when your client has a black-sounding first name, it isn’t just Raven-Symone who is likely to have significant bias against them based on name alone. It’s probably most of the jury.

Make sure you help jurors to see that this particular DeShawn or Jamal shares their values and thus, becomes more real, and less of a large, looming, and dangerous stereotype.

Holbrook, C., Fessler, D., & Navarrete, C. (2015). Looming large in others’ eyes: Racial stereotypes illuminate dual adaptations for representing threat versus prestige as physical size. Evolution and Human Behavior DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.08.004


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: ‘Black’-sounding name makes  people think bigger and more dangerous

feelings as informationYou know this theory from painful and frustrating first-hand experiences. You present evidence and the jury ‘hears’ something else and bases their decisions on what they believe you said (or meant) rather than on the evidence as presented. While you (and we) know this happens over and over again, this week we finally ran across what it is actually called—the “feelings as information” theory.

Essentially, what this theory says is that feelings are often accepted as though they, in and of themselves, constituted information (aka facts).

While this theory describes what we see over and over again during mock juror deliberations, we are not going to focus on the theory itself as we are going to instead focus on how to disrupt the occurrence. That is, we are going to identify the ways feelings are not accepted as facts—so that you will have strategies to attempt to get jurors to decide based on the evidence.

In this chapter from a book of social psychology theories, the author says that when feelings are considered as a source of information—judgment ensues. However, there are times when feelings are not typically seen as a source of information:

When someone questions the informational value of the feeling/emotional reaction, you are less likely to use the feeling as information.

When you are making decisions for yourself rather than for others, you are more likely to allow feelings to serve as information.

When you have high expertise in the area, you are less likely to rely on your feelings as a source of information.

When you are exerting effort and have high motivation in a situation requiring decision-making, you are less likely to use feelings as information.

From a litigation advocacy perspective then, there are at least four ways to attempt to interrupt this cycle (or intentionally allow it to progress) so that your jurors make decisions on evidence—or on their feelings depending on what version reinforces your trial themes.

When someone questions the informational value of the feeling/emotional reaction, you are less likely to use the feeling as information. So if you want jurors to allow their feelings to cloud their decision-making, do not say a thing. Don’t highlight the issue. And if you want them to minimize the emotions, make a point of saying it’s easy to be swayed by emotional reactions to a story but what is important today is to make decisions based on the law.

When you are making decisions for yourself rather than for others, you are more likely to allow feelings to serve as information. We’re not sure this is really true when decisions are being made about someone else in the courtroom. If it was, we wouldn’t see the theory in action repeatedly.

When you have high expertise in the area, you are less likely to rely on your feelings as a source of information. Jurors who have high expertise on a topic that is central to the case are often excluded from jury service. Keep in mind that this involves experience with technical matters, but equally important, it also includes life experiences. For instance, if someone is an engineer, you have an idea of what she knows or what kind of training she has been through. But what if the critical experience has to do with caring for someone with a brain injury, or a friend who has been a victim of violence, or they grew up in a family with a deceased parent? Voir dire is crucially important on these sorts of issues, even if they know nothing about the mechanical cause of an injury.  If the case is one where the information is technical and you need to teach jurors to understand it, be sure your “teaching” is understood so jurors make the decisions you expect. When jurors believe they understand the information, they will hold firm to decisions made because they believe they “get it”. (We see this a lot in very esoteric patent information disputes where presenting attorneys have done great jobs helping mock jurors understand a process, or an idea, or an innovation that has been patented. Once jurors think they “get” a very theoretical argument, they will not change their minds.)

When you are exerting effort and have high motivation in a situation requiring decision-making, you are less likely to use feelings as information. If you want jurors to make decisions quickly and without much thought, they are going to use feelings as information if you do not help them understand the dispute (and there are times you will not want to help clarify). If, on the other hand, you want jurors to thoughtfully and carefully consider the facts, you need to teach them how to do that and give them information to help challenge less motivated jurors in the deliberation room. Sometimes, it can be as simple as instructing them that they shouldn’t vote until they have a have clear knowledge of the facts supporting a correct answer.

Schwarz, N. In P. Van Lange, A. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.) (2012). Feelings-as-information theory. Handbook of theories of social psychology., 289-308 DOI: 10.4135/9781446249215.n15


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: The “feelings-as-information” theory 

head-vs-heartAnd….do you think I can now guess your opinion on abortion? And brain death? It’s like a dream-state voir dire question. Today’s researchers used 8 different studies to explore the relationship between participants identifying with either the head or the heart and the participants’ positions on various hot-button issues.

It’s a question that has been with us for centuries—does the heart or the brain represent “the seat of the self”? Current-day scientists are now saying how individuals respond to this question is related to their beliefs about hot button issues and even the charities they support. How so, you say? We thought you’d never ask!

First, the researchers did a series of 6 studies where they were checking to be sure that how participants think about themselves is related to whether they self-describe as following the head or the heart. To test this question, they ‘primed’ some of the participants with what they refer to as an “independent self-construal” (basically a sense of self as autonomous, self-directed, and having impact on the world—more common in American males) and primed other participants with what they called “interdependent self-construal” (basically valuing being part of a group and maintaining harmonious relationships—more common in American females). They hypothesized that those primed with independent self-construals would more often say they identified with the head than the heart. They were correct.

Then they did two additional studies. In study two, 156 participants (82 male, 73 female, and one unspecified; average age 33.65 years) were recruited online in the US. First they were asked whether they identified more with the heart or the head. Then the researchers had them engage in a “filler task”—which is research-speak for a throw-away activity meant to distract the participant from the initial question prior to having them do the real experimental task. Finally, after completing the filler task, participants were asked for their opinions on the “legal definition of death and abortion legislation”.

In this study, the researchers report that people who identified with the heart were more likely to agree with the cardiac definition of death than with brain death than were people who identified with the brain.

Participants who identified with the heart were also more likely to be persuaded by and agree with a restrictive abortion law based on the idea that life begins when the heartbeat can be detected.

In the third study, the researchers wanted to show that the relationship between “self location” (i.e., head or heart) and opinions on hot button issues was causal and not correlational. So they recruited 127 undergraduate student participants (41 male, 86 female and average age 24.6 years)who were randomly assigned to conditions. First, the researchers primed the participants to be identified with either the brain or the heart (the researchers assigned this priming—the participants did not self-identify) and asked them to “write about” why they thought the brain or the heart was most connected to our sense of who we are (i.e., “the seat of the soul”).

The researchers also assigned each participant to be in one of two “charity conditions”: either a brain charity condition (a charity focused on research for Alzheimer’s Disease) or a heart charity condition (a charity focused on research on coronary artery disease). In each case, participants read a paragraph with information on the disease to which they were assigned and then they were asked to write a support letter the charity could use in promotional letters. The researchers measured the amount of time participants took to write the letters and counted the number of words in each letter in an effort to assess “effort expended” by the participant. Finally the participants were given the option to donate the $8 payment they received for the experiment either in part or in full to the charity.

Participants primed to locate the self in the brain exerted more effort in letter-writing and gave more money to the charity that focused on fighting a disease of the brain than the charity that focused on fighting heart disease.

Conversely, those primed to locate the self in the heart exerted more effort in letter writing and gave more money to a charity when it was the heart association charity rather than a brain charity.

We think an interesting aside here is that only 9 of the 127 participants rebelled against their assignment to the heart or the head condition and argued for the opposite side to which they’d been assigned. It’s odd —if this is such an important source of self-identity— that such a small number would protest. Especially since these are 20-somethings who, in our experience, protest thoughtfully about a lot of things. The researchers say that “leadership speeches, entrepreneurial pitches or marketing materials” referencing the head or the heart could be effective with those listeners identifying with one or the other.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think it’s an idea that could be useful in pretrial research but we aren’t willing to expect online participants and small undergraduate samples would respond the same as your potential jurors. The seriousness of a courtroom carries with it a gravitas that is absent in online studies. If, on the other hand, you ask opinions about whatever hot button issues are relevant to your case and ask if mock jurors tend to identify more with the head or the heart—you might have something you can use in voir dire and jury selection. As we are forced to say often, “it just depends”.

Adam, H, Obodaru, O, & Galinsky, AD (2015). Who you are is where you are: Antecedents and con sequencing of locating the self in the brain or the heart. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 128, 74-83


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distrust scienceThe art of persuasion is often complex and diverse, but today’s study also shows how it can be simple and elegant. Here’s a surprisingly easy way to diminish the automatic, knee-jerk and distrusting reaction to scientific findings. Tell your listeners about scientific consensus. Today’s researchers call consensus a “gateway belief” that results in the ability to influence the listener. That’s very cool and even cooler is the fact that the article for today is not locked away—you can read it free on PLoS ONE.

The authors use a basic conclusion from multiple articles in the peer-reviewed literature on climate change: at least 97% of scientists have concluded climate change is happening. They report that “most Americans” have no idea the consensus is so high (and cite the example of only 1 in 10 Americans (1.2%) correctly estimating consensus at 90%  or higher. The authors say “manufacturers of doubt” publicly dispute the existence of scientific consensus and their voices are heard over the quiet consensus of experts in the area.

So, the authors of today’s featured article wanted to see if there were ways to change minds on the issue of climate change. The experiment involved 1,104 participants (52% female; ranging in age from 18 to 75 with a modal range of 35-44 years of age; 36% had a bachelor’s degree or higher; and 38% were Democrats by self-report with no data given for the percentage of either Republicans or Independents). Prior to any intervention, participants responded to questions about their individual beliefs on the scientific consensus on climate change, what their own personal beliefs were on climate change, whether they believed humans caused climate change, whether they were worried about climate change, and if they supported public action on climate change.

Essentially, the researchers wanted to test the efficacy of different ways to communicate the scientific-consensus-message (e.g., descriptive text, a pie chart, metaphors, et cetera). That is, which method of communication would be the most persuasive? In total, 11 different treatment conditions were administered and ultimately, the researchers found that simple text and a pie chart were the most effective means of persuasion about climate change consensus. (If you want to read more about the specific treatment conditions, go to the article itself and look at the Supplemental Information link for a description of the conditions used.)

It’s a really intriguing finding with provocative implications. Here’s an enticing paragraph explaining the results in plain language from a recent article in Scientific American by the primary author:

What’s even more interesting is that we found the same effect for two differentially motivated audiences: Democrats and Republicans. In fact, the change was significantly more pronounced among Republican respondents, who normally tend to be the most skeptical about the reality of human-caused climate change. These findings are quite remarkable, if not surprising, given that we exposed participants only once, to a single and simple message.

The information on the actual level of scientific consensus was persuasive to skeptics of climate change—even across political party lines (although in the article itself, the authors say “compared to Democrats, Republican subjects responded particularly well to the scientific consensus message”). The authors report results that are quite astounding given the hot button nature of climate change.

…all stated hypotheses were confirmed: increasing public perceptions of the scientific consensus causes a significant increase in the belief that climate change is (a) happening, (b) human-caused and (c) a worrisome problem. In turn, changes in those key beliefs lead to increased support for public action.

It’s akin to a domino effect—give a (gateway belief) fact like scientific consensus and the other associated beliefs topple over in the face of data to the contrary. The researchers say that offering information is indeed a powerful tool toward decreasing false beliefs. So what about all the times when you offer facts and jurors disregard them? The researchers address that by saying they just do not think the idea that people hear things based on their own pre-existing beliefs and discard information that doesn’t fit their own schemas (aka motivated reasoning) is accurate and to support their argument, they point back to their own study.

…this study only used a single treatment, yet found that even a single, simple description of the scientific consensus significantly shifted public perceptions of the consensus and subsequent climate change beliefs and desire for action.

What is important, say the researchers, is that there is organized opposition to climate change and the opposition “strategically sows seeds of doubt”. They believe that repeated exposure to simple messages correctly stating the consensus on climate change is the key to people realizing the importance of the issue and thus supporting action to change policy on climate change. In the Scientific American article, the authors give a plain language example of how information changes minds [this would be a plain text example they talk about as being persuasive]:

Imagine reading a road sign that informs you that 97% of engineers have concluded that the bridge in front of you is unsafe to cross. You would likely base your decision to cross or avoid that bridge on the expert consensus, irrespective of your personal convictions. Few people would get out of their car and spend the rest of the afternoon personally assessing the structural condition of the bridge (even if you were an expert). Similarly, not everyone can afford the luxury of carving out a decade or so to study geophysics and learn how to interpret complex climatological data. Thus, it makes perfect sense for people to use expert consensus as a decision-heuristic to guide their beliefs and behavior. Society has evolved to a point where we routinely defer to others for advice—from our family doctors to car mechanics; we rely on experts to keep our lives safe and productive.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a powerful message. While we don’t think you can expect to simply offer a message like these researchers did and expect jurors to believe you—what it does say is that if you can back up your assertion with facts, people will be persuaded despite pre-existing beliefs and despite their political affiliation. When jurors reject expert testimony, it is often because they figure that lawyers can hire someone to say almost anything. But if (for example) the expert explains his or her position, and explains that it is consistent with the findings of 145 peer-reviewed studies in contrast to 4 that didn’t agree, they begin to think they might be able to trust you. Especially if the expert can explain why the 4 didn’t agree.

We have had countless mock jurors over the years throw up their hands in frustration and say “Each side has their expert saying what they want. But what I want is to know what is real. How am I supposed to know whom to believe?” And in the face of the deadlock, they opt for whatever belief fits their overall world view, instead of the science. In this as in many other circumstances, the challenge is to reassure jurors that they are being smart and safe to trust what you (and your expert) say. By introducing consensus, the playing field grows from the courtroom to the scientific universe. And that feels more trustworthy.

Let’s repeat that line just to remind us all of the power of scientific consensus (combined with verbal visual imagery):

“Imagine reading a road sign that informs you that 97% of engineers have concluded the bridge in front of you is unsafe to cross.”

van der Linden SL, Leiserowitz AA, Feinberg GD, & Maibach EW (2015). The scientific consensus on climate change as a gateway belief: experimental evidence. PloS one, 10 (2) PMID: 25714347


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: Combatting distrust of science  

highly unusual experiencesThis is a new and somewhat unusual perspective on persuasion. If you have an unusual explanation for your client’s behavior or motivations—is there a way to know which potential juror might be more predisposed to accept that unusual explanation? According to today’s research…maybe so.

Researchers in France wanted to know if non-reflective thinkers (those who trust their initial intuition) would be more likely than reflective thinkers (those who use analytic reasoning to question their initial intuition) to believe an unusual or uncanny experience was the result of some supernatural explanation such as astrology or extra-sensory perception. They conducted three separate experiments to see if participants who appeared to have their minds read “through telepathy” by a fellow participant would see the experience differently based on whether they were reflective or non-reflective in their personal style.

Of course, you have likely already guessed that the “fellow participant” was not a participant at all but rather what researchers call a “confederate” who was able to “read” the actual participant’s mind and identify the cards the participant chose at random. (In truth, the experimenter could see the cards chosen and the confederate was cued about which card it was by the language the experimenter used to tell the confederate to focus on the “image” of the card the participant was “telepathically sending” to the confederate.) So the participant (either a reflective or a non-reflective thinker) was incredibly able to telepathically send the images of the cards to the confederate. And guess what? When asked how they explained their heightened ability to telepathically communicate, the reflective and non-reflective thinkers had varying explanations.

The reflective (analytical) thinkers thought it was a fluke and the non-reflective thinkers thought they were fabulous telepathic communicators.

The researchers comment that it is traditional to avoid implying one style of thinking (reflective versus non-reflective) is better than the other. When it comes to gullibility, these researchers clearly see reflective thinking as better than non reflective thinking.

“We showed that a single uncanny experience may be enough for non-reflective thinkers to seriously consider the possibility of supernatural causation. This makes them especially vulnerable to scammers who attempt to leverage paranormal beliefs into profits. A common trick, for example, consists of pretending to detect a paranormal ability in an individual, only to offer him or her an expensive training aimed at developing this potential. Individuals with a predominantly non-reflective cognitive style should be well warned against their own reaction to such and other encounters with the supernatural.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it makes sense that those who tend to be non-reflective (likely also known as being low in “need for cognition”) would be less likely to analyze or question your unusual conclusions since doing that takes a lot of mental energy. Need for cognition and those who are more cognitively (rather than emotionally) driven has been an area of interest in jury selection for years. You likely recall that old voir dire question that has been updated a bit recently from “Do you enjoy crossword puzzles?” to questions like “Do you enjoy Sudoku?” or “Do you enjoy solving complex problems?”. That question is meant to assess whether the potential jurors’ need for cognition is high or low—or, as these researchers label it, reflective versus non-reflective thinking. So who is easiest to persuade or influence? These researchers would say it is the non-reflective thinker. The question then becomes whether they are more likely to seize on your trial story to drive that rush to judgement, or the version offered by the opposition. A topic for several dozen other blog posts…

Bouvet R, & Bonnefon JF (2015). Non-Reflective Thinkers Are Predisposed to Attribute Supernatural Causation to Uncanny Experiences. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin PMID: 25948700


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