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Archive for the ‘Trends and Goofy Stuff’ Category

bolshevik revolutionWe read a lot and routinely run across tidbits we think you might enjoy and that we would not really want to use an entire blog post to discuss. So here are a few things from here and there that we’ve found in our travels…

Can’t remember all those complicated passwords? It’s a complication of modern-day life. Many sites want complex or at least lengthy passwords and if you don’t use a password manager software–you can spend a lot of time typing in various password combinations and end up locked out for 24 hours (or forever). So here are a few tricks from Slate Magazine. Hint: It’s The Bolshevik Revolution.

Think narcissists can’t be empathic? Think again! Apparently it’s all about shifting their perspective. New research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows narcissists are actually capable of empathy for others. How can it be, you may find yourself thinking? You simply have the narcissist take the other person’s perspective. British researchers measured the heart rates of their research participants to have an objective measure rather than relying on self-report. They report that when participants are instructed to take the perspective of someone who is suffering, all of their heart rates increased whether low in narcissism or high in narcissism. The researchers conclude it is possible, given instruction to take another’s perspective, for the narcissist to be “moved by another’s suffering”.

The psychology of belief and the latest challenge: Gluten sensitivity. The recent research questioning the actual existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity has been popping up everywhere. We ran across an interesting perspective on it from Derek Halpern over at Social Triggers blog. Derek discusses this latest research finding and all those folks saying, “Yeah, well tell my gut there is no such thing as gluten sensitivity!” in the context of the psychology of belief. It’s confusing, and the science is far from consistent or complete. We’ve seen plenty of examples among mock jurors of data and evidence not having impact on their preexisting beliefs. The dilemma is in part one of which way the wind is blowing in the medical community, as well as the fact that it isn’t just belief if you had the problem before you heard the label. We think you’ll find Derek’s article an interesting foray into the psychology of belief and why it’s so hard to crack a deeply seated belief with data and evidence alone. And it also raises the question about the limits of scientific knowledge and the meaning of data…

If I can just get a bunch of business people on my jury, they will make decisions based on logic. Well, maybe not. The Wall Street Journal recently published a story on how some of the best business minds make decisions–and it isn’t based on data and evidence. The best decisions are made with a combination of data, evidence, and feelings–in a way the researchers see as exemplifying “visionary leadership”. This an interesting article to read for understanding decision-making and for thinking through organization leadership strategies.

Hepper, E., Hart, C., & Sedikides, C. (2014). Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167214535812

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Things You Should Know (Maybe)

Monday, March 17, 2014
posted by Douglas Keene

fudge_dog-poopIt’s already time for another installment of things you should (maybe) know. These are typically items that make us take a second look but don’t merit a full blog post on their own. Light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek fare good for party conversation (probably only at certain sorts of parties) or trivia games, but not really likely to aid you in litigation advocacy. Trivia that can both amuse and annoy your friends!

Fudge shaped like feces and other ways to get tenure. Thanks to disgust researchers we are often treated to the creative use of fart spray in experiments, but we have never before run across fudge-shaped-like-feces. For serious lovers of fudge, the shapes of this fudge apparently creates an emotional confrontation between the diner’s aversion to the action (“I can’t bring myself to put this in my mouth…”) and knowledge of the outcome (“…although I know it will taste delicious”). The fudge-shaped-like-feces are actually from a study published in 1986 that these 2014 researchers probably delighted in including in the discussion of their article just for the disgust factor. (It works. And, don’t invite us to the party where you deftly slide a tray of these delicacies onto the buffet.)

A new(?) legal defense for murder. Instead of the “my brain made me do it” defense, how about this one? “My mom made me do it.” A New York City attorney accused of beating and strangling his girlfriend says it happened because his mom devoted herself to her career when Jason Bohn was just ten years old. In turn, says the defense psychiatrist (Alexander Sasha Bardey, who, by the way, has consulted for the TV series, Law and Order), young Jason developed “intermittent explosive disorder”. Specifically, Dr. Bardey says Mr. Bohn “suffers from [maternal neglect initiated] intermittent explosive disorder” and that Bohn “blew up” and had no idea what he was doing when he killed Danielle Thomas in 2012. The ABC News site adds additional details and voicemail messages from Bohn and his victim. Bohn has pled not guilty and hopes for a lesser manslaughter charge. According to the New York Post, Bohn (also known as the “Ivy League killer”) authored a document called “101 Ways to Kill Your Father”. I guess we can keep an eye out for the sequel,  “My Parents Made Me Do It”.

Who believes in astrology? More Americans than you might think according to a new survey from the National Science Foundation. Only 55% of adults (from age 18-24) believe astrology is “not scientific”. To add to your pain, the percentage who think astrology is scientific is increasing. In 2010, 64% of respondents aged 35-44 believed astrology was not scientific. But in 2012, only 51% said it was not scientific. Of course, maybe 2012 was a less literate sample, and they thought it was about astronomy.  Would that help us feel better?

astrology not scientific

Wondering how Puritans communicated their affections for Valentine’s Day? Probably something along the lines of these Puritan valentines. You may want to bookmark them for next year.

Political affiliation and ultimate verdict. We’re seeing renewed interest these days in the relationship of political affiliation to jury and mock jury verdicts. Unfortunately, we are also seeing a very significant decline in the proportion of mock jurors who will actually identify as a member of a political party. There has been a rise in the proportion of the public who don’t identify with either party. Instead they are increasingly flocking to “politically unaffiliated” or “politically independent”. So here, courtesy of Big Think is a quick and sweet way to identify who is what among potential jurors. Pass around a bowl of assorted candy treats and make a note of who chooses what. (Democrats who are politically active prefer Almond Joy, Baby Ruth and Raisinets while less involved Democrats prefer Airheads and Nerds. Active Republicans prefer York Peppermint Patties and less active Republicans choose Skittles and Rolo candies.) This study was done by the same people who carefully assessed the relationship of politics to beer, sports and fast food. Fortunately for the education system, the authors are advertising experts and not faculty in search of tenure. We will leave it up to you to determine the rigor of their scientific method. But any research that provides a happy array of processed treats can’t be all bad.

Miller, RM Hannikainen, IA Cushman, FA 2014 Bad actions or bad outcomes? Differentiating affective contributions to the moral condemnation of harm. Emotion. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035361

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stealthy catFrom time to time we post tidbits from research that we have not turned into entire posts but which may (or may not) inform your practice. This is one of those times. Some of the findings are a stretch to accept (and we are not endorsing them by sharing them here, merely raising them for your consideration and discussion).

Stealthily disempower opposing counsel: Race to the courtroom door and open the door for opposing counsel. This simple courtesy (if both you and opposing counsel are male) will diminish opposing counsel’s self-esteem and self belief. Practice saying this with a totally sincere smile: “After you!” (Note: It doesn’t work with women.) The alternate view of this is that an attorney who has the audacity to hold open a door might actually have been raised with good manners. Mom would be proud.

Stop doing that on your smartphone while driving! The Atlantic has an article on the most dangerous things to do on your phone while driving. While taking off or putting on a jacket or pulling up your socks does not make the list, lots of other things do–although the more experienced you are, the less likely you are to have such high risk factors. In light of the “better than average effect”, we know this means most of you will dismiss this information.

Shortage of medical malpractice attorneys: Here’s a powerful statement on the outcome of tort reform. 90% of the people looking for a medical malpractice attorney to take their case will not find one. This statistic disproportionately impacts women, children and the elderly.

Crafty and sly font designers: The Economist has an article on the “science behind fonts and how they make you feel”. For example, Helvetica makes us think of the government, while commonly used news headline fonts seem untrustworthy. This is not good. The article includes specific suggestions for optimizing how the reader feels when reading your text.

Mugshot websites exploit both the guilty and the innocent. Mugshot websites are not associated with law enforcement. They simply take photos from law enforcement websites and post them (and then charge you a fee to have your photo removed). While there are a few states with laws about when mugshots should be removed, mostly it’s an unregulated practice. An arrest (and the accompanying mugshot) does not necessarily reflect a conviction. Or even a justified arrest.

You really should always watch your back! Because sharks like to approach humans from behind. This research refers to sharks that live in the sea and not to excessively competitive, sometimes unethical humans–although the same lesson likely applies.

Zimmerman acquittal and changes in the size of juries. Two states have passed bills to increase the size of juries. Wisconsin now requires 12-person juries for all criminal cases, including misdemeanors. Florida has approved 12-person juries for all cases where the sentence could result in a life sentence and a companion bill (pending in the Florida House of Representatives) would require 12-member juries for all criminal cases.

Are you convinced you’re a multitasker? This infographic will make you stop doing so many things at one time. It’s pretty amazing. No wonder sometimes we feel as though we get nothing done! We are, of course– we’re just not doing any of it as well as we would if our concentration was all on one task.

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sunny dayIf you want to prevail at trial, would it be useful to be able to control the weather? New research would say it depends on whether you want the jurors to help the plaintiff or defendant or not. Seriously? Seriously. It’s called the Sunshine Samaritan Effect.

“Your Honor, I’d like to recess until the sun shines…”

European researchers looked at the prior research on human social interactions and sunshine. What they found was that people are more likely to grant interview requests by surveyors when the sun is shining. Food servers who tell you weather conditions are pleasant as they deliver food to your windowless hotel room (a windowless hotel room?) receive larger tips than those who tell you it’s nasty outside. When a restaurant server writes either nothing, a favorable weather condition for the next day, or an unfavorable weather condition for the next day on the back of your check–those customers given a favorable forecast leave a bigger tip. So, curious researchers that they are, the authors of this paper wondered if the good weather effect would translate to spontaneous helping activity toward strangers.

They conducted experiments on sunny and cloudy days between 9am and 1pm in two towns near the Atlantic Coast in France. They did not conduct the experiment in the rain and were careful to only work when the outdoor temperature was between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Eight confederates (4 male and 4 female, all around 21 years old and dressed in jeans, t-shirts and boat shoes) approached 221 men and 243 women (estimated to be between age 20 and age 50) at random while they were walking alone in pedestrian streets.

We assume the confederates did not look at all threatening even though they were told to avoid anyone who was “a child, a teenager, an elderly man/woman, or a member of a group”.

The confederates (who carried a handbag–presumably a “man bag” for the males) would identify a target passerby and begin walking in the same direction but about 10 feet in front of the target. Then, they would “accidentally drop a glove”. (Why they would have gloves on sunny days was not explained.) Observers (strategically placed 164 feet away and with apparently excellent eyesight or good binoculars) noted the reaction of the passerby, his/her gender and an estimate of the target age.

“Responses were recorded if the target passerby warned the confederate within 10 seconds of dropping the glove. If not, the confederate acted as if he/she was searching for something within his/her handbag, looked around in surprise, and returned to pick up the glove without looking at the participant.”

And here’s what happened. When it was a sunny day, 65.3% of the participants spontaneously helped the confederate by alerting them to the dropped glove within 10 seconds. On cloudy days, only 53.3% of them did. This, the researchers inform us, is statistically significant at the p = .009 level. They conclude we are more likely to help spontaneously on predominantly sunny days.

And that is why you may want to consider the impact of the weather on helping behavior. There is research that says asking for help is more successful on sunny days. Now this research says spontaneous helping is more likely on sunny days as well.

Guéguen, N., & Lamy, L. (2013). Weather and Helping: Additional Evidence of the Effect of the Sunshine Samaritan The Journal of Social Psychology, 153 (2), 123-126 DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2012.720618

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Things You Should (Maybe) Know…

Monday, October 15, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

Sometimes stuff just comes up that we think you need to know but it isn’t enough to fill an entire blog post. This is one of those times. Think of it as things you didn’t know you needed to know until you knew it!

Chocolate

Why do we love it so? Well. M&Ms are not only in focus group facilities waiting to ensnare the frustrated trial attorney watching mock jurors behind darkened glass. They also apparently lurk in rat mazes to see why chocolate so appeals (to us and to those rat stand-ins for us). As it turns out, chocolate is like opium for rats.  And presumably, it’s a bit like opium for us as well. I, for one, would be quite willing to gorge myself on M&Ms for the good of science. So, we’re thinking maybe someone should do some research on what is really in Starbuck’s coffee!

Does your non-working nose mean you’re a psychopath?

We’ve written about psychopaths here before and they are a pretty scary bunch. But now we have a simple test for you to use at home to determine whether you are potentially a psychopath. How’s your sense of smell?

Psychopaths seem to have a very poor sense of smell. [Wow. I want to be in the court the first time a detective testifies that the suspect’s inability to smell was one of the tip-offs to their guilt!] Researchers think this is a good test to use since expectations of performance are unclear and the subject may be less able to fake good (or bad) responses. Of course, this research doesn’t mean just because you have a poor sense of smell that you are a psychopath. You could also have schizophrenia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. We thought that was reassuring. Oh– plus, seasonal allergies can also be a factor.

Annoying co-workers? There are actual benefits to this! Be thankful. 

While you may not have a Dwight Schrute in your office, you may have someone equally odd, annoying, or even deviant. New research focuses on the benefits you may gain from working with oddballs–even when they are very annoying. Specifically, in comparison to the deviant coworker–you can feel better about yourself. That’s always a good thing, e.g., “I’m an idiot, but at least I’m not that idiot!”.  Second, by observing other’s reactions to the deviant colleague, you can gain invaluable information as to unwritten workplace norms. If this doesn’t bring you a sense of gratitude for your own odd coworkers, you might try buying them lunch.

Think you’re better off up-front in that plane?

Whoa. Think again. ChartPorn has come to your rescue by publishing a visual of the safest seats on a commercial jet. To do this, they looked at a review of every commercial jet crash in the US since 1971 where there were both fatalities and survivors. That’s pretty thorough. And the verdict? Sit in the rear and arrive alive! Hmmm. You might also want to check the directional capabilities of your pilot.

It’s the economy! 

Along with the other bad news on the economy in the US for the past few years, here’s another feel-bad fact from our friends at the Atlantic. Income inequality is worse in the US today than it was in 1774. Yes. 1774. Not a typo. Although the Atlantic says this isn’t as demoralizing as it sounds–they are totally right as to how demoralizing it sounds. As they say, America is richer and better off today than we were 240 years ago. (That’s good news, right?) There are, however, sharper delineations between the have’s and have-nots (the 99%) today than there were then. It reminds us of another (and more uplifting) story we saw in the Atlantic recently. Sometimes, it seems like things are getting better.

Mehmet K. Mahmut, & Richard J. Stevenson (2012). Olfactory Abilities and Psychopathy: Higher Psychopathy Scores Are Associated with Poorer Odor Discrimination and Identification. Chemosensory Perception. DOI: 10.1007/s12078-012-9135-7

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