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Archive for the ‘Trends and Goofy Stuff’ Category

school lunches repulsiveIt’s time for another installment of strange tidbits we’ve gathered as we have read potential articles for blog posts. This week we have information on why you would stick something icky and repulsive into your mouth, online anonymity, bias against homosexuals, and what horrible things can happen should you choose to ‘unfriend’ that person on Facebook who really annoys you.

Disgusting and repulsive is what that is—tell me more!

The popularity of television shows like Fear Factor tells us that we humans are drawn to disgusting and repulsive things. Some researchers (Hsee and Ruan cited below) think our curiosity drives us to risk negative outcomes (much like Pandora). There is a thorough write-up on this article over at Scientific American that is worth your time to review—although it is likely a good idea to not eat while doing so.

You are likely not as anonymous online as you think

Now this is sort of scary. Many of us want to be anonymous online as we go about our daily business. But a new research study says they can identify who you are just by the way you browse the internet. Apparently, each of us creates a “unique digital behavioral signature” and “they” can know way too much about you based on how you wield that electronic mouse or touchpad. Within a half hour of monitoring you, the researchers say they can measure personality characteristics like “openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism”. That’s pretty scary. The researchers appear to be very excited about this and appear to long to sell their strategies to online marketers. [I think these researchers should be denied tenure just on principle.]

How do we feel now about lesbian women and gay men?

There has been a cultural shift underway in the US in attitudes toward homosexuals. Some have wondered if there really is a change underway or if people just feel pressured to express more support for gay men and lesbian women. Now there is research published in a new open access journal called Collabra that says this societal change really has occurred. A team of researchers found that implicit or unconscious bias against lesbians and gays was down 13% in 2013 when compared to 2006. Nearly all demographic groups showed decreases in bias against homosexuals over that 7 year period which suggests the change is not just politically correct but actually real.

You may want to consider alternatives to “unfriending” on Facebook once you read this

Imagine you live in a “sleepy mountain town” with your young spouse and infant child. Then imagine you have been murdered (although your child survived) and no one can figure out who did it because, “everyone” liked you. You don’t really have to imagine since you can read the story of what happened to a young couple after they ‘unfriended’ a woman on Facebook. It’s a sadly bizarre tale of catfishing and loneliness and perhaps some psychopathy. Here’s a quote from the assistant district attorney’s opening statement to the jury:

“This is going to be the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard. This is going to be the craziest thing you’ve ever heard. There is nothing in your lives or background that has prepared you to understand the Potter family.”

And to that we say, “Amen”. And we would like also to mention you can ‘unfollow’ rather than ‘unfriend’ to get them out of your timeline but not incite homicidal rage.

Hsee CK, & Ruan B (2016). The Pandora Effect: The Power and Peril of Curiosity. Psychological Science, 27 (5), 659-66 PMID: 27000178

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naked millennialOnce again it is time for another installment of this and that and other things you need to know. These are tidbits we find here and there as we collect items to blog about and find that some are not substantive enough for an entire post but are amusing or quirky and about which you, dear reader, deserve to know.

Naked Millennials need pity too

Recently, the New York Times featured an article on locker room designers taking pity on the naked Millennial and illustrated it with this graphic. They describe the problem of showering and changing without actually being nude in front of others.

“It’s funny, they’re more socially open with everything—Facebook, social media—yet more private in their personal space,” said Kevin Kavanaugh, the president of David Barton Gym.

While 60-year-old men (according to this article) are comfortable with old-style open locker rooms and group nudity, not so for younger generations. So, there’s been a cultural shift in what is expected when you pay for a membership at a gym: privacy and space are now required.

How long before eye contact is “too long”?

This is, despite the title, not at all related to group nudity in locker rooms. It is instead about that subtle point when a look becomes an intrusive stare. In a presentation to the Vision Sciences Society 2015 conference, some London-based psychologists examined how much was too much when it came to eye contact. Their research found participants preferred for actors to maintain eye contact for about 3.2 seconds and then look away. They were okay with a longer duration of eye contact if they felt the actor was trustworthy and not threatening. Consider the implications of this when you are next asked by a witness “Should I look at the jury when I answer?”

You know Judge Judy and John Kerry have not served on the Supreme Court, right?

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni recently conducted a poll of 1,000 college graduates and asked questions to assess their level of civic knowledge.

“There is a crisis in American civic education. Survey after survey shows that recent college graduates are alarmingly ignorant of America’s history and heritage. They cannot identify the term lengths of members of Congress, the substance of the First Amendment, or the origin of the separation of powers.  They do not know the Father of the Constitution, and nearly 10% say that Judith Sheindlin—“Judge Judy”—is on the Supreme Court.”

That isn’t all. Another 5.5% of these college graduates also think John Kerry has served on the Supreme Court in the past. The report summarizing the results expresses significant concern (as we think makes sense).

In a country that depends upon an educated populace, ignorance of our history and founding documents will be disastrous. An annual survey by the Newseum Institute gives point to the alarm: When asked to identify the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, one-third of Americans could not name a single right; 43% could not even name freedom of speech as one of those rights.

Social media and kids these days

They’re opting out of the publicly viewed social media in droves—apparently more than 11 million young people have left Facebook since 2011. Instead, apparently they are going to Facebook Messenger or Snapchat and sometimes Instagram where they can talk in relative privacy with their friends. While you may think you can view their Facebook page—what you see is an increasingly curated page meant for impression management (at least according to this article) while their “real selves” are shared in less permanent places. This is a nice article to read to get a sense of what is happening on social media as younger users take their “business” out of the public square and into private areas where no one is watching. And for those of us who are regularly shocked at the personal disclosures people make on Facebook, it may not be a moment too soon.

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winking emoticon[Spoiler alert: Don’t do it. And especially don’t do it on a group message. But if you must, make it clear you are kidding.]

We have covered the use of emoticons in legal settings before, but here’s a research article looking at what helps the receiver understand the context in which your written comments are intended. Are you serious, or are you joking? Were you playing it straight, or going for a laugh? Confusion arises in texts and email communication where you cannot use tone of voice or a grin to ensure your recipient understands the intent of your message. We’ve all heard of this sort of miscommunication and many of us had it happen to us.

Science to the rescue. You may never be misunderstood again.

UK researchers wanted to see if various emoticons and punctuation would result in a clearer understanding of the writer’s intent. They did two separate experiments which involved almost 200 undergraduate students. In experiment one, the students read text-based messages containing either praise or criticism with context made very clear. In the second experiment, no context was explicitly described so that the message could be taken either literally or sarcastically.

While in this post we are using “modern” versions of the emoticons which are quite prevalent (and likely at the bottom of your ‘edit menu’ in many applications), these researchers used the aging punctuation marks in their messages. So they offered a “wink face” ;-), or a “tongue face” :-P, or an ellipsis (…) versus exclamation mark (!) as devices to test for understanding of sarcasm.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when the context was explicit and unambiguous (e.g., “Tanya had noticed that Jenny had put on a great deal of weight” and so Tanya said to Jenny, “I see the diet is going well”)—neither emoticons nor punctuation (e.g., ellipsis, exclamation point or emoticon) helped the research participants see it as more sarcastic—the sarcasm seemed obvious to them.

On the other hand, when the situation was less explicit and more ambiguous, the winking face emoticon was most effective in helping participants see the message as sarcastic. That is, the participants were more likely to take a message as sarcasm rather than literally if it was accompanied by the winking face emoticon.

In short, if you want to be certain your written and potentially ambiguous message is interpreted as communicating sarcasm, use a winking emoticon. And thus reduce your risk for potential misunderstanding. 😜

Filik R, Țurcan A, Thompson D, Harvey N, Davies H, & Turner A (2015). Sarcasm and emoticons: Comprehension and emotional impact. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-17 PMID: 26513274

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sleep demonWe read a lot of articles in order to blog regularly and often find intriguing (not to mention weird, odd, esoteric, freakish) pieces of information to which we do not wish to devote an entire post—yet, also do not wish to hoard the information. At times like these, you will see a collection of the strange and wonderful tidbits that cross our path.

Sleep Paralysis’ Demons

This is a scary thing we’ve blogged about before but sort of as an aside in a post primarily about exploding head syndrome. Yes. That’s really a thing. Today though, we are focused on the horror that is sleep paralysis (made only more horrifying one might imagine, by the accompanying presence of a sleep demon). Apparently, 40% of us will suffer from sleep paralysis at some point in our lives.

“This terror-inducing experience occurs when a person on the border between wakefulness and sleep gains partial consciousness. The dreamer may perceive that a menacing, oftentimes-otherworldly intruder is in their room or bed, yet they are incapable of moving or screaming—even as the creature begins choking, crushing, raping or attacking them. Scientists believe it’s all a hallucination, but in the throes of an attack, sleep paralysis’ demons can be deeply convincing.”

A specialist on this disorder makes perhaps the biggest understatement of all time in saying this experience can be “pretty troubling”.

“It’s a pretty troubling event for at least a portion of the people who have the disorder,” says Allan Cheyne, a retired cognitive psychologist, formerly at the University of Waterloo. “They might think it was demonic possession or alien abduction, the beginnings of a stroke, incipient psychosis that’s going to get worse or that they’re never going to come out of the paralysis.”

At least if this happens to you, you will know what it is and that sleep paralysis demon is not truly real. You’re welcome.

Assassins who apparently were not reliable vendors

It can be a hard lesson to learn that one should always vet new vendors carefully. Perhaps it is an even harder lesson to learn that your spouse wants to have you killed. All’s well that ends well for the potential victim in this murder for hire story. A man paid hit men to kill his spouse and even paid them a bonus for reporting a successful kill. Then, she showed up at her own funeral and the man was unnerved to discover she was not an apparition but living and breathing. The story tells the tale of “three unusually principled hit men” and the events surrounding the failed murder plot. Her husband has been sentenced to prison for nine years in Melbourne, Australia and the woman says she is starting a new life.

A nose for criminals

You know that dogs have a terrific sense of smell and now that powerful nose is being put to work to see if someone was at the scene of a crime. Apparently dogs can get it right about 80-90% of the time and there were no false positives generated after a year of training the dogs. If the dogs erred at all, they failed to identify someone who was there—for some reason they never falsely accused anyone. Good doggie!! The study itself is open access at PLOSONE. The field of study is called the science of “odorology” and relies on the dogs powerful sense of smell and extensive training.

“It has been used in France since 2003 in police investigations to establish that an individual has been present at a crime scene. The method is based on the fact that each person has their own scent and relies on the powerful canine sense of smell (which can be 200 to 10,000 times more sensitive than that of a human being).”

How big was that spider? It was HUGE!!!

It will come as no shock to the arachnophobes among us that when you are fearful of spiders they appear to be larger to you. This was research where the scientists had participants look at photos of birds and spiders and butterflies. Only those participants who were “highly fearful” overestimated the size of the spiders compared to butterflies. The researchers, in a stunning finding, say that “perception of even a basic feature such as size is influenced by emotion”. They are hopeful their study will be useful in work with phobia treatments.

Men with beards are more likely to be sexist (and other hairy issues)

Beards keep coming up here and we dutifully write about them. In the event you missed it, back in 2011 we blogged about a study saying jurors are more likely to convict defendants with beards and this year we wrote about spotting the lumbersexual in your venire panel. Here’s a new study telling us that men with beards tend to be more sexist. The researchers hypothesized that sexist men are more likely to grow beards in order to appear more masculine and dominant. On a completely unrelated note, another study recently examined whether bald men were indeed more virile. As a public service, here is the link to that study. Finally, while we have not blogged about the virility of bald men, we have blogged about how bald men cannot help but exude confidence, masculinity, authority, and power!

Marchal S, Bregeras O, Puaux D, Gervais R, & Ferry B (2016). Rigorous Training of Dogs Leads to High Accuracy in Human Scent Matching-To-Sample Performance. PLoS ONE, 11 (2) PMID: 26863620

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santa tracker

We’re taking a break until 2016 so we’ll see you in January!

Most of us grew up watching the weather report on TV and seeing a NORAD ‘Santa Tracker’ showing where Santa and his sleigh were on their way for a long night of work. But this is 2015 and if you celebrate the holiday, you likely want something a bit more scientific to show you that there is a “Christmas spirit” if not a Santa Claus. Thankfully, we can rely on the annual December issue of the British Medical Journal to enlighten us on holiday traditions and offer a light-hearted look at important questions on many of our minds.

In this case, the researchers wanted to figure out if there was a “Christmas spirit” within the human brain. The authors are neurology researchers, neuroimaging researchers, a professor of clinical physiology, and a medical physicist. A quick glance at the author names on this paper will show you that they are presenting, as they describe it themselves, “a cross cultural group study with functional magnetic resonance imaging” to “detect and localize the Christmas spirit in the human brain”. Participants were 10 “healthy people from Copenhagen who routinely celebrate Christmas and 10 healthy people living in the same area who have no Christmas traditions”. Some further research into whether this project was the result of typical, careful funding proposals or left over slush funds that were set to expire by Christmas morning seems warranted. But our skepticism at this time of year has an unfortunate “Scrooge-like” quality, so we won’t look very hard.

The participants completed a questionnaire about their Christmas traditions, feelings associated with Christmas and their ethnicity. The researchers are careful to let us know “no eggnog or gingerbread was consumed prior to the scans”. While the participants were in the MRI, they were shown 84 images (displayed for 2 seconds each and organized so there would be six Christmas associated images and then six images devoid of Christmas symbolism).

The researchers say they found a “cerebral response when people view Christmas images, and there are differences in this response between people who celebrate Christmas compared to those with no Christmas traditions”. They also greatly contribute to science in this area by saying there is a “functional Christmas network comprising several cortical areas, including the parietal lobules, the premotor cortex, and the somatosensory cortex”. These areas of the brain have been shown in previous studies (according to the authors) to be related to spirituality and transcendence, experiencing emotions shared by others, and “observation of ingestive mouth actions” which the researchers think is likely related to recall of shared meals with loved ones. All in all, they say, “these cortical areas possibly constitute the neuronal correlate of the Christmas spirit in the human brain”.

The researchers have carefully thought through their study design and interpretations and have compelling rejoinders to any of their colleagues whom they “suspect could be afflicted by the aforementioned bah humbug syndrome”. They would like further research on this issue—perhaps with subjects who’ve been given “tacky jumpers” (known here in the US as ‘ugly Christmas sweaters’) as gifts since they may well have different brain activity than those who received more attractive gifts for the holiday. They close with this comment in the acknowledgements section…

“We call ‘dibs’ on any profitable non-invasive or even invasive treatment of the bah humbug syndrome. We are currently preparing a patent application on a Santa’s hat you can buy for family members with symptoms. When they start grumbling at Christmas dinner, with the touch of a button you can give them electric stimulation right in the Christmas spirit centers.”

Hougaard A, Lindberg U, Arngrim N, Larsson HB, Olesen J, Amin FM, Ashina M, & Haddock BT (2015). Evidence of a Christmas spirit network in the brain: functional MRI study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 351 PMID: 26676562

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