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Do you smell red or blue? 

Monday, November 3, 2014
posted by Rita Handrich

al pacino scent of a womanThis post might well fall into the category of “the route to tenure-track publication credits is not always the high road”. We discard lots of dicey research reports (such as this one) because they add nothing to our goal of improving litigation advocacy. But this one was so weird we found it amusing. Enjoy. But don’t bet your case on anything you learn today.

Al Pacino made fragrance tangible in his role as a blind man in the film Scent of a Woman. Today’s research is not on how women smell, but rather on how we all smell differently based on our own political ideology and the particular ideology of the sniffer. Good grief. You smell like a Libertarian? How exactly does a Libertarian smell? Perhaps a good business plan would be to develop deodorants to either mask or enhance your “political smell” depending on the situation in which you find yourself?

Before you sniff and toss your head in disbelief, the authors would like you to hear that it is well-known that many people choose spouses or partners who are more similar to them in political preference. In fact, say the researchers, political similarity is often more similar than almost any other trait in spouses and long-term partners. (James Carville and Mary Matalin are perhaps the exception that proves the rule.)

The authors say that we are simply drawn to the body odor of those who share our political ideology. And, they set out to prove it (in the inimitable style of sincere and committed researchers). They recruited 146 participants between 18 and 40 years of age (half from a university and half from the general population) and asked them to rate their political ideology on a seven point spectrum ranging from “very liberal” to “very conservative”. The researchers selected the 10 liberals and 11 conservatives with the highest scores on each end of the spectrum and collected “body odor samples”.

This collecting of body odor samples is actually quite an involved process.

“Target participants washed in fragrance free shampoo and soap and then taped one 2×2 Johnson & Johnson gauze pad to each underarm using Johnson & Johnson paper tape, all of which we provided. Participants wore these pads for 24 hours following a strict protocol that prohibited smoking, drinking, deodorants, perfumes, being around strong odors or candles, animals, eating strong-smelling foods, having sex, or sleeping in a bed with any other people or pets.”

Sample pads were then transferred into sterile containers and frozen for one week. Then, 125 participants sniffed and evaluated the body odor of the 20 liberals and conservatives (one had worn their gauze pads for 48 hours and was thrown out of the study) by smelling the vial containing the individual pads.

Each participant sniffed peppermint essential oils in between samples to “refresh the nasal canal”. Participants rated the “attractiveness” of the body odors and were asked to guess the political ideology of each body odor generator. (The researchers had already collected the political ideology of the sniffer-participants.)

So here is what they found (and given their hypotheses, you will likely be unsurprised):

Individual think those more ideologically akin to them smell better than those who are their ideological opposites.

Even more intriguing to us (as we do qualitative research) was one of the stories they told about their research participants:

“A participant asked the experimenter if she could take one of the vials home with her because she thought it was “the best perfume I ever smelled”; the vial was from a male who shared an ideology similar to the evaluator. She was preceded by another respondent with an ideology opposite to the person who provided the exact same sample; this participant reported that that vial had “gone rancid” and suggested it needed to be replaced. In this way, different participants experienced the exact same stimulus in radically different ways only moments apart.”

This seems totally ridiculous to us. We can tell you (from our pretrial research experience) that people react very differently to the same stimulus (although we never have and never will have them sniff the body odor of the witnesses, parties or attorneys). We often say that a story simply “doesn’t pass the smell test” but this particular scenario has never been what we had in mind. We have had mock jurors request to be reseated because of body odors in the room, but the requests have uniformly been motivated by repulsion, not attraction. And with good reason…

What is also odd to us is that we think political ideology is very tough to measure and we have never found that measuring it on a seven-point scale gives us any data at all relative to the mock juror’s eventual verdict. So why people’s self-description of their political ideology would make them more attracted to the body odor of politically similar others is odd to us. (Although not odd enough for us to find this worthy of further exploration.)

Hopefully, the very real consequences involved in courtroom disputes outweigh the potential attraction to the smell of an unknown other’s body odor. But, just in case, you might want to take special care (and have your client take special care) to not smell either red or blue when you appear in court (whatever that means).

McDermott, R., Tingley, D., & Hatemi, P. (2014). Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues American Journal of Political Science, 58 (4), 997-1005 DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12133


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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



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.



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.



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