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This is the sort of article that can either amuse or terrify you. It will amuse you if you are charmed by all the ways in which we see ourselves as superior to others. And it will terrify you if you do not want to know that you are always being observed closely by everyone around you. The article even starts off creepily:

“People-watching is an age-old pastime. People notice and observe the people around them all the time—on trains, at cafés, waiting in line, at cocktail parties and office meetings, and beyond. Pretty much anywhere there are other people, we spend a good deal of time watching them, wondering who they are, and assessing what they are like. But despite all the watching people do of others people rarely feel as if they, themselves, are being observed as they go about their daily lives. Indeed, people feel relatively invisible.

Of course it is impossible that people (on average) observe others more than they themselves are observed. Yet this is precisely what we suspect people believe. We call this bias the invisibility cloak illusion. This is an illusion that prevents you from realizing that, whether you are on a plane, in a restaurant, or at a rodeo, when you stop watching people and taking in the social scene—when you turn your attention to whatever else you are doing—the people around you are likely to raise their eyes from whatever they were doing and watch you.”

It is just spooky. We first saw this article over at the BPS Research Digest and they poked fun at it (just a little) and poked special fun at a “particularly cruel experiment” from the year 2000, involving being required to wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt—so we went to read the actual article. (We also have a blog post poking fun at a more recent Barry Manilow reference.) But we digress. Here is what the researchers did in today’s featured research.

First, the researchers verified the existence of the invisibility cloak illusion using online participants. Then, using Yale undergraduate students, they asked two participants of the same gender to sit in a waiting room prior to the experiment beginning. (We all know the experiment had already begun.) After seven minutes (precisely), the two participants were taken to separate rooms and told they were either the “observer” or the “target”. The observer wrote down everything they noticed about the target while the participant assigned to be the target wrote down everything they expected the observer would have noticed about them. Consistent with the invisibility cloak illusion, the observers produced more detailed notes about the target than the target predicted they would. But having read that old Barry Manilow experiment, our fearless researchers were not yet done.

Next, the researchers wanted to see if the spotlight effect (featured in the Barry Manilow t-shirt experiment where people required to wear the t-shirt felt exceptionally self-conscious) could co-exist with the invisibility cloak illusion. So they had half the target-participants wear a t-shirt with the Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar on it. (We think they should have used a Barry Manilow t-shirt instead but perhaps it was deemed by the Yale Human Subjects Review committee to be unreasonably cruel—hence the Escobar attire.) They repeated the waiting room experiment with the only difference being the drug lord t-shirt foisted on one of the participants. They were left in the waiting room together for five minutes and then sent to separate rooms to once again answer questions as to what they had observed or what they thought had been observed about them. Again, observers listed more behaviors and characteristics than the target thought they would have observed.

An addition to this follow-up experiment was that the observer was asked how much they thought about the target’s shirt as they observed the target prior to the experiment. And here is where it gets even creepier—the target-participants thought the observers would look at their shirt much more when they were wearing the Pablo Escobar shirt supplied by the experimenters rather than their own shirt. The observers, however, “observed, noticed, and thought about the targets’ shirts equally across conditions, regardless of whether the target was wearing a provided shirt”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this means it is particularly important that you and your client are always aware you are on-stage at all times when in the courtroom. The most important audience is, naturally, the jury, but this research would say everyone is watching you (although the researchers remind us frequently in the article that observers go to great pains to make it appear they are not watching you). Much like the inaccurate “better than average effect”, the invisibility cloak illusion tells us we are watched even as we watch (and apparently, we are judged even as we judge). Parties and witnesses sometimes believe they are only really being observed when they are giving testimony. Alas, it is so untrue.

The researchers sum it up this way:

“The invisibility cloak illusion consists in people believing they observe others more than others observe them. This belief appears to be pervasive and persistent, despite being logically impossible in the aggregate. It cannot be true that, on average, people are noticing and observing others more than they themselves are noticed and observed. Yet everyday people experience the compelling sensation that social observations flow predominantly in one direction.

People peer out at the social world and yet they feel relatively unseen, as if they are inconspicuous consumers of their social surroundings. However irresistible this sensation may be, it is not to be trusted. The sensation of observing others while remaining relatively unseen is a mirage, obscuring the reality that we are all equally exposed to one another.”

Obviously these researchers have no interest in comforting any of us and this research is not at all comforting. What it does do though is offer an uncomfortable reminder to us—we are never off stage and certainly never off stage in the courtroom or in professional activities. And neither is anyone else.

Boothby EJ, Clark MS, & Bargh JA (2017). The invisibility cloak illusion: People (incorrectly) believe they observe others more than others observe them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112 (4), 589-606 PMID: 27977221


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If you read this blog routinely, you know we like the work done by the Pew Research Center that keeps us abreast of how demographic patterns are changing. They’ve done it again with some trends for us to watch as 2017 marches forward. Here are some of the highlights from their report on how the world around us is changing.

Millennials are now the largest generation in the US. In 2016, according to this new report, there were about 79.8M Millennials (aged 18 to 35 in 2016) compared to about 74.1M Boomers (aged 52 to 70 in 2016). The Millennial population is expected to continue to grow until 2036 as a result of immigration.

Fewer of us are marrying although we are increasingly cohabiting and Pew discusses the “gray divorce” rate (divorces among those 50 and older) which has roughly doubled between 1990 and 2015.

More of us are living in multigenerational households (with two or more generations). This is due to economic changes as well as the changing racial and ethnic makeup of the country. Also, for the first time in 130 years, more Millennial-aged people are living with their parents than in any other living situation.

Women may never make up half of the US labor force although the gender pay gap has narrowed from women earning 64 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1980 to women earning 83 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2015.

Immigrants are responsible for overall workforce growth in the US. If not for immigrants, the average working age population in the US would decrease in size by 2035. They also report public opinion has turned more positive for immigrants this year. Similarly, since 1970, the increase in the annual number of US births is driven by immigrant women. Babies born to Muslim mothers will outnumber babies born to Christian mothers by 2035.

The US admitted 84,995 refugees in 2016, this is the most admitted since 1999. The graphic illustrating this post shows which states most refugees went to live in. About half (46%) the 2016 refugees were Muslim.

There is more information in the Pew report on demographic changes shaping our country and the world this year. Read it to keep yourself abreast of changing demographics in our country and around the world—as well as in all of our panels of prospective jurors.


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Here’s another this-and-that post documenting things you need to know but that we don’t want to do a whole post about–so you get a plethora of factoids that will entertain your family and entrance your co-workers. Or at least be sort of fun to read and (probably) as awe-inspiring as the stack of vegetables and fruit illustrating the post.

Just don’t do it: How bringing up politics ruins your workplace

You probably know this already since many people say their Facebook feeds are a toxic combination of politics and rage these days. So. Bringing up politics up at work is now officially a bad thing. We used to think that being exposed to varying ideas in the workplace broadened all our world views. But that was before this round of extreme political polarization and the strong feelings on both sides of the aisle. Here’s a survey from Wakefield Research and workplace consultants Betterworks that gives factual information on workplace conflict surrounding politics. While reading it won’t make you feel that much better, it will certainly tell you that your own workplace is not the only one so negatively charged (and give you some tips on dealing with employees obsessively checking social media).

Can you trick narcissists into actually feeling empathy?

Recent research says yes you can—simply by reminding them to take the other person’s perspective. In short, the researchers found that those high in narcissistic traits (but not meeting diagnostic criteria) were able to demonstrate perspective-taking but they had to be directed to do so. We have talked about this when it comes to implicit racial biases so the idea is not entirely new, but it is an interesting idea that narcissists would not even consider basic empathy (i.e., imagining the other person’s perspective) unless prompted to do so.

More on beards—this time in healthcare

Just like tattoos, we have covered beards a lot here and addressed issues related to beards like women’s preferences in long-term relationships, bearded men and sexism, extra punitiveness towards bearded men, bearded experts in East Texas, genetics and your bushy beard, and even identifying the elusive lumbersexual on your jury. There is so much debate and research about beards that we’ll give you that link again so you can catch up on all things beard in this blog. Mostly the only question never adequately addressed is “what is it about beards that mobilizes any sort of attitude at all?”

This particular controversy on beards has apparently been going on since the 1800s so it is a bit surprising we don’t have something on it already. Doctors. Should they have beards? Is it a hygiene issue? Should they be able to look older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than they may be chronologically by growing a beard? Scientific American blogs has an entry telling us (among other things) that “beards retained microorganisms and toxin despite washing with soap and water” and that bearded surgeons should “avoid wiggling the face mask” to prevent bacterial contamination during surgery. There are multiple other studies cited that come down on both sides of this hygiene debate. You will want to know about this one. Even though your life won’t be improved by the debate.

Earworms—they’re back!!!!

We’ve also blogged about earworms a number of times (hey—it’s an important topic!) Buzzfeed recently published a list of pop songs likely to get stuck in your head—which is what an earworm is—by definition. As a public service, here is one of our top choices for “most likely to give you an earworm” pop song.

And now that you have that list of songs to give you earworms—here’s recent research giving you a “cure” for the earworm. Chew some gum! The researchers say when you are chewing gum your brain is unable to form the associations essential for the creation and maintenance of an ear worm. Okay then. We can’t say if it’s true (and apparently it doesn’t work for everyone) but go buy some gum (it’s for science).

Throwing out advances in knowledge (is that what we want to do?)

We have lived in The Age of Reason (aka the Enlightenment) since emerging from the darkness and magical thinking of the Middle Ages. A new opinion piece from Daniel J. Levitin, an educator (published at the Daily Beast) asks us to consider whether we really want to live in an era where we avoid rational thought. It’s a brief and well-written piece that will give you talking points on why a return to the Middle Ages or even the 1950s is not a goal for which we should strive.

Beaman, CP, Powell, K, & Rapley, E (2015). Want to block eagworms from conscious awareness? Buy gum! The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology,, 68 (6), 1049-1057.

Hepper EG, Hart CM, & Sedikides C (2014). Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic? Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 40 (9), 1079-1091 PMID: 24878930


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After we published that “molecular genetics overlap” post showing curiosity is found in smart people—one of our readers asked exactly how you “see” smart during voir dire. The question was posed on Twitter but the answer is not exactly expressed in 140 characters—so we’re doing it here. Among other things, we made these comments in that post:

All we need to do is look to see who is smart and we will then know we can select curious jurors (while considering whether our client’s case benefits from higher levels of intelligence and curiosity).

And, as we often say to our clients—especially in rural areas like the far east and west ends of Texas, “smart does not necessarily mean highly educated”. It is typically, however, a lot easier to see or hear “smart” than it is to see or hear “curious” (or open to experiences). So it can be a voir dire short cut (which can qualify as a secret weapon).

So. Here are some of the signs that a member of the venire might be smart and curious, regardless of their level of formal education:

Do they have less formal education than expected for the job they hold?

Do they have a creative occupation that requires quick associations or problem-solving?

Are they a researcher (of any sort) or scientist?

Do they write professionally (books, magazines, blogs, et cetera, in both fiction and nonfiction)?

Are they a long time manager in a fast paced workplace setting?

Do they work in a fast-changing field?

Are they a technology worker familiar with NDAs and confidentiality?

Do they have hobbies that involve curiosity, problem-solving, or thinking?

Do they think of themselves as questioning authority, or going along with the group consensus?

Does the juror have a history of being self-employed and an above average income?

It is always important to consider whether any particular trait or attitude reflects more or less receptivity to your trial story. In our experience, most attitudes and traits don’t make much difference, but the few that do can have a profound effect on their view of evidence and argument, and their predisposition toward one verdict or another.

There are certainly other characteristics we look for to “see” or “hear” smart, but this is a brief list to get you started. Each case will result in variations on what we look for in a “smart” juror for that specific case (just as there are many kinds of intelligence).


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Back in October of 2016, we wrote about a paper by the Cultural Cognition Project on assessing “scientific curiosity”. Here is some of what we said then about what Kahan and his colleagues found by measuring scientific curiosity:

“What they found was that participants who scored higher on the curiosity scale were more likely to choose the story that would disconfirm their preexisting beliefs (that is, it would surprise them) and the participants enjoyed that process of surprise.”

We concluded that 2016 post this way:

From a litigation advocacy perspective, the challenge is to identify  jurors who are curious and enjoy the surprise of learning new things—even when the new information may be in conflict with pre-existing beliefs. This is a subgroup for which we have an increased chance of persuading them to accept change (typically a very difficult task). What we have to do is figure out how to surprise them and we have several blog posts on what happens to our brains when we experience surprise.

So with that backdrop as a reminder, today we bring you a study that is pretty far afield of our usual focus on social science findings with relevance to litigation advocacy. This is a scientific study on genetics that found something unexpected: a personality trait that was related to overall intelligence but actually embedded in the genes. The researchers refer to it as “a molecular genetic overlap” between intellectual ability and curiosity.

You likely know we’ve written a number of times about curiosity and when we like to see that trait in our jurors. The issue is always how to measure curiosity. While Kahan and his colleagues at the Cultural Cognition Project traversed a lengthy route to assessing scientific curiosity—we may not actually have to go to all that trouble.

First, let’s discuss some research vocabulary. What we refer to as curiosity is referred to by researchers as something different. They use the term “openness to experience” (renaming familiar things to make them sound exotic is a proven strategy for getting academic tenure). There are multiple ‘scales’ to measure openness to experience (here’s an example) but typically, they are not appropriate for use in court. Neither, unfortunately, is the Kahan version of a science curiosity scale. Here, however, is an intriguing finding from some molecular geneticists. Scintillating and yet mind-numbing, all in the interest of our blog readers!

Today’s research article:

This molecular genetics research is based on work from a project known as the Cognitive Genomics Consortium (COGENT) and this particular paper was written by a team of more than 60 international researchers who examined the “genes of 35,000 people – measuring the brain function of these participants through tests of learning, memory, and other cognitive function components”. But that is all backdrop so you know just how credible this finding is for us.

“Interestingly, and for the first time, the COGENT researchers also discovered a molecular genetic overlap between cognitive ability and personality. They found that genetic predispositions towards higher cognitive ability were linked to greater “openness to experience.” In order [sic] words, some of the genes that make people more likely to be curious about new ideas and experiences are the same as those that enhance cognitive ability.”

The researchers see this finding (based on a sample of 35,000 people) as instructive for research and treatment for disorders like schizophrenia, autism, and ADHD—and they have plans to expand their study to include more than 100,000 DNA samples. Fortunately, our intentions are less lofty.

We see this as a secret weapon for voir dire. 

How so? If we know that hard-wired into our genes (in this “molecular genetic overlap”), cognitive ability and curiosity go hand in hand—we can use that information to make the quick decisions often required in voir dire and jury selection. We do not need to assess “openness to experience” (or “science curiosity” or even curiosity). All we need to do is look to see who is smart and we will then know we have curious jurors (although, in some cases, we will prefer jurors who are not so smart and therefore, not so curious).

And, as we often say to our clients—especially in rural areas like the far east and west ends of Texas, “smart does not necessarily mean highly educated”. It is typically, however, a lot easier to see or hear “smart” than it is to see or hear “curious” (or open to experiences). So it is a voir dire short cut (which can qualify as a secret weapon).

We would also add in a caveat. There is a difference between those that are merely curious but do not enjoy the analytical process, and those who are both curious and who enjoy thinking and analyzing. We think of this distinction as the difference between jurors who are “high complexity” and “low complexity”.

If your case is very complex, you will want high complexity jurors (who will almost always be curious but also enjoy the process of thinking and analyzing).

If your case is not that complex, or the complexity of the fact pattern works against your case, you will want low complexity jurors who rely more on biases and heuristics (their pre-existing belief systems) to make decisions in cases where they are unfamiliar with the content matter.

We don’t really recommend you go and read this article since we don’t understand much of it and doubt you will either unless you happen to be a molecular geneticist. In this case, we encourage you to trust the interpretation linked to above (which we verified in a few different places like here and here and here). This is a new sort of finding and they have their excitement about it and we have ours. Of course, if you are curious, you can try to understand it!

Trampush, J., Yang, M., Yu, J., Knowles, E., Davies, G., Liewald, D., Starr, J., Djurovic, S., Melle, I., Sundet, K., Christoforou, A., Reinvang, I., DeRosse, P., Lundervold, A., Steen, V., Espeseth, T., Räikkönen, K., Widen, E., Palotie, A., Eriksson, J., Giegling, I., Konte, B., Roussos, P., Giakoumaki, S., Burdick, K., Payton, A., Ollier, W., Horan, M., Chiba-Falek, O., Attix, D., Need, A., Cirulli, E., Voineskos, A., Stefanis, N., Avramopoulos, D., Hatzimanolis, A., Arking, D., Smyrnis, N., Bilder, R., Freimer, N., Cannon, T., London, E., Poldrack, R., Sabb, F., Congdon, E., Conley, E., Scult, M., Dickinson, D., Straub, R., Donohoe, G., Morris, D., Corvin, A., Gill, M., Hariri, A., Weinberger, D., Pendleton, N., Bitsios, P., Rujescu, D., Lahti, J., Le Hellard, S., Keller, M., Andreassen, O., Deary, I., Glahn, D., Malhotra, A., & Lencz, T. (2017). GWAS meta-analysis reveals novel loci and genetic correlates for general cognitive function: a report from the COGENT consortium Molecular Psychiatry, 22 (3), 336-345 DOI: 10.1038/mp.2016.244

Full text available here:


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