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danger will robinsonWhile those of you who have worked with (or lived with) functional psychopaths before may want to scream “Danger, Will Robinson!” — an international group of researchers (studying German research participants) have identified a “good psychopath” and a “bad psychopath” (when it comes to employment) and they even suggest a scale measuring sub-clinical forms of psychopathy (and earnestly tell the reader this will get around that pesky US ADA restriction against measuring psychopathy on “clinical” scales in an employment setting). They take issue with even the label psychopathy as it loosely means “disease of the soul”. We can quibble about terminology, but their results highlight factors to consider when hiring anyone.

Here’s a brief look at how they came to their conclusions and recommendations for hiring people, some of whom are likely to fall on the troubling end of a psychopathology continuum. First, they explain the differences between primary and secondary psychopathy.

Primary psychopathy, according to the researchers, is characterized by “fearless dominance” (which they describe as wanting to get your own way no matter what the consequences of your actions). Their traits, say the researchers, include “an egotistical personal style characterized by self-promotion and prioritization of one’s own needs before those of others”. Yet, primary psychopaths, they say, are often described by coworkers as helpful, cooperative and pleasant if and only if, the psychopath also had good social skills that were present in the workplace (and those social skills helped them keep their arrogance , egocentrism, and prioritization of own needs and wants over those of others at bay). Or, we imagine, as long as their views are supported by others.

Secondary psychopathy, according to the researchers, is characterized by “self-centered impulsivity”. These psychopaths, according to the researchers, lack an inner braking system and thus have no self-control—they also have no consideration for others. Their traits, say the researchers, include “behavioral impulsivity characterized by disregard for rules and responsibilities”, thrill-seeking, and blaming others for their misfortunes. Consistent with this trait description of secondary psychopaths, coworkers often characterize the secondary psychopath as destructive, not helpful to others, and weak in terms of work performance when it comes to self-disciplined behaviors such as working hard, following workplace rules, taking initiative, being considerate and cooperative, or helping others with their tasks.

By definitions embraced elsewhere, Primary psychopathy might be considered more narcissistic, while the lack of control and the heartlessness of Secondary psychopathy is more aligned with the traditional view of psychopathy.

The researchers think our tendency is to assume that all psychopaths have “the malevolent, exploitive, agentic, and callous personality traits” characterizing heinous criminal offenders. However, they say, that description is only relevant for the “clinical psychopaths” which comprise only about 1% of the entire population of psychopaths. Psychopathy, like other human traits, lies on a continuum and the researchers believe that about 10% of individuals with psychopathic traits have “subclinical” levels of psychopathy. (They do not indicate what this means about the remaining 90% of people in the pool of psychopaths—although they do conclude they do not consider “cold-heartedness” in their model since it was not statistically related to what they we’re trying to measure.)

The issue with employment, the researchers say, is not whether you have multiple (sub-clinical) psychopathic tendencies—but rather, how well your particular form of psychopathy fits with your job description (as well as, naturally, your level of social skill). They opine in their 30+ page paper that primary psychopaths can “be selfless heroes in everyday life, such as life-savers, emergency physicians, or fire-fighters” and think we should differentiate more carefully in the large class of psychopaths—both primary and secondary types.

Again, the paper has to be read with a willingness to accept their use of the term “Primary Psychopath”, which by its definition is a milder form.

The researchers used a measure of psychopathy that is able to “detect relatively mild levels of psychopathy traits in non forensic samples (the Psychopathic Personality Inventory—Revised, we’ll blog about this scale in our next post) and they mention the scale is useful for workplace settings since it measures subclinical psychopathy. (We should perhaps mention the scale has 150+ questions on it and some of them are quite odd—but more on that in our next post.)

Overall, say the researchers, the primary psychopath with good interpersonal skills is a good bet for the workplace but if they do not have good interpersonal skills, they will likely be as destructive as the secondary psychopath for workplace productivity and morale.

From a law office management perspective, we really would not recommend this sort of strategy. What they seem to intimate is that you want to find the 10% of the psychopathic population who have moderate psychopathic tendencies and then, divide them into primary and secondary psychopaths and then, figure out which of the primary psychopaths have really good social skills so their behaviors will not wreak havoc in your workplace.

Putting on our duly licensed Psychologist hats for a moment, the distinction seems to be a very slippery slope. Secondary psychopaths are trouble from the beginning. Primary psychopaths have better social skills so they can manage the day to day more successfully, but under stress they are going to create havoc, too. And we have never seen a trial team that isn’t under terrific stress. It is the nature of litigation, and stress tolerances need to be higher than average, not a potential area of weakness.

The authors put a troubling amount of faith in a psychological trait scale, when you can assess the same things by looking at work history, length of relationships, and having your own warning signs on high alert during the interview process. Use your intuition about whether someone will be a good fit. It is also risky to assume you can “get around” the Americans with Disabilities Act by using the PPI-R scale with job applicants when what you are measuring is psychopathy and resulting goodness of fit in your workplace.

And a high-functioning psychopathic attorney is just the kind of person to drag you through a lawsuit by claiming that you rejected him or her based on an ADA protected factor.

Schutte, N., Blickle, G., Frieder, R., Wihler, A., Schnitzler, F., Heupel, J., & Zettler, I. (2015). The Role of Interpersonal Influence in Counterbalancing Psychopathic Personality Trait Facets at Work Journal of Management DOI: 10.1177/0149206315607967

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psychopath brain 2016This will shock you, or maybe relieve you: Psychopaths are different from the rest of us. Here’s another article saying there are measurable differences in how the brains of how criminal psychopaths work (and look) when compared to non-criminal psychopaths (those who have psychopathic traits but have not been convicted of criminal offenses) and non-psychopaths.

While many criminal offenders have psychopathic traits, there are some psychopaths who never commit offenses (at least, for which they are convicted). Today’s researchers wanted to see if there were “brain differences” visible on an MRI. They tested 14 convicted psychopaths and 20 non-criminals—half of whom who had a high psychopathy scale score but had not been convicted of any offenses. This is a very small group size but as they comment—it is the first time convicted offenders have actually been examined.

They found a few differences and the following is a summary of their findings:

Psychopaths (both criminal and non-criminal) have stronger reward centers in their brains

To clarify, the brain’s reward center—called the nucleus accumbens—“is responsible for recognizing and processing the rewards and punishments that follow from our actions”. The researchers had participants perform various tests while in an MRI scanner to measure brain activity. Those who had no significant psychopathic traits had a weaker response in the brain’s reward center than did both the criminal and non-criminal psychopaths.

Low self-control and less response to reward in criminal compared to non-criminal psychopaths

Good communication between the reward center of the brain and an area in the mid-brain is seen as reflecting good self-control. The authors found that criminal psychopaths did not have as good communication between those brain areas as did non-criminal psychopaths. While this is the first time criminal psychopaths were actually examined in this way (and there were only 14 of them) the researchers think it possible that the tendency to commit a criminal offense stems from a combination of a lack of responsiveness to reward and a lack of self-control.

Among the other lessons learned was a sense that when your reward center is extremely sensitive, you may be more likely to behave impulsively. The researchers think a sensitive reward center may be more predictive than a lack of empathy but obviously follow-up studies are needed. They also think that if future studies continue to show the brain plays an important role in criminal behavior—we may yet see brain scans being used in forensic examinations for diminished responsibility down the road.

While neurolaw advances are not being published as quickly as they were for a while, there are still multiple researchers working on the question of responsibility for criminal acts when your brain is demonstrably different from a non-psychopath. This is an interesting line of research in terms of comparing criminal psychopaths to non-criminal psychopaths and non-psychopaths. The small sample size is a concern and we need to wait for larger samples but the ideas are ones we think likely to continue to spark new research until we have to deal with these questions of responsibility in the courtroom. We’ve written about this area frequently so if you’d like to see what our mock jurors say in pretrial research, take a look at the neurolaw category in our blog.

Geurts DE, von Borries K, Volman I, Bulten BH, Cools R, & Verkes RJ (2016). Neural connectivity during reward expectation dissociates psychopathic criminals from non-criminal individuals with high impulsive/antisocial psychopathic traits. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 11 (8), 1326-1334 PMID: 27217111

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derogatory tweets by stateLast week we published a new post on terrific visual evidence from the political arena that quickly and visually described complex (and huge) data sets. This week (and no, this will not be a regular weekly feature) we mine another (and perhaps unexpected) data source: Twitter. While you may have seen Jimmy Kimmel having movie stars read mean tweets about themselves—this visualization of American intolerance is much less amusing.

Although we are based in Texas (claiming the #3 slot in terms of American derogatory tweets), we travel all over the country doing pretrial research. As we prepare for that travel, we always investigate the demographic data of a planned venue so we can recruit a sample of mock jurors that reflect the community in which we are doing research. We look at online versions of local newspapers to get a sense of what residents have been reading about, talking about, or experiencing first-hand that might have relevance to our case. And sometimes, depending on the case specifics, we do a lot more research than usual to identify themes we might hear from mock jurors that can be instructive for us as we write up reports. However, prior to seeing the information we are about to share with you, we have not done Twitter research. From now on, we might need to add that to the list.

Imagine that you are working on a case that involves litigants that are minorities, or issues about social justice, or immigrants. You want to have a sense of the biases present in the area—where you can find representative opinions about your clients or the other party. You might want to understand the prevalence of biases and their social acceptability within the venue. Are slurs against black people, slurs against Hispanics or Latinos, slurs against women, slurs against the cognitively disabled, slurs against those who are overweight, or just plain nastiness and incivility in general something that people feel able to express openly? How can you know? You guessed it. Twitter.

The results can be found on Twitter, courtesy of the geotagging function in Twitter which allows you to “map” hate speech. The mining was done by a residential search engine site (Adobo) so that people looking for a new place to live can either steer clear of localities or get a higher chance of having a next-door neighbor who shares a particular favorite form of bigotry. It could also, though, be a simple place to take a look at how biases  (aka online hate speech) will interact with your specific case facts.

Some of the maps do not fit with our stereotypes of various states—take for example the least bigoted states: Wyoming, Montana, Vermont, South Dakota, Idaho, Arkansas, Minnesota, Maine, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Some of these states are often seen as having many people in them who are very bigoted and yet, there is no mention of them on Adobo’s data visualization maps as being exceptionally bigoted states. And therein lies the issue. Some areas of the country, especially rural areas, don’t tweet nearly as much as others.

Twitter participation is relatively rare among adults on the internet (only about 23% of all online adults according to Pew Research Center). So these maps geotagging hate speech may not be representative of all your neighbors (we’re talking about the 77% of online adults who are not on Twitter). When we evaluate barriers to evidence-based jury decision-making, understanding the prevalent social attitudes is crucial. So, often these Twitter maps are not accurate enough by themselves—but they are a small window into potentially big problems. And that was the goal for Adobo in publishing the results. Go see the rest for yourself. It’s eye-opening and disheartening with only a few brighter spots.

https://www.abodo.com/blog/tolerance-in-america/

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Pew on human enhancementsEarlier this year, we wrote about the patent squabble over CRISPR and how that new tech/old laws fight (between researchers at two major research institutions) is playing out in the sadly outdated patent law system. This month, Pew Research took to the phone lines to see just how Americans feel about CRISPR (aka gene editing) and other “biomedical technologies” (e.g., brain chip implants and synthetic blood) which claim that they will change human capabilities.

You may be surprised at how ambivalent the public is about using these new tools. As Pew says, “Americans are more worried than enthusiastic” about how these tools will be used. And, as this technology veers more and more into public awareness, being aware of the ambivalence with which Americans view this ground-breaking technology is going to become increasingly important for trial lawyers.

Here are a few of the facts from the Pew study:

Americans are more worried than enthusiastic about gene editing (even though it will theoretically reduce disease risk in babies), brain chip implants (even though they will theoretically improve cognitive abilities), and synthetic blood (even though it will theoretically improve physical abilities).

While Pew mentions that some respondents were both worried and excited, their worry was stronger than their excitement. Even when it comes to gene editing with the promise of helping prevent diseases for their own babies—48% support the idea and 50% do not.

There are multiple concerns about how “enhanced humans” may think themselves superior to those who remain un-enhanced and there are many questions about the morality of these changes/advances. In other words, are these ideas “meddling with nature” (a more common response among the highly religious) or “no different from other ways humans have tried to better themselves over time”? And it hints at concerns that there may be a class bias embedded in the dispute, wherein the affluent will once again have access to resources and opportunities that leave the less empowered even farther behind.

When it comes to gender, women were less likely to support the new technologies than were men.

There were differentiations made by the respondents between what they saw as “elective procedures” (as in cosmetic surgeries) and those benefits provided by these new technologies that would be therapeutic. The line between the two (elective and therapeutic) was often fuzzy but Pew thinks it may be a good way to differentiate between the reactions to these new technologies.

Overall, Pew thinks these questions about using new technologies raise the issue of what it means to be human and whether these new developments reach beyond limits set by “God, nature or reason”. Where we draw that line is the crux of the matter for many respondents.

What isn’t clear is what the public thinks of law or legal precedent when it comes to such things. That makes sense, since they haven’t any idea of what the implications of the laws could be on this strange new world. If they are frightened by the implications of these innovations, they might want laws that slow down the changes. If they are more excited than frightened, they might want to allow the marketplace to drive the innovations.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, these responses are not necessarily intuitive. While we might intuit that allowing babies to be born without diseases would be a positive thing, respondents did not necessarily agree. They see it as being more complex. Although the parents of that baby struggling with a serious disease would likely strongly support the new technology for helping their child, others might well say “that sounds good, but this is a slippery slope and where will it lead?”.

As with all “hot button” issues, this is one that will require careful pretrial research to identify the most effective way to tell a story that will not set off knee-jerk morally based reactions to the use of new technologies. People want to feel safe from disease, but also from a world where science fiction movies come to life. Equally uncertain is how people see the role of government in nurturing innovation while protecting the public from science run amok.

Pew Research Foundation (July 26, 2016). U.S. Public Wary of Biomedical Technologies to ‘Enhance’ Human Abilities. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/07/26/u-s-public-wary-of-biomedical-technologies-to-enhance-human-abilities/

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this-n-thatHere are a few articles that did not act as a catalyst to stimulate an entire post but that tweaked our fancy enough that we wanted to share them with you. Think of them as “rescue items” if you have social anxiety and want to seem scintillating….or something like that.

So have you seen this in the last second?

Here’s an interesting memory study where the researchers found that if participants didn’t know they were going to be tested on things they’d seen repeatedly, they would have no idea when asked to identify if they’d seen a specific item before. Specifically, they asked participants to do a simple memory test to replicate memory for different kinds of information (e.g., numbers. letters or colors). For example, participants would be shown four characters on a screen that were arranged in a square. They would be asked to report which corner the letter was in (when the other characters were either numbers or colors). The researchers repeated this task many, many times and the participants rarely made mistakes. But then (because researchers cannot leave well enough alone) the researchers asked the participants to respond to an unexpected question. Specifically, the participants were asked which of the four letters appearing on their computer screen had appeared on the previous screen. Only 25% responded correctly (which is random chance of accuracy). The question was asked again after the following task but this time it wasn’t a surprise and participants gave correct answers between 65% and 95% of the time. The researchers call this effect “attribute amnesia” and say it happens when you use a piece of information to perform a task but are then unable to report what that information was as little as a single second later.

Remember that post on uninterrupted eye contact causing hallucinations?

We wrote about it in one of these ‘tidbit’ posts back in 2015 and even included a very awkward video from a Steve Martin/Tina Fey movie. This time researchers were looking for the optimal length of uninterrupted eye contact that would be experienced positively by the most people. Think of this as a potential answer to the question witnesses often have about how long to maintain eye contact with individual jurors or just use this as a guide for comfortable eye contact with strangers at Starbucks. On average, the close to 500 participants were most comfortable with eye contact that lasted slightly over three seconds. The majority preferred a duration of eye contact between two and five seconds and no one liked eye contact of less than a second or longer than nine seconds. We conclude that less than a second is too furtive, and longer than 9 seconds is intolerably intrusive. One problem with the study was that it used filmed clips rather than actual live interactions but it is an approximate guide to “normal” eye contact versus “creepy” eye contact.

Oh no! There may be a problem with all those fMRI studies!!!

A new article published in the journal PNAS tells us there is a fMRI software error that could result in the invalidation of 15 years (and more than 40,000 papers) of fMRI research. We know you are likely thinking of the article on that poor dead salmon who still showed brain activity. This article was cited all over the internet in July of 2016 as proof that all the work done on fMRI machines was likely flawed. Even though the bug was corrected in 2015, it was undetected for more than a decade and the researchers thought perhaps every study should be replicated to ensure accuracy in the literature upon which we rely. The fMRI software error and the resulting shambles of the literature was seen as a devastating bombshell with headlines like this one from Forbes suggesting “tens of thousands of fMRI brain studies may be flawed”. Fortunately, hysteria like this is likely why the Neuroskeptic was born and certainly why the Neuroskeptic blog makes such a contribution to knowledge in this field. Is this software glitch really serious? Yes, says the Neuroskeptic. It is a serious problem but it is not invalidating years of fMRI research. In fact, in an update posted to Neuroskeptic blog on July 15, 2016, the author of the paper in PNAS had requested some corrections to the publication to avoid these sensationalist headlines but PNAS refused so he put the updates onto another accessible site. Visit the Neuroskeptic’s excellent blog to read a common-sense and rational explanation of what the fMRI software bug really means and how those familiar with the fMRI work have known about this for some time now.

Yes, Virginia—women are still harassed for choosing STEM careers even though it is 2016

You’ve likely heard the lament that there are too few women in STEM careers and that we need to fix the problem. The Atlantic has published a very well-done article on how women are pushed out of STEM careers and that as many as 2 out of 3 women science professors reported being sexually harassed. And those are just the ones who made it through to graduation. The stories of those still in training having photos taken of their breasts, being harassed at conferences, or being hand-fed ice cream by male professors are disturbing. There is also “pregnancy harassment” and stories of PIs (principal investigators on grants who are typically faculty members) insisting pregnant postdocs return to the lab weeks after giving birth and then harassing the postdoc for having “baby brain” and questioning their experimental results. It is well worth your time to read.

Chen H, & Wyble B (2015). Amnesia for object attributes: failure to report attended information that had just reached conscious awareness. Psychological Science, 26 (2), 203-10 PMID: 25564523

Binetti, N., Harrison, C., Coutrot, A., Johnston, A., & Mareschal, I. (2016). Pupil dilation as an index of preferred mutual gaze duration Royal Society Open Science, 3 (7) DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160086

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