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I Me Mine NarcissismConservative commentators like to say Barack Obama is cold and aloof (and narcissistic) because he uses so many personal pronouns in speeches. However, when compared to past Presidents, Obama’s personal pronoun use is actually lower than any President since 1945. It’s an interesting example of how our preexisting beliefs (and political orientation) skew how we hear things and thus form conclusions about others. Those of us who are old enough to remember the Beatles song I Me Mine, might think it an apt description of the narcissist.

Narcissists are characterized by an unrealistic sense of superiority and self-importance, and a persistent self-focus [recall Narcissus from mythology, forever gazing at his image in the water]. While they may seem charming at first, over time their grandiosity, self-focus and self-importance becomes toxic and suffocating and they lose relationships. So can we identify those who use personal pronouns excessively as narcissists? It makes some intuitive sense and it is certainly common wisdom. But, can we really use the frequency of personal pronouns as a good quick-and-dirty screening tool for narcissism? That was the question today’s researchers sought to answer. But they wanted to do it thoroughly and so used 4,811 subjects, across 5 separate labs, with 5 separate narcissism measures, and with English speakers and German speakers. So, large sample, multiple labs, multiple measures of narcissism, and multiple countries/languages.

The researchers say at the outset that while many believe there is a relationship between “I-talk” and narcissism, and this idea makes intuitive sense, there is actually little empirical evidence to support it (and what evidence exists is inconsistent). The researchers accessed 15 samples to examine the relationship of I-talk to narcissism. The samples included the ubiquitous psychology undergraduates, but also social network users in Germany, and German and US Facebook users.

Measures used included the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (in both German and English), the Dirty Dozen Scale, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (in both German and English) and several single-item measures of narcissism. Written samples of various texts participants were asked to generate across different contexts (e.g., talking about some aspect of their own identity, writing about a topic related to themselves, or an impersonal topic) were analyzed by the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software program.

Here is what the researchers found:

“Overall our analyses revealed consistent evidence of a near-zero effect. In short, our high powered investigation provided little compelling support for the often discussed connection between narcissism and I-talk.

In other words, narcissism was unrelated to total I-talk. And that means you can’t diagnose narcissism through self-referential speech. For the grammarians among us, the researchers measured first person singular pronouns as well as participant use of subjective, objective and possessive first-person singular pronouns. There were simply not relationships between the use of self-referential pronouns and narcissism.

The researchers wonder if the “intuitive association between I-talk and narcissism might be based more on a schema-based perceptual process, in the mind of the perceiver, rather than on an analytic pronoun count”. To me, that sounds like “if I don’t like you I will perceive your speech as indicating you are narcissistic”. Which is, in itself, somewhat self-referentially narcissistic.

In everyday language, what that means is that if your attitudes, beliefs and values (and even your political ideology) vary from the speaker, you may be more prone to “hear” narcissism than if you are listening to someone whose values seem to align with your own. If you had a Mom like mine, it mostly means that you talk too much about yourself.

That is a phenomena many of us have seen as we listen to mock jurors react based on mishearing facts and evidence and incorporating their own beliefs into their judgment. We understand this as a problem with the case narrative hitting on “hot button” beliefs that mean mock jurors have defend their pre-existing beliefs.

Just like the conspiracy theorist, these jurors who “just are not listening”, help us refine and re-craft case narratives so they touch on universal values rather than attitude/value/belief/ideology “hot buttons” that result in off-track reactions.

Carey, AL, Brucks, MS, Küfner, ACP, Holtzman, NS, Deters, FG, Back, MD, Donnellan, MB, Pennebaker, JW, & Mehl, MR (2015). Narcissists and Pronouns: “I”, “me” “mine”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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millennial tattooWe’ve written a lot about tattoos here and this writeup is going to be a little different from most of our posts. Rather than spending time on the research findings, we want to cite some of the more unusual and surprising findings the author reviews as a prelude to her results.

So, to be brief, the researcher found that Millennials are growing up and yes, they do know tattoos may be frowned upon in some parts of the business world. Further, many of them say that they will consider how able they will be to conceal a new tattoo in business attire as they approach the job market. That isn’t that surprising to us at all. What was surprising was some of the literature the author cited as she reviewed (oh the many) reasons someone should talk to Millennials and make sure they realize tattoos are permanent and may keep them from getting hired.

Here are just a few of the findings she cites in her review of the literature:

There is a Facebook page called “Tattoo Acceptance in the Workplace” which has over 2 million “likes”! (It seems to be more a place to show your art than to talk about the issues related to having tattoos in the workplace.)

A 2012 study showed that customers who have tattoos are more likely to trust salespeople who also have tattoos and that people associate more positive traits to salespeople with “feminine tattoos”.

Another survey completed in 2012 in a rural hospital showed patients did not view male health care professionals with tattoos positively. Caregivers with tattoos are seen as “unsanitary” or “dirty”. It is imagined that the judges of the tattoos are not, themselves, owners of tattoos. No ink-bonding there. Another 2010 health care setting survey resulted in concerns about infection control since tattoo cover ups could hamper good washing of the hands. We imagine that there is concern that some people who cover up tattoos don’t realize that they need to be uncovered for the sake of cleaning skin. An odd concern, we think.

Undergraduate accounting students in 2011 thought accounting professionals should not have visible tattoos (even though 26% of the survey participants had their own tattoos!). Further, those students had less confidence in the tattooed accountant and were less likely to recommend the services of a tattooed accountant.

A man in Pennsylvania sought employment as a “Liquor Enforcement Officer” in 2012 and was told in order to be hired he would have to remove his tattoos. He filed a lawsuit alleging multiple violations and the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the lower court ruling (for the Defendant) saying “having a tattoo is not a fundamental right”.

Another ruling in 2006 involved lawsuit by several police officers who claimed their police chief did not have the authority to force employees to cover up tattoos because they were “offensive” or “unprofessional”. The court said that public employees may expect to have their first amendment rights more curtailed in order to “promote effective government”.

It is intriguing that self-expression tends to lose in court. Even more so, it is a testament to the power of the tattoo to divide even those with tattoos. Tattoos are going to be judged and they are almost always going to be judged negatively (even by those who also have tattoos)—so if you are a tattooed attorney or have a tattooed client, you may want to cover your own and have your client cover theirs as well while in court.

Foltz, KA (2015). The Millennial’s perception of tattoos: Self expression or business faux pas? College Student Journal

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murdered black maleIn December of last year, we wrote about investigative case files in Shreveport, Louisiana. One of the findings in the analysis of those investigative files was this:

Overall, say the researchers, cases with White female victims resulted in the highest number of case file pages (i.e., the most investigative work) and the most severe sentences. In contrast, Black male homicide victims received the least investigative attention and the least severe sentences.

Now, data from the Capital Jury Project has been used to see whether there was a “White female victim effect”. The “female victim effect” describes the tendency for longer sentences or the death penalty when the victim was a female and especially when the victim was a White female who was killed by a Black male.

The Capital Jury Project study involved examining 249 cases of which 57.4% resulted in the death penalty and 42.6% resulted in a life sentence. A little over half (58.2%) of the capital trials took place in a southern jurisdiction. 56.2% of the cases had White male defendants and 43.8% had Black male defendants.

In 41% of the cases, the victim was a White female and of those cases, 61.8% resulted in a death sentence and 38.2% resulted in life sentences.

37.8% of the cases involved White male victims, and of those cases, 59.6% resulted in a death sentence and 40.4% resulted in life sentences.

12% of the cases involved Black male victims, and of those cases, only 38.7% resulted in a death sentence and 61.3% resulted in life sentences.

8.8% of the cases involved Black female victims and in those 22 cases, 54.5% resulted in a death sentence and 45.5% resulted in a life sentence.

Even just reading those numbers, it is apparent that if you are a White victim, your killer is more likely to receive a death penalty sentence and if you are a Black male victim, the opposite is true. The researchers say that the difference is “not as pronounced in Black female victim cases” but for Black males, the difference is statistically significant and sobering.

If that isn’t disturbing enough, comments from the jurors seem to indicate they don’t see the Black male homicide victim as having “suffered” as much as other victims. That is, they perceived suffering for the victim in 76.8% of the White female victim cases but only in 31% of the Black male victim cases. “Nearly 79% of Black male victim cases are perceived by jurors not to involve brutality and another 69% of the cases are perceived by jurors not to involve suffering.”

Here’s a representative comment from a male juror: “you shoot somebody and they die right there and then I don’t think there is any suffering to happen”.

And a representative comment from a female juror: “I don’t know if you’d call it brutal or not. He [the defendant] just got it over with…if there was torture involved then I would call it brutal…but there was no torture involved. He just shot him.”

The researchers conclude that “victim race, not victim gender, appears to be driving juror decision-making in capital cases”. They focus on what they say is a “black male victim effect”: and define it this way:

“It appears that defendants who kill Black male victims are significantly less likely to receive a death sentence compared to defendants convicted of killing White female and White male victims”.

Ultimately, this research finds (through involved archival work and juror interviews) what they found in Louisiana by just measuring the thickness of the investigative files.

Black male victims do not get justice at either the investigative stage or the criminal trial stage. The investigations are far shorter and less thorough than for White victims.

This disparity at the investigative stage appears to be an artifact of what prosecutors deem to be most worthy of effort in homicide investigations, but it is offensively unfair to those murder victims who are Black males, and arguably, to a justice-minded populace.

For all of us, it is a sad statement when a measure like simply counting pages in a prosecutorial file shows us what the system values and then when presented in court, decisions are made that reflect what the system says is valuable.

Girgenti, A. (2015). The Intersection of Victim Race and Gender: The “Black Male Victim Effect” and the Death Penalty Race and Justice DOI: 10.1177/2153368715570060

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superhero poseWe’ve written about power poses before and the work being done by Amy Cuddy and her colleagues on how they increase both self-confidence and hormones like testosterone and cortisol. The research has become so widely known it was even featured on the Grey’s Anatomy television show recently with two surgeons striking a superhero pose prior to a demanding surgery. But new research says those findings are simply not true. At least part of the findings are not true.

Researchers in Europe had 200 subjects (98 women and 102 men) provide saliva samples, then do three-minute power poses and then give saliva samples again. When the researchers tested the saliva samples (before power poses and after power poses) they found no difference in the level of testosterone or cortisol. But—and this is a big but—participants did feel more powerful and confident after holding the superhero poses.

So it is possible the Cuddy results showing increases in hormone levels was in error or somehow unique to their conducting of the research. From a litigation advocacy standpoint, though, we are not sure it really matters.

The point is to feel more confident and relaxed and even this larger sample size showed that “striking a power pose” was effective in helping participants feel more confident.

We believe in the importance of research to replicate findings. And what this larger scale study says is that while there are not accompanying physiological changes in hormone levels, there is a sense of feeling more confident and powerful. And that’s what you want before a challenging task—whether that is a complex surgery, a courtroom presentation, or a job interview.

Here’s Amy Cuddy’s TED talk. It is well worth watching!

Ranehill, E., Dreber, A., Johannesson, M., Leiberg, S., Sul, S., & Weber, R. (2015). Assessing the Robustness of Power Posing: No Effect on Hormones and Risk Tolerance in a Large Sample of Men and Women. Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797614553946

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democrat-republicanToday’s researchers are finding political party differences consistently on hot button issues. They simply ask if political affiliation is Republican, Democrat, or Independent, and have found it predictive. In case this paragraph is the only part of this post that you read, we hasten to add [spoiler alert!] that while on some cases it is useful to know (especially those involving tort reform issues or other politically linked controversies), there is often no predictive value related to party affiliation.

These researchers commissioned an October 2013 national survey with 2000 respondents (i.e., registered voters interviewed online) to see if Americans see science as relevant to policy making/writing. They were particularly interested in “how political attitudes, along with religious faith and education, impact views about the proper role of science in shaping public policy”. What they found was that, “most Americans view science as relevant to policy, but that their willingness to defer to science in policy matters varies considerably across issues”.

The results of this paper are complex and we are only going to focus on how they found Republicans and Democrats to be different. The survey asked about 16 different issues (with many of them being potentially divisive): embryonic stem cell research, fetus viability, global warming/climate change, gay adoption, childhood obesity and diet restrictions, AIDS prevention, birth control education, legalizing drug use, mandatory health insurance, regulation of coal production, mandatory background checks for gun permits, producing biotech food and crops, regulation of nuclear power, animal testing for medical research, mandatory childhood vaccinations, and teaching evolution and the origins of humans.

And here is what they found:

Republicans and Democrats do disagree across all 16 items surveyed with Democrats much more likely to defer to science across all 16 issues. It is not that Republicans are anti-science. It is that Democrats are very pro-science and willing to defer to scientists strongly on almost all policy issues.

Republicans and Independents have only slight differences in their responses about deference to science on policy issues. What this survey shows is that Democrats stand alone while Republicans and Independents have a more similar  perspective on scientific findings as the foundation for public policy.

What the researchers say is that identifying as Democrat is connected to a strong, pro-science stance but identifying as Republican is not indicative (at all) of being anti-science. Instead, religious beliefs and political ideology (whether you see yourself as liberal or conservative) is more important than political affiliation.

The researchers think the majority of the American public is comfortable deferring to science on public policy issues and indicate that identifying as Republican was only correlated with decreased willingness to defer to scientific opinion on gay adoption and mandatory health insurance and those decreases did not reach statistical significance.

In short, they conclude, if you want Democrats on your side, use scientific research to back up your policy positions.

From a litigation advocacy position, we see this as indicative of the importance of not making assumptions that your Republican jurors will be conservative and anti-science. While it appears you can make the assumption that Democrat jurors will be very pro-science, you cannot make the opposite assumption about Republican jurors. It is far more likely to come down to attitudes, values and beliefs—and not demographic categories like gender, race, and politics.

Blank, J., & Shaw, D. (2015). Does Partisanship Shape Attitudes toward Science and Public Policy? The Case for Ideology and Religion The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 658 (1), 18-35 DOI: 10.1177/0002716214554756

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