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Archive for the ‘Witness Preparation’ Category

he-man voiceAlmost five years ago, we wrote about research saying men with deep voices were more persuasive. Science has moved forward though and now, women can also be more persuasive when using a deeper voice. Some call it a “sultry voice”. New work tells us your voice doesn’t have be a deep and resonant baritone to be persuasive—you simply have to lower your speech pitch over the course of your interactions with others to be more persuasive. And—it works for both genders! If you don’t want to read the article itself, Scientific American has a nice summary that you can either listen to as a podcast or just read the full transcript.

Basically what the researchers did is recorded 191 undergraduate students (Canadian subjects, ranging in age from 17 to 52 years, 54% male) who debated in small groups about the equipment most useful after a disaster on the moon. [This is an old team-building exercise found on the internet under many different names but officially called “Lost on the Moon”] You are told you have crash landed on the moon and need to identify what items present in the spaceship will be most useful. The recorded discussions for the first study were held in same sex groups ranging in size from four to seven participants.

Researchers also did a second study online with 274 participants (ranging in age from 15 to 61 years and 60.58% female)—181 were recruited from a “large Canadian university and the remaining 93 participants were recruited from an online database of research volunteers. The reason for the second experiment being online was so they could be sure there were not visual factors interfering with persuasion by lowered voice pitch.

Results from both studies (that is, in person or online where the voice was heard but the person’s appearance was not seen) were consistent. Those participants, both male and female, who lowered their voice pitch during the negotiations required to rank 15 items in order of importance for survival on the moon were seen as more persuasive and given a higher “social ranking” in the group than those who kept their voice pitch the same or raised it.

It is a victory for women. You do not have to have a deep baritone voice in order to be persuasive. It is more a matter of shifting tonal ranges for effect—just go into negotiations or discussion with your ‘regular’ voice and then, over the course of discussion, lower your voice. Of course, it’s hard to recreate this finding in the real world since you are rarely negotiating in single-sex groups. On the other hand, it’s an interesting strategy to try. Does lowering your voice during day-to-day decision-making make you more persuasive? If it does, you might try it in lower stakes situations at work and if it still works try it out in other situations as well!

Note: If at any point during your practice, you are challenged about “faking” a deeper voice—you may need a bit more practice! It can also be thought to connote silly dramatics when overdone.

Cheng JT, Tracy JL, Ho S, & Henrich J (2016). Listen, follow me: Dynamic vocal signals of dominance predict emergent social rank in humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, 145 (5), 536-47 PMID: 27019023

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screaming-womanIt’s tough to see the same old themes come up over and over again but—here we go again… Women who react emotionally are seen as less intelligent, but if they react in a “measured and manly way” they are thought not trustworthy. In other words, you can’t win for losing.

“Men were rated as both more emotionally competent and more intelligent in general when they showed restraint. For women, however, the opposite pattern emerged, in that they were perceived as more emotionally competent and intelligent when they reacted immediately.”

In other words, say the researchers, we expect men and women to act according to gender stereotypes and we are suspicious of those who fail to behave accordingly.

Participants in the first study (59 undergraduates from the University of Haifa in Israel—30 men and 29 women) were shown photos found to elicit both sadness and anger. Then they watched videos featuring different people allegedly reacting to those same images. Half of the actors reacted almost immediately (within 1/2 second) while others did not show an expression change for a second and a half. After viewing the videos of people reacting to the images, the participants rated each character for “emotional competence” and assessed their level of sensitivity, caring, and the appropriateness and authenticity of their reactions.

Men who paused for 1.5 seconds prior to changing their expression were seen as more emotionally competent. Women who paused were seen as less emotionally competent.

The second study (with 58 students) was much the same as the first but the participants also rated the perceived intelligence of the character in the video.

“Men who showed delayed reactions were perceived as significantly more intelligent than those who reacted immediately, whereas for women, delayed reactions resulted in less perceived intelligence.”

The authors say that these results reflect the strength of gender stereotypes about women as “more emotionally volatile but also more emotionally competent” and say that when women delay their reaction to an emotionally charged image they may be seen as “strategic rather than spontaneous”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this will be important when considering the impact of male and female witnesses, for preparation of parties, and even for attorney behavior in the courtroom. You are always being watched and evaluated. Assumptions are going to be made for better or worse.

Help jurors see your female witness/party/self as thoughtful and competent but as having learned to stop and consider actions and consequences prior to reacting. That is done more by offering jurors some context for respecting the witness or party, rather than trying to train them to significantly change their response style. In other words, this time it has to be about teaching the jurors how to judge quality, rather than teaching the witness how to overcome the gender bias.

Hess, U, David, S, & Hareli S (2016). Emotional restraint is good for men only: The influence of emotional restraint on perceptions of confidence. Emotion

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Your face can get you killed… 

Monday, May 9, 2016
posted by Rita Handrich

untrustworthy-faceHere’s a sad study that tells us stereotypes are alive and well in American court systems. Let’s say you are unfortunate enough to be on trial for murder. According to this study, how wide your face is can be the difference between life and death if you are convicted–even if you are actually innocent.

We’ve written before about wide-faced men and the link with aggression and this study is similar to those but it’s done with photos of men who were actually imprisoned on death row or were serving life sentences for murder. The researchers wanted to see if jurors may have made assumptions about predilection to violence from looking at faces of defendants and if that “face analysis” resulted in sentencing disparities between those with trustworthy versus untrustworthy faces.

They pulled the photos of the men from the state of Florida (which still has the death penalty) and had 208 online volunteers look at the photographs (which were cropped to show faces only and gray-scaled so the color of the prison uniforms did not influence the raters. The researchers even controlled for whether the inmate was wearing eyeglasses or if they had visible (face or neck) tattoos. The volunteers rated the faces in the photo for trustworthiness.

Here is what they found:

Perceptions of untrustworthiness predicted death sentences as opposed to life sentences for convicted murderers in Florida. (The researchers just asked the participants to rate whether the faces in the photos were trustworthy or not. Then, they went back to look at the actual trial outcomes to see who had been sentenced to death and who’d been sentenced to life in prison.

One of the variables the researchers checked (because they are evolutionary psychologists, naturally) was facial width (which is set at puberty and not under anyone’s control). Sure enough, if you have a wide face you do not “look” trustworthy. Just as we presume the jurors did, the online raters looked at a face and deemed it untrustworthy.

Undeterred, the researchers looked to those convicted of murder and later acquitted (following an appeal usually due to Innocence Project help and DNA evidence). They used photos of 37 faces of convicts, all from states allowing the death penalty. Twenty were black and 17 were white or Hispanic, 20 sentenced to life and 17 sentenced to death. The researchers had them rated again after cropping and converting to gray-scale. The goal was the same in this second study—to have online participants rate the face as trustworthy versus untrustworthy and then look to see if there was a relationship between facial appearance and ultimate sentencing. You know what happened. The very same thing as had happened before.

If the former defendant (who’d been found guilty and then acquitted on appeal typically due to DNA evidence) had an untrustworthy face—they were more likely to have been sentenced to death.

The researchers are quick to say that this second sample was only from Florida and they comment that if you are in Florida—your face can be a ticket to death by lethal injection or life in prison.

We believe that this is likely not just a Florida thing. Take a look at the graphic illustrating this post. The man in that photo “looks like” a thug and jurors looking at him may make a determination he is more likely to kill again than his fellow defendant who looks so much more trustworthy—and so they sentence him to death.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is yet another example of how extra-evidentiary information plays into (in this case) life and death decision-making on the part of jurors. We’ve blogged before about using makeup to cover tattoos to modify the defendant’s “visual identity” and even about adding eyeglasses to change your client’s image (known as the “nerd defense”). This is just another example of how powerful our stereotypes and assumptions can be during deliberations. Facial reconstruction surgery is likely out of reach for most defendants but it would be useful to consider how to best mask the “thug look” some defendants carry with them based on simple genetics and heredity.

Wilson JP, & Rule NO (2015). Facial Trustworthiness Predicts Extreme Criminal-Sentencing Outcomes. Psychological Science, 26 (8), 1325-31 PMID: 26162847

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know it allMost of us think we know more than we actually do and sometimes, that sense is taken to an extreme that can be annoying (as well as inaccurate). Two years ago, we wrote about a study on modulating political extremism and mentioned the recommended strategy was similar to one we use to topple self-appointed “experts” in litigation research, and at trial. Now, we have another study that uses the same strategy but significantly shortens the length of time it takes for the speaker to reassess their (lack of) knowledge.

The researchers say the belief that we actually understand the working of ordinary things (like a vacuum cleaner) when we really do not is called “the illusion of explanatory depth”. And they mention the paper we blogged about back in 2014 which recommended asking people to offer a detailed explanation of their understanding—at which point, most come to realize they really do not understand (for example, how the vacuum cleaner works) as much as they thought they did. Even if they cling to their belief that they are an expert anyhow, their ability to persuade others is undermined. It works well to unseat a self-appointed expert but it does take a little time. In truth, the goal of asking for the explanation in pretrial research isn’t to embarrass them, but rather to understand how someone got sidetracked onto a rabbit-trail that could distract an actual juror. We discovered that it also had some salubrious secondary benefits, though…

New research tells us it really is not necessary to have people generate those full explanations that take up time. Instead, asking the “expert” to reflect briefly, but in a very specific way, on the extent of their knowledge is often enough to shake their over-confidence and help them understand they really do not understand how a “vacuum cleaner” works. The researchers conclude that

“reflection on explanatory ability is a rare metacognitive tool in the arsenal to combat our proclivity to over-estimate understanding”.

In other words, the question provides a way to get the know-it-all to stop and assess their actual knowledge accurately and acknowledge their actual lack of understanding. So, here’s how it works. The researchers asked participants in their nine experiments to

“Carefully reflect on your ability to explain to an expert, in a step-by-step, causally-connected manner, with no gaps in your story how the object works”.

And here’s what is truly amazing. It didn’t matter if they asked the participants (across 9 separate studies) to “reflect” for 5 seconds or for 20 seconds—this was a shortcut to accurate self-knowledge assessment. The researchers say that, in their 9 experiments, the speed of the “reflecting” intervention was up to 20x faster for high complexity objects than a full verbal explanation.

The researchers tried other instructions (like “carefully reflect on your understanding of how the object works” or “type out your full explanation as if you were explaining to an expert in a step-by-step, causally-connected manner, with no gaps in your story how the object works”) and determined neither of these worked as well as the directive to “carefully reflect on your ability to explain to an expert in a step by step, casually-connected manner with no gaps in your story as to how the object works” as outlined above.

And, as in our 2014 blog post, the strategy even works to soften extreme political beliefs and attitudes. Something about the reflection task results in participants suddenly “seeing” the complexity of an object (the vacuum cleaner) or the complexity of a political policy—and they are very able to back away from their self-proclaimed expert status. As an added bonus, this effect works best on high complexity (e.g., the vacuum cleaner) as compared to low complexity objects (e.g., a manually operated can opener).

The researchers think this strategy works because it requires a shift from the vague and abstract (e.g., how well do you understand how a vacuum cleaner works) to the specific and concrete (e.g., judge how well you understand how the parts of an object enable it to work). That subtle shift from abstract to concrete results in a “mechanistic” understanding of the desired explanation which makes the difference in the individual’s ability to accurately assess their (lack of) knowledge.

Another reason the strategy works is because the person reflecting almost immediately sees the number of steps it would take to explain how a complex object works and they realize they will only be able to explain a small percentage of the total steps involved in making an object work.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a potentially powerful tool for helping jurors be open to hearing how something or some process works. You can use it directed at yourself for example, while examining a witness.

“You know, Dr. Johnson, I really thought I knew how a vacuum cleaner worked and then I stopped to think about how I would explain how the different parts all work together to an expert in a step-by-step fashion, and I decided to call you as a witness here instead.” (This will allow jurors to check in internally and realize they also do not know how a vacuum cleaner really works.)

Then, continuing with the vacuum cleaner example, your expert witness can say something like, “It’s a lot more complicated than you might think. Do you want me to explain the whole thing in great detail, or are you asking me to talk about how this one widget in dispute works to modulate the level of suction?”

You can then instruct the witness to focus on whatever level of detail serves the cause. Perhaps s/he explains the role of the widget but give us a small summary of how the overall vacuum cleaner works and why the widget in dispute is essential (or not).

It’s a really amazing thing when you see how quickly and non-defensively an “expert” will acknowledge their “gaps in causal knowledge” (as the researchers call it). We have never had a mock juror become angry over being asked to educate the group but they have always sheepishly admitted they are not quite the fount of information they previously thought they were!

Johnson DR, Murphy MP, & Messer RM (2016). Reflecting on explanatory ability: A mechanism for detecting gaps in causal knowledge. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 145 (5), 573-88 PMID: 26999047

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creepinessYou know what ‘creepy’ is and in the movie The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins personified creepiness. While it may be hard to believe, no one has ever “pinned down” what makes a person creepy. Since there must be a need for such information, enter academic Francis McAndrew of Knox University (in Galesburg, Illinois), for an impressive effort.

First he educates us on what creepiness is—as though we needed him to do that. We all know what constitutes “creepiness” and what results in us being “creeped out” but he does a pretty good job of defining it.

“Creepiness is anxiety aroused by the ambiguity of whether there is something to fear or not and/or by the ambiguity of the precise nature of the threat (e.g., sexual, physical violence, contamination, et cetera) that might be present. Such uncertainty results in a paralysis as to how one should respond.”

So in order to begin what will likely be a long academic exploration (he already has tenure!) on the topic of creepiness, he constructed a measure of just what “normal people” think is creepy. He asked 1,341 people (1,029 females and 312 males ranging in age from 18-77 with an average age of 28.97, via internet survey) to answer some questions about a hypothetical “creepy person” that a friend had encountered. He asked them to rate the person’s physical appearance, behavior and intentions on a scale from 1 (normal) to 5 (creepy). He later asked them to rate occupations and hobbies on a “creepiness scale”.

And here is some of what he found:

Participants were asked if “creepy individuals” were more often male or female. Both male and female participants thought men were more likely to be creepy.

Females were more likely to perceive a sexual threat or sexual interest from a creepy person than were males.

The creepiest occupations were: clown, taxidermist, sex shop owners, and funeral director. (Public service announcement: The full list of occupations deemed “creepy” was in the article and we carefully reviewed it. Neither attorneys nor psychologists were on the creepiness scale, although college professors were on the scale. Be careful out there.)

The creepiest hobbies were collecting things (like dolls, insects, reptiles, or body parts such as teeth, bones or fingernails); variations on ‘watching’ others, bird watchers (who knows what they are really doing?); taxidermy, and a fascination with pornography or exotic sexual activities.

Older participants had less alarm over creepy people, were less likely to feel physical or sexual threat from a creeper and had less anxiety over interacting with a creepy person.

Finally, survey participants were convinced that creepy people do not know they are creepy.

Essentially, what this research says is it is the uncertainty or ambiguity surrounding the creepy person that leads us to think they are a potential threat. It’s good for us to recognize potential threats in our environment—although that birdwatcher wariness is a little odd, unless the concern it that they are really Peeping Tom’s, and the birding interest is a transparent ruse. And it appears that is precisely what our alarm over encountering someone creepy serves to do—detect potential threats.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this falls into the category of “be aware of the impression that witnesses create in jurors”. If you are prepping a witness and it occurs to you that “this person takes a while to warm up to”, consider what impression they created in you before the warmth took over.

If you conclude that you felt wary of them until they described X or Y, or told you a story about their family or background that you found reassuring—you might have a problem witness. Testing witnesses for credibility and likability is very worthwhile, and it can give you some ideas about how to reduce their potential for “creepiness”.

As an extra piece of information for you, here’s a video that is awkward but not really creepy (at least by the researcher’s definition).

McAndrew, F., & Koehnke, S. (2016). On the nature of creepiness. New Ideas in Psychology,, 43, 10-15 DOI: 10.1016/j.newideapsych.2016.03.003

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