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how women leadWe’ve written about women and leadership before. While some new research shows female leaders handle stress more effectively than male leaders, we’re not going to write about that one today. Instead, here is a report on a study showing some other good news: women are no longer punished for behaving assertively in a leadership role!

It’s a positive change. The past research showed us that women who were assertive were seen negatively due to perceived violations of their gender role expectations. That is, men are assertive and women are sweet. And when women are not sweet, we call them witches (or something like that). So. The news that what these researchers call “agentic behavior” (i.e., acting like a leader) is now acceptable for women (as long as they are not aggressive and ruthless as they exhibit leadership behavior) is good news indeed.

Alas, though. Every silver lining seems to have a cloud and the battle is not yet won. As it happens, while women are now evaluated just as positively as men leaders for behaving assertively in their leadership role–women leaders who are tentative or submissive are rated much more negatively than are tentative or submissive men who lead. Leaders frequently fake their confidence and strength, but if a woman is seen as doing that, reactions they get are worse than those accorded to men.

The researchers used 185 participants (47% female, average age 28.3 years, either undergraduate students or graduates from an Australian university) who were told they were participating in a study on effective communication. The participants read a transcript of a speech (on climate change) which was identified as being given by an Independent (non-party-affiliated) candidate for national office. They were told the speech was given by a female (Annette Hayes or Susan Hayes) or a male (David Hayes or Andrew Hayes).

The speech itself was written in either an assertive voice (indicating dominance, confidence and strength) or a tentative voice (indicating deference, hesitancy, and a lack of confidence). After reading the transcripts, the participants rated the candidate’s likability and influence (i.e., how persuasive they were and therefore how likely to convince others of their position). They also rated the leaders on agency (i.e., how dominant, forceful and confident they were) and communality (i.e., how friendly, sensitive and warm they were).

Assertive female leaders were rated more likable than tentative female leaders but there was no difference in likability between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while there was no difference in likability between assertive male and assertive female leaders, tentative males were more likable than tentative females.

Assertive female leaders were significantly more influential with participants than were the tentative female leaders. There was no difference in influence exerted on participants between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while participants saw no difference in influence by the assertive women and assertive men leaders, they saw the tentative man as more influential than the tentative woman.

In other words, say the authors, women in political leadership will only be as effective as men if they are always confident, strong and decisive. When their behavior deviates from these male-stereotypic leadership ideals, they will be punished far more than their male counterparts. A follow-up study found the same pattern. The authors summarize their findings as follows:

“Based on men’s continued dominance in positions of power, expectations of women to show unwavering signs of confidence and strength will provide a considerable challenge. While a few women will be able to meet this expectation, the majority who cannot remain disadvantaged, with men avoiding similar penalties for equivalent non-agentic behaviors. Therefore, this subtle form of prejudice towards women demands our attention and effort if gender equality is to be achieved.”

It’s a societal double standard recently highlighted by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. When male leaders display emotion– even inappropriate emotion– it is often celebrated. When women display even a little emotion, it is interpreted very negatively. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as you consider the behavior and leadership potential of male and female attorneys. We are all subject to bias– until we pay attention to it. Merely by being conscious of its potential, it can become a much smaller problem.

Bongiorno, R., Bain, P., & David, B. (2013). If you’re going to be a leader, at least act like it! Prejudice towards women who are tentative in leader roles. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12032



invisible gorilla 2014We’ve written about change blindness (also known as inattentional blindness) before and it’s probably best known as including those experiments with the invisible gorillas. My personal favorite is the one where researchers hid their gorilla in brain scans and had radiologists review the slides. (And social science researchers wonder why professionals like radiologists usually just say NO when asked to participate in their research…)

Today though, we are talking about another (often maligned) area–that of eyewitness identification. It is well-known that eye-witness testimony is often inaccurate even though jurors usually pay close attention to testimony by a witness who “saw it with my own eyes!”. Canadian researchers used 180 undergraduate students (129 women, average age 19.9 years) and had them view two different videos after instructing them to take the role of an eye-witness and pay close attention to what they saw in the videos.

The videos contained footage of a man dressed in what we think of as the Steve Jobs uniform of blue jeans and a black sweater (later referred to as the video innocent) walking up to and entering a building. He then enters two different hallways, shaking the handles of each locked door. Then a second man (also dressed in blue jeans and a black sweater but weighing about 50 pounds LESS than the video innocent) was shown walking through another hallway. He (later referred to as the video culprit) approaches an office door, forces it open, enters the office and finds an iPad. He then exits the office with the iPad in his hand. The video itself was 67 seconds long, the video innocent was on-screen for 33 seconds and the video culprit was on-screen for 31 seconds.

The researchers were interested in whether the research participants would notice there were two different men in the video (one significantly heavier than the other) and whether they would make the correct identification in culprit-present and culprit-absent lineups.

First the participants were asked to recall as much as they could about the video and the researchers used this task to see if the participant had noticed the two different actors (“change detection” versus “change blindness”). Then, they were given black and white photographs of a lineup and asked to circle the photo of the person who stole the iPad, if present. They were told the video culprit may or may not be present in the photograph and they should write “not here” on the photo sheet if the thief was not present.

Only about 1/3 (36.1%) of the participants noticed there were two different men in the video. There was not a significant difference in noticing the two actors based on participant gender (men noted the change 34% of the time, women 36.4%).

Correctly identifying or rejecting lineup photos was lower in the change blindness group (28.7%) than in the change detection group (53.1%). In those situations where the culprit was not present, those who had not noticed there were two actors in the video (i.e., the change blind group) only correctly rejected the lineup 31% of the time (compared with 69% of those in the change detection group). The change blindness group also had higher misidentification rates (i.e., they chose either a filler or the video innocent as the thief). In contrast, none of the change detection group misidentified the video innocent as the thief.

However, being aware of the two actors in the video did not lead to an increase in correct identifications when the culprit was present! The change blind group correctly identified the culprit 26% of the time and the change detection group correctly identified the culprit 34% of the time but this difference was not significant (p = .43).

In short, the majority of participants (64%) did not notice there were two actors in the video (the video innocent and the video culprit). And, while the participants who noticed the two actors in the video did better in avoiding misidentification of the video innocent, they did no better at all in accurately identifying the video culprit when he was present in the lineup. (In research-speak, false positive identification was prominent, but no difference was seen in false negative identification.)

The researchers say that when eye witnesses experience a change blindness error, they are more likely to misidentify a person who is then at risk of wrongful conviction. The researchers clarify the application of their research to a line up task at a police station in that while “fillers should match either a description of the culprit or the appearance of the suspect, archival research suggests that line-ups are often biased towards [a similarity to the appearance of] the suspect”. This is, the researchers say, a “biased lineup” and can lead to a miscarriage of justice. However, if the lineup is properly constructed, the researchers say “change blindness may have few negative consequences for identifying a culprit from a line-up”.

From the perspective of litigation advocacy, you of course want to ensure the lineup was an appropriate one but you also want to consider educating jurors on the well-documented problems with eye-witness identification–particularly in cases of cross-race identification. In our experience, jurors want to do the right thing and if the only strong evidence is an eye-witness identification, that may be enough to introduce reasonable doubt.

Fitzgerald, R., Oriet, C., & Price, H. (2014). Change blindness and eyewitness identification: Effects on accuracy and confidence Legal and Criminological Psychology DOI: 10.1111/lcrp.12044



Fat bias in the workplace

Monday, May 19, 2014
posted by Rita Handrich

fat biasIt is likely not a surprise to you that there is a significant public bias against the obese. Frequent flyers are familiar with the feeling of dread as a morbidly obese passenger approaches your row and seems to slow down. But fat bias doesn’t just happen in confined spaces. Workplace incivility is often directed at obese employees–referred to as employee adiposity in this research. Maybe that’s nicer than the other things it’s called.

As a reminder, incivility is rude, impolite or discourteous behavior that does not necessarily rise to the level of open hostility or aggression. Often used examples of incivility include things like not returning a greeting, interrupting a coworker when s/he is talking, failing to refill the empty printer after using up all the paper, and so on. In other words, rather than having a clear intent to harm (as with bullying), incivility is characterized by an ambiguous intent to harm. Therefore, the experience of incivility is at least somewhat dependent upon the target’s perception, and it is often harder to prove, especially if the target is not well liked. A circular problem.

The researchers conducted two studies, one with undergraduates and one with community adults who were employees. The two studies had many of the same findings but we are going to report the results of the community sample here. A sample of 528 community adults (53% female, 68% Caucasian, ranging in age from 20 to 63 years with an average age of 35 years, with tenure in current employment situation ranging from 6 months to 35 years with an average of 6 years, and 70% in non-management positions) was used. Participants provided their height and weight (from which researchers computed their BMIs) and demographic variables (such as sex and race) and also completed measures of workplace incivility, negative affect, burnout, and job withdrawal. And here are the (again, likely unsurprising) results:

Overweight individuals reported significantly higher levels of incivility than did underweight and healthy weight individuals. (Reported scores for incivility toward women were highest in the overweight and obese categories but highest for men in the underweight category!)

Black respondents reported significantly higher levels of incivility when they were underweight or healthy weight (this is surprising) but White respondents reported higher levels of incivility when they were overweight or obese. The researchers say that being overweight or obese is especially problematic for employees who are both white and female–the more overweight/obese–the higher the report of incivility.

Finally, there were links between adiposity and the respondents tendency to withdraw from their job emotionally. While the authors stress they are not blaming the victim, they recommend employers help employees reach and maintain healthy weights and thus have the resulting improvement in negative physical, psychological and professional outcomes associated with adiposity.

This is an interesting study for trial lawyers, law firms, and employers in general. They go beyond potential employment discrimination litigation, and offer a new approach to the evaluation of office culture. We all have biases we need to monitor and for organizations, paying attention to how we respond (directly and indirectly) to differences is a matter of both civility and liability.

Sliter KA, Sliter MT, Withrow SA, & Jex SM (2012). Employee adiposity and incivility: establishing a link and identifying demographic moderators and negative consequences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17 (4), 409-24 PMID: 23066694



girl cryingHere’s one that just makes intuitive sense. When children are testifying in court, teary testimony is thought to be more credible than stoic and controlled testimony from child victims of non-sexual crimes. At least so say aspiring lawyers in Sweden.

Researchers developed four (5 minute long) videos using two child actors (one boy and one girl) both 8 years old. In each video, the children gave the exact same testimony but in one video the testimony was teary and in the other video, the testimony was emotionally neutral. The evaluators (the experimental subjects) were law students.

In the emotional video, the child hesitated and avoided eye contact with the interviewer when disclosing “delicate details” about the event. Additionally, the emotional child curled up in the chair, shivered and sobbed several times during the interview.

In contrast, the neutral child was composed, maintained eye contact, and showed little sign of emotion.

The children told the story of arriving early to school to return a book to the school library. On the playground, s/he ran into a group of 11 year olds who grabbed the child’s hat and began to toss it back and forth to each other rather than giving the hat back. Since the child was younger and shorter, s/he was unable to retrieve the hat. When the child requested the return of the hat, the “ringleader” of the group laughed and ran to the bathroom and flushed the hat down the toilet. The child reported the incident to the school janitor and the janitor, in turn, reported it to parents and school administrators.

The testimony of the emotional child was seen as more credible and authentic. That is, the law students were more likely to believe (in two separate experiments) the child had actually experienced the harassment. Further, those student participants observing the emotional testimony reported the child’s demeanor to be a better match with their expectations of what a child experiencing this sort of incident would look like.

The researchers say this assessment of emotional testimony as more credible is consistent with research done on adult crime victims. When the victim cries, they fulfill our expectations of the “emotional victim” and we feel more sympathy and believe their story more (i.e., we think they are more credible). Despite having a girl and a boy actor in the videos, there is no report on differences, if any, in participant reactions by victim gender. (Perhaps that is a follow-up article.)

This has obvious implications for litigation advocacy as not all victims react emotionally or tearfully and, it is natural for us to want to protect children who have been harmed. Stoicism is not rewarded by observers if the alternative is credible distress. The researchers make several recommendations to avoid this tendency to assume more witness credibility when the victim is emotional/tearful.

Warn the observers (i.e., the jurors) that not everyone responds emotionally and so the presence or absence of emotion is not an accurate indicator of credibility.

Consider presenting the emotional testimony on video rather than in person. Some research has shown videotaped testimony is perceived less emotionally than the same testimony presented live. (This is often done with child witnesses anyway as a means to protect them from the trauma of live testimony in the courtroom.)

Educate observers (i.e., the jurors) on the large body of research showing “credibility assessments tend to be more accurate when based on verbal content instead of demeanor”. Tell them you will send a transcript of the child’s testimony to the deliberation room so they can review the content without the emotional factor of the non-verbal presentation. The researchers refer to the criteria outlined in 2010 by the Swedish Supreme Court for assessing credibility (although these guidelines were not supported in research done by one of them).

Landström, S., Ask, K., Sommar, C., & Willén, R. (2013). Children’s testimony and the emotional victim effect Legal and Criminological Psychology DOI: 10.1111/lcrp.12036



Here’s a new issue Table of Contents from The Jury Expert! Brought to you (free) on a quarterly basis by the American Society of Trial Consultants.


Moving From Hapless to Hapful with the Problem Defendant

Bronwen Lichtenstein and Stanley Brodsky write this practical article on how you can work to help modify your hapless client’s visual identity to one that will make a more positive impression in the courtroom. They offer solutions to the ever-present issue of financial costs.

Are Lab Studies on PTP Generalizable?: An Examination of PTP effects Using a Shadow Jury Paradigm

Tarika Daftary-Kapur and Steven Penrod tell us what we all know (except perhaps for the Supreme Court): pretrial publicity DOES have impact! This is new research (that got our trial consultant respondents pretty excited) you certainly want to read and may want to use the next time PTP threatens your potential jury pool.

Beware of the Tricks Used to Encourage a Witness to Volunteer

Merrie Jo Pitera writes this practical article on how to keep your witness from falling for that old trick from opposing counsel. A must-read for witness preparation!

The Emotional Components of Moral Outrage and their Effect on Mock Juror Verdicts

Liana Peter-Hagene, Alexander Jay, and Jessica Salerno talk to us about how moral outrage is more likely to make your jurors vote guilty. This is new research from the growing literature on this issue and you’ll see our trial consultant respondents thought this was pretty interesting stuff!

Women as Expert Witnesses

Michelle Jones and Tess Neal take on the task of bringing us up to date on how women expert witnesses stack up relative to male expert witnesses. There is some good news here. There is also some news that irritated a couple of our trial consultant respondents–but, forewarned is forearmed. Read this to see what has been true, what has changed, and how we move forward.

A Polygraph Primer: What Litigators Need to Know

Thanks to four researchers from Harvard (Ekaterina Pivovarova, Judith Edersheim, Justin Baker and Bruce Price) we have a terrific primer on the polygraph–yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our trial consultant respondents thought this was a very well done piece.

May 2014 Favorite Thing!

Finding it harder and harder to get out of bed when sleep deprived? Here’s an idea that might help maximize the benefit you get from minimal sleep.

PowerPoint in the Courtroom: Powerful Points to Consider

We all know PowerPoint is much-maligned. But there are ways to make it more useful, effective and attractive. In this thought piece from Suann Ingle, musings on how to think about PowerPoint at your next trial might have you rethinking all that.