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Archive for the ‘Simple Jury Persuasion’ Category

Not long ago we blogged about the false perceptions Americans have of the proportion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the overall population. What the research on which that blog post was based told us is that there are some people who consistently over-estimate the population proportion of LGBTQ people and that “those who overestimate the proportion of gay/lesbian/bisexual Americans are also more likely to hold false beliefs about homosexuality and less likely to support gay-rights policies like employment protection, child adoption, and same-sex marriage”.?

Today, we have a couple more resources to help you understand some ways to perhaps override the influence of those myths (i.e., “false beliefs”).?

We are blissfully ignorant of our own ignorance

The first resource is from poynter.org and is a reader-friendly education on dispelling false beliefs.

Hint: It is hard to do, and we seem to have more false beliefs than any of us would ever guess.

Here are two brief paragraphs from the beginning of this article (which is a must-read if you want to understand just how deep our misperceptions run— not just in the US, but around the world).?

For instance, across almost 40 countries surveyed for his studies, the public grossly overestimates the share of teenagers giving birth each year. Brazilians lead the pack, with an average guess of 48 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 giving birth each year against an actual figure of 6.7 percent.?

Similar patterns hold for how many people think prisoners are immigrants, as well as estimates of the wealth owned by the top 1 percent and the public health budget. We’re even wrong about how wrong we are, with large minorities of respondents confidently answering that they thought they got all answers correct when clearly, they did not.

Redirect false beliefs with facts (according to a new Princeton University study)

We have blogged about ideas similar to this one before in our Simple Jury Persuasion blog category, so there is a significant body of research that has drawn the same conclusions as these researchers.

While you may find it annoying if someone repeats the same thing over (and over) again—it is effective in increasing how much you actually believe what they keep repeating.?

So these researchers decided to test the idea on those who were in the gray space between committed to a belief (aka “entrenched” and unlikely to change their belief) and those who were absolutely certain that it was a false perception or belief. In other words, they looked at those who had not committed one way or the other to a false belief.?

The participants in the study were given a set of 24 statements (8 myths and 16 correct statements) which fell into four categories: nutrition, allergies, vision, and health. They were asked to read the individual statements and then rate whether they believed the statement to be true and then they listened to an audiotaped recording of someone recalling information on some of the beliefs the participants had read. The listeners (aka participants) were asked to determine whether the audiotaped speaker was recalling information accurately.?

Then the participants were given names of the categories of the statements they had read (i.e., nutrition, allergies, vision, or health) and instructed to recall the statements they had first read. Finally, they were asked to re-read the initial 24 statements (using a new copy of the statements of course!) and rate them again with regard to accuracy.?

The researchers refer to their findings as representing something they call “mnemonic accessibility” which is a really complicated way of saying you listen to someone saying something you just reviewed. There is a literature on this called the “rehearsal effect” which is so much easier to remember and define. In other words, repetition increases familiarity. So, complicated theoretical descriptions aside, here’s where you may want to be afraid of how malleable our beliefs are—but also rub your hands together in glee over how malleable the beliefs of your jurors may be.?

Here is what the researchers concluded:?

If a belief was mentioned by the person in the audio (this is the “mnemonic accessibility” part), it was remembered better and believed more by the listener.?

But, if the belief was from the same category as the mentioned belief (but not mentioned itself) it was more likely to be forgotten and believed less by the listener. (This held true for both accurate and inaccurate beliefs.)?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study offers a potential strategy for deflecting the power of the false myth from your undecided jurors. You simply repeat the accurate fact. And perhaps have your witnesses repeat the accurate fact. And repeat the accurate fact in visual evidence and in closing statement. And, since we know you are wondering, here are the accurate statements and myths presented to the research participants. ?

Madalina Vlasceanu, Alin Coman. Mnemonic accessibility affects statement believability: The effect of listening to others selectively practicing beliefs. Cognition, 2018; 180: 238 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2018.07.015

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Recently, we added a question to the end of our supplemental jury questionnaire used for pretrial research that essentially asks jurors if evidence or what “feels true” is more important to them in making important decisions. Despite the simple nature of that question (which we found buried in some social sciences research we read), it often turns out it can help us in our work.?

A new study tells us (yet again) how what Stephen Colbert made famous as “truthiness”, has become increasingly important in decision-making. If we believe it, it is “truthier”. To investigate this issue, researchers in Israel asked participants to review statements for grammatical accuracy [i.e., specifically for subject/verb agreement]. The statements included content about politics, social issues, and personal taste.?

However, first, they assessed the participants opinions on various issues. Why? Because prior research had shown that people take longer to assess grammatical accuracy when the sentence contains information with which an individual disagrees. Unfortunately, their hypothesis that participants would take longer in processing sentences with which they disagreed did not turn out to be true.?

Instead, the researchers found that when the participant agreed with the statement presented to them—their processing sped up in a sort of knee-jerk reaction.?

They did not, however, find the reverse to be true (as had prior research).?

The researchers call this an involuntary, ‘reflex-like” tendency to consider things we already believe as being true. They also describe it as a “knee jerk opinionatedness” and this should cause concern for us all (in at least half of our cases). Often we want to identify those who will thoughtfully consider evidence that challenges their previously held beliefs.?

What this research says is that people are more likely to draw conclusions at hyper speed when they hear something that supports pre-existing belief but that they are not “slowing down” and processing more carefully when they hear something challenging their existing beliefs.?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this makes it especially important to not stumble into land mines that will trigger those knee jerk responses (aka “knee jerk opinionatedness”). ?

Gilead, M Sela, M Maril, A (2018) That’s my truth: Evidence for involuntary opinion confirmation. Social Psychological and Personality Science.?

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I began listening to audiobooks in 1999. I know this because I saw it when I cancelled my membership in a well-known audiobook club a couple of months ago. When you drive, the hours fly by with an audiobook in your ear. I suddenly noticed (after almost 20 years of listening to books) that the public library had caught up with my audiobook club—except books from the library are free. So I went through my book club queue of things I’d like to listen to eventually and asked my public library for all of them. It works just the same—the books are automatically placed on my phone although I sometimes have to wait a bit for them to come in since there are limited copies.

For a good while now, the book If I Understood You Would I Have This Look On My Face? has been on my to-read list. The author talks about many of the things we have blogged about here—the importance of communicating well, the skills involved in doing good communication, the importance of focusing on what the listener needs to know (and to leave them wanting more so they keep listening), the importance of communicating at a level the listener can understand and will be engaged in despite perhaps knowing very little to nothing about the content area, the dark side of empathy, and the importance of a “hook” that captures the curiosity and imagination of the listener.?

Remember Hawkeye (aka Alan Alda) from the TV show MASH? He wrote this book (and others) and has come a long way from his Korean War character, but still has that highly recognizable voice that you will remember if you listen to his audiobook. That familiar voice is like hearing an old friend read to you when you had no idea you would recognize the voice! It is a wonderful book that leaps around from science communication to acting to empathy to improvisation and even to the dang ky nhan tien cuoc mien phiwonders of working with Mike Nichols which we’ve blogged about before.?

This is information targeted to improving our abilities to communicate—both in work and in life. It is informative and entertaining listening for the trial advocate. Alan Alda (about whom we have also blogged before) is characteristically self-deprecating and shares that he wanted to be a scientist when he was growing up. This natural curiosity has led him on a life-long journey to understanding how to communicate better about complicated things. He has worked with scientists, actors, students of many ages, and other assorted groups—primarily using improvisational techniques to help them learn to listen and thus to communicate more effectively.?

Good communication, says Alda, is the responsibility of the communicator—not the receiver. It’s a powerful point.?

Listen to him. The book is a little over 6 hours long but is well-written (and read) and will make you think about story-telling and case narrative in a different way. It may also give you some witness preparation ideas.?

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On July 10, 2017, we published the first part of this post on combatting mistrust in science. As we continued to read, we decided there was more for you to know about this topic so here’s a bit more information.

We wanted to share a couple of ways scientists shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to maintaining credibility. First, they think themselves more rational than the rest of us and second, their over-the-top advocacy for science backfires by making them seem like “just another partisan group”. In research speak, this is an example of scientists being only human, and like the rest of us, falling prey to the better than average effect. At least one writer believes, that scientists, in their rush to be “right”, seem to have forgotten that science itself, is? based on questioning facts.

In our first post, we mentioned Dan Kahan’s vigorous disagreement that science even has a credibility issue. As it turns out, the Pew Research Center (or rather, the US citizens they surveyed for this article) agrees with Dan! In a recent report released by Pew on public confidence in scientists, they point out that public confidence in scientists has remained stable since the 1970s. The graphic here is taken directly from the Pew report and shows how public confidence in both medicine and science have remained roughly stable for decades.

While Pew says (in a widely cited finding) that public trust in institutions is lower today than it was in the mid-1970s—they also say that public confidence in both medicine and the scientific community is higher than it is in many institutions these days.

Who has less of the public confidence than scientists and the medical community? Almost everyone—(in descending order) from K-12 administrators to religious leaders to the news media to business leaders and finally to elected officials.

So what does this mean? It likely means what it’s meant for years now.

When your case relies on science—you need an expert who is able to teach jurors at a high school level without being condescending or incomprehensible.

We’ve seen hundreds of mock jurors tune out very well-credentialed experts who were more interested in showing off their knowledge than in actually communicating.

You want someone who “looks credible” to the jurors but is also able to communicate very complex information at multiple levels so that the audience to whom the expert is speaking understands and feels good about their ability to understand after the testimony.

We agree that there is a sort of anti-intellectual movement in the US today. However, that seems (at least in our experience) to be reserved for those intellectuals who speak at a level incomprehensible to the layperson.

When your witness is able to make the science applicable and relevant to the jurors daily lives—they are not an intellectual elitist.

They are instead, a credible witness who helped jurors understand important issues that will help them render a just decision in a confusing situation.

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You’ve likely seen a lot about the high level of mistrust of science in the past few years. Not everyone believes there actually is a science mistrust issue (see this post from Dan Kahan at Cultural Cognition blog) but for a non-problem it certainly gets a lot of coverage! First, here’s a bit of review of a small sampling of the recent “nobody trusts science” literature.

Pew Research published a report in 2015 on which areas science has increasing difficulty being seen as credible. While Pew is objectively reporting survey data, many of the “science mistrust” stories are written by the very people concerned about the issue—scientists and science supporters. The emotionally heated debate has been tweeted about although with the wrong URL for the article which is actually here (perhaps an error due to emotionality?)

This 2014 article from the Nature website tells us why the mistrust of science came about (and what sorts of behavior strengthens mistrust—but the real reason we are including it here is the reference list of multiple articles on the mistrust of science. Even NPR gets into the fray by suggesting that science should own past errors and improve their processes and procedures to gain the trust of the public. And finally, here’s a recent workshop run by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that gives you current information (2017) on the controversy around science and how scientists can best respond.

So—with all these scientists writing about how no one trusts them—do any of them offer ideas on what to do? Actually, yes they do but you will have to judge for yourself how on-target they are with their suggestions.

Make your science “different”?

This post from Psychology Today discusses the general distrust of “Big Science” [the entire amorphous universe of science findings] but also uses an article we blogged about here to help you figure out how to explain things differently to your jurors. (Other bloggers have written about this article as well.) Here’s part of what Psychology Today has to say:

People differ in their beliefs about the precision and certainty of different sciences in general. These general beliefs affect at least some people’s judgments about whether that science is worthwhile and whether it should be funded by the public. However, group differences [snip] disappear when people start to focus on specific research rather than the science in general.

This pattern of results suggests that researchers may want to start by describing particular studies to people in order to help them understand the research that gets done in science. Then, they should relate the specific findings back to the area of science that it comes from to help people change their general beliefs about the quality of work done in those sciences. In this way, the scientific community can help the broader public to see the benefit and value of the research that gets done.

We see these statements as the province of your expert witness. Use someone who “looks like” a scientist and has some social skills. Make your “science” different from science “in general”. In addition, see our post on the same article for more litigation-specific recommendations (e.g., comfort, curiosity, and counter-intuitive surprises).

Use a “gateway belief” to combat mistrust in science

Scientific American published an article written by a researcher who thinks a gateway belief (in this case,? education on scientific consensus) is a terrific way to combat mistrust in science. They made a statement in the article about how to describe just what scientific consensus means that also carries incredible visual imagery:

“Imagine reading a road sign that informs you that 97% of engineers have concluded the bridge in front of you is unsafe to cross.”

As it happens, we also blogged about this article soon after it was published. Our takeaway from the original research was this: “back up your assertion with facts, people will be persuaded despite pre-existing beliefs and despite their political affiliation”. And, as mentioned earlier, Dan Kahan over at Cultural Cognition blog vigorously disagrees with the original research.

This same research group wrote again in 2017 on their ideas about gateway beliefs (and mentioned Kahan’s disagreement briefly but did not give it much attention). This time they described their work as a “psychological inoculation” against “climate change misinformation”. We also blogged about that article here:

The strategy that is recommended for use against ‘science deniers’ has proven successful to support science deniers in well-documented cases. The researchers comment that tobacco and fossil fuel companies have used these sorts of psychological inoculation strategies in the past to sow seeds of doubt and undermine scientific consensus in the minds of the public. They think this research tells us that the impact of disinformation can be at least “partially reduced” with this approach.

From time to time, every litigator is confronted with a situation in which it is crucial to educate jurors on the disinformation that may be used (as well as giving them information on typical strategies used to undermine accurate information). Then, when they hear the common strategies presented by opposing counsel, they can spot it quickly, and rest assured they have not been fooled.

“You do not have a special corner on truth”

And finally, Popular Mechanics (of all places) puts in a plug for this amazing commencement address from June 2016.

“On June 10th, the?New Yorker Staff Writer, surgeon, and medical researcher?Atul Gawande delivered a commencement address to the graduating class at the California Institute of Technology on the importance of scientific thinking. Gawande discussed the rise in anti-science sentiment and how to combat the resistance to facts and evidence we’ve seen around issues like vaccines and climate change.”

You can read the full text of this commencement address at the New Yorker or you can watch the 17.5 minute video on YouTube.

Earlier, we mentioned the workshop run by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. One of their recommendations was to make the science relevant to a practical problem. This article from the Atlantic (published June 24, 2017) on why the extreme heat in Phoenix, Arizona was grounding planes, is a perfect example of showing how science can help us understand the world around us. From a litigation advocacy perspective, you can see that mistrust of science is strongly connected to fear (which we blogged about last week).

Use a friendly, credible and trustworthy expert witness (see if Bill Nye is available…), teaching jurors what opposing counsel’s expert will say and why that doesn’t make sense, as well as showing how “your science” is different from “Big [scary] Science”. It may help your jurors embrace the sound science you are employing, even while remaining unsure about the realm of “Big Science” that they have been taught to fear.

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