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That’s a pretty amazing claim, don’t you think? It’s also a very annoying looking font but you can download it free so there is that. We’ve written here about font choices a number of times and it appears that the more you have to focus and concentrate to read a font (that disruption is called “creating a disfluency”), the more you will remember. So. This new font is called Sans Forgetica. No. We didn’t make that up.?

The font was designed in Australia at RMIT University. The font creators are graphic design students, psychologists, and researchers and (presumably) they brought knowledge of research findings in their individual areas to work on producing this font. It is odd looking and not particularly visually appealing.?

The letters slant to the left.?

Each letter has a gap.?

Yet, when compared to Arial (an easy to read and very familiar font), those who read Sans Forgetica were able to remember 57% of the text compared to Arial readers who recalled only 50%.?

The font is based on the research we referred to earlier and relies on creating a sort of “brain stutter” or disfluency in processing. The “pause” caused by the disfluency-inducing-font appears to result in higher recall for what was being written. The researchers say it as though the disfluency results in your brain saying “Okay, pay attention!” to itself and thus the reader recalls more information. You can download the font (free) here.?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we certainly want our jurors to remember what we said. Yet, the idea of using this particular font in your visual evidence is not appealing. It’s an interesting idea for research. Somehow, we don’t think it is quite ready for the courtroom. You may also be interested in reading the Michael Butterick article in the Jury Expert on his book, Typography for Lawyers. It’s an interesting read and his entire focus is on easy-on-the-eyes fonts. Sans Forgetica would not likely qualify.?

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We love to have the occasional conspiracy theorist show up in our pretrial research as they have much to teach us about plugging holes in case narratives. We love it so much we have blogged about conspiracy theorists and theories repeatedly. So imagine the joy at The Jury Room blog headquarters when a new 2018 study supported the findings from a 2017 study. You might actually be able to identify the conspiracy theorist before they are chosen to serve on your jury!?

The first article (2017) was published in the Social Psychology journal. In short, what the research found is that people who saw themselves as unique are more likely drawn to conspiracy theories. So we carefully read the original article and saw what the researchers specifically found is that most of us are comfortable with the paradox of two seemingly inconsistent statements—which are, by the way, both true:

We’re all the same. We all crave the same things: shelter, food, company, and comfort, and we’re all here for just a little while.?

You’re unique: The specific details of your life are not the same as anyone else’s.?

‘However’, said the 2017 researchers, among those that are not comfortable with the paradox—the more strongly one relates to the second statement (“You’re unique”), and the less you care about the first (“We’re all the same”)—the more likely you are to believe in hidden and malevolent forces at work in the world around us.?

In short, the more likely you are to endorse an idea like “I see something other people cannot see”—and are probably what we would call a conspiracy theorist.?

The second article (from 2018) also looks at how personality traits and cognitive styles lead us to believe (or not believe) in conspiracy theories. And take a look at this: they found the same thing (and a bit more).?

“These people tend to be more suspicious, untrusting, eccentric, needing to feel special [emphasis added], with a tendency to regard the world as an inherently dangerous place. They are also more likely to detect meaningful patterns where they might not exist. People who are reluctant to believe in conspiracy theories tend to have the opposite qualities.”

However, these researchers went even further.?

“Our results clearly showed that the strongest predictor of conspiracy belief was a constellation of personality characteristics collectively referred to as ‘schizotypy,’ Hart said.

It is intriguing to note that people who have a schizotypal style tend to see connections between things that others do not see. They tend to imbue meaningless actions by the actor with secret meaning (e.g., “You were wearing green the day I was hired and you are wearing green again today so I know you would like to see me get promoted”). They are often seen as “odd” or at least socially awkward or avoidant. Despite their social awkwardness and seeming avoidance, they often desperately want to fit in, to be accepted, and to have others “see” their specialness.?

A conspiracy theorist attended a mock trial we had in Austin earlier this year. In Austin, it is common to have unusual looking people with high levels of education and idiosyncratic ideas. This man stood out though, as neither nerd nor hipster—but with a somewhat odd presentation despite obvious intellectual capacity. He had a hard time listening quietly and at one point in the presentation blurted out loudly, “This is why Americans don’t trust big business!” and later on commented, “I think we are not being told the entire story…”. The moderator had to work hard to keep his comments relevant and focused and on his written questionnaires at the end of the study this mock juror commented he had beliefs he was not allowed to share but that were important.?

While you obviously cannot diagnose someone from appearance alone, there may be clues that we can “see” to tip us off that a juror may be prone to idiosyncratic associations that would make it difficult for them to separate evidence presented to them from their own beliefs and perceptions. From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is an intriguing idea to ponder and you can trust we’ll be pondering this one for a while and experimenting with how to “see” the conspiracy theorist during voir dire and jury selection. Maybe what is needed is a test for “looks like a conspiracy nut”.

Lantian, A., Muller, D., Nurra, C., & Douglas, K. M. (2017). “I know things they don’t know!”: The role of need for uniqueness in belief in conspiracy theories. Social Psychology, 48(3), 160-173. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1864-9335/a000306?

Hart, J., & Graether, M. (2018, August 2). Something’s Going on Here: Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories. Journal of Individual Differences. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1614- 0001/a000268

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The Pew Research Center published an article on their new typology of how people approach facts and information in late 2017 (information on their methodology here). It’s an interesting typology (one of those—“there are 5 kinds of people” theories) and may be useful in assessing how open your jurors will be to new information relevant to your case facts. Or, it might give you ideas about how to frame a narrative so that more people embrace it.

As you might expect, people approach new information differently. We’ve all seen this and some of us approach new information in different ways depending on what else is happening in our lives. Pew tried to take potentially stressful life events into consideration as they came up with this typology. Here are their words to describe differences in how individuals approach information:?

“Combining people’s views toward new information ---– and their appetites for it – allows us to create an “information-engagement typology” that highlights the differing ways that Americans deal with these cross pressures. The typology has five groups that fall along a spectrum ranging from fairly high engagement with information to wariness of it.?

Roughly four-in-ten adults (38%) are in groups that have relatively strong interest and trust in information sources and learning.?

About half (49%) fall into groups that are relatively disengaged and not very enthusiastic about information or about gaining more training, especially when it comes to navigating digital information.?

Another 13% occupy a middle space: They are not particularly trusting of information sources, but they show higher interest in learning than those in the more information-wary groups.”

The typology could be useful to us in assessing an area we are often curious about in potential jurors: need for cognition. Questions on potential jurors “need for cognition” (or desire to think and challenge themselves) often are reflected in voir dire questions like “Do you like puzzles?” “Do you like Sudoku?” “What bumper stickers are on your car?” “Would you rather watch a romantic comedy movie or read a demanding suspense novel?”. There is an actual Need for Cognition Scale but items from that scale are typically not used in the courtroom.?

In the Pew publication, respondents were more likely to engage actively (and presumably productively) with new information when they trusted the information sources (think expert witnesses, the parties, the attorneys involved) and, when they were interested in learning more (particularly about digital skills). In other words, your goal is to enhance trust and support their curiosity and willingness to learn new information. ?

The Pew researchers found that about 38% of the respondents were willing to engage (e.g., “the eager and the willing” and “the confident”) and about 49% (e.g, “the doubtful” and “the wary”) were not willing to engage. That left 13% of the respondents whom Pew described as “the cautious and curious” who were ambivalent but more open to engaging than those unwilling to engage.?

So what do you do with this typology? According to Pew, this is where things get interesting. They believe this typology can add insights to a “traditional analysis by demographics—such as gender, race, class, age, and educational attainment”. And they have much more to say:?

There is clear variation among citizens about their interest in information, trust in various sources and their eagerness to gain further skills dealing with information.

This typology suggests that one size does not fit all when it comes to information outreach. For instance, information purveyors might need to use very different methods to get material to the Eager and Willing, who are relatively trusting of institutional information and eager to learn, compared with the tactics they might consider in trying to get the attention of the Cautious and Curious, who are open to learning but relatively distrusting of institutional information. Similarly, groups with messages might want to plan wholly different processes to reach the Confident (who are basically information omnivores), compared with the Wary (who are quite reluctant to engage with new material).

The typology highlights the challenges faced by those focusing on digital divides and information literacy. Significant numbers of people are interested in building digital skills and information literacy. On the other hand, about half of adults fall into the groups we call the Doubtful and the Wary, who have lower interest in getting assistance to help them get to more trustworthy material.

We are often concerned about whether jurors can understand the details of a case, and this might be a route to appreciating their willingness to work at it. The opportunity to explore how curious they are, how open they are to pursuing information through credible but unfamiliar sources, and how much they challenge a news item by exploring the source material or getting confirmation could give you a window to their intellectual natures.

It’s an interesting issue to ponder. If you don’t typically “do” demographic analysis (and we are not fans of that approach) will this add to the richness and complexity of that analysis? We think it should but we were not really sure how you divide people into these categories in the first place until we read the entire Pew Report (rather than just the executive summary).?

And from a litigation advocacy perspective, that may be the most interesting issue. If you want to do thorough and quality work, you can’t just read the headlines or the executive summary and you can’t hire people to assist you who only read that far either. ?

Pew Research Center. September 11, 2017. How People Approach Facts and Information. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/09/11/how-people-approach-facts-and-information/

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This is a combination post of some of the ways race is coming up in 2017 (so far). It is easy to become numbed to how many shocking things are said on a regular basis now, but we agree with John Oliver in this NSFW video—this is not normal and we need to remember that!?So today, here’s just a sampling of things that we need to pay attention to and not just accept as “normal”. These are not normal things. What is even more disturbing is these are stories all published within the past week.

A lawyer who stood up for what was right

Here’s a terrific example of an attorney (Christina Swarns) who stood up and refused to believe that race (being African-American in this case) should be used as an argument for future dangerousness. This NYT article includes an extended interview with her and comments on “Dr. Death”—an expert witness who “routinely would find the defendant posed a risk of future dangerousness, and thus should be executed” (because Black men are dangerous). It is a powerful read.

Being discriminated against can (literally) kill you

“A growing body of evidence suggests that racial and sexual discrimination is toxic to the cells, organs, and minds of those who experience it.” So says an article by Dhruv Khullar, MD that was recently published in the New York Times. For those who want “proof” rather than anecdotal evidence, this article is full of facts found through years of research.

Police are “less respectful” to Black drivers

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently published a study showing police were less respectful to Black drivers than they were to White drivers. The studies were conducted using data from body cameras worn by 245 officers during 981 stops in April of 2014. This article is available open access on the web and here is a sentence from the abstract of the paper itself.

We find that officers speak with consistently less respect toward black versus white community members, even after controlling for the race of the officer, the severity of the infraction, the location of the stop, and the outcome of the stop.

Here are some quotes from the research article that were published on the Black Legal Issues website:

The paper included examples of remarks that were rated as disrespectful and respectful. “All right, my man. Do me a favor, just keep your hands on the steering wheel real quick,” was given a negative “respect score” of -0.51 partly because the driver was addressed informally and because of the directive on hand position.

Another phrase, “Sorry to stop you. My name’s Officer [name] with the Police Department,” received a score of 0.84, with the officer’s apology and introduction leading to the positive rating.

The study found that white motorists were 57 percent more likely to have heard one of the most respectful statements in the data set, while black community members were 61 percent more likely to have heard one of the least respectful.

That’s our word and you can’t have it back”

In this powerful video, Bill Maher gets schooled by Ice Cube over Maher’s use of a racist phrase on his HBO show. Since this is Ice Cube (the famous rapper and actor)—it is also NSFW (Not Safe For Work) due to coarse language. It is strongly emotional and touching as an explanation of why it is never okay for White people to use the N word. Symone Sanders (the activist and political commentator) also has some choice words for Mr. Maher about the lack of privilege experienced by the Black women he referred to so callously. Bill Maher, for a change, is speechless.

 

Rob Voigt, Nicholas P. Camp, Vinodkumar Prabhakaran, William L. Hamilton, Rebecca C. Hetey, Camilla M. Griffiths, David Jurgens, Dan Jurafsky, and Jennifer L. Eberhardt? (2017) Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect. PNAS 2017; published ahead of print June 5, 2017, doi:10.1073/pnas.1702413114

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You have likely heard many stories repeated about increased racial prejudice since the 2016 national elections in the US, but is there any evidence-based proof that alleged increase is real?

According to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, yes—at? least when it comes to a willingness to say things aloud that have not been “okay” for a very long time. Vox has written a plain language explanation of this paper that you may want to look at to get a quick (and clear) synopsis.

Essentially, the message is that when you see leaders behaving badly, you become numb to the impact and give yourself permission to also behave badly. The researchers wondered if the results of the 2016 elections left people more likely to respond negatively to immigrants (as measured by whether they were willing to donate money to an “openly anti-immigrant” organization). The researchers did not wonder for long. There is a quote in the Vox story (from University of Kansas psychologist Chris Crandall) that is a wonderfully clear summation of what the researchers found.

Dr. Crandall says the electoral college winner did not “create new prejudices in people—not that quickly and not that broadly. What he did do is change people’s perceptions about what is okay and what is not okay”.

In a later quote, Dr. Crandall says that “it took away the suppression from the very highly prejudiced people. And those people are acting.”

(Vox also points us to Bloomberg for a more complete explanation of the research.) And then, Vox ends their article with this wonderful quote:

“We need to keep our leaders accountable for their bad behavior. If we don’t, it may not just become the norm in politics, but throughout American life.”

Here’s what happened in the research:

Before the election (according to the NBER working paper), 34% of the participants said they’d donate to an anti-immigrant organization when the donations would be made public. But 54% said they would donate if the donation were kept private.

After the election? The reluctance to make a public donation diminished with 48% saying they would donate when the donation was made public.

The researchers echo Vox (using more academic language) by saying, the election outcome did not “make these participants more xenophobic, but instead made those who were already intolerant more comfortable about publicly expressing their views”.

It’s been a few years since we’ve written about this sort of comfort in expressing highly prejudiced views. We posted about a woman in a mock trial who talked about “those Mexicans” while Black and Hispanic/Latino jurors exchanged meaningful glances. We also had a project staffed by multiple NYC attorneys who were new to Texas jurors and there was a shocked silence in the client observation room when one male mock juror made comments about a witness that were not backed up by any facts introduced into evidence.

One of the female jurors mentioned a witness seemed “depressed and beat down” and that she had been surprised by his demeanor. An older white male snorted and said, “Surprised? You’ve never been to New York City. I guarantee you, one in three business men in New York City look just like him.” The woman expressed confusion, and the man expounded further, “He’s a Jew. Now I don’t mean nothin’ bad by that.” (Our blog post from 2014.)

All the juror knew was that the witness was from New York. Religion and ethnicity—used to explain the juror’s discrediting of the witness—was both inaccurate and irrelevant. More often, bias is spoken about in code and no one says exactly what they mean. One code we’ve learned here in Texas (and almost certainly elsewhere, too) is that random references to people from “New York City” is often code for some anti-Semitic sentiment. Bias, in many forms and guises, is crucial to discern. And oddly, it is at its most insidious when the bias is completely irrelevant to the facts of the case.

We’ve seen this sort of bias expressed all across the country when people’s emotions are touched by a story (like this post from work in Arkansas). So no. It isn’t new. It’s been lurking under rocks for a while now. We repeat—this is not new. It is just that after decades of effort to create a healthier tolerance in our society we as a national society have back-slid, and it is seen as much more okay to express racism and intolerance following the 2016 elections.

Leonardo Bursztyn, Georgy Egorov, Stefano Fiorin (2017). From Extreme to Mainstream: How Social Norms Unravel. NBER Working Paper No. 23415. Issued in May 2017. http://www.nber.org/papers/w23415.

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