Wednesday, March 30, 2011

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
-- Carl Jung

Monday, March 28, 2011

Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain

Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain

Ethan Krossa,1, Marc G. Bermana, Walter Mischelb, Edward E. Smithb,c,1, and Tor D. Wagerd

Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; bDepartment of Psychology, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027; cNew York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY 10032; Department of Psychology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0345

Contributed by Edward E. Smith, February 22, 2011 (sent for review October 05, 2010)

How similar are the experiences of social rejection and physical pain? Extant research suggests that a network of brain regions that support the affective but not the sensory components of physical pain underlie both experiences. Here we demonstrate that when rejection is powerfully elicited—by having people who recently experienced an unwanted break-up view a photograph of their ex-partner as they think about being rejected—areas that support the sensory components of physical pain (secondary somatosensory cortex; dorsal posterior insula) become active. We demon- strate the overlap between social rejection and physical pain in these areas by comparing both conditions in the same individuals using functional MRI. We further demonstrate the specificity of the secondary somatosensory cortex and dorsal posterior insula activity to physical pain by comparing activated locations in our study with a database of over 500 published studies. Activation in these regions was highly diagnostic of physical pain, with positive predictive values up to 88%. These results give new meaning to the idea that rejection “hurts.” They demonstrate that re- jection and physical pain are similar not only in that they are both distressing—they share a common somatosensory representation as well.

This research is helpful in demonstrating to the jury, neuro-scientifically, the similarities between emotional and physical pain. There are no pain pills for emotional pain, however. Emotional loss physically hurts. These finding support the interesting research on embodied cognition.

IFIC Nutrition Blog | Food Blog, Nutrition Advice, Food Facts - How Behavioral Economics Can Help Americans Improve Their Heart Health

IFIC Nutrition Blog | Food Blog, Nutrition Advice, Food Facts - How Behavioral Economics Can Help Americans Improve Their Heart Health

Pitfalls and Opportunities in Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection - Association for Psychological Science

Pitfalls and Opportunities in Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection - Association for Psychological Science

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Psychology of Uncertainty

This week it will be one year since President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law. Despite all the controversy that preceded the bill’s passage, most health policy experts confidently predicted that the public would soon embrace the legislation.

To back up these predictions, they pointed out that Medicare was quite controversial when it was established in the 1960s, but rapidly grew in popularity. Much the same happened more recently with Medicare Part D, the law championed by President George W. Bush to extend Medicare coverage to medications.
Recent polls belie these predictions, however, as support for health care reform has hit an all-time low. Why has the ACA failed to capture public support? Our research provides a novel explanation, one that pundits have failed to recognize to date.

Obama’s health reform bill is unpopular not simply because it is complicated, nor simply because it costs government money at a time when people are in a mood to balance the budget. Instead, it is unpopular in large part because it no longer feels inevitable.

And the key to gaining widespread support for Obama’s signature piece of domestic legislation is not to help the public better understand the intricacies of the bill, but instead to convince the public that the bill is here to stay.
Uncertainty can play a large role in reducing support for legislative actions. Consider a study we conducted, in which we asked people to imagine their local government had recently passed a bill to lower the speed limit, legislation spurred on by new evidence that such a law would save lives. The people we surveyed embraced the new rule, feeling thankful that legislators were paying attention to public safety.

However, in assessing public attitudes toward this bill, we conducted an experiment in which we told some of the people we surveyed that the legislature was about to pass the law but hadn’t yet voted on it – that is, it wasn’t officially a law yet. These people, in contrast to the first group, felt strongly that such legislation would be heavy-handed and paternalistic.

The same bill, when passed into law, was viewed more favorably than when it was merely pending legislation.
What about health care reform then? It has passed into law. Shouldn’t it be gaining in popularity?
Not if people don’t believe the bill is the law of the land. When the Republican-led House voted to repeal the bill, Washington insiders recognized the action as a symbolic gesture with no legislative consequence.
But many Americans thought this vote had actual legal implications. In fact, recent polls show that a fifth of the American public currently believe the ACA has been repealed, and another fifth is unsure if the bill still stands as law. This misperceived state of affairs provides no reason for these Americans to embrace a law they believe no longer stands.

Recent court rulings have created even greater uncertainty about the legal standing of the ACA. While most rulings have focused solely on the constitutionality of the health insurance mandate, one judge went as far as to opine that the entire law should be voided. This has left even more people wondering where the bill stands: as current law, pending law or past law?

Behavioral science has shown us that most people find uncertainty to be a very difficult pill to swallow, especially when it surrounds a proposed change to their lives. Half-hearted attempts at change often produce knee-jerk, negative reactions; people are not inclined to adapt to a change that may never occur or seems unlikely to stick. These are the types of situations most likely to breed backlash.

But when the uncertainty is removed, backlash reactions tend to dissipate and sometimes even reverse. When people know what cards they have been dealt – when they feel confident about what to expect in the future – people tend to begin the process of rationalizing the change and adapting to it.

The real battle over health care reform in the next few months will extend beyond the specifics of budget debates and regulatory wranglings. Instead the fate of health care reforms stands mainly on how soon, if ever, the public comes to feel that the legislation is enduring. If the permanence of the Affordable Care Act continues to feel unsettled, that will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Law Of Beliefs

By: Gregory S. Cusimano

Beliefs control our lives, our conduct, our actions and our decisions. Wayne Dyar, a noted author, has said, “When we look at things differently, the things we look at change.”  We should never underestimate the change we can make in ourselves, or overestimate the change we can make in others; however, changing ourselves often has the effect of changing others. 

Many sociologists have said that all that we are is a culmination of what we think.  Stuart Chase has said, “for those who believe, no proof is necessary.  For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.”  Core beliefs have more to do with how a jury makes a decision than proof.

Viruses of the mind have infected us, viruses that have been called “memes” (rhymes with dreams). A meme is nothing more than an idea that acts as a virus. It can be an idea or belief that is passed on from one person to another. It grows and evolves like a virus. A meme transmitted to others or groups can be an idea, symbol or even a cultural norm. It has no substance like a virus does.  It can’t be found under the microscope, but it acts a similar way.  It has a propensity to infect, spread and infiltrate. We commonly say today, “It has gone viral.” That’s exactly how a physical virus acts and that’s what a meme does which is why it has been referred to as a virus of the mind. A meme may mutate, propagate or become extinct. The reference aids in the understanding of this phenomenon. (See examples below). Memes, or the study of memes, which is called memetics, actually evolve like viruses.  These ideas, or memes, just like viruses, can change or become resistant to challenge and may become stronger and harder to change.  Memes as viruses of the mind can become enabling and empowering or depleting and depressing.  They exist in all of us!

My parents infected me with several memes, some truly contradicting.  Both my mother and father infected me with what has been called depression or scarcity mentality where you live your life trying to gather and protect because you feel that tomorrow you may not have the necessities of life.  My father also infected me with the meme that you can do whatever you want to do, that if you work hard enough, and smart enough, and long enough, you can achieve your goals.  My mom infected me with the meme that you better be careful crossing the street, you could get smashed by a big truck, or you better watch it when you go swimming, a lot of people drown, or even, don’t join the country club or expect to be a member, because you may not be good enough -- they will reject you because are at different. Somehow this meme generates fear. I also fear that maybe I infected my children.  For me I’ve had to find the courage to face my fears. Like many it is a continuing struggle.

So how does all this relate to the law and jury decision-making? Can we understand so that we can learn how to use memes? Can we discover them through jury research?  Yes we can! Understanding and using memes in preparation and trial (and in our lives) can be a powerful tool. We must know what people on the jury believe so we can frame our trial story to be as consistent with their believes, their memes as possible. Yes, it requires thinking differently, but it didn’t hurt “Apple” and it won’t hurt us.

Of course, we’re ultimately talking about juries. It has been said that everything that is truly feared cannot be loved and everything that is truly loved cannot be feared.  If we in fact love the jury and the jury system, then should we be afraid?  I’ll leave that to you.  To succeed in today‘s environment, we must change; we must distinguish our selves as well as our cases. Remember, Martin Luther King wrote a letter saying that everything that Hitler did was legal and everything that our forefathers did like Jefferson and Franklin and Adams was illegal. Sometimes we must challenge the rules, the time honored traditions. I’m not recommending doing anything illegal, but breaking out of our ruts. Sometime I take solace that I am not in a rut, but really just in a groove. I must look and sincerely examine my conduct and myself.

Ultimately, we must remember that it is not, “if I see it, I’ll believe it”; it is, “if I believe it I’ll see it.” That truism operates at both a conscious and unconscious level at a system one (Intuition) and a system two (reason) level, at a mindful level and a mindless level, at a thoughtful level and a thoughtless level, at a logical level and at a habitual level. 

Embodied Cognition and Conservative Jurors

A Bad Taste in the Mouth

Gustatory Disgust Influences Moral Judgment

  1. Kendall J. Eskine1,2,
  2. Natalie A. Kacinik1,2 and
  3. Jesse J. Prinz1

+Author Affiliations

  1. 1The Graduate Center, City University of New York
  2. 2Brooklyn College, City University of New York
  1. Kendall J. Eskine, Department of Psychology, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, 2900 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11210


Can sweet-tasting substances trigger kind, favorable judgments about other people? What about substances that are disgusting and bitter? Various studies have linked physical disgust to moral disgust, but despite the rich and sometimes striking findings these studies have yielded, no research has explored morality in conjunction with taste, which can vary greatly and may differentially affect cognition. The research reported here tested the effects of taste perception on moral judgments. After consuming a sweet beverage, a bitter beverage, or water, participants rated a variety of moral transgressions. Results showed that taste perception significantly affected moral judgments, such that physical disgust (induced via a bitter taste) elicited feelings of moral disgust. Further, this effect was more pronounced in participants with politically conservative views than in participants with politically liberal views. Taken together, these differential findings suggest that embodied gustatory experiences may affect moral processing more than previously thought.

Can trial lawyers use taste metaphors to help politically conservative jurors understand the enormity of the harm the defendant caused? This was a bitter pill to swallow, for example, as a description of the plaintiff journey. This left a really bad taste etc.

From Bitter to Wrong: Conscience of a Conservative - Association for Psychological Science

From Bitter to Wrong: Conscience of a Conservative - Association for Psychological Science

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Omission Bias

The Omission Strategy

  1. Peter DeScioli1,
  2. John Christner2 and
  3. Robert Kurzban1,2

+Author Affiliations

  1. 1Chapman University
  2. 2University of Pennsylvania
  1. Peter DeScioli, Brandeis University, Departments of Psychology and Economics, 415 South St., Waltham, MA 02453 E-mail:


People are more willing to bring about morally objectionable outcomes by omission than by commission. Similarly, people condemn others less harshly when a moral offense occurs by omission rather than by commission, even when intentions are controlled. We propose that these two phenomena are related, and that the reduced moral condemnation of omissions causes people to choose omissions in their own behavior to avoid punishment. We report two experiments using an economic game in which one participant (the taker) could take money from another participant (the owner) either by omission or by commission. We manipulated whether or not a third party had the opportunity to punish the taker by reducing the taker’s payment. Our results indicated that the frequency of omission increases when punishment is possible. We conclude that people choose omissions to avoid condemnation and that the omission effect is best understood not as a bias, but as a strategy

This research confirms what we have been teaching in the Jury Bias Model™ that is more effective to reframe the defendant's conduct as an act rather than a failure to act.

Pressure and Perverse Flights to Familiarity

  1. Ab Litt,
  2. Taly Reich,
  3. Senia Maymin and
  4. Baba Shiv

+Author Affiliations

  1. Stanford University
  1. Ab Litt, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business, 518 Memorial Way, Stanford, CA 94305 E-mail:


Under pressure, people often prefer what is familiar, which can seem safer than the unfamiliar. We show that such favoring of familiarity can lead to choices precisely contrary to the source of felt pressure, thus exacerbating, rather than mitigating, its negative consequences. In Experiment 1, time pressure increased participants’ frequency of choosing to complete a longer but incidentally familiar task option (as opposed to a shorter but unfamiliar alternative), resulting in increased felt stress during task completion. In Experiment 2, pressure to reach a performance benchmark in a chosen puzzle increased participants’ frequency of choosing an incidentally familiar puzzle that both augured and delivered objectively worse performance (i.e., fewer points obtained). Participants favored this familiar puzzle even though familiarity was established through unpleasant prior experience. This “devil you know” preference under pressure contrasted with disfavoring of the negatively familiar option in a pressure-free situation. These results demonstrate that pressure-induced flights to familiarity can sometimes aggravate rather than ameliorate pressure, and can occur even when available evidence points to the suboptimality of familiar options.

This research demonstrates why it is important to know juror schemas before constructing the case narrative. Jurors feeling pressure at trial to process the evidence will favor the familiar explanation of the defendant's conduct that confirms their experience of the world. Building your case from the bottom up is the only sure way to tell a story that jurors will understand.

Judicial Decision Making

The Psychology of Trial Judging

  1. Neil Vidmar

+Author Affiliations

  1. Duke University School of Law and Department of Psychology, Duke University
  1. Neil Vidmar, Duke Law School, Durham NC 27708-0360.


Trial court judges play a crucial role in the administration of justice for both criminal and civil matters. Although psychologists have studied juries for many decades, they have paid relatively little attention to judges. Recent writings, however, suggest that there is increasing interest in the psychology of judicial decision making. In this article, I review several selected areas of judicial behavior in which decisions appear to be influenced by psychological dispositions, but I caution that a mature psychology of judging field will need to consider the influence of the bureaucratic court setting in which judges are embedded, judges’ legal training, and the constraints of legal precedent.