Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Creating and marketing a new product? Change the salience

Creating and marketing a new product? Change the salience

An interesting article about bias beyond this old rivalry. Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Elicits Extreme Fanfare - Association for Psychological Science

Yankees-Red Sox Rivalry Elicits Extreme Fanfare - Association for Psychological Science

Making the Most of Online Searches - Association for Psychological Science

Making the Most of Online Searches - Association for Psychological Science


Priming Competence Diminishes the Link Between Cognitive Test Anxiety and Test Performance

Implications for the Interpretation of Test Scores

  1. Jonas W.B. Lang1 and
  2. Jessica Lang2

+Author Affiliations

  1. 1Department of Work and Social Psychology, Maastricht University
  2. 2Institute of Occupational Medicine, RWTH Aachen University
  1. Jonas W.B. Lang, Maastricht University, Department of Work and Social Psychology, P.O. Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands E-mail:jonas.lang@maastrichtuniversity.nl


Researchers disagree whether the correlation between cognitive test anxiety and test performance is causal or explainable by skill deficits, which lead to both cognitive test anxiety and lower test performance. Most causal theories of test anxiety assume that individual differences in cognitive test anxiety originate from differences in self-perceived competence. Accordingly, in the present research, we sought to temporarily heighten perceptions of competence using a priming intervention. Two studies with secondary- and vocational-school students (Ns = 219 and 232, respectively) contrasted this intervention with a no-priming control condition. Priming competence diminished the association between cognitive test anxiety and test performance by heightening the performance of cognitively test-anxious students and by lowering the performance of students with low levels of cognitive test anxiety. The findings suggest that cognitively test-anxious persons have greater abilities than they commonly show. Competency priming may offer a way to improve the situation of people with cognitive test anxiety.


Misery may really love company, study suggests - Association for Psychological Science

Misery may really love company, study suggests - Association for Psychological Science

Study: Botox Users Have Trouble Reading Emotions in Others

Study: Botox Users Have Trouble Reading Emotions in Others

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Speaking generally is an important communication tool to help jurors find meaning in jury duty!

In Praise of Vagueness

Malleability of Vague Information as a Performance Booster

Himanshu Mishra1,Arul Mishra1 and Baba Shiv2

Author Affiliations

. 1Department of Marketing, University of Utah

. 2Graduate School of Business, Stanford University

. Himanshu Mishra, KDGB 309, David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah, 1645 E Campus Center Dr., Salt Lake City, UT 84112 E-mail:himanshu.mishra@utah.edu


Is the eternal quest for precise information always worthwhile? Our research suggests that, at times, vagueness has its merits. Previous research has demonstrated that people prefer precise information to vague information because it gives them a sense of security and makes their environments more predictable. However, we show that the fuzzy boundaries afforded by vague information can actually help individuals perform better than can precise information. We document these findings across two laboratory studies and one quasi–field study that involved different performance-related contexts (mental acuity, physical strength, and weight loss). We argue that the malleability of vague information allows people to interpret it in the manner they desire, so that they can generate positive response expectancies and, thereby, perform better. The rigidity of precise information discourages desirable interpretations. Hence, on certain occasions, precise information is not as helpful as vague information in boosting performance.

Here is the link to the article: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/04/15/0956797611407208.abstract

In this interesting article, Baba Shiv and his colleagues demonstrate the power of vague information or communicating ambiguously. The research demonstrates that vague information allows the recipient to interpret the information to give it personal meaning.

This is a powerful communication strategy and a favorite technique in building rapport of the famed psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, M.D. Erickson often communicated ambiguously to allow his patient to internally tailor the message to maximize personal meaning and relevance. See, Zeig, J., Teaching Seminar with Milton Erickson, M.D., Brunner Mazel, N.Y. (1980) A message that is personally relevant motivates the listener to carefully consider that message. See, Petty, R.E., & Cacioppo, J. T., (1984) "The Effects of Involvement on Responses to Argument Quantity and Quality: Central and Peripheral routes to Persuasion", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 69-81

Precision in the evidence at trial is critical because jurors do not tolerate ambiguity. As ambiguity in the evidence increases the probability of a defense verdict also increases. Nonetheless, there are multiple opportunities during trial to speak generally thereby allowing jurors to internally tailor the message and maximize personal meaning.

To cope with anxiety about the plaintiff’s harm, jurors may distant himself or herself from the plaintiff and rationalize that if they were in the plaintiff’s shoes they would have acted differently. In other words, they would have prevented the injury; consequently, allowing jurors to believe their world is safe. This form of defensive attribution inhibits feelings empathic towards plaintiff. Reducing juror anxiety allows jurors to feel empathic.

Speaking generally can be a useful tool. According to attachment theory, when you ask people about whom they turned to in time of need it creates feelings of protection and safety. On direct examination, asking plaintiff, for instance, whom they turned to in this time of need, is an indirect way of asking jurors to think about whom in their lives are important and provide warmth and protection. Jurors unconsciously will call to mind a positive figure that will produce feelings of safety and protection. Plaintiff will be linked to a positive personal and emotional, albeit unconscious, juror experience. Instead of asking the plaintiff during direct about a specific person who provides comfort, and risk jurors having a negative association with a particular family member or relationship, speaking generally allows jurors to choose the person whom provides the greatest comfort to them.

Other examples of speaking generally include "There was a certain time during the trial when you knew that the [plaintiff] was entitled to your verdict" or “You can recall when you first realized that the hospital was at fault". Here jurors are allowed to choose the specific time he or she reached the conclusion. There is no need to tell jurors when they reached that conclusion and it really does not matter. What is important is to allow jurors to internally tailor the message to fit his or her experience.

There are numerous opportunities to speak generally during trial, particularly during closing argument. During voir dire jurors provide a glimpse into their lives. This information can be used to frame the case so it has personal meaning for jurors. During voir dire jurors may have disclosed, as an example, understanding the importance of community service, jury duty, rules, the rule of law, and the meaning of loss. The list is endless. Jurors can be reminded, for instance, “this is a jury that understands the importance of rules”. Personal disclosures during voir dire can be used to help give meaning to jury duty.

In one case, during voir dire a potential juror framed the number of children he had stating "I have three children living." This juror could have stated he has three children and omitted the reference to his loss. The loss of a child was obviously important enough to publicly disclose his loss during voir dire. This communication was gift. If understanding loss is important in the case the jury in closing can be told, "This is a jury that understands the meaning of loss". This general communication is not directed to any particular juror. Most people have experienced loss. Yet, this communication allows each juror to internally tailor the message to give it meaning, including the juror who expressed his experience of loss during jury selection.

Other examples of speaking generally include having jurors imagine the future wondering whether the verdict was sufficient. This is a common practice and has psychological implications beyond the scope of this short note. Rather than suggesting jurors think about themselves in a specific future activity, allow jurors to choose which activity to picture while thinking about plaintiff. For instance, telling jurors "A few years from now, you may be doing this or that, or doing your favorite activity, and as you take an easy breath you may begin to wonder just how Sarah [plaintiff] is really doing. And you may wonder whether the verdict was really enough...” The communication allows jurors to imagine his or her favorite activity rather than choosing it for them. Giving jurors the freedom to choose builds rapport and motivates them to find meaning in the communication.

Speaking generally or ambiguously is useful tool trial lawyers can use to make a jury duty more meaningful for jurors!

Why kids get hit by cars - Association for Psychological Science

Why kids get hit by cars - Association for Psychological Science

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Are jurors influenced by what they wish to believe?

The preeminent social psychologist, Lee Ross, and his colleagues conducted an interesting experiment, recently published in Psychological Science[1], demonstrating that the evaluation of scientific evidence is shaped more by what a person desires to be true than what they initially believed to be true.

The study recruited subjects who believed that child home care was superior to day care. Half of the subject were conflicted about the issue and indicated that they intended to use day care for their children. The subjects were motivated to believe that day care was as good as home care. The un-conflicted group indicated that they intended to use only home care.

The subjects were given two fictional studies. Half the subjects were led to believe study 1 favored day care and study 2 home care; the other half of the subjects were led to believe the opposite for studies 1 and 2. After reading the studies, the subjects evaluated which of the two studies provided more valid conclusions, listed the strengths and weaknesses and evaluated the persuasiveness of each study. The subjects’ last task was to evaluate which form of childcare would have a better effect on child development.

The results of the study dramatically showed subjects were more persuaded by scientific evidence that confirmed what they wished to be true than what they initially believed to be true. Subjects who initially indicated that they intended to send their children to day care, even though they believed home care to be superior, were unconsciously motivated to favor scientific evidence that was consistent with their desire to believe day care would not adversely affect their children. When these subjects were exposed to two studies reaching opposite conclusions, they shifted their belief from their initial position and concluded that home care was no better than day care.

The un-conflicted subjects, those who intended to use home care, maintained their strong initial belief that home care was superior. The un-conflicted subject did not alter their initial belief even though they were exposed to a scientific study that was inconsistent with their belief and instead favored the study that confirmed their belief.

The Ross study is important for trial lawyers, and corroborates the Jury Bias Model, that despite the evidence, jurors search for evidence during trial that favors their beliefs and, perhaps, what they need to believe. Jurors typically face conflicting evidence at trial. Jurors likely will favor that evidence that confirms beliefs and what they wish to believe even in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary. The quality and persuasiveness of the scientific evidence is filtered through the jurors’ wishful thinking rather than an objective evaluation of the merits of the science. Knowing what jurors need to believe is essential.

The implicit assumption of the civil justice system is that jurors objectively weigh the evidence, are free from bias, and that the best science applied to the facts determines who wins and loses. This assumption is contrary to decision-making science.

We are, after all, naive realist and believe that we perceive things as they really are. See, Ross, L., & Ward, A. (1996). Naive realism in everyday life: Implications for social conflict and misunderstanding. In T. Brown, E. S. Reed, & E. Turiel (Eds.), Values and knowledge. The Jean Piaget Symposium Series (pp. 103–135). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Naively, we expect other reasonable people to see things as we do if exposed to the same information. Trial lawyers may believe, all too willingly, that jurors will perceive the evidence in the same way they do; after all, trial lawyers fall prey to the same naïve realism that all people do and believe they perceive the evidence as it really is. Trial lawyers are not immune for this bias blind spot simply because of their professional training. People do not readily recognize their own biases. Trial lawyers are no exception.

Often in evaluating their cases trial lawyers fail to recognize how their biases affect their judgment and juror bias affects juror judgment. Trial lawyers must become behavioral realists and litigate their cases understanding how jurors actually evaluate evidence rather than how they wish jurors would evaluate the evidence. The implication is that we must build our case from the bottom-up, starting with what the jurors must believe for plaintiff to win, rather than from the top-down, what trial lawyers and their experts believe the evidence really shows! Once we know what jurors must believe, then, and only then, can we know how to build the case consistent with juror beliefs and wishes. Jurors should not be required to change how they perceive the world as a prerequisite to winning.

Not only do trial lawyers contend with beliefs and wishes that have developed through the jurors unique life experience, now they must contend with anti-plaintiff beliefs that have resulted from politically motivated campaigns to instill an anti-plaintiff bias. In litigation, the trial lawyers must identify the most common case specific event schemas and anti-plaintiff bias schemas. Both tasks are essential to success in civil litigation in today’s environment. Ignoring what we now know about human behavior and how jurors process information is simply inexcusable.

In a dram shop case, for instance, what particular event schemas are important? What safety precautions do people believe a bar should institute to prevent a customer from becoming intoxicated and killing or maiming someone as a consequence? People have unconscious maps about how a bar operates and what is a reasonable to protect the public. It matters little what the experts and research shows if it is incongruent with event schema driven beliefs. Once the juror beliefs are identified then the task of discovering the science that confirms those event schemas or unconscious maps can begin. Jurors will resist evidence inconsistent with their unconscious maps, as the Ross study demonstrates.

One common event schema operating in this dram shop cases, is that the person who drinks is in the best position to protect against the harm resulting from his drinking. Jurors reflexively find it unfair to ask a business to protect someone from himself. Another common event schema that often arises in this context, is that people who know alcoholics or heavy drinkers have unconscious maps about how these people behave.[2] One legal issue in these cases is proving the level of intoxication at the time wreck was the result of the alcohol ingested at the bar. The time between the drunk leaving the bar and the wreck is critical to decision making. People with experience with alcoholics have maps about how these people behave such as "oh he probably stopped somewhere after leaving the bar and bought six pack" or "these people always keep liquor in the car and he must have been drinking in his car after left the bar”. Such maps serve to excuse the conduct of the bar. If you identify these unconscious maps then demonstrating there was no time to stop for liquor and that the police did not find liquor in the car at the time of the wreck is easily addressed during discovery. Seemingly minor issues like these, left unaddressed at trial, can have devastating consequences. Knowing the unconscious maps at work and who your jurors are can prevent a misstep like this.

Another goal is to discover the impact of the anti-plaintiff bias. Do the facts elicit suspicion about the plaintiff? Did the plaintiff act like the tort reformer's prototypical plaintiff that was the exemplar for the anti-plaintiff bias? Do people feel victimized by specific lawsuits like these? In other words, is the public more concerned about lawsuits personal impact than in a just result? Have you presented a case so complex, that people find it is easier to conclude that stuff happens rather than struggle to understand the facts? Finally, do people believe that if the plaintiff had been personally responsible, the harm would have been avoided? People disfavor protecting people from themselves. If the plaintiff had the ability to prevent the injury he better have a great explanation why failed to do so.

Building the case from the bottom up means discovering at the earliest opportunity what unconscious maps people use to evaluate the conduct of the defendant and the plaintiff.

People believe and need to believe they live in a safe world. People need to believe, for instance, that their hospitals are safe. If we frame the case to prove hospitals are unsafe the plaintiff will encounter the same result Ross and his colleagues found in their research. Jurors will perceive the science and expert testimony to be congruent with their wish to believe their hospitals are safe.

Telling jurors that 98,000 people die every year in hospitals from preventable errors or that hospital negligence is the 4th leading cause of death will not persuade jurors that malpractice is a common occurrence or that it is more likely that plaintiff was one of the 98,000. Jurors, like everyone else, are loss averse. People do not want to lose what they already have. People feel safe and need to believe they are safe. Instilling fear in jurors is not the answer, as some might suggest. The answer is to accept that we all need to feel safe and protected, as Mandell[3] and others suggest, and to utilize that belief in framing the case. For full discussion of framing the safety issue at trial I invite you to attend the Jury Bias Litigation Group Trial Advocacy Tract at the AAJ convention in New York this summer.

[1] Wishful Thinking: Belief, Desire, and the Motivated Evaluation of Scientific Evidence

Anthony Bastardi, Eric Luis Uhlmann, and Lee Ross, Psychological Science, April 2011; first published on April 22, 2011

[2] For this reason it is risky to allow jurors with personally relevant experience to sit. One cannot know what event schemas these people unconsciously hold. If you bet wrong these jurors can infect the other jurors with their personal event schemas and the trial lawyer cannot possibly predict the effect on deliberation. When in doubt, kick them out!

[3] See, Trial 2000 "OVERCOMING JUROR BIAS: IS THERE AN ANSWER?" posted April 14, 2011 in this blog

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Personal Responsibility Bias

An Attributional Analysis of Reactions to Poverty: The Political Ideology of the Giver and the Perceived Morality of the Receiver

Bernard Weiner1, Danny Osborne1, and Udo Rudolph2 Abstract

Personality and Social Psychology Review 15(2) 199–213 © 2011 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.

Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1088868310387615 http://pspr.sagepub.com

An attributional analysis of reactions to poverty is presented. The article begins by discussing the perceived causes of poverty and their taxonomic properties (locus, stability, and controllability). One antecedent of causal beliefs, political ideology, is then examined in detail, followed by a review of the effects of causal beliefs on emotions and behavior. It is contended that helping the poor is a moral issue, but the moral evaluation concerns the targeted recipient of aid rather than the potential help giver. Persons perceived as responsible for their plight, a dominant construal for conservatives, elicit anger and neglect. In contrast, those seen as not responsible for their financial hardship, an outlook predominantly endorsed by liberals, arouse sympathy and help giving. Sympathy is the most important proximal determinant of aid. This analysis is extended to reactions to achievement failure, abortion, and rape. Policy implications are also examined.

Here is the link to the article:


The implications of this research for trial lawyers are obvious. The personal responsibility bias has enormous impact on how a person's plight is perceived. A person who is perceived as having had control of the cause of the harm s more likely to be judged as morally culpable for his predicament. Thus, causal control and personal responsibility are intimately related. If plaintiff had causal control over the injury then jurors will judge the plaintiff as personally responsible. That is why it is critical to demonstrate the precautions the plaintiff took to avoid being harmed. People who are perceived as responsible for their harm are less likely to receive help. Jurors will be less motivated to help a plaintiff who had the ability to have protected against the injury.

Another big point of this research is that political ideology influences perception. Conservatives are more likely to attribute harm to personally controllable causes. Progressives are more inclined to attribute harm to the situation in which the harm was caused. Moreover, the research suggests that conservatives are willing to help less than progressives. Something that may be worth considering in jury selection.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Interesting video about how we perceive the decisions of others.

In the Eye of the Storm from Assn. for Psych Science on Vimeo.

Are Our Hospital Safe?

‘Global Trigger Tool’ Shows That Adverse Events In Hospitals May Be Ten Times Greater Than Previously Measured

  1. David C. Classen1,*,
  2. Roger Resar2,
  3. Frances Griffin3,
  4. Frank Federico4,
  5. Terri Frankel5,
  6. Nancy Kimmel6,
  7. John C. Whittington7,
  8. Allan Frankel8,
  9. Andrew Seger9 and
  10. Brent C. James10

+Author Affiliations

  1. 1David C. Classen (dclassen@csc.com) is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City.
  2. 2Roger Resar is a senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  3. 3Frances Griffin is a faculty member at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
  4. 4Frank Federico is an executive director at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
  5. 5Terri Frankel is a director at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
  6. 6Nancy Kimmel is director of quality and safety at the Missouri Baptist Medical Center, in St. Louis.
  7. 7John C. Whittington is a senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
  8. 8Allan Frankel is an associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, Massachusetts.
  9. 9Andrew Seger is an assistant professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
  10. 10Brent C. James is chief quality officer at Intermountain Healthcare, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  1. *Corresponding author


Identification and measurement of adverse medical events is central to patient safety, forming a foundation for accountability, prioritizing problems to work on, generating ideas for safer care, and testing which interventions work. We compared three methods to detect adverse events in hospitalized patients, using the same patient sample set from three leading hospitals. We found that the adverse event detection methods commonly used to track patient safety in the United States today—voluntary reporting and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Patient Safety Indicators—fared very poorly compared to other methods and missed 90 percent of the adverse events. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Global Trigger Tool found at least ten times more confirmed, serious events than these other methods. Overall, adverse events occurred in one-third of hospital admissions. Reliance on voluntary reporting and the Patient Safety Indicators could produce misleading conclusions about the current safety of care in the US health care system and misdirect efforts to improve patient safety