Shippensburg University
Psychology Department

Psi High Newsletter

October, 2009

Volume 34, No. 1

Can equal justice also be informed justice?

Jurors can improve their comprehension of information

Research has demonstrated that jurors typically understand less than half of both the instructions they receive and the evidence they are shown. Shippensburg University Psychology majors Molly Brickel and Theresa Simcic and Psychology professor James Griffith documented the effectiveness of one technique for improving juror comprehension in their study entitled “The Effects of Cognitive Mapping on Legalese Comprehension,” presented at the 2009 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Pittsburgh.

Each of the 84 undergraduate participants heard the legal definition of arson described in detail. Some participants just listened; some also read a written copy of the definition being described; and some followed along with a cognitive map, a visual portrayal that put unique concepts and requirements in their own individual boxes and linked those boxes to other related concepts and requirements. After listening to the definition, the participants worked on a maze task for five minutes (so that short-term memory for the definition was displaced) and then responded to a 17-item questionnaire to test their memory and understanding of the legal material.

Statistical analyses revealed that participants who had experienced cognitive mapping had significantly better memory and understanding of the arson definition than participants in either of the other two conditions. Those who had only listened and those who had both listened to and read the material did not significantly differ from each other.

Typical ways of presenting evidence and instructions to juries may be inadequate to ensure that jurors actually grasp the meaning of what they hear and see. The authors suggested that cognitive mapping would be one way to improve jurors’ memory and comprehension of the crucial information they encounter.

Who is likely to experience the Lake Wobegon effect?

Researchers identify top candidates

Most individuals in the United States and other Euro-American cultures (including Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where all of the students are above average) have a false uniqueness bias – meaning we view ourselves as being better than most others with regard to our important abilities. Shippensburg University psychology professor Toru Sato and undergraduate psychology majors Daniel Doyle, Megan Hurley, and Sarah Lowry conducted a study in which they identified persons who are more likely to have a pronounced false uniqueness bias. At the 2009 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Pittsburgh, they presented their study entitled “Sociotropy-Autonomy and The False Uniqueness Bias.” As the title implies, the authors investigated the false uniqueness bias as it relates to both autonomy (focusing on one’s own achievements and goals) and sociotropy (focusing on relationships rather than on one’s abilities).

The researchers recruited 151 undergraduate participants, gave them an abilities survey, and administered the Personal Style Inventory II to measure sociotropy and autonomy. They selected the bottom and top 25% of individuals on the autonomy scale and on the sociotropy scale for statistical analyses. The investigators compared the ability ratings (the percentage of undergraduates the participant thought was very good at the ability) of the bottom to the top groups for the following five abilities possessed by the participant: best overall, athletic, academic, social, and creative.

On all five abilities those high in autonomy had significantly lower percentages (meaning that they saw themselves in more select groups) than those low in autonomy, demonstrating a pronounced false uniqueness bias. Conversely, on all five abilities there were no significant differences between those high in sociotropy and those low in sociotropy.

The authors hypothesized that the high autonomy individuals had a strong need to see themselves as superior to their fellow students, whereas those high in sociotropy had no such need.

Do chatters get on the same wavelength?

Text tuning occurs and has lingering effects

Individuals involved in interpersonal interactions typically coordinate the timing of their responses. Such synchronization is an example of entrainment – a term that refers to modification of one’s behavioral rhythms in response to external factors. Although previous research has documented the occurrence of entrainment in face-to-face interactions, there had been no studies on entrainment occurring in computer-mediated communication such as instant messaging. That changed when Shippensburg University psychology professor Jamonn Campbell and undergraduate psychology majors Denise Cothren and Amanda Burg conducted a study entitled “The Perpetuation of Entrained Behavior During Computer-mediated Communication” and presented their findings at 2009 meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in San Francisco.

Participants were 90 undergraduates who were given a task of describing two photographs during an instant messaging chat session with another person. Initially the participants were assigned to one of the following three conditions: a control condition in which two participants chatted with each other (in order to establish what a “normal” response time would be); a slow condition in which the participant interacted with a confederate who always waited 90 seconds before responding; and a fast condition in which the participant interacted with a confederate who always responded after 15 seconds. For those in the slow and fast conditions, there was a second interaction in which two participants sent text messages to each other as they repeated the initial task with two new photographs. In the second set of interactions there were matched pairs in which both individuals had been teamed with a slow confederate or in which both participants had been teamed with a fast confederate, and there were unmatched pairs in which one person had been with a slow confederate and the other had interacted with a fast confederate.

During the initial interactions, the average response times in seconds for the three groups were as follows: control, 31 seconds; slow, 42 seconds; fast, 30 seconds. The slow times were significantly different from both the control times and the fast times, demonstrating that entrainment had taken place. (The researchers hypothesized that the task was too demanding for most participants to come close to matching the 15 second response time of the fast confederates.)

In the second set of interactions, the average response times in seconds for the three groups were as follows: matched slow, 29 seconds; matched fast, 21 seconds; unmatched, 23 seconds. The matched slow and matched fast times were significantly different from each other, showing that entrainment from the initial interactions had persisted and had influenced pacing in the subsequent chats.

The researchers also found that on a 7-point scale (low being negative and high being positive), impressions of the confederates where significantly less positive (4.50) for slow responders and than for fast responders (5.53). The authors hypothesized that since the fast confederates’ response times were more similar to normal response times, the participants liked those individuals better.

If you or your students are involved in instant messaging, the study’s findings may be relevant to you. Senders tend to synchronize their response times with those of the other person, and there is likely to be a carryover effect to the next interaction, even if it is with a different chatter. In addition, there tend to be more favorable impressions of individuals when they match your own preferences for how quickly responses should occur.

Thinking about tanning?

Those who do face greater health risks

In the last quarter of the 20th century there was a four-fold increase in the occurrences of skin cancer. In the United States there are now more than 10,000 deaths a year from this largely preventable disorder. One of the major risk factors is ultraviolet radiation absorbed during outdoor sun tanning and indoor use of sun tanning beds. Such behaviors are correlated with the desire to be perceived as attractive – what some psychologists call appearance motivation. Shippensburg undergraduate psychology majors Sara Clark and Zachary Zortman and psychology professor Scott Madey investigated relationships among appearance motivation, use of tanning salons, and obsessive thoughts about tanning in research presented at the 2009 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association in Pittsburgh.

The research participants were 82 undergraduates (80 women and 2 men) who said they regularly used tanning salons. The patrons completed the following three questionnaires: the Physical Reasons for Tanning Scale, an Obsessive Compulsive Scale, and Madey and Clark’s own Obsessive Thoughts about Salon Tanning Scale. The final instrument asked individuals to rate themselves on a 1 to 5 dimension (strongly disagree to strongly agree) for the following two self-statements: “I obsess over my tanning appointments” and “I believe I obsess over the time I spend tanning” and on a 1 to 5 dimension (not at all to very often) for the following three questions: “How often do you think about tanning?” “How often do you think about your next tanning appointment?” and “How often do you remind yourself about your next tanning appointment?” The researchers also asked participants six questions regarding how often they used tanning salons, the importance of having a tan, and their use of sunscreen lotions.

As measured by the attractiveness subscale of the Physical Reasons for Tanning Scale, attractiveness motivation was significantly positively correlated with importance of having a tan, frequency of tanning, and less protection through the use of sunscreen lotions. High scores on the Obsessive Thoughts about Tanning Scale were significantly positively correlated with the importance of having a tan and frequency of tanning. However, having obsessive-compulsive tendencies was not correlated with use of tanning salons.

Further analysis of the correlations revealed the following relationships. Participants with high attractiveness motivation were more likely to have a high number of weekly visits to tanning salons if they also had lots of obsessive thoughts about tanning. Those high in obsessive thoughts about tanning were more likely to report a higher number of tanning salon visits during the year if they had high attractiveness motivation. Patrons high in attractiveness motivation were more likely to think that having a tan was important if they had frequent obsessive thoughts about tanning.

As previous research had demonstrated, Clark, Madey, and Zortman found that high appearance motivation was positively correlated with use of tanning salons. They also discovered, though, that higher use of tanning salons was positively correlated with having obsessive thoughts about tanning. The authors suggested that such thinking may lead to increased tanning and, consequently, to increased risk of developing skin cancer.