Anger and silence are the two worst reactions.
- A new study conducted various experiments to explore the relationship between anger and judgments of guilt.
- The results suggest that when an accused person becomes angry, perceivers are more likely to view that person as guilty, even though the accused might be innocent.
- Paradoxically, the study also found that people who are falsely accused generally become angrier than people who are rightfully accused.
Imagine your neighbor accuses you of stealing something. You didn't. But your neighbor doesn't believe you. He continues to accuse you. As he does, other neighbors come over and start watching the confrontation unfold.
How would you react to being falsely accused? Maybe you'd be angry. But even though your anger would be justifiable, it would also likely increase the odds that your neighbors would think you're guilty.
That's the key takeaway of new research published in Psychological Science called "Anger Damns the Innocent." The findings are paradoxical: Being angry tends to make the accused come off as guilty, but their anger is usually a sign that they're innocent.
Why is that the case? The study noted that we look to others' emotions to understand social situations. That's particularly true when deciding whether we should trust someone.
For example, past research shows that people use trustworthiness to make judgments about whether someone is guilty. What's more, studies have also found that anger can make people seem less trustworthy. With these two findings in mind, the researchers proposed:
"...that when perceivers are alerted to a suspect's anger, perceivers are apt to find the suspect untrustworthy, prompting a judgment of guilt. Perceivers may even interpret a suspect's displayed anger as an inauthentic attempt to look innocent by faking moral indignation. This would further explain why perceivers deem an angry suspect guilty via perceptions of (in)authenticity."
If falsely accused, stay calm…but not quiet
Across six studies, the researchers explored how laypeople and experts make guilt judgments when the accused person is angry. In one set of studies, participants watched clips of people accused of minor crimes pleading their case on a courtroom TV show called Judge Faith. The results showed that participants were more likely to rate angry defendants as guilty.
In another study, participants read about a fictitious person named Andrew Smith who was accused of committing an armed robbery. The study included four versions of Smith's reaction to the accusations during his hypothetical testimony: angry, calm, silent, and irritated. For the silent condition, the participants read that Smith had invoked the Fifth Amendment. The other conditions included excerpts like:
- Calm: "I really can't believe I'm being accused of this crime."
- Irritated: "I'm irritated that I'm being accused of this crime."
- Angry: "I'm so fucking OUTRAGED that I'm being accused of this crime!"
The participants rated Smith most guilty when he was silent. Beyond that, being angry made Smith come off as most guilty, while being irritated made him seem guiltier than being calm.
Angry mandundanim via Adobe Stock
In a similar experiment, participants read one of two fictitious scenarios involving a man named Nathan. In both, he had been reasonably accused, but not necessarily guilty, of either cheating on his girlfriend or stealing money from his employer.
The participants were randomized to read either an angry or calm reaction. The angry condition was: "Nathan raises his voice and angrily denies responsibility, yelling, 'I am so pissed off that you think I would do this!'" The calm: "Nathan calmly denies responsibility, stating, 'I really can't believe you think I would do this.'" Again, the participants rated the angry response as guiltier.
Is it just laypeople who view anger as a sign of guilt? To test that idea, the researchers conducted a study similar to the previous one, but its participants were professionals who regularly have to make consequential judgments of others' guilt, such as fraud investigators and auditors.
They too rated the angry response as guiltier. Interestingly, the experts also considered remaining silent to be an indicator of guilt.
The falsely accused are angrier
When someone reacts angrily to an accusation, others generally see that person as guilty. But is anger really a sign of guilt?
To test that question, the researchers asked another set of participants to complete one of two tasks, both of which involved editing text. One task was simple, the other difficult. All participants were told they would be paid to complete the task.
After the participants finished the task, the researchers accused them of doing it incorrectly, and therefore they wouldn't receive a bonus payment. This represented a false accusation for the participants who completed the simple task, most of whom had done it correctly. Meanwhile, the participants assigned to the difficult task generally made errors, so the accusations were mostly accurate.
Afterward, the researchers asked both groups how angry they felt. The results showed that those who were falsely accused reported significantly higher feelings of anger than those who were rightfully accused.
Humans are terrible lie detectors
Overall, the results highlight how most people simply aren't good lie detectors. It's a deficit that's likely contributing not only to interpersonal conflicts but also false criminal convictions.
The researchers said their findings add important insights to the field of deceit detection, showing that anger is not a sign of guilt but of innocence.
"This is particularly important because most research on emotional cues of deception finds little to no association between other discrete emotions and guilt," the researchers wrote. "While scholarship on the psychology of anger posits that the social information it portrays is that there is someone else to blame, we find that anger in this context (mis)portrays the opposite to others: guilt."
The study concludes: "There are many reasons to be angry when accused of wrongdoing, but perhaps none as strong as the belief that one has been falsely accused."
The US prison system continues to fail, so why does it still exist?
- The United States is the world's largest prison warden. As of June 2020, America had the highest prisoner rate, with 655 prisoners per 100,000 of the national population. But according to experts, doing something the most doesn't mean doing it the best.
- The system is a failure both economically and in terms of the way inmates are treated, with many equating it to legal slavery. American prisons en masse are expensive, brutal, and ineffective, so why aren't we trying better alternatives? And what exactly are these overstuffed facilities accomplishing?
- Damien Echols and Shaka Senghor share first-hand accounts of life both in and after prison, while political science professor Marie Gottschalk, activist Liza Jessie Peterson, historian Robert Perkinson, and others speak to the ways that America's treatment of its citizens could and should improve. "The prison industrial complex is a human rights crisis," says Peterson. "Something needs to be done."
The 'reasonable person' represents someone who is both common and good.
The reasonable person is not just the average person. That's easily seen. Sometimes, average people do unreasonable things. This insight has led theorists to propose the reasonable person as some 'ideal person', such as the virtuous person, the person who achieves the best consequences, or the person who acts in accord with moral duty.
But this is all too quick. The reasonable person isn't just the average person, but neither is it simply the ideal person. Instead, the 'reasonable person' represents someone who is both common and good.
The reasonable person is often associated with the law of accidents. To determine whether someone is legally responsible for causing an injury, courts apply a test of 'reasonable care'. Did the person causing the injury act with the care of a reasonable person? But reasonableness sets countless other legal standards: was a killing reasonably provoked? Would advertisements have misled a reasonable consumer? Was a contract offer accepted in a reasonable time? Was a criminal trial reasonably delayed? Reasonableness appears within the law of both the United States and the United Kingdom as well as that of Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Russia and Singapore.
Theorists often remark that the reasonable person is not the average person. As the American legal philosopher Peter Westen puts it:
[R]easonableness is not an empirical or statistical measure of how average members of the public think, feel, or behave … Rather, reasonableness is a normative measure of ways in which it is right for persons to think, feel, or behave …
The fact that a reasonable person can't be an average person inspires 'ideal' theories of the reasonable person. The UK's Supreme Court elaborates this view, on which facts about average people are entirely irrelevant. Evidence about ordinary people is 'beside the point. The behaviour of the reasonable man is not established by the evidence of witness, but by the application of a legal standard by the court.' On this view, the reasonable person is some 'ideal' person. As the UK Supreme Court observed, it is 'the anthropomorphic conception of justice … the court itself'.
Of course, often 'the court itself' reflects the judgment of ordinary jurors. Perhaps surprisingly, the question of how ordinary people judge reasonableness is largely neglected. When people evaluate a standard of 'reasonable care', it might be that they're considering the common level of care or a good level of care. Or perhaps they're considering both.
To test this thought, I ran an experiment. I divided participants into three groups. One group provided their estimates of the reasonable number of different things, such as 'the reasonable number of weeks' delay before a criminal trial' and 'the reasonable loan interest rate'. Another group provided their estimates of the average number of each thing (eg, the 'average loan interest rate'), and the last provided their estimates of the ideal number of each thing (eg, the 'ideal loan interest rate'). Then, I compared the three groups' mean estimates for each example. For instance, is the 'reasonable loan interest rate' more like the average or the ideal interest rate?
A striking pattern emerged: across all these different examples, the estimates of 'reasonable' amounts tended to be intermediate between the 'average' and 'ideal' ones. For example, the reasonable number of weeks' delay before a criminal trial (10 weeks) fell between the judged average (17) and ideal (7). So too for the reasonable number of days to accept a contract offer, the reasonable rate of attorney's fees, and the reasonable loan interest rate.
These results suggest that our conception of what is reasonable is informed by thinking about both what people actually do and what people should do. Reasonableness is not a purely statistical notion, nor is it a purely prescriptive one; instead, it is a 'hybrid'. In this way, reasonableness is similar to other hybrid judgments, such as our judgment of what is 'normal'.
Here we should distinguish between two questions about reasonableness. First, how do ordinary people actually understand reasonableness? The experiment addresses this question. Reasonableness is a hybrid judgment, reflecting both what is common and what is good. Second, which conception of reasonableness should the law reflect?
While it is clear that reasonableness should not be a purely statistical standard, it is also rarely applied as a purely prescriptive one. Real legal standards don't elaborate the reasonable person as the 'virtuous person'. And jurors aren't actually instructed to evaluate reasonable care as whatever leads to the best consequences. To the contrary, when the law does elaborate reasonableness, it often suggests statistical considerations. For example, to challenge a misleading advertisement, plaintiffs must show that a 'reasonable consumer' would have been likely deceived or mislead. The standard is not meant to identify just what 'should' mislead an ideally scrupulous consumer. Instead, facts about when people are typically misled are crucial. Most courts consider statistical considerations, and some even call for a consumer survey or other evidence demonstrating that an advertisement actually tends to mislead consumers.
Historically, courts have referred not just to the 'reasonable person' but also to the 'ordinary person'. Often, courts seem to gesture towards some mixture of what is common and good. In the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1881, our standard of care should be set by the 'ideal average prudent man'.
Reasonableness captures an intuition about the relevance of both what is good and what is common. This produces a more nuanced standard. For example, the reasonable person does not have to do what an ideal person would do, but instead must meet some slightly less demanding standard. Or, the reasonable person is often close to the average person, but sometimes average people do bad things. More broadly, a standard that reflects both what is common and what is good makes the most sense of reasonableness standards across widely varied domains: from reasonable attorneys' fees and trial delays, to a reasonable provocation to kill, to reasonable consumers and judges.
Acknowledging the relevance of statistical considerations offers more progressive implications for another significant debate about reasonableness, known as the 'individualisation problem'. Which personal characteristics – age, gender, race, etc – should be included in reasonable-person analyses?
For example, in sexual harassment law, we might consider how a reasonable person would understand certain workplace remarks – for instance, apparently sexist remarks. But should we ask about how the 'reasonable person' or the 'reasonable woman' would understand those remarks? On popular philosophical theories, we would individualise to a reasonable-woman standard if it seems that women should understand certain workplace remarks differently from men. We might ask, for example, whether the 'virtuous woman' has a different understanding from the 'virtuous man' in this context.
However, if what is common is also relevant to determining what is reasonable, it is more sensible for statistical considerations to impact on our individualisation choice. We have a reason to individualise if women do (in fact) understand certain remarks differently from men. To be sure, this view doesn't imply that we must individualise whenever there are such differences. But it provides a broader range of considerations to capture the aims of reasonableness standards and individualisation.
As many have rightly noted, the reasonable person is not simply the average person. But contrary to influential theories, the reasonable person is not some ideal person, an 'anthropomorphic conception of justice'. People do not judge reasonableness that way. Nor does much of the law – for good reason. The reasonable person is a hybrid person, reflecting a mixture of what is common and what is good.
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.
- SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. They were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018.
- The implementation of this law in America has left an international impact, as websites attempt to protect themselves from liability by closing down the sections of their sites that sex workers use to arrange safe meetings with clientele.
- While supporters of this bill have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.
What is FOSTA-SESTA?
SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) were signed into law by former President Trump in 2018. There was some argument that this law may be unconstitutional as it could potentially violate the first amendment. A criminal defense lawyer explains this law in-depth in this video.
What did FOSTA-SESTA aim to accomplish?
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims. FOSTA-SESTA started as two separate bills that were both created with a singular goal: curb online sex trafficking. Targeting websites like Backpage and Craigslist, where sex workers would often arrange meetings with their clientele, FOSTA-SESTA aimed to stop the illegal sex-trafficking activity being conducted online. While the aim of FOSTA-SESTA was to keep people safer, these laws have garnered international speculation and have become quite controversial.
According to BusinessWire, many people are in support of this bill, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and World Without Exploitation (WorldWE).
"With the growth of the Internet, human trafficking that once happened mainly on street corners has largely shifted online. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 73 percent of the 10,000 child sex trafficking reports it receives from the public each year involve ads on the website Backpage.com."
As soon as this bill was signed into law, websites where sex workers often vetted and arranged meetings with their clients could now be held liable for the actions of the millions of people that used their sites. This meant websites could be prosecuted if they engaged in "the promotion or facilitation of prostitution" or "facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims."
The bill's effects were felt around the world — from Canadians being unhappy with the impact of this American bill to U.K. politicians considering the implementation of similar laws in the future.
Heather Jarvis, the program coordinator of the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP), which supports sex workers in the St. John's area, explained to CBC in an interview that the American bill is impacting everyone, everywhere: "When laws impact the internet — the internet is often borderless — it often expands across different countries. So although these are laws in the United States, what we've seen is they've been shutting down websites in Canada and other countries as well."
Jarvis suggests in her interview that instead of doing what they aimed to do with the bill and improving the safety of victims of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation, the website shutdowns are actually making sex workers less safe.
While one U.K. publication refers to FOSTA-SESTA as "well-intentioned but ultimately deeply-flawed laws," it also mentions that politicians in the United Kingdom are hoping to pursue similar laws in the near future.
Has FOSTA-SESTA done more harm than good?
Is this really going to help, or is this bill simply pushing sex work and sex-related content further into the dark?
Credit: Евгений Вершинин on Adobe Stock
While supporters of this bill have framed FOSTA-SESTA as a vital tool that could prevent sex trafficking and allow sex trafficking survivors to sue those websites for facilitating their victimization, many other people are strictly against the bill and hope it will be reversed.
One of the biggest problems many people have with this bill is that it forces sex workers into an even more dangerous situation, which is quite the opposite of what the bill had intended to do.
According to Globe and Mail, there has been an upswing in pimps sending sex workers messages that promise work - which puts sex workers on the losing end of a skewed power-dynamic, when before they could attempt to safely arrange their own meetings online.
How dangerous was online sex work before FOSTA-SESTA?
The University of Leicester Department of Criminology conducted an online survey that focused on the relative safety of internet-based sex work compared with outdoor sex work. According to the results, 91.6 percent of participants had not experienced a burglary in the past 5 years, 84.4 percent had not experienced physical assault in the same period, and only 5 percent had experienced physical assault in the last 12 months.
PivotLegal expresses concerns about this: "It is resoundingly clear, both from personal testimony and data, that attacking online sex work is an assault on the health and safety of people in the real world. In a darkly ironic twist, SESTA/FOSTA, legislation aimed at protecting victims of and preventing human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, will do the exact opposite."
Websites are also being hypervigilant (and censoring more content than needed) because they can't possibly police every single user's activity on their platform.
Passing this bill meant any website (not just the ones that are commonly used by sex traffickers) could be held liable for their user's posts. Naturally, this saw a general "tightening of the belt" when it came to what was allowed on various platforms. In late 2018, shortly after the FOSTA-SESTA bill was passed, companies like Facebook slowly began to alter their terms and conditions to protect themselves.
Facebook notably added sections that express prohibited certain sexual content and messages:
"Content that includes an implicit invitation for sexual intercourse, which can be described as naming a sexual act and other suggestive elements including (but not limited to):
– vague suggestive statements such as: 'looking forward to an enjoyable evening'
– sexual use of language […]
– content (self-made, digital or existing) that possibly portrays explicit sexual acts or a suggestively positioned person/suggestively positioned persons."
Additionally, sections like this were also added, prohibiting things that could allude to sexual activity:
"Content in which other acts committed by adults are requested or offered, such as:
– commercial pornography
– partners that share fetishes or sexual interests"
Facebook wasn't the only website to crack down on their policies — the Craigslist classifieds section being removed and Reddit banned quite a large number of sex-worker related subreddits.
Is FOSTA-SESTA really helpful?
This is the question many people are facing with the FOSTA-SESTA acts being passed just a few years ago. Is this really going to help, or is this bill simply pushing sex work and sex-related content further into the dark? Opinions seem to be split down the middle on this — what do you think?
A new look at existing data by LSU researchers refutes the Trump administration's claims.
- The United States Department of Defense gifts surplus military equipment and clothing to local police departments.
- The militarization of police coincides with a significant loss of trust in law enforcement from the American public.
- Militarized police departments are more likely to interact violently with their communities.
Watching coverage of protests in American streets, many of us have been shocked to witness what modern policing often looks like. Even putting aside the reason for many of these demonstrations in the first place—allegations of police brutality—what we see onscreen marching towards protestors is chilling. We witness police garbed in helmets, flak jackets, tactical dress, and carrying assault rifles, backed by weaponry designed for the battlefield, not the nation's thoroughfares.
The primary source of this equipment and clothing is the Federal government's 1033 program, which has been described as "Uncle Sam's Goodwill Store." This surplus military equipment (SME)—or "reutilized" gear as the Department of Defense (DOD) calls it—is granted, for free, to local law enforcement agencies, or "LEAs." WIRED estimates the Pentagon has gifted to local police some $7.3 billion worth of military equipment and clothing.
Concerned about the manner in which this militarization has affected policing, and following 2014's Ferguson protests, President Obama curtailed the program. The Trump administration removed these limits in 2017, claiming research had proved militarization reduces crime.
A new study from Louisiana State University (LSU) revisits that research, finding it incomplete and inconsistent. The researchers, led by LSU political scientist Anna Gunderson, collected their own more comprehensive and accurate data and concluded that militarizing local police does not actually reduce crime.
A wide lack of support
Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Getty Images
It's no wonder that more than half of the American public no longer trusts the police. It's hard not to get the impression that for many police departments, the mission has changed from one of support for its communities to an attempt to intimidate and dominate its members.
Studies back this up. Police whose departments use military equipment are more often violent with community members and are more likely to kill them. Neither is this a small problem at the margins of policing: Over 1,000 people are killed by police annually.
In spite of the Trump administration's faith in the soundness of the 1033 program, others from across the political spectrum disagree. On the right, the Charles Koch Foundation asserts, "This erosion of public confidence in law enforcement and low support for militarization impedes law enforcement's ability to effectively secure public safety." From the left, the American Civil Liberties Union says, "We advocate for a return to a less dangerous, more collaborative style of policing. We should not be able to mistake our officers for soldiers."
Credit: JeremyAdobe Stock
Gunderson explains to LSU Media Center that, "scholars rely on accurate data to track and analyze the true effect of police militarization on crime. Policymakers also need accurate data to base their decisions upon. However, to-date, we do not have reliable data on SME transfers to local police and sheriffs through the federal government."
The research cited by the Trump administration was a study done by the American Economic Association based on SME data collected through a 2014 Freedom of Information Act request. Having a look at that data themselves, along with other FOIA 2014 data released by National Public Radio and newer data from 2018, the LSU researchers found that things didn't quite line up. Where FOIA suggests certain counties received SME, NPR's data showed no such transfer. Similarly, NPR reported departments receiving items such as weapons, grants that were not reflected in the 2018 data as expected.
"When we looked at the data and ran the replications, nothing looked like the results being cited by the Trump Administration," Gunderson recalls. "We spent a year trying to diagnose the problem."
The LSU researchers' conclusion was the the previously released SME data from the DOD was too inconsistent to produce reliable insights. They conducted their own analysis, aligning newer data with country-level LEA data, to derive a cohesive, accurate picture that allowed them to more definitively assess who got SME transfers and who didn't, and what effect it had on local crime statistics.
They found no indication that SME transfers led to a reduction in crime. The study concludes, "we find no evidence that federal distributions of SME to local LEAs across the United States reduce crime rates, neither violent nor nonviolent crime rates, in the jurisdictions that receive it."
"This is a cautionary tale about the importance of oversight. The most important thing for policymakers and the public to know is that you can't justify giving surplus military equipment to police departments on the grounds it will lead to a reduction in crime. There is no evidence for that. You can't claim this program is important because it reduces crime."
What's more says, the report, "because of serious data problems and debatable methodological choices in prior studies, the empirical foundations on which social scientists, along with policymakers and the public, stand when making causal claims about the effects of the transfers of SME may be no firmer than quicksand."