The Situationist

Archive for September 25th, 2011

The Wacky, Wonderful McGurk Effect

Posted by Adam Benforado on September 25, 2011

When I was a law clerk working on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit several years back, a case came up involving the competency of blind jurors.  I wasn’t assigned to the case — and, as a result, don’t remember any of the details — but the general question of when someone’s disability ought to be grounds for excluding him or her as a judicial decision-maker continues to intrigue me.

Overall, I remain skeptical of attempts to disallow participation.  Part of my skepticism stems from psychological evidence suggesting that we naively believe that we see the world as it actually is and that those who do not, must necessarily have some dispositional flaw.  Dan Kahan, David Hoffman, and Donald Braman’s 2009 Harvard Law Review article on the impact of cultural cognition in interpreting the facts of a police chase video provides an excellent example of the dangers of when judges determine that there is only one reasonable view of a case (and that those who see things differently cannot participate in the judicial assessment process).  It turns out that we’re not always very good at judging others’ disqualifying biases (for a situationist critique of Kahan, Hoffman, and Braman’s article click here).

The second reason that I’m wary is that there is good evidence that having complete use of one’s facilities doesn’t necessarily improve perception of key information.  Research on lie detection suggests that people are often mislead by focusing on visual cues (like whether someone is averting his or her gaze).  Perhaps the best demonstration of how our eyes can lead us astray is the McGurk Effect (demonstrated in the brief video below).  What I love about the McGurk Effect is that even though I am fully aware of what is going on (i.e., that my eyes are leading me astray) and desperately try to control for it, I can’t.

Take a look for yourself!

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