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Saturday, February 01, 2014

Against (some) slow-motion replay

This Slate story discusses the work of Zach Burns, a psychologist in the business school at Northwestern, who argues against using slow-motion replay to judge intent in sports, such as for fine-worthy hits, flagrant fouls, etc. Slowing something down affects perception, makes it appear that the built-up to the conduct, and makes viewers more likely to find that someone acted with evil intent. He argues this is true not only for sports, but also for law--he points to a Pennsylvania case in which a man was convicted of first-degree murder after the jury watched surveillance video in slow motion.

Burns does say that replay is fine for judging actions, such as whether someone crossed a line, although it seems to me we'll likely see the same skewing of perception by slowing events down.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on February 1, 2014 at 06:54 PM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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Basketball is all about intent--that marks the lines between a "hard foul" and each of the two types of flagrant fouls. And I think intentionality does come up with some post-game reviews, as in determining the level of fine for a particular hit. The story mentions the review of the sideline interference by Mike Tomlin in the Thanksgiving night game this year

As for kicking the dog, you just gave the explanation (if not the line) that I use to explain plausibility under Twiqbal.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Feb 2, 2014 8:33:18 AM

I tend to agree with the upshot - that you can't judge intention with slow motion, but I think the sports analogy is weak. Most of the slo-mo review is to see whether or not there was actually helmet to helmet contact, not whether the contact was intentional (I can't speak for the basketball). So, the Harrison slow motion replay doesn't change my view of the hit at all.

But the piece does point out some key assumptions - that we ordinarily ascribe intention to actions. Like the example that people think "She kicked her dog," includes intention. The reason is that people don't ordinarily kick their dog unless they mean to, so unless there's a disclaimer of accident, of course the assumption of intentionality willbe there. I bet we don't ascribe intention to "He fell off the chair."

Carried over to the replay, we ascribe intention to the helmet hit. If it happened, we assume intent. The only thing the replay can do is show whether a) there was no helmet contact, or b) there was some accident (a trip) that negates intention. I don't know that this should carry over to premeditated murder, though.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Feb 1, 2014 7:21:48 PM

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