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Law Students and Associates: Beware of the Red Pen

Redpen According to research by three psychology and social sciences professors, the grade or feedback that you receive on your next law school exam or legal memorandum could well depend on an unexpected variable: the color of the pen used to evaluate your work.

Via the Legal Writing Prof Blog, I learned that a recent research report concludes that "because red pens are closely associated with error-marking and poor performance, the use of red pens when correcting student work can activate these concepts." As a result, "people using red pens to correct essays marked more errors and awarded lower grades than people using blue pens." Thus, the authors assert, "despite teachers’ efforts to free themselves from extraneous influences when grading, the very act of picking up a red pen can bias their evaluations."

The authors believe that this "red pen effect" is attributable to the fact that the common pairing of red
pens and error-marking have created a strong mental association in people's minds that "red writing in effect denotes an error." They allow that there may be other explanations, however. such as the possibility that "red pens could influence levels of testosterone and aggression." 

In any event, it looks like a midnight "red pen raid" on your professor or partner's office might be quite beneficial for law students or law firm associates.

Posted by Bruce Carton on October 14, 2010 at 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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