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Simple Jury Persuasion: “How likely are you to…”

Friday, February 19, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

Researchers have found that the mere act of posing a question such as “How likely are you to buy a Starbucks coffee today?” increases the likelihood that the person asked will do just that. It’s called the ‘mere measurement effect’. By simply having the question posed, we are likely to fulfill it positively. And what is powerful is that we do not see the question as intending to persuade us (therefore, we do not attempt to resist).

The researchers puzzle over the ethical implications of this finding for survey research (what if by simply asking people how likely they are to engage in risky behavior, you actually increase the probability that they will?). We are more interested in the application of this finding to jury deliberations.

  • How likely are you to speak up in deliberations?
  • How likely are you to insist that the reasons for the jury’s verdict don’t include [sympathy/race/emotion, etc.]?
  • How likely are you to carefully consider the evidence presented?
  • How likely are you to listen carefully for contradictions in testimony that alert you to a lack of truthfulness?
  • How likely are you to be the sort of juror you would want deliberating in a case that you might file for yourself?

The possibilities are endless. Like any valuable tool, you do not want to over use it. But when you want something to happen and don’t want the jury to resist your directive—wield the ‘mere measurement effect’.

How likely are you to try this strategy?

Williams, P., Fitzsimons, G. J. and Block, L.G. (2004). When consumers do not recognize ‘benign’ intention questions as persuasion attempts. Journal of Consumer Research, 31, 540-550.

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