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Simple Jury Persuasion: I’m too smart to fall for that!

Friday, September 17, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

Like Charlie Brown—we are more easily persuaded than we would like to believe. But social scientist researchers sure don’t make it easy on us. They keep tricking us long after we think we are so on to them. It isn’t just that gorilla video.  Although I have to admit, the new one got me too! These scientists are just tricky. They can make us believe we have mental illnesses. They know how to make us crave methamphetamines. They put snakes with us in the MRI machine to measure courage! And they wonder why we are suspicious. (And afraid of an MRI.)

But all the suspicion in the world doesn’t seem to make us less susceptible to actually being gullible (and thus, fooled once again). We have a hard time believing we would be fooled by cunning researchers or advertisers. Or even tricky attorneys. We hear this in focus groups a lot. Usually, something like “that doesn’t matter to me at all—others might be persuaded by it, but not me!”

But we are affected. And here’s why. It’s called the “third-person effect” and it’s one of the most powerful persuasion strategies in existence.The research (whether from the 80s, 90s or that completed since the turn of the century) is consistent. We always think ourselves less gullible than others when, in fact, we are just as likely to be persuaded as anyone else. To make matters worse, when we don’t agree with the message, judge its source as negative, or the message isn’t directly relevant to us—the effect is even stronger. The less we think something is relevant to us or likely to effect our judgment—the more it does!

We simply under-estimate our similarity to others and therein lies the power of the third-person effect. So what can you do to put a kink in this powerful persuasive chain when you see opposing counsel using this strategy to persuade? You simply break the chain. The power is in our belief that we are not as gullible as others or that we are more analytical or cynical or bright than the rest of the audience. What you want to do is find a way to say to the jurors that we are all persuaded by these sorts of messages.

Obviously, you cannot say “you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, are all gullible!” because each individual member will simply believe you are wrong…at least about them! What you can do instead is invite them to learn a secret. That we all think we are secretly less gullible than others, and that very belief sets us up to be fooled.  Join them in their gullibility.  “I truly wanted to believe…” “For the longest time I clung to the hope that X was true, but finally I had to let it go and accept the facts…”

Let them know there is a “wanting to believe” Charlie Brown in each of us.

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