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Simple Jury Persuasion: Are those folks in the jury box thinkers or feelers?

Friday, December 24, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

Here’s a nice and very simple persuasion tactic first presented at PsyBlog in their ongoing series on 10 forms of persuasion. They cite the recent work of Nicole Mayer & Zakary Tormala (2010) and discuss the natural tendency we have to see the world (and thus describe it) via either thinking (useless or useful) or feeling (pleasant or unpleasant).

Mayer & Tormala identified the preferred style of their research participants and found (not surprisingly) that thinkers were more persuaded by thinking messages and feelers were more persuaded by messages where ‘feel’ was used. So they went a step further to explore what would happen if you had no way of knowing ahead of time whether your audience were thinkers or feelers. Using standard gender stereotypes wherein women tend to be feelers and men tend to be thinkers—they gave both men and women reviews of a particular movie where the review began with either “I think” or “I feel”. And they found that women were more persuaded by “I feel” reviews and men more by “I think” reviews. Thus you can do a quick and dirty head count and see if you are speaking to more men than women and modify your persuasive message accordingly.

When I read about research like this it also raises questions about similar words that carry meaning and commitment, such as “I believe”, “I trust”, “I have to believe”, “I determined”, “I found”, “I discovered”.  They all carry with them a mixture of thinking and feeling, and all will resonate differently with different jurors.  Keep in mind that this tip applies to witnesses every bit as much as it applies to you in argument.  The key is to find language that heightens the credibility of your case in the hearts and minds of the triers of fact.  Ah, the art of advocacy!

This one is simple to apply to litigation advocacy. While you are unlikely to have an all male or all female jury—you can certainly use both forms of persuasive message to appeal to everyone in the jury box.  Know who your audience is, and be aware of what resonates best with them.  “Think” and “feel” are both powerful messages that serve as cues to the listener to tune in a bit more since you are speaking their particular language. Obviously, you are not really changing the actual message content—you are simply modifying delivery and changing the appearance of the message. It’s a small and subtle shift. But likely one your listeners will hear.

Mayer ND, & Tormala ZL (2010). “Think” versus “feel” framing effects in persuasion. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 36 (4), 443-54 PMID: 20363901

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