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Simple Jury Persuasion: On caffeine and speed

Friday, January 7, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

We’re reacting to two different PsyBlog posts at once because their posts have striking relevance to litigation strategy. As they continue their series on top forms of persuasion—they touch on caffeine and speech rate.  So. Let’s take a look at how these strategies apply to litigation advocacy, because (as we’ve seen with some advertising principles of persuasion) what works for some forms of persuasion doesn’t always translate well to the courtroom!

They had us at caffeine

We have a fondness for good coffee at The Jury Room.  Indeed–musings on coffee come up here about as much as thoughts on tattoos. It seems that people who are loaded up on caffeine are easier to persuade! According to Martin et al., 2005—caffeinated people focus more and are therefore more engaged with the presentation of information.

Having a tough time getting the jury to pay attention?  When you are examining an important but dry witness (imagine your average economist or high tech engineer), joke with them about how hard it is to stay focused on this complex material, and how glad you are to have had your coffee.  Some jurors may hit the coffee in the jury room at the next break and come back more receptive!

Fast talkers and persuasion

Early 1970’s research tended to show people were more persuaded by fast talkers [195 words per minute] than slow talkers [100 words per minute]. But by the 1990’s (Smith & Shaffer, 1991) we were seeing a more nuanced relationship emerge. It turns out if we like what we’re hearing, slower talk is more persuasive (because you have time to consider, evaluate and be even more persuaded). If we don’t like what we’re hearing, faster speech is more persuasive (because you don’t have time to produce counter-arguments).

It’s an interesting idea—slow down if the jury is with you—speed up if they are not. It’s hard to say if it will work—you might simply annoy the jury if you become a “fast talker” when they seem to disagree. But the idea of slowing down, just a bit, to help jurors process and solidify their agreement with your position may have some merit.

Martin, P., Laing, J., Martin, R., & Mitchell, M. (2005). Caffeine, Cognition, and Persuasion: Evidence for Caffeine Increasing the Systematic Processing of Persuasive Messages Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35 (1), 160-182 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2005.tb02098.x

Smith, S., & Shaffer, D. (1991). Celerity and Cajolery: Rapid Speech May Promote or Inhibit Persuasion through its Impact on Message Elaboration Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17 (6), 663-669 DOI: 10.1177/0146167291176009