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A screwdriver: The new addition to your trial toolbox? (We think not.)

Friday, February 25, 2011
posted by Douglas Keene

You truly never know what you’ll need in court. The unexpected happens. We are here to give you an edge. Back in May, 2010 we wrote about how people tend to remember things more when they are placed to their left. So we recommended you place your exhibits to the left while casually moving opposing counsels exhibits to the right.  But now there’s more on that left/right angle.

The embodied cognition research has been going strong and we’ve written about that too—in essence, how common phrases resonate both in the mind and in the body. And those researchers have another new and intriguing finding. You may already know that the French legislative assembly (way back in 1791) organized itself so that conservative members sat to the right and liberal members sat on the left.  (Come on! We don’t really think you knew that!) Anyway—over time, we began to refer to conservatives as being “on the right” of the political spectrum and liberals as “on the left”.

A new article by Daniel Oppenheimer and Thomas Trail of Princeton University explores something that may send you looking around for a screwdriver for your briefcase. Oppenheimer and Trail were curious as to whether the way you sit (and how you lean in that chair) would influence your political perspective self-report. They published their work in the journal Social Cognition.

So they subtly tinkered with chairs in the experimental room to make the chairs lean ever so slightly to the left or to the right. Those who sat in chairs leaning to the left agreed with the Democrat Party more than those who sat in chairs leaning to the right. And (we know you know this part) those who sat in chairs leaning to the right, tended to agree with the Republicans more although the relationship was not significant.

“Whether the fact that only leftist tendencies were affected by grip and posture reflects a general wishy-washiness of leftist thinking, with conservative thoughts being less flexible, or that the volunteers were significantly pro-Democrat in the first place, or something else, is unclear. According to Dr Oppenheimer, however, these findings add to the body of literature which indicates that voter behavior is irrational and that factors totally unrelated to politics affect the outcomes of elections.”

That’s what Dr. Oppenheimer says. What we say is this—if you know your case plays well to either liberals or conservatives—probably theming to speak more to one or the other would do a lot more good than some subtle tinkering with a screwdriver.  And a lot less embarrassing if you get caught.

Oppenheimer, D., & Trail, T. (2010). Why leaning to the left makes you lean to the left: Effect of spatial orientation on political attitudes. Social Cognition, 28 (5)

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