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Simple Jury Persuasion: “You know you want to trust me!”

Friday, July 22, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

Sometimes it’s sort of scary to leave the house in the morning. There is a lot of scary research out there.  And now, we are told that it only takes two simple words to influence us to view a message more positively, act in accordance with that message, and positively view the message source. Wow. Only two?  You have to admire the efficiency, but really…?

Researchers subliminally primed participants with the words “to trust” (or close variants such as “to approve”, “to accept”, or “to agree”). They did this by flashing the words for thirty milliseconds on a computer screen during a seemingly innocuous task. (When asked later, none of the participants in the study recalled seeing any words whatsoever.)

Then, participants read a statement about tap-water consumption illustrated by a woman (Mrs. Marie) who was presented as head of a regional water control organization. Here’s where it gets just a little weird—

Participants who were ‘primed’ thought Mrs. Marie was nicer (p<.05) and more trustworthy (p<.02).

They also said they would drink more tap water (p<.02) and avoid buying bottled water (p<.002).

That is, participants who were ‘primed’ with the words ‘to trust’ rated the message itself and the source (Mrs. Marie) more positively AND they expressed more behavioral intent in line with the message.

We know our readers would never use this research for evil but some (others out there who do not read our blog) might be drawn to the dark side by attempting to use these findings to persuade people to behave in ways counter to their pre-existing attitudes.

It’s an intriguing and disturbing finding. Would it have the same effect to simply incorporate that brief phrase into your communication with a jury? We can’t know if spoken word would affect jurors in the same way as words they read in bursts so fast they cannot visually detect them—at least consciously. Sometimes, it just may be better to read the research and tuck it away for a while until we have more to support it than one study.
Legal, JB,, Chappe, J,, Coiffard, V., & Villard-Forest, A. (2011). Don’t you know that you want to trust me? Subliminal goal priming and persuasion. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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