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Simple Jury Persuasion: Lean this way! No, lean the other way!

Friday, November 25, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

We try to keep up with the persuasion literature. You may recall our post on the effect of tilting your head.  This one is about tilting your entire body and how that will influence your decision-making.  If this strikes anyone as being petty and superficial, we are totally sympathetic. On the other hand, if making your story more persuasive is worthwhile– even through some pretty superficial techniques– we are willing to learn it and to share the news.

There is a theory called the ‘mental number line’ that says “people mentally place magnitudes (symbolized by numbers) on a line, with small numbers on the left and large numbers on the right”. While we have never heard of this theory before it makes intuitive sense–unless you are Israeli and read from right to left. According to the researchers, there are also studies that indicate we associate our left hand or our left visual field with smaller numbers and the right hand and right visual field with larger numbers. We can buy that one too. But here is where it gets a little strange.

Researchers decided to check to see if leaning slightly to the left would result in smaller numerical estimates for the same stimuli than leaning slightly to the right. So they messed with a Wii Balance Board to make it force people to lean slightly off center (to the right or left) in order get feedback that indicated that they were standing up straight. Then they asked them to estimate answers to questions where the range of answers would be between 1 and 10. None of the participants knew any of the accurate answers to the questions (so researchers knew they were estimating).

And you likely will not be shocked to find out that participants who leaned slightly to their left made smaller estimates in their answers than those who leaned slightly to their right on the Wii balance board. And none of the participants was aware of the slight lean but they still made lower estimates when leaning to the left.

So what does this mean for you? For one thing, it’s another odd but interesting bit of trivia. Second, you may be interested in using the knowledge in the courtroom. In addition to the ‘tilt your head’ post, we’ve also talked about placing your exhibits to one side or the other to gain an advantage in memory with jurors.

If you are plaintiff, you may want to place your exhibits to jurors’ right hand/right visual field. You could consider rotating the text on the exhibit just a bit so it leans slightly to the right. (These researchers had the participants off center by a mere 2% shift of their weight–a small shift.) The idea is that when tilting to the right, jurors will ‘see’ the need to estimate larger numbers for your client.

If you are defense, place your exhibits on the left and again, consider leaning the damages text slightly to the left. Obviously, you do not want the tilting text to be disturbing to the viewer so be careful to only tilt it very slightly. Your hope is that jurors will ‘see’ the damages against your client as being smaller.

Who knows whether this will make a difference in juror deliberations. But if it does, aren’t you glad you knew?

Eerland, A., Guadalupe, T., & Zwaan, R. (2011). Leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower seem smaller: Posture-modulated thought. Psychological Science

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