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Simple Jury Persuasion: “Personalized persuasion”

Friday, July 27, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

If you read our blog post on checking out jurors’ shoes as part of jury selection, then you understand the longing for a silver bullet in voir dire. It’s like the litigation advocacy version of the quest for the holy grail. You know we didn’t think much of that shoe study for selecting or deselecting your jurors, but what about a personalized approach to persuasion? Is this a true silver bullet?

Researchers looked at whether tailoring advertisements to the personality profile of the intended recipients would make the advertisements more effective. They assessed personality traits using the “Big Five” personality dimensions: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.

They showed participants an advertisement of a cell phone with a text message tailored to varying personality dimensions. For example, the extravert was hypothesized to be more persuaded by an advertisement with text saying “With XPhone, you’ll always be where the excitement is” while neurotics were seen as more likely to respond positively to a message saying “Stay safe and secure with the XPhone”.

So once the participants had rated the advertisements for persuasiveness, effectiveness, willingness to purchase the product, wanting to learn more about the product and liking the advertisement overall–their personality traits were assessed using the Big Five Aspect Scales measure.

And sure enough! When a message is tailored to you, you find it more persuasive.

“For a single product, we constructed five advertisements, each designed to target one of the five major trait domains of the human personality. In a sample of 324 survey respondents, advertisements were evaluated more positively the more they cohered with participants’ dispositional motives.”

The researchers comment that electronic retailers are already using this sort of tailored advertisement/person matching and comment that very recent research shows you can infer much about personality from a Facebook account, email address and language use–all of which can be culled via “lingering signatures of online behavior”.

There has been a good deal of discussion among innovative trial lawyers and trial consultants about data mining to discern characteristics of jurors, for two reasons: first, you may be able to determine clues about predispositions toward the case that could inform decisions about strikes (the silver bullet!). Second, and much more reliable, you can tailor the language and thematic messaging to fit the jurors to whom you are speaking. Perhaps not quickly enough for tweaking an opening statement, but in a longer trial such ‘message tailoring’ is an important consideration.

The risks involve the distraction that too much input and ‘cleverness’ can introduce, and the potential for you to lose focus. Jurors judge authenticity automatically, and what you say has got to ring true.

So what about personalizing your persuasive efforts to your actual jurors? Will you be more successful in persuading if you explore their “lingering signatures of online behavior” and determine how to pitch your case based on who you have in the box?

These strategies are employed by our firm, but with great restraint. To apply them in jury selection ideally involves creating a model for juror profiling that requires a good deal more research (focus groups/mock trials/attitude research) than most cases can justify. And when the matching of juror characteristics to trial themes is the goal, it is beyond the skill set of most gifted trial lawyers, and is most effectively achieved with some expert input.

So alas, we are left again without a silver bullet, but we have a better understanding of what ‘smart’ can look like in strategy, both for jury selection and case theming. One good takeaway from this study is that the quality of the message is highly related to persuasive impact. The higher the quality of the message, the greater the persuasive impact.

We concur.

Hirsh JB, Kang SK, & Bodenhausen GV (2012). Personalized persuasion: tailoring persuasive appeals to recipients’ personality traits. Psychological Science, 23 (6), 578-81 PMID: 22547658


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