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Archive for the ‘Simple Jury Persuasion’ Category

head-vs-heartAnd….do you think I can now guess your opinion on abortion? And brain death? It’s like a dream-state voir dire question. Today’s researchers used 8 different studies to explore the relationship between participants identifying with either the head or the heart and the participants’ positions on various hot-button issues.

It’s a question that has been with us for centuries—does the heart or the brain represent “the seat of the self”? Current-day scientists are now saying how individuals respond to this question is related to their beliefs about hot button issues and even the charities they support. How so, you say? We thought you’d never ask!

First, the researchers did a series of 6 studies where they were checking to be sure that how participants think about themselves is related to whether they self-describe as following the head or the heart. To test this question, they ‘primed’ some of the participants with what they refer to as an “independent self-construal” (basically a sense of self as autonomous, self-directed, and having impact on the world—more common in American males) and primed other participants with what they called “interdependent self-construal” (basically valuing being part of a group and maintaining harmonious relationships—more common in American females). They hypothesized that those primed with independent self-construals would more often say they identified with the head than the heart. They were correct.

Then they did two additional studies. In study two, 156 participants (82 male, 73 female, and one unspecified; average age 33.65 years) were recruited online in the US. First they were asked whether they identified more with the heart or the head. Then the researchers had them engage in a “filler task”—which is research-speak for a throw-away activity meant to distract the participant from the initial question prior to having them do the real experimental task. Finally, after completing the filler task, participants were asked for their opinions on the “legal definition of death and abortion legislation”.

In this study, the researchers report that people who identified with the heart were more likely to agree with the cardiac definition of death than with brain death than were people who identified with the brain.

Participants who identified with the heart were also more likely to be persuaded by and agree with a restrictive abortion law based on the idea that life begins when the heartbeat can be detected.

In the third study, the researchers wanted to show that the relationship between “self location” (i.e., head or heart) and opinions on hot button issues was causal and not correlational. So they recruited 127 undergraduate student participants (41 male, 86 female and average age 24.6 years)who were randomly assigned to conditions. First, the researchers primed the participants to be identified with either the brain or the heart (the researchers assigned this priming—the participants did not self-identify) and asked them to “write about” why they thought the brain or the heart was most connected to our sense of who we are (i.e., “the seat of the soul”).

The researchers also assigned each participant to be in one of two “charity conditions”: either a brain charity condition (a charity focused on research for Alzheimer’s Disease) or a heart charity condition (a charity focused on research on coronary artery disease). In each case, participants read a paragraph with information on the disease to which they were assigned and then they were asked to write a support letter the charity could use in promotional letters. The researchers measured the amount of time participants took to write the letters and counted the number of words in each letter in an effort to assess “effort expended” by the participant. Finally the participants were given the option to donate the $8 payment they received for the experiment either in part or in full to the charity.

Participants primed to locate the self in the brain exerted more effort in letter-writing and gave more money to the charity that focused on fighting a disease of the brain than the charity that focused on fighting heart disease.

Conversely, those primed to locate the self in the heart exerted more effort in letter writing and gave more money to a charity when it was the heart association charity rather than a brain charity.

We think an interesting aside here is that only 9 of the 127 participants rebelled against their assignment to the heart or the head condition and argued for the opposite side to which they’d been assigned. It’s odd —if this is such an important source of self-identity— that such a small number would protest. Especially since these are 20-somethings who, in our experience, protest thoughtfully about a lot of things. The researchers say that “leadership speeches, entrepreneurial pitches or marketing materials” referencing the head or the heart could be effective with those listeners identifying with one or the other.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think it’s an idea that could be useful in pretrial research but we aren’t willing to expect online participants and small undergraduate samples would respond the same as your potential jurors. The seriousness of a courtroom carries with it a gravitas that is absent in online studies. If, on the other hand, you ask opinions about whatever hot button issues are relevant to your case and ask if mock jurors tend to identify more with the head or the heart—you might have something you can use in voir dire and jury selection. As we are forced to say often, “it just depends”.

Adam, H, Obodaru, O, & Galinsky, AD (2015). Who you are is where you are: Antecedents and con sequencing of locating the self in the brain or the heart. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 128, 74-83


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: Do you follow your head or your heart?  

distrust scienceThe art of persuasion is often complex and diverse, but today’s study also shows how it can be simple and elegant. Here’s a surprisingly easy way to diminish the automatic, knee-jerk and distrusting reaction to scientific findings. Tell your listeners about scientific consensus. Today’s researchers call consensus a “gateway belief” that results in the ability to influence the listener. That’s very cool and even cooler is the fact that the article for today is not locked away—you can read it free on PLoS ONE.

The authors use a basic conclusion from multiple articles in the peer-reviewed literature on climate change: at least 97% of scientists have concluded climate change is happening. They report that “most Americans” have no idea the consensus is so high (and cite the example of only 1 in 10 Americans (1.2%) correctly estimating consensus at 90%  or higher. The authors say “manufacturers of doubt” publicly dispute the existence of scientific consensus and their voices are heard over the quiet consensus of experts in the area.

So, the authors of today’s featured article wanted to see if there were ways to change minds on the issue of climate change. The experiment involved 1,104 participants (52% female; ranging in age from 18 to 75 with a modal range of 35-44 years of age; 36% had a bachelor’s degree or higher; and 38% were Democrats by self-report with no data given for the percentage of either Republicans or Independents). Prior to any intervention, participants responded to questions about their individual beliefs on the scientific consensus on climate change, what their own personal beliefs were on climate change, whether they believed humans caused climate change, whether they were worried about climate change, and if they supported public action on climate change.

Essentially, the researchers wanted to test the efficacy of different ways to communicate the scientific-consensus-message (e.g., descriptive text, a pie chart, metaphors, et cetera). That is, which method of communication would be the most persuasive? In total, 11 different treatment conditions were administered and ultimately, the researchers found that simple text and a pie chart were the most effective means of persuasion about climate change consensus. (If you want to read more about the specific treatment conditions, go to the article itself and look at the Supplemental Information link for a description of the conditions used.)

It’s a really intriguing finding with provocative implications. Here’s an enticing paragraph explaining the results in plain language from a recent article in Scientific American by the primary author:

What’s even more interesting is that we found the same effect for two differentially motivated audiences: Democrats and Republicans. In fact, the change was significantly more pronounced among Republican respondents, who normally tend to be the most skeptical about the reality of human-caused climate change. These findings are quite remarkable, if not surprising, given that we exposed participants only once, to a single and simple message.

The information on the actual level of scientific consensus was persuasive to skeptics of climate change—even across political party lines (although in the article itself, the authors say “compared to Democrats, Republican subjects responded particularly well to the scientific consensus message”). The authors report results that are quite astounding given the hot button nature of climate change.

…all stated hypotheses were confirmed: increasing public perceptions of the scientific consensus causes a significant increase in the belief that climate change is (a) happening, (b) human-caused and (c) a worrisome problem. In turn, changes in those key beliefs lead to increased support for public action.

It’s akin to a domino effect—give a (gateway belief) fact like scientific consensus and the other associated beliefs topple over in the face of data to the contrary. The researchers say that offering information is indeed a powerful tool toward decreasing false beliefs. So what about all the times when you offer facts and jurors disregard them? The researchers address that by saying they just do not think the idea that people hear things based on their own pre-existing beliefs and discard information that doesn’t fit their own schemas (aka motivated reasoning) is accurate and to support their argument, they point back to their own study.

…this study only used a single treatment, yet found that even a single, simple description of the scientific consensus significantly shifted public perceptions of the consensus and subsequent climate change beliefs and desire for action.

What is important, say the researchers, is that there is organized opposition to climate change and the opposition “strategically sows seeds of doubt”. They believe that repeated exposure to simple messages correctly stating the consensus on climate change is the key to people realizing the importance of the issue and thus supporting action to change policy on climate change. In the Scientific American article, the authors give a plain language example of how information changes minds [this would be a plain text example they talk about as being persuasive]:

Imagine reading a road sign that informs you that 97% of engineers have concluded that the bridge in front of you is unsafe to cross. You would likely base your decision to cross or avoid that bridge on the expert consensus, irrespective of your personal convictions. Few people would get out of their car and spend the rest of the afternoon personally assessing the structural condition of the bridge (even if you were an expert). Similarly, not everyone can afford the luxury of carving out a decade or so to study geophysics and learn how to interpret complex climatological data. Thus, it makes perfect sense for people to use expert consensus as a decision-heuristic to guide their beliefs and behavior. Society has evolved to a point where we routinely defer to others for advice—from our family doctors to car mechanics; we rely on experts to keep our lives safe and productive.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a powerful message. While we don’t think you can expect to simply offer a message like these researchers did and expect jurors to believe you—what it does say is that if you can back up your assertion with facts, people will be persuaded despite pre-existing beliefs and despite their political affiliation. When jurors reject expert testimony, it is often because they figure that lawyers can hire someone to say almost anything. But if (for example) the expert explains his or her position, and explains that it is consistent with the findings of 145 peer-reviewed studies in contrast to 4 that didn’t agree, they begin to think they might be able to trust you. Especially if the expert can explain why the 4 didn’t agree.

We have had countless mock jurors over the years throw up their hands in frustration and say “Each side has their expert saying what they want. But what I want is to know what is real. How am I supposed to know whom to believe?” And in the face of the deadlock, they opt for whatever belief fits their overall world view, instead of the science. In this as in many other circumstances, the challenge is to reassure jurors that they are being smart and safe to trust what you (and your expert) say. By introducing consensus, the playing field grows from the courtroom to the scientific universe. And that feels more trustworthy.

Let’s repeat that line just to remind us all of the power of scientific consensus (combined with verbal visual imagery):

“Imagine reading a road sign that informs you that 97% of engineers have concluded the bridge in front of you is unsafe to cross.”

van der Linden SL, Leiserowitz AA, Feinberg GD, & Maibach EW (2015). The scientific consensus on climate change as a gateway belief: experimental evidence. PloS one, 10 (2) PMID: 25714347


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: Combatting distrust of science  

highly unusual experiencesThis is a new and somewhat unusual perspective on persuasion. If you have an unusual explanation for your client’s behavior or motivations—is there a way to know which potential juror might be more predisposed to accept that unusual explanation? According to today’s research…maybe so.

Researchers in France wanted to know if non-reflective thinkers (those who trust their initial intuition) would be more likely than reflective thinkers (those who use analytic reasoning to question their initial intuition) to believe an unusual or uncanny experience was the result of some supernatural explanation such as astrology or extra-sensory perception. They conducted three separate experiments to see if participants who appeared to have their minds read “through telepathy” by a fellow participant would see the experience differently based on whether they were reflective or non-reflective in their personal style.

Of course, you have likely already guessed that the “fellow participant” was not a participant at all but rather what researchers call a “confederate” who was able to “read” the actual participant’s mind and identify the cards the participant chose at random. (In truth, the experimenter could see the cards chosen and the confederate was cued about which card it was by the language the experimenter used to tell the confederate to focus on the “image” of the card the participant was “telepathically sending” to the confederate.) So the participant (either a reflective or a non-reflective thinker) was incredibly able to telepathically send the images of the cards to the confederate. And guess what? When asked how they explained their heightened ability to telepathically communicate, the reflective and non-reflective thinkers had varying explanations.

The reflective (analytical) thinkers thought it was a fluke and the non-reflective thinkers thought they were fabulous telepathic communicators.

The researchers comment that it is traditional to avoid implying one style of thinking (reflective versus non-reflective) is better than the other. When it comes to gullibility, these researchers clearly see reflective thinking as better than non reflective thinking.

“We showed that a single uncanny experience may be enough for non-reflective thinkers to seriously consider the possibility of supernatural causation. This makes them especially vulnerable to scammers who attempt to leverage paranormal beliefs into profits. A common trick, for example, consists of pretending to detect a paranormal ability in an individual, only to offer him or her an expensive training aimed at developing this potential. Individuals with a predominantly non-reflective cognitive style should be well warned against their own reaction to such and other encounters with the supernatural.”

From a litigation advocacy perspective, it makes sense that those who tend to be non-reflective (likely also known as being low in “need for cognition”) would be less likely to analyze or question your unusual conclusions since doing that takes a lot of mental energy. Need for cognition and those who are more cognitively (rather than emotionally) driven has been an area of interest in jury selection for years. You likely recall that old voir dire question that has been updated a bit recently from “Do you enjoy crossword puzzles?” to questions like “Do you enjoy Sudoku?” or “Do you enjoy solving complex problems?”. That question is meant to assess whether the potential jurors’ need for cognition is high or low—or, as these researchers label it, reflective versus non-reflective thinking. So who is easiest to persuade or influence? These researchers would say it is the non-reflective thinker. The question then becomes whether they are more likely to seize on your trial story to drive that rush to judgement, or the version offered by the opposition. A topic for several dozen other blog posts…

Bouvet R, & Bonnefon JF (2015). Non-Reflective Thinkers Are Predisposed to Attribute Supernatural Causation to Uncanny Experiences. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin PMID: 25948700


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: Who is more likely to be convinced of the highly unusual?

persuasionWe are always on the lookout for subtle but effective ways to persuade and here’s a new one. You are going to get more of what you want in any sort of negotiation if you use a very simple language style change. Instead of focusing on what the buyer stands to lose (in this case, $9,000), help them focus on what they will gain (your fabulous car).

If you are the seller, instead of saying, “I would like $9,000 for the car”, you say, “I will give you this car for $9,000”.

That simple change in language focus makes a huge difference to the buyer according to today’s research, and results in better outcomes consistently for the seller. But the seller isn’t the only winner with this language focus shift. It works for buyers too!

Instead of saying, as the buyer, “I would take the car for $9,000” (which makes the seller think of losing their beloved car), you say, “I will give you $9,000 for your car” (and the seller thinks of all that money).

It even works when the transaction you are attempting to negotiate does not involve money but rather, involves the trading of goods. The researchers had fourth grade children use this language in trading card transactions and found that those who said, “My Obi Wan against your Yoda” were more successful that those who said, “Your Yoda for my Obi Wan”. Again, placing the focus in your language on what the other party will receive will result in better outcomes for you consistently.

And here’s another tactic (this article is filled with useful tips!). Don’t lower your price immediately—instead try to add something to the offer—like a full tank of gas, winter tires, gentle cleaning fluid for the paint work. Again, the idea is to focus the person with whom you are negotiating on what they will get— not the money they will lose.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, consider the argument you make as a transaction of sorts with jurors. You are not asking for a damages award. You are giving them an opportunity to restore the losses your client has suffered. You are not asking them to send a plaintiff home empty-handed or send a defendant to prison, you are encouraging them to do what justice requires. And in every case, from every perspective, their vote is not for you, or your client— it is an affirmation of what they know in their hearts and minds is right.

Trötschel R, Loschelder DD, Höhne BP, & Majer JM (2015). Procedural frames in negotiations: how offering my resources versus requesting yours impacts perception, behavior, and outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108 (3), 417-35 PMID: 25751716


Comments Off on Simple Jury Persuasion: “I will give you this car for  $9,000.”

eye_gazeThis is sort of scary research. We all like to think our views on moral issues are pretty consistent and not easily shaken. That would be incorrect. They are not consistent and they are easily shaken. At least these are the conclusions reached by this research.

We’ve written before about on which side of the courtroom you want to place your exhibits (it’s on the left), but this is far above and beyond that. According to these researchers, you can actually change someone’s mind about an ethical issue by where you have them looking. And, this is the worst part: it takes less than a second! Here is what they did.

The researchers (from Sweden, the UK, and the University of California) had participants sit at computer screens and listen to 63 different statements taken from Moral Foundations Theory while the researchers measured the participant’s eye gaze. For example, statements like “Murder is sometimes justifiable” would play through their headphones and then two responses would be presented simultaneously on their computer screens: “sometimes justifiable” and “never justifiable”. The participants were told to “choose the alternative they considered morally right”. The researchers measured how long the participant looked at each alternative response and found the participant’s chose the response at which they gazed for a longer period of time.

So the researchers wanted to see if they could “make” the participants choose a specific answer by simply waiting until the participant had looked at the response identified by the researchers as the “target” response longer than the alternate response on their screen. They recruited new participants for two additional experiments and sure enough.

By monitoring eye gaze and requiring a decision from the participant as soon as they had looked at the target response longer than the non-target response—the researchers were able to bias the participants’ moral decisions toward the randomly set ‘target’ response.

Even on moral questions the participants described as “important”, researchers were able to steer them toward the target response 80% of the time! It’s all about where you fixate your gaze. Or, as I thought about it, you endorse whatever you are thinking about when the music stops. Indeed, say the researchers, “the process of arriving at a moral decision is not only reflected in a participant’s eye gaze, but can also be determined by it”.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is a good reason to be thankful eye gaze science is not perfected and used by opposing counsel. But it is also a good reason to be wary of manipulation in the courtroom. We’ve written about priming and how it can influence jurors, about embodied cognition, and even about the persuasive effect of tilting your head.

This research strategy is interesting, because it requires a disruption of the natural thought process used by the person. In a way, it resembles the distortion of findings we see when someone only considers one side of a dispute. The story that imprints on them is the one they go with— and that imprinting can evidently occur quickly. On the other hand, while it is effective, it isn’t possible to really implement it during trial. Some jurors will be looking at one part of an exhibit, while others will be gazing at an alternative. Thankfully, like fMRI imaging, this is technology that is not nearly ready for courtroom use. And as long as both sides are effective in making sure the jurors get the complete story—not a story artificially truncated by researchers or wily opponents, this effect won’t sway your jury. It will only keep you up at night.

Pärnamets P, Johansson P, Hall L, Balkenius C, Spivey MJ, & Richardson DC (2015). Biasing moral decisions by exploiting the dynamics of eye gaze. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America PMID: 25775604


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