Monthly Archives: November 2018

Priming Jurors to Hate You and Your Client

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

The critical takeaway from any meaningful discussion about primacy theory and its role in persuading jurors is often the one that is least discussed. Those who tout the importance of primacy theory often talk about priming the jurors to achieve victory, but research shows the real takeaway should be to avoid the early mistakes that cost you the trial. In short, you cannot win your case in jury selection or opening, but you can lose it there.

Everybody knows first impressions are important, but some research shows that negative first impressions are much more powerful than neutral or positive first impressions. This is called the negativity bias and it has been investigated extensively by academic researchers. Specifically, negativity bias recognizes that negative experiences or perceptions have a greater effect on one’s psychological state than neutral or positive experiences. Continue reading

Preparing Witnesses to Pass the “Eyeball Test”

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

One of the most commonly-cited statistics in communication studies is that verbal communication (i.e. the words that are actually said) constitutes only 7% of how the credibility of a message is determined. 38% is the vocal quality of the message (i.e. tone, etc.), and 55% is the nonverbal component. Some scholars have disputed how these numbers have been interpreted, but research has shown over and over again that how something is said is more important than what is actually said. Setting the research aside, anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship has lived this reality.

For this reason, one of the most important parts of a witness’s testimony is the “eyeball test.” In other words, does he or she look and sound like the kind of person he or she is being portrayed as? One of the most obvious examples of the eyeball test is in medical malpractice cases. So much of jurors’ opinions in medical malpractice cases boil down to them looking at the doctor as he or she testifies and asking themselves if he or she seems like the kind of doctor they would want treating them. If the answer is yes, the jurors will often explain away bad facts. If the answer is no, those bad facts become more salient. Reiterating this phenomenon, a 2018 national survey conducted by Sound Jury Consulting found that 59% of respondents believe they can tell if someone is a good doctor just by meeting him or her and having a conversation. Continue reading

Faster is Better: Finding the Right Speaking Pace

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

 What is the most appropriate pace of speech? A common belief among trial attorneys is that it is important to slow down in opening statement and closing argument, particularly when the issues in the case are complex and/or confusing. This belief makes sense since most of us have long been taught to slow down when someone is having difficulty understanding what we are saying. In fact, the term “fast-talker” has its own derogatory meaning, suggestive of a slick salesperson who is willing to say whatever is necessary to complete the sale. However, research in psychology and persuasion suggests this common belief may actually be misguided in some respects. Continue reading