By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D. and Scott Herndon, M.A.
In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as its word of the year. It defined it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” This concept has long been recognized in the fields of psychology and persuasion. Research has consistently shown that people tend to put beliefs before facts. In other words, decision-making often starts with what we want to believe, followed by efforts to seek out evidence that confirms what we want to believe, while downplaying, ignoring, or rejecting evidence that goes against those beliefs.
For this reason, misinformation is surprisingly resilient to correction and retraction. In fact, some studies show that efforts to correct misinformation actually reinforce the misinformation itself. This creates an interesting problem for litigants at trial. While it is primarily a problem for defendants, many litigants find themselves struggling to undue undesirable first impressions (or misinformation) that were created in opening or early in the trial. We do not intend to suggest that misinformation is synonymous with undesirable first impressions, but the resulting problem remains the same. Here are ten strategies for undoing undesirable first impressions or misinformation that we have identified from the research and our own experience working with hundreds of juries and mock juries across the country. Continue reading