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The Pandemic Highlights the Power of Personal Experience in Persuasion

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

“I don’t think it would make a difference at all. I’m not even convinced this whole coronavirus thing is real. I don’t know anyone who’s had it.” The irony is that Robert, the mock juror who made this statement during deliberations, was exactly the kind of person who should be most concerned about the virus. He checked off many of the high-risk categories for those most susceptible. Yet, despite daily news reports about death tolls and infection rates, and despite his unique vulnerabilities, he was suspicious that it might all just be some sort of hoax.

There is a long list of possible reactions to anecdotes such as this, but for this week’s blog, I want to focus on one very specific part of Robert’s reasoning process. If you re-read his quote, Robert remarked that he does not know anyone who has had it. For Robert, the lack of any direct or indirect personal experiences with coronavirus led him to call into question the overwhelming evidence of its existence. Continue reading