Tag Archives: repetition

Battling Confirmation Bias and First Impressions in Litigation

By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Confirmation bias refers to when people accept or reject evidence based upon what they want to believe as opposed to basing it on the actual merits of the evidence. In some ways, it is a psychological survival mechanism tied to our beliefs about how the world works. Challenges to these beliefs can cause a great deal of chaos and stress, so our brains are, essentially, pre-programmed to seek out evidence that reinforces those beliefs, while minimizing, explaining away, or outright rejecting evidence that challenges them. In fact, this explains the siloed media we have today where people tend to pick which news channels to watch based upon their political affiliation.

For lawyers, confirmation bias can be a significant problem at trial, especially when the first impressions favor the other party. As Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman notes, “The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Sequence matters, however, because the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.” In other words, first impressions at trial often shape how jurors perceive the subsequent evidence and testimony at trial. A poor first impression of the defendant will likely lead jurors to place greater focus and emphasis on evidence and testimony that reinforces the negative view of the defendant and vice versa. Continue reading

The Value of Repetitive Question Structures in Direct and Cross Examination


By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

I have previously written about how important repetition is to persuasion. I discussed how repetition increases retention, familiarity, and believability. In this post, I want to talk about one practical way of building repetition into your case presentation at trial. Continue reading

Why Jurors Often Fail to Understand What’s Important…Even When It’s Obvious


By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Before you read any further, watch the above 1 minute and 41 second video, which will provide incredible insights into your trial presentation strategy as discussed below.

Did you pass or fail? As they tell you in the video, almost half of all of the people who watch this video (and have not seen it before) fail the test by not seeing the gorilla. Even more interesting, we learn that even those who have seen this kind of experiment before (and expect something odd to happen) failed to notice the second change, which was the color of the curtain in the background.

Your first reaction may have been that this is an interesting little party trick kind of experiment that you can forward along to your friends, but upon further glance, this experiment provides critical insights into what happens at trial as jurors listen to your case presentation. Describing this experiment, Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman noted that “intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention.” Continue reading

Repeating the Importance of Repeating


By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

The value of repetition as a simple and practical strategy for persuasion at trial cannot be overstated. However, despite the fact that I repeatedly emphasize this point on repetition to clients at trial, the level of repetition is often insufficient. I have found that it is not uncommon for an attorney to believe that he or she is using repetitive language to make a point, but when reviewing transcripts, the use of this language is fairly limited. Saying something a couple of times over trial simply does not cut it. If a particular message is important, jurors need to hear it over and over again. In fact, the right amount of repetition usually exceeds attorneys’ comfort level, leaving attorneys feeling as if they are repeating arguments too much.

Sometimes, the repetition needs to be forced or creative. For example, sometimes it is important for attorneys to ask questions of witnesses that incorporate key language or facts even though the witness’s answer is not important. In other words, sometimes the question, and the repetition that is built into that direct or cross-examination question, is more important than the particular witness or that witness’s answer. In these moments, the sole purpose of asking the question is to give jurors an opportunity to hear it again. Continue reading