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A Surprising New Reason to Repeat Yourself at Trial

Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.
By: Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.

Demonstrative Evidence, Psychology, PowerPoint, Visual Persuasion, Scale Models, Trial Boards, Persuasion

by Ken Lopez
A2L Consulting

I want to share the results of an interesting study that I recently read. I believe that it has implications for how we present information in the courtroom. It appears in the October 2015 Journal of Experimental Psychology, and is entitled Knowledge Does Not Protect Against Illusory Truth.

As experts in the persuasion business, we have long known about the power of repetition. We use it as a specific rhetorical technique during opening statements. We incorporate repetition when creating demonstrative evidence. We even choose to repeat the same message in many different formats (trial boards, PowerPoint, scale models) to reach different types of learners. We do this because repetition helps people remember things, it signals that something is important, and it helps presenters be more persuasive.

Studies have long shown that the more we hear something, the more likely we are to believe it. This is why some people believe that Vitamin C helps stave off a cold or that you should drink eight glasses of water per day to maintain good health. Both of these statements lack any scientific basis. We've just heard them so often that many have come to believe them.

Think about the assertions we are already hearing over and over in this election season. Hillary Clinton hid something in her email. Donald Trump declared bankruptcy four times. Carly Fiorina was a bad CEO. Planned Parenthood sells aborted baby parts.

I don't know how much truth there is in any of these statements, but I do know that the more I hear them, the more I tend to believe them. That’s the power of repetition. Psychologists call this the illusory truth effect, and it's why we counsel our clients to use repetition throughout a case. When people don't know anything about a particular topic, the illusory truth effect tells us that the more they hear an assertion, the more they will believe it.In general, the easier the information is to process, the more likely it is to be believed. That's why we counsel litigators to articulate very clearly why they should win their case and to avoid a hyper-nuanced approach. As an in-house counsel friend once said to me, in instances like this the law is background noise. A clear story that is easy to process and that emotionally resonates with a jury will normally prevail. This ease of understanding is called “fluency.”

The current study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology extends the power of repetition to an entirely new level. Its authors were able to prove that not only does repetition cause people to believe things more when they are unsure of the facts, but also that repetition can make people believe things to be true that they already know are probably not true. In the words of the authors, “The present research demonstrates that fluency can influence people’s judgments, even in contexts that allow them to draw upon their stored knowledge. The results of two experiments suggest that people sometimes fail to bring their knowledge to bear and instead rely on fluency as a proximal cue.”

I think that's an amazing finding, and I think it has important implications for the courtroom. It would seem that we can’t repeat our message too much and that we can’t make a case too easy to understand.

Other articles about persuasion techniques, jury psychology and various tricks of the persuasion trade by A2L Consulting:

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