Source of the following article Persuasive Litigator.

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm: 

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You’ve probably heard the expression, “Minds are like parachutes: They only function when they’re open.” That is undoubtedly true for some people. And if you’re one of the curious regular readers of this blog, then that is probably true for you. But it isn’t true for others. Their minds don’t function best when open. Instead, a certain amount of purposeful closed-mindedness is necessary for them to feel certain, grounded, and safe. Looking out at an audience while you are trying to persuade them to set aside a current belief and adopt something new, it is tempting to think that there are just two kinds out there: Those who are open and those who are dug in. Or we might further reduce that to those who are smart and those who aren’t. But it is more nuanced than that. 

For example, a piece the other day from Pew Research Center, simply titled, “How People Approach Facts and Information,” uses survey data to identify some important individual differences. “Some are interested and engaged with information,” they write, while “others are wary and stressed.” As a step in analyzing an audience, it is a useful question: How do they handle new information? Some will go after it, test its reliability, select what’s best, and ultimately adapt a new belief. Others will try to avoid what’s new, or will be automatically skeptical of anything they don’t already take to be true. It is not just knowledge that separates these groups, it is mostly attitude. Referring to this as the dimension of “information engagement,” Pew identifies a typology of five distinct groups. Using national survey data along with statistical cluster analysis, the research organization discovered that people split along the themes of trust versus skepticism and interest versus disengagement, and are grouped into not two but five groups, no one of which could be called “typical.” In this post, I’ll take a look at the five different groups and share some thoughts on ways attorneys can diagnose and adapt to the information engagement styles of their audiences. 

Five Kinds of Information Engagement

The Eager and Willing (22 percent)

These are active seekers of information. They have a strong interest in learning. While they might express concerns about capability to follow technical information, they try hard and want to improve. Interestingly, a majority of this group (52 percent) are minorities. 

The Confident (16 percent)

They have a strong interest in information, and the highest levels of trust of any of the five groups. They have strong self-reliance, and are assured in their ability to navigate and evaluate sources of information. This group is highly and heavily white. Interestingly, 31 percent are young (18 to 29 years old), and this is the youngest of the five groups. 

The Cautious and Curious (13 percent)

This third group also has a high interest in new information, but that is not accompanied by a high trust. Members of this group appreciate the need for good information, but also feel like they lead busy lives and they react with stress when confronted with new topics and new information. Demographically, they look the most like the average population, but with somewhat lower education levels. 

The Doubtful (24 percent)

As the name suggests, they’re very leery of information sources, news in particular. They see themselves as busy, but put a low priority on improving their knowledge. This is the group with the highest proportion of middle-aged members. They’re relatively well-educated and economically comfortable. 

The Wary (25 percent)

At the extreme, this group has the lowest trust in information and the lowest technology engagement (broadband, smartphone). They have little interest in updating their technology or in learning new things. The group is heavily male (59 percent) and older (with one-third being 65 or older). 

Diagnosing Information Engagement Style

The main implication is probably for litigators to broaden their outlook and look beyond just perceived intelligence to at least consider the attitudinal differences in the ways people engage with information. Just asking the questions, “Are they interested in new information?” and “Are they able to entertain a different viewpoint?” is useful. 

In addition, attorneys might also consider asking about information engagement when trying cases that depend on jurors overturning prior views (e.g., in cases with high pretrial publicity) or require them to assimilate a large amount of new information. 

The Pew researchers focused their diagnostic questions in several areas: 

  • Interest: Of the relevant topics that bear on the case, are they interested very much, somewhat, not too much, or not at all?
  • Learning outlook: Do they have a fixed mindset (skills are innate) or a growth mindset (just about anything can be learned?)
  • Emotional reaction: Is learning new things stressful or exciting? 
  • Access: Do you have and use modern digital tools?  

Adapting to Information Engagement Style

When you are analyzing your case, it is important to think not just about the information you intend to give to fact-finders, but also about how your target fact-finders (jury or judge) are going to engage with that information. Think about the process, the reaction: How is it understood and assimilated? How does it gain influence? Another question to ask, especially in the case of complex litigation, is how much will your persuasive targets have to learn in order to accept your side of the case? 

The consideration of how information engagement style plays out should also have an influence on the profiles of the jurors you are wanting to seat and those you are wanting to strike. If your case requires acceptance of beliefs that would cut against the norms, or would differ from what the jurors might assume based on casual top-level thinking, then you would want to avoid the doubtful and the wary and focus more on the eager and the curious. 

Ultimately, of course, you are only going to get a partial and imperfect sense of this attitude based on the constraints of voir dire. But as long as trials depend essentially on the adoption and use of new information, the fact-finder’s style of engaging with that information is worth bearing in mind. 

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Other Posts on Attitudes Toward Information: 

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