Source of article The Jury Room - Keene Trial Consulting.

Recently, we added a question to the end of our supplemental jury questionnaire used for pretrial research that essentially asks jurors if evidence or what “feels true” is more important to them in making important decisions. Despite the simple nature of that question (which we found buried in some social sciences research we read), it often turns out it can help us in our work. 

A new study tells us (yet again) how what Stephen Colbert made famous as “truthiness”, has become increasingly important in decision-making. If we believe it, it is “truthier”. To investigate this issue, researchers in Israel asked participants to review statements for grammatical accuracy [i.e., specifically for subject/verb agreement]. The statements included content about politics, social issues, and personal taste. 

However, first, they assessed the participants opinions on various issues. Why? Because prior research had shown that people take longer to assess grammatical accuracy when the sentence contains information with which an individual disagrees. Unfortunately, their hypothesis that participants would take longer in processing sentences with which they disagreed did not turn out to be true. 

Instead, the researchers found that when the participant agreed with the statement presented to them—their processing sped up in a sort of knee-jerk reaction. 

They did not, however, find the reverse to be true (as had prior research). 

The researchers call this an involuntary, ‘reflex-like” tendency to consider things we already believe as being true. They also describe it as a “knee jerk opinionatedness” and this should cause concern for us all (in at least half of our cases). Often we want to identify those who will thoughtfully consider evidence that challenges their previously held beliefs. 

What this research says is that people are more likely to draw conclusions at hyper speed when they hear something that supports pre-existing belief but that they are not “slowing down” and processing more carefully when they hear something challenging their existing beliefs. 

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this makes it especially important to not stumble into land mines that will trigger those knee jerk responses (aka “knee jerk opinionatedness”).  

Gilead, M Sela, M Maril, A (2018) That’s my truth: Evidence for involuntary opinion confirmation. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 

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