Source of the following article Persuasive Litigator.

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:

Next time you’re in a public place, look around at all the people and what they’re doing. Looking at their phones? Yes! Nearly all of them. Now, some might be working. Some could be keeping up on the news or reading great works of literature. But it is likely that many to most of these phone-zombies are just looking at whatever the “feed” is in their preferred social media, and are reading material not because they need or even particularly want to know something, but because the information is there. It as though they’re following a deeply-ingrained habit, or even an addition. But in this case, the drug is information.

A recent ScienceDaily release, entitled “How information is like snacks, money, and drugs — to your brain,” reports on research showing that information carries its own reward, independent of its actual usefulness. In the study (Kobayashi & Hsu, 2019), researchers from the UC Berkeley School of Business look at the role that information plays in activating the brain’s dopamine-based reward center. “To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful,” neuro-economist Ming Hsu explains. “We were able to demonstrate for the first time the existence of a common neural code for information and money, which opens the door to a number of exciting questions about how people consume, and sometimes overconsume information.” The researchers looked at brain scans as subjects received relevant and irrelevant information relating to a game and determined that the brain treats information the same way it treats other rewards, like snacks or money, and this is true whether the information is useful or not. For those who analyze audiences, like courtroom persuaders, this means that we ought to think of the value of information and not just the rational use of it. Because sometimes, people are just curious or want the dopamine hit that comes from learning something they didn’t know. In this post, I’ll consider a few implications.

I think there are several implications for persuaders in thinking about the connection between information and our reward system.

See Decision Makers as Active

Your decision makers are not a passive target. They’re active, and the process they follow matters more than their static views. When thinking about how they seek information, I’ve argued that they ought to be treated more like hunters and less like passive grazers: information wolves, not information sheep. Practically, that means your jurors will be searching and questioning, and not just processing what you give them. Think about what they will be wondering, what they will want to know. Based on the rules of evidence, you can’t always satisfy their wishes, but it always helps to understand them.

Focus on Motivation and Not Just Reasoning

Motivation leads and reasons follow. In other words, if you take a look at most of the arguments, say on social media for example, you will notice that people seem to pick a position first, and then look for arguments or evidence that supports it. So they’re less like a neutral judge coming to a decision and more like an attorney pressing her case. Accounting for this fundamental process of motivated reasoning means asking yourself what your fact-finders would want to hear or believe, and not just looking at where the facts would lead them. Addressing motivation also helps to keep things interesting. A story, for example, can be inherently motivating — We listen because we want to find out what happens.

Reward Continued Attention

If the researchers are right, and information is indeed like snacks, drugs, and money to the listeners, then think carefully about how you dole out that information. Repetition in returning frequently to key themes can be important in providing frequent reinforcement. In addition, holding back some information and using it later as part of a “but wait, there’s more” kind of appeal, can also be an effective reward for continued attention. Jurors in court will certainly aim to be more logical than they are when browsing through clickbait on their phone, but some of the same processes will drive their attention.

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Thanks for reading. I am a litigation consultant (bio here) specializing in mock trial research, witness preparation, jury selection, and case strategy, generally (but not always) in high-value civil cases. If you have a comment, a request for a future topic, or a concern about a current case, contact me now.


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Other Posts on Motivation: 

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Kobayashi, K., & Hsu, M. (2019). Common neural code for reward and information value. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201820145.

Image credit: 123rf.com, used under license