Most trial lawyers hope their jurors will be alert, attentive, honest, and fair. Some lawyers, though, need more: they need jurors who can be noble. Defense lawyers in death cases come first to mind, but many other lawyers can succeed only if jurors can rise above defensiveness and retribution, and somehow keep themselves open to difficult arguments.
Can you help jurors do this? A new study, building on prior work, hints that it's possible.
How to tell a smoker to quit
The researchers -- Jennifer Crocker and Yu Niiya from the University of Michigan and Dominik Mischkowski from the University of Konstanz -- found that when subjects spent a short time reflecting on their values, they not only felt more positive emotions, but also were more open and less defensive in response to challenging arguments. Their paper, "Why Does Writing about Important Values Reduce Defensiveness?," is in the new issue of Psychological Science, and there's a good press release here. (At least for now, the whole paper is on line free here, but I think that must be a mistake on the journal's part. I found it by searching the title, but if you go in by the "front door," it's subscribers only.)
The press release describes the study this way:
In the first study, the researchers asked participants to rank six values -- social life, religion/morality, science, business, arts, and government. One group later wrote for 10 minutes about why their most important value was important to them, while the control group wrote for 10 minutes about how their least important value might be important to others. Afterwards, they rated how much writing the essay made them feel love, empathy or other emotions.
In the second study, participants were smokers and nonsmokers. Like the first study, participants wrote about an important or unimportant value. This time, however, they next read a fake article claiming that smoking increases the risk of abdominal aortic aneurysms, a bulge in the main artery of the heart, and the quality of the research described in the article.
The results for both studies were very strong. In both studies, those who wrote about an important value felt more loving and connected after writing the essays than those who wrote about an unimportant value. And specifically in the second study, writing about an important value made smokers less defensive -- they were more accepting of the article’s claim that smoking harms health if they wrote about an important value instead of an unimportant value.
In real life?
It's not clear whether this might be of any practical help at trial. You can certainly ask jurors to tell you about their most important values, and jurors who do this might respond with positive feelings and openness -- if you haven't embarrassed them with such a personal question in open court. How long the reaction might last, though, and whether you are someone who can ask the question with honesty yourself, are questions not covered in the study. It seems certain that if you're being manipulative, it won't work.
Note: If you're interested in more in this area, look at George Lakoff's newest book, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century Politics With An 18th-Century Brain. You'll learn among other things that each of us is "biconceptual" -- liberal and conservative, uptight and relaxed, prejudiced and open, at the same time. The most skilled political marketers, Lakoff argues, can "activate" the best or worst in us by invoking particular images and themes.
(Image by Anne Norman at http://www.flickr.com/photos/29278394@N00/2586753767/; license details there. Anne Norman's blog is subversive suburban.)