Persuasion Matters

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If I Want It To Be True, It Must Be True: Jury Perceptions

Imagine this:  A panel of jurors who have zero bias.  A panel of jurors who weigh the evidence based strictly on the facts, scientific data and proven methodologies related to the case.  A panel of jurors who rely only on this evidence to reach their verdict.  Sound impossible?  Science says it is.

Even though our legal system is based on the notion of a fair and impartial jury, despite best efforts during the voir dire process to weed out those with obvious bias, every juror in the box enters the courtroom with a unique view of the world and how it should work.

As a jury consultant, I am constantly reminded by jury feedback that no matter how hard a client tries convince a panel that his version of the facts is the “right” version, jurors view evidence, argument and the entire courtroom dynamic through their own individual filters.  There’s a quote from Anais Nin that I’ve come to love: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”  Simply stated, a juror’s perception is his reality.

In a study by Bastardi, Ulhmann & Ross (2011) published in June issue of Psychological Science, researchers discovered that a person’s perception/evaluation of new information is impacted more by what that person wants to be true than what that person believes to be true.  When presented with new data (i.e., evidence, facts, argument), our interpretation of that data is shaped more by our desires and wishes than by the actual truth or accuracy of that data.

The study involved a group of participants who believed they would have children in the near future.  The entire group of test subjects began the experiment with a firm belief that caring for the child at home was a much better option than sending the child to daycare, and consequently wanted to care for the child at home.  However, despite the desire to home-care, half of the participants believed their child would have to attend daycare.

Research participants were asked to read two studies:  One study supported the argument that home-care is best for the child, and the second study supported the argument that daycare is best for the child.

I’m sure it’s no surprise to learn that the home-care parents found the home-care article to be the most persuasive, and continued to believe that home-care was the ideal option.  Their original belief (or bias) did not conflict with the new information, so there was no change in perception.

However, the parents who planned to send their children to daycare interpreted the studies differently.  These parents– although entering the experiment with the initial belief that home-care was the best option– changed their perception after reading the article touting the benefits of daycare.  The need to send their child to daycare conflicted with their initial belief that home-care was the way to go, but after reading the article supporting daycare, these parents came to believe that daycare was every bit as good as home-care.  They interpreted the new data to fit their world.

These results have powerful implications in the courtroom.  Every juror walks into the courtroom with preconceived ideas, beliefs and biases.  When they are faced with new information that conflicts with their current view of the world, they often interpret new data based on what they want to be true…rather than what is true.   Although I am a firm believer that jurors take their job seriously and try their best to evaluate the evidence fairly, make no mistake: their views of fairness and the way the world works will impact their interpretation of the evidence.

Preparing your case with the goal of altering a juror’s view of the world is a recipe for disappointment.  The better course of action is to meet the jurors where they are: understand what makes them tick, know what matters to them, and accept the differences of opinion.  By identifying the universal truths, biases and views of the world already developed in their psyches, you can then embrace the jury’s perception of reality and minimize the likelihood that your arguments will be counterintuitive to their views of the world.

And less conflict can result in greater acceptance.


Bastardi, A., Uhlmann, E.L., & Ross, L. (2011). Wishful thinking: Belief, desire, and the motivated evaluation of scientific evidence. Psychological Science, 22, 731 – 732.

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