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Simple Jury Persuasion: Dispel myths by redirecting the belief?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018
posted by Douglas Keene

Not long ago we blogged about the false perceptions Americans have of the proportion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the overall population. What the research on which that blog post was based told us is that there are some people who consistently over-estimate the population proportion of LGBTQ people and that “those who overestimate the proportion of gay/lesbian/bisexual Americans are also more likely to hold false beliefs about homosexuality and less likely to support gay-rights policies like employment protection, child adoption, and same-sex marriage”.?

Today, we have a couple more resources to help you understand some ways to perhaps override the influence of those myths (i.e., “false beliefs”).?

We are blissfully ignorant of our own ignorance

The first resource is from poynter.org and is a reader-friendly education on dispelling false beliefs.

Hint: It is hard to do, and we seem to have more false beliefs than any of us would ever guess.

Here are two brief paragraphs from the beginning of this article (which is a must-read if you want to understand just how deep our misperceptions run— not just in the US, but around the world).?

For instance, across almost 40 countries surveyed for his studies, the public grossly overestimates the share of teenagers giving birth each year. Brazilians lead the pack, with an average guess of 48 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 giving birth each year against an actual figure of 6.7 percent.?

Similar patterns hold for how many people think prisoners are immigrants, as well as estimates of the wealth owned by the top 1 percent and the public health budget. We’re even wrong about how wrong we are, with large minorities of respondents confidently answering that they thought they got all answers correct when clearly, they did not.

Redirect false beliefs with facts (according to a new Princeton University study)

We have blogged about ideas similar to this one before in our Simple Jury Persuasion blog category, so there is a significant body of research that has drawn the same conclusions as these researchers.

While you may find it annoying if someone repeats the same thing over (and over) again—it is effective in increasing how much you actually believe what they keep repeating.?

So these researchers decided to test the idea on those who were in the gray space between committed to a belief (aka “entrenched” and unlikely to change their belief) and those who were absolutely certain that it was a false perception or belief. In other words, they looked at those who had not committed one way or the other to a false belief.?

The participants in the study were given a set of 24 statements (8 myths and 16 correct statements) which fell into four categories: nutrition, allergies, vision, and health. They were asked to read the individual statements and then rate whether they believed the statement to be true and then they listened to an audiotaped recording of someone recalling information on some of the beliefs the participants had read. The listeners (aka participants) were asked to determine whether the audiotaped speaker was recalling information accurately.?

Then the participants were given names of the categories of the statements they had read (i.e., nutrition, allergies, vision, or health) and instructed to recall the statements they had first read. Finally, they were asked to re-read the initial 24 statements (using a new copy of the statements of course!) and rate them again with regard to accuracy.?

The researchers refer to their findings as representing something they call “mnemonic accessibility” which is a really complicated way of saying you listen to someone saying something you just reviewed. There is a literature on this called the “rehearsal effect” which is so much easier to remember and define. In other words, repetition increases familiarity. So, complicated theoretical descriptions aside, here’s where you may want to be afraid of how malleable our beliefs are—but also rub your hands together in glee over how malleable the beliefs of your jurors may be.?

Here is what the researchers concluded:?

If a belief was mentioned by the person in the audio (this is the “mnemonic accessibility” part), it was remembered better and believed more by the listener.?

But, if the belief was from the same category as the mentioned belief (but not mentioned itself) it was more likely to be forgotten and believed less by the listener. (This held true for both accurate and inaccurate beliefs.)?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this study offers a potential strategy for deflecting the power of the false myth from your undecided jurors. You simply repeat the accurate fact. And perhaps have your witnesses repeat the accurate fact. And repeat the accurate fact in visual evidence and in closing statement. And, since we know you are wondering, here are the accurate statements and myths presented to the research participants. ?

Madalina Vlasceanu, Alin Coman. Mnemonic accessibility affects statement believability: The effect of listening to others selectively practicing beliefs. Cognition, 2018; 180: 238 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2018.07.015

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