Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Lingering Impact of Misinformation

In trial, it’s often tempting to dismiss an aspect of opposing counsel’s theory as insignificant, or too “out there” for jurors to adopt, and offer little in the way of an alternative theory. This is not a wise choice.

Results of a recent study published in Scientific American (“Lingering Lies” July 18, 2011) show how despite the correction of misinformation, people tend to retain misinformation. Subjects in the study were told first that an accident involved a busload of elderly individuals. One group of subjects was told that was incorrect, but not given an alternative version of who was on the bus. Another group was later told that the accident actually involved a college hockey team. The group who was given an alternate version was less susceptible to responding to questions according to the original “misinformed” version, yet even they agreed with certain statements such as “the passengers found it difficult to exit the bus because they were frail.”

Misinformation tends to linger in memory following the rule of precedence: what’s learned first tends to stick with us longer. So in the face of a theory, or expert witness testimony, or other evidence that you consider “misinformation,” counter it boldly and with as much visual assistance (graphics, video, PowerPoint slides) as you can. Make sure that what sticks in memory is your interpretation of the case, not opposing counsel’s.