In these unusual times, we have a lot to think about, and we have a lot of feelings going on simultaneously.

The linguistic tendency these days is to use “I think . . .” and “I feel . . .” interchangeably.  Psychologists have always picked at this difference in therapy as if it made a difference (I know mine does!), but does it really make any difference in persuading people in your presentation in court?

Guess what?  It does (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Mayer and Tormala, 2010).

Take two messages:

  • I think economic recovery is just around the corner
  • I feel economic recovery is just around the corner

These seem to convey the same message, but the research says they appeal to different audiences.

In the study that tested this idea, subjects were first asked to give a description of their views of the world.  Based on the words people used, researchers divided the groups into a “feeling words” group (i.e., unpleasant, scary, happy) or a “thinking words” group (i.e., beneficial, useless, harmful).  Then each group was given an argument to read regarding donating blood with the only difference between the two passages being that the word “think” was used in one and “feel” in the other.

As predicted, people who thought of the world in “thinking” terms reported being more likely to give blood when they read the “think” version, whereas people who view the world in emotional terms responded more to the “feel” version.   Finally, just to assure you, the same descriptions were given to “cross-over” groups (thinkers got the “feel” version and feelers got the “think” version) and the results fell apart.  Thinkers were not persuaded by the feel version and vice versa.

How does this help you in court when you have no idea if any particular juror is a thinker or a feeler?  Here are some ways:

  • As a related part of the study, new subjects were not tested prior to reading the message, but a stereotype was used to divide the groups.  Men were given the “think” version and women were given the “feel” version.  The same results unfolded:   men and women were more persuaded by their respective versions than were the “cross-over” groups.  So, if you have lots of men on your jury, use the “think” version.  If you have a lot of women, use the “feel” version.
  • During voir dire, listen for “think” or “feel” words that jurors use.  If you end up with lots of one and only a couple of the other, make the adjustment to your opening and closing.
  • Many times you will have a good hunch as to who the leaders are on your jury, who the outspoken jurors are, who the foreperson is likely to be.  If nothing else, gear your “think” or “feel” words to appeal to that person.  If you can win over that one person, they will carry the ball for you in the jury room.
  • During damages testimony when your expert might be a psychologist or physician discussing pain and suffering, get them to preface their opinions with “I feel” or “I think” depending on the course you have chosen for trial.
  • Pain and suffering damages are a very “feel-heavy” part of the trial, but that does not mean that thinkers should be ignored.  Maybe this is partly why P&S is such a hard sell—you are trying to appeal to thinkers with feeling words.  Maybe the thinkers just need a “think” approach to assessing pain and suffering.

So, how you feelin’ now?

Think about it.

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