by: Dr. Shelley Spiecker
In my experience how witnesses look when they testify and how they sound when they speak their words has a profound impact on the impression they make on jurors, judges and arbitrators.
Questioning this experience need only be met with common sense. When was the last time a serious message delivered via email had the same impact as the identical message delivered with moderated vocal inflection, direct eye contact, and highlighted use of gestures in the right sentence breaks?
Common sense and my experience is not the only guide that nonverbal communication dominates perception formation. Recent research supports the common sense notion that physical appearance influences voting determinations– in as little as one tenth of a second!
Moreover, a substantial body of social science literature attests to the impact of facial and vocalic expressiveness on impression formation .
Notably, witnesses have little time to manage their physical image. Research demonstrates that minimal exposure to faces - in 1/10 of ONE second, is sufficient for people to form judgments of likeability, trustworthiness, and agressiveness. And additional exposure - in HALF of ONE second, is sufficient to increase confidence in the perception the factfinder formed in their 1/10th evaluation.
Next time you are preparing a witness to testify, consider advising beyond the typical “look professional and do not wear attention-gaining jewelry” to think about the exact impression you want your witness to convey – sincerity, intelligence, likeability? And advise specifically on dress, hairstyle and accessories accordingly.
 Adams, G. R. (1977). Physical attractiveness research: Toward a developmental social psychology of beauty. Human Development, 20, 217-238. Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1974). Physical attractiveness. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 7, pp. 157-215). New York: Academic Press. Bull, R., & Stevens, J. (1979). The effects of attractiveness of writer and penmanship on essay grades. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 52, 53-59. Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.