By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The act of making choices makes us feel more powerful and more in control. Take the current debate on gun rights. Proponents of keeping firearms for self-defense are convinced that they're safer because they're armed. Statistically, however, having a gun in the house greatly increases the risk of violence through homicide, suicide, or accident (Hemenway, 2011). Individual gun owners are likely to discount those statistics (e.g., Howard, Webster & Vernick, 1999) because the gun is under their control and, they believe, they're the ones making the choices that would affect their exposure to that risk. The situation is different, but it is the same phenomenon at work when people feel they have better odds of winning a random lottery if they picked the lottery number themselves. Even when the result is just the product of chance, choice feels like control.
The larger point to be made here is that choice -- and, more importantly, perceived choice -- leads to greater confidence and plays a very important role in persuasion. Since we know that persuasive targets are engaged in an active process, not a passive one, it is critical for communicators to adapt to that fact by respecting an audience's autonomy. When fact finders believe they are following their own process, selecting their own paths, and reaching their own conclusions, they feel more confident in the result. The persuader who guides that process instead of dictating it will be rewarded. This post takes a look at some of the research on choice and what that should mean to the legal advocate.