By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
A picture can be worth a thousand words. And, it turns out, that picture can also make the words you do use more believable. Researchers point to this as the “truthiness” effect, in homage to comedian Stephen Colbert’s neologism for the feeling of something being true independent of its actual truth value. The current issue of The Jury Expert, features not one, but two new articles focusing on that effect. One is a discussion by a law professor and a cognitive psychologist (Newman & Feigenson, 2013), and the other is a research review by a litigation consultant (Kellermann, 2013). Both articles point to a wide array of evidence demonstrating the tendency for claims to be more credible when they're accompanied by even nonprobative graphics. In other words, put a picture on it, and it becomes more believable, or to use the term that’s now made the dictionary, more truthy.
What is unique in the truthiness discussions in the current issue of The Jury Expert is that both articles discuss remedies for dealing with the inappropriate effects of visual truthiness in a courtroom context: Judges should consider special instructions on graphics use, jurors should be sensitized to the effects of accompanying visuals, and adversaries should respond specifically to these attempts to leverage graphics into truth-value. There are clear limits to these approaches, as the authors acknowledge, but there is also the broader question of whether the truthiness effect in trial presentations is a special concern to begin with. In this post, I add my own thoughts to the discussion and argue that litigators should be no more concerned with the nonprobative effects of visual communication than they are concerned over any other aspect of good advocacy.