By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
When we think of persuasion in the courtroom, we might think of the specific language of strategies, tactics, and themes. We think of particular messages that can help get us to our goal. But those are really only the point of the spear. If we think about what is behind the technique, and what gives it heft and effectiveness, then we're thinking about a number of basic psychological principles of motivation and influence. We are thinking of broad factors that cause people to want to move in a particular direction, factors that relate to some of the more fundamental ways we interact with the world. Of course, those underlying foundations could fill a book, or a library, but it is also possible and helpful to try to boil them down.
One recent attempt to boil them down came in a session called "The Power of Persuasion" at the American Psychological Association's 125th Annual Convention earlier this summer. The talk, described in this press release, was given by Robert Cialdini, an expert on social influence and professor emeritus at Arizona State University. The gist of his talk was that there are some key levers of influence that have a powerful effect on persuasion, and in most cases, those levers are uncovered rather than created by the persuader in any given situation. In reviewing his comments, I selected four factors that seem particularly fitting for the setting of legal persuasion, choosing a pithy, one-word label to each: commitment, community, complementarity, and reciprocity. In this post, I'll talk about what each one means and how it applies to trial persuasion.