By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Every experienced communicator knows that eye contact can be key to credibility. A communicator who maintains strong eye contact has power and immediacy, while one who avoids eye contact conveys weakness and a lack of confidence. For witnesses, that understanding is easy enough to apply in situations of live testimony: Look at the examining attorney while the question is being asked, then look at the individual jurors while delivering the answer. But what is the correct advice in a deposition? As video-recording increasingly comes to be the 'standard of care' that attorneys bring to depositions, should witnesses be making eye contact with the camera, the deposing attorney, or something else?
A new study reported in the current issue of The Jury Expert takes a look at this question. Three consultants from Tsongas (Dominic, Jarman & Lytle, 2015) looked at the question, "Will jurors infer gaze avoidance by the lack of direct eye contact with the camera?" They recruited 274 participants for an online study that presented the same witness clips (either a plaintiff or a defendant) viewed through different camera angles: either directly in front of the witness (next to deposing attorney) or off to the side. In both cases, the witness maintained eye contact with the attorney, although the 'in-front' condition, the team reports, created the appearance of eye contact with the camera. The bottom line result is that the camera angle didn't make a difference. In this post, I'll take a look (both direct, and somewhat sideways) at the "where do I look" question, the case for a camera- or an attorney-focus during deposition, and the study results.