Friday, November 6, 2009

Expert Witnesses and Initial Impressions

I suppose it is no secret that people judge others based on their physical appearance. As humans, we are hard-wired to do this. What is more surprising though, is that most peoples' judgments regarding a person's personality characteristics based solely on physical appearance are reasonably accurate.

In a new study to be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (December 2009), researchers found that participants could accurately gauge 9 out of 10 major personality characteristics of individuals by looking at photographs of them. Judgments on extraversion, agreeableness, emotional stability, likability, and self-esteem were all fairly accurate.

So, what might this mean for criminal or civil proceedings? As an attorney, you should consider the professionalism, competence and trustworthiness of your expert witnesses. But you might also want to consider some of their other personality characteristics. If your expert is likable, emotionally stable and high in self-esteem, juries could pick up on those features fairly quickly, even before your expert starts speaking. If your expert is self-conscious, nervous or unlikable, juries could figure that out quickly, too.

You might also be able to give your experts some tips on coming across as self-confident, likable and emotionally stable. Tell them to smile, sit up straight, make eye contact with the jury, and appear willing to answer any question asked of them. Tell them to speak loudly with an authoritative air, and not too quickly.

If you are working with a psychologist as an expert witness, tell him/her to leave the Birkenstocks at home and wear a real pair of shoes...

Here is a link to more information regarding this study:

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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