Sigmund Freud, bearded expert
I recently posted a question on my Facebook page asking if people would trust a male psychologist more if he had a beard. That got me thinking about whether or not there was any research on that topic. A quick review of the literature revealed that no one has examined the beard question in a scientific way. However, many studies have confirmed that people in the courtroom (jurors, judges, and attorneys) considered "professional attire" to be important in their determination of the credibility of an expert witness. "Professional attire" was not specifically defined, but I assume that means a conservative suit and tie for men and a suit for women. It seems that the best rule of thumb would be to dress like an attorney.
In my literature search, I also found a dissertation completed in 2005 by Alison Browne, who surveyed attorneys on what they were looking for in good expert witnesses. She asked specifically about psychologists as expert witnesses.
Browne found that attorneys ranked the following qualities as most important (in order of importance):
1. Good demeanor and appearance on the stand
2. Personal attributes of the witness
3. Knowing the case well and being prepared
4. Appearing objective and honest
5. Being able to work well with the attorney
6. Good communication skills
Through her analysis of the data, Browne discovered the following qualities she determined to be most important (in order of importance):
1. Knowing the case well and being prepared
2. Appearing objective and honest
3. Having good integrity and a good reputation
4. Good demeanor and appearance on the stand
5. Good communication skills
I find it fascinating that "good communication skills" are important, but not as important as a number of other qualities. It seems that the data strongly supports "being prepared" as one of the most important qualities a psychologist as expert witness can bring to the courtroom. Being objective, prepared, working well with the attorney, and having integrity all seem to be just as (if not more) important than having good communication skills. And, apparently, attorneys may place a little too much emphasis on the appearance of the witness--although appearance is important, the data seem to show that there are many other qualities that are more important than what the expert witness looks like.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.
Browne, A. S. (2005). Psychologists as expert witnesses: Effective qualities from the attorney perspective. Retrieved from ProQuest, UMI Number: 3168789.