My law partner Joel Cunningham and I recently spent the day conducting focus studies of two cases we are involved in. In addition to the helpful information we received, I was once again struck by how consistent certain principles are regarding human behavior. Over all of my years as a trial lawyer and in conducting numerous focus studies, well-known principles are continually verified. Here are the most fundamental principles we saw people demonstrate during our focus study.
1. Once people take a public position on an issue, they are unlikely to change it no matter what additional facts are presented.
2. People with personal experiences are likely to have fixed opinions based upon their interpretation of their own personal experience and which they apply to a similar situation
3. People look for rules to guide them. They like to have standards, policies and rules that they feel apply to the situation andwhich will have a big impact on their conclusions
4. People take a "CSI" TV approach to the facts by looking for clues and searching details for a guide to a solution.
Regarding the first point, we have repeatedly found in focus studies that where we began with the basic facts and then add more and more increasingly strong evidence, if a person has already expressed an opinion on the issue, it makes no difference what additional information you give them. They will retain their position and simply rationalize why the additional evidence is not material. Even where we tell a person that in fact the defendant has admitted that they were negligent, if the person has previously expressed the opinion defendant wasn’t negligent, they will simply say the defendant should never have admitted negligence because they were really not negligent.
Over and over we have found that when somebody forms a strong opinion or impression about something based upon what has personally happen to them they apply the same opinion to a similar situation even when not really the same. Life experiences are tremendously powerful.
Usually the first thing people ask us to focus studies are what the rules are then applied to the situation. By saying that, they do not necessarily mean the law. They are interested in accepted procedures policies and customs that apply to the situation. Therefore rules are of extreme importance as we all know.
Sometimes we forget how human nature works and wrongly assume we can rationally convince people to think in ways that are contrary to human nature. It is good to remind ourselves of this truth.