WHAT PUPPETS CAN TEACH TRIAL LAWYERS ABOUT PERSUASION

My friend, California trial lawyer Mark Swendsen, referred me to a TED talk by Russell Dean “Puppets and Perception” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_Molj8L6n. Dean’s talk involved using a puppet to illustrate the subject of his talk.

He showed a diagram of the location of the Amygdala part of the brain at the bottom of the brain and the Limbic system. From an evolutionary standpoint it is the very primitive part of the brain, responsible for emotional responses such as fear, anger and lust. It operates “automatically” because it plays a big part in survival. Commonly called “the lizard brain” or “reptile brain,” it plays an essential part in our decision making.  The Neocortex part of the brain evolved  much later than the primitive brain. It is responsible for rational thought. These two areas play important roles in decisions.

The primitive brain always makes split second decisions whenever something involving it’s function is perceived by it. That’s because it may mean the difference between life and death. After analyzing whether it involves fight or flight and deciding, the rational brain kicks in with analysis. The survival brain always prevails over the rational brain and operates before the rational brain begins to function. The rational brain always produces a reasonable explanation for the decision even when it was already made by the primitive brain. The primitive brain is an emotional brain. In fact, it is virtually impossible to make any kind of decision without an emotional component that allows us to settle on a final decision.Once the primitive brain acts in the interest of avoiding harm, the rational brain takes over.

Advertisers and people in marketing have long known the power of the primitive brain in the decision-making process. Politicians are equally aware of this fact. Their appeal is to the primitive brain through issues involving sex, fear, anger, outrage, revenge and scapegoating. Once the primitive brain has been activated through these emotional appeals, the rational brain will utterly justify any decision already made as totally rational. Some have described this process as “hijacking” the rational mind. A more complete explanation of this subject can be found in Mark’s excellent book: Target the Unconscious! The Modern Psychology of Rhetoric for The Plaintiff’s Lawyer available at Amazon.

While most of us are aware of the role of the Reptile brain through Don Keenan and David Ball, we are not as aware of the use of these concepts by advertisers and politicians. We continue to see ourselves as totally rational people making objective decisions on any number of important subjects. We don’t always know we are being manipulated through our primitive brain instinctual reactions. The subject is important for us to understand in our plaintiff trial work as well. I recommend taking the time to more fully understand the process involved given it’s role in jury trials.

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