Did you know that asking one hypnotic question can alter your later decisions? Robert Cialdini describes this concept as a form of “pre-suasion.” (Cialdini, 2018, Affiliate)
In fact, lawyers study how questions affect jurors to gain an advantage at trial. Also, their legal organizations extensively test the best ways to pick juries.
Here I will share one of the secrets lawyers use to win before opening arguments. My hope is that it will make you a better juror when you are called to serve.
Expert pre-suasion with hypnotic questions.
Cialdini tells a story that will surprise you. In it, a group of researchers’ goal was to collect each participant’s e-mail address. They found that only 33 percent were willing to give them away for a reward. But do you know what happened when asked a “pre-suasive” question first?
They asked, “Do you consider yourself to be someone who is adventurous and likes to try new things?” When participants heard this question, 75.7 percent of them freely gave their information. (Cialdini, 2018, “Are You Adventurous…”, para. 2).
Because almost all agreed that they were adventurous, they were compelled to behave that way.
So, with that in mind, let me tell you a story about the time I was on a jury. Many years ago, a shark attorney asked a hypnotic question that blew up the case.
Warning: Do not get out your pitchforks. This pre-suasion example is ethical; both sides do it.
Expert pre-suasion in a car crash case where the defendant was found 100% at fault.
I was a juror in a car crash trial where the defendant was at fault. During jury selection, the defendant’s attorney asked a powerful hypnotic question. He said, “You would not hold it against my client if she did not have insurance, would you?”
What do you think the jurors staunchly holding out for a small judgment were worried about? All agreed that the defendant was 100 percent at fault. But some jurors did not want to saddle the poor defendant with a large judgment. The attorney’s hypnotic question limited the amount the pro-defendant jurors were able to get by over 90 percent.
Evidence of insurance never came up in trial. And it had nothing to do with the case. Thus, there was no reason for the defense attorney to ask about insurance. But he did ask because he knew that some jurors’ minds would hear, “The defendant does not have insurance.”
Thus, the attorney hired by the defendant’s insurance company won the case on damages. And he did it with that one “innocent” question while picking the jury.
Note: There were other problems with the plaintiff’s case on damages, but she would have won a lot more but for the pre-suasion.
What shrewd, hypnotic question makes Chauvin’s defense a challenge?
The powerful hypnotic question attorneys are asking in the Chauvin case is (paraphrased): Given the protests, do you think you could set aside your fear for your safety and be neutral and objective?
In March, prominent attorney Robert Barnes gave his reason why prosecutors are asking this question. He said, “They know the only people who are worried about their safety are people who are thinking about the possibility of acquittal.” (Barnes, 2021)
That may be correct in part. However, the real problem is that the question invokes what Joe Vitale calls a “hypnotic command.” (Vitale, 2007, Affiliate).
When that question is asked, some jurors will hear in their minds, “Fear for your safety.” That command is a rare-earth magnet that attracts jurors to a guilty verdict. I can see some jurors trapped by the pre-suasion just like in the crash trial.
But jurors said that they could set aside their fears.
None of us is aware of every thought that goes into our decisions. But trial lawyers know how to add concerns to your decision-making of which you are not aware. These concerns have nothing to do with the case. Still, they influence your decisions later.
Prior to reading this story, almost all of you would say “No” to the question, “Would you give me your e-mail address if I asked if you were adventurous?” But know that 75.7 percent of you would.
That is how our minds work. No one will admit to buying peanut butter because they saw an ad. Yet peanut butter ads result in more sales. If they did not, no one would buy them.
And jurors all want to go home. That means a single obstinate juror can cause the panel to compromise. So they have to convict on something. A menu of charges from which to choose makes compromise tempting.
That is what happened in the crash trial. Most jurors wanted to compensate the victim better, but some jurors would not stand for it. No one wanted to come back on Monday.
Violence alters what is prominent in our minds. Do you remember the e-mail study? Except, instead of “Are you adventurous?” the question is “Are you safe?” On top of that, when we feel threatened, we seek safety in groups. (Cialdini, 2018, “The Threatening”).
How will that impact jury deliberations?
Remember, prior to trial, people carried out brutal riots for months. Now, barbed wire and barricades surround the boarded-up courthouse.
Those barricades, the hypnotic question, the memory of riots, and protests form strong, front-loaded focal pre-suasion. What is more, the powerful need to conform for safety will weaken the resolve of any jurors who believe Chauvin is not guilty.
What hypnotic question should the defense ask?
The defense’s best hypnotic question is, “Do you think there will be riots even if Mr. Chauvin is found guilty?” What would that say to the jurors’ brains? It would say, “There will be riots, even if you vote guilty.”
Of course, some jurors would still be glued to a guilty verdict because of unconscious safety fears. However, this would be offset in part by jurors who believe they are screwed no matter what they do. But there is no way to fully solve the problem.
Better pre-suasion alone will not destroy the defense easily.
But Chauvin’s case is not doomed. He may not have pre-suasion as powerful as, You are going to get doxxed and you and your family will be in danger if you acquit. But he does have
- The ability to strike an unlimited number of jurors for cause plus 15 jurors he does not like for any lawful reason;
- No burden of proof while prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt;
- The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against him;
- The exclusive write to discover evidence the prosecutors will use at trial; and
- A right to appeal.
That is in addition to all of the procedure and evidence rules that make trials fair.
Justice is about shielding against error at every level. It is not a chain where if one link breaks it is useless. It is a system where if one chain breaks, the others can maintain integrity.
Other than changing venue, Derek Chauvin will get the fairest trial anyone in his place could get — even if it is not perfectly fair.
How to be a better juror if called.
Do you want to be a better juror (or human)? If you read this article, then you are already halfway there. Your mind has been infused with the knowledge it needs to filter out much of the pre-suasion you will hear.
However, you can easily make yourself an even better juror by reading one book. It is the one I mentioned above: Pre-suasion.
Warning: Once you read Pre-suasion, you will see pre-suasion all over the place. Worse, you will be shocked at how much it is a part of our lives.
The ideal jury is neutral at the beginning of trial. If a trial were a football field, then the ball would start at the 50-yard line.
But hypnotic questions move the ball during jury selection. Knowing of pre-suasion protects your brain so you start closer to the 50-yard line. Moreover, you will see how pre-suasion affects other jurors. That allows you to help keep the panel focused on the evidence.
Also, Hypnotic Writing makes a beautiful companion to Pre-suasion. Remember the question, “Given the protests, do you think you could set aside your fear for your safety … ?” That is both pre-suasion and a hypnotic command.
Finally, both of these books are choice resources or learning effective persuasion. And persuasion is a tool everyone can use so I highly recommend them.
Barnes, R., Freiheit, D., & Cernovich, M. (2021). Viva & Barnes Live with Mike Cernovich [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/wr1C7__3iRU?t=5438 (Not affiliated)
Cialdini, R. B. (2018). Pre-suasion : a revolutionary way to influence and persuade. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. (Affiliate)
Vitale, Joe. 2007. Hypnotic Writing : How to Seduce and Persuade Customers with Only Your Words. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons. (Affiliate)