The Lingering Impact of Misinformation


In trial – or even at deposition – it’s often tempting to dismiss an aspect of opposing counsel’s theory as insignificant, or too “out there” for jurors to adopt, and therefore offer little in the way of an alternative theory. This is not a wise choice.

Results of a published in Scientific American show how despite the correction of misinformation, people tend to retain misinformation. Subjects in the study were told first that an accident involved a busload of elderly individuals. One group of subjects was told that was incorrect, but not given an alternative version of who was on the bus. Another group was told that the accident actually involved a college hockey team. 

The group given an alternate version (“hockey team”) was less susceptible to responding with the original “misinformed” version (“elderly individuals”), yet even they agreed with certain statements such as“the passengers found it difficult to exit the bus because they were frail.” How can this be? Shouldn’t logic prevail? 

One wishes. Unfortunately, misinformation tends to linger in memory following the rule of precedence: what’s learned first tends to stick with us longer. So it is critical that you counter any theory, or expert witness testimony, or other evidence that you consider “misinformation,” boldly and with as much visual assistance (graphics, video, PowerPoint slides) as you can. Make sure that what sticks in memory is your interpretation of the case, not opposing counsel’s.