Anchoring Effect: The Mind is Biased by First Impressions..and How It Affects Jury’s At Trail
I recently read a psychological article that dealt with biased first impressions, called the “Anchoring Effect”. As a DUI trial attorney it was a stark realization that no matter how hard we fight to educate the public and law enforcement, the old adage “you only get one opportunity to make a good first impression” resonates with me and drives my trial preparation to produce evidence that helps our clients overcome this bias. What is the Anchoring Effect? A psychological bias that illuminates how we negotiate, predict our emotions, agree on a a price and much more.
The article, written by the PSY Blog, cites an example to illustrate the anchoring effect. They ask you how old Mahatma Gandhi was when he died. They go on to to state that for half of you they will preface the question by saying: “Did he die before or after the age of 9?” For the other half I’ll say: “Did he die before or after the age of 140?” Obviously these are not very helpful statements. Anyone who has any clue who Gandhi was will know that he was definitely older than 9; while the oldest person who ever lived was 122. So why bother making these apparently stupid statements? Because, according to the results of a study conducted by Strack and Mussweiler (1999), these initial statements, despite being unhelpful, affect the estimates people make. In their experiment, the first group guessed an average age of 50 and the second, 67. Neither was that close, he was actually assassinated at 87; but you can still see the effect of the initial number.
The anchor state
These might seem like silly little experiments that psychologists do to try and suggest that people are idiots, but actually it’s showing us something fundamental about the way we think. It’s so basic to how we experience the world that we often don’t notice it. We have a tendency to use anchors or reference points to make decisions and evaluations, and sometimes these lead us astray. In DUI defense there are several anchor points that we have to deal with on a regular basis: 0.00, 0.08 and 0.15. This sort of things is going on in loads of different areas of our lives. That’s because anchors are vital in all these lines of work, and many more. The initial price you set for the car, house or, more abstractly, for a deal of some kind, tends to have ramifications right through the process of coming to an agreement. Whether we like it or not, our minds keep referring back to that initial number.
Jurors Look for confirmation of the Anchor “The Defendant was impaired”
Since the anchoring effect occurs in so many situations, no one theory has satisfactorily explained it. There is, though, a modern favorite for explaining the anchoring effect in decision-making. It is thought to stem from our tendency to look for confirmation of things we are unsure of. So, if I’m told the price of a particular diamond ring is $10,000.00, I’ll will search around looking for evidence that confirms this. In this case it’s easy: plenty of diamond rings cost about that, no matter the value of this particular ring. For all I know about diamond rings it could be worth $5,000.00 or $50,000.00. In opening arguments when a jury is told that this case is about impairment, they instantly start looking for reasons to find impairment. Whether that is in the officers testimony, video evidence or breath test evidence. The jury’s desire to “find impairment” is similar to my desire to rationalize the price of that diamond ring, internal satisfaction. Anchor points are everywhere, a defendant sitting at Voir Dire, gives the potential jurors that anchor point thinking that he or she must have done something wrong or they wouldn’t be here today. These anchor points must be immediately addressed by a skilled trial attorney to ensure that potential jurors will be unbiased in their deliberations. Unfortunately for DUI Defense lawyers we are not granted to ability to set anchor points, initially. Our client is already charged with a crime and the potential jurors know that when they step in the room and State Attorney’s base their whole case on reconfirming this anchor point to the jury. What sets really good trial attorney’s apart from general practitioner and non-trial attorneys are their ability to set and establish anchor points with witnesses and conversely chip away at those that their client has been saddled with by the state. I believe that guilty verdicts boil down to our fundamental laziness and willingness to just take what we are given and our reluctance to ask why or how. At our trials we demand that the jury not accept what is merely presented to them but rather look below the surface and take into account the totality of the whole situation, not just the limited facts the State Attorney wants to present.
Whatever the reason for it, the anchoring effect is everywhere and can be difficult to avoid. That’s especially true when we are deciding what to pay for stuff since we are overly influenced by the price that’s been set. One way of avoiding this bias—whether it’s emotional or in decision-making—is by trying to wriggle free from the anchor state. This can be done by thinking about other comparisons, challenging yourself to think outside the box and look at all possibilities. Just like the possibility that Gandhi could have been 140 years old, you have to consider it before you just discount it. That’s what we’re doing when we comparison shop: getting some new price anchors. There’s little doubt it’s hard, though: some studies suggest that even when you know about it and are forewarned, the anchoring effect can still affect our judgements. This psychological effect shows the power that first piece of information can have on a case, the decisions the potential jurors can make and the absolute reason why you need to hire an experienced DUI Defense attorney to handle your case.
Knowledge is the key to your freedom, please read our other Blog articles on Criminal and DUI Defense. If you, a friend or a loved one has been stopped for DUI, contact our experienced lawyers today by calling (941) 932-8007 | 855-DUI-DOGG or filling out our confidential, case evaluation submission form today for a free case evaluation.