Skip to main content

The effects of stealing thunder in criminal and civil trials

Often a difficult decision in opening statements is whether, and if so how, to volunteer weaknesses. This involves determining your weaknesses and predicting whether your opponent intends to use them at trial. There is obviously no point in volunteering a weakness that would never be raised at trial. Where, however, that weakness is apparent and known to the opponent, you should volunteer it. If you don't, your opponent will, with twice the impact. (Mauet, 1992, pp. 47–48)

Abstract

The effectiveness of a persuasion technique referred to asstealing thunder was assessed in two simulated jury trials. Stealing thunder is defined as revealing negative information about oneself (or, in a legal setting, one's client) before it is revealed or elicited by another person. In Study 1, 257 college students read or heard one of three versions of a criminal assault trial in which a damaging piece of evidence about the defendant was absent (no thunder), brought up by the prosecutor (thunder), or brought up by the defense attorney and repeated by the prosecutor (stolen thunder). In Study 2, 148 college students heard a civil negligence trial in which damaging evidence about the key plaintiff's witness was absent (no thunder), brought up by the defendant's attorney (thunder), or brought up by the witness himself (stolen thunder). In both studies, stealing thunder significantly reduced the impact of the negative information. A path analysis of the processes underlying the effect suggested that verdicts were affected because of enhanced credibility.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Archer, R. L., & Burleson, J. A. (1980). The effects of timing of self-disclosure on attraction and reciprocity.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 120–130.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Asch, S. E. (1946). Forming impressions of personality.Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41, 258–290.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Asch, S. E. (1948). The doctrine of suggestion, prestige, and imitation in social psychology.Psychological Review, 55, 250–276.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bergman, P. (1979).Trial advocacy in a nutshell. St. Paul, MN: West.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Brock, T. C. (1968). Implications of commodity theory for value change. In A. Greenwald, T. Brock, & T. Ostrom (Eds.),Psychological foundations of attitudes. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Brock, T. C., & Brannon, L. A. (1992). Liberalization of commodity theory.Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 13, 135–144.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Cacioppo, J. T., & Petty, R. E. (1979). Effects of message repetition and position on cognitive response, recall, and persuasion.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 97–109.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Cialdini, R. B., & Petty, R. E. (1981). Anticipatory opinion effects. In R. Petty, T. Ostrom, & T. Brock (Eds.),Cognitive responses in persuasion (pp. 217–235). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Craik, F. M., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 11, 671–684.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., & Chaiken, S. (1978). Causal inferences about communicators and their effect on opinion change.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 424–435.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Jones, E. E., & Gordon, E. M. (1972). Timing of self-disclosure and its effects on personal attraction.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 358–365.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Jörkeskog, K. G., & Sörbom, D. (1989).Lisrel 7 user's reference guide. Mooresville, IN: Scientific Software.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Kassin, S. M., Reddy, M. E., & Tulloch, W. F. (1990). Juror interpretation of ambiguous evidence: The need for cognition, Presentation order, and persuasion.Law and Human Behavior, 14, 43–56.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Keeton, R. (1973).Trial tactics and methods. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Kelman, H. C., & Hovland, C. I. (1953). “Reinstatement” of the communicator in delayed measurement of opinion change.Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48, 327–335.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Klonoff, R. H., & Colby, P. L. (1990).Sponsorship strategy: Evidentiary tactics for winning jury trials. Charlottesville, VA: Michie Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Kramer, G. P., Kerr, N. L., & Carroll, J. S. (1990). Pretrial publicity: Judicial remedies and jury bias.Law and Human Behavior, 14, 409–438.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Kruglanski, A. W., & Freund, T. (1983). The freezing and unfreezing of lay inferences: Effects on impressional primacy, ethnic stereotyping, and numerical anchoring.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 448–468.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Lingle, J. H., & Ostrom, T. M. (1979). Retrieval selectivity in memory-based impression judgments.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 180–194.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Lorge, I. (1936). Prestige, suggestion, and attitudes.Journal of Social Psychology, 7, 386–402.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Mauet, T. A. (1992). Fundamentals of trial techniques (3rd. Ed.). Boston: Little, Brown.

    Google Scholar 

  22. McGuire, W. (1964). Inducing resistance to persuasion: Some contemporary approaches. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.),Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, (Vol. 1, pp. 191–229). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Nelson, T. O. (1977). Repetition and depth of processing.Journal of Verbal Learning & Verbal Behavior, 16, 151–172.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Petty, R. E., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1986).Communication and persuasion: Central and peripheral routes to attitude change. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Pyszczynski, T. A., & Wrightsman, L. S. (1981). The effects of opening statements on mock jurors' verdicts in a simulated criminal trial.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 11, 301–313.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Rundus, D. (1971). Analysis of rehearsal processes in free recall.Journal of Experimental Psychology, 89, 63–77.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Walster, E., Aronson, E., & Abrahams, D. (1966). On increasing the persuasiveness of a low prestige communicator.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2, 325–342.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Wason, P. C. (1960). On the failure to eliminate hypotheses in a conceptual task.Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 12, 129–140.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Wyer, R. S. Jr., Srull, T. K., & Gordon, S. (1984). The effects of predicting a person's behavior on subsequent trait judgments.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 20, 29–46.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kipling D. Williams.

Additional information

We would like to thank Michelle Cox, Gim Koay, Dana Koay, and Ralph Mueller for their helpful input. Thanks also to Irv Horowitz and Steve Karau for their comments on earlier drafts.

About this article

Cite this article

Williams, K.D., Bourgeois, M.J. & Croyle, R.T. The effects of stealing thunder in criminal and civil trials. Law Hum Behav 17, 597–609 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01044684

Download citation

Keywords

  • College Student
  • Social Psychology
  • Path Analysis
  • Negative Information
  • Defense Attorney