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)
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.
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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.
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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
- College Student
- Social Psychology
- Path Analysis
- Negative Information
- Defense Attorney