Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of perceiving, remembering, and thinking about the world. Cognition includes all sensory inputs, such as vision and hearing. In the early days of cognitive psychology, beginning with Ulric Neisser’s 1967 book, titled, Cognitive Psychology, sensations and perceptions were studied via experiments, skilled observation, and, to a lesser extent, introspection. In modern times, many cognitive processes are assessed through neuropsychological testing, such as MRIs of the brain. Although I am a social psychologist, I have extensive training in cognitive psychology, including having taught college courses on the subject. Cognitive psychology has provided a useful backdrop for my research and consulting work with mock jurors, as it provides a unique perspective on how people receive, understand, then remember information. People are not passive receivers of information, in ways similar to many computers; rather, people are active processors of information, such that they have the ability to filter what information is learned and what will be forgotten. When information to be remembered is complex, for example, within the context of a civil trial, jurors’ memory for important details is filtered by their biases, life experiences, and other characteristics. It is my job, as a jury/trial consultant, to work with attorneys so that they present complex information, in the form of evidence from witnesses, in a manner to facilitate attention, learning, and remembering, to maximize the chances of obtaining a favorable verdict. Cognitive psychology is one of the primary keys to my ability to provide insights on human decision making to the attorneys who are my clients.
Similar to my learning curve when meeting Melissa regarding social psychology, I also had to try to understand cognitive psychology. I am glad today that I have some degree of understanding of both fields, given how much impact they have in our trial consulting work. The truth is that knowledge of both fields expands far and wide – and is in no way limited to our work domain. Cognitive psychology, as it relates to learning, was an area of study for me in graduate school as I studied organizational training. I think many of the principles of cognitive psych are understood at some level by all of our clients, or I should say, our clients are aware of them, even if they do not fully understand the ramifications. Our attorney clients are aware that concepts like primacy and recency impact how they present their case. They know, and to a greater or lesser degree, strive, to use jury selection to assess the biases possessed by each potential juror. It is because of the complexity of the information to be explained to jurors, judges, arbitrators, and mediators that these concepts are so critical. One particular challenge for trial lawyers is figuring out how to present the information in such a way that the jurors or other fact finders will learn it in a short period of time. The lawyers usually have years to learn about their case. They must present it in days, weeks, or, rarely, slightly longer. Attorneys must also concern themselves with ensuring that the fact finders remember the information after having learned it initially. Attention, learning, and remembering all must be considered when presenting a case. This requires a focus on both verbal and visual learning. Attorneys are often strong in verbal learning (written or spoken words). The rest of us are often more visual learners such that the use of graphical exhibits is required to strengthen attention, learning, and remembering. Thus, while attorneys may not consider that they are using cognitive psychology – the are, on a daily basis.