A client recently told me about a continuing legal education program he attended and the new information contained in the seminar. He kindly shared the information on the use of visual evidence and my reaction was, despite his enthusiasm for this “new” information, it isn’t new. What struck me is how often, in the more than 30 years of working with and around lawyers, this phenomenon occurs. Sometimes it is a search for a short cut to get certain results. But, often it is an indication of how far apart the fields of law and psychology remain. Meaning that, perhaps more than some lawyers realize, experts in psychology and related fields have much to offer them in preparing the case. Reputable trial consulting experts (unfortunately there are some who are not reputable or expert) keep abreast of new developments, research, trends, and data, finding ways to incorporate the latest information into client consultations. I don’t know how to create baseline knowledge that would help attorneys know what is truly new, or what is “re-packaged.” In this instance, it pertained to the use of graphics. In recent years, it has involved such things as “the reptile theory,” which was an outdated, and somewhat discredited, area of psychological study. Such things indicate that the use of “pop psychology” may be insufficient when working as a trial lawyer. Going deeper is often a better approach.
I do not expect attorneys and other non psychologists to be informed about psychological phenomenon. Just as I, a psychologist, am not up to date about the latest advances in astrophysics, it comes as no surprise that most people are relatively ignorant about psychology. Our well meaning client shared with David the latest drivel about visual evidence that he truly believed was both recent and newly discovered. My reaction, when David forwarded the client’s email to me, was “What? Social psychologists have been publishing research on this topic since the 1960s! It’s truly ‘old news’”! Psychological research has often been sliced and diced in order to develop tiny fragments of information that can capture the attention of the general public. For example, concepts such as mindfulness, heuristical thinking, and brain washing have been “dumbed down” so much that they have become pop psychology instead of the scientific psychology with which I am associated. Attorneys are just as susceptible as other non psychologists when it comes to looking for easy answers to complex questions. They often jump onto the latest bandwagon because they are hopeful they can take a shortcut that will result in a big win in court. Psychology, like many fields, is subject to fads and trends that, when adopted by lawyers and members of the general public, often do more harm than good. The question that must always be asked, when interpreting information outside one’s field of expertise is, “What is the source of these data?”. Being an informed consumer is not limited to finding out the features of one’s new appliances!