Decision-making in Civil Litigation: Effects of Attorney Credibility, Evidence Strength, and Juror Cognitive Processing
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The current study examined the relationship between juror cognitive processing (measured by need for cognition [NFC]), attorney credibility, evidence strength, and civil litigation verdicts (liability, likelihood of causation, and compensatory damages). Participants viewed a videotaped mock civil trial in which the credibility of the attorneys and the strength of the plaintiff's evidence were manipulated. There was a three-way interaction between plaintiff attorney credibility, defense attorney credibility, and strength of evidence for liability verdicts. For participants exposed to strong evidence and a non-credible defense attorney, the likelihood of a liable verdict (compared to a not liable verdict) was higher for a credible plaintiff attorney than a non-credible plaintiff attorney. Participants exposed to ambiguous evidence and a credible defense attorney had a higher likelihood of a liable verdict when the plaintiff attorney was credible versus non-credible. Participants' NFC also interacted with the plaintiff attorney credibility. For high, but not low, NFC participants, the likelihood of a liable verdict was higher for a credible plaintiff attorney than a non-credible plaintiff attorney. Levels of NFC also interacted with plaintiff attorney credibility for likelihood of causation estimates. For high, but not low, NFC participants, the likelihood of causation estimates were higher for a credible plaintiff attorney than a non-credible plaintiff attorney. With regard to compensatory damage awards, there was a higher probability of obtaining the damage award amount requested, or more than the amount requested, for a credible plaintiff attorney than a non-credible plaintiff attorney. A credible plaintiff attorney also led to a lower probability of obtaining a damage award that was less than the amount requested. These findings suggest that the credibility of attorneys is influential to verdict decisions; however, the credibility of the plaintiff attorney has a more direct influence than the credibility of the defense attorney. The findings also suggest that case evidence is not always the primary determinant of verdicts. The heuristic-systematic model's additivity, attenuation, and bias hypotheses were also tested. None of these hypotheses were supported across any verdict decisions. Practical, theoretical, and policy implications of these findings are discussed.