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The Psychology of Anchoring

The Psychology of Anchoring

The anchoring effect is defined as: a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information given.


It’s a proven psychological technique that’s gaining serious popularity within present day trials, and is widely known to be enhanced by repetition. And aside from being able to persuade a jury, psychologists have determined that this technique also works on judges and people in positions of power.


Plaintiff attorneys have recognized this method as being extremely effective, and have learned how to master its powers of manipulation. They will often engage in this process from the very start, beginning with jury selection.


At specific times, plaintiff attorneys will mention huge sums of money, and do so as early and often as possible, because it anchors the juror’s thinking in high-ranged numbers. These large sums won’t ever leave their mind. They also tend to probe the jurors about the theoretical maximum amount they would be willing to reward as a means to locate and remove small settlement minded jurors.


What’s more, we’ve learned through focus groups and mock trials that a juror will often think they are doing the defense a favor by cutting the original ask of the plaintiff’s attorney in half, but in reality the plaintiff is still ending up with a much higher reward than they may rightfully deserve since they were able to anchor such a high figure from the start.


As far as efforts you can make to counter these methods, it’s extremely important that you have the transparent and candid conversations with your carriers and attorneys about your legitimate concerns, especially if a case is headed to trial. A legal team needs to be on the same page and aware of litigation techniques.


Counsel should always be prepared to advocate for their side. One way this can be accomplished is by filing a pretrial motion that limits the repetition of these large sums, while other efforts include being prompt to object when anchoring language is used. It’s also especially helpful if the counsel is well-versed in speaking to jurors, and can appeal to their logical sense by shedding light on the anchoring effect. A good strategy is to make the jury understand the plaintiff attorney is trying to anchor them.