What Cognitive Dissonance Tells Us About Tone in Persuasion

43 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2014 Last revised: 18 Apr 2014

Kathryn Stanchi

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: December 13, 2013


One of the toughest questions that lawyers face is how hard to push in persuasion. We want to advocate strongly enough so that our passion for our client’s cause, and our belief in its rightness, is apparent to the court. There is nothing worse than lukewarm advocacy. But we do not want to push so far that we cross from zealous advocacy into obnoxiousness. The problem is that the line between persuasion and coercion is a fine one.

This essay takes an initial step toward thinking about where good advocacy should draw the line between zeal and coercion by looking to cognitive science for guidance. In particular, the paper looks at cognitive dissonance and related psychological processes to determine how decision-makers might react to different advocacy styles.

The bottom line arrived at in the paper is that it may often be advisable for lawyers to present arguments in a tone that, while strong in pursuit of a favorable outcome, appears more gradual, objective and reasonable. In other words, in many cases, the most psychologically appealing advocacy approach is one that appears more balanced and reasonable rather than one that is aggressively pushy and one sided.

Keywords: persuasion, advocacy, law & psychology, cognitive bias

JEL Classification: K41

Suggested Citation

Stanchi, Kathryn, What Cognitive Dissonance Tells Us About Tone in Persuasion (December 13, 2013). Brooklyn Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2013; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-13. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2411687

Kathryn Stanchi (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
215-204-8807 (Phone)

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