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Beyond Instructions to Disregard: When Objections Backfire and Interruptions Distract

40 Pages Posted: 5 May 2014 Last revised: 23 May 2014

Molly J. Walker Wilson

Saint Louis University - School of Law

Barbara A. Spellman

University of Virginia School of Law

Rachel M. York

George Mason University - Department of Psychology

Date Written: May 3, 2014

Abstract

Researchers have proposed many explanations for the replicated finding that jurors often fail to disregard evidence when instructed by a judge to do so. We propose a novel explanation: that the act of objecting may cause the effect because an objection (a) draws attention to the testimony and (b) heightens the perceived importance of the testimony (because of the implication that the objecting party wants to prevent jurors from using it). In previous studies, the act of objecting has always been confounded with the presence of the critical (objected-to) testimony. We devised two new experimental conditions that unconfound these factors. We found that whereas objections increase the use of objected-to (incriminating) testimony, random (non-objection) interruptions decrease use of this testimony. We conclude that, unlike random interruptions, an objection communicates to the jurors that an attorney is concerned about the objected-to testimony, increasing the perceived importance of that testimony.

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Molly J. Walker and Spellman, Barbara A. and York, Rachel M., Beyond Instructions to Disregard: When Objections Backfire and Interruptions Distract (May 3, 2014). Saint Louis U. Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2432527 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2432527

Molly J. Walker Wilson

Saint Louis University - School of Law ( email )

100 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101
United States

Barbara A. Spellman (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Rachel M. York

George Mason University - Department of Psychology ( email )

Fairfax, VA 22030-4444
United States

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