Fear and Loathing in Persuasive Writing: An Empirical Study of the Effects of the Negativity Bias

65 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2017 Last revised: 20 Apr 2017

Kenneth D. Chestek

University of Wyoming College of Law

Date Written: April 17, 2017

Abstract

Cognitive psychologists have identified a phenomenon they call the "negativity bias," in which humans seem to remember and be affected by negative information more strongly than by positive information. What are the implications of this bias for legal writers? Should they focus on negative themes (describing the opposing side as bad) instead of positive ones (describing their clients as good and worthy)? More specifically, do trial judges fall prey to the negativity bias?

This article describes an empirical test in which 163 judges were asked to read different versions of a Preliminary Statement to a trial brief (some using positive themes, others using negative ones) to measure whether (and by how much) the judge's perceptions of the parties were affected. The study concludes that, in many (but not all) cases, negative themes did seem to have more impact on the judicial reader.

Keywords: Negativity Bias, Empirical, Judicial Reasoning, Persuasion, Legal Writing, Preliminary Statement, Trial Brief, Theme

Suggested Citation

Chestek, Kenneth D., Fear and Loathing in Persuasive Writing: An Empirical Study of the Effects of the Negativity Bias (April 17, 2017). Legal Communication & Rhetoric: JALWD, Vol. 14, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2953996

Kenneth D. Chestek (Contact Author)

University of Wyoming College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 3035
Laramie, WY 82071
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.uwyo.edu/law/directory/kenneth-chestek.html

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