Too Much Thinking Can be a Bad Thing

You may have heard the phrase “information overload” before, but new research has shown it is a real biological phenomenon. It is that point when our ability to make a decision simply breaks down. Uncertain of how to process an abundance of information, we feel frustrated and anxious and either refuse to make a decision at all or we make a bad decision.

A recent article in Newsweek (read it here) discussed the danger of information overload in our current age of Twitter, texts, status updates, constant emails, and access to infinite sources of information via the internet. This phenomenon applies to decision makers in litigation as well, whether those decision-makers are jurors, a judge or mediator. There is only so much information the human brain can process at any given point and more is definitely not better.

Using functional MRI technology researchers at Temple University learned that as the brain processes complex information the prefrontal cortex of the brain lights up, just as it should. However, as the amount of complex information increases activity in that part of the brain just stopped. If they were able to make a decision at all, that decision often did not make any sense and was not based on objective or factual information.

We can see examples of this in our own lives when we are faced with everyday decisions. If we are given a choice between three different flavors of ice cream, it is not that difficult to choose one. When the options go up to 32 flavors, the choice is a little more difficult. When we have a choice of 99 flavors, we may decide we don’t really want ice cream after all or we go with the easy choice and pick vanilla. When the decision involves high consequences, the potential for information overload increases as well because the fear of making a wrong choice takes over, and people will often either shut down or rely on habit to avoid having to make an active decision.

Now consider all the information one must process when making a decision about a legal matter. In even the most basic of cases there is the plaintiff’s version of events, the defendant’s version of events, details about each of the witnesses, factors that go in to determining the value of the alleged wrongdoing, and let us not forget the pages and pages of legal instructions that are supposed to guide the decision making. In complicated legal matters involving technical language and concepts or multiple parties the decision-making process can easily shut down.

Obviously, avoiding information overload and maintaining the attention of your audience will greatly increase your chances of obtaining the result you (and your client) desire. The next time you need to argue your case in front of any decision maker, take the time to rethink how the case should best be presented. Write out the three most important facts or elements of your case. Simplify those even further by making sure the idea is expressed in seven words or less.

Thinking can be hard work. Make it easier for your decision makers but summing up the story for them by concluding your arguments with a statement like, “If you remember just one thing, let it be …” Once you have identified that one thing, practice saying the sentence out loud. If you have to take a breath to finish the thought, it is too long.

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