Complex scientific testimony: How do jurors make decisions?

Joel Cooper, Elizabeth A. Bennett, Holly L. Sukel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Critics of the civil jury system question whether jurors can adequately evaluate complex expert testimony. Based on current models of research in persuasion, we hypothesized that when expert testimony is complex, factors other than content will influence persuasion. Participants, serving as mock jurors, watched a videotaped trial in which two scientists provided evidence on whether PCBs could have caused a plaintiff's illness. The complexity of the expert's testimony and the strength of the expert's credentials were varied in a 2 x 2 factorial design. After watching the videotape, mock jurors rendered a verdict and completed a number of attitude measures related to the trial. Overall, consistent with our prediction, we found that jurors were more persuaded by a highly expert witness than by a less expert witness, but only when the testimony was highly complex. When the testimony was less complex, jurors relied primarily on the content of that testimony, and witness credentials had little impact on the persuasiveness of the message.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-394
Number of pages16
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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