The Effects of Stealing Thunder in Criminal and Civil Trials

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The effectiveness of a persuasion technique referred to as stealing thunder was assessed in two simulated jury trials. Stealing thunder is defined as revealing negative information about oneself (or, in a legal setting, one's client) before it is revealed or elicited by another person. In Study 1, 257 college students read or heard one of three versions of a criminal assault trial in which a damaging piece of evidence about the defendant was absent (no thunder), brought up by the prosecutor (thunder), or brought up by the defense attorney and repeated by the prosecutor (stolen thunder). In Study 2, 148 college students heard a civil negligence trial in which damaging evidence about the key plaintiff's witness was absent (no thunder), brought up by the defendant's attorney (thunder), or brought up by the witness himself (stolen thunder). In both studies, stealing thunder significantly reduced the impact of the negative information. A path analysis of the processes underlying the effect suggested that verdicts were affected because of enhanced credibility.

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