What lawyers can learn from neuroscience

The ability to persuade the judges at will is the most sought-after superpower that a lawyer can possess. Hence, it is important to know while your firing ammunition of arguments towards judges what is happening in the human brain. Let’s understand how various parts of the brain have evolved differently and their role in fine-tuning the argument delivery.


The cross-section view of the parts of the brain

The brain stem, the red colored part you can see in the figure above is also called as the reptile brain because it is responsible for primitive survival instincts such as aggression and fear (“flight or fight”).

The middle brain is responsible for our emotional bonding to — other humans and feeling of empathy. Also, liable for the interference of emotions in the process of our decision making.

The new brain is your neocortex, which was recently evolved. It is the seat of all sophisticated data processing and complex decision making. It is this part of the brain where your arguments germinate.

Research shows that although the 3 brains have a specialized function. They all play some role in communication.


Making complex rational decisions by nature are computation intensive, and time-consuming; The gears shift to the reptilian brain if decisions are to be taken in a very short span of time with limited data.

Hence, the best way to decrease the quality of decision making is to create a scarcity of time. This appears to be the reason behind the proverb: Never take a decision in haste.

It’s your reptilian brain that is responsible for most of the errors in decisions.
We share the reptile brain with other vertebrates

When you make an argument, they are handled by the neocortex. But the sad thing is that it doesn’t land up directly at the smartest part of the judge’s brain or the person you are trying to persuade.

The arguments that you fire at judges is received by the reptile brain which acts as a gatekeeper deciding what to let in and what not. The parts of your argument then swiftly swim through the midbrain and then towards the neocortex. There is nothing else but evolution to blame for this.

How the brain receives the arguments

But by now the damage to your case has already been done. First, given the limited focus and capacity of the reptile brain, parts of your argument are already discarded before it’s passed on up to the midbrain and the travel to the neocortex.

If your argument lacks strength in being the rationally best possible choice, you must appeal to the reptilian brain. When survival becomes threatened, this part of the brain takes over and can overpower logic and reason.

If you try to nail the argument to the midbrain, it will analyze the facts & compute, whether to determine that it may be not the best decision. 
In most of the situations, there can only be one most rational decision. So, while we don’t like to admit it, our arguments may not be the most logical choice always.

If you would like to learn more about what else it takes to win over the judges you should see my course


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4406946/


[3] https://hbr.org/2006/01/decisions-and-desire

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