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It’s widely accepted that visuals in the courtroom are a powerful storytelling device. We prefer to say that they can be powerful.  The actual efficacy of any trial graphic, in fact, hinges on an understanding of how people learn from multimedia presentations.  Our clients often ask us why animations and graphics are so persuasive in the courtroom.  The answer rests in understanding the psychology behind their effectiveness.

Why Are Visuals Effective?

Much of this understanding revolves around the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, developed by renowned University of California, Santa Barbara, psychology professor Dr. Richard Mayer.  Dr. Mayer notes three human cognitive realities that should drive visual design decisions1:

1. Dual channels:  Learners possess separate channels for processing auditory/verbal material and visual/pictorial material.

2. Limited capacity:  Each channel can process a limited amount of material at a time.

3. Generative processing:  Meaningful learning occurs when learners engage in appropriate cognitive processing, such as:

a. Selecting relevant words and pictures for further processing

b. Organizing selected words into a verbal model and organizing selected images into a pictorial model

c. Integrating verbal and pictorial models with each other and with prior knowledge

The main takeaway from these cognitive realities is that improperly designed graphics can overload jurors’ cognitive systems, causing them to become overwhelmed and disengaged.  To ensure this doesn’t happen, the most effective designs are guided by a body of scientifically proven learning principles.  A sampling of these tenets follows.

What Are the Key Visual Learning Principles?

Modes of Representation

Demonstratives should harness three modes of representation: language, picture and movement. Language, both written and spoken, is processed by a juror’s verbal channel. Images, both still and moving, are processed by the pictorial channel. When these modes are used in proper balance (alongside other important design principles), multimedia demonstratives engage the learner’s information processing system appropriately and promote meaningful learning.

Note below an animation demonstrating the repair of a torn ligament. This exhibit utilizes the three modes of representation by providing visuals of the requisite structures, movement of the parts and how they change over time and on-screen text to identify parts and clarify concepts (an oral explanation would also accompany this animation in the courtroom).

For the rest of this article, visit our friends at Litigation Insights