The Power of Irrelevant Anchors II5. October 2010 by Herman Brodie
An old US courtroom drama in black and white on late night-night television got me thinking again about the power of ‘anchoring’. On repeated occasions the prosecuting lawyer made unproven and inflammatory statements about the defendant only to be called to order by the defence attorney: ‘Objection, Your Honour.’ ‘Sustained.’
At one point the judge had to call the wayward prosecutor to his bench and tell him to knock it off. He also instructed the jury to ignore the offending statement. But, how can they? The jury may recognize the irrelevance of the information, but it is impossible to simply erase it from their memory. Even while realising that the goal of the anchor was to guide their thinking, they may fall prey to its influence simply because the pre-anchored state is no longer accessible to them.
In the movie, at least, the defendant escaped the guilty verdict despite the anchors dropped by the unscrupulous prosecutor. However, one cannot help but wonder how much irrelevant information ends up in court verdicts in real life.