Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Wayne Harrison


Previous research has shown that if an attorney reveals evidence to his or her case before the opposing attorney reveals the evidence, it will result in more favorable verdicts for his or her client. This study tested the most effective way for attorneys to reveal damaging evidence about their clients in opening statements by varying the amount of explanation the plaintiff's attorney gave of the damaging evidence. In addition, this study tested whether the participants' Need for Cognition would affect which type of opening statement was more persuasive. The participants read one of four different versions of fictitious opening statements for civil trial that contained damaging evidence about the plaintiff. The different versions of opening statements consisted of 1) the plaintiff's attorney giving an extensive explanation for the damaging evidence, 2) the plaintiff's attorney a brief explanation for the damaging evidence, 3) the plaintiff's attorney giving no explanation for the damaging evidence and 4) a control condition in which the damaging evidence was never mentioned by either attorney. In each condition, with the exception of the control condition, the defendant's attorney brought up the damaging evidence in the same manner. After reading the opening statements, the participants read a set of jury instructions and chose a verdict. A significant effect of type of explanation revealed that the most favorable verdicts for the plaintiff were in the control condition, followed by the no explanation and extensive explanation conditions, followed by the brief explanation condition. However, the plaintiff's attorney gained no advantage by revealing the damaging evidence in his case in the opening statements. Participants' Need for Cognition did not affect their verdicts.


A Thesis Presented to the Department of Psychology and the Faculty of the Graduate College University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts University of Nebraska at Omaha. Copyright Jodi K. Simon April, 1998