Whatever you do Avoid Round Numbers: How the psychology of exact numbers work for settlement and trial.

New research conducted by psychologist Malia Mason, a professor at Columbia University, is soon to be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Mason reports that there is power in precession when talking numbers and convincing people about actual value. This research is extremely important in settlement, during mediation, or for the jury in trial.

The Research:

In this study, Manson examined the differences between haggling over an estimated or exact value. The global findings from Manson’s research indicated that when requesting an exact value as an alternative to a rounded assessment the following perceptions were triggered: 

(a)    The ‘asker’ was perceived, without question, as highly knowledgeable on issues related to value;

(b)    A strong and unquestioned belief that the figures were accurate and backed by a reliable / valid assessment of value;

(c)    Honesty of the person presenting the figure.

The research further indicated that exact figures frame the discussion of value; in other words how much money should be awarded. This is especially significant. Jury research conducted by Rose, Diamond and Baker (2009) [see Lītigāre’s journal article on ‘off-stage’ comments and jury deliberation] reported that juries expect, especially from the plaintiff, spin and theatrics. Part of that spin is the belief from juries that plaintiff’s over inflate value. The exact figure is a control and potential inoculation for this jury bias. 

A substantial body of research is devoted to describing the psychology of jury deliberations regarding dollar amounts. According to those findings, juries tend to reduce awards by approximately half of what the plaintiff requests when opposing counsel provides a lower number. This includes zero. After a jury hears the plaintiff’s demand for 1 million dollars and the defense says the plaintiff should receive $200,000 or zero the research indicates that the jury assumes over and under valuation. When a jury decides that the plaintiff should receive an award they debate the over and under valuation until they reach the closest estimate to perceived exact value. The amount that the jury decides upon, according to the research on jury deliberations and exact value, is framed by the assumption of over and under valuation and the estimated numbers given. As with all research there are exceptions to the rule and occasions where juries give more than the rounded figure or give the exact amount requested. Exceptions, while they should be taken into consideration, do not prove nor negate the rule.      

The Research in Action:

In a recent case that we consulted on opposing counsel utilized the ‘lowball’ and exact figure tactic. It was used very subtly during voir dire and was effective. Liability was not an issue in this case. During voir dire opposing counsel talked with the potential jurors about a series low value objects. During the ‘conversation’ opposing counsel asked the potential jurors to assign exact value. The highest figure given was $387.34. The plaintiff was asking for over a million dollars and the jury returned with just about half of that value. Presenting exact values can help to minimize the halving effect while increasing the ‘honesty view’ of the plaintiff. In contrast, posing whole dollar amounts has the potential to damage plaintiff honesty. This is especially destructive when the “I hate frivolous law suits” technique is utilized in voir dire.  

For your Settlement or Trial:

The implication of this research stipulates that presenting exact figures can help to reduce the jury assumption of a frivolous lawsuit and excessive monetary demands. This conclusion is supported by Manson’s results. When participants in the exact value research were presented exact numbers the assumption of over inflation was significantly reduced. The perception of ‘asker honesty’ increased. Furthermore, when exact value was presented the research respondents either gave the exact value or a number that was extremely close to the presented exact value. When the research respondents were interviewed by the researchers, the respondents reported that they felt very comfortable giving the exact value or close to it because they believed that an exact figure, to the cent, represents a well-researched and accurate value.

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