The Overwhelming Impact of Credibility and Truthfulness on Family Law

We are all craving truthful facts from which we can make confident decisions about keeping our families safe.  News about the pandemic is mixed with conflicting political messages that also call for an analysis of truthfulness. All litigation attorneys, including family law lawyers experienced in contested divorces, are well versed in the issues of credibility and truthfulness. The credibility of every witness at any trial is always a key issue.

So how can you prove that a witness is lying?  Traditionally, the tactic of an experienced trial lawyer is to cross-examine a witness with an inconsistent prior statement which allows an inference that when the witness’s story changed, one of the two conflicting stories must be untrue. Cross-examination can also bring out motives for the witness to hide the truth, or the witness’s history or reputation for untruthfulness. 

But most of these traditional methods of challenging credibility all assume that the witness is deliberately lying to protect themselves or others, or to gain some advantage.  New methods of challenging credibility reveal that several psychological principles can lead a witness to lie to themselves in such a convincing way that they honestly believe that they are telling the truth.

In a seminal book about wrongful convictions, Blind Injustice, the co-founder and Director of the Innocence Project in Cincinnati, Mark Godsey, addresses 6 of these psychological principles.

  1. Blind denial: Godsey defines cognitive dissonance as “a psychological phenomenon that causes us to push aside or deny information that conflicts with our most deeply held beliefs, causing a subconscious state of denial about a competing belief.” When an opposite conclusion conflicts with everything you’ve believed for years, it prevents you from looking at the facts objectively to avoid facing the unfaceable and to avoid admitting you were wrong.
  2. Blind Ambition: Taking the side of law and order, or siding with a victim to enhance your reputation for empathy and justice, causes you to lose your objectivity especially when feeling public pressure to be tough on crime, or the pressure to win or succeed is high, or the end goal is paramount. You avoid taking the side of the accused or the alleged wrongdoer because it would make you look like you’re corrupt or uncaring.
  3. Blind Bias: Widely known as “confirmation bias”, this psychological phenomenon causes you to seek or interpret evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations or in conformance with an existing hypothesis.  This can cause selective memory where you only remember evidence that confirms your instincts and forget or ignore facts that contradict your initial beliefs or suspicions.
  4. Blind Memory: Studies have proved that memories can be altered or changed by the suggestions of others and that people can come to visualize and recall detailed false memories. Continuing to visualize that false memory over time will make it convincingly real and permanent.
  5. Blind Intuition: People often rely on their intuition to decide what is truthful, often based on the storyteller’s demeanor, body language or eye contact, which triggers confirmation bias.
  6. Blind Tunnel Vision:  Godsey explains  that this psychological phenomenon “occurs when we develop an initial belief or suspicion, become wedded to that belief, and then interpret or even twist all subsequent information we encounter in order to confirm it.”  This also leads to hindsight bias that recall events with memories that are reshaped to support the belief.

Godsey recognizes that all of these psychological phenomena are grounded in our flawed humanity based on a lack of humility to recognize that we make mistakes. Looking for those who can admit their mistakes, and learn from them can help us gain some confidence in who we choose to believe.

The family law lawyers at Molly B. Kenny, LLC know that divorces, custody disputes and domestic violence matters often involve issues of truthfulness, and are ready to advocate for the truth on your behalf.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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