Preventing Fight-or-Flight Responses During Witness Testimony - Part 2

Part 2 of 2

CSI - Courtroom Sciences Inc


In a confrontation between an experienced trial attorney and an inexperienced witness, the witness will never come out on top. Rather, the examining attorney will quickly identify the tactics most effective at manipulating the witness and use them to provoke the fight-or-flight response. Traditional witness preparation does not prepare witnesses for how to counter neuropsychological manipulation and some witness preparation methods that are grounded in political debate theory actually invite defense witnesses to duel with opposing counsel. Therefore, preventing fight-or-flight responses during witness testimony becomes a critical component to mitigate risks and avoid nuclear outcomes. 

Through sophisticated neuro-cognitive training, the psychology experts at Courtroom Sciences prepare witnesses to thwart amygdala attacks, preventing fight-or-flight responses, and keeping them from making errors that could disproportionately impact settlement and trial outcomes.


How can my witness learn to avoid amygdala hijack?

A witness can learn to avoid the fight-or-flight response and maintain prefrontal cortex processing during testimony through sophisticated neuro-cognitive training. This deliberate emotional regulation strategy involves actively reinterpreting a negative stimulus as a neutral stimulus. During a deposition or trial, this strategy would enable the witness to detect an emotional threat from opposing counsel, calmly identify the threat as an attempt to bait the witness and deliver effective testimony.


Avoiding the Pivoting Technique

A witness who persistently fights, runs away, ducks, and dodges is a strategic vulnerability during deposition and is perceived as a weak witness at the jury level. Nevertheless, a recent witness preparation method grounded in political debate theory advocates for these deliberately evasive maneuvers often referred to as ``pivoting” or “beating them to the punch.” Originating in the political arena, this technique instructs witnesses to disrupt opposing counsel’s series of leading questions by proactively inserting a defense-oriented explanation before the questioner can complete their line of questioning. 

However, this technique is inherently flawed as these tactics swiftly turn emotional, leading to the witness abandoning their strategic plan and falling victim to amygdala hijack. Pivoting is a deliberate, evasive maneuver and can easily be exposed at deposition or trial by an experienced cross-examiner. In addition, sworn testimony is dramatically different from a political debate with vastly different expectations. While voters may expect politicians to attempt to avoid challenging questions, jurors expect nothing less than honesty and truthfulness from defense witnesses. 

A witness who attempts to employ the pivoting technique by trying to avoid the actual question and then provide a defense-oriented explanation essentially only opens themself up to another series of questions. Rather than responding truthfully and effectively, without engaging in argument, this witness will now, no doubt, appear evasive and ultimately defensive when they are subsequently pushed to answer the actual question being asked of them. At Courtroom Sciences, our behavioral experts help witnesses give confident, strategic answers that will not leave them vulnerable in their testimony.


Preventing Fight-or-Flight Responses through Cognitive Reappraisal Strategy

An inexperienced witness up against an experienced trial attorney is never a fair fight, and the mismatch becomes even more severe when the witness allows their emotions to be triggered. Suddenly the frustrated witness will speed up, fail to recognize the significance of the line of questioning, fail to separate fact from supposition or blunder into one or more major concessions. The initiation of amygdala hijack and the fight-or-flight response, often look like any ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer followed by a comma and but, because, or however. 

Once a witness is baited into an amygdala hijack, they may attempt to take matters into their own hands, or they may become frustrated, argumentative, or easily moved to offer long-winded answers that can ultimately be used against them. Playing directly into opposing counsel’s hands, this response also results in a long-lasting neurochemical response from the hypothalamus, keeping the witness in fight-or-flight mode and preventing the brain from returning to logical mode. 

The key to maintaining prefrontal cortex activation, and preventing the fight-or-flight response, is active cognitive reappraisal skills. Cognitive reappraisal is an emotional regulation strategy that involves training a witness to actively reinterpret a negative stimulus as a neutral stimulus. During trial or deposition, this sophisticated neuro-cognitive training enables a witness to detect an emotional threat from opposing counsel, calmly identify the threat as an attempt to bait the witness and continue to deliver effective testimony.

Courtroom Sciences knows that a defense witness who is attempting to out-argue a professional trial lawyer represents a clear threat to the defense. Our psychology-based witness training program will allow a witness to be simultaneously effective and will help in preventing the fight-or-flight response that could devastate your case. Speak with one of our experts to get started. 


Key Takeaways

●  Witnesses experiencing an amygdala hijack often feel an overwhelming urge to explain away answers even to simple, direct questions.

●  Pivoting is a deliberate, evasive maneuver that can easily turn emotional, leading to the witness abandoning their strategic plan and falling victim to amygdala hijack. 

●  The initiation of amygdala hijack often looks like any ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer followed by a comma and but, because, or however. 

●  The key to preventing the fight-or-flight response is active cognitive reappraisal skills.

●  The psychology-based witness training program at Courtroom Sciences will prepare witnesses to thwart amygdala attacks.

Juror Confirmation Bias


Download Now

Stay updated: