EmotionTrac

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Facemasks in the Courtroom

Throughout the course of any interaction, we are constantly gathering tons of information about the person with whom we are talking. For example, we will obviously pick up on the content of what they are saying, but there are many other subtleties in body language and tone that can significantly affect the message that a person conveys.

facemasks in courtroom


Some of these subtleties, known as micro-expressions, are critical for understanding. In fact, this topic has recently come under close scrutiny due to the necessity of using facemasks in the court room.

The Importance of Facial Expressions

For years, researchers have been studying macro and micro-expressions as they relate to communication and trustworthiness.

Macro-expressions are fairly easy for anyone to spot. These facial movements can last as long as 4 seconds and tend to correspond with the topic of conversation as well as the tone expected of the conversation in question.

Micro-expressions, on the other hand, are a whole different ball game. These facial movements are fleeting, typically lasting less than a half of one second. Further, they can demonstrate feelings about a topic which are below the level of consciousness. i.e. the person who produced the micro-expression may not even realize they feel a certain way about a topic without some deeper examination.

Issues and Benefits Concerning Micro-Expressions

Because micro-expressions happen so quickly, they can often lead to misinterpretations and misunderstandings. It can be very difficult for the human eye to process such quick, transient movements correctly. However, this doesn’t make micro-expressions any less valuable.

These expressions are still an integral part of our conversations, even if we can’t specifically identify a micro-expression in real time. Through the use of computer analysis, researchers have seen the potential of further study on micro-expressions both in isolation and when combined with macro expressions. For example, a hypothetical man might smile when he hears that a friend got engaged. However, further analysis of his micro-expressions may tell a more complicated story.

Facemasks and Expressions

In the era of facemasks and COVID-19, we lose a large part of the face for analysis of macro and micro-expressions during conversation. Of course, we still have the content of what a person is saying, their tone, and much of their body language. But not being able to see their mouth affects our ability to determine their trustworthiness and honesty more than one might think.

In a related instance, a recent federal court case made headlines when the judge ordered that all witnesses must wear transparent facemasks while testifying. While this is not a perfect solution to address the issue of reading witnesses’ faces, it helps to satisfy current courtroom safety requirements while also allowing some measure of facial expression analysis.

Moving Forward

How will the issue of masks affect court cases in the future? Perhaps mask mandates will remain in effect for a longer time than we imagine. If this is the case, lawyers and jurors are going to have to develop excellent means of assessing trustworthiness in witnesses and defendants without full analysis of their micro-expressions.

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The Art of Storytelling in the Courtroom

jury test


Atticus Finch, Vincent Gambini, and Elle Woods all have something in common. Yes, they are all fictional lawyers from excellent movies. But there is something else that is consistent in their approach in the courtroom: they all tell a great story.

It would have been impossible for one of the jurors to stop paying attention during Joe Pesci’s cross examinations in My Cousin Vinny. The same goes for those shown in Legally Blonde. Similarly, one could have heard a pin drop during the closing argument shown in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Each of these fictional lawyers have varying levels of expertise and each movie situation is diverse. However, their ability to tell a story creates interest for the jurors and forces them to hang on every word.

While some of the situations presented in these movies are absurd, the importance of telling a good story cannot be overstated. There’s no mystery or special skill that good litigators have hidden away. Plain and simple: they know how to tell a story that catches your attention.

Elements of Exceptional Storytelling

Obviously, everyone has preferences when it comes to stories. Some people like fantasy, some like comedy, while others enjoy romance. But whether inside the courtroom or out in the world, there are three underlying elements that can make any story better or worse.

  1. Emotion - Before we have concrete facts or knowledge, we connect with others based on how we feel about them. Even though facts and truth are vitally important, they play second fiddle to emotion when it comes to storytelling. For example, Harry Potter takes place in a fictional world. There is no truth to the magic, dragons, and other fantastical elements present in the story. But readers and viewers can easily connect with the characters on an emotional level. J.K. Rowling made the characters so universally relatable that anyone can feel their emotions throughout the tale, regardless of the factual accuracy or relatability inherent in Harry Potter’s world.

  2. Logical Flow - It’s much easier for the average person to follow a logical, step-wise story, than it is to pick out the details from incoherent rambling. Effective storytellers can put events in an order that makes it easy for listeners to process the details and create a “big picture”. The father of logic himself, Aristotle saw how easily even the least educated person could appreciate and follow a well-stated syllogism. In today’s world, this fact remains true, and necessitates that logic be used as a scaffolding for every good story.

  3. Avoidance of Extraneous Details - The human attention span is short. Once a person loses interest in something, they will quickly move on to the next thing and never look back. Therefore, storytellers have a small window to hook a listener and get them interested in the story in question. If a storyteller wastes time with extra details that will distract from the main point, they may lose their audience and never get them back.


Incorporating Excellent Storytelling into a Legal Strategy

As simple as the three elements of great storytelling may sound, perfecting the craft is far from easy. Becoming a great storyteller takes practice. But with a lot of time and effort, any lawyer can become an exceptional storyteller and leave everyone in the courtroom wanting more.

Need some help with your storytelling in the courtroom? Check out Emotiontrac to see what they can do for you.

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