Attention, Rapport, and Loops

There are three subjects that I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to lately, and I’d like to summarize them and tentatively tie them together in the context of trial here.

Attention, Rapport, and Loop Theory.


I wrote about attention here. Attention is your one resource. If you are not yet aware of the value of your attention, I invite you to ask yourself: When I pay attention, what am I spending it on?

Attention is a universal currency of human interaction. We all have it, we have only a limited amount, we can spend it on only one thing, and we cannot get it back. Attention has both a time dimension (for how long will I pay attention?) and a proximity dimension (how closely will I pay attention?).


I wrote about rapport here. Rapport is a function of attention, and one of its outputs is attention. See, for example, Dale Carnegie‘s second Fundamental Technique in Handling People, Give honest and sincere appreciation (attention as input) and his third, Arouse in the person an eager want (attention as output).

Or see Robin Dreeke‘s sixth technique, Validate others (attention as input, causing rapport) or even his third (Sympathy or Assistance Theme (attention as output, causing rapport — there is an important metapoint here: the phenomenon can be caused by its own output or, as my hypnosis guru Mike Mandel says, anything that assumes trance causes trance).

Loop Theory

I haven’t written about loops here yet. Loop Theory (my term) is the idea that we prefer closed loops of thought to open loops. We like answers to our questions. Once upon a time … that’s an archetypal signal that a loop (in this case a story) has opened, and our brains want to listen to the story until the loop is closed, maybe with … happily ever after. Or maybe with … and now you know the rest of the story. Or Man and wife.

The scientific term for the phenomenon of the brain dedicating attention to open loops is The Zeigarnik Effect. Our brains like closed loops because once the loop is closed we no longer need to pay attention to it, and we can pay attention to other things.

One way we close loops is by reaching conclusions. When we close a loop by reaching a conclusion, the loop is closed whether the conclusion is correct or not. And we resist reopening loops once they are closed whether the conclusion is correct or not.

Loop Theory is just a model, but it is a model that accounts for observed cognitive biases from A to Z. And the test of a model is whether it accounts for data better than other available models, so until we find something better, let’s stick with Loop Theory.

Connecting Rapport, Attention, and Loop Theory

The relationship between attention and rapport is obvious — attention creates rapport, and rapport directs attention. The relationship between attention and Loop Theory, likewise, is obvious — we close loops to conserve attention.

What, then, is the relationship between Loop Theory and rapport?

I’m going to drag in a little more theory (from Structure of Magic I) here to help make that connection. We all perform three types of operation on information we receive to create our mental representations of the world: we delete, we distort, and we generalize.

By deletion, we exclude “selected portions of the world … from the representation.” By distortion, we represent the relationships among the parts of the model differently from the relationships they are supposed to represent. By generalization “a specific experience comes to represent the entire category of which it is a member.”

Deletion, distortion, and generalization are important things for trial lawyers to be conscious of (what operations has the witness performed on the information about which she is testifying, and how can we get closer to the truth?) but I see generalization as the key to the connection between rapport and closed loops.

Rapport is so closely related to credibility that I’m tempted to say, Rapport is credibility (can you trust someone without rapport? can you have rapport without trust, at least in that domain?) but I don’t want to get distracted by nitpicking, so I’ll say, Rapport is closely related to credibility. The more likable lawyer is more believable.

And credibility is a form of generalization: The lawyer has shown his believability in one context, and so the juror, in her mental representation of the world, generalizes the lawyer as a truthteller.

And of course the rule “the defense lawyer is a truthteller” makes it easy for the juror to close the loops that open during trial. If the defense lawyer proves himself in jury selection to be likable / credible, then when the defense lawyer tells the juror in opening statement what happened, the juror can close that “what happened?” loop immediately.

And once that loop is closed, it doesn’t want to open up again.

So attention creates rapport. Rapport creates attention. Rapport closes loops. (Closed loops create rapport!) Closed loops preserve attention.

And that’s the way it is.

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