Most people in mediation don’t fully realize that many — if not all– of the issues that are in question — liability, damages, cause, effect, consequences, good faith, ability to perform, etc..are affected by the perception that is created throughout the litigation and mediation.  The reality is that perception is reality, not the other way round.  People believe things because they percieve it to be that way.  For example, a party may have done absolutely nothing wrong, but the perception from third parties is that they did something wrong because of their actions.  Most people in mediation don’t fully comprehend this concept.  Many clients say “I didn’t do anything wrong.”  However, the reality is that it may not matter that they “in fact” did nothing wrong, but instead whether they were perceived as doing something wrong.

One study demonstrated the very real differences that perception can create.  In that study, people were shown pictures of others and the only difference was whether that person in the picture was holding a glass of alcohol (wine, etc.).  The study found that “in the absence of any evidence of reduced cognitive performance, people who hold an alcoholic beverage are perceived to be less intelligent than those who do not, a mistake we term the imbibing idiot bias. In fact, merely priming observers with alcohol cues causes them to judge targets who hold no beverage at all as less intelligent. The bias is not driven by a belief that less intelligent people are more likely to consume alcohol. We find that the bias may be costly in professional settings. Job candidates who ordered wine during an interview held over dinner were viewed as less intelligent and less hireable than candidates who ordered soda. However, prospective candidates believe that ordering wine rather than soda will help them appear more intelligent.”

The fact is that perception is power.  If you can control the perceptions that others have of you, you will be able to go a long way towards convincing them of the merits of your position.  The implications of a study such can range far and wide into what pictures a party might try to use to portray a particular person, mentioning an alcohol problem at court, or simply in interviewing for jobs.

By Steven G. Mehta

Research source: Rick, Scott and Schweitzer, Maurice E., The Imbibing Idiot Bias: Consuming Alcohol Can Be Hazardous to Your (Perceived) Intelligence (June 12, 2012). Forthcoming, Journal of Consumer Psychology. Available at SSRN: or