Dateline: July, 2007, Issue 4

Which witness preparation method is most effective -- simulation or training?

Attorneys often have witnesses undergo simulated direct- and cross-examination to prepare for deposition or trial testimony. Witnesses additionally can be trained in communication skills. Boccaccini (and colleagues, 2004; 2005) studied the effectiveness of testimony simulation and communication skills training from both witnesses' and jurors' points of view.

In 2004, Boccaccini and colleagues reported on the effect of simulation and skills training on witness confidence and nervousness when testifying. 55 mock defendants testified about a crime each had been accused of but had not committed. All defendants experienced two testimony simulations, and half additionally received communication skills training sessions in-between the two testimony simulations.

Communication skills training significantly strengthened defendants' confidence for both direct- and cross-examination, while testimony simulation produced only a modest gain in confidence, and only for direct examination. Testimony simulation was an effective mechanism for reducing defendants' nervousness about testifying, while communication skills training did not additionally reduce nervousness.

In 2005, Boccaccini reported on the effect of testimony simulation and communication skills training on witness credibility, testimony quality, and perceptions of guilt. Communication skills training significantly improved witness credibility and testimony quality for direct- and cross-examination, and significantly reduced perceptions of culpability; testimony simulation did not evidence these effects. Communication skills training also caused a decrease in expressiveness (emotionality) that testimony simulation did not.

In sum, testimony simulation reduces nervousness and maintains expressiveness of witnesses, while communication skills training improves self-confidence, credibility and testimony quality, and reduces perceptions of guilt.

Source Boccaccini, M. T., Gordon, T., & Brodsky, S. (2004). Effects of witness preparation on witness confidence and nervousness. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 3, pp. 39-51.

Source Boccaccini, M. T. (2005). Witness preparation training with real and simulated criminal defendants. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 23, pp. 659-687.