Reminder: Juries are Groups, Jurors are Individuals

So, the reader is probably thinking “duh, right, tell me something I didn’t know.” And, I agree, this should be obvious. Except when it isn’t. The beginning of a trial includes voir dire – asking questions of individuals – to determine which ones the attorney wants to include, or more accurately, exclude from a jury. But, verdicts are not 6 or 12 individual decisions, they are 1 decision, made by 1 jury/group. As anyone who has ever watched a mock jury deliberate knows, getting those 6 or 12 individuals to agree requires compromise. Someone, or several someones, will often have to go along with the group or otherwise “hang” the jury. And, it is this deliberation process, and the back and forth it entails, that enlightens us as trial consultants, and more importantly, our attorney clients, about human decision making. Because we are well aware that not everyone will fully endorse the group decision, we want to ferret out the individual decisions to compare them to the group decision. It is the individual decisions that enable juror profiles to be developed. (The scope of how that works is beyond this post.) Mock jurors are tasked with answering the questions on the verdict form publically, as a group, and, as a simple example, they answer if they favor the plaintiff or defendant in a civil case. They raise hands and vote repeatedly, after discussions/deliberations, to come to a group decision. Ultimately, they answer in favor of one party or the other, while we monitor the process. And, we hear and see who they vote for during the deliberations. I am not giving away any significant trade secrets about our methodology with this next part, but I will say that it is a critical part of our process. Our mock jurors complete individual surveys; one part of that survey is administered after the group verdict is rendered. On the survey, the mock jurors report who they, individually, want to “win.” And, it frequently happens that a juror (or many jurors) voted to agree with the other jurors contrary to their own preference. Deliberations sometimes do not achieve solidarity. We report both the group decisions and individual decisions to our clients in our written report. It is that fact that prompted this post, which might otherwise seem obvious. Recently a client challenged us on the accuracy of our report because 2 mock jurors, who he remembered answering in favor of the defense, listed the plaintiff on their survey as who they wanted to win. We verified the data and confirmed that, indeed, this is what happened. Which just goes to show, while it can work for you, or against you, the individuals comprising the jury have to work together to make a decision not as they would on their own (which you can attempt to ascertain in voir dire), but as a group. The latter is a much more complicated proposition.

David may believe it is obvious to most people that there are fundamental differences between juries and jurors, however, I must disagree with this conclusion. I find that most people, as well as most attorneys, rarely consider the group dynamics that are an integral aspect of jury behavior. In fact, I will go as far as saying I don’t think many people have given any consideration whatsoever to individual versus group decision making. As a social psychologist, I have devoted my entire career to the study of group decision making, and, because juries are one type of group, my expertise is a perfect fit for my job as a jury/trial consultant. Attorneys do not possess the same education or expertise as social psychologists, therefore, I do not expect them to understand the differences between individual and group decision making. However, it is my job to help the attorneys who are my clients in their quest to interpret the results of the research my company conducts on their cases. Part of my job includes explaining the differences between quantitative data, such as data derived from surveys completed by individual mock jurors, and qualitative data, such as the group decision, in the form of a verdict, reached by the mock jury as a whole. The client to whom David is referring asked why his report did not include a chart based on a statistical analysis of a question he asked us to pose to the mock jurors during a question and answer period. Our very astute research associate exclaimed, “How could you have included something in the survey when you had no idea the client wanted you to ask the mock jurors a verbal question, to be answered by raised hands?”! Similarly, our client accused me of making an error (a serious accusation for a research scientist, I might add) because he failed to accept the fact that people often advocate public opinions they do not hold in private. In a series of posts that will appear in the upcoming months, I will explain numerous social psychological phenomena that account for the vast differences in individual versus group decision making. Keep reading for more information.

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