I was listening to a segment on my local NPR station yesterday having to do with attempts to pass legislation that, among other things, will provide funds for much needed repair work on roads and bridges. The reporter said the United States spends less money on infrastructure than many other developed nations (in relationship to total spending and the number of roads/bridges). Because this topic has been the subject of much discussion recently, yesterday I started pondering why. Why does one of the wealthiness, most sophisticated nations spend less than other countries (proportionately)? Why are bridges and roads ignored, and allowed to deteriorate? I am sure bad roads cost all of us a lot of money in the damage done to cars, or tires, and these things certainly contribute to automobile accidents, injuries, and deaths. One quick answer to my own question was money is not being spent because the connection between road maintenance and accidents is not obvious. It is not obvious that a bridge needs repairing unless there is a failure, minor or catastrophic. Building maintenance is often neglected and “minor” items overlooked until there is a tragic event. We’ve been reminded of these possibilities in shocking ways in recent months. But, why is foresight not enough to motivate people to do what needs to be done to fix things and not just hope the worst doesn’t happen? I know cost is the first answer. But, it occurs to me that being realistic and appreciating what the worst is, and how easily it can happen, are not often the norm. The need for a reality check and honest risk assessment is lacking for some people. This phenomenon has been at play in the pandemic as well. Not to get into the politics, but just today I read a Facebook post that equates getting COVID-19 to getting a minor cold. The writer of that post has written several posts minimizing the impact of catching COVID-19. His failure to accept the realities of the potential severity of the virus is similar to those who put their heads in the sand to avoid the possible realities of whatever it is in question. I have long explained to potential clients that hiring us (or someone else good) for mock jury research is a way to bring objective foresight to their case. It is foolish to act as if the worst is not possible. Rather, it is better to know the worst case possibilities and take steps to improve the outcome of a case. This holds true for the other things I mentioned at the beginning of this post which some so try so hard to ignore, until they can’t.
David’s post raises some good points, many of which have to do with the psychological phenomenon known as defensive attribution. Defensive attribution occurs when an observer attributes the cause of a misfortune in ways that minimize their own fear of experiencing a similar fate. Many people attribute other people’s negative experiences to a personal failing, such as “Jane caught COVID-19 even though she was vaccinated. She must have done something foolish. If I’m careful, I don’t need to be vaccinated.” Defensive attribution serves a self protective function and in the example above, would allow the observer to either deny the effectiveness of vaccinations or hide themselves in an indefinite quarantine, neither of which would be effective in controlling the pandemic. Defensive attribution operates in jury decision making, just as it does in other aspects of society. By blaming the victim for his/her negative outcome, such as being sexually assaulted, becoming paralyzed in an automobile accident, or a myriad of other things, verdicts often communicate a failure to realize that some negative outcomes can be minimized and others, eliminated, by taking proactive steps. The thought that “This will never happen to me” is not only impossibly silly, it can be life threatening. Wake up, smell the coffee, and change your behavior before it’s too late. Don’t let defensive attribution determine your and indirectly, others’, outcome.