If you’ve ever done a focus group and tracked juror attitudes as the case progresses from plaintiff’s statement through defendant’s statement and into juror deliberations, you may have seen group polarization in action. Sometimes, jurors will indicate a viewpoint and leaning on questionnaires before deliberations which then seems to be an understatement of their actual leanings when you hear them voice their strong opinions in the group discussion. For example, a juror who indicates that she “slightly agrees” with the defense position on a questionnaire may very quickly become a strong defense advocate in deliberations. This process by which jurors become entrenched in their positions is called group polarization.
Research has shown that after participating in a group discussion, participants tend to advocate more extreme positions than individuals who did not participate in any such discussion. This effect applies to liability as well as damages. In deliberations, jurors often advocate for damage awards that are either larger or smaller than an amount the juror indicates on their individual questionnaires before deliberations begin. Where jurors favor a relatively low award, discussion can lead to an even smaller verdict. Conversely, where jurors individually favor a large verdict the verdict ends up even larger after deliberations.
This is one reason why deliberations are so important during focus groups and mock trials. Concept focus groups, which do not allow for deliberations, are helpful for certain matters and at a certain point in the case. However, if you are preparing for trial and need to know what jurors as a group are likely to do with your case, you want to see them deliberate. Watch for the language they use to convince one another that the verdict should be larger. Watch for language your opposition jurors use to lure other jurors more toward a defense verdict. Observe whether the group dynamics are in your favor or against you. Be aware that if you do a concept focus group without any deliberations, the results of a trial may be very different – for better or worse – with group polarization. Further, when analyzing questionnaires from jurors, realize that their responses in a group discussion may differ from their responses on paper.