Category Archives: Jury Research

Group Polarization & How It Impacts Your Verdict

Juror deliberations are complicated dynamic processes.  The whole of the group is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Often people think that deliberations are a series of compromises – and in some ways, they are.  On some issues and in some groups, jurors compromise on damages figures and charges.  But not all of deliberations are compromises.  Sometimes deliberations result in the exact opposite of compromise – a polarizing of attitudes.

Polarization means that jurors who started out with more middle of the road attitudes (just slightly leaning to one side) when put into a group setting become more extreme in their viewpoints.  This means that you can have a group of jurors who individually are fairly open-minded and undecided but who end up extremely opinionated when they enter a room with other jurors and begin discussing the case.

Part of the reason for polarization is that once a juror expresses his/her viewpoint, they are much more wed to that viewpoint in public because there is a stereotype that weak people change their minds and “give in” or admit they were wrong.  No one wants to be weak.  David Ball and his partners have done numerous years of research on jurors and the primitive brain (Reptilian brain).  Their research tells us that the weak member of a group is in danger for their lives.  It is a strong human drive to avoid being seen as weak.  Therefore, jurors may stick to a viewpoint they espoused early on even if they later feel differently.  The result can be a group of jurors who are so split on values that you end up with a hung jury.

One way to prevent this is to explain to jurors how to deliberate.  Groups that start deliberations by discussing their views on the evidence rather than taking polls on verdict questions tend to be much more collaborative and polarization is much less likely.   Suggest to jurors that when they get into the deliberation room, they first and foremost go around the room and discuss their views on the evidence without taking votes.

Polarization also has implications for how you conduct and read into focus group research.  Realize that if you do a non-deliberation type of focus group (or survey research), the results can be misleading when put into a group setting.  Jurors do not decide cases in isolation and the group dynamics make a difference.  That is not to say that those non-deliberation types of research are useless – they certainly have their separate purposes – but do not assume that you know how your deliberations at trial are likely to turn out if you rely solely on individual responses.

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Filed under Focus Groups, Juror Questionnaires, Jury Research

Protect Your Case from Twitter

There has been much talk about the use of blogs for monitoring public opinion and shaping trial strategy during the Casey Anthony trial.  While that may be a useful strategy for high profile cases, you may wonder what impact the internet will have in your everyday run of the mill case.  It has a very real impact, just in a different way.

The dangers of the internet are becoming so pervasive that it is now imperative that you understand the importance of doing internet research.  Jurors are internet-savvy (even some of the older ones) and you can almost guarantee that at least one of your jurors will be going home researching every aspect of your case online.

If that one juror finds something harmful to your case, they will bring it up in deliberations and impact the rest of the jurors. 

Jurors will research you, your firm, your experts, your client, and even medical terms or other issues related to your case.  They will go on facebook, myspace, google, twitter, etc.  They will research arguments in your case – whether a 5mph collision can cause brain damage.  Whether brain damage can occur  without a concussion.  Whether there really is a policy that doctors have to do a differential diagnosis and rule out the most dangerous possibility first.  Guaranteed, they will find articles and websites that dispute your claims and because the juror found them online, they think the sources are neutral and therefore more trustworthy than your experts.

What they find on their own online will trump your evidence. 

So what do you do about it?  You need to know what is out there.  You cannot undermine what you do not know.   Either hire someone skilled at internet research or find someone in your office who is young and can dig deep on search engines.  That person needs to set aside multiple hours to research every aspect of your case and every person involved.  You need to know what is out there so that you can mention it during trial.  Know what arguments there are against you and have your experts explain the faults in those arguments so that when jurors come across it, they know why not to believe it.  These days, you can lose a case because of jurors doing due diligence to research on their own.  Your loss may have nothing to do with what goes on in the courtroom.  Recognize this danger and devote time and effort to online research – even before accepting a case.  The costs of avoiding it may be high.

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Filed under Jury Research, Misc, Trial preparation, Uncategorized