Group Versus Individual Decision Making

Group Versus Individual Decision Making

When selecting a jury, it is important to remember that a jury is a single unit, comprised of people who make one decision.  A jury is never tasked with making individual decisions, in which each juror’s decisions is independent from other jurors’ decisions.  In the stress and rush to de-select the worst jurors from the final panel, some attorneys forget to take a few moments to review the composition of the jury, to ensure that the 6, 8, 10, or 12 individuals who are chosen as jurors will work together as one cohesive unit to reach a verdict.

Individual decision making is an important factor in jury decisions.  Individual decision making is largely based on a juror’s life experiences, personality characteristics, attitudes, values, and beliefs.  A properly conducted voir dire will have included questions assessing each prospective juror’s characteristics on all of these factors.  Opening statements and closing arguments should also include references to each juror’s overall persona.  But, focusing on individual characteristics of the jury members will only get the attorney part way in his/her quest to win the case.  This is because the opinions of individual jurors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the juror in the group decision making task of reaching a verdict.

Group decision making entails all factors common to individual decision making and many more.  Group decisions are also based on social influence factors such as commitment, conformity, consistency, attitude polarization, information pooling, and negotiation.  Commitment, conformity, and consistency are known as the “3 Cs” in social psychology.  Commitment refers to the impact of making a public statement about one’s opinions, conformity relates to group pressures exerted on individuals that make it likely for them to vote with the majority, and consistency is the process by which jurors try to appear unwavering in the beliefs they expressed during voir dire.  Attitude polarization is the phenomenon by which extreme individual attitudes are synthesized into a more centrist opinion.  Information pooling refers to the fact that no individual juror can process and retain every fact mentioned during trial, but by sharing or pooling information remembered by each juror, the jury as a group will ultimately base its decision on most of the available information.  Bargaining and negotiation are part of every jury decision.  The jury typically reaches several compromises when answering the questions on the verdict form, through the process of negotiation.

The above social psychological phenomena are complex and each is the subject of arduous scientific scrutiny.  However, attorneys can excel in jury selection by remembering that interpersonal interaction is the process by which group decision making, including opinion change, occurs in the jury room.  When you are selecting a jury, you must focus on how each juror you select will fit with everyone on the jury.  The jury, as a group, is truly greater than the sum of its individual juror parts!

Contact Magnus for a social psychological advantage on your next case.