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The Arizona College of Trial Lawyer's Seminar on "The Science of Jury Decisions"

Posted by Matt Schmidt | May 01, 2017 | 0 Comments

Ted Schmidt, a member of the Arizona College of Trial Lawyers, chaired a phenomenal seminar in Phoenix last Friday, "The Science of Jury Decisions,"  where a combination of speakers with both legal and science backgrounds talked about different psychological concepts that can have an impact on how juries decide cases. Without giving the entire seminar away--you will just have to attend the next one--here are a few of the interesting concepts.

Hueristics: People create shortcuts in their mind to reach conclusions, for better or worse. When being asked to solve a challenging problem in a limited amount of time, people will often use heuristics to speed up the process and find a solution. Using heuristics in the legal arena, word choice can have a huge impact on how a jury sees a case because words cause juries to focus on different information in different ways.. Simplifying flaws  and/or elaborating  positives in case can also cause a jury to speed up the thought process in a directionin your favor. In a child custody test, people were more inclined to give a child to one parent or the other simply depending on whether the question asked who the person should "award" or "deny" the child to.

Motivation Reasoning: We all come into the jury room with preconceived biases and tend to lean in favor of processing information we are given the way our biases would like us to process it. It is important to recognize these biases when picking a jury. In one example, people were shown the same pictures of a protest and asked whether the protesters were protesting peacefully. One group was told the protest was outside of an abortion clinic, while the other was told it was outside of a military recruitment center. The answers people gave were heavily controlled by  whether they were democrats or republicans, as well as which facility they were told the protest was at. 

Emotional Decision Making: Strong emotions can affect a jury verdict, whether the emotion was caused by the case or completely unrelated to it. In one study, juries were more likely to render a guilty verdict when the only difference in the prosecutor's presentation of the evidence included a color photograph of the victim's fatal injuries. In another study, the participants who were asked to recall a tragic moment in their life and then told to hear a case were more likely to render a guilty verdict than the participants who were simply told to hear the case.

Anchoring: People who are exposed to a number before making a guess will often guess within proximity of the number they were exposed to. The number can even be completely unrelated to what they are being asked to guess. One group of participants were given a check in ID number and then told to guess how many African countries were members of the UN. The people who were exposed to the check in ID number were more likely to guess a number within proximity of the ID number than someone who was not given an ID number. In another test, wine tasters who were asked to provide the last two digits of their social security number were more likely to bid on wine bottles within proximity of the two digits they provided than people who were not asked for that information.

Loss Aversion: People give items a higher value when they think about losing ownership of them as opposed to gaining them. In one test, Duke students who had obtained tickets after camping out all night for them placed a much larger price on those tickets than students who had also camped out but were unable to secure tickets. Damage verdicts can vary significantly depending simply on whether the plaintiff's attorney frames the compensation as something "gained to rectify a lost leg" or by asking what a person would charge in exchange for "losing their leg."

About the Author

Matt Schmidt

Matt graduated from the James E Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona in passing the Arizona bar exam in 2010. Matt's primary interest in law focuses on general personal injury and insurance bad faith.


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