WJEC A2 Psychology PY4 - Factors Affecting Jury Decision Making

3 Factors Affecting Jury Decision Making


Majority Influence

Evidential Factors - most important finding agreed on by many researchers is that the main factor that influences a jury verdict is the evidence itself...however other factors also play a role, albeit to a lesser extent, including the social pressure of other jurors and characteristics of the defendant

1. Majority Influence

  • presence of others all in apparent agreement can influence individuals. This can occur for 2 reasons: normative influence = fear of being rejected/judged; or informational influence = desire to be right


(+) Asch (1955)

  • showed in line judgement study that pps could be persuaded to give blatantly wrong answers due to social pressure
  • 32% conformed to wrong line length compared to less than 1% who chose wrong line length in absence of group pressure
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Majority Influence

  • suggests individuals within a jury may be swayed by the majority even in unambiguous situations due to normative influence, this could be more powerful in ambiguous situations (like real trials) where real answer is not definitive

(-) HOWEVER...

  • Asch's research not conducted in a jury setting nor aimed to be representative of it, numbers of pps not representative of jurors (12); the consequences of decision making were also trivial compared to a real trial as was the decision made
  • some have also argued that the study was a 'product of a particular culture' as conducted in 1950s America during the era of McCarthyism where conformity was common for fear of being accused of being a communist - links to replications over different places and times and how they have yielded inconsistent levels of conformity
  • therefore Asch's research may not be generalisable to courtroom settings, as unknown how much conformity may occur

(-) There is also evidence that majorities are not always powerful, and that sometimes in certain circumstances minorities can be extremely influential...

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Minority Influence

2. Minority Influence

  • the presence of a small number or individual in disagreement with majority but can still influence other individual jurors (which can effectively make a majority)

(+) Moscovici (1969)

  • suggested minorities can influence the majority but do so in a different way to majorities eg not by informational or normative control but by conversion
  • Moscovici et al conducted number of studies on colour perception - found when a minority of 2 offered consistent but unusual colour judgements, more likely to affect people's private beliefs than majority views
  • suggests that a consistent minority can influence a majority in unambiguous task
  • study also shows when one member of the majority moves over to the minority camp, highlights to the others that the minority has a point worth considering, which means it's not just majorities that influence jury decision making
  • further research by Moscovici suggested certain conditions necessary for minority to influence majority: must be consistent, must demonstrate flexibility and in line with current social trends (eg politically correct views)
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Minority Influence

(?) Clark (1994)

  • in his study, found that minority arguments were even more influential when it was believed that some of the other majority had been swayed rather than understanding the minority's argument
  • this possibly develops (and supports) idea of minority influence and gives a greater idea of what causes jurors to be influenced by a minority

(?) however influence of jury decision making is not only confined to social influences of other jurors but further complicated by the sort of crime committed, who the victim was and the characteristics of the defendants themselves...

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Characteristics of the defendant: Attractiveness

3. Characteristics of the defendant: Attractiveness

  • focuses on the 'Halo' effect by Thorndike (1920), "beauty is good" - attractive people are judged to be more honest, competent and trustworthy, linked with intelligence, social skills, health and sexual prowess - so perhaps seen as not guilty?
  • Michelini and Snodgrass (1980) have shown that physically attractive defendants are more likely to be acquitted


(+) Saladin et al (1988) in a mock jury study, they found attractive men were considered less likely to have committed the crimes than the unattractive ones, which supports the idea of attractiveness influencing a jury's decision

(?) however, the "attractiveness effect" is strongest with non-fatal crimes (eg burglary) but disappears with very serious crimes, suggesting the influence of attractiveness on a jury's decision making is more complex than initial studies suggested

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Characteristics of the defendant: Attractiveness

(?) Efran (1974)

  • showed pps photo of a female student who was accused of cheating
  • varied level of attractiveness of student to see if it influenced perceived guilt
  • male pps affected whereas female pps were not
  • suggests that attractiveness does have an impact on jury decision making but also it may depend on the gender of the jurors if there will be an influence - develops theory

(-) Stewart (1980)

  • organised a team of observers to observe real life trials and concluded that attractiveness did not influence verdicts on guilty/not guilty but could have influenced sentencing
  • contradicts Thorndike's concept of "beauty is good" in affecting jury decision making
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