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Voir Dire: Do you like tall extroverted men?

Monday, January 25, 2010
posted by Douglas Keene

We mean on your jury. From our perspective, it depends. You may remember back in the 1950’s there were studies completed that found tall men were influential in groups. As we move into 2010, things haven’t changed a whole lot. A study of jurors in 2000 found that jurors rated the extroverted, tall men among them as the most influential in group discussion (Marcus, Lyons & Guyton, 2000).

Interestingly enough, another study completed about the same time looked at juror gender and decision-making on guilt or innocence. Voss & Van Dyke (2001)  found that male jurors focused more on the evidence in terms of their guilt judgments while women considered evidence but also situational factors. Voss & Van Dyke theorized that men are more influenced if the emotional content can be related to the evidence. Women, on the other hand, are more influenced if the emotional content relates to the defendant.

So if your final choice is between a tall, extroverted man and a female juror, and you’re listening to these researchers, do you like tall men?

If you are the prosecutor and the evidence is circumstantial but compelling, you probably should like tall men. According to Voss & Van Dyke, men would focus more on the evidence and the power of that evidence in ascertaining likely guilt. Women would weigh the evidence but they would also consider motivation, alternative possibilities and may slow down the juries march to a guilty verdict.

If you are defense and the evidence is circumstantial but compelling, you don’t like tall men so much. They may be influential in the jury room and persuade other jurors that the evidence is strong enough to convict. A female juror would likely listen more to context and the broader picture.

Research, however well done, shows us but a slice of human behavior. Yes, men and women may process things differently and we may see evidence differently. Somehow though, we doubt that all women think through evidence in the same way, and of course there is a range of styles among men as well. We tend to take information like Voss & Van Dyke’s with a grain of salt and focus more on experiences, attitudes, values and beliefs of jurors.  But all other things being equal, information like this can give you a small measure of comfort when you have to make that last strike decision.

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