Simple Jury Persuasion: You lookin’ at me?
Newcomers to the observation rooms in focus group facilities are often taken aback by thinking participants are staring at them through the glass. What they don’t initally realize is that on the participants’ side of the ‘window’ is a huge mirror. Jurors check their hair. The fit of their jacket. They check for food in their teeth. And they watch themselves while they are talking. It is an interesting reminder of how frequently our self-preoccupation intrudes into our thoughts on other matters. To paraphrase the great Willie Nelson song, “We are always on our minds…”
Researchers have found time and time again that when we think we are being watched, we behave better. We are more thoughtful. More principled. In short, we are the best versions of ourselves. This starts when we are quite young. Researchers offered children Halloween candy (“take just one piece”) and then turned their backs. Kids who had to see themselves taking the candy in a mirror complied with the request to “take just one piece” more often than kids who did not face a mirror. Similarly, when college students were exposed to mirrors in an experiment on self-awareness, they littered less than students not exposed to mirrors.
We’ve seen this in our pretrial research also. You don’t need mirrors to raise self-awareness. What we’ve found is that if you make jurors aware of their biases (without shaming or humiliating them), they are less likely to act on those biases. We’ve written about this in the context of racism here and here and here.
We saw this most powerfully in a recent case where jurors were told the story of a family from another country who had sought medical attention in the US. Horrible and preventable things happened to their child. Jurors focused on whether the family was a charity case, why they were staying in the States rather than returning to their home country, whether they had entered the country legally or by nefarious means, and why they had not been easier for the physicians to interact with around care issues. The tone was toxic and heated.
We told the story a second time to a different group. This time we told the jurors this was an affluent family who had come to the States for every major medical issue in the past ten years. This group (demographically identical to the first group) was much more focused on the loss, the mistakes, and the negligence. While there were still some expressions of veiled racism—the tone was much more tentative and apologetic. And others rebutted the bias with case facts.
The difference was in raising the flag of self-awareness. You don’t need a mirror to make this sort of impact. You simply need to subtly raise the specter of the possibility of bias and that results in jurors who are more self-aware and more likely to act as the best versions of themselves possible.