Are women just better for your jury?
According to some new research, it certainly is possible. This is one of those research papers with very intriguing but totally unexpected results. And now, they’ve replicated the findings twice according to a recent entry at the Harvard Business Review website.
What the researchers did was to assess intelligence of research subjects and then assigned them randomly to teams. On the teams, subjects were asked to do several tasks (brainstorm, make decisions, solve visual puzzles and solve one complex problem). Based on team performance, they were then assigned ‘team IQs’. The better the team performance, the higher the team IQ.
When the researchers looked at the relationship between ‘team IQ’ and individual members’ IQs, they found something surprising. The ‘team IQ’ had little relationship to the individual IQs of team members.
Further, measures of group satisfaction, group cohesion, and group motivation were also not correlated with the collective team IQ. What was correlated with collective team IQ was (drum roll) the number of women on the team. Teams with more women members tended to score above average on ‘team IQ’. And yes, teams with more men tended to score below average on ‘team IQ’.
That is a pretty stunning finding. The researchers are concerned that we not presume the more women on a small group task, the better. It is possible that the difference is due to “social sensitivity” and not just to gender. And women tend to score higher on measures of social sensitivity than do men. Researcher Anita Woolley describes the group performance in this way:
Many studies have shown that women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men do. So what is really important is to have people who are high in social sensitivity, whether they are men or women.
What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic. And in our study we saw pretty clearly that groups that had smart people dominating the conversation were not very intelligent groups.”
So part of what makes a group function better is social sensitivity. And what does that mean for litigation advocacy?
If you want a jury that functions better (works toward a common purpose, collaborates, embraces all opinions) then you want to look for either women or for men who give evidence of social sensitivity. Since it’s easier to spot women than social sensitivity, you might want to use the gender criterion. You will likely get more systematic processing (a careful evaluation of the evidence) and a more thoughtful outcome.
But why in the world would you prefer a lower-functioning jury, or one that does not work constructively? When you need to convince the sub-group of jurors to dig in their heels and not succumb to the wrong-headed views of the majority. Jury nullification, holdout jurors, and Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men are all good examples.
If you do not want a well-functioning jury then go for more men, non-traditional women and jurors who are not socially sensitive. You will more likely get processing based on biases (heuristics) and a timely verdict from people who really do not like each other and want to leave the room.
Seriously, the idea of social sensitivity is a really important one for us to consider as we plan for and complete voir dire and jury selection. This is a promising line of research and one we’ll keep a close eye on as it continues.
Woolley AW, Chabris CF, Pentland A, Hashmi N, & Malone TW (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science (New York, N.Y.), 330 (6004), 686-8 PMID: 20929725