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Mock Jury Research: How do we make it more useful?

Monday, July 25, 2011
posted by Douglas Keene

The literature on mock juries has been criticized for years for use of convenience samples (i.e., college students). An upcoming issue of the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law is devoted to examining mock jury research and assessing where we have been and where we need to go.

The authors argue that since we are trying to find out how people make decisions within the confines of the courtroom, with elements of law, burdens of proof and standards of evidence—we need to use real adult jury eligible volunteers. We are not that interested in how college students in Psychology 101 courses think about fact patterns and determine responsibility. And that is the mainstay of the psycho-legal literature on jury decision-making.

The authors refer to Bornstein’s (1999) conclusion that there are simply not enough comparisons between samples of convenience (i.e., college students) and actual community populations of jurors to test the generalizability of college student ‘jurors’. The entire issue contains multiple examinations of mock jury research—done with both college students and community members. Ultimately, they recommend beginning research with convenience samples and then doing comparisons with actual jurors. If you are interested in mock jury research, the entire issue is an interesting read.

It’s an interesting issue for us. If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know we make hypotheses based on social sciences research. And it’s interesting when we try those ideas out in our mock trial research. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. And when they do work out, we think of them as a sort of secret weapon.

There is though, a difference between our college student mock jurors and our employed jurors. Here’s some of what we’ve seen:

Cases that require life experiences to assess damages can leave college-student mock jurors pretty silent. They don’t ‘get’ the rationale for damages and depending on personality style—will either follow older jurors or stubbornly insist on low or no damages.

High-tech cases with high-tech college-student jurors often result in young jurors speaking up actively and being listened to and questioned for additional information by less technologically proficient jurors.

Wrongful death cases (or other cases where a damages component is ‘mental anguish’) typically result in lower awards from these younger jurors who do not yet have the life experience to empathize with the pain of the loss of a partner or child.

Patent cases or intellectual property cases are often less concerning to our younger college-student jurors. They often do not see intellectual property theft as “that big a deal” and often have a higher standard of proof for awarding damages.

There are other ways we see younger, college-student mock jurors as different than our older mock jurors. But much of it comes down to individual differences between those college-students. If they are technologically proficient, they are often useful in those cases. If they are verbally persuasive, they can be seen as a valuable group members. We don’t know the magic answers to make academic mock jury research more useful and generalizable—but we like the idea of running basic research that compares convenient college samples with actual jurors.

The issue of how much faith you can place in the outcome of mock jury research is extremely important and complex. We have discussed it before in various ways, and we will revisit in again in the future.  But for now, let’s be realistic.  Even college students know that they are different than their parents.  And their parents know how much they’ve changed since their 20’s.

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Wiener RL, Krauss DA, & Lieberman JD (2011). Mock Jury Research: Where Do We Go from Here? Behavioral sciences & the law PMID: 21706517

 

 

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