The “hoodie effect”: A domestic variant of the turban effect
Pretrial publicity often makes it difficult to find unbiased jurors to hear the actual story you need to tell them. The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case continues to make headlines. There are few neutral observers. Some believe George Zimmerman’s behavior was justifiable. Others believe Zimmerman’s behavior reflects racial profiling, stalking and outright murder. Others discuss the ways in which this case reflects either institutional racism embedded in our society or that no matter what happens, when one of the parties is African American, some will always attempt to cry “racism”. The inarguable reality is that a teenager is dead and his shooter says he acted in self-defense.
As we watched this case unfold, with more evidence (often conflicting) emerging over time, we wondered how to explain this case to information-saturated jurors and began to look at the social sciences research. We were not surprised to discover that very recent research can be used to craft case narratives for both the defense and prosecution. In our work, we often find it useful to look to the research for assistance in framing the initial case narrative. We then test those narratives with pretrial research.
When considering this case, the social science research points to at least five possible hypotheses for George Zimmerman’s decision to shoot:
- a heightened tendency to see Trayvon holding a gun;
- George feeling powerful/“larger than life” because he was holding a gun;
- George perceiving himself as being in a position of power;
- a domestic variation on the turban effect; and
- increased racial bias due to exposure to alcohol (not necessarily drinking it).
Overall, a disturbing picture is painted by the hypotheses suggested by research in this case. Ultimately, we craft both prosecution and defense narratives based in the research. It’s worth a read: our new article on “the hoodie effect” is now available in The Jury Expert.
Keene, Douglas L., & Handrich, Rita R. (2012). “The hoodie effect”: George, Trayvon and how it might have happened. The Jury Expert, 24 (3.)