Follow me on Twitter

Blog archive

We Participate In:

ABA Journal Blawg 100!

Subscribe to The Jury Room via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Do you want to make your juror “think fast”?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
posted by Douglas Keene

think fastA new research review says thinking fast can improve our mood, and increase risk-taking, confidence and problem-solving. The author discusses the experiences of running, skiing, driving over the speed limit as all having the capacity to excite, elate and energize us. But we do not have to be moving fast in order to improve our moods. All that is required is for our thinking to shift into a rapid pace and our mood improves. It isn’t always clear whether we want relatively ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ jurors going into deliberations, but, according to the author, improved mood increases the sense of urgency to take action. There are times we want jurors to deliberate quickly (relying on pre-existing biases or heuristics to make decisions) and there are times we don’t want that at all.

And rapid thinking also increases the likelihood of taking risks. Here’s something a little scary drawn directly from the article.

“Thought speed was manipulated via three versions of a video that varied in pace. The videos shared the same neutral content (e.g., scenes of waterfalls, urban landscapes) but varied in average shot length. The result was that as the pace of the film increased, the participants reported greater intentions to engage in risky behaviors such as unprotected sex and illegal drug use.”

In the research the author is describing, participants were polled on their likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex and using drugs illegally. In the deliberation room, whatever issues lie before the jurors are possible targets of the increased risk-taking that occurs when thoughts are racing.

In a recent mock trial, we put everyone supporting the Defense into a single deliberation group and added a strong Plaintiff juror who was articulate and worked in a job requiring constant decision-making with financial benefits and costs tied to those decisions. The jurors were instructed to think carefully as the jury charge was very complex. Their initial vote was 12-1 with the Plaintiff juror standing alone. When the Plaintiff juror quietly and confidently stated his perspective, the others listened and then, after some vigorous discussion, the presiding juror said, “Let’s slow things down and really understand this differing perspective”. The Plaintiff juror did not sway the others to his side but his damage award was less than 1/3 that of the other Plaintiff jurors who were all in pro-Plaintiff groups. The other jurors respected his opinions and ultimately, his damage award considered their opinions.

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, fast and slow tells how fast processing can lead to a host of biases that compromise rational judgment. Again. Sometimes this is what we want in deliberation and sometimes it is not. Here are a few things to consider to either speed up or slow down thinking in your deliberation room:

Most people are uncomfortable with stillness. When a witness provides a crucial bit of information, the most natural thing to do is to immediately follow it up with a question that essentially causes them to confirm their earlier statement. What is often even more effective is to pause, allow the witness’ words to hang in the air for a couple of moments, and then respond. After slowing the examination and allowing the testimony to sink in before following it up, it creates a more lasting memory.

Give jurors permission to think fast (“This is really a simple case when you think about it”) or plea with them to slow down (“The temptation is to see this as a simple case, but simple cases don’t make it to trial. There are complexities here you need to carefully consider”).

If your goal is to slow jurors down, tell them how thinking fast can cause them to overlook important facts, and how thinking slow can allow the encouragement of well-reasoned decisions they can be proud of in the future. If your goal is to speed them up, remind them of how long they’ve had to consider the evidence during trial, and what a simple decision it really is.

There are obviously many other strategies you can use to slow down or speed up the deliberative process. The important thing is to think about (slowly) what you want to accomplish and to embed that goal into every aspect of your presentation, including the way in which you send jurors off to deliberate.

Pronin, E. (2013). When the mind races: Effects of thought speed on feeling and action. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22 (4), 283-288 DOI: 10.1177/0963721413482324



%d bloggers like this: