By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
In a recent post, I wrote about a jury's reason for decision, as well as the formal and informal ways of finding that out. In response, a reader raised a very important issue. "Jurors are only going to tell you what they consciously think are the reasons for their decision," Oakland attorney Wes Wagnon wrote, "The problem is, these may simply be the surface justifications that serve to support a choice actually made on a much deeper, and less conscious, level." That is an essential consideration: The reasons we give aren't the same as the motivations that guide us. That feedback immediately got me thinking about another post, this time focusing on ways to get past the proffered reason and focus in on the real reason.
There are at least two forces that will push jurors and other humans to provide a rationale that doesn't match their true reasons. One is "social desirability bias," or the tendency to provide answers that we see as more acceptable. In a courtroom context, that means there is a strong pull in the direction of saying, "Yes, we followed the instructions and made our decision based on the evidence, and nothing else." The other force is even more of a challenge: unconscious motivation. We may not know the true factors that pull us toward one decision and away from another. In reaching a verdict, a jury -- or judge, for that matter -- is likely to develop a leaning first, and then engage in a motivated search for reasons to support that leaning. Of course, these factors are well-known in a persuasion context, but what do we do, in a post-verdict interview situation, for example, when we want to get past the rationale and get to the true reason? In this post, I'll take up Mr. Wagnon's point and focus on a few ways to dig down.