By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
As the juror sits in the jury box hearing the case, she is not just rationally deciding who has the better position. She is also applying and maintaining her own self-concept. The implicit question she is asking herself is, "Am I the kind of person who would approve or condemn this?" or more basically projecting, "What would I have done if I had been in that position?" Judgment is bound up in morality, and morality in turn is bound up in self-concept. And given the centrality of that self-concept, applying those moral views isn't necessarily rational. In fact, based on recent research, moral views are applied in a way that is distinctly and systematically irrational. Bottom line: That juror likely believes that she is more moral than the average person, and that inflated moral view is going to color her judgment of others.
The study (Tappin & McKay, 2016) looked at perceived moral superiority, and the fact that "Most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous, and moral; yet regard the average person as distinctly less so." They asked a sample of 270 participants to rank themselves or the average person on 30 traits having to do with the core dimensions of agency, sociability, and morality. Because moral traits are viewed as durable and uniquely descriptive of the self, the hypothesis was that morality would not just be inflated as part of egocentrism, or what they call, "conventional self-enhancement," but would instead be a special case, and would be exaggerated above and beyond other positive but nonmoral traits. That is in fact what the researchers found, with virtually all participants irrationally inflating their own moral qualities above and beyond the inflation applied to other positive social traits like competence, ambition, and intelligence. The tendency of the average person to see themselves as "better than average," applies particularly to morality. This post will take a look at some of the interesting implications this finding carries for the moral judgments issued from the jury box.