By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
My first thought was, "What's NPR's talented social science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, doing talking about fish?" The story, reported on Friday, focused on research showing that fish make better decisions when swimming together rather than when swimming alone. An interesting finding, but where's the "social" in that "science," since people aren't fish? In the very short segment, however, Vedantam did draw a connection to human decision making in a way that sparked some of my own thoughts on jury behavior. It all comes down to the power of the aggregate. "Social scientists have long known," Vedantam explained, "that when you aggregate answers from people, you get more reliable answers." For example, "If you take a bunch of polls and add up all the answers and get the average of the polls, the average of the polls will give you a better estimate of which way the election is going than any individual poll.”
Jury deliberation is a similar form of aggregated opinion. It is not a matter of one juror deciding, and not even a matter of a group of jurors combining their individual votes. Instead, deliberation depends on a unique process of aggregation allowing the jury to speak with one voice. According to Vedantam, there are some processes that regularly occur during aggregation. Paying attention to those processes during the observation of mock juries, as well as the analysis of real juries, is useful not only for those who watch and analyze mock trials, but also for legal persuaders who are looking to understand and adapt to their jury. By looking at the way a jury 'schools' together, litigators can better appreciate the circumstances that produce a verdict and gain some insights on the differences between persuading an individual and persuading a group.