By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
A jury's job is to judge the facts in a dispute in as neutral a fashion as possible. We expect them to give a party a fair hearing whether the party is just like them or completely dissimilar. The elderly conservative should be able to evaluate the dreadlocked artist as easily as a cash-strapped student evaluates the wealthy banker. The premise is that, under our system, we are able to look past personal differences and just focus on the facts. But is that true, or do individual differences create barriers to fair and equal justice? Both psychology and common sense would lean toward the latter. At the same time, however, there is new evidence of a shift: We are becoming more tolerant over time. According to a new analysis of opinions across the past four decades (Twenge, Carter & Campbell, 2015), "Americans have become increasingly tolerant of controversial out-groups," reflecting what appears to be a long-term generational change.
The move toward greater acceptance of group differences is encouraging, both now and for the future. Still, it is important to note that the ideal of a happy melting pot (or even a comfortable mosaic) is not yet a reality. While the gaps in tolerance may be decreasing, the gaps in empathy are remaining, or even widening. In other words, we might respect your right to be who you are... but we still don't understand or approve of it. The study authors also note that greater tolerance shows a negative correlation with empathy. The trade-off may not be as counterintuitive as it seems. A trend toward greater levels of individualism, the authors claim, is responsible for both an increase in tolerance as well as a reduction in empathy. In this post, I will look at what these trends might mean for the challenge of legal persuasion across the gulf of group differences.