By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
In voir dire, the whole point is to find out information about the potential juror. When you're seeking out experiences or attitudes that you might use to warrant a strike or to mount a challenge for cause, you care about what that individual thinks, not about what anyone outside the courtroom might think. But it can be a great strategy to ask those venire members what they think others think. Why? Because people will sometimes externalize their own opinions or experiences. For example, awhile back I wrote about the 2014 election for Scottish independence. The polls that asked individuals for their own votes were off by about 10 points, while the polls that asked what individuals thought others would do tended to be much more accurate reflections of what happened in reality. The reason for that is, when talking about others, we tend to mitigate some of the biases like "social desirability" that cause us to try to frame ourselves and our own views in a favorable light. So when it comes to an opinion that might not be comfortable or favorable, it is easier to talk about others than to talk about ourselves.
And there is research to back that up. A recent study (Orvell, Kross & Gelman, 2017) for example, found that people make "you" statements when they're actually sharing their own beliefs. For example, the old "You win some, you lose some" is generally said by the person who just failed at something. Psyblog quotes study author Ariana Orvell, "When people use 'you' to make meaning from negative experiences, it allows them to 'normalize' the experience and reflect on it from a distance." Looking further back, there is also research (Wood et al., 2010) supporting a general relationship between our own views and what we project onto others. What we say about others is often what we see about ourselves: As Jeremy Dean notes, "The generous person sees others as generous and the selfish person sees others as selfish." So for the litigator conducting voir dire, the ability to strategically shift focus from the self to others should be in your bag of tricks. In this post, I'll focus on a few settings where that approach might be useful.