How Jurors Think: Thinking About Thinking

From: Mind Matters

Ever wonder what jurors really think?

Do they actual take their role seriously?

This information from Mind Matters may help explain a few things.

The U.S. legal system is based on the idea that people make decisions, or judgments, in a systematic, controlled and reasoned way devoid of emotion. The assumption is that jurors and judges can stack up the evidence on a scale to determine whether or not the burden of proof has been met. Jury instructions routinely command jurors to leave their emotion and sympathy out of their decision making process. Every time, however, we learn of a jury verdict that defies logic and we wish to yell out that the jury “just did not get it,” we have witnessed that people do not think the way the law expects. As psychologists we are especially attuned to the way people think and make decisions. As jury consultants, we work with attorneys to fit their expertise in advocating for their clients with how jurors think, which is the purpose of this blog.

Reason and emotion are traditionally viewed as polar opposites with emotion merely interfering with reason and clouding judgment. The reality is reason requires emotion. The human ability to reason evolved alongside our ability to respond emotionally. Because reason and emotion have developed together, when either one is missing people are no longer capable of functioning in the world. Not only is the separation of emotion from decision-making nearly impossible for people to do, it is abnormal.

In fact, the only people who can completely factor out emotion in their thought processes are those who have serious brain injuries. Individuals with certain types of brain damage interrupting emotional cues (but who otherwise have normal intelligence) are unable to make decisions at all. They cannot even make simple decisions like scheduling appointments because they are unable to decide what day or time would be ideal. Although they can reason and rationalize all the pros and cons of the decision, without the emotional cues to tip the scales in a certain direction, their decision-making is effectively paralyzed. Emotion is an essential element of making a decision.

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