When it comes to the deliberation of juries, there are several influences and processes that are involved. They can mainly be divided into intra psychic influences and inter-personal influences. Psychologists have researched the various factors that come under these two broad categories through many experiments which have yielded valuable insights into the understanding of jury deliberation. Intra psychic influences are those that are formulated within the character of the juror. Examples of such intra psychic influences include the attribution theory and any stereotypes they may have.
The attribution theory is one of the major factors that contribute to a decision that a juror makes. It seeks to find out the causes of the way people behave, and to what they attribute these causes to. Heider (1958), who is the founder of the attribution theory, divided it into two sections. They are situational attribution and dispositional attribution. A dispositional attribution is based on a person’s character, while a situational one takes what happened during the scenario into account. When jurors consider the attributions to the causes of the way criminals behave, they often make assumptions that are false.
This then leads them to a conclusion which is not entirely true. There is a range of such factors that may contribute to the arrival of these biased conclusions. The fundamental attribution error, the just world hypothesis and hedonistic relevance are examples of such factors. The fundamental attribution error happens when there is more emphasis placed on the disposition of an individual rather than on the effect of the situation. One experiment that has successfully demonstrated this concept is that of Stanley Milgram’s on obedience.
The participants were placed in a situation where they had to administer electric shocks which gradually increased in pain to a learner when he made a mistake in recalling facts. The results showed a high incidence of participants who complied with these instructions. When the general public learned of the experiment, they immediately labelled the participants as ‘sadistic’ when in fact they were not. They were blaming the disposition of the participants. On the contrary, the participants despised the whole experiment and continually protested to be released from it.
At the same time, they also felt trapped in the situation and were compelled to follow instructions, even though they knew the repercussions of their actions. It was indeed the situation that drove them to their actions. Another example is that of Jones and Harris (1967), where students were asked to recite an essay which was not theirs regarding the Fidel Castro regime in Cuba. Although the audience were explicitly told that the opinions held in the essays were not that of the students, the students reading out the essays were still assumed to have held those opinions.
Milgram’s obedience experiment showed how easily people can fall into the trap of the fundamental attribution error. However it was an experiment where the variables were controlled by Milgram, and it would be different from a real life situation where the variables are diverse and not controllable. When a juror is making a decision there are numerous occasions when the fundamental attribution error can happen, where they attribute a criminals disposition without considering any situational factors.
From the Jones and Harris experiment we could see that despite giving the warning to the audience they still managed to commit the fundamental attribution error. It shows how strongly it is embedded in the mind of people. It then makes us ask, would it not be more likely that the fundamental attribution error would easily be committed when the audience was not given the warning? Jurors are usually not given the past records of criminals standing in trials, but even so this experiment shows us that it might be possible that they may attribute a person standing trial to their disposition rather than looking at the situation.
The just world hypothesis shows that there is a belief in a world that is just and fair and that people reap what they sow. Hence when gruesome events such as murder and rape occur, they try to destroy the foundation of a just world. Instead of giving up the belief in a just world, people then find reasons to get around and still stick to believing in a just world. The study by Bell et all. (1994) is an example that can illustrate this hypothesis. In a mock jury situation, male and female students looked at four occurrences of rape.
Two involved rape by a stranger and the other two were rape by a known person. The results were that both genders placed more responsibility on the victim when she was raped by a known person. One drawback about this study is that it was done in a simulated jury situation. Thus the decisions being made by the students would not have any far reaching consequences. Secondly, since the participants were all students, it does not reflect the opinion of the general jury-eligible population.