When you want to know what people think, why not just ask them? Seems simple, right? It would be, if it worked.
In April, psychiatrist Robert Spitzer retracted his study in which he had alleged that homosexuals could convert to heterosexuals. He stated that he had erred in relying on supposedly converted people’s self-reported stories of their conversions without taking into account of a myriad of conscious and unconscious reasons (such as desire to convert, political reasons, faulty memory of past events) that they may have unwittingly given inaccurate descriptions of their experiences.
Howard Moskowitz, as described by Malcolm Gladwell, found that his consumer product market research suffered when he only asked people what they thought and desired instead of watching their behaviors amid products, because people, unbeknownst to themselves, could not accurately describe what they wanted.
Similarly, when trying to learn about how juries respond to case information, we use mock jurors’ self-report as only one portion of the data that is collected. We watch their self-reported statements in conjunction with their behavior in group discussions. There is a lot more information available in a mock trial jury deliberation than just what is said out loud or on a questionnaire.
We interpret and probe mock jurors on not just the “content” of what is said in the group, but also on the “process” of what is happening in the deliberation room. The “process” is basically everything that is not the spoken content. The process encompasses individual behaviors like the force a person puts into influencing others with his or her comments that provides information about how strongly the person feels about aspects of the case. The process also encompasses the group behaviors that display the emotional tone of the group (combative, sleepy, negativistic, etc.) that gives information about how the mock jurors feel about the case as a whole.
We use these process observations as ways in to get deeper understanding about the mock jurors’ reactions to the case. Asking about the emotional tone in the room often leads to uncovering important information about why the group feels this way. Asking about a lackluster group, for instance, can lead to uncovering fundamental case issues such as the jury not understanding the case and thus feeling overwhelmed or the jury feeling that both sides are equally guilty.
Mock jurors provide us with a wealth of information, but it can be easy to leave data on the table or just out of jurors’ access on the tips of their tongues. It is by working with the jurors’ behaviors and self-reported statements together that we get a full understanding of juror reactions. When a mock juror says “GUILTY,” writing down “guilty” is not enough.