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  • This Ain’t Your Father’s Jury: How Social Trends Are Changing How We Should Appeal to Younger Jurors
    Caravaggio's Narcissus

    In this age of Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messaging, jurors are better “plugged-in” to each other and the world than ever before. But are they really more concerned with each other and the social world around them? New research suggests that, despite our newfound tools for staying connected with others, Americans are actually becoming more self-centered, more narcissistic, less civically engaged, and less interested in effecting change.

    These trends were foretold by Harvard professor Robert Putnam in his 1995 essay, Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. He suggested that television, the internet, and other technologies contribute to a decline in interest in social and political discourse, which is reflected in poor voter turnout, disinterest in public meetings, political parties, and community building.

    Research conducted by psychologists Twenge, Campbell and Freeman (2012) compared individual attitudes and beliefs of young adults across several generations – from Baby Boomers (born 1943-1961) to Millenials (born 1982-1999). By turning to different surveys conducted at different time points but measuring similar things, the researchers were able to piece together a picture of how Americans’ values and beliefs have changed.

    So, what’s the verdict? In general, people are becoming more self-centered, more independent, and less involved with their communities. Later generations display higher narcissism, and report less willingness to engage in collective activities, and less interest in effecting change. They are also less interested in affiliating with groups or organizations. In sum, they give less and expect to get less from the people around them.

    These trends may well affect jury service. Jurors may be expected to take their roles less seriously. As people see less value in collective activities, they are likely to impute less importance to their duties as a juror. They may want to reach a verdict hastily, may become frustrated when asked to deliberate on multiple counts, and may give less weight to the rulings of the judge.

    Appeals during arguments to certain life goals and values, such as patriotism or community involvement, may not be as effective as they once were. Appeals to other social goals, including protecting the environment, political participation, marriage and family, and loyalty to one’s work are also less likely to evoke a significant reaction from young, Internet-connected jurors. Instead, it’s time to focus on more personal ideals, particularly when trying to engage younger jurors. These new ideals are about individual achievement and extrinsic rewards, such as financial success and being recognized as an influential leader.

    Today, it seems that despite or perhaps because of the many ways that people can connect with one another without actually being in the same room, younger generations are more self-involved, less affiliative, and less civically engaged than their counterparts in generations past. These trends pose challenges for attorneys who would persuade these young jurors and still capture the positive attention of older jurors. Keeping younger jurors in mind will help attorneys to develop their arguments not only in terms of the sorts of communal values likely to appeal to older jurors, but also with explicit attention to values based in individual activity and personal achievement.

    See Twenge, J.M., Campbell, W.K., and Freeman, E.C.  (2012). Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(5), 1045-1062. 

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