What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Jury Decision Making

What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Jury Decision Making

July 20, 2018, Live Webcast

Texas MCLE Course Number: 174021850 (up to 1.00 hr)


Presented by: UT Law CLE

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A studio webcast that I did earlier this month discussed how jury decision-making may be impacted by both unconscious biases and cognitive science.

What makes a bigger impression on a jury—your opening statement or closing argument? What causes jurors to conform to the pressures of others and can voir dire mitigate these effects? How do leading questions affect jury verdicts?

The 1-hour recording will be available here with the opportunity to earn CLE credit in TX and CA!

Cognitive Science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind. In psychology, it is the study of attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, reasoning and thinking. A major area of Cognitive Science is the area of bias. We are naturally drawn to details that confirm our own existing beliefs and, similar to that, we tend to not notice the flaws in ourselves as easily as we notice the flaws in other people.

We will also fill in the gaps of our understanding if we don’t feel like we have enough information or meaning to make a decision. This is where relying on stereotypes comes in to play – an easy, but inaccurate way, to understand a group you may otherwise be unfamiliar with. We can unintentionally think favorable towards groups and people we are familiar with versus those we might not understand or know. Both of these tendencies have a great deal to do with the underlying biases around racism, sexism, homophobia, and similar biases against other groups.

Our memory has limits. It is changeable over time because we edit and reinforce some memories after the fact. We tend to
discard specific information in order to form generalities. Knowing that everyone’s brain operates this way, it is up to the litigator to do some of this work for the jury and frame your case in ways they will digest. Knowing jury members will edit and
reinforce memories after they have heard them, the power of repetition of certain key facts is important.

For more on the effects of Cognitive Science, stay tuned for our published recording on this discussion.

How Psychology Can Expand the #MeToo Movement

With the #MeToo movement still at the forefront of today’s conversation, psychology can help further the movement and inspire change, especially with the topic of victim blaming and who is more likely to take part in this.


Victim blaming as defined here is “a devaluing act where the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them.

Many women and men speaking out about their rape experience face the backlash of victim blaming, which can deter others from speaking their own truths. Psychologists have done a variety of experiments testing victim blaming and the situations and people who are most likely to conform to this belief.

One fairly recent study conducted by Amy Rose Grubb and Julie Harrower found that the gender of the observer, the type of rape, and perceived similarity to the victim play major roles in victim blaming in relation to rape cases.

In this particular study, it found that males are much more likely to victim blame in relation to their female counterpart. Making men more aware of the detriments of rape on victims and the abundance of problems it causes, which can include self-harm, STI’s, substance abuse, dissociation, eating disorders, unwanted pregnancy, sleep disorders, suicide, depression, flash blacks, and PTSD, can shed light on the aftermath of rape and minimize victim blaming from occurring.

Rape is categorized into acquaintance rape and stranger rape, in which victim blaming is much more prevalent in one than the other. It is much more likely that a victim will be blamed if they know their attacker, which is considered date rape, rather than a stranger being the attacker where the attacker is almost always to blame.

To change this major problem, society as a whole needs to know that many victims do not speak out if they were raped by someone they know because of victim blaming, which leads to the majority of unknown rape cases and leaves attackers unpunished.

Rape is rape no matter if the attacker is known by the victim or not. No means no. These victims should not have to hide in fear of society judging or blaming them. The last factor that determines victim blaming is perceived similarity to the victim. This means that a person who sees many similarities, not just gender, is less likely to blame the victim because they want to minimize their chances of something like that happening to them. They defer the blame as a way of protecting themselves rather than actually thinking that the victim is not to blame. It’s a harmful way to think and should be noted.

Even though the victim is not being blamed by people similar to oneself, others may not feel the same and still blame the victim. People should think more about the victim as an individual person who has been harmed through a traumatic event therefore shouldn’t carry any blame rather than trying to calm one’s own conscience by deflecting the blame.

Overall, this shows that psychology can help to benefit the #MeToo movement and spread valuable information to society, which hopefully mitigates victim blaming by significantly reducing rape as a whole.

Bree Bahn

Intern and guest writer