What Jurors Want to Know: Motivating Juror Cognition to Increase Legal Knowledge & Improve Decision-Making
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law
August 1, 2013
UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series
The right to a jury trial is a fundamental part of the American democratic ethos and much of the trust we place in jurors is based on our belief that they will infuse the decision-making process with a commonsense approach and community values. In addition to basing their decisions on common sense, however, we expect that jurors’ decisions will be legally warranted and internally consistent. We implicitly assume that by the end of a trial, jurors understand the law they will be expected to apply to the evidence, or at least that their understanding is good enough to reach the “right” verdict. The social science research on jury comprehension of jury instructions tells us otherwise, however, with comprehension rates sometimes no better than chance. Furthermore, the research consistently shows that if jurors do not understand the law — and as laypeople, they typically have little or incorrect knowledge of the law when they enter the courtroom — they will rely on preexisting stereotypes, biases, and incorrect expectations of what the law is. In other words, jurors often know just enough about the law to be dangerous, but not enough to reach a decision on the facts that is well supported by the relevant law.
Because much of juror cognition is motivated, we can harness the power of this motivated cognition to further increase jurors’ legal knowledge and improve juror decision-making. All people are intrinsically motivated to make sense of their surroundings and jurors are similarly motivated to understand the law they will need to apply to the facts in a trial and to reach an accurate verdict. These core social motives affect the cognition and decision-making of all jurors and we can use them to better motivate jurors to efficiently learn the law and to think carefully about how the law will apply to the facts they will see in a trial. Like other frameworks and biases that affect how people perceive and interpret information, we cannot eliminate this type of motivated cognition, but we can use it to motivate jurors to understand the law, to be accurate in that understanding, and to persist in thinking about the law until they reach a good decision.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 39
Keywords: law and psychology, jurisprudence, law and society, cognitive psychology, litigation, juries, motivated cognition, decisionmakingworking papers series
Date posted: August 11, 2013 ; Last revised: December 5, 2013
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