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If you are going to one day hear what a jury is going to say about your case it may be a good idea for you to learn about group polarization. Juries have been shown to polarize; in experimental settings, juries generate punitive damage awards that are systematically higher than the predeliberation median of jurors.

Whether you are a litigant or an attoney, if you are going to hear one day what a jury is going to say about your case it may be a good idea for you to learn about group polarization. An informative starting point would be the posting at The Faculty Blog of the University of Chicago Law School.

Excerpts from the article:

As decades of social science research have shown, like-minded people, engaged in discussion with one another, tend to go to extremes. Suppose that one group of people believes that global warming is a serious problem; another thinks that Harriet Miers is unqualified; another believes that aggressive affirmative action policies are desirable; yet another believes that feminism has “gone too far.” After the members of these groups talk to each other, they are likely to shift toward a more extreme version of their original views. More technically: Deliberating groups, after deliberation, usually adopt a more extreme position in the same direction as the median of their predeliberation views.

This is the phenomenon known as group polarization. It is extremely robust, and it has been found in many countries. Juries have been shown to polarize; in experimental settings, juries generate punitive damage awards that are systematically higher than the predeliberation median of jurors. (A book of which I’m one of many coauthors, called Punitive Damages: How Juries Decide, has the relevant experiment.) Even federal appellate judges have been shown to polarize.

Why does group polarization occur? Several factors appear to be at work. 1) If a group’s members are predisposed to think that X is true, group members will hear many arguments in favor of X, and few the other way. Exposed to more arguments in favor of X, people tend to become more convinced of X. 2) If a group’s members are predisposed in favor of X, those who are skeptical of X might well silence themselves, so as not to seem obtuse or to risk their reputations. Both individuals and groups as a whole are likely to shift as a result. 3) People tend to moderate their opinions when they don’t know what others think. If they’re surrounded by like-minded others, their initial inclinations are confirmed, and they tend to become more confident — and probably more extreme as a result.

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