Predicting Jury Behavior Through Need-for-Cognition

Until recently the examination of thinking patterns, specifically what motivates a jury to think about the evidence and how that contributes to jury verdicts has been lacking. One such variable in this new area of research is need-for-cognition or NC. Need-for-cognition is a continuum where all personalities fall into two general areas, low need-for-cognition and high need-for-cognition. In its basic form, high need-for-cognition personalities feel a motivation to think and understand the experiential world through direct evaluation. High need-for-cognition individuals believe that thinking is fun. NC should not be confused with formulating correct conclusions about the evaluated information. Need-for-cognition is about motivation. Low need-for-cognition individuals do not perceive a need to think about or evaluate information. They look for outlying cues to determine the value and accuracy of information. Low need-for-cognition individuals are more susceptible to being persuaded by arguments with faulty logic if they perceive that the argument is strong.

Need-for-Cognition and Persuasion

A review of relevant literature on NC and persuasion described two general effective routes of persuading low and high NC jurors. The first, which relates to high NC, is referred to as the principal route and the second, which relates to low NC, is the outlying route. The principle route involves broad processing of pertinent and applicable material in order to create mental models for judgment making. In general, high NC personalities will focus on evaluating argument quality. The outlying route is described as an absence of aptitude to comprehensively process, review and integrate germane information. This personality type is persuaded by outlying cues about important information instead of relying upon the merit of the argument. Some of these cues include likability and attractiveness of the presenter or high argument repetition even if it is painfully illogical or invalid. Low NC personalities do not miss all of the information being presented; they just evaluate the persuasiveness of the information based upon the outlying cues.

An important exception to the rule about low NC jurors is immense personal relevance. The higher the personal relevance the more low NC jurors will evaluate the quality of the argument instead of relying upon the outlying cues.

Implications for your Trial

Need-for-cognition levels have several implications for your trial. It is crucial to identify NC levels during voir dire. As Lītigāre has indicated in the past we often utilize a multitude of personality assessments at our disposal when working on voir dire questions. We simply utilize the best and most germane questions from the assessments to ascertain a multitude of information. We employ this technique because researchers like Shetowsky and Horowitz (2004) have statistically proven that need-for-cognition scales (a measurement tool to detect high and low NC) can predict juror behavior. The following section reviews some of those predictions.

One behavior that NC scales can predict is who will “jump ship” during jury deliberations. Here is what the research on civil juries and need-for-cognition described. During deliberation low NC’s speak less but this does not negate the ability of the low NC to make a persuasive argument to the entire jury. As reported by the research, low NC’s have a greater ability to evaluate the strength and weakness of an argument. They will then align with the strongest argument and become motivated to create jury consensus around that view. In fact, 77% of low need-for-cognition jurors will change their view if they perceive a confederate argument has the highest strength and value. We cannot just strike all low NC jurors because the research also indicates that low NC’s play a crucial role in how the jury reaches consensus.

High need-for-cognition level jurors speak much longer than their low need counterparts. High NC’s are less likely to jump ship based upon strong opposing arguments. Also, high NC’s will not attempt to build a consensus, they will try to counter and persuade the confederate argument. In fact, when presented with a confederate argument high NC’s are motivated to resist persuasive arguments that counter their own views. High NC’s tend to resist because they do not want to concede that their argument is weaker than the confederates. It is important to remember that these predictions about low and high NC jurors are specifically during deliberations.

Researchers examining high need for cognition also posited the following when evaluating jurors for NC:

1.      Keep high NC’s that show connection to client and strike those who do not;

2.      Low NC’s can be motivated to participate more during jury deliberations when accountability and individual responsibility are emphasized; when they participate more they are inoculated to faulty logic and will evaluate content more like a high NC juror;

3.      In general, high NC’s are more resistant to persuasion so we need to utilize resistance to persuasion techniques to reach these jurors during voir dire and trial.

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