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Diverse Juries Make Better Decisions

Cartoon of a racially diverse jury

Problem

Racial disparities in the justice system disproportionately affect Blacks.

Solution

Juries make better decisions when they’re racially diverse.

Details

Psychologist Samuel Sommers invited 200 adults to participate in a mock jury experiment. Each jury consisted of six participants. The researcher randomly assigned jury groups to one of two conditions. In the diverse group condition, two of the jurors were Black and the other four jurors were White. In the all-white group condition, all six of the jurors were White.

The jurors watched a video trial where a Black defendant faced charges of sexual assault. After watching the video, jurors privately submitted their pre-deliberation guilty/not-guilty verdicts. Then, the juries convened to discuss details about the assault, descriptions of the suspect, and the evidence.

Even before deliberation, members of diverse juries were nearly 10% less likely to presume the defendant’s guilt than members of all-white juries. Diverse juries were also more thorough in their evaluation of the evidence. On average, diverse juries deliberated 11 minutes longer, discussed more facts about the case, and made fewer factual errors than all-white juries. Finally, diverse juries were more open to talking about the role of race in the case.

Why This Works

When White jurors expect to interact with a diverse group, they become more careful and systematic in the way they evaluate evidence that could trigger their own racial biases.

When This Works Best

The diverse jury didn’t outperform the all-white jury just because of Black jurors’ contributions—jury diversity helped both Black and White jurors. White jurors in the diverse group condition exchanged more information and considered a broader range of facts before coming to a decision than did White jurors in the all-white condition.

The Original Study

Sommers, S. R. (2006). On racial diversity and group decision making: Identifying multiple effects of racial composition on jury deliberations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology90(4), 597.

Credits

Text by Sarah Lyons-Padilla

Photo CC by CALI