12 Angry Men – Social Psych Review
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One Belligerent Room
There are few examples of group dynamics as complete and realistic as the film “Twelve Angry Men”. Recently I was required to view this film and had at first great reservations about its value as an educational tool, but soon after the opening credits rolled by and the deliberations began to take place I was caught up in the story. This film was not only entertaining, but it also serves as a great example of many of the theories and aspects of social psychology. Including too many concepts to name, the film touched on several very important theories: process loss in group decisions, groupthink, the fatal attribution error (FAE), normative social influence, and social norms.
One of the first concepts to be seen in the film was process loss in group decisions. Process loss is any part of group functioning that will inhibit good problem solving. This will occur when a group follows the leadership of one of its lesser informed members, much like the group of men following the leadership of the head juror; although he was not the most qualified member of the group he was in charge of explaining their duties to the others. It could also be argued that the most active jurors for prosecution were less qualified leaders as well. As quickly as one man could say it was an open and shut case all the other jurors had followed his lead and agreed. Another cause of process loss seen in the movie was the failure to share relevant information. For the opening stage of deliberations Mr. Davis says nothing of the doubts and theories he has on why the boy is innocent; the other jurors share the information that leads them to believe he is guilty and all come to the conclusion that he should be convicted. This is much like what happened in the 1985 study conducted by Stasser and Titus where shared facts on a candidates qualifications led the voters to find that candidate more appealing than when they had several differing facts on his qualifications and shortcomings. Another factor of this study that parallels the film is that over time the facts unknown to the entire group were eventually made known; Mr. Davis eventually shares his insight with the group and causes the others to question their certainty.
A very important aspect of group interactions closely related to process loss is groupthink. It is actually a cause of process loss where the cohesiveness of the group becomes more important to its members than actually considering the facts. This is incredibly applicable to the characters in the film because the very conditions that lead to groupthink are those that characterize a jury; the group must be cohesive, isolated, high stress and have obvious and strong leadership. This phenomenon leads to the censorship of members and the pressure to conform as we see in the early stages of the deliberation process in the film. The film also addresses one of the main ways to combat group think; they utilize a secret ballot and allow the jurors to remain anonymous. The usefulness of these techniques to reduce groupthink are immediately evident in the film; while all others are watching the vote remains 11-1 and when a secret ballot is utilized the vote becomes only 10-2 in favor of conviction.
After the jurors realize the deliberations are going to take longer than first thought, they enter into a stage of discussion where another key aspect of social psychology becomes evident. The fundamental attribution error occurs when persons focus too much on the internal, dispositional causes of actions and underestimate the effect of the situation on behavior. It is quite clear who is making the fundamental attribution error when the jurors begin talking about the defendant and his background. One of the jurors for prosecution stated that “children from the slums (the suspects home) were nothing but potential menaces to society” and another simply called his type liars; they also brought up his past record. They are clearly attacking this mans character and stating that the situation was not incredibly important. Even if the evidence does not necessarily add up the man is still a liar and his type does not deserve to be free. Only a few jurors fight this error of judgment and remind the others that his rough upbringing may have had something to do with his past convictions and that this situation did not necessarily warrant violence toward his father.
Another aspect of social psychology that is demonstrated by the characters in the film is that of social roles and the need to follow them. Social norms are rules that explain how persons are expected to behave in certain situations; if a social norm is rebelled against the results are often extreme. This is seen incredibly easily in how well the words of the jurors mirror the actions of participants in a 1951 study by Schacter. In the psychological study on norm breaking, a confederate consistently