People who identify as being in the same group as others are more likely to give others in their group preferential treatment over people not in the same group (also known as in-group favoritism or in-group bias).1 In litigation, if you lead jurors to identify with your client as a member of the same group as the jurors in terms of their social identity, the jury may be more likely to “help” your client in their decision-making.
Team fan or Soccer fan
Two fascinating studies in the U.K. illustrate how far a little group membership can go, showing that people are more likely to help “in-group” members than others.
In one study,2 fans of a popular English soccer team, Manchester United, filled out a questionnaire about that team and wrote an essay on the joys of being a Manchester United fan.
They were then directed to walk to another building across a parking lot. En route, the group witnessed a (staged) accident in which someone was running, tripped, fell and clutched his ankle in pain, wearing one of three T-shirts: a plain one, a Manchester United one, or their arch rivals’ team, Liverpool FC. Observers who noticed the accident were significantly more likely to help the injured man when he wore their group’s Manchester United T-shirt than either of the other two shirts.
A second study3 showed how flexible group boundaries are and how important inclusion in a category can be.
In that instance, instead of aligning subjects with Manchester United as the group’s identity, they were aligned with soccer in general. The questionnaire asked about soccer and the essay was about the joys of being a soccer fan. This time, observers were equally likely to help the injured man when he wore either soccer team’s T-shirt, but not when he wore one unrelated to soccer.
Imagine that, instead of a soccer team, the group identity was Plaintiff or Defendant. What about your client represents a group to which a jury can identify? How can you “prime” the jury to focus on that factor? As seen in research, rather little effort was required in order to underscore the focus of the observers’ social identity (a questionnaire and an essay) prior to observing the in-group preference.
In court, how can you recreate such focus?
Conventional wisdom suggests only seeking out adverse jurors who reject your case and that still holds true. However, if you are permitted to provide voir dire questions or a written questionnaire to prospective jurors, it is worth considering including “priming” questions, e.g., say that your client is the Plaintiff and has a rags-to-riches history. Your questions can ask about valuing such a history. If your client is the defendant unfairly accused of wrongdoing, perhaps you can ask about such experiences of prospective jurors. In opening statement, you can reinforce that group story to further prime the jury to identify with your client. To the extent you can align jurors with specific traits or experiences of your client that they may share, you may raise the odds of jurors’ bias being in your favor and becoming fans. In addition to other considerations of people who may be an unfavorable juror, those who do not exhibit any relationship with the social identity of your client may merit being moved up on your strike list.
Related articles on A2L Consulting's site focused on group dynamics, voir dire, jury questionnaires and jury selection:
- FREE DOWNLOAD: Tips for Mock Trials and Using Jury Consultants
- A2L Voted Best Jury Consultants by Readers of LegalTimes
- 5 Questions to Ask in Voir Dire . . . Always
- 10 Signs of a Good Jury Questionnaire
- Is Hiring a Jury Consultant Really Worth It?
- 7 Tips to Take “Dire” out of Voir Dire
- When a Good Trial Team Goes Bad: The Psychology of Team Anxiety
 Turner, J. C.; Reynolds, K. H. (2001). "The Social Identity Perspective in Intergroup Relations: Theories, Themes, and Controversies". In Brown, S. L.; Gaertner. Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Intergroup processes 3 (1): 133–152.
 Levine, M., Prosser, A., Evans, D. & Reicher, S. (2005) Identity and Emergency
Intervention: How Social Group Membership and Inclusiveness of Group Boundaries
Shapes Helping Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 443-453.
 Op Cit., Levine, et al.