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The Psychology of Criminal
Investigation: Task 2
In a court of law, the jury is expected to be neutral and unbiased. This is simply due to the need for a
fair trial. There are many factors that may affect the decision making of the jury, and inevitably
result in a biased jury.
Jurors are required to hear stories or narratives from both the prosecution and defence, and use all
the information and evidence given as a foundation for deciding a guilty or not guilty verdict. It was
once thought that jurors made decisions, usually decisions that are interpreted as important to due
to the life determining nature, using careful, deliberate thinking.
However, research has shown that instead of making decisions based on probabilities and
likelihoods, jurors sometimes make judgements based on how the story or narrative is told. In short,
jurors tend to base decisions of the verdict based upon how convincing the narrative given by each
side is in telling the story of how a crime happened.
The jury lies at the core of our judicial system, so factors affecting the decisions made and the
processes by which these decisions are reached are of paramount importance in operating a fair
system of judgement. Factors which can influence a jury’s decision are the characteristics of the
defendant and jurors which include attractiveness, ethnicity and age, also pre-trial publicity.
Additionally there are the psychological influences on the jury such as attribution theory and the
‘just world hypothesis’.
Due to the ‘s8 Contempt of Court Act 1981’, newspapers are prohibited from interviewing jurors;
this applies to academics alike who are also prohibited from researching juries.
Even more surprisingly, the Court of Appeal isn’t allowed to properly address allegations from jurors
that the jury was biased after the trial has finished. Consequently that is why ‘shadow juries’ and
‘mock juries’ are used to study and research the influences and implications regarding jury decision
In a mock jury, participants asked to consider case & make judgements on evidence presented in
written summarized scenario, whereas a shadow jury is a group of selected participants who sit in
public gallery in court to hear all evidence & consider sentence.
Both of the above approaches have problems and limitations, mock juries can lack ecological validity
as results cannot be generalised fully. The sample used is often students, so the results could be said
to only apply to students, also the scenarios are brief and lack the complexities of real life; more
importantly there are no real consequences for real person.
However, mock juries do allow the investigation of certain variables such as appearance, age, race,
accent and status. The systematic manipulation of variables; age, race or ethnicity, while others;
charges or wording of evidence are kept constant, means that it is possible to study and research the
effects the above factors may have on the final decision
The shadow jury method involves selecting a group of people who are ‘…demographically matched
to the actual jurors, shadow jurors observe every moment of trial and provide on-going feedback by
way of daily interviews, reported and analysed by Jury Associates…’ (juryassociates.com)
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Russell et al (2003) state that, “This method avoids some of the most significant problems of mock
juries although not the question of consequence. However unlike the mock jury method, it does not
allow the researcher to explore and investigate the ‘…systematic manipulation of variables; but does
have considerably greater ecological validity…” (
This method is far less frequently used than simulated juries because yet again there is no real
impact on the life of the suspect or jurors, additionally there are practical problems due to
participants having to attend court over many days which could be potentially lengthy and
Other factors like personality type may influence the jury’s decision are the actual characteristics of
the jury members.
For example Brewer (2001) suggests that a juror who has an authoritarian personality type; narrow
minded, strict or conservative views is more likely to find suspects guilty.
Also the racist attitudes of some jurors could influence the final decision, Pfeiffer and Oglott’s (1991)
study suggests that students rated black defendants guilty more than whites when accused of the
Attractiveness of the defendant may also play a part in influencing the jury and their final decision.
Hanover’s (1995) study suggests that the more attractive and aesthetically beautiful the defendant is
the more lenient the sentence; however if their attractiveness was used to commit the crime then
this may not be the case.
Furthermore Quigley et al (1995) study found that confidence crimes committed by suspects like
tricksters, scammers and fraudsters then the level of attractiveness will not help them in their case.
Not only does ethnicity, attractiveness, personality of juror influence the final decision but also the
size of the jury and the degree of social influence which could come in the form of majority and
Groupthink, is a term coined by social psychologist Irving Janis (1972), occurs when a group makes
faulty decisions because group pressures lead to a deterioration of “mental efficiency, reality testing,
and moral judgment”. Groups affected by groupthink ignore alternatives and tend to take irrational
actions that dehumanize other groups. A group is especially vulnerable to groupthink when its
members are similar in background, when the group is insulated from outside opinions, and when
there are no clear rules for decision making. (cranepsych2.edublogs.org)
On the other hand, Moscovici (1976) argues that one or a small minority of like-minded individuals
may influence the majority or like-minded individuals may influence the majority vote by conversion
over a longer period of time of deliberation, if they are consistent, committed in their opinions and
arguments seem to be acting on principle rather than out of self-gain or stubbornness. Also they are
not overly rigid and unreasonable in their opinions and arguments so their arguments are more
Mahoney & Dixon (2002) found that ‘Brummies’ were more likely to be found guilty of armed
robbery than cheque fraud compared to a defendant with a posh accent. People with a ‘rough’ or
strong regional accent are often found ‘guilty’ of robbery as they are seen as needing more money
than a posh defendant.
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This study examined the effect of regional accent on the attribution of guilt. 119 participants
listened to a recorded exchange between a British male criminal suspect and a male policeman.
Employing the matched-guise technique; which means that the same person is used to speak with
two different accents, this exchange was varied to produce two accent types, Birmingham and
standard, two different ethnic back-rounds; black and white and two different types of crime; blue
collar and white collar, this experiment was an independent-groups design.
The results suggested that the suspect was rated as significantly more guilty when he spoke with a
Birmingham rather than a standard accent and that attributions of guilt were significantly associated
with the suspect’s perceived superiority and social attractiveness.
Therefore stereotypically, an ugly, black man with a ‘Brummie’ accent is more likely to be found
guilty of a crime and sentenced harshly than an attractive white man who speaks ‘The Queen’s
English’. People can identify ethnic group in society by accent, however can be viewed as racist as
assumptions are made by linguistic stereotypes.
Not only do the characteristics of the jury, witnesses and suspect but also the issue of attribution
theory. Attribution theory is the reasoning behind how we attach meaning and reasoning to other's
people’s behaviour and our own. For example, is someone angry because they are moody or
because something bad has happened.
Fiske & Taylor (1991) say that “…Attribution theory deals with how the social perceiver uses
information to arrive at causal explanations for events. It examines what information is gathered
and how it is combined to form a causal judgment”
Attribution theory is concerned with how and why ordinary people explain events as they do.
Heider (1958) strongly suggested that people are naive psychologists trying to make sense of the
social world. People tend to see cause and effect relationships even where there are none, Heider
didn’t so much develop a theory rather he emphasized certain themes that others took up. There
were two main ideas that he put forward that became influential.
The first one is that when we explain the behaviour of others we look for constant internal
attributions, such as personality traits. For example we attribute the behaviour of a person to their
naivety, reliability or even jealousy. Secondly, when we try to explain our own behaviour we tend to
make external attributions, such as situational or environment.
Situational refers to external attributes like surroundings, role and level of authority whereas
dispositional refers to internal attributes like personality, moral compass and views.
A classic example to explain to differences is the study conducted by Zimbardo, where he used a
simulated prison experiment study with the hypothesis suggesting that evil acts are a result of
situational factors; such as roles allocated and environment rather than dispositional factors; such as
violent and sadistic personality traits, disrespect for the law or possessing a ‘guard mentality’.
Or another possible hypothesis could be whether acts of evil committed by one individual encourage
others to follow suit either negatively or positively. Zimbardo’s study concluded that situational
attributes do matter, which when thinking of jury decision making highlights the importance of not
judging or making a final decision solely based on dispositional attributes of a jury member, suspect
Supported by the theory of direct perception and information pickup that had been published by the
preeminent perceptual psychologist J.J. Gibson and his wife, the "Queen Bee" of developmental
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psychology Eleanor Gibson, Neisser (1958) concluded that chose explanations that suit us then we
stop analysing the cause. The attribution effect or fundamental attribution error tends to
overestimate the effect of disposition or personality and underestimate the effect of the situation in
explaining social behaviour. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain
the behaviour of others. It does not explain interpretations of their own behaviour; where
situational factors are more easily recognized; therefore can be taken into consideration.
There is no universally accepted explanation for the fundamental attribution error; however there is
a possible hypothesis to the cause of attribution error.
The belief that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get, which was first theorized
by Melvin Lerner (1977), the idea that people need to believe one will get what one deserves so
strongly that they will rationalize an inexplicable injustice by naming things the victim might have
done to deserve it; also known as the just-world effect.
An example of this could be the reasoning some outsiders maybe unsympathetic towards people
whose houses were destroyed by a tornado, blaming them for choosing to live in a disaster-prone
area or for not building a stronger house.
With reference to the jury decision making process, some jurors may unfortunately blame, slander
or even vilify the victims of a tragedy or an accident, such as victims of rape and domestic abuse to
reassure themselves of their in-susceptibility and imperviousness to such events.
As we know from Zimbardo (1973) and Milgram (1963, 1965) position of authority play a big role; in
whatever context whether a witness, juror or suspect so the same applies when an individual has
celebrity status. This is sometimes known as ‘The Oprah Effect’ which refers to the power of
Winfrey's opinions and endorsement which enables her to influence public opinion, especially
consumer purchasing choices, book sales, beef markets, and election voting.
Most members of the public learn about recent criminal procedures and trials by means of the
media, therefore the pre-trial publicity of certain cases may affect the final decision as public
opinion, the majority opinion can sway the judge, jurors, witnesses and even defendants.
A real life example of this is the trial of OJ Simpson; the Simpson trial demonstrated the polarization
of racial attitudes on issues such as law enforcement that still exists in our country today. It may be
for that, more than anything, that the trial will be remembered. But it had other effects. It created
a greater awareness of domestic violence issues, provided lessons in how not to run a criminal trial,
slowed the trend toward the use of cameras in courtrooms. The Simpson trial highlighted the effects
that race, celebrity, police discrimination, expert witnesses and how evidence is collected and
Another example of how the media can be a negative influence is the Hillsborough disaster in 1989,
were immediately after the tragedy the media blamed the Liverpool fans for the disaster and Police
engaged and proceeded to cover up and lie in order conceal the lack of organisation, safety and
value of human life on that fateful day in Sheffield.
In conclusion, there are numerous factors which can influence the jury decision making process,
therefore all aspects of jury decision making should be thoroughly and regularly regulated to ensure
that criminal cases are treated fairly and justly without discrimination which may occur because of
case factors, witness factors, procedural deliberation and natural human psychological explanations;
which include fundamental attribution errors stemming from ‘The Just-World Hypothesis’.
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Angles on Applied Psychology Russell, Jarvis, Roberts, Dwyer & Putwain (2003)
Brewer 2001, Saker, D. (2012) Characteristics of the Defendants. (Hand-out). The Psychology of
Criminal Investigation, Leicester College, Leicester, Humanities and Social Sciences, 28th April
Pfeifer & Ogloff 1991, Saker. D (2012) Characteristics of the Defendants, (Hand-out). The Psychology
of Criminal Investigation, Leicester College, Leicester, Humanities and Social Sciences, 28th April