Groupthink is the psychological concept referring to how potentially dissenting members of a given group abstain from voicing their concerns due to their unwillingness to hinder the common effort. For the purpose of this assignment, groupthink may be defined as “a form of concurrence seeking among members of high prestige, tightly knit, policy-making groups” (Kamalnath, 2017, p. 95). It manifests in virtually all areas where humans engage in a collective effort that they view as valuable and important – and juries in courts certainly fit the description.
Sven Berger Case
The case of Sven Berger may serve as a suitable example of groupthink in jury decision-making. In 2008, Berger was called upon to report for jury duty and ended up one of the twelve jurors in the case of Paul Storey. The latter was on trial for the murder of Jonas Cherry, and there was little doubt as to his guilt (Goldstein, 2020). The main issue was whether Storey deserved the death sentence. According to Texas law, sentencing a person to death requires all twelve jurors to unanimously agree that the person in question would be capable of committing a violent crime in the future (Goldstein, 2020). Berger had his doubts about whether this was the case with Storey, as the latter did not strike him as someone potentially dangerous. Based on that, he was not certain whether voting for the death sentence was the right thing to do but did not voice his concerns and voted in line with the twelve other jurors.
The concept of groupthink is directly relevant to the explanation of this case because Berger’s actions literally correspond to the textbook definition. To begin with, Berger was a part of a collective invested with the power to decide the fate of another. Hence, while it was not a “policy-making group” in the strictest sense of the word, it was still a decision-making one (Kamalnath, 2017, p. 95). Secondly, Berger doubted whether the course chosen by the majority of the group was the right one but abstained from voicing his concerns. Finally, he did it precisely because he wanted to avoid confrontation with other jurors (Goldstein, 2020). As he noted himself, one of the reasons why he did not voice his objections was that it would lead to a mistrial (Goldstein, 2020). This, in turn, would have made all the work they have done as a jury null and void. Hence, it was the unwillingness to evaluate the group’s work that caused him to vote in line with the others. Thus, Berger demonstrated compliance by putting group harmony before his ideas of right and wrong, which is the definition of groupthink.
Change of Perspective
The knowledge of groupthink prompted me to look at this specific case and at the job of the juror from a new perspective. It made me aware that, apart from the potentially discomforting exposure to complex legal matters they have no expert knowledge of, the jurors are subjected to the psychological effects arising from working in a group. Researching the issue further, I found out that groupthink is an important and persistent aspect of research concerned with group behaviors among the jury (Dominic, 2017). As such, the awareness of the concept of groupthink provided me with a better insight into how decision-making in groups, especially the ones empowered to decide the others’ fate, may favor consensus over justice.
Goldstein, J. (2020). The unhappy deciders. Act 2: Jury [Audio podcast episode]. In This American Life. Chicago Public Media. Web.
Kamalnath, A. (2017). Gender diversity as the antidote to ‘groupthink’ on corporate boards. Deakin Law Review, 22, 85-106.
Wilmott, D. (2017). Jury psychology. In R. Minhas, L. Wilson, & B. Baker (eds.), Psychology and law: Factbook (pp. 14-16). European Association of Psychology and Law.