Interpersonal Comparisons and Informational Influences
in Group Polarization
Group polarization can be defined as the tendency for a group to make decisions that are more extreme than the initial inclination of its members. In their paper, Myers and Lamm mention two theoretical explanation for this tendency; the interpersonal comparison explanation concerning normative influences and the informational influence explanation regarding persuasive arguments. In the movie “12 Angry Men,” we can see how these theories do not function as separate processes, but feed each other.
In their informational influence explanation, Myers and Lamm mention Vinokur, Burnstein, Bishop and Myer’s suggestion that the amount of group shift is determined by three factors: the direction of each argument, its persuasiveness and its novelty. In the case of the movie, juror 8 was the only one directing the discussion at first and therefore all the arguments he was posing were favoring the direction of not guilty. Moreover, juror 8 arguments could be categorized under high novelty since they were unknown to other group members before the discussion; the majority of the jurors voted guilty basing their arguments on the witnesses’ testimonies and they had not considered other factors.
Juror 8’s first evidence is the knife which causes one juror to change his vote. Then, juror 8 mentions how it couldn’t have been possible for the witness to hear the body hit the floor with the train passing by and the old juror backs him up. Juror 8 also mentions how we use the words “I’m going to kill you” everyday. These arguments make another jury change his vote and now the count if 9 to 3. As they continue arguing, more evidence is presented regarding time constraints with the old man walking to the door and by that time, half the jurors vote guilty and the other half, vote not guilty.
Up to this point in the movie, I argue that the jurors changed their opinion due to the group discussion and the evidence presented that supports the not guilty direction. From there on, I think that the other jurors changed their vote due to social pressures backed up by the interpersonal comparison explanation since they wanted to present themselves favorably in relation to others. Like Myers and Lamm explain, we tend to perceive ourselves as more in the socially preferred direction than those with whom we compare ourselves and by this time in the movie the socially preferred direction was shifting from voting guilty to voting not guilty. I argue this because the changing of votes becomes much more faster and less evidence needs to be presented for the other jurors to change their mind.
As we have seen, the guilt-inclined jurors had very little information and juror 8 was at least able to ask the right questions that shed light to new points of view in the arguments. As juror 8 defended his position, others questioned their own and as more jurors changed their mind, there was an increased pressure for the others to conform. Throughout the movie, we see how the jurors changed their vote not only because they were presented with strong and new evidence, but because they were affected by group pressure to conform as others changed their vote too.