12 Angry MenPSY 454 – Social PsychologyAkshar Bhatnagar (Roll no. – 150073)The 1957 movie “12 Angry Men” is a must-watch to learn various phenomena about social perception, and social psychology in general. I will first provide a brief character sketch of the 12 jurors (which I feel is important to understand some of their actions) and then highlight important aspects of social psychology as they happen in the movie, most of them in chronological order, and some of them grouped by phenomena applying to them. (Important terms have been italicised for convenience.)The jury consists of 12 randomly selected men of different occupations.
Juror 1 is a supervisor who manages the whole meeting of the 12 men who have come to decide on the guilt or innocence of the 18 year old boy. Juror 2 is young, a little shy, is interrupted many times, and initially takes some time to start getting involved in the discussion. Juror 3 is a short-tempered man, his relations with his son are not good, which lead him to have negatively biased feelings towards the younger generation. Juror 4 is bespectacled, very serious in nature, talks to the point, and reasons only with facts rationally. Juror 5 lived in the slums in his childhood, is a composed and ……. . Juror 6 is convinced from the start that the boy is guilty, he respects the elderly and is a hard worker.
Juror 7 has bought tickets to a baseball match and wants the case to be closed so he can go to see the match. He has a good sense of humour and little interest in the case. Juror 8 is the only one he votes ‘not guilty’ initially, simply because he is not certain of some facts and wants the evidence to be discussed thoroughly. Juror 9 is the oldest of the group, who is the first one to support 8th juror as he respects his motives. Juror 10 is an orthodox rigid-minded person who is heavily prejudiced against people from slum background. Juror 11 is a foreign immigrant who deeply respects the justice system and knows the value of his decision. Juror 12 is not much interested in the case and repeatedly talks about unrelated gibberish from his ad agency.
During the preliminary vote by a show of hands, it is observed that some jurors raise hands due to peer pressure and conform to the majority (one particular examples are the meek and shy juror 2 and the oldest juror 9, who are hesitant as they seem to have some doubt in the back of their minds)The surprise and disbelief of most of the jurors on noticing that one person voted ‘not guilty’ for the boy in the preliminary vote immediately makes one think about the False Consensus effect they were experiencing, thinking that what they were thinking was definitely what everyone else must be thinking, thus exaggerating their belief.There is an effect of Impression formation on the viewers of the movie when they see the young teenage boy in his only scene of the film, and viewers have to generalise his traits on the basis of minimal information. There is a prominent instance of Confirmatory Bias through the major part of first half of the film, where the jurors only repeat information that conforms to their pre-existing beliefs about the case and the defendant. They interpreted the case details based on their preconceptions.
Meanwhile, from the beginning of the jury meeting, one can see many instances of stereotype and prejudice against poor people from slums, who are seen to be violent and of criminal nature by many of the jury members. In the words of Juror 4, “Slums are breeding ground for criminals … ” and “… children from slum background are potential menaces to society.
” Jurors 10 calls such kids “real trash”. Apart from stereotyping and prejudice, it can be used as an example of Fundamental Attribution Error, where one associates behaviour of a person with their internal traits like personality or disposition. We can also see instances of Actor-observer bias in the beliefs of many jurors like Jurors 3, 4 and 10, who were convinced that the boy cold-heartedly killed his father. Even when some jurors repeatedly mentioned ‘facts’ of the case that later seemed to lack credibility, for eg. when the boy failed to recall the names of the movies he saw, or when they assumed the old man living above the apartment of killing heard everything clearly, or even when they believed the woman across could see and hear clearly – their thinking was probably shadowed by Actor-observer effect.
They explained the behaviour of the people by just their personalities, and did not take into account situational factors.Also, the third and fourth jurors seemed very logical and convinced till almost the end in their decision making abilities, which could be a case of Overconfidence bias. Throughout the movie, people focused on the negative aspects of the case majority of the time, as a result of Negativity effect, where people’s emotions and behaviour are affected more by the negatives of the case.A slight Halo effect of Juror 8 (Henry Fonda)’s dynamic and strong personality can be seen on some jury members like Juror 2 and Juror 11, who later seem very confident in their belief and vote ‘not guilty’. They seem to be persuaded well by his ideas.Juror 3 (Lee J. Cobb) said initially that the old man heard someone shouting “I’m gonna kill ya” and later when provoked by Juror 8 (Fonda), he yells in rage, “I’ll kill him.
” This can be explained by Actor-observer bias as well as Self-serving Bias (he later explains that his action were due to Juror 8’s provocation and his short temper). He evaluated his words as being harmless, but believed that the defendant used the same words with the intent to kill.Later in the film when people begin to get convinced by some of the facts that make the case of the defendant strong, some just conform with the group and vote ‘not guilty’.
One notable example is of Juror 7 (the baseball fan) who just says ‘not guilty’ in order to finish the discussion early. This is an example of normative social influence (*not yet discussed in class lectures, but still important to be pointed out), as opposed to informative social influence (where person looks for correct answer in order to be correct in ambiguous situations) as in cases of Juror 9 (oldest one) and 11 for example.Throughout the film, the 12 men have to sit in an overheated room on a very hot summer day, which in part was responsible for the continuous aggression in their actions and voices(The effect of temperature and harsh surrounding conditions has been studied widely by psychologists).In order to convince the others of the dubious nature of many facts of the case, Fonda (Juror 8) buys a switchblade knife, acts out the old man’s testimony, and convinces them that there is a ‘reasonable doubt’ to be explored before sending the boy to the chair. His extroverted tactics and vivid explanations were important for making the others understand and perceive the whole idea as they figured out the complete picture, and example of Gestalt psychology. The diversity of the group of jurors was also crucial to the decision making process. For instance, the Juror 5 who originated from the slums explained to the others that the boy could not possibly have used the switchblade knife in order to kill his father in the way he was found. Also, the oldest juror shared his valuable thoughts about the woman across the street that she used to wear glasses, and the old man’s testimony could have been ill-formed due to lack of attention in his life.
Fonda later convinces the spectacled Juror 4 that even a normal person has difficulty to remember daily activities sometimes, and in fact the defendant had been under a lot of stress with his father’s body lying when he was being asked what movies he had seen. Studies have shown that our memory is greatly influenced when we are under stress due to increase in quantity of hormones like cortisol.Cobb (Juror 3) realises late in the movie that his views about the young defendant are mostly a result of his projection of his failed relationship with his son.Overall, the movie has many classic examples of important phenomena in social psychology and is particularly interesting to watch for a student of psychology.