12 Angry men notes & discussion



1. What kinds of attributions were used by the jurors and how did these attributions affect their initial judgment of the boy?


Henry Fonda:  Made more external attributions for the boy’s behavior.  For example, Fonda commented on how the boy had been slapped around all his life and was treated poorly. This kind of thinking leads to more external attributions—it was the way the boy was treated in life, not something inherent about the boy or his character. 


Ed Begley (the racist guy): Referred to the boy as a slum kid. He relayed the idea that there’s something about slum kids who belong to certain ethnic groups that makes them inherently rotten.  These are internal attributions which lead to more of a guilty verdict.


Lee J. Cobb (the angry guy): Also made more internal attributions for the boy’s behavior. He agreed with the slum kid idea, but also focused on the notion that kids today don’t have any respect or sense of morality. 


Another type of attributional process that could be seen in 12 angry men was Kelley’s principle of augmenting. For example one of the jurors argued that if the boy went back to get the knife, even though he might get caught then he must have really been motivated to cover up the evidence. Thus, the boy is really guilty.



2. How did the use of schemas & stereotypes influence the juror’s thinking?


Obviously, many of the jurors had stereotypes about kids who grow up in slums—and who belong to certain minority groups.  Not only did these stereotypes influence the jurors’ tendency to make internal attributions for the boy’s behavior, but these stereotypes also led to biased interpretations of the evidence. 



3. How was the confirmation bias used by the jurors?


Just as stereotypes lead to a biased way of interpreting the evidence, they also lead to a confirmation bias, which is the tendency to only seek information that confirms your expectations and ignore disconfirming information.  For example, many of the jurors initially expected that the boy was guilty (“It was clear right from the start”) and so they only remembered details in the case that supported that expectation. They also seemed to disregard or ignore details in the case that would disconfirm their expectations. For example, the jurors failed to notice the significant details such as the way the old man walked with a limp, that the female eye witness had marks on her eyes that were caused by prescription eye glasses, and that the knife used to kill the father was actually not all that unusual.  They also failed to see that a noisy L train would have made it impossible to hear the boy yell, “I’m gonna kill ya.”  All of these details would have disconfirmed their expectations, but were overlooked.



4. Was there any indication that conformity played a role in the jury’s decision making process?


The initial vote that was taken was public. As they voted by raising their hands, several of the jurors, who later expressed that they weren’t sure the boy was guilty (e.g., Joseph Sweeney—the old man), looked around to see how the other people were voting. But when the ballot was secret and anonymous, some of them didn’t comply. This strongly suggests that there was strong pressure to conform to the majority.  


Examples of those that may have initially conformed because of group pressure:


Jack Klugman (the former slum kid): He didn’t say much at first, and seemed to be unsure about whether or not the boy was guilty. He was a slum kid himself, so he probably had some doubts, but went along with the majority initially because of pressure.


Joseph Sweeney (the old man): Initially conformed in the public vote, but switched when it was private—suggesting that he went along with the crowd.


Jack Warden (baseball guy): He went along with whatever was the majority opinion (partially because he just wanted to go to a baseball game).  When the majority was guilty, he voted guilty, but when the majority switched over to not guilty (7-5) he changed his plea to not guilty, but couldn’t give any reasons why.  duh, I just don’t think he’s guilty.”



5. When some of the jurors eventually decided to vote NOT GUILTY, did they change their vote because of normative influence or informational influence.


Jack Warden (baseball fan): as mentioned above, he changed his plea for superficial reasons, so he conformed more because of normative influence.  He obviously didn’t believe the boy was NOT GUILTY, was just going along with the crowd.


E. G. Marshall (accountant): eventually changed his vote based on informational influence. He was convinced that the female eye witness had poor eyesight and therefore couldn’t make a positive identification. This was less of a superficial change.



6. Was there evidence of the misinformation effect (ala Elizabeth Loftus) in the eye witnesses?


The misinformation effect is the tendency for one’s memory to be altered by post-event information.  Our schemas and stereotypes can also influence how we interpret ambiguous events because they help us fill in the missing information with our expectations.


Remember that Joseph Sweeney (the old man), did not accuse either of the eye witnesses of lying. He said that these people believed they saw the boy commit the crime. In other words, they somehow misremembered what they saw and heard.  Thus, they probably witnessed an ambiguous event and filled in the missing information with details that were prescribed by their own stereotypes of slum kids. In addition, the police officers and lawyers who interviewed the witnesses may have planted false memories in them by asking leading questions. In either case, these people probably believed that they saw the boy at the scene of the crime—but this was probably due to the misinformation effect.


7. Were there any examples of the fundamental attribution error or the actor/observer bias in the film?


Lee J. Cobb (angry guy): Lee Cobb said that if the boy screamed out loud, “I’ll kill ya” he must have really meant he was gonna kill his father, and so this was good evidence that he did it. However, Henry Fonda later insulted Lee Cobb by calling him a sadist. Cobb got mad and said: “I’m gonna kill ya.”  But he didn’t really mean it. Thus, when Cobb said it, it was just the situation that elicited this expression, but when the boy said it, it was an indication of his murderous rage. So this is an example of the actor observer bias.


E.G. Marshall (the accountant): The boys alibi was that he was at the movies when the murder took place. E.G. Marshall said that because the boy couldn’t remember the names of the films and who played in them when he was interviewed by the police (i.e., under conditions of high emotional stress), then he obviously was lying. Thus Marshall failed to consider how the stress of the situation could have affected the boy—and just made an internal attribution—he’s a liar.  However, when Marshall was asked to remember the films he saw last weekend, he couldn’t fully remember them—even without emotional stress.  





The jury situation portrayed in 12 Angry men had a lot of symptoms that would normally lead to a groupthink phenomenon. For example, the majority of the group had a belief in the moral correctness of their decision—they were punishing a bad person, they had a stereotyped view of the people who opposed them (bleeding heart, do-gooders).  There was extreme pressure to conform, an illusion of unanimity (at least in the beginning), many of the jurors engaged in self-censorship (they didn’t initially voice their opinions) and strong personalities that were trying to push the group in a certain direction.


Despite these symptoms, the minority was able to override the majority and sway the vote to NOT GUILTY.  So this was a rare case of minority influence in which a minority of individuals can influence the group—rather than the reverse. 


So what were the factors that gave rise to this phenomenon?




Hendry Fonda, the leader of the minority opinion, always remained consistent in his opposition to the majority.  In other words, he never hesitated or wavered, but always stood firm in his conviction. This makes people think more deeply about the issue.  Other people probably make the attribution—as Joseph Sweeney did (the old man) that if a person is willing to stand up against the entire group and face ridicule, then he must have some important points to make.  So this kind of consistency against the majority can lead others to augment their faith in the minority’s beliefs.



Although the minority has to be consistent, at the same time, they have to avoid appearing rigid and inflexible to the majority. In other words, if they are consistent, but still open minded, then it doesn’t put the majority on the defensive, and makes them more open to the minority. Fonda clearly did this by saying that he didn’t necessarily think that the majority was wrong, but just that he wanted to talk more about it—just wanted to discuss some of the issues.  Jack Warden even remarked that Fonda had the “soft sell”.



 Fonda was clearly self-confident. He had complete conviction in what he was doing and saying which instilled confidence in other members of the jury who were leaning in that direction.



If the minority can get a few people to defect to their side, then this will often create a “snowball effect” in which more and more people will change their opinion. This helps puncture a hole in the illusion of unanimity and loosens the pressure to conform. Its like in the Milgram studies in which people were less likely to obey, if there were other people in the study who also disobeyed. Defections give others the strength to go against the majority.  Fonda orchestrated these defections a little by walking up to certain people that he thought were unsure and asking them directly if they really believed the evidence.