Skip to Content

Lemmings or Lions: Can Attorneys Manipulate Jurors Through Belief Mirroring

Required by the Sixth and Seventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, jury trials underpin the justice system. Whether a criminal defendant walks free or spends the rest of his life in jail turns on a jury vote. And so does whether a hundred-billion dollar, multinational corporation pays damages for alleged environmental contamination. But are jurors up to the task? Competing images in popular culture, in scholarly literature, and among practicing lawyers and judges paint jurors in diametrically different ways, as either lemmings or lions. These depictions are honest disputes rooted in scholarly research and anecdotes that could support either narrative.

This study contributes to the ever-evolving understanding of which image of a juror is more accurate. Using a fully randomized experimental design, it focuses on a single question: are jurors more likely to vote in favor of liability in a civil case if that case is framed in terms that align with a juror’s own beliefs – a concept referred to in this article as “belief mirroring.” For example, will framing a case as a way to protect the underdog and stand-up to corporate greed cause more jurors who hold those values to vote yes on liability? Conversely, will framing the case in conservative language that conflicts with the juror’s views turn those jurors off? The results help illuminate the degree the lens through which a case is presented can manipulate jurors and effect their decision, rather than the hard facts that actually define case.

The results suggest jurors are more lion than lemming. Jurors of all political orientations, ages, races, educations and genders rejected belief mirroring and decided the cases on the facts. This has real world implications for the reliability of jurors, as it suggests that jurors cannot be manipulated by attorneys who try to frame cases in familiar language. It also has real implications for practicing attorneys, as it suggests they should spend most of their time developing the facts of their case, not in trying to frame those facts in language they believe will be familiar to the jury.