Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Compliant Juror: Part I

The opposite of a skeptical juror is a compliant juror.

I suggest most jurors are compliant because most people are loath to challenge authority. While the obvious authority figure in the courtroom is the judge, and while the judge attempts to be unbiased, the jurors believe they are answering to a higher authority. I'm not talking about a supreme being. I'm talking about the citizenry and the common good.

Note that the Court usually presents the case as The People versus Joe Doaks. The prosecutor then quickly informs the jurors that he represents The People, or The State, or The People of The State. He is but a public servant that wishes only to see justice served. He will be first in his opening statement and he will be last in his closing arguments. He will sit closest to the jury. He will be impeccably dressed. His hair will be well coiffed.

If you believe that such minor trappings could not instill such an air of authority that jurors would be unwilling to challenge it, I suggest you are wrong. As evidence I point to a series of experiments conducted in the early 1960s. During those tests, a lab coat and the title of Experimenter constituted sufficient authority that test subjects were unwilling to defy authority. Test subjects were unwilling to defy authority even when instructed to apply lethal electric shocks to an innocent fellow subject.

I'll describe the test arrangement and I'll provide the transcript from one of many sessions. Then I'll allow you to ponder whether the experiment has any relevance to juror compliance.

Subjects were tested two at a time to determine if negative feedback in the form of electric shocks could improve learning. The subjects were typically postal clerks, high school teachers, salesmen, engineers, and laborers. By lot, one subject was determined to the Teacher and the other was determined to be the Learner.

Each test was administered by a stern 31-year-old high-school teacher of biology. He wore a gray technician's coat. He provided a standard explanation of the test to each Teacher / Learner pair. Below, I present a somewhat abridged transcript of the standard explanation.
Psychologists have developed several theories to explain how people learn various types of material ... One theory is that people learn things correctly whenever they get punished for making a mistake. ... But actually, we know very little about the effect of punishment on learning, because almost no truly scientific studies have been made of it in human beings.

For instance, we don't know how much punishment is best for learning -- and we don't know how much difference it makes as to who is giving the punishment, whether an adult learns best from a younger or an older person than himself -- or many things of that sort.

So in this study we are bringing together a number of adults of different occupations and ages. And we're asking some of them to be teachers and some of them to be learners.
The learning test consisted of remembering paired words. The Teacher would begin by reading a long list of paired words, such as:
blue box
nice day
wild duck
green ink
The Teacher would then present one word of the word pair and four other words, only one of which matched, thus:
blue: sky, ink, box, lamp
The Learner, who would be sitting in a chair in an adjacent but isolated room, would communicate his answer by pressing one of four switches in front of him, which lit up one of four lights on the Teacher's electrical console. If the Learner answered incorrectly, he would be given an electrical shock. Each time he answered incorrectly, the electrical voltage would be increased by 15 volts.

The Teacher and the Learner were led to the Learner's room where the Learner was strapped into an "electric chair" apparatus. The Experimenter explained that the straps were to prevent excessive movement while the Learner was being shocked. An electrode was attached to the Learner's wrist. The experimenter assured the subjects that the shocks would cause no permanent damage but cautioned that the shocks could be painful.

The Experimenter and Teacher returned to the Teacher's room. From that room, the Teacher could hear but could not see the Learner. Sitting on the Teacher's table was a large electrical console. I show that console in the three images below.

The console included 30 lever switches arranged horizontally. Each switch was labeled with a voltage ranging from 15 to 450 volts, in 15 volt increments. The switches were labeled in groups of four as:
Slight Shock
Moderate Shock
Strong Shock
Very Strong Shock
Intense Shock
Extreme Intensity Shock
Danger: Severe Shock
The last two switches were simply labeled as XXX.

The Experimenter instructed the Teacher to conduct the test in the following manner. I paraphrase:
After reading all the word pairs to the Learner, read the test words to the Leaner one at a time. Read the test word, read the four possible matching words, and ask for an answer. If the Learner answers correctly according to the light on the Teacher's console, inform the Learner that he was correct, then move on to the next word. If the Learner answers incorrectly, inform the Learner that he was incorrect, provide the correct answer, inform him of the next voltage in the sequence he is about to receive, and toggle the appropriate switch.
Okay, that's the test set up. The transcript below is from one of the tests just described. It begins as the Teacher is about to apply a 195 volt shock for a wrong answer. The Teacher has been growing increasingly uncomfortable with the test and has become fearful for the Learner's life.

The transcript that follows is true. Keep in mind that nothing is forcing the Teacher to behave as he does other than his unwillingness to defy an authority figure.
T: I can't stand it. I'm not going to kill that man in there. You hear him hollering?

E: As I told you before, the shocks may be painful, but --

T: But he's hollering. He can't stand it. What's going to happen to him?

E: The experiment requires that you continue, Teacher.

T: Aaah, but, uh, I'm not going to get that man sick in there. Know what I mean?

E: Whether the Learner likes it or not, we must go on, through all the word pairs.

T: I refuse to take that responsibility. He's in there hollering!

E: It's absolutely essential that you continue, Teacher.

T: There's too many [unused questions] left here. There's too many left here. I mean, Geez, if he gets them wrong, there's too many of them left. I mean who's going to take the responsibility if anything happens to that gentleman?

E: I'm responsible for anything that happens to him. Continue, please.

T: All right.

[Teacher continues with list of words.]

T: The next one's Slow: walk, truck, dance, music. Answer, please.

[Learner signals his answer.]

T: Wrong. A hundred and ninety-five volts. Dance.

[Learner screams.]

L: Let me out of here. My heart's bothering me.

[Teacher looks at the Experimenter.]

E: Continue, please.
L: [Screaming] Let me out of here. You have no right to keep me here. Let me out of here. Let me out.  My heart's bothering me. Let me out!

[Teacher shakes his head and pats the table nervously.]

T: You see. He's hollering. Hear that? Gee, I don't know.

E: The experiment requires --

T: I know it does, sir, but I mean -- huh! He don't know what he's getting in for. He's up to 195 volts!

[Teacher continues to give shocks through 210, 225, 240, 255, and 270 volts. The Teacher runs out of word-pair questions. He is obviously relieved that it's over, only to be surprised that it is not.]

E: You'll have to back to the beginning of that page and go through them again until he's learned them all correctly.

T: Aw, no. I'm not going to kill that man. You mean I've got to keep going up with the scale? No, sir. He's hollering. I'm not going to give him 450 volts.

E: The experiment requires that you go on.

T: I know it does, but that man is hollering in there, sir.

E: As I said before, although the shocks may be painful --

T: Awwww. He, he, he's yelling in there, sir.

E: Start with Blue, please, at the top of the page. Continue please, Teacher. Just go ahead.

[Teacher concentrates intently on the list of word in front of him, as if to shut everything else out.]

T: Blue: boy, girl, grass, hat.

[Learner signals his answer.]

T: Correct. Night: day, sky, job, chair.

[Learner signals his answer.]

T: Wrong. The answer is Day. Two hundred and eight-five volts.

[Learner screams.]

E: Continue, please.

T: Fat: man, lady, tub, neck. Answer, please.

[Learner signals his answer.]

T: Wrong. The answer is Neck. Three hundred volts.

[Learner screams.]

L: I absolutely refuse to answer any more. [Learner is shouting.] Let me out of here. You can't hold me here. Get me out. Bet me out of here.

E: Continue. The next word is Green, please.

T: Green: grass, hat, ink, apple.


T: I don't think he is going to answer.

E: If the Learner doesn't answer in a reasonable time, about four or five seconds, consider the answer wrong. And follow the same procedures you have been doing for wrong answers. Say "Wrong." Tell him the number of volts. Give him the punishment. Read him the correct answer. Continue, please.

T: Green: grass, hat, ink, apple. Answer, please.

E: Go on with the procedure, please, Teacher.

T: Three hundred and fifteen volts. The answer is Ink.

[Learner screams.]

T: Next one --

L: I absolutely refuse to answer.

T: You got to. You get a shock if you don't answer.

[Teacher continues asking questions. Learner refuses to answer. Teacher continues to shock Learner with increasingly powerful voltage. Eventually, Learner fails to even grunt or groan. At 375 volts, Teacher stands up.]

T: I think something's happened to that fellow in there. I don't get no answer. He was hollering at less voltage. Can't you check in and see if he's all right, please?

E: Not once we've started. Please continue, Teacher.

[Teacher sits back down and sighs deeply.]

T: Cool: day, shade, water, paint. Answer, please. Are you all right in there? Are you all right?

E: Please continue, Teacher. Continue, please.

[Teacher applies the shock. No response comes from the other room.]

T: Something's happened to that man in there. Next one. Low: dollar, necklace, moon, paint. Something's happened to that man in there. You better check on him, sir. He won't answer or nothing.

E: Continue. Go on, please.

T: You accept all responsibility?

E: The responsibility is all mine. Correct. Please go on.

[Teacher returns to his list. He runs through the words as rapidly as he can read them, working his way up to and including 450 volts. No sound comes from the other room.]

T: That's that.

E: Continue using the 450 volt switch for each wrong answer. Continue please.

T: But I don't get anything!

E: Please continue. The next word is White.

T: Don't you think you should look in on him, please?

E: Not once we've started the experiment.

T: But what if something has happened to the man?

E: The experiment requires that you continue. Go on please.

T: Don't the man's health mean anything?

E: Whether the Learner likes it or not --

T: What if he's dead in there? I mean, he told me he can't stand the shock, sir. I don't mean to be rude, but I think you should look in on him. All you have to do is look in on him. All you have to do is look in the door. I don't get no answer, no noise. Something might have happened to the gentleman in there sir.

E: We must continue. Go on, please.

T: You mean keep giving him what? Four-hundred fifty volts, what he's got now?

E: That's correct. Continue. The next word is White.

[Teacher reads through the word pairs at a furious pace. The Learner does not respond. Each time, Teacher applies a 450 volt shock.]

T: White: cloud, horse, rock, house. Answer, please. The answer is Horse. Four hundred and fifty volts. Next word. Bag: paint, music, clown, girl. The answer is Paint. Four-hundred and fifty volts. Next word is Short: sentence, movie ...

E: Excuse me, Teacher. We'll have to discontinue the experiment.
And that's it. I liked it particularly when the Learner told the Experimenter: "I don't mean to be rude ..."

It actually happened as I have just described it to you. You now get to think about three not-so-simple questions.

Question First: Is this test in any way relevant to jury compliance, as I suggest?

Question Second: How would you have behaved had you been the Teacher?

Question Third: Are you sure?