Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Found content 5: watch 12 Angry men

This is just one moment from the classic Film “12 Angry Men.” The plot of the film involves one juror who believes there is reasonable doubt as to the defendants’ guilt. He tries to convince others that there is reasonable doubt. 

~3m, E.G Marshall (juror 4) who voted guilty in the straw poll uses rhetorical questions (“aren’t you asking us to accept a pretty incredible coincidence”).  Schopenhauer (1963) stated that they are a powerful tactic in debating.

Here Henry Fonda attempts to persuade other jurors to accept his version of events. He does this through storytelling. He provides a narrative, a sequence of events. Pennington and Hastie (1992) found that when mock jurors were presented with evidence in a story format, it was much more effective compare to when evidence was presented in a disorganised format.  

In this section, some pro-guilty verdict jurors resort to ad hominem attacks on other jurors “you must be out of your mind.” Whilst "jeer pressure" can cause compliance (Steele, 1975), in this case it serves to negatively impact their own argument. Instead it creates enemies against them, who even serve to prove them wrong despite initially siding with them earlier in the film! Ableson and Miller (1967) found that jeer pressure, in a public setting especially can actually dissuade someone. 

Towards the end of the film, this juror’s real reasons emerge; he is racist and believes the defendant (an ethnic minority) must have committed the crime. His claim is based on no evidence  showing that ethnic minorities commit more crimes. The other juror’s, in a powerful moment, all walk away from the table illustrating how they simply have no time to listen to such nonsense. This old juror’s argument does not work as it is persuasion based not only on no evidence whatsoever, but based on his own naive prejudices.

Here we see this juror (who in the first straw vote went with guilty) convince others that in fact the testimony presented by an elderly witness should in fact be discarded.  The old man himself has been ignored before this moment and even interrupted during speech.  He feels he can relate to the eye witness’ desire to be relevant and significant. He even states “I think I know this man better than anyone here.”

 Eventually, by the end of the film, the position of one lone juror is that the defendant is guilty. However, his argument is a victim of dilution. Friederich et al (1996) found that weak arguments dilute the message’s appeal. They found that when participants were presented weak arguments vs strong arguments, they were less persuaded by the argument itself. By the end of the film, this juror’s argument is so weak (a product in fact of Henry Fonda’s influence) that no one sides with him and eventually he even believes the man cannot be guilty based on his own weak argument.

So in relation to this film, eventually his argument breaks down because his arguments are too weak to support his stance. It also revealed however that his own back story has some influence on his stance.

I suggest watching the whole film as there are persuasive tactics and negotiation tactics aplenty. It may be in black and white but the remake is not as good as the original.  

Ableson, R. P., & Miller, J. C. (1967). Negative persuasion via personal insult. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 3, 321-333.

Friederich, J., Fetherstonhaugh, D., Casey, S., & Gallagher (1996). Argument integration and attitude change: Suppression effects in the integration of one-sided arguments that vary in persuasiveness. Personality and Social Psychology, 18, 476-487.

Pennington, N., & Hastie, R. (1992). Explaining the evidence: Tets of the story model for juror decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 189-206.

Schopenhauer, A. (1963).Eristik. In. Rhetorische Kommunikation, ed. B. Frank-Bohringer, Quickborn: Schnelle.

Steel, C. M. (1975) Name-calling and compliance. Journal of personality and Social Psychology, 31, 361-369.

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