Jurors, Social Rejection and Perceptions of Money
Social acceptance is a fundamental human need, and consumers spend a significant amount of time and money to ensure that they stay connected, feel accepted, and have a social support system in place.
But what about folks who struggle with social connections and, as a general rule of thumb, feel excluded and disconnected from others? A recent study suggests that these people are more likely to engage in risky financial decisions.
In a study published by the Journal of Consumer Research, research participants were asked to recall a social situation that caused them to feel included or excluded. They were then asked to choose between gambling options that were either (a) high-odds but low-reward, or (b) low-odds but high-reward. Participants who associated with a feeling of rejection or isolation tended to select the low-odds-high-reward option, which is clearly the riskier financial choice.
Why is this?
People typically meet their needs in one of two ways: social connections (popularity) or money. Researchers contend that consumers who lack solid support systems or struggle with feelings of exclusion perceive money as a tool for gaining control: money enables them to cope with life’s challenges when the support of a social group feels unlikely.
What on earth does this have to do with courtroom advocacy?
While this particular research did not specifically measure participants’ willingness to award damages in civil litigation, it’s not unreasonable to opine that jurors who have recently suffered social rejection in some way may be more likely to write a bigger check. After all, if a juror views his future as particularly lonely and isolated, the solution to coping for the unknown– in his mind– could be dollars.
By utilizing written juror questionnaires and posing carefully crafted queries during voir dire, you may be able to identify jurors who have experienced recent feelings of isolation or rejection. If you’re representing the Plaintiff, this may work to your advantage (especially if the experience causes the juror to further identify with your client). If you’re representing the Defendant, these could be red flags:
Death in the family
Job termination (or demotion)
Loss of a promotion or job opportunity
Notable exclusion from a social event or situation
Loss of a beloved pet
Significant move or change in support system
Any sort of perceived falling out with friends, peers or family
Does the fact that a juror feels socially isolated mean that he will award (higher) damages? Absolutely not. But it does suggest that he’s more likely than socially-connected jurors to view money as a solution.