From the Mediation Matters Blog of Steve Mehta.
Many people have wondered about how juries react to the pain of other people that they are judging. Well new research has discovered some interesting conclusions regarding how people empathize with others. A study reported in the July 1 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience reports that an observer feels more empathy for someone in pain when that person is in the same social group.
Based upon brain imaging studies, the study found that perceiving others in pain activates a part of the brain associated with empathy and emotion more if the observer and the observed are the same race. The authors believe that this research is not limited to race but to all types of similar socio-economic factors.
The study confirms by neuroimaging others’ suppositions that people are biased towards others that are in their same social and cultural group.
This type of research requires additional investigation to confirm such biases among a variety of social groups. But it starts to give an understanding of bias that is crucial to all areas in social interaction. As for juries, this research confirms that there probably is an inherent bias with people from the same racial group. Clearly, in civil cases injury cases where someone is alleging that he or she is in pain, the inherent bias could affect the outcome.
It would be interesting to see if there is a study that evaluates verdicts based upon the biases of the juries. But for now, we can realize that biases in juries do exist. We may never fully know the true extent of the biases. That, however, is all the more reason for people to try and effectuate a resolution through mediation where they can control their own outcomes as opposed to relying on the biased jury.
It is also interesting to note that over the years, I have seen a trend (anecdotally from conversations with many lawyers and observation of trials) that many people will state that juries are less empathetic to other people’s pain than previously. Perhaps this is so because of this cultural bias as discussed here. The United States has become much more culturally diverse, and in turn the juries are culturally diverse. As such, because there is greater diversity on the jury, they may not associate with the parties to litigation as much on a subconscious level.
Adapted and augmented from materials provided by Society for Neuroscience
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