During deliberations, there are two psychological processes which greatly affect the outcome of damage awards. The first is polarity shift, and the second is the group think phenomenon.
Polarity shift is when the entire group makes a decision which is riskier or more conservative than what each member would decide on his/her own. The two primary factors which underlie this are social comparison and persuasive arguments.
Social comparison deals with the assessment of other juror’s attitudes to see how an individual’s opinion fits into the group. It is common for jurors to be shy with their true feelings and hold back in revealing what they feel. However, the moment that a juror learns they are not alone in their thinking; they are much more comfortable with revealing their opinion. As support increases, the amount of the award often increases as well.
Persuasive arguments begin to have an effect as the jurors deliberate. Jurors are able to hear arguments from peers which they had not previously considered. The critical mass of the juror’s attitudes concerning key issues increases until a threshold is reached.
The “group think” phenomenon was named after the Kennedy administration’s debates over the Bay of Pigs. All of the government officials held the same thoughts with very minimal dissent. In a jury, this occurs when the jurors vote and almost all or all have the same sentiments. Therefore, the motivation to discuss the merits of both sides of the case is circumvented. Even if a few jurors have differing opinions, they do not want to take attacks all alone, so they will bow to the group’s opinion. As a result, the evidence is not properly discussed.
Polarity shift and group think may be responsible for jury awards that are much larger than what would be awarded by an individual juror.