The film “12 Angry Men” exemplifies many social psychology theories. Thistense, compelling film, features a group of jurors who must decide the guilt or innocenceof an accused murder. Initially, eleven of the twelve jurors vote guilty. Gradually,through heated discussion, the jurors are swayed to a not-guilty decision. Uponexamination, the film highlights social psychology theories in areas of conformity,attitude change and group process.
Conformity Within the context of the jury room conformity is a dangerous device. “TwelveAngry Men” exemplifies the power of informational social influence and normativesocial influence, theories developed through the research of Muzafer Sherif, SolomonAsch and others. According to informational social influence, individuals conformbecause they believe that other’s interpretation of an ambiguous situation is more salient,or valid than their own. Normative social influence is a theory that posits the cause ofindividual conformity due to the possibility of appearing deviant.Judging other’s interpretations of an ambiguous event often leads to conformitycaused by informational social influence.
This theory is applicable within the juror’sdecisional processes of the “Twelve Angry Men.” Informational social influence isexacerbated by the ambiguity of the situation, the importance of being correct, time constraints, and the presence of those perceived as experts. Conformity due to social influence is portrayed within the first moments of thefilm. Within the jury room, heated debate is precluded by an initial vote. This vote, takenpublicly, was susceptible to normative social influence, an element of social influence, orconformity due to a fear of appearing deviant.
As the jurors cast their initial vote, hesitancy is obvious in many of the eleven who vote guilty. This timidity can beinterpreted as weak conviction swayed by the guilty majority’s influence.Two of the jurors, a particularly irascible individual, and a sickly, prejudiced man,appeal to normative social influence. The volatile man quickly bolsters his position whenhe vituperates, “of course he is guilty,” prior to the vote being taken.
The sickly manexclaims after the vote and Henry Fonda’s deviation, “there always has to be one.”Both men attempt to harness the power of normative social influence to convince all thata guilty vote is applicable. Informational social influence, or conformity based on others views, isexacerbated by time constraints. The nature of a jury, despite philosophical leanings, isone of severe time pressure.
The courts are an overburdened element within our justicesystem. Perceived pressure, upon a jury, by judges and prosecutors alike, could confoundthe jury process and create conformity according to the theory of normative informationalsocial influence. Though the film is void of any references from the judge regardingtimelines of a decision this is a relevant factor possibly influencing the “12 Angry Men,”and must be considered as a potential factor in creating normative social influence.
An additional time constraint is placed upon the jury by their wishes and needs.Many of the men, in this all-male jury, describe their employment or other aspects of lifeJury duty impedes their life’s progress, creating an unmentioned time constraint. As thesickly man exclaims, “I have three stations to attend to,” possibly referring to hisbusiness, and as one of the jurors reminds the group, “I have tickets to tonight’sYankees game,” each is putting the rest under time constraints. Time constraints exacerbate informational social influence and possibly played a role in causing some ofthe jurors to cast guilty, conformist votes.
An advertising executive, also a member of the jury, exemplifies the muscle ofinformational social influences. After the not-guilty jurors provide the flippant adexecutive with a cogent argument, he changes his vote from guilty to not guilty.Oppositely, when the guilty favoring jurors provide the ad executive with a compellingargument he is influenced to reverse his not-guilty vote. After questioning, theadvertising executive is unable to formulate his own reasons for his decision. Hisreliance on others is an example of informational social influence or the tendency thatproduces conformity when a person believes other’s judgments are correct.
Majority influence and social impact theory induce conformity. These theories areapplicable in the jury context and are relevant to an interpretation of “Twelve AngryMen.” Social impact theory stipulates the situational and personal factors that engenderconformity.
Through the work of Milgram, Asch, Sherif, Schacter, and others, socialimpact theory and majority influence are defined as a function of the strength of source,immediacy of sources, group size, awareness of norms, compatriots in dissension, age,gender, and culture.Within “12 Angry Men,” two figures emerge as leaders for each faction, guiltyversus not guilty. These two men, Henry Fonda supporting the not guilty side and a well-dressed businessman arguing for a guilty verdict, elicit a certain power and strength.Although the jurors had no prior relationship, these two sources of influence arepowerful. Each builds respect and admiration for the faction leader prior to changing theirvote. An additional factor in the strength/power element is portrayed in the volatile gentleman’s behavior prior to the initial vote casting.
His eagerness to convict the killeris conveyed in a boisterous manner that could be construed as powerful.Conformity is enhanced by the immediacy element of social impact theory.Within the confines of the juror’s room dissension would be difficult. Without anonymity, dissension is increasingly difficult.
Perception of norms is unequivocally a factorenhancing conformity. Stereotyping and prejudice were rampant at the time “12 AngryMen” was filmed. Cleverly, the director and writers used the movie to address thisscornful and widespread racism. Negative sentiment regarding African-Americans in thefifties was routine. The sickly juror utilizes racism in his decision of guilt or innocence.
This possibly resulted in the arousal of a perceived negative racial norm and causedothers to utilize the accused’s ethnic background for decisive means.Henry Fonda’s temerity in opposing the group singularly belies a component ofsocial impact theory and majority influence while supporting another. According tosocial impact theory when the majority rulings are immediate and widespread conformitywill result. Fonda’s vote of not guilty negates this presumption but support the theory ofan ally in dissent. According to the ally in dissent component of social impact andmajority theory, in the presence of one dissenter others are likely to follow. This occurs.
Fonda’s vote of not guilty elicits dissension in others as well.The age components of social impact theory are highlighted within the film too.According to Solomon Asch, a prominent social psychologist, older individuals are lesslikely to conform. The oldest juror is the first one to break from conformity and switchhis vote to not guilty. Conformity occurs through normative social influence, informational socialinfluence and lastly through social impact and majority influences. “Twelve Angry Men”highlights the efficacy of these theories.
Attitude Change and Persuasion Persuasion is a function of attitude and is an integral aspect of the intriguingnature of “Twelve Angry Men.” Persuasion is the process by which attitudes arechanged. According to social psychologists Richard Petty and John Cacioppo, there aretwo routes to persuasion: peripheral and central. As persuasion plays a central role in theplot of “12 Angry Men,” these theories are applicable. The central route to persuasion is the process by which a person thinks carefullyabout a communication and is influenced by the power of argument.
Fonda and thereserved businessman’s approach to attitude change are both characterized by the centralroute. Fonda appeals for the accused’s innocence in a well-thought, elucidated manner.He stipulates his points through empirical evidence and eventually sways the other jurors.The central route to persuasion characterized Fonda’s approach. Likewise, thebusinessman utilizes his stoic, inductive nature to create a cogent argument based on fact.
He, like Fonda, attempts to use the central route to persuasion. Lastly, a foreign jurorappeals to the central route to persuasion when he advocates, “going deeper,” in referenceto an examination of the facts. The peripheral route of persuasion is characterized by superficial cuessurrounding the argument rather than the argument’s factual validity. The sickly manurges the other jurors to construe an attitude based on peripheral ethnic and racial cues.
Eventually shunned by fellow jurors, the sickly man encourages to his confederates to convict the man because “we know how these African-Americans act. They are all thesame. They lie, they steal they drink.
” Through the use of non-factual, environmentalcues, the sick gentleman utilizes the peripheral route to persuasion. Route selection is another component of relevance in “12 Angry Men.” Thegentleman jurors who care deeply about the fate of the accused boy, are concerned withjustice, take pride in their intellect regardless of social status, and are involved in the discussion are susceptible to the central route. This is exemplified through HenryFonda’s character, the oldest juror and the foreign juror.
Each chose the central route. Those who are not able to understand the complexity of the trial, are distractedand pressed for time tend to take the peripheral route. This phenom is exemplified by thesickly man who complains about his business being interrupted and speaks Englishpoorly, the Yankee’s fan who urgently wants to make it to the ballyard and finally in thevolatile man who is distracted by his own personal rage, elicited by the young accusedman. Source theory in persuasion is relevant to the movie as well. Sources are effectiveif they seem to possess credibility and likeability. Henry Fonda and the businessman,both eminent sources within the jury room, both convey a competence.
Competence isachieved through oratory ability and appearance of intelligence, qualities both menpossess. Moreover, their credibility is enhanced by their lack of self-interest. NeitherFonda nor the businessman stands to benefit from their positions. Fonda, arguing fromthe minority, is at a distinct advantage because, according to source theory, those whotake unpopular stands intrigue people.
Lastly, both gentlemen are physically attractive, which according to source theory enhances credibility. Well dressed and composed, bothFonda and the businessman served as attractive and hence persuasive sources. Attitude and persuasion theory are both found within the film “Twelve AngryMen.
” Characters and plot highlight the central and peripheral theories of attitude changeand give credence to the impact of source theory in persuasion. Route and source areelements, which strongly influence attitude.Group Process The jury environment is worthy of small group status. As a collective engaged indirect social interaction in pursuit of a verdict, “The Twelve Angry Men,” is deemed asmall group. Several theories of group performance are applicable within “TwelveAngry Men,” but they are subject to interpretation and run a less evident course thantheories previously discussed.
Social facilitation, group polarization and social loafingare theories that are evident within the film. Social facilitation theory states, the presence of others hinders performance ondifficult tasks but enhances performance on easy tasks. Within the film, a meek man ofhigh intellect is confounded and apprehensive when approached by the group for avaluation of his opinion. This timid fellow, a banker, establishes his intellect later in thefilm but initially, in the presence and under the scrutiny of others is unable to come upwith viable, cogent responses to his fellow juror’s questions. Specifically, this mancollapses under the scrutiny of others, exemplifying evaluation apprehension theory, acomponent of social facilitation.
Evaluation apprehension theory posits that the presenceof others will produce social facilitation effects when the audience is perceived aspotential evaluators. Social loafing is a theory proved through numerous scientific studies of groupprocess. Social loafing defined is the group-produced reduction in individual output on the taskwhere effort is pooled.
This is exemplified when many of the jurors provide inadequatearguments to support their ideas. This theory is relevant when the volatile gentlemanabdicates his argument to the businessman exclaiming, “you tell them.” The sports fan’sbehavior is also indicative of social loafing. He often provides inadequate, ill-thought,effortless responses when confronted about his opinion regarding the guilt or innocenceof the accused. Fonda’s adherence and conviction in evaluating the case is an example of socialcompensation.
Fonda’s character believes in the justice and morality implied within theconstitutional guarantee afforded by the jury process. Fonda says, “this man deserves afair trial and I won’t put a man to death without examining the facts.” His conviction, inthe presence of social loafing, exemplifies compensation.
Group polarization and groupthink are theories relevant to an examination of thegroup processes occurring within “Twelve Angry Men.” Group polarization is theconcept that group discussion generally serves to strengthen the already dominant pointof view. This often leads to risky shift. “Twelve Angry Men,” initially exemplifies thisprocess but with consistent derision is suppressed by Fonda and his associates.
The initialdiscussion does seem to strengthen the confidence of those preferential to a guilty verdict. The situation in the jurors’ experience is highly susceptible to the vices ofgroupthink. Groupthink is likely to occur in a group that has unquestioned beliefs, the pressure to conform, invulnerability, censors, cohesiveness from within, isolation fromwithout and a strong leader. The “Twelve Angry Men,” find themselves in a situation that matches many of the variables conducive to groupthink. Perhaps the lack of cohesivenessof ideation and the lack of a strong unified leader prevented groupthink from occurring.
Without the influence of Fonda, these pressured, all-white males, segregated bythe environment would engage in groupthink. Theories of group process including groupthink, group polarization, socialloafing, social compensation and social facilitation are exemplified in the movie “TwelveAngry Men.” The impact of group process is potentially damaging and in the context ofa jury must be mitigated to ensure fairness and adherence to values.
“Twelve Angry Men,” was released at a time when political upheaval and socialjustice was fomenting. In an era of social, scientific and moral expansion, “TwelveAngry Men” seems to mirror the growing sentiments of the United States in the latefifties. The film’s illumination of several social psychological theories provides a basisfor critical examination and a forum for understanding attitudes, group process, andconformity. There is no distinction between those men and myself or you.
An awarenessof the limiting nature and possible danger of many of these social psychological theoriesis beneficial and necessary to an understanding of us.