Source of the following article Persuasive Litigator.

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:

Do you think you miss valuable information in voir dire? What about your friends and colleagues who are trial lawyers: Do you think they miss valuable information in voir dire?

The first question is self-directed: It is asking about you. But the second question is what they call a “social-circle” question, asking about the attitudes or experiences that you would attribute to those in your social circle. Of course, if you’re asking those kinds of questions to potential jurors, on face, you might think that it is just the first question that matters. After all, who cares what the social circle thinks, since they aren’t the ones sitting in the seats as potential jurors. However, there is emerging that in some circumstances, the social-circle question is better than the self-directed question because it circumvents the barriers that can limit the honesty of a response to a personal question, barriers like incomplete self-awareness, perceived social desirability, embarrassment, or shame.

In the research (Galesic, et al., 2018), a group of American and British researchers looked at the most recent presidential elections in the U.S. and France, comparing self-directed questions about the respondents themselves to social-circle questions about the respondents’ friends. As discussed in a release in ScienceDaily” in both countries, responses people gave about their friends led to more accurate predictions for the election outcomes than the information people gave about themselves.” While it hasn’t, to my knowledge, been tested yet in the context of jury selection, social-circle questions could end up serving as a useful hack for getting past these barriers. In this post, I’ll share a few ideas on how and when they might be put to use. 

When Do Social-Circle Questions Work?

In the case of the French and American elections, they seemed to work due to some unique features of the candidates, namely that some perceived social pressure against admitting that they were voting for Marie LePen or for Donald Trump. “People can be embarrassed to admit if they plan to vote for a less-popular candidate,” lead author Mirta Galesic noted, “but they are less embarrassed to say it about their friends.”

That suggests that social-circle questions might work when there is some perceived social- desirability pressure which would dissuade respondents from an honest answer about themselves, and lead them to be more personally honest when they believe they are talking about their friends.

What Are Some Social-Circle Questions that Might Be Useful? 

Reading Product Warnings.

Thinking about your friends and family, do you believe that most people in that group tend to read product labels verbatim, or are they more likely to skim for meaning? 

Dishonesty in a Business Relationship

Within your own social circle, about how often do you think someone would choose to not be fully open and honest about something in a business relationship: never, very rarely, sometimes, or often? 

Tax Honesty

When it comes to accurately reporting for one’s taxes, we know that some people are scrupulously honest, and some might shade the truth a little if it helps them save money. Thinking about the people you know, about what percentage would you say are absolutely honest in that regard? 

Victimization Experience

Who here knows someone that has been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace? 

Anti-Corporate Bias

Thinking about your own social circle, would most of them trust a large company to generally tell the truth, or would most of them tend to discount the honesty of a large company? 

Anti-Plaintiff Bias

What proportion of your own friends and family would agree that lawsuits are generally bad for the country? 

Racial Discrimination

In your own social circle, do you know anyone who has faced the accusation of being engaged in racial discrimination? 

Of course, there is no guarantee that a statement made about one’s social circle reflects back on the person making the statement. But in the setting of voir dire, where information is inevitably going to be filtered and imperfect, there is a relatively good chance that it does. At least, it is one factor to consider.

The judge or the other side might also object to these kinds of questions, and that objection could keep social-circle questions out of either an oral voir dire or a questionnaire. For that reason, if you plan to use them, be prepared to cite the social science to the court in order to support the argument that, in some settings, these questions reduce social-desirability bias and lead to more accurate answers, which allows the voir dire to fulfill its intended purpose.

Other Posts on Question Strategy: 


Galesic, M., Bruine de Bruin, W., Dumas, M., Kapteyn, A., Darling, J. E., & Meijer, E. (2018). Asking about social circles improves election predictions. Nature Human Behaviourdoi:10.1038/s41562-018-0302-y

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