Monday, September 19, 2005

Jurors' Risk Assessment

The concept of risk tends to permeate much of what goes on in a courtroom. Jurors tend to second guess conduct during deliberations in negligence and other cases, arguing, for instance, "He should have known that it was risking disaster to build a house in a city that is below sea level," or "the defendant should have known that an assault would likely occur on her property." Social psychologists call this "hindsight bias," and it is manifested as the tendency of people to believe that they could have accurately predicted the occurence of an event had they been in the shoes of the person whose decision is alleged to have caused the outcome. Such bias would not necessarily present a problem, except that very often we are simply inaccurate in our assumptions about how we would have actually perceived various risks. Many factors come into play that skew our perceptions. Good courtroom lawyers are aware of this phenomenon and address it in the presentation of their evidence and during argument. For some interesting thoughts on the topic, see . Philip Monte, Ph.D., J.D.


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