Individual versus group decision making: Jurors’ reliance on central and peripheral information to evaluate expert testimony
To investigate dual-process persuasion theories in the context of group decision making, we studied low and high need-for-cognition (NFC) participants within a mock trial study. Participants considered plaintiff and defense expert scientific testimony that varied in argument strength. All participants heard a cross-examination of the experts focusing on peripheral information (e.g., credentials) about the expert, but half were randomly assigned to also hear central information highlighting flaws in the expert’s message (e.g., quality of the research presented by the expert). Participants rendered pre- and post-group-deliberation verdicts, which were considered “scientifically accurate” if the verdicts reflected the strong (versus weak) expert message, and “scientifically inaccurate” if they reflected the weak (versus strong) expert message. For individual participants, we replicated studies testing classic persuasion theories: Factors promoting reliance on central information (i.e., central cross-examination, high NFC) improved verdict accuracy because they sensitized individual participants to the quality discrepancy between the experts’ messages. Interestingly, however, at the group level, the more that scientifically accurate mock jurors discussed peripheral (versus central) information about the experts, the more likely their group was to reach the scientifically accurate verdict. When participants were arguing for the scientifically accurate verdict consistent with the strong expert message, peripheral comments increased their persuasiveness, which made the group more likely to reach the more scientifically accurate verdict.