Social injustices such as prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, and aggression manifest themselves in almost all communities in the world. The injustices are often very complicated in places inhabited by multiethnic and multiracial communities. Although, racial prejudice and discrimination has been largely minimized, there still exist some social injustices based on other factors such as gender, age, ethnicity, nationality among other divisive lines. Many times these incidents can be explained using social psychology theories. Regina Rose’s 1957 film Twelve Angry Men perfectly captures issues about prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, and aggression through the eyes of a jury, in a homicide trial. The theme of group conformity stands out in the film and it has several effects both on and off the screen which if not well addressed, could lead to major societal fallouts especially along racial and ethnic lines.
The film Twelve Angry Men shows the deliberations of a 12-man jury after the homicide trial as they retreat to come up with a verdict. The case is about a 19-year old Puerto Rican man from the sums who is accused of murdering his father. Two people appear as eye witnesses who saw the murder. The young man also has a history of getting into trouble. As it appears, this was an open and shut and if convicted, a death sentence was to be passed against the man. Initially, 11 jurors vote for the “guilty” verdict with one of them dissenting. The dissenter influences his friends and this leads to a long debate about the race, and background of one of the witnesses, the accused, the jurors themselves and the whole trial.
This film is very relevant to social psychology. The major social psychology issues in the film are about prejudice, aggression, group conformity, stereotyping and discrimination. To begin with, 11 of the jurors had agreed on the “guilty” verdict with only Juror 8 dissenting. The juror is extremely persuasive, reasons logically and is very rational in his arguments. He easily sows seeds of doubt in the decisions made by the other jurors and leads to group conformity that indeed the accused could have been unfairly judged. He causes Juror 9 to conform and vote “not guilty” in the second round of voting. Although he is quiet and reserved, Juror 9 he gains confidence and influences other jurors to change their votes. The actions of juror 8 mirrors certain key aspects of the Asch experiment on conformity which showed that people in a group or identifying themselves as a group (in this case the group being a jury) are likely to influence each other to hold the same views.
The issues of aggression are mostly evidenced by Juror 3 and Juror 10 who easily loses this temper as he responds to Juror 8. Juror 3 angrily accuses the other judges that they have "hearts bleedin' all over the floor about slum kids and injustice" (Rose, 1957). He warns them angrily that “ we are letting him slip through our fingers" (Rose, 1957). There is also ample evidence of stereotyping. Juror 3 states “It’s the way kids are nowadays” (Rose, 1957). In this case he passes blanket condemnation and stereotypes young people whom he deems to be disrespectful and unruly. The reason for his stereotyping is his estranged son who angers him constantly leading him to have the view that all young people are unruly.
Prejudice takes centre stage in the film with jurors 3 and 10 being the most prejudiced. In scene one juror 3 states, “I’d slap those tough kids down before they start any trouble” (Rose, 1957). This is a perfect example of prejudging. The juror is irrational and it is evident that he entered the courtroom with preconceived notion that young people have become unruly. He is prejudiced against the young man on account of his age which reminds him of his unruly son. Still in scene 1, Juror 10 states, “You know what we’re dealing with they let those kids run wild out there” (Rose, 1957). In scene 2, Juror 3 states “the kid’s a dangerous killer, you can see it”. In reference to kids not referring to their father using the title sir, the juror states, “It’s the way kids are nowadays” (Rose, 1957). Juror 10 states in yet another instance “I’ve lived among them all my life, you can’t believe a word they say they’re born liars” (Rose, 1957). He said this in reference to the young man and his society which from the movie seems to be a minority people living in the slums. He is prejudiced against people living in the slums.
Group conformity is the biggest Social Psychology issue in the film. The film is also rife with psychological theories to explain conformity. The power of normative and informational social influences is shown through theories developed by Solomon Asch and Muzafer Sherif. According to informational social influence, people conform because they belief that that the interpretations of other people about a seemingly ambiguous situation are more valid as compared to their own (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2005). Normative conformity asserts that people conform so that they are not seen as being defiant (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2005). In this case, juror 8 uses calculative moves and reasoning to influence the decisions of juror 9 that the young man was not guilty. Juror 9 in turn influences the decisions of several other jurors. Juror 3 attempts to assert that the young man was guilty. Prior to the vote being taken he tries to influence the decisions of the other judges by stating, “of course he is guilty” (Rose, 1957). Another juror states, “there’s always has to be one” in reference to there being unruly men among minorities in the slums. These two men attempt to use the power of normative social influence in order to convince the others to pass a “guilty” verdict.
There is also evidence of time constraints affecting the conformity of the jurors. All the jurors have other professions that they attend and by taking too long to reach the verdict, some are willing to compromise and conform to the decisions of the majority. One juror states, “I have three stations to attend to” in reference to his business. Another one states, “I have tickets to tonight’s Yankee game” (Rose, 1957). As such, each of them puts in time constraints and they had to “get done” with the case through some conformity and consensus so that each of them could attend to other issues. The Social Impact theory also serves to explain the group conformity in this case. The theory states that when the majority rulings are immediate and widespread, then conformity results (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2005). The “not guilty” vote negates the presumption of the social impact theory but supports the theory of an ally in dissent. This latter component of the social impact and majority theory states that when a dissenter is present and further debate on the issue at hand is allowed, then there is bound to be other dissenters (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2005). This is perfectly exhibited in the film after Juror 8 dissented and influenced many other jurors to change their decision.
Group conformity has positive and negative effects. In the case of a jury reaching a decision it is very dangerous since it can lead to subversion of justice. People mey tend to follow emotions instead of facts and this sets a very bad precedence for the future. For instance the decision arrived at in this case, even if it is flawed, will definitely be referred to in another similar future case. If wrong, then it could almost permanently lead to similar decisions in the future. In cases where one person or a few influence others to follow the course of justice, equality and human rights, then group conformity improves the quality of human life.
The film Twelve Angry Men presents a classic scenario of social psychology. 12 jurors are tasked to pass judgement on a 19-year old Puerto Rican man accused of murdering his father. One of the jurors (Juror 8) dissents while all others pass the “guilty” verdict in the first round of voting. Drama unfolds as the jury debates. There are ample instances where some jurors show stereotyping of slum people, minorities and young people. Jury 3 and Jury 10 are the most stereotypic. They are also prejudiced against the young man and show aggression towards other jurors who have warmed up to the rational and articulate assertions by Jurors, 8, 6, 5 and 9. The film shows the power of normative and informational social influences through theories developed by Solomon Asch and Muzafer Sherif. Informational social influence states that people conform because they belief that that the interpretations of other people about a seemingly ambiguous situation are more valid as compared to their own. Normative conformity asserts that people conform so that they are not seen as being defiant. The dissention of Juror 8 can be explained using the social impact and majority theory which states that when one person dissents and debate in an issue continues, then other people are likely to conform. Group conformity is dangerous for the future of humanity but in case where one person or a few influence others to follow the course of justice, equality and human rights, then group conformity improves the quality of human life. In all, it is important for people to follow and make decisions based on facts.
Rose Reginald. Twelve Angry Men. Studio One. DVD.