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12 Angry Men & Social Psychology

Instructor: Catherine Rose

Catherine taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in Education.

What happens when 12 people are locked in a room until they make a unanimous decision? In this lesson, we will explore the play 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose and the psychological dynamics at work in the heated jury room.

Making a Decision

Imagine you are sitting around a table with 11 of your friends. You are deciding where to go for dinner. How easy is that decision? One person hates seafood; another person is allergic to tomato sauce; yet another only eats organic vegetarian entrees. Every person brings his or her own opinions and preferences to this table. While the decision of where to eat may not be life-changing, it does represent the same dynamics that take place in a typical jury room.

Reginald Rose sheds light on the psychological forces at work during jury deliberations in his play, 12 Angry Men. In this story, the life experiences, opinions, preferences, and prejudices are illuminated as they discuss, fight, and speculate in the hopes of coming to a unanimous verdict of guilty or not guilty.

A scene from the 1957 movie trailer.
12 Angry Men Jurors

12 Men, 1 Boy, and a Murder Case

The play begins with the judge giving directions to a jury in a first-degree murder case. A teenage boy stands accused of killing his father and the jury must decide his guilt or innocence. The jury is taken to a nondescript, overheated room and locked inside to discuss the case. On the first vote, all but one vote guilty. Juror #8 leads a discussion on the evidence presented in the case. The play continues on with the jurors debating, reenacting, and discussing the facts of the case. During subsequent votes, the jurors begin to change their opinions, one by one. The final juror, number 3, is the last to change his vote after considering assaulting Juror #8 with the murder weapon! The play ends with the jurors leaving the room to render their verdict and Juror #3 voting not guilty, leaving the room followed by Juror #8.

The Jurors

The first item to note is that the play is called 12 Angry Men for a reason. These characters bring their unique frustrations with life to the jury table and often use them to affect their opinions.

Juror #1 (Foreman) is probably the least antagonistic of the group, but he does enjoy the idea of being in a position of authority. He is often seen calming the others down, bringing their attention back to the case, and attempting to make everything fair.

Juror #2 is the meekest of the group and often cannot say why he has a certain opinion. He does not speak as much as the others and often changes his opinion based on who is speaking at the moment which causes frustrations for the other jurors.

Juror #3 is probably the most antagonistic one, often shouting at Juror #8 for creating doubt in everyone's mind. He is accusatory to the others and insults several of the jurors. The reader finally sees that his anger at the defendant is probably related to his own damaged relationship with his son.

Juror #4 seems to feel superior to the others as he is wealthy and intelligent. He does try to persuade the others to avoid voting based on emotion; however, he seems influenced by where the defendant lived. He only changes his vote when testimony is found to be in error.

Juror #5 is younger than the rest and clearly intimidated by them. This fear of speaking out could affect his judgment as he is afraid to go against the older members of the group. It is not until several others do as well, that he feels comfortable expressing his opinion.

Juror #6: Like Juror #2, he has difficulty coming up with his own opinions and takes those he likes as his own. When he does come to a decision, however, he sticks with it.

Juror #7 is a loud man who would have rather gotten out of being on a jury, which indicates that his quick decision initially toward guilt is probably due to apathy and his tickets to a show that evening rather than looking at the real facts of the case. His anger toward the others is a result of this apathy.

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