Social Influence and 12 Angry Men

Social Influence is everywhere. Humans interact and communicate with each other on a daily basis. As such, there are always external ideas and opinions that are either challenging or approving notions a person may have. One of the more prevalent form of social influence is called persuasion, used when one attempts to change another’s attitude (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014). In 1975, United Artist released a film, directed by Sidney Lumet, called 12 Angry Men. This film does a fantastic job of portraying social influence and the art of persuasion in the setting of a jury.

The film starts off at the end of a trial where a boy is accused of murdering his father and the evidence strongly points guilty. Twelve men who make up the jury must all agree unanimously if the boy is guilty or not. If found guilty, the boy dies. In the first round of votes, eleven out of the twelve men agree that he is guilty, and one man (Juror #8) does not believe so. In this instance, Juror 8 does not conform to everybody and becomes out casted by the rest of the jurors (Lumet 1957). As Asch correctly predicted in his studies, the man’s dissent reduced the strength of the group’s conformity as the man was now allowed to make his argument as to why he thought the boy was innocent and the evidence used against him was only circumstantial (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014).

The rest of the movie features how the jury reaches a unanimous decision and depicts the art of rhetoric and persuasion. Juror 8 understands that the case must be objective and thus cannot have any emotional biases. He makes a series of arguments, claiming that the murder weapon is not as rare as the court made it out to be because he has an identical copy of the same knife (Lumet 1957). He makes a series of arguments similar to this, challenging different pieces of the testimony, simulating certain situations that were claimed to have happened by the trial, only to find out that these situations are not realistically feasible. By the end of the movie, this man has convinced the entire jury that the boy was innocent (Lumet 1957).

Juror 8 appeals conscious processing because he believes the boy is innocent and the evidence is not strong enough to condemn him to death. He exposes his knowledge and reasoning to his peers giving them more information into the situation. This is an effective way to increase his personal influence (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014) and he did so effectively. Juror 8 himself does not have much credibility as he only knows as much as the other jurors (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014). However, Juror 8 was very honest and trustworthy as he explained what he knew to his peers and why he thought the boy was innocent. His trustworthiness and his appeal to logos (logical appeal) gave him a strong persuasive argument and was thus able to convince the other jurors to let the boy go. His appeal to logic was only effective because his audience had extensive knowledge at hand (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014).

There were few notable jurors aside from Juror 8. As the power shift began to occur from guilty to not guilty, Juror 7 changed his vote from guilty to not guilty simply because he wanted the debate to end as the fate of the boy had no personal qualm with the boy’s fate (Lumet 1957). Because there was no personal relevance, he used the peripheral route to come to his decision, effectively saying Juror 8 is convincing people, therefore he must be right (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014). Conversely, Juror 3 had a deep personal relevance to the case as he had a terrible relationship with his son. His personal relevance was so deep that it clouded his judgment to see the boy as innocent until the end when he broke down crying. He refused to process the persuasive message Juror 8 was giving. Finally there was Juror 2 who was often out voiced and looked down upon because of his unassertiveness and high pitched voice. Interestingly, as the vote neared 6-6, he began to speak up and strongly confirm to the innocent group and was not afraid to speak his mind afterward. This can be seen as an example of Asch’s experiment. As the group size increased, the opinion strength of the once deviant group rose as well.

Social Influence is everywhere and cannot be escaped so long as people communicate with each other. 12 Angry Men did a fantastic job of conveying how powerful and effective social influence and persuasion can be. Used in the right way, social influence can be the most effective way for efficient change.

Baumeister, R.F. & Bushman, B.J. (2014). Social psychology and human nature. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Lumet, S. Director. 1957. 12 angry men. United States of America: MGM Home Entertainment Inc.