What happens when you put a group of people together, and ask them to make a unanimous decision? What happens if the individuals end up conforming to the group opinion? What if the group opinion is wrong? What if someone’s life was at stake? 12 Angry Men, directed by Sidney Lumet, depicts one of the possible scenarios that could play out under these conditions. A jury, composed of 12 men, are assigned to a case of a young man who will face the death penalty if he is found guilty of killing his father. They are locked in a room…..and behold all the social psychological processes that take place!
At the beginning, they started off by taking a public vote. Most jurors voted guilty based on the information presented to them and how they analysed the situation using their schemas and controlled thinking. But a couple of jurors were looking around to see how others were voting and raised their hands accordingly, and later when the vote was anonymous, they changed their vote to not guilty, showing that their original vote was not due to their own opinion. This is conformity: When the desire to fit in surpasses the need to think for yourself and voice your opinion. The reason for conforming in this case is that the situation was ambiguous. No one was actually sure whether the suspect was guilty or not, so it was a lot easier to just go with the majority. Also, for some, it was their first time on a jury, and so the others seemed like more experienced and therefore their judgements could be trusted. Right? Fortunately, one person voiced his doubts during the public vote and the rest go on trying to convince him of their opinion. But bit by bit, more people start to agree with the ‘odd one out’ and they form an alliance, making it easier to resist the majority. One of the jurors changed his vote to not guilty due to normative social influence, where he was just going along with whatever was being said, in an attempt to end the meeting as soon as possible. It was due to superficial reasons and probably wasn’t a result of actually believing the defendant wasn’t guilty. This is an example of public compliance. Another changed his vote due to informational social influence, where he became convinced that the defendant really wasn’t guilty due to the facts presented to him. This is an example of private acceptance. By the end, the juror who hadn’t conformed at the beginning was able to sway the group’s opinion in his favour. This is an example of minority influence, where the minority is able to change the majority’s mind and not the other way around. This happened due to the fact that he was consistent with his point of view and didn’t waver despite all the pressure.
The implications of conformity show that contrary to popular belief, we are not actually as autonomous as we like to think. This can have dire consequences when we are given power in a high-stake situation such as this one. The power of the group can be so overwhelming, and most of the time no one would ever voice an opposing view. But sometimes not conforming can save a life.