INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS AND GROUP PROCESSES
On Racial Diversity and Group Decision Making: Identifying Multiple
Effects of Racial Composition on Jury Deliberations
Samuel R. Sommers
This research examines the multiple effects of racial diversity on group decision making. Partici-
pants deliberated on the trial of a Black defendant as members of racially homogeneous or
heterogeneous mock juries. Half of the groups were exposed to pretrial jury selection questions
about racism and half were not. Deliberation analyses supported the prediction that diverse groups
would exchange a wider range of information than all-White groups. This finding was not wholly
attributable to the performance of Black participants, as Whites cited more case facts, made fewer
errors, and were more amenable to discussion of racism when in diverse versus all-White groups.
Even before discussion, Whites in diverse groups were more lenient toward the Black defendant,
demonstrating that the effects of diversity do not occur solely through information exchange. The
influence of jury selection questions extended previous findings that blatant racial issues at trial
increase leniency toward a Black defendant.
Keywords: racial diversity, group composition, decision making, jury deliberations, jury selection
When any large and identifiable segment of the community is
excluded from jury service, the effect is to remove from the jury room
qualities of human nature and varieties of human experience, the
range of which is unknown and perhaps unknowable. It is not neces-
sary to assume that the excluded group will consistently vote as a class
in order to conclude, as we do, that its exclusion deprives the jury of
a perspective on human events that may have unsuspected importance
in any case that may be presented.”
—Justice Thurgood Marshall, Peters v. Kiff
The quotation above comes from a ruling in which the U.S.
Supreme Court addressed the controversial issue of racial diversity
and juries. Even though Thurgood Marshall’s words are over 30
years old, they resonate today in a society that continues to wrestle
with similar issues across a variety of domains. Much contempo-
rary discourse on racial diversity has focused on competing ide-
ologies and value systems (Norton, Sommers, Apfelbaum, Pura, &
Ariely, in press; Plaut, 2002; Richeson & Nussbaum, 2004). In
debate over affirmative action, for example, one camp has cham-
pioned colorblindness as a moral imperative and decries as racism
any consideration based on race (Connerly, 2000; Gratz v.
Bollinger, 2003, petitioners’ arguments). On the other hand, pro-
ponents of affirmative action have emphasized the need to remedy
historical inequities and suggest that racial representativeness in
the classroom and workplace constitutes a compelling societal
interest (Crosby, 2004; University of California Regents v. Bakke,
1978). Such conflicts in ideology are polarizing and difficult to
resolve. As Justice Marshall’s comments imply, a more promising
means of evaluating racial diversity is to consider its observable
influence on group performance.
The present article heeds this suggestion and examines in a
jury context the influence of racial composition on group de-
cision making. The mock jury paradigm provides a realistic and
engaging means for examining group decision making, as par-
ticipants are forced to work together to evaluate ambiguous
information and reconcile their interpretations of it. In this
setting, a premium is placed on a group’s fact-finding abilities
and final decision, not on its morale, rendering the jury an ideal
vehicle for examining variables that affect group decision mak-
ing. An additional benefit of the jury context is the potential of
such research to produce findings of practical as well as theo-
retical importance. Decades after Peters v. Kiff (1972), contro-
versy still abounds regarding the role of race in the legal
I would like to recognize Phoebe Ellsworth for her continued collabo-
ration and invaluable contributions to this line of research and Nalini
Ambady, Amy Bradfield Douglass, Monique Fleming, Richard Gonzalez,
Samuel Gross, Norbert Kerr, Keith Maddox, and Michael Norton for their
helpful comments on the interpretation of this study and drafts of this
article. This data collection would not have been possible without the
interest and generous cooperation of judges Melinda Morris and Donald
Shelton, as well as the assistance of Yvonne Boyd and Suzette Rygiel-
Abella, all of the Washtenaw County, Michigan courthouse. This article is
based in part on a doctoral dissertation from the University of Michigan,
which was supported by a predoctoral fellowship from the Rackham
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Samuel
R. Sommers, Department of Psychology, Tufts University, 490 Boston
Avenue, Medford, MA 02155. E-mail: email@example.com
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2006, Vol. 90, No. 4, 597–612
Copyright 2006 by the American Psychological Association 0022-3514/06/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.117
system. Among the general public and media, unpopular jury
verdicts are frequently attributed to racial composition, and
intuitions regarding juror race are often treated as facts needing
no corroboration (see Cowan & Fairchild, 1997; Reynolds,
1996). To date, little research has tested these assumptions or
examined the more basic psychological processes through
which diversity affects group decision making. The present
research does just that, and though it examines decision making
in the context of a jury evaluating the trial of a Black defendant,
this article focuses on the more general relationship between
racial diversity and processes of group decision making.
Effects of Diversity
It is well documented that a group’s composition can affect its
dynamics and performance, but the exact nature of diversity’s
impact remains the subject of debate (see Mannix & Neale, 2005).
The most frequently mentioned negative outcome of diversity—
broadly defined—is interpersonal conflict (see De Dreu & Wein-
gart, 2003). More specifically, various types of heterogeneity can
reduce the quantity and quality of group communication
(Maznevski, 1994; Zenger & Lawrence, 1989) as well as predict
decreases in group cohesion and morale, outcomes that in turn lead
members to seek alternative groups or to simply drop out (Jackson,
1992; McCain, O’Reilly, & Pfeifer, 1983; O’Reilly, Caldwell, &
Barnett, 1989). The potential negative impact of diversity is not
limited to morale but can also be seen in a group’s actual perfor-
mance (Ancona & Caldwell, 1992; DeBiasio, 1986; Mullen &
Copper, 1994). However, as Moreland, Levine, and Wingert
(1996) have pointed out, deleterious effects for performance are
most likely under certain circumstances, such as on a simple task,
when the decision requires convergent thinking or when hetero-
geneity also leads to variability in group members’ abilities.
Other theorists have noted that cohesion and morale do not
ensure good group performance (e.g., Janis, 1982; Kameda &
Sugimori, 1993), and research demonstrating the advantages of
diversity typically has focused on performance benefits. The oft-
cited benefits of diversity include increases in group creativity,
information sharing, flexibility, and thoughtfulness (Hoffman &
Maier, 1961; Nemeth, 1995; Phillips, Mannix, Neale, & Gruen-
feld, 2004; Triandis, Hall, & Ewen, 1965). These outcomes are
particularly likely when a task is complex, requires divergent
thinking, or requires interaction with nongroup members (Levine
& Moreland, 1998; Moreland et al., 1996). Research has also
suggested that many of the threats to morale posed by diversity
weaken or disappear over time as group members learn to work
with one another and even become proud of their heterogeneity
(Allmendinger & Hackman, 1995; Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale,
1999; Watson, Kumar, & Michaelsen, 1993). In other words, to the
extent that a group can weather the initial conflict that diversity
sometimes creates—or even use that conflict to its advantage—
diversity often has observable benefits for group performance and
Despite the extensive literature on group composition, very few
experiments have examined the specific case of racial diversity by
comparing all-White and racially mixed groups. It seems reason-
able to predict that as with other forms of diversity, the downsides
of racial heterogeneity typically involve interpersonal conflict,
whereas its benefits most often relate to performance. Indeed,
regarding this first proposition, Moreland et al. (1996) have sug-
gested that racial diversity may be even more likely than other
types of heterogeneity to create interpersonal conflict and threaten
morale. Consistent with this conclusion, McLeod, Lobel, and Cox
(1996) reported a study in which White participants enjoyed a
brainstorming task more when their group was racially homoge-
neous, even though diverse groups generated more creative and
feasible ideas. In another study—the only experiment published to
date that directly examines the cognitive processes through which
racial diversity influences group discussion—Whites demonstrated
more complex thinking when assigned to a diverse group than
when assigned to an all-White group (Antonio et al., 2004). Spe-
cifically, White participants who discussed a controversial social
issue (either international child labor practices or capital punish-
ment) in a group with a Black confederate wrote postdiscussion
essays that were coded as higher in integrative complexity than did
White participants in homogeneous groups. The conclusion that
racial diversity has potential performance benefits is further bol-
stered by the fact that on more than one occasion, social psychol-
ogists have attempted to convince trial courts of the positive
relationship between racial heterogeneity and long-term outcomes
such as intellectual engagement, academic motivation, and devel-
opment of social skills (Dovidio, 2002; Gurin, 1999).
Racial Diversity and Group Decision Making
The objective of the present research is to examine the effects of
racial diversity in the specific domain of group decision making.
The relationship between group composition and performance in
general is clearly complicated, but from a strictly decision-making
perspective, both sides of the debate regarding diversity effects are
compatible with the hypothesis that groups often benefit from
racial heterogeneity. The extent to which racial diversity facilitates
information exchange and problem solving certainly indicates ad-
vantages for heterogeneous groups, especially for complex deci-
sions. But even interpersonal conflict—often mentioned as the
principal negative result of diversity—may be useful when a
group’s primary goal is not boosting morale but rather good and
thorough decision making. Consider, for example, the jury, for
which positive affect and group cohesion are less important than
fact-finding ability and a willingness to consider the entire range of
a community’s viewpoints (Ellsworth, 1989; Johnson v. Louisi-
ana, 1972, dissenting opinion; Wilkenfeld, 2004). In this setting,
as in other contexts in which turnover is not a primary concern (or
possibility), racial heterogeneity is likely to have positive effects
on decision-making processes and outcomes.
But published comparisons of the decision making of racially
homogeneous and heterogeneous groups are scarce, and our un-
derstanding of the processes through which racial composition
affects decision making is limited. This is the case even in the legal
domain, in which these questions carry great practical importance.
Recent analyses of actual trials have supported the proposition that
decision making varies by jury racial composition, as the greater
the proportion of Whites on a jury, the harsher that jury tends to be
toward non-White defendants (Bowers, Steiner, & Sandys, 2001;
Daudistel, Hosch, Holmes, & Graves, 1999). However, these anal-
yses are correlational and fail to reveal the processes through
which group composition is influential. A study by Kerr, Hymes,
Anderson, and Weathers (1995) has demonstrated that the mere
expectation of participating in a racially diverse jury can be influ-
ential, though this study did not examine actual deliberation ef-
fects. In a rare experimental investigation of jury racial composi-
tion and deliberations, Bernard (1979) showed 10 college student
juries a trial video with either a White or a Black defendant. The
only jury to reach a unanimous guilty verdict was also the only
all-White jury to view the trial of a Black defendant. Research with
Latino and Indian participants has also found all-White juries to be
more conviction prone than diverse juries in judging a minority
defendant (Chadee, 1996; Perez, Hosch, Ponder, & Trejo, 1993).
Again, though, even these laboratory studies shed little light on the
processes through which racial composition affects deliberations,
relying instead on a demographic argument that composition de-
termines a jury’s predeliberation vote split and, thus, its final
verdict (see Kalven & Zeisel, 1966).
Whereas few studies have examined the processes through
which racial diversity is influential, more general research on
group decision making provides theoretical background for the
present investigation. In fact, much basic psychological theory on
group decision making has been derived from empirical studies set
in the jury context (e.g., Davis, Stasser, Spitzer, & Holt, 1976;
Stasser, Kerr, & Bray, 1982; Tindale & Davis, 1983; Tindale,
Davis, Vollrath, Nagao, & Hinsz, 1990). Most notably, social
decision scheme theory (Davis, 1973) quantified the ways in which
individuals’ preferences are combined and reconciled in the pro-
duction of a group decision. Subsequent extensions of this theory
have considered transitions from one preference configuration to
another, as well as changes in individuals’ subjective certainty
over time (Kerr, 1981; Stasser & Davis, 1981). Models such as
these typically do not address the specific effects of racial com-
position, but they can be extrapolated to predict that to the extent
that a group’s racial composition affects the distribution of indi-
vidual members’ preferences, so, too, will composition affect the
group’s ultimate decision.
Indeed, a consistent outcome of these, as well as of less quan-
titative models of group decision making is that a group’s majority
tends to carry the day. Moreover, the larger this majority, the
greater its impact on the group. The most frequent explanation for
this “majority rules” tendency focuses on information exchange:
Not only does a sizable majority translate into more votes for one
outcome alternative, but it also leads the group to devote more of
its discussion to information that favors this outcome. However, in
his initial theoretical formulation, Davis (1973) suggested that
additional explanations for the majority rules tendency are neces-
sary as well, in that many group decisions—including those made
by juries—exhibit “a considerably more complex social process at
work. The best-fitting model suggested a mixture of majority,
conformity, and other effects to be involved” (p. 123). This prop-
osition is consistent with the conclusions of other psychologists
who have also cited both informational and noninformational
explanations for the influence of a group’s composition (Levine &
Moreland, 1998; Moscovici, 1980; Moscovici & Lage, 1976).
Therefore, it would seem that despite its intuitive and theoretical
appeal, an exclusive focus on information exchange is not suffi-
cient for explaining the influence of a group’s composition on its
decision making. The present research tests this assertion by iden-
tifying multiple effects of racial diversity, thereby expanding our
conceptual understanding of the ways in which group composition
influences decision making.
Such an analysis also has clear practical implications for the
legal system’s consideration of jury diversity. The bases for re-
quirements of jury representativeness are not principally perfor-
mance related; they include Constitutional concerns regarding the
rights of defendants and jurors (e.g., Batson v. Kentucky, 1986) as
well as a desire to maintain the perceived legitimacy of the system
(Wilkenfeld, 2004). However, as the opening quotation of this
article reveals, another potential justification is that diverse juries
are often better decision makers than homogeneous ones. Support
for this proposition usually comes in the form of information
exchange explanations such as Thurgood Marshall’s: Diverse ju-
ries enjoy wider ranging discussions because White and Black
jurors bring different experiences and perspectives to the jury
room (Peters v. Kiff, 1972). But what of other performance ad-
vantages to jury diversity? Hans and Vidmar (1982) raised one
such possibility decades ago, writing that the presence of minority
group jurors “may inhibit majority group members from express-
ing prejudice, especially if the defendant is from the same group as
the minority group jurors” (p. 42). In sum, in the legal context and
more generally, it is an oversimplification to conclude that the
effects of racial composition on decision making can be wholly
attributed to differential information conveyed by White and Black
group members. This assertion is theoretically and practically
important, as well as consistent with seminal models of group
decision making and minority influence (Davis, 1973; Moscovici,
1980). However, to date no empirical studies have examined it
Race and Legal Judgments
When psycholegal researchers have focused on race, they have
typically examined its influence on the judgments of individual
jurors. A brief review of this literature provides a broader context
for the present investigation of race and the decision making of
juries. Research examining the influence of a defendant’s race on
individual juror judgments has produced inconsistent results that
are difficult to reconcile, in large part because these studies are
idiosyncratic and typically not grounded in any particular theory
(for exceptions, see Bodenhausen & Lichtenstein, 1987; Witten-
brink, Gist, & Hilton, 1997). Some studies have found that a
defendant’s race has no reliable effect (Mazzella & Feingold,
1994; McGuire & Bermant, 1977; Nickerson, Mayo, & Smith,
1986); others have indicated that jurors are harsher in their judg-
ments of out-group defendants (DeSantis & Kayson, 1997; Hymes,
Leinart, Rowe, & Rogers, 1993; Klein & Creech, 1982), and still
others have suggested that jurors are biased in favor of out-group
defendants (McGowen & King, 1982; Poulson, 1990).
In light of these inconsistencies, recent research has attempted to
place the literature in a more theoretical framework. In a series of
studies, Sommers and Ellsworth (2000, 2001) found support for
the hypothesis that a defendant’s race is relatively unlikely to
influence White jurors when a trial’s content is blatantly racial,
such as when the crime itself is racially charged or when attorneys
inject race-related arguments into the proceedings. Drawing on
theories that portray modern racism as aversive and subtle (e.g.,
Gaertner & Dovidio, 1986; Kinder & Sears, 1981), Sommers and
Ellsworth suggested that race-relevant trial content makes salient
many White jurors’ concerns about avoiding prejudice or the
appearance thereof. However, absent racially charged trial content,
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Received February 14, 2005
Revision received July 1, 2005
Accepted July 12, 2005 ?