Group Dynamics in 12 Angry Men

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Group Dynamics in 12 Angry Men

In the 1957 classic 12 Angry Men, group dynamics are portrayed through a jury deliberation. Group dynamics is concerned with the structure and functioning of groups as well as the different types of roles each character plays. In the film, twelve men are brought together in a room to decide whether a boy is guilty of killing his father. The personality conflicts, the joint effort and the functioning of several minds together to search for the truth are just a few characteristics of group dynamics at work. The whole spectrum of humanity is represented in this movie, from the bigotry of Juror No.10 to the coldly analytical No.4. Whether they brought good or bad qualities to the jury room, they all affected the outcome.

At the outset, eleven jurors vote in favor of convicting the accused without even discussing a single shred of the evidence presented at the trial. When a group becomes too confident and fails to think realistically about its task, groupthink can occur. Since it takes a longer time to communicate and reach a consensus in a group, decision making in a group is time-consuming. Therefore, when groups want to achieve a quick decision, as several jurors were eager to do, they make riskier decisions than individuals. Since not any individual is completely accountable for the decision, members will have a tendency to accept more extreme solutions. Only one brave juror refused to vote guilty. Juror #8 refused to fall into the groupthink trap and ultimately saved an innocent man’s life. He openly admits that he does not know whether the accused is guilty or innocent and that he finds it necessary to simply talk about the case. What follows is not only a discussion of the particular facts of the case, but also an intense examination of the personal baggage that each jury member brings to the room.

Juror #1 tries to impose order in his capacity as Foreman. He plays the role of “appointed leader”, or the individual who is assigned the leader position from the onset. A simple man who clearly does not understand the complexity of the task that lies before him but is trying to do everything not to let anyone else find this out. He appears at ease only once during the film – when he talks about football. He has the misfortune to be selected Foreman of the jury – a task he clearly does not enjoy. Juror #2 is a small, quite man who is clearly unaccustomed to giving his own opinion much less to expecting his views to be of any importance. In his subdued “observer” and meek “information giver” role, No. 2 apparently finds comfort in his job – he is an accountant. Juror # 3 is probably the most complex personality in the film. He starts off like a pleasant self-made successful businessman, analyzing the case impartially, explaining the arguments well and is reasonably self-assured. As time goes on he becomes more and more passionate exploding in disbelieving anger and seems somehow to be personally involved with the case. His motivation for behaving as he does is revealed when he discloses that he’s not on good terms with his own son. Illusions to his animosity toward youth were made when he says that kids today have no respect and that he has not see his son in over a decade. No.3 namely plays the “aggressive”, “dominator” and “blocker” roles. His personal baggage with his own son “blocked” or prolonged the decision-making. Yet this overbearing, angry and sadistic man finally deserved our sorrow. Juror #4 is a self -assured, slightly arrogant stockbroker.

He obviously considers himself more intelligent than anyone else in the room, and he approaches the case with cool heartless logic but he does not take into account the feelings, the passions, and the characters of the people involved in the case. No.4 played the role of the coldly, analytical “information giver.” He ticks off the facts in the case as if he were reading closing stock prices from the newspaper. His studious and ever stern glare cuts down those who disagree with his. Juror #5 is a man under great emotional stress. He comes from the same social background as the accused boy – with whom he almost unwillingly seems to identify with. Paradoxically this appears one of the main reasons for him voting guilty – he does not want compassion to influence him – so ironically it does. Reacting strongly and defensive, No. 5 represented the “emotional.” Juror #6 is a simple man, quite readily admitting that everyone in the room is better qualified than he is to make decisions and offer explanations. But he really wants to see justice done and it worries him that he might make a mistake. Agreeing with everyone and talking even less, No. 6’s role is the “silent” and “conformist.” Juror #7 is the only one who really has no opinion on the case – he talks of baseball. Of the heat, of fixing the fan but the only reason he has for voting this way or that is to speed things up a bit so he might be out of the jury room as soon as possible. Not an evil man he just has no sense of morality whatsoever – he can tell right from wrong but does not seem to think its worth the bother. Failing to take the group seriously, No. 7 falls into the “playboy” and “bored one” roles. Juror #8 is a caring man who has put more thought into the case than any of the other jurors. He tries to do his best in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Both confident and nervous, as well as being under intense and hostile scrutiny, No. 8 states that he couldn't vote in that way for one simple reason; there is reasonable doubt in his mind. No. 8 acts as “model person” and “nonconformist.” Juror #9 is a wise old man. With his great life experience he has quite a unique away of looking at the case.

After ridicule and scorn by his fellow jurors, Juror No. 8 suggests a startling compromise. He will abstain from the second ballot and if they all vote guilty, so will he. But if he has gathered any support for the defendant, then the rest of the jurors have to agree to stay awhile and discuss the case with him. It is Juror No. 9 who has risen to stand by No. 8, giving support in a time of need. No. 8 chooses not to go with the norm and plays the “nonconformist” who also comes up with original ideas throughout the movie. Juror #10 is the most horrifying character in the film. He votes guilty and does not even try to hide the fact hat he does so only because of the boy’s social background. The tragedy comes from the fact that his own social position is only a cut above the boy’s – which makes him all the more eager to stress the difference. The repulsive and poisonous bigotry of No. 10 puts him in “aggressive”, “debunker”, and “blocker” roles throughout the film. Juror #11, an immigrant watchmaker, is a careful analytical man, well mannered and soft spoken. He respects the right of people to have different opinions to his – and is willing to look at both sides of the problem. He loses his temper only once – horrified by the complete indifference of Juror No. 7. His role is that of “group observer” as well as “opinion giver.”

Juror #12 is a young business type – perhaps he has his own opinions – but is careful to hide them. What he has learnt out of life seems to be that intelligence is equal with agreeing with what the majority of people think. No. 12 works in advertising and views serving on a jury no more seriously than he would creating a laundry soap jingle. He is a smooth-talking but easily swayed young “airhead” who plays the role of “conformist.”

After the first secret ballot, one by one, the other jurors begin to fall in line behind Juror No. 8 and the boy is unanimously voted not guilty of murder. The way they get to this agreement constantly surprises and fascinates. Alliances are formed and break apart, heated debates lead to interesting revelations, and a couple of big moments provide suspense and surprise. By the end of the deliberations we come to know each of the jurors. It took one person, Juror No. 8, to take the group out of a negative “groupthink” reaction. He showed how in a decision making group, and especially when playing with someone’s life, positive group dynamics requires looking at matters objectively, analyzing the evidence, and coming to a fair conclusion. And even if the juror’s personal baggage was not checked at the door, the shift into positive group dynamics allowed the jury members to overcome interpersonal conflicts and prejudices to reach consensus on the innocence of an alleged murderer.

Bibliography

1. Kolb, David A., and Joyce S. Osland and Irwin Mr. Rubin. Organizational
Behavior: An Experiential Approach. 6th edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995
Pages 98-100

2. Sarah Trenholm. Thinking Through Communication: An Introduction To The Study
Of Human Communication. 2nd edition. Allyn and Bacon: A Viacom Company, 1995
Pages 196 - 205

3. Damian Cannon, a review by. “12 Angry Men (1957)” Copyright Movie Reviews
UK 1997

4. Steve Rhodes, a review by. “12 Angry Men (1957)” Copyright 1997 Steve
Rhodes

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