Dan Kahan's research

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Chapter 11 endnote 70, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

[During voir dire,] a judge could ask what magazines the jurors read, what movies they prefer to see, or whether they play first-person shooter games, using standard assessment techniques from psychology. Such information would allow a judge to consider the potential biases of jurors based on how they spend their time, rather than just asking jurors directly about their biases (since such self-reports are not necessarily valid). [...] One useful approach during voir dire can be adapted from the research of U.S. attorney Dan Kahan.

Dan Kahan, a law professor at Yale University, uses two dimensions to describe people’s affective niche:

  • Do you think of yourself as an individual or as a member of a group?
  • Do you believe everyone’s needs matter equally or do some people’s needs matter more?

Kahan has found that these two dimensions predict people’s opinions on different political policies like gun control, abortion, and climate change.[1] For example, if you believe strongly in individual rights and a social hierarchy, you will make different judgements during a trial about embezzlement than someone who believes that people should work in groups and everyone’s needs matters equally.

These dimensions can be thought of as a juror’s theory of human nature. They will influence the predictions that shape how jurors perceive evidence, how they infer intent in witnesses and defendants, and ultimately the outcome of the case. A different selection of jurors might decide the case differently, and lawyers know this, which is why they try to influence judges during voir dire (in U.S. law).

Kahan's research is called the cultural cognition project, and his approach has it's roots in an anthropological theory called the cultural theory of risk.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Kahan, Dan M. 2012. "Cultural cognition as a conception of the cultural theory of risk." In Handbook of Risk Theory, edited by Sabine Roeser, Rafaela Hillerbrand, Per Sandin, and Martin Peterson, 725-759. Springer.