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Small-group Decision Making and Complex Information Tasks

NCJ Number
M J Saks
Date Published
The research literature on small-group decisionmaking was reviewed to help determine whether juries can competently decide complex and/or protracted civil cases.
This report refines the issue to a comparison among various decisionmaking entities: individuals versus groups, smaller versus larger groups, judges versus juries, and juries as currently constituted and managed versus redesigned juries. The findings show that whether groups perform better than another kind of group, depends upon interactions with other variables, the most important being the nature of the task. For example, tasks that are performed better by groups (as compared to individuals), by larger groups (as compared to smaller groups), and by heterogeneous groups (as compared to homogeneous groups) are those permitting a division of labor, capitalizing on knowledgeable or skilled members (disjunctive tasks) or on the summed contributions of several group members (additive tasks). The legal fact-finding task, especially in complex cases, is performed better by large heterogeneous groups. Furthermore, characteristics associated with superior performance, which might be applied profitably to juries, include increasing individual skill on tasks through training, enhancing the group's composition, and clarifying objectives and procedures. Appropriately composed groups would probably cope better with complex cases than conventional juries or judges. Since no direct tests of the immediate question have been found, lessons have been drawn from stable patterns and theoretical principles found in the literature. Thus, any seriously considered alternatives should be empirically tested. The relevant literature is discussed. Three appendixes -- the literature review, a discussion of the research tradition, and comments on social facilitation -- are included. Footnotes aand graphs are furnished.