Faculty Author Type

Current Faculty [Sara Gordon]

Published In

Tennessee Law Review

Document Type


Publication Date



Jurors, Legal Knowledge, Decisionmaking


What do jurors want to know? Jury research tells us that jurors want to understand the information they hear in a trial so they can reach the correct decision. But like all people, jurors who are asked to analyze information in a trial—even jurors who consciously want to reach a fair and accurate verdict—are unconsciously influenced by their internal goals and motivations. Some of these motives are specific to individual jurors; for instance, a potential juror with a financial interest in a case would be excluded from the jury pool. But other motivations, like the motive to understand the law and to reach an accurate verdict, are core social motives that influence the cognition of all jurors. Although those motives may be less obvious than those of the juror with a financial stake in the case, they still have a profound influence on how jurors learn the law and interpret evidence, and we can use them to better motivate jurors to efficiently learn the law and to think carefully about how the law will apply to the facts they will see in a trial. A significant body of legal literature has examined jurors’ use and understanding of the substantive law they receive in jury instructions, and many scholars have recommended methods to improve juror comprehension of instructions. This Article is the first law journal article to take that analysis a step further and consider all of the major scientific studies that examine motivated cognition and apply them to jury decisionmaking. Because much of juror cognition is motivated, we can harness the power of this motivated cognition to further increase juror comprehension of the law and improve juror decisionmaking.

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