Dr Stanley Brodsky and Dr. Michael P. Griffin PhD from the University of Alabama published an article “When Jurors Nod” that’s worth thinking about. the authors note that the attention of attorneys to a juror is captured when jurors nod their heads. We assume it means agreement with us. When an attorney or witnesses testify, there are often people on the jury nod their heads up and down, some rapidly and some with barely visible movement of the head. The inclination is to assume that they are affirming the worth of what is being said. The articles generally confirms that is the case with some reservations.
Previous studies about this have included that this may involve a cultural habit or an indication that the person wants you to know you are being heard. In addition it can be an expression of a positive affirmation. However the authors conclude that there are at least four interpretations possible when jurors nod their heads:
- the jurors are expressing agreement with the statements being made.
- the jurors are indicating they are paying attention,
- the juror are indicating that they are personally present like a school child might say” here.”
- The nodding is a personal habit without any particular significance.
The authors conducted a study involving some 244 undergraduate students. This research indicated that in general, as we might expect, the nodding indicated an agreement with what was being said. However the authors caution against not assuming it always indicates agreement.
My own unscientific experience is there is another possibility. I have learned that a juror who smiles at the lawyer and nods at what is being said may be communicating something else. They have concluded that lawyer’s side should lose, but they like the lawyer. So, they smile and nod as if to say “I like you. I want you to know that I am voting against your case, but not because I don’t like you.” Just as crossed arms may not mean they are rejecting what you are saying, but instead is a comfortable position for their arms, we should be cautious about reading too much into non verball conduct. But, I confess, I’d rather have a jury nodding agreement than not or nodding the negative way.