Of Taylor Swift, Referent Power, Jury Duty and Psychological Theories of Social Influence

I don’t know much about Taylor Swift (or TayTay/Swifty/Tayter Tot/T-Swizzle depending on fan-preference), but I take pride that most of what I do know comes from a delightfully small number of sources:

  • My six-year old daughter (more “stream of consciousness fan fiction” than literal news)
  • The Dover Police Department—this YouTube video in particular
  • The ingenious OpenDataTaylorSwift Twitter account (@ts_institute) — light on Taylor Swift data (Tay-lore?), true, but a truly great dig into the Open Data world… see!

  • The Trial Lawyers Association of BC’s Twitter account (@tla_bc), who unexpectedly made this list this morning by mentioning breaking news out of Nashville, TN from earlier today:

Upon satisfying an initial curiosity about jury pay in Tennessee (a modest $11 per day, it turns out), I turned to consider how super-famous people like T-Swizzle are received as prospective jurors. One comparison is another pop-icon, Madonna, who was dismissed from civic duties in a Manhattan court several years ago. In Madonna’s case the Court’s representative prudently observed that—while it was good optics to have society’s elite come out and show that jury call is for all—the “intent [was not] to create a distraction to other jurors or the business of the court”.

Ultimately, it appears that Taylor was dismissed (Tay-ber tossed?) from the jury this morning during the selection stage. The judge concluded that the celebrity’s own ongoing civil claims of sexual assault in a separate proceeding posed a possible bias in the case at hand, which involves serious criminal charges of a sexual nature.

In any event, it’s fair to say that her presence was a substantial distraction this morning. The Twitterverse erupted with shots of TayTay and her (probably mostly opportunistic) not-so-tweenaged fans:



Even her PR agency saw that the somber occasion of a jury call for an aggravated sexual assault could be far improved by the hitmaker snapping selfies with her fans:

Whatever you make of the social media attention (look, it’s even on SLAW!), it offers a worthwhile chance to reflect on our own tendency, as human animals, to be swayed by social forces such as celebrity. This is especially interesting in the justice context.

I managed to pull up this interesting paper published some years back:

Jared Chamberlain; Monica K. Miller; Alayna Jehle, Celebrities in the Courtroom: Legal Responses, Psychological Theory and Empirical Research, 8 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 551, 572 (2006)

The authors drag in psychological theories of social influence and apply them to celebrities in the courtroom. The following principles apply to celebrity as parties in trial, but could easily be read in the context of juries. From pp 559-560:


Theories of social influence can provide an explanation for why celebrities might receive preferential treatment in the courtroom. Social influence refers to a change in the behavior of others due to the use of power by an individual or group. Social power is generally defined as the ability to influence others. Referent power, a specific type of social power, is gained when a person is admired or liked by others. The theory of social power would suggest that celebrities exert referent power because they are typically admired and/or liked. Thus, celebrities have the ability to persuade jurors that they are innocent because they typically possess referent power.

The social power that celebrity defendants wield could result in three distinct responses from the jurors judging the case: compliance, identification, and internalization. Compliance involves a person overtly going along with the social influence without internal acceptance. For example, a juror would overtly be influenced by the celebrity’s social power without actually changing his private opinion of the case. Specifically, the juror would believe that the celebrity defendant is guilty, yet vote for acquittal because he does not want to send the celebrity to jail.

The other two responses—identification and internalization—involve a genuine change of opinion. Identification involves a temporary but genuine opinion change in which a person holds certain beliefs because of an affinity or admiration for a person. This acceptance is maintained only as long as the person continues to be admired.56 For example, a juror would overtly and internally base his opinion (e.g., a not guilty vote) in favor of the celebrity because he respected and/or admired the celebrity. Alternatively, a juror might initially believe a celebrity is innocent (based on admiration), and, after hearing convincing evidence against the celebrity, change his opinion to a guilty verdict.

The third response to social influence, internalization, involves a genuine and long-lasting opinion. With an internalization response, a juror would be influenced by a celebrity’s status to genuinely believe that a celebrity defendant was innocent, and this belief would be quite enduring. Compliance, identification and internalization offer three distinct ways in which a celebrity’s power and influence could affect jurors’ decisions.

In general, celebrity defendants are likely to influence juries in their favor because they have socially powerful characteristics; they are usually physically bigger and stronger, more intelligent, talkative, more motivated, and charismatic. There are different ways in which jurors may respond to social influence exerted by celebrity defendants (e.g., through compliance, identification, and internalization). Although these responses vary in permanency and authenticity, they can all theoretically lead to impartial trials for celebrity defendants.

Thanks to @tla_bc for promoting this to my attention. It may be true, if only inadvertently so, what my other major Taylor Swift intelligence source said a while back about Taylor’s influence on the legal sphere:

– Find Nate Russell on Twitter


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