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12 Angry Primates

Plays and movies have been able to convey subtle concepts to the human mind throughout history, such as “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave”, Shakespeare’s composite of works, and a myriad of other historical classics that have shaped human thinking and history. Many of these plays still perplex and leave audiences in a state of awe, as well as intellectual inquiry, even those that were created thousands of years ago. In a more modern play, “12 Angry Men” by Reginald Rose, is truly one of these Psychological and Philosophical Classics that will resonate throughout eras to come. The entire show leaves audiences in a state of “what’s going to happen next” through its dynamic emotional contexts and psychological interplay between the characters. The play ultimately shows how one man (a minority) can change the logical and emotional perspectives of 11 men by using reasoning in a cognitively dynamic and organized way, bringing out linear change among a group.

The entire play of “12 Angry Men” depicted many classic Social Psychology theories within the show/play. One of the most prevailing formulas for social influence is “social impact theory”, a single process model that can be applied to minority and majority influence. Social impact theory was created by Bib Latane in 1981 (Guy-Evans, 2023). Social Impact Theory is defined by our text book, Social Psychology: Theories, Research and Applications as “a theory stating that social influence is a function of the combination of the strength, immediacy, and number of influences.” In other words, social impact theory can be thought of as as the ability for a minority or a majority to influence populations through strength of message or information by influence, immediacy or closeness of information or message and the number of sources influencing the message or information.

Latane created a mathematical equation to diplomatically break down each factor of social impact theory. The equation is “Influence=f(SIN)”, “S” represents strength of influence, “I” indicates immediacy (closeness), and “N” represents the number of sources. In the play “12 Angry Men” probably one of the most pinnacle points in the play was when the main character pulled the knife out of his pocket and matched it with the murder weapon. This specific scene showed the power of the social impact theory due to the main character’s influence to sway the old man into voicing the boy was innocent. The strength of the man presenting the knife was strong because he showed that the knife could have been bought by any one at different stores. The immediacy of the message was very apparent to the people that were present in the room because the other 11 men had to listen to the minority because they were obliged to jury duty, putting them immediately or close to the message. The number of sources for the information was probably not the strongest in the equation since the juror presenting the knife was the only source. Nonetheless, the sole juror was still enough to sway the other jurors into thinking the boy could possibly be innocent.

According to our text book Social Psychology: Theories, Research and Applications, the single process model (social impact theory) of social influence is actually stronger than the double process mode (Miller, 2021). The psychologist, Lantane, that created social impact theory used an experiment he conducted in 1968 that measured if participants would help a confederate having a fake heart attack while giving a speech (Evans, 2023). Lantane’s hypothesis was that the amount of people in a room had a direct correlation to the measurement of social responsibility/response (or lack thereof). Ironically, the findings of the experiment proved the hypothesis to be true, as the amount of participants went up, the reaction to help the confederate went down. If there was only one other participant in the room while the confederate had the fake heart attack, 85% of participants would go to help the confederate. The percentage number would decrease the more participants were added to the room. For example, if two participants were in the room, reactions to help dropped to 62%. The numbers ultimately bottomed out at 4+ participants with a 31% reaction engagement rate.

The implications of Lantane’s experiment showed that as the number of people went up in the room during the fake heart attack, the responsibility of helping went down. This can be applied to the formula with the letter N and I. Since the number of people in the room diluted the immediacy of the situation, the overall influence of the fake heart attack decreased. The participants in the room felt that because more people were present in the room, the need for their engagement went down, dispersing the influence of the situation onto others.

Since Social impact theory can be mathematically observed by a simple formula, the theory can be applied to basically any social situation, even other theories in social psychology. Social impact theory has a mathematical equation that breaks down the many facets that operate within social interaction and influencing others, and therefore can be applicable to other theories such as “social judgement theory.” Social judgement theory is defined as “an attitude theory suggesting the degree of personal involvement with an issue determines how a target of persuasion will judge an attempt at persuasion” (Miller, 2021). Social judgement theory and social impact theory are related because social impact theory can measure the message potency, while social judgement theory measures audience receptivity. The two relate because Impact theory measures the efficacy of the presenter of the information or attitude, and the Judgement theory measures the receivers (audience) preconceived attitude and receptibility of the message.

Social judgement theory measures audience receptivity and attitudes because the definition suggests how a target of persuasion (audience) will judge the attempt of the persuader by their degree of involvement in an issue, as well as how the audience currently has an attitude towards a subject (Miller, 2021). In other words, if a person is not terribly involved or committed to an issue due to preconceived attitudes, the social impact of the message might be skewed, which ultimately would effect the influence of the message to the audience. Another aspect of Social Judgement Theory is how the audience’s attitude is already standing. If, for example, an audience of Buddhists were attending a talk about Buddhist similarities with Muslims, the Buddhists may not accept the information being presented because of the current attitude and preconceived notions about Muslims. The Buddhists latitude of acceptance would be low, with a latitude of rejection being high, which could affect the overall impact and influence of message even if all aspects of the social impact equation are high (Social Impact Theory). Therefore, Social impact theory measures the presenter’s ability and possibility to influence through information and attitudes, while Social Judgement measures acceptance, rejection, or neutrality of the audience.

Latitudes of acceptance is how much an audience is willing to accept from a message. If the latitude of acceptance is high, then the information presented would want to be acceptable for the specific target audience, since rejection to new messaging is high. The presenter would want to fall into your high latitudes of accepting messages. If the latitude of acceptance is low, then the information presented would more likely not be acceptable if it did not fall into an accepted category but has a broader category of acceptance. A middle ground runs through the two, latitude of noncommitment, which is basically being indifferent about the messages being presented.

Social Judgement theory was created by Muzafer Shariff in 1961. Shariff used a political election between democrats and republicans to formulate his theory (Miller, 2021). He found that neither side had any latitude of acceptance between them: both did not accept either sides points or perspectives (Miller 2021). His hypothesis was attitudes and positions as well as preconceived experiences by an audience can either accept or deny messages being presented to them. The implications of his theory suggest that even if a message has strength and closeness, if the audience that is receiving the message already has a set attitude it may be difficult to change. His hypothesis basically has to do with “openness/acceptance to new ideas, information or attitudes” from an opposing side.

Social Judgement theory can be seen in the Movie “12 Angry Men” when the main character changes the feelings of the other young man who grew up in the poor neighborhoods. A lot of the men in the jury were judging the murder suspect because he was poor, little did everyone know that the young man in the room (the one that was not the main character) was also from a poor neighborhood. Therefore, the young man who grew up in a poor neighborhood had a high latitude of acceptance for the presentation of the facts and emotional affect of being poor. While his latitude of objection towards rich “snobs” was also “high” or large. When the main character started mounting evidence and breaking down prejudice about poor people the other young man switched his judgement and attitude towards the murder suspect because he empathized with the situation the suspect was in. By using the social psychology concepts of social impact theory and social judgement theory, the lone juror was able to create the “partner effect” in the jury room.

The partner effect can be defined as “the phenomena whereby an individual’s tendency to conform to a majority position is reduced if there is one other person who supports the nonconforming individual’s position” (Miller 2021). In other words, someone is more likely to agree with a minority position or outlook if there is another person that expresses the same emotions or perspectives. When another person is expressing a minority position, other people may have the feeling of “not being alone.”

The partner effect was created by psychologist Soloman Asch during his “line experiments” on conformity. He placed confederates and a subject all in the same room and exposed them to different line lengths, purposely telling the confederates to voice the wrong answer. Asch found that if one of the confederates actually gave the right answer, the participant inside the room would feel more comfortable voicing their “true” or “real answer. They finally voiced their answer because they no longer felt isolated in their opinions. The results showed that people are more comfortable with their opinions if others agree with their outlooks.

The partner effect can be applied to the movie “12 Angry Men.” The lone juror made other jurors more comfortable to show their reasonable doubt about the defendant. By the lone juror having the courage to express his thoughts about his reasonable doubt, others also felt comfortable or “not alone” in their viewpoints. This can be seen initially with the old man converging to the minority because after the first anonymous vote it showed at least one person had doubt, which gave him some confidence to voice his opinion. The partner effect can also be applied to almost all of the people eventually turning into not guilty because they slowly saw others go to that side of the jury.

The movie “12 Angry Men” is a psychological classic that has had many versions of the film made and also theatrical plays made from the screen write. Although the partner effect, social judgement theory and social impact theory can be found inside the play, many other social psychology theories and concepts can be found within the film. “12 Angry Men” is an easy way to analyze how social interactions work in a high-risk environment, by recognizing these concepts in the film we can better observe these theories in real life.














Guy-Evans, O. (2023, October 20). Social Impact Theory in Psychology. Retrieved October 20, 2023, from

Miller, D. A. (2021). Social Psychology: Theories, Research, and Applications (7th ed.). Academic Media Solutions.

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