Casey Anthony and Thinking for Self in an Emotional Storm

When a blind beetle crawls over the surface of a curved branch, it doesn’t notice that the track it has covered is indeed curved. 

I was lucky enough to notice what the beetle didn’t notice.         

— Einstein, in answer to his son Eduard’s question, why he is so famous. 1922



                     Photo by Isabelle Mauboussin, one of my granddaughters, at The Zen Farm  (


One of the most difficult problems we humans face is how to understand complex problems and who and what to believe.

The recent Casey Anthony trial is a microcosm of the fear one can encounter in standing up for self under intense pressure from others.  One of the jurors is now in hiding and many others have reported being fearful for their safety.[1]

Little mention has been made of the fear that may have been generated in the room where the jurors were sequestered. Were these people prepared to stand up for self?  (You will find a list of the jurors and a short summary about each one at the end of this blog.)

People have reported that one or two jurors were willing to stay for the duration rather than give a guilty plea.  Did these jurors understand how to manage self in the intensity of this jury trial? We can imagine the psychological challenges that any individual might have been up against in formulating and communicating his or her understanding of the guilt or innocence of Casey Anthony.  Clearly there is a real cost to standing up for one’s beliefs in a small group.

No one knows what happened in that room. There were no video cameras or microphones to record the decision making process in the jury deliberation room but there were plenty of cameras outside the courtroom.

The truth is, we have all been pressured by others to make decisions that we don’t believe are the best.  And most of us have been fearful about standing up for self with others.   Perhaps we remember some decisions we’ve made under relationship pressure that weren’t very rational and may even have compromised our ethics.  It’s also true that it is hard for us to see how we pressure others for our own brand of truth.

Questions remain: 1) Could increasing emotionality in the media and the public have leaked onto the jurors?  2) Would a short phone call by a spouse to a juror communicate the public’s outrage generating fear in the juror?  3) If the world yells “guilty” are the jurors reacting as an oppositional child might by saying “innocent?” 4) Was there intense pressure in the jury room to fold and go along with the leaders in the jury itself?

There are many factors to consider about how people make decisions under conditions of uncertainty and high emotion.  Emotional pressure reduces our ability to know our own ideas and clearly express them.  People can make us nervous.  And there are no classes given to jurors or family members about how to recognize and deal with emotional pressure.

I have been on a jury. That trial lasted for three days.  There were intense opinions in the room and I had a feeling that I should go along with the loudest person.  My fellow jurors seemed to be run over by the judgments of others. I was alone. Most of the folks on the jury wanted a quick answer to the problems and were inclined to go along with the loudest person.  As one or two took up opposite viewpoints, the experience became something like an endless bickering with your spouse.

One has to be relationship smart to figure out rational positions in an emotional environment and be willing to stand alone when criticized.  How easy is it to select a jury of relationship smart, objective and observant people? Very probably all the people on the Casey Anthony jury were subject to great emotional pressure.

It would be interesting to know the degree to which people on juries are encouraged or even allowed to express different opinions.  Unfortunately the law does not allow such studies.   However, juries are groups of people and likely to function like most human groups.   People in the aggregate are much more similar than different. (Bursts, Albert-Laszio Barabasi)

There is research about how groups react to individuals in the group taking a different position.  And individuals can experience fear when standing up for their opinion against the emotional tide in the group. As Solomon Ashe noted in his conformity experiments, it’s far easier for individuals to go along with the group., Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70 (Whole no. 416).

In addition research has shown that when individuals are assigned to a group, differences are lost.  Individual traits brought collectively to a jury generate a mean age, gender domination and mean intelligence that predisposes a jury to its collective personality, very much as the individual voices of a choir will combine to create a recognizable (read in, predictable) collective voice. The jury personality is determined specifically by its dominant individual traits, including as a conservative composition (strict legal constructionists), or a liberal composition (social engineers).  Simply put, a conservative jury will be more likely to convict if the only letter of the law was violated.  A liberal jury will be more likely to acquit if only the letter of the law was violated.


Each group has some folks who are more thoughtful and some who react and advocate for a quick agreement or who even threaten others if they do not agree with them. The maturity of the jury, as in most families or groups, is heavily influenced by the maturity of the leader. A charismatic or overbearing individual can override others’ opinions while a weak leader may create confusion and rebellion. A mature leader will promote different opinions and give time and space for people to think carefully and promote an environment that respects differences.

In order to solve problems we have to be able to analyze them rationally, based on facts.  We have to separate fact from opinion within ourselves and between ourselves and others.  This is hard to do in any small group or in any family. Opinions are seen as a display of loyalty.  Are you for me or against me? Even the facts can be manipulated and create confusion in the minds of the listeners.

Focus on loyalty, or going along with others, can increase when facts are hard to ascertain, as in the Casey Anthony case.

Dueling experts lead to confusion as when prosecution expert said the word “chloroform” was searched for on a home computer 84 times. But the defense computer expert testified that it was a MySpace account that was searched for 84 times. Another problem, Caylee died from someone suffocating her with duct tape. Even though the jury was shown photos of Caylee’s skull with some duct tape attached, the fact that a meter reader testified that he actually picked up Caylee’s skull with his meter stick, can give a moment for pause. If the alleged crime scene was tampered with, how can the jury be sure that the duct tape was held exactly in place on Caylee’s skull for months, through storms and other environmental events?,.html

In more mature families and groups, diverse ideas and multiple points of view or opinions are encouraged.   In the mid range (between immaturity and maturity), differences are at least tolerated and people have some ability to think differently from others and to weigh the facts.

In less mature families and when people are under great stress, there is an almost psychotic need for “the others” to be similar to self.  This focus on sameness includes many details from the way people dress to the way they feel and think. As the perceived need for in-group loyalty rises, so too does the pressure to conform. Those who are different can be shunned or abused physically or psychologically.

There has been a great deal of research about how authority figures can over influence even “normal” individuals and groups, as we see in the ground breaking work of Stanley Milgram.

The Milgram experiments from the early 1960’s are classic (but shocking) studies that demonstrated the “sheeple-ness” of people everywhere. In the experiments — which have been replicated numerous times across multiple cultures, races and age ranges — subjects willingly engaged in administering extremely painful electric shocks to other human beings for no reason other than the fact they were ordered to do so by an apparent authority figure. These studies have long demonstrated the “do what I’m told” mentality of approximately 70 percent of the population. Only 30 percent of the study subjects refused to torture fellow human beings when so ordered.

If people are going along with others without question, it’s likely that they have little space, time or ability to access their own ideas or the independent reality of a situation. They are rushed and given no time or space to think.  Instead they feel deeply that they must fit in with the others. It is a deep feeling orientation that aligning self with others, as though there were no differences, is safer and better.  You can be pretty sure that the faster people agree, the less room there has been for any different thought.

Despite all the psychological evidence of the difficulty people experience in taking a thoughtful stand in relationships, there is no training for perspective jurors or even those contemplating marriage about how social pressure functions to diminish fact-finding, the consideration of alternative viewpoints and thoughtful problem-solving. Jurors are told to keep their own ideas intact, but they are not informed about the nature of social pressure in groups of one’s peers about what it takes to be a “self” when pressured by others.

Therefore it is up to each of us to know the difference between agreeing with someone based on principle and “going along” in an unprincipled, no-self way that almost guarantees a feeling of relief in the short term but perhaps regret later.   But maybe you will be lucky and in your small group someone will ask, are you sure of your decision? Have you had enough time to think it through?

Murray Bowen, MD called this tendency to go along with others fusion. I sometimes call it the problem of two heads on one body. One is my head and the other is the name of the person or people who are telling me what to do.   If I follow without my own thoughts, then I have two heads.

There are many behavior clues as to the degree of fusion. The following are a few I have seen and participated in:

1)    The degree to which one person is intimidated by another

2)    The overuse use of the word WE

3)    Telling others what they should or should not do

4)    Threatening people for not agreeing with you

5)    The lack of any “I” or self directed statements

6)    Blaming others, calling them names

7)    Telling or making up gossip about another person

8)    Making people feel ashamed of their ideas or talents

9)    Thinking you know what is best for others

                    Photo by  Madeline Mauboussin one of my granddaughters – at The Zen Farm  (



Another more subtle aspect of fusion is when, in a strange/funny way, person “A” actually wants the Person “B” to control the situation to reduce Person “A’s” anxiety about taking responsibility for self.  Dr. Bowen referred to this as pinning someone in the “one up” position.

Oldest children are prone to take on others’ anxiety by doing things to make others more comfortable rather than promoting responsibility in each person.  Oldest are programmed to do for others, which can result in weakness in the others. Each sibling position has a broad profile with pluses and minuses. Of course sibling position is always impacted by the sibling position of parents and perhaps grandparents.  Each family has a unique view of the functional roles assigned to children.

This struggle for a leadership position occurs among children as well as adults.  Children are not helpless.  They too develop ways of managing others as a way to cope with fear. In general, in all groups some are programmed to control others, some to find someone to control them, and a few advocate for and encourage the differences that emerge.

Such dynamics become more intense in certain lines of every family, as some move towards more mature functioning and others towards more fusion in thinking and less mature functioning.

Often in groups, it is the immature leader that tends to emerge first.   The Tavistock studies of the leaderless group by W.R Bion were the basis on which officers were selected during WWII in England.  A small group was gathered and an observer was sent in to watch. No directions were given to the group. They were looking for officers to arise. Initially the complainers arose. “How come no one is telling us what to do?  Who cares…?”   Eventually a more mature leader would arise to organize the group to look for solutions. But this leader also had to be willing to take on the complainers respectfully.

How would we know if the leaders in the jury room in the Casey Anthony trial were mature people or manipulators? We may never know, but in a recent interview, the jury foreman raised the question about the possibility that the father may have been involved in the killing and noted this was another reason they could not find Casey guilty.  Others had opportunity and perhaps motivation, he said.  You can see his interview with Greta Van Susteren.


So if any of us want to be more prepared for our next encounter in any relationship it may pay off to consider the following ways that people manipulate others:

positive reinforcement – includes praisesuperficial charm, superficial sympathy (crocodile tears), excessive apologizing; money, approval, gifts; attention, facial expressions such as a forced laugh or smile; public recognition.

negative reinforcement – includes nagging, yelling, the silent treatment, intimidation, threats, swearing,emotional blackmail, the guilt trap, sulking, crying, and playing the victim.

intermittent or partial reinforcement – Partial or intermittent negative reinforcement can create an effective climate of fear and doubt. Partial or intermittent positive reinforcement can encourage the victim to persist – for example in most forms of gambling, the gambler is likely to win now and again but still lose money overall.


traumatic one-trial learning – using verbal abuse, explosive anger, or other intimidating behavior to establish dominance or superiority; even one incident of such behavior can condition or train victims to avoid upsetting, confronting or contradicting the manipulator.

People are vulnerable to manipulation due to:

the “disease to please”

addiction to earning the approval and acceptance of others

Emotophobia (fear of negative emotion)

lack of assertiveness and ability to say no

blurry sense of identity (with soft personal boundaries)

low self-reliance

external locus of control

Research using mock jurors has found there are psychological techniques aimed at inducing the jury to base its decision on extralegal factors, and to influence the jury toward an illogical assessment of the evidence.[2]


During the trial of Casey Anthony, the prosecution managed to establish what people already knew:

The skeletal remains found were those of Caylee and there was duct tape sticking to her skull;

Casey lied to the police about a number of things;

Casey denied murdering her daughter;

Casey was not a person of the highest character.

If Casey’s DNA had been found on the duct tape, that might have demonstrated a connection to the prosecution’s narrative, but, alas, they found nothing of the sort. One issue is what facts might have justified a conviction?  The second issue concerns the decision-making ability within groups

Anthony Juror: “I did not say she was innocent. If you cannot prove what crime was, you can’t determine the punishment.”


As time goes by we will see more information about the psychological make up of the jurors.  Even without further evidence it would seem obvious that significant reforms could be made in jury selection and preparation.

Perhaps in a far away future, jurors could be made aware of the psychological pressures that they will face in becoming a part of a small social group.   This may be even more important for juries, like the one in the Anthony trial, that are sequestered for a long period of time.  Motivated individuals could make a three generational family diagram to consider their degree of vulnerability to going along with others in their own family, and consider this information as they participate in the jury and other groups.  These and other strategies might better enable individuals to deal with the tendency to go along, or dominate others, as these actions are clearly unthinking responses to social pressure, which have negative impacts on society and on the individuals involved.

Some might object saying that if this kind of deliberate education went on in jury selection we might not be judged by a group of our peers.  No such structural change for juries is likely to happen, therefore the question remains, how can each of us access our vulnerability to going along with others vs. standing up for self by making more rational decisions?

Being able to take think for self and think well seems a lost art.  We are surrounded by others clamoring for us to follow.  Facts are twisted to please the speaker or the audience.  We are armed only with dimly understood knowledge of psychological mechanisms.  Many of us are blind to the pressure to follow the more demanding and “primitive leaders.”  Behind all the clamoring is the sense that to survive problems in these complex times we must be better at decision-making.  As public retrospection occurs in the wake of the Casey Anthony trial, this could lead to rethinking very basic issues about psychological pressure in trials, organizations and perhaps even in families.

It is not easy to know how to be a self in a social system. We know that the wiliness and courage to be open with important others, to stay in contact with difficult people and to reflect on the past without blame and shame are both necessary to grow self.

It is possible that this highly publicized trial will lead to increasing awareness about social pressure. If this happens a few more people might become more aware of the importance to the functioning of any group to have a few be willing to risk saying what they think and believe and just hold on while others react.

If even a few individuals are more thoughtful and well defined in their daily interactions, they will influence others. When a few are willing to say where they stand without blaming, shaming or trying to manipulate others, the larger system benefits.   Society will always be dependent on individuals willing to manage increasing social pressure. One by one people do learn to navigate through the social jungle.

Many Thanks to Judy Ball for her thoughtful editing again and again…..


The Jury 

Here’s what we know about Casey Anthony’s jury:[3]

Juror 1 — The Counselor:  White, female, age 65, married, two children.   Retired nurse and volunteer counselor.  Death penalty stance: “I value life.   I also value the criminal justice system.”  Has smelled decomposing bodies.  Capable of understanding, relating to others the scientific evidence in trial, her communication skills and education qualify her as a strong candidate for jury foreperson.

Juror 2 — The IT Worker: Black male, mid-thirties, married, two children: a daughter, 4 and son, 9.   Like defendant, Casey Anthony, juror’s mother was a single mom.  “My impression was that, ‘yes, I thought she did it.’ … If I had to return a verdict, I would say ‘not guilty’ right now.”  Death penalty stance:  Does not believe in the death penalty.  “God is the one that makes the final judgment.”

Juror 3 — The Weaver:  White, female, age 32, single, youngest of five children.  Nursing student, St. Petersburg College.  Crafty:  Hobby is weaving; works in fiber and is a member of a weavers’ guild.   Her pet dog is a rat terrier.  Said she has little knowledge of and is not following the case.  “I know my ignorance works in my favor at this point!”  Admitted she wanted to be on the jury.  On a scale of 1 to 10, she rates the death penalty at “a three or a five.” 

Juror 4 — The Church Lady:  Black female, 40s, no children, lives alone. Unknown occupation.  Plays “Farmville” on Facebook.  “Most of the time, I play my computer games”  she notes. Quiet, unassuming, does not like to judge people by what other people say about them.  

Juror 5 — The Retired Nurse’s Aid: White, female, late 50s, three children.  Has 11th grade education.  Had a driving under the influence arrest in 1998.  Lives with boyfriend, a retired plumber.  Was a juror for a criminal trial case.   Does not own a computer.  Works in yard, goes to gym.  Death penalty stance:  “I guess I believe in the death penalty.  I’d have to know a lot of facts before I really considered it.”

Juror 6 — The Chef:  White male, 33, married, two children, ages 6 and 21 months.  Sells restaurant equipment and is in Orlando on business once a week.  Has University of Florida business degree and owns a cat.  Did not want to be on the jury.  Could vote for the death penalty; “If the law dictated it, I would be able to follow it.”

Juror 7 — The Lawyer’s Daughter:  White female, 41, divorced with no children.  Once a victim of home invasion, but physically uninjured.  Works as administrative assistance in juvenile justice welfare.  She has limited knowledge of the case, maintaining that she could vote to recommend the death penalty.  “It would be — gosh — a solemn decision, but it is an option under the law.”

Juror 8 — Verizon Service Representative:  White, female, 50s, married, two sons approximately Casey Anthony’s age (mid-twenties).  Father worked in law enforcement.  She would have no problem with the death penalty if warranted, provided she had heard “all the facts.”

Juror 9 — The Logger:  White male, 53, never married.  Semi-retired; moved to Florida 4 years ago from Indiana because he was “sick of snow.”  The caregiver for a stroke sufferer; he also does odd jobs.  Watches PBS and the History Channel.  He believes Casey Anthony’s “whole story” has not come out; holds no bias, supports the death penalty, and could vote to recommend it “in the proper situation.” 

Juror 10 — Verizon Retention Specialist: White male, 57, never married, no children.  When asked what he knows about the case, he said, “I really don’t know any details …” and that he does believe “… everyone is innocent until proven guilty.”  Disclosed that his sister and her boyfriend committed a violent crime against their father.  He regards the death penalty as a “necessary option.”

Juror 11 — The Teacher:  White male, 30s, unmarried.  A high school physical education and health teacher who believes Casey Anthony is guilty, who also relates the opinion in the teachers’ lounge is that Casey is guilty.   In his profession as an educator, says he “had to learn to listen to differing opinions,” and could put aside his leanings in order to fairly judge Casey Anthony.  States the death penalty is a “necessary option.”

Juror 12 — The Publix Cook:  White female, 60s, married to Publix supermarket employee, two children and one young grandchild.  Has very little knowledge of the case, although she initially followed it.  No cable TV; “not that into” newspapers or TV.  She does not own a computer.  Rating the death penalty as ten on a scale of one to ten, she would have no problem deciding on LWOP (Life without Opportunity for Parole) or the death penalty. 






  1. The jury was sequestered but the rest of the people in the court room were not. Any carry over from their exposure from outside the courtroom to inside the courtroom would be observable to the jury. The jury would see/hear whatever way that reactivity got expressed and if it was extremely negative then it could also be picked up in the jury’s presence. I would think there was a group process within the courtroom as well as within the jury.

  2. What a great point….

    Thank you for thinking of this as its important to look for and identify how emotions set up paradoxical situations.
    People react in various ways to all kinds of emotional communication that comes our way. We can know more about this.

    Bowen use to talk about the power of emotion and how its intensity can create the opposite. A spouse is beaten, it gets in the news, they open a shelter and the numbers of people being beaten increases. The point for me is that emotional process has to be kept in mind as we probably can not see all the ways in which we are being influenced.


  3. I have seen the challenges of standing up for self in a stressed organization that was shutting down rather than opening up by creating a space for differences to be aired.

    I was a member of the leadership team of a not-for profit organization which was managed by a series of committees. One of these committees was in charge of finding people (volunteers) who would be qualified to serve on the organizational board.

    At one point a few members of the board came up with a decision regarding the criteria used to recruit candidates for the board, namely some personal characteristics which would essentially disqualify any candidate showing these, regardless of their unique fit with the requirements of the particular board position. These leaders were very adamant about what would qualify as “respectable” candidates. One such “unworthy” candidate had already been approached by the volunteer search committee without the knowledge of the board. When this was discovered by the board leaders, they immediately tried to keep this event as secret as possible, claiming that a failure to do so would mean no less than the demise of the organization. There was applied great deal of pressure put on the other members of the organization to sheepishly follow the decision made by the board leaders and not talk a word about it with anyone else.

    I viewed this policy as discriminatory and believed that the move towards absolute secrecy could lead to precisely the same kind of result which was so feared by the leaders. Tensions were skyrocketing very quickly. I realized that it did not take much for everyone, including myself, to automatically follow whatever those “in charge”, those yelling the “loudest” dictated that we must do–under the threat that, did we not, chaos would ensue. For some people in this kind of setting, an urge exists, both physically and mentally, to simply go with the flow, to not make waves. For others, to the contrary, the urge is to pound their fist on the table and shout “No way!” or “My way or the highway!”

    I decided that this was not something I was prepared to go along with. I believed that sometimes all it takes to stop a seemingly inexorable process is for someone to take a non-judgmental stand, and deal as best as possible with the ensuing resistance.

    I used outside help (a Bowen coach) to be able to formulate a way of speaking in public during the next annual meeting when a good number of members (volunteers) were present to hear about the annual report, financial situation, etc. I was, I think, able to articulate my own view on the until-then undisclosed policy which had been unilaterally decided upon by a few leaders regarding board member recruitment. I asked for clarification as to which circumstances or personal characteristics would be deemed unacceptable. I was careful not to declare how everyone else should believe, do or say. I know that this was an imperfect stand and that in the process I got caught up in the tension / fusion which is so present in many situations. Standing up during the annual meeting was not an easy step, for I knew that I was heading for substantial trouble.

    Without getting into too much detail, a series of meetings ensued which helped to clarify the recruitment criteria, and more importantly, as I see it, to publicize these criteria and allow for a debate among the members of the organization as well as among the board members.

    As I see it, several things can be learned from such events, among which:
    – In a place where secrecy reigns, a move toward more transparency can act like opening a window in a meeting room where people have worked for a long time (letting fresh air in, although it seems at first that one has introduced even more nauseating gas into the room, as some people will accuse you of being responsible for the up-coming, inevitable doom they predicted). In the end, I did not attempt to assess my level of success in this endeavor, other than the fact that I had been able to stand up and put forth my views within a stressed organizational system. Later on, looking at the system at a superficial level, it appeared that the organization stabilized at a higher level of functioning–although it is still not totally open, of course.

    – In such difficult circumstances, stress is a bit like an invisible tsunami. One does not see it coming, although one can see that something is happening. Once a person is in it, the best that person can do is to stay afloat (and sometimes cannot help but go under). You do the best you can, moment by moment.

    – Being aware of how one’s behavior reflects the “fusion clues” Andrea refers to in her post (“The degree to which one person is intimidated by another …”). Preparing oneself for this would be essential in order to “catch” oneself before one becomes stuck in the situation without the ability to back off. I would do more of that should I find myself in a similar situation again.

    – Preparing oneself for the system “change-back” demand which inevitably occurs if one has been successful, and deciding upfront what one will and will not say, how one will react to potential comments / moves by others (I have struggled with this the very few times I did it).

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s