Tufts University Professor Finds Racial Diversity Can Lead to Better Group Decision Making

A new study by Samuel R. Sommers, an assistant professor of psychology at Tufts University who is white, finds that racial diversity allows groups of people to perform tasks more successfully. Professor Sommers’ research finds that diverse groups perform better, not because blacks and other minorities bring diverse viewpoints to group interactions, but mainly because whites behave differently in diverse settings.

Professor Sommers created 29 mock juries, some of which were all white and others that were racially diverse. The mock juries watched a 30-minute videotape summarizing the trial of a black defendant accused of harming white victims. A bare majority of jurists on the all-white panels said they thought the defendant was guilty. Only 34 percent of the whites on the diverse juries believed the defendant was guilty.

But the most interesting finding from Professor Sommers’ research is that the diverse juries deliberated longer, raised more questions about the case, made fewer incorrect factual statements, and were more likely to correct factual errors if they were stated.

Professor Sommers believes that his findings may apply outside the jury room as well. Diverse panels on corporate boards of directors, higher education faculty search groups, and legislative committees might arrive at better decisions when the groups are racially diverse.