Pluralistic Ignorance

A herdd of sheepsPLURALISTIC IGNORANCE refers to a social-psychology phenomenon in which people in a group guess wrongly about the group’s beliefs and values. This term was created by Floyd H. Allport and Daniel Katz in the 1930s. Also described as “no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes,” pluralistic ignorance is a bias about a social group, held by the members of that group. The members of the group mistakenly infer that they feel differently from other group members, even though they feel similarly. Therefore, in a certain situation, despite rejecting a norm personally, the individuals go along with it because they assume, erroneously, that most others accept it. This misconception of others’ values causes the group members to act in ways that differ from what they actually believe in. As an example, imagine yourself attending a difficult lecture in college. After finishing the lecture, the professor asks if there are any doubts or questions. But you, despite having questions, don’t raise your hand because no one else has, because you assume that all other students have comprehended the lecture well, which might be just a misconception. The bystander effect can also be explained on the basis of pluralistic ignorance.

The Bystander Effect

The bystander effect or bystander apathy is a phenomenon where a person in need is less likely to receive help if there are others present. The concept was popularized by two social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley. This happens as a result of diffusion of responsibility and social influence. When there are other observers present, the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of them which makes individuals feel less compelled to act or help. This is referred to as diffusion of responsibility. Secondly, under social influence people tend to behave in socially acceptable ways. When others do not react to somebody’s distress, the individuals usually take this as a signal that neither a response is needed nor appropriate.