Case Studies


Question: With illegal illicit behavior, snitching (also called passing information) is often the only way to gain enough information to allow a conviction in court. But even on a smaller scale, snitching can catch everything from cheating on tests to breaking a diet, and it serves as a powerful social force to guide everyday interactions. We wanted to know: what are the causes and consequences of snitching? How do people feel about snitching, and how do they think others feel about it?

Hypothesis: We predicted that there would be pluralistic ignorance surrounding snitching (when most people in a group believe one thing, but incorrectly think that most others in the group believe something else). Specifically, we predicted that most people would be okay with passing information, but would assume that others were not okay with it.

Experiment: We partnered with TROSA, (a long-term, residential program for people with substance use disorders) that had recently conducted a campaign on passing information regarding transgressions. Members had been given amnesty if they admitted to breaking any TROSA rules, but if they did not admit to a transgression that another member passed information on about them, they would be punished (with extra work hours). We conducted a survey after the campaign, asking members questions about cheating, denunciation and other related topics.

Results: Preliminary results showed several discrepancies between what people believed and what they thought other residents believe. Most residents disapproved of breaking rules, but most residents thought others approve of it. Similarly, most residents were okay with other people passing information about them, but believed that most others were not.



Application: In this case, it seems there is a lot of pluralistic ignorance. This might indicate that more members would be willing to pass information or follow the rules than currently are, but they don’t because they incorrectly think there is a social stigma against it. If you can convince members that most of the group actually supports passing information and following the rules, this might increase the number of members doing so. More generally, when there is a mistaken perception regarding what most people think is okay, simply correcting that mistaken perception can go a long way towards changing the desired behavior.