Case Study

Different Perceptions around Snitching

Problem

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. Snitching serves as a powerful social force to guide everyday interactions. What are the causes and consequences of snitching? How do people feel about snitching, and how do they think others feel about it?

Research

We predicted that there would be pluralistic ignorance about 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 not have a problem passing along information. We assumed these individuals felt that others weren’t supportive of this.

We partnered with TROSA, a long-term, residential program for people with substance use disorders. TROSA had recently conducted a campaign on passing information regarding transgressions. Members had been given a pardon if they admitted to breaking any TROSA rules. However, if they did not admit to a transgression that another member passed on about them, they would be punished (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 about themselves and other residents. Most disapproved breaking rules, but thought others approved of it. Similarly, most residents had no issue with other people passing information about them, but believed that most others would find this problematic.

Why it matters

There is often a large amount of pluralistic ignorance, as this case demonstrates. This may indicate that more members would be willing to pass information or follow the rules than currently are doing so, but they don’t do so because they incorrectly believe there is a social stigma against it. If you could convince members that most of the group actually supports passing information and following the rules, this might increase the number of members doing so. When there is a mistaken perception regarding what most people think is acceptable, correcting that mistaken perception can go a long way towards creating the desired behavior.