On many occasions when we are in groups, we tend to hide our opinions for fear that it is not the majority opinion. However, when we do this we can end up falling into a mistake that can influence both our lives and that of others. Some members of your group, like you, may be expressing false opinions out of fear of being out of tune , which in the end makes the truth look fuzzy and uncertain . All this is what pluralistic ignorance is about, a psychological tendency that can appear before opinions, beliefs, behaviors and even delicate moments in which someone asks for help.

Pluralistic ignorance also has a lot to do with offering to help someone who asks for help, that is, with the so-called bystander effect . In this article we will see in depth what pluralistic ignorance is and how it manifests itself in situations that range from the most everyday to eventual but dangerous situations.

What is pluralistic ignorance?

This term arose in the year 1931, coined by Daniel Katz and Flyod H. Allport as a concept of social psychology. These authors defined pluralistic ignorance as the tendency of people not to express their position or point of view because that opinion goes against what most people think and that therefore it would be seen by others as a error. Faced with a majority belief in the group, the person who thinks differently feels like a minority , which makes them not express their true opinion.

Many people believe (and it is a mistake) that their opinion is different from that of the rest, but in many cases what happens is that the other members of the group also think like them, but they do not dare to express their true opinion either . With this, the authors affirmed that there is a tendency in the human being to “be in tune” with others, and the fear of not being so generates this pluralistic ignorance.

Bystander effect

Pluralistic ignorance is also related to another phenomenon in social psychology, called the bystander effect.

The bystander effect is a phenomenon that appears in people who need to ask for help of some kind: “The more bystanders there are in a situation that requires offering our help, there is less probability of offering that help, and therefore more time it passes until the person who needs it receives it . ” What this means is that the bystander effect inhibits people’s altruistic response due to three phenomena, among which is pluralistic ignorance:

    • The diffusion of responsibility : The more people we think that they may be seeing a situation in which someone needs help, the less we need to act , thinking that there will already be someone who will do it for us.
  • Apprehension about evaluation : Fear that our performance will be evaluated, since the rest of the spectators will be attentive to what we do and will judge us if we act wrong or not .

An example of this would be when we go on the subway and we see that some minor girls are being harassed. An older man may be reprimanding them, harassing them or making them feel vulnerable, the spectator effect suggests that as there are more people in the subway, someone will come to help those girls, so we act as mere spectators waiting for someone to act. , this makes spend more time until the person receives and helps many other people who go on the subway will have the same thinking that somebody else will succor those girls.

Processes prior to helping behavior

In order to better understand the example set out above, it is necessary to talk about certain mental functions that people go through our heads and that causes us not to provide help to the person who asks for help:

    • Pay attention : The first thing that people do is see the situation and pay attention to it , because there is something that is happening and that is wrong . From this point on, the pressure of time begins to exert, that is, the longer we are observing, the more the situation can worsen.
    • Pluralist ignorance : At this point we start to think if the situation is a true emergency or if acting can cause us harm. Seeing that no one else from the subway interferes in the situation, we can come to the erroneous conclusion that what we are witnessing is not so serious or that it is better not to interfere. In our heads this means that if no one is acting, my acting may be a mistake .
    • Dissemination of responsibility : Here we begin to ask ourselves if we as individuals have the responsibility to act, seeing that nobody else does it, we can think that it is not our responsibility to help those girls, or that someone else will do it for us, therefore, we delegate that responsibility to another individual who is witnessing the same thing as us . This is very dangerous, especially in situations where someone is in real danger since what can happen is that no one acts, neither calling the police nor trying to help, which can end in an unfortunate accident like the one that happened to Kitty Genovese.
    • Apprehension to evaluation : At this point we ask ourselves if we can really help, we evaluate our physical and negotiation skills and we think if that “fight” we could win in the worst case scenario. It is then when, although it sounds paradoxical, we become afraid of helping, because we are judged by the rest , in the event that this help goes wrong, or we find ourselves unable to solve the conflict.
  • Cost-reward balance : Finally, we take stock of the situation and finally decide whether to help not. Our response will be determined by the seriousness of the situation, the risk to which we expose ourselves , empathy with the victim or closeness.

Elle Mcdonald

I am Elle Mcdonald Specializations in Psychology . Graduated in psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2000. Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and psychological treatments with excellent results.

First Level of Master in Clinical Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Therapists (recognized with a scientific-professional nature by the College of Psychologists)

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