Egocentric Bias or Information Management?
Selective Disclosure and the
Social Roots of Norm Misperception

by James A. Kitts


This paper examines systematic biases in group members' inferences about collective support for group norms. While theories of "looking glass perception" suggest a tendency to project our own preferences onto others, this paper shows that observed biases may simply reflect flows of information through social networks. Members conceal their counter-normative behavior and divulge it disproportionately within confidence relations. This predicts structured inference, where members' inferences depend on their social ties, and also pluralistic ignorance, where members generally overestimate collective support for existing norms. These predictions are evaluated in a field study of perceived normative consensus in five vegetarian housing cooperatives. Results fail to support the intrinsic bias argument, but demonstrate these forms of information bias. Also, by locating this structural effect only in large groups that facilitate private conversation, findings highlight the mechanism of selective disclosure. This source of normative inertia may account for the puzzling stability of broadly unpopular norms in groups.

Click For Electronic Reprint.


Back to James Kitts' Homepage