Who is it? The study of anonymity and behavior. (2023)

In 1969, Philip Zimbardo, an APS fellow at Stanford University, dressed female students in lab coats, some plain with hoods that concealed their identity, and others with name tags and no hoods. He challenged the students to administer an electric shock to a Confederate. Hooded participants were twice as likely to comply.

Zimbardo's study was a formative piece of a large body of research showing a link between anonymity and abusive behavior. Scientists have found that many people tend to act rude, aggressive, or illegal when their faces and names are hidden.

However, recent studies have identified the positive qualities of anonymity, including digital interactions, which may be overlooked given the attention trolls and hackers receive. Just like meeting in person at support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, the internet has given people the opportunity to speak up and offer support without showing their faces or revealing their real names.

Behavioral studies on the role of anonymity in online interactions have yielded mixed results. Overall, researchers have found that anonymity can reveal personality traits that face-to-face interactions can hide, but that it also allows for strong group rules and values ​​to guide individual behavior.

group coverage

In 1981, social psychologist Leon Mann demonstrated how being in a crowd can cause people to behave not only offensively but also violently. Mann studied newspapers from 1964 to 1979 to examine reports of apparent suicide attempts, particularly cases in which someone threatened to jump from a tall building, bridge, or tower. Mann narrowed the reports down to 21 cases, which included crowds at the scene, noting that in 10 cases people encouraged the suicidal person to jump, and in three of the cases they actually jeered when rescuers prevented death. Mann found one instance where the crowd was yelling obscenities and throwing rocks and debris at the rescue team. Factors such as the physical distance between the crowd and the potential jumper (allowing their cheers to be heard but not identifying their faces) and the cover of darkness made viewers feel anonymous in a way that would not in various types of crowds.

This phenomenon can also occur on busy city streets and highways. For example, psychologist Patricia Ellison-Potter of the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has shown in driving simulation experiments that people are more likely to drive aggressively when they are less visible (for example, when drive a car with tinted windows). when they can be seen by other drivers (for example, driving an open convertible).

Such group behavior is alive and well on the Web. Often considered the rotten basement of the internet, 4chan serves as a hub for racist, sexist, homophobic, and grotesque images and text. 4chan's mostly anonymous users are notorious for trying to outdo one another, grossing out and "trolling" new users and proving they have the lowest threshold of decency. They conspired to harass the parents of a teenager who committed suicide and flood epilepsy forums with images that suddenly flashed and contained patterns designed to induce seizures. While the site originally operated without moderation or supervision, the operators of the 4chan site had to step in to block the distribution of child pornography on the site.

A 2012 study by Marek Palasinski of Lancaster University in the UK tested men looking at a simulated chat room that they believed was real. Men were less likely to intervene after seeing an "elder" ask an "underage woman" for personal information and nude photos when a chat room consisted of strangers rather than acquaintances and in a room with many others users instead of a few.

In a revealing 2001 study, Dutch social psychologist Tom Postmes and his colleagues found support for the idea that behavior is determined by social group identity. Groups were asked to brainstorm solutions for a hospital struggling to meet the needs of patients. Some anonymous groups unknowingly were peppered with efficiency ideas and proposed efficient solutions for the hospital. Armed with friendly, positive, and helpful ideas, other groups proposed patient-centered solutions. When the groups were not anonymous, this priming effect disappeared. It turns out that the room you are in can play a big role.

In 2016, Postmes joined a team of psychologists, including APS member Russell Spears (University of Groningen) to write a short letter on anonymous groups for the magazine.Behavioral and Brain Sciences. In their conclusion, they wrote: "A comprehensive examination of the evidence shows that the problems of 'bad' groups lie not in general 'bad' group psychology, but in specific 'bad' group norms. Violent groups normatively validate acts of violence Conformist groups normatively invalidate critical comments.

These authors also offer a recipe: "The solution to problematic crowd and group behavior is to challenge and change toxic group norms." Therefore, solving the problem of online aggression may involve figuring out how to change the norms of a particular environment.

Anonymity and social signals.

in a 2011Perspectives in PsychologyIn this article, Jacob Hirsch, APS fellow Adam Galinsky, and Chen-Bo Zhong write that people in anonymous settings tend to act in accordance with their natural dispositions. Anyone can feel a sense of anonymity in a crowd, they say, but research suggests that aggressive people are more likely to increase violence.

Similarly, among Finnish spectators surveyed at an ice hockey game in 1997, people who self-reported that they would be more likely to break up a fight in the stands had lower levels of personal aggression than those who indicated that they would not intervene.

However, social cues can also shape the behavior of an anonymous person. In 2016, psychologists Adam Zimmerman of Florida International University and Gabriel Ybarra of the University of North Florida studied aggression in players in an unwinnable game. "Social modeling" was found to have a large impact on their behaviour. Anonymous participants reacted more aggressively when they witnessed aggression and less when they did not.

Dear to dear

You don't need the protection of a group to unleash the awkward nature of anonymity. A 2016 study led by Christopher Bartlett of Gettysburg College surveyed college students and found that people who felt their identities were being falsified online were more likely to report cyberbullying and have positive attitudes about cyberbullying over the course of a year. university (for example, "It's okay if someone deserves it").

In Zimmerman's aforementioned 2016 Gambler Aggression Study, participants wrote about their experiences playing the impossible-to-win game, and those with anonymous partners wrote more aggressively about those partners and, in a survey, found themselves more likely to to try to humiliate or beat up their partners, compared to non-players. anonymous participants.

"It's very easy to take that bleak image of that other person online and start creating that internal dialogue where you're letting loose on that other person," says John Suler, a professor of clinical psychology at Rider University.

Suler, a pioneer in the field of cyberpsychologyDying the psychology of cyberspace, a widely read textbook on Internet psychology, in 2001. He followed that book in 2016 withPsychology in the digital age, which focuses on improving well-being in the context of our computer-centric lives.

As researchers explored the source of toxic behavior online, they discovered that it may not be anonymity itself, but the level of ambiguity that influences a person's behavior. In 2012, psychological science researchers in Israel found that couples who communicated via computer in many anonymous or semi-anonymous conditions exhibited high rates of verbal aggression, which they called "flaming." Verbal aggression was high when they were completely anonymous in a computer chat, when they used their real names and when the bodies could be seen from the side, but not when a video caused the two partners to make eye contact. This suggests that eye contact may be an important factor separating aggression from friendliness, even when two strangers are looking into each other's eyes on the screen.

Secure sharing and support

While anonymity can make it easier for people to act antagonistic, unprofessional, or unethical, research has shown that it can also make people unusually accommodating and helpful. A 2010 study by University of Toronto researchers Vanessa Bohns and Zhong found that people in dark rooms were more likely to report that strangers' pants zippers were undone or that they had food in their teeth, saving strangers from possible inconvenience. Shame.

One of the most consistent findings from anonymity studies is that personal information is shared and secrets are revealed more frequently than in face-to-face communication. Experiments and longitudinal studies of adolescents show that relationships started and maintained online are just as strong and deep as relationships offline, and that instant messaging and other communication technologies help people maintain relationships.

Clinical psychologist Sara Erreygers at the University of Antwerp in Belgium led a study in 2017 that examined behavior patterns in more than 2,000 adolescents. She and her colleagues followed a cohort of 13-year-old boys and found that being bullied or cyberbullied does not reliably predict future bullying behavior, but positive behavior has a "positive spiral effect." Good works on the Internet generate future good works.

And this benign behavior is not limited to completely anonymous contexts. A study in Switzerland found that sharing and disclosing self-harm, depression, the death of a parent, bisexuality and other sensitive topics on YouTube video blogs, where users do not see each other personally but are visually identifiable, is widespread and occasionally uses their real names.

Suler finds a certain paradox in such findings.

"On the one hand, you feel protected and safe because you don't know the identity of the other person," he says, "but then you want to reveal all kinds of intimate things about yourself."

This type of behavior on the Internet does not seem to depend on the same aspects of communication as toxic behavior online. The same researchers who tested which aspects of computer communication cause rude behavior conducted a similar study of benign behaviors. They found that eye contact, which was a key variable in determining "flames" online, was not the fulcrum for disclosure and prosocial behavior. ¹


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Who gave the concept of anonymity? ›

David Chaum is called the Godfathers of anonymity and he has a claim to be one of the great visionaries of contemporary science. In the early 1980s, while a computer scientist at Berkeley, Chaum predicted the world in which computer networks would make mass surveillance a possibility.

What is anonymity in psychology? ›

Anonymity: Providing anonymity of information collected from research participants means that either the project does not collect identifying information of individual persons (e.g., name, address, email address, etc.), or the project cannot link individual responses with participants' identities.

Who invented deindividuation theory? ›

Origins of deindividuation theory

Le Bon's work described group behaviour as irrational and fickle, and it therefore found much support at the time. Le Bon believed that being in a crowd allowed individuals to act on impulses that would normally be controlled or self-censored.

Why is anonymity important in psychology? ›

Anonymity and confidentiality are important because they protect the privacy of those who voluntarily agree to participate in research.

How does anonymity effect behavior? ›

Anonymity can make a person feel safe online, like a different person; one might even take on a new persona. It can also make one feel like doing or saying anything is possible because one will most likely not be reprimanded in real life.

What is the origin of anonymity? ›

Borrowed into English around 1600 from Late Latin anonymus, from Ancient Greek ᾰ̓νώνῠμος (anṓnumos, “without name”), from ᾰ̓ν- (an-, “un-”) with ὄνῠμᾰ (ónuma), Aeolic and Doric dialectal form of ὄνομᾰ (ónoma, “name”).

What is anonymity in sociology? ›

A Sociology of Anonymity. Anonymity is often defined as the masking of identifiable information on a wide spectrum between categories of identifiability and unidentifiability (Marx, 1999; Pfitzmann & Hansen, 2010).

What is anonymity and confidentiality in psychology? ›

Anonymity means you don't know who the participants are, while confidentiality means you know who they are but remove identifying information from your research report. Both are important ethical considerations.

Why is anonymity important in therapy? ›

In creating such a space where they can discuss their mental health and get support, we know that anonymity is key. It is the way we can build a bridge to the trust needed for young people to share often deeply personal information.

What does anonymity personality mean? ›

The noun anonymity comes from a Greek word meaning "without a name." If you have anonymity, you have namelessness, and people will not know who you are.

What did the study reveal about anonymity? ›

Behavioral studies on the role anonymity plays in online interactions have yielded mixed results. Overall, researchers have found that anonymity can reveal personality traits that face-to-face interactions may hide, but that it also allows strong group rules and values to guide individual behavior.

What is Le Bon deindividuation theory? ›

Deindividuation is a state an individual has attained whereby being in a group has increased the individual's reactivity to external cues. The theory was first introduced by Gustave Le Bon in his book, The Crowd: A Study of Popular Mind, which discussed how the collective mind takes possession of the individual.

What did Henri Tajfel discover? ›

Henri Tajfel, (born June 22, 1919, Włocławek, Poland—died May 3, 1982, Oxford, United Kingdom), Polish-born British social psychologist, best known for his concept of social identity, a central idea in what became known as social identity theory.

What are the two forms of anonymity? ›

An anonymity server receives messages, and resends them under another identity. There are two types of anonymity servers: Full anonymity servers, where no identifying information is forwarded. Pseudonymous servers, where the message is forwarded under a pseudonym.

What is the ideology of anonymity? ›

Anonymity as a Political Philosophy

Anonymity is seen as allowing for discussion in environments in which a person's input is judged solely by its merit and untainted by other participants' biases with regard to that person's sex, formal education, ethnicity, income, age, or culture of origin.

Is anonymity an ethical issue? ›

Introduction. Issues of anonymity and confidentiality are key considerations in ethical research practice and, in common with informed consent, are concepts that underpin professional research guidelines for social scientists.

Is anonymity a human right? ›

The protection of anonymity is a vital component in protecting both the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

How does the degree of anonymity affect our morals? ›

However, being anonymous can create a feeling of deindividuation, which is when a person loses their sense of identity. This feeling can cause people to take less responsibility for their actions.

Is anonymity positive or negative? ›

Several examples of how anonymity can be used in either positive or negative ways have been given in context of both FtF interactions and CMC. To summarize, anonymity has traditionally been thought to be more likely to create negative outcomes.

What is anonymity in social psychology? ›

n. a principle of research ethics stating that the identity of a study participant should remain unknown. Relatedly, confidentiality applies to situations in which a participant's identity is known but should not be disclosed by the researcher.

How many types of anonymity are there? ›

In an online context, we must consider three types of anonymity: sender anonymity, recipient anonymity and unlinkability of sender and recipient. The GDPR defines anonymous data as such that “does not relate to an identified or identifiable natural person“.

What is the purpose of anonymity? ›

Anonymity is often used to protect the privacy of people, for example when reporting results of a scientific study, when describing individual cases. Many countries even have laws which protect anonymity in certain circumstances.

Why is anonymity important in society? ›

Because anonymity protects both the person and the message. It gives the protection by unbundling what's said and who said it, and by erecting a wall of ignorance between the two.

What is anonymity ethics? ›

Anonymity is a condition in which the identity of individual subjects is not known to researchers. Because most human subjects research requires signed documentation of consent, subject anonymity is not as common in human subjects research.

What does anonymity mean? ›

: the quality or state of being unknown to most people : the quality or state of being anonymous.

What is research anonymity vs confidentiality? ›

Anonymity means you don't know who the participants are, while confidentiality means you know who they are but remove identifying information from your research report. Both are important ethical considerations.

What are the benefits of anonymity in research? ›

When a survey is anonymous, respondents are more inclined to discuss sensitive issues and provide more detailed and honest feedback. It's why we tend to see more anonymous staff surveys, compared to those that require staff to provide identifiable information.

What is a synonym for anonymity? ›

Synonyms. namelessness. innominateness. 2 (noun) in the sense of unremarkability or unremarkableness. the anonymity of the rented room.

What does anonymity mean in Counselling? ›

Anonymity, the basic definition of this term is “being without a name.” Simply understood someone is anonymous if his/her identity is not known. Psychologically speaking, being anonymous may be perceived as a reduction in the accountability for the actions performed by the person.

What is the problem with anonymity? ›

Anonymity does breed anti-social behaviour. Fake IDs, pseudonyms and unverified user-accounts abound online, giving people ample opportunity to mask their identities as they post messages.

Does anonymity encourage honesty? ›

Studies have shown that allowing people to answer questionnaires completely anonymously yields more reports of socially inappropriate attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors, and researchers have often assumed that this is evidence of increased honesty.

What is dissociative anonymity? ›

Dissociative anonymity is defined as the degree to which an individual perceives that he/she can hide or change his/her true identity in the online environment (Cheung et al., 2020; Suler, 2004).

What is the difference between pseudonymity and anonymity? ›

Anonymity means that an individual dealing with an APP entity cannot be identified and the entity does not collect personal information or identifiers. A pseudonym is a name, term or descriptor that is different to an individual's actual name.

How do you ensure anonymity in a study? ›

Breach of confidentiality is a potential risk of participating in research. To protect participants' confidentiality, you should encrypt computer-based files, store documents (i.e., signed consent forms) in a locked file cabinet and remove personal identifiers from study documents as soon as possible.

Why is anonymity important in case studies? ›

Use anonymity as a shield

This is where anonymous case studies can outdo their non-anonymous cousins. When customers know that nothing they share will be attached to them, they may be even MORE willing to disclose sensitive details and metrics.

What is self According to Henri Tajfel? ›

Henri Tajfel's greatest contribution to psychology was social identity theory. Social identity is a person's sense of who they are based on their group membership(s).

What is an example of deindividuation in psychology? ›

Deindividuation also occurs when people are wrapped up in a hobby or activity. For example, when people are in a mosh pit at a concert, they're punching the air and shaking their heads frantically – behaviors they wouldn't engage in if they weren't a part of a crowd.

What are the five types of social identity? ›

Examples of social identities are race/ethnicity, gender, social class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and religion/religious beliefs.

What type of study is Tajfel? ›

Henri Tajfel (born Hersz Mordche; 22 June 1919 – 3 May 1982) was a Polish social psychologist, best known for his pioneering work on the cognitive aspects of prejudice and social identity theory, as well as being one of the founders of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology.

What was the aim of the Tajfel study? ›

The aim of Tajfel's research was to investigate if intergroup discrimination would take place based on being put into different groups. Tajfel hypothesized that categorization and discrimination operate automatically, even when there is not necessarily any prior prejudice.

What are the ethical concerns in Tajfel? ›

Outline two ethical issues raised in the study by Tajfel on intergroup discrimination. Deception - the way the boys were put into groups; study of visual judgements/artistic preference. Confidentiality - none of the boys were named. Harm - none of the boys were physically or psychologically harmed.

What do you call someone without identity? ›

Impostor. Definition - one that assumes false identity or title for the purpose of deception.

What is anonymity spiritual principle? ›

The spirit of anonymity focuses less on confidentiality and more on humility and self-sacrifice. This can be much trickier because of its subtlety and its demand that we each, as AA members, constantly examine our motives in the way that we relate to one another.

What is pseudo anonymity? ›

Pseudonymity is the near-anonymous state in which a user has a consistent identifier that is not their real name: a pseudonym. In pseudonymous systems, real identities are only available to site administrators. Pseudonymity allows users to communicate with one and other in a generally anonymous way.

Is anonymity protected by law? ›

The Supreme Court has recognized anonymity rights in speech, albeit not an absolute right, and lower courts have generally taken the same view when it comes to anonymous speech on the internet.

Is anonymity a constitutional right? ›

The First Amendment protects anonymity (in most cases). It also protects the right to say unpopular or even abhorrent things (with some exceptions), anonymously or otherwise. “You can't just use a subpoena to unmask someone who's been mean to you,” says Kosseff.

What is the impact of anonymity to self concept? ›

We examine multiple self-concepts that control behavior under anonymity. Group identity and private/public self-awareness operate simultaneously. Anonymity in online communities actually weakens group identification. Online anonymity decreases both public and private self-awareness.

Does anonymity affect behavior? ›

In addition to treating anonymity as a source of deindividuation, early deindividuation theorists suggested that anonymity has potentially negative effects on social behaviors such as disinhibition and attraction to deviant groups due to the loss of self and of self-control of individuals in the crowd.

Does the First Amendment protect anonymity? ›

Anonymous communications have an important place in our political and social discourse. The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that the right to anonymous free speech is protected by the First Amendment.

How do you protect anonymity? ›

How To Remain Anonymous on the Internet
  1. Use an encrypted messaging app. ...
  2. Use an encrypted browser. ...
  3. Use a VPN. ...
  4. Use secure email services. ...
  5. Use a temporary email. ...
  6. Use encrypted storage. ...
  7. Don't post PII. ...
  8. Check app permissions.
Jan 20, 2023

What is the bad impact of anonymity? ›

Anonymity can cause frustration, insecurity and anxiety in victims (Sticca & Perren, 2012, p. 9) and contributes to a feeling of helplessness which surpasses that of normal bullying, or other types of cyber-bullying (McInroy, 2017, p. 604-605).

What is the origin of anonymity on the Internet? ›

Anonymous originated on 4chan, an image-based Internet forum in which mostly male teenagers discussed and posted pictures of anime.

What is the principle of anonymity? ›

Anonymity is a condition in which the identity of individual subjects is not known to researchers. Because most human subjects research requires signed documentation of consent, subject anonymity is not as common in human subjects research.

What is the Supreme Court ruling on anonymity? ›

An anonymity order made in the courts below was lifted by the Supreme Court, which held that courts or tribunals have power to restrain publication to ensure safety (described in the judgment as “an extreme case”) or to secure that other persons or the press show respect for private or family life.

What is the difference between anonymity and confidentiality? ›

Anonymity means you don't know who the participants are, while confidentiality means you know who they are but remove identifying information from your research report. Both are important ethical considerations.


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