The Impact of Relative Standards on the Propensity to Disclose
Two sets of studies illustrate the comparative nature of disclosure behavior. The first set investigates how divulgence is affected by signals about others’ readiness to divulge, and shows a “herding” effect: Survey respondents are more willing to divulge sensitive information when told that previous respondents have made sensitive disclosures (Study 1A). We provide evidence of the process underlying this effect and rule out alternative explanations, by showing that information on others’ propensity to disclose affects respondents’ discomfort associated with divulgence (Study 1B), but not their interpretation of the questions (Study 1C). The second set of studies investigates how divulgence is affected by the order in which inquiries of varying intrusiveness are made, and suggests that divulgence is anchored by the initial questions in a survey; people are particularly likely to divulge when questions are presented in decreasing order of intrusiveness, and less likely when questions are presented in increasing order (Study 2A). We show that the effect arises by affecting people’s judgments of the intrusiveness of the inquiries (Study 2B). The effect is altered when, at the outset of the study, privacy concerns are primed (Study 2C), and when subjects are made to consider the relative intrusiveness of a different set of questions (Study 2D). This research helps to understand how consumers’ propensity to disclose is affected by continual streams of requests for personal information, and by the equally unavoidable barrage of personal information about others.