Pluralistic Ignorance

What is Pluralistic Ignorance?

Simply put, pluralistic ignorance occurs when individual members of a group (such as a school, a team, a workplace, or a group of friends) believe that others in their group hold comparably more or less extreme attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors. When many members of any one group hold the same misperception about the group norm, this norm ceases to represent the actual composite beliefs and attitudes of the group. In other words, there is an actual group norm, comprised of the actual average attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of all individuals in the group, and there is a perceived norm, which is the group-wide assumption of extremity in the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of other group members.

How do you measure pluralistic ignorance?

This attitude discrepancy can be observed by asking a group of participants about their personal attitudes and beliefs on a topic as well as asking them for the average group attitude or belief on the same topic. Next, the actual group attitude is compiled by averaging all group members' individual attitudes. To accurately capture that actual norm, you would need to have a sample that precisely represented the group of interest. If there is pluralistic ignorance at work, this actual group attitude will differ significantly from the average group attitude reported by the participants (the perceived norm). A perceived norm is different from an actual norm because it has to do with what people think a norm is, rather than what the norm actually is. If a perceived norm is significantly different from an actual norm, then pluralistic ignorance exists regarding that 'norm.'

What is on this site?

For many years, students in Social Psychology have collected campus wide data to learn about Reed norms (click "Pluralistic Ignorance Assignment" on the sidebar to view the specific assignment). Students have helped create this site to present those data.

For each question, we have listed the year in which data were collected, as well as the mean (average) and standard deviation (a measure of variability) for both the actual norm (how participants actually responded) and the perceived norm (how participants reported other Reed students would most likely respond). Additionally, we have included the p-value for each question (a p-value is the probability that the difference would have been obtained randomly. The lower the p-value, the more confident we are that there is a real difference between the actual and perceived norms, rather than the difference occurring by chance. While there is not a set standard, researchers often consider p-values of less than .05 to be significant). Information on whether or not the p-value is significant will be listed next to the p-value.

We have also included information about each year's sample demographics. Each year, a different number of people and percentage of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors take the survey. Knowing the sample each year's data came from can help you consider the results more thoughtfully.

Our hope is that this is a useful resource for students, professors, and members of the Reed community. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please contact Kathy Oleson, Reed Professor of Psychology, at