We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is Pluralistic Ignorance?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Pluralistic ignorance posits that in certain circumstances most people will falsely believe that others conform to certain ideas or standards, and will uphold them, too, while privately disagreeing with them. Since there is a fear of disagreeing with what is believed to be the norm, situations or behaviors continue that few people actually endorse. This is a social psychology concept that was first brought to attention in the 1930s by Floyd Allport and Daniel Katz. It can also be called a mistaken belief in a person’s uniqueness, which stands in the way of action or change.

One example of pluralistic ignorance occurs in a type of social phenomenon called the bystander effect, which has been well observed in group settings. When a person is a victim to a crime, a greater number of people observing it translates to less likelihood of anyone intervening. All share the mistaken belief that someone else will step in and help.

Even if each person deplores the crime and believes that someone should help, he or she strongly ascribes to the idea that the helper will be another individual. For this reason, in self-defense classes, people are often taught to make an appeal to a single individual to shake that person from the pluralistic view. Moreover, if several people start helping, it’s likely most of the group will begin to intervene, too.

Other examples of pluralistic ignorance are not difficult to find. Many Germans living during World War II privately deplored the actions of Hitler, but thought they were the only ones who did. Similarly, many white Southerners in the US detested slavery or the Jim Crow laws that followed. Since they believed their views were unique, they did not step forward to seek justice on behalf of African Americans. During the 1960s Civil Rights movement, though, many white Southerners participated with vigor because they realized numerous people shared their personal abhorrence of discrimination.

It could be said that pluralistic ignorance is an ironic desire to conform to a larger group. People act or fail to act based on a false idea of the values that group holds, and a belief that any differences from the group are a minority opinion. This is irony because the estimation of what the group believes is incorrect, and most members actually share an opinion in opposition to the values the group upholds.

Numerous social psychology researchers have studied pluralistic ignorance in different settings. It has been examined in bullying behavior, in college drinking attitudes, and in a variety of settings where ethics and values are upheld or ignored. These studies seem to suggest that pluralistic ignorance is common, and a desire to be part of the group may lead individuals and whole groups to retain norms with which they really fundamentally disagree.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Related Articles

Discussion Comments

By anon339670 — On Jun 25, 2013

I think I know why this phenomenon exists. We as humans are very social animals and we are instinctively driven to be part of a group and not alone. This behavior can be observed in other primates as well that share a good 95 percent-plus of the same DNA with us. It is one of the many features that primates such as apes and monkey all possess, including humans.

We are made to be with other people so that we have the support of other members to obtain food, water, and protection so we can survive in the natural wild world, which we don't live in anymore.

Because of this, we always want to be in a group, not outside of it and therefore, this ignorance emerges in an attempt to sustain participation within a group one actually disagrees with. When we see that our own opinion actually has potential to become a separate group because of other people sharing our beliefs, that is when we finally rebel against the original group that we tried so hard to be in.

This is, in its simplest form, an attempt by our bodies to survive by sustaining an environment where we get support from other humans concerning survival.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.