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How Anonymity Affects Behavior

by Olivia Xu

“In 1969, APS Fellow Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University dressed female students in lab coats, some plain with identity-concealing hoods, and some with name tags and no hoods. He told the students to give an electric shock to a confederate. The hooded participants were twice as likely to comply.” This was one of the many experiments that showed the effect of anonymity on human behavior. This article will discuss the influences of anonymity on people’s behavior.

Anonymity Online

Anonymity has been shown to have a direct correlation to an increase in violent or abusive behavior. Many studies have shown that people protected by the mask of anonymity tend to act in harsher ways compared to those whose identities are known.

One common example of this is found online. Hate comments are a common sight on the internet. While people are less likely to insult a person to their face, it is almost impossible to find something on the internet that doesn’t have hate comments under it

Anonymity in Group Settings

Another effect of anonymity is when in a group. According to “The positive and negative implications of anonymity in internet social interactions: On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog” by Kimberly M. Chirstopherson, “Past social psychological theories have described phenomena related with the effects of anonymity within group settings including group polarization, bystander apathy, and social loafing.”

Group polarization is the tendency for people with similar views to gain a more extreme version of their precious opinions after interacting with each other. Because of this, the group will often respond in more extreme ways.

Bystander apathy, also called the bystander effect of Genovese syndrome, is the phenomenon in which the more people there are, the less likely people will help a person in need. In other words, when an emergency occurs, people are more likely to not do anything because no single person has to take responsibility when in a large group.

The most famous example of bystander apathy is the Kitty Genovese Case. On March 13th, 1964, Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese was returning from work. When she approached her apartment, she was attacked by Winston Mosely. Genovese repeatedly called for help, but the many people in the nearby building didn’t report the incident until 3:50 a.m. — 30 minutes after the attack began.

Social loafing is the tendency for people to use less effort when working in a group compared to working alone. Many people have experienced this during their time as a student.

Some Resources

Anonymity has been proven to have many effects on people in both online and in person situations.

For a more in depth look on anonymity, I would recommend reading some of the following:

  • “The positive and negative implications of anonymity in internet social interactions: ‘On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog'” by Kimberly M. Chirstopherson
  • “The Role of Civility and Anonymity on Perceptions on Online Comments” by Joseph Graf, Joseph Erba, and Ren-Whei Harn
  • “The Baiting Crowd in Episodes of Threatened Suicide” by Leon Mann

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1 comment

Anonymous Nyan Cat February 15, 2022 - 2:16 am

Great article! However, I would like to point out that not all anonymous people are necessarily worse people ;-; Even though some people might use anonymity selfishly for their own purposes, some anonymous people, donors or the Count of Monte Cristo for example, might act anonymously do go great good to society, when they don’t want to be personally recognized.

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