Article | Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) | April 2012

The Impact of Relative Standards on the Propensity to Disclose

by Alessandro Acquisti, Leslie John and George Loewenstein


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. Study 1A shows a "herding" effect, such that survey respondents are more willing to divulge sensitive information when told that previous respondents have made sensitive disclosures. 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) and not their interpretation of the questions (Study 1C). The second set of studies 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. Study 2B suggests that the effect arises by affecting people's judgments of the intrusiveness of the inquiries; Study 2C goes further by showing that the effect is altered when privacy concerns are primed at the outset of the study. This research helps 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.

Keywords: Rights; Surveys; Management Practices and Processes; Ethics; Corporate Disclosure; Judgments; Consumer Behavior; Standards;


Acquisti, Alessandro, Leslie John, and George Loewenstein. "The Impact of Relative Standards on the Propensity to Disclose." Journal of Marketing Research (JMR) 49, no. 2 (April 2012): 160–174.