This study examined whether people overlook asymmetries in social ties and the consequences this might have for people’s perceptions and actions.
Social ties often seem symmetric, but they need not be; for example, a person might know a stranger better than the stranger knows them. The current study shows that when people know more about others, they think others know more about them. Across nine laboratory experiments, when participants learned more about a stranger, they felt as if the stranger also knew them better, and they acted as if the stranger was more attuned to their actions. As a result, participants were more honest around known strangers. This study tested this further with a field experiment in New York City, in which residents were provided with mundane information about neighborhood police officers. The study found that the intervention shifted residents’ perceptions of officers’ knowledge of illegal activity, and it may even have reduced crime. It appears that our sense of anonymity depends not only on what people know about us but also on what we know about them. (Publisher Abstract)