The Impact of Anonymity on Responses to Sensitive Questions1


  • 1

    This report is based on a thesis submitted by the first author, and supervised by the second, to the Department of Psychology, California State University, Los Angeles, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the M. A. degree. We wish to thank James H. Hogge for comments on a draft of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David J. Weiss. Department of Psychology. California State University, Los Angeles, 515 I State University Drive, Los Angeles. CA 90032. e-mail:


To estimate frequencies of behaviors not carried out in public view, researchers generally must rely on self-report data. We explored 2 factors expected to influence the decision to reveal: (a) privacy (anonymity vs. confidentiality) and (b) normalization (providing information so that a behavior is reputedly commonplace or rare). We administered a questionnaire to I55 undergraduates. For 79 respondents, we had corroborative information regarding a negative behavior: cheating. The privacy variable had an enormous impact; of those who had cheated, 25% acknowledged having done so under confidentiality, but 74% admitted the behavior under anonymity. Normalization had no effect. There were also dramatic differences between anonymity and confidentiality on some of our other questions, for which we did not have validation.