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Pluralistic ignorance

Updated: Oct 5

Imagine yourself in the midst of a lecture on 'Two-way Repeated and Mixed Design ANOVA's' (ergh, I feel your pain), and your lecturer pauses to asks if anyone has any questions… Silence… You take a minute to look around the room to find no one has raised a hand. You have a million questions. Why? What is wrong with you? Does everyone understand what a 'Two-way blah blah blah' is? You don't want to look like an idiot, so you sit there in silence. What you have done is taken the rooms tacit compliance as genuine understanding. This is a prime example of pluralistic ignorance. You have (or in this specific example, I had) made inferences, and erroneous ones at that, from what you thought was 'normal' behaviour by your classmates, and used that to guide your judgements and decisions. Unfortunately however, your assessments were “off the mark" and impacted upon your behaviour. Is it possible that pluralistic ignorance is affecting our thoughts and actions when it comes to fashion and the current climate crisis?

Climate change touches on almost every subject. By now we are well aware the fashion industry's is inextricably link to the current crisis.


Just to name a few ways...


Your house is on fire! While there are a wave of individuals and groups who are demanding action, like Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, there are also individuals, including many of whom have the power to enact change (cough, #ScoMo, cough) who are simply denying the impact of climate change altogether.

"I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is." Greta Thunberg - World Economic Forum, Davos, 25 Jan 2019

So in understanding the role that pluralistic ignorance might have to play I recommend taking a look at the short clip below on the 1960's "The Smoke Filled Room" experiment.

This video demonstrates that individuals may erroneously believe that they are in the minority with their concerns, and the inaccurate perceptions of other's opinions (i.e. pluralistic ignorance) can result in self-silencing. Exactly what Greta and the many other activists are telling us not to do! In the case of climate change, pluralistic ignorance may be erecting barriers to much needed discussions among those most concerned about the issue. It may also be leading to impression management, in an attempt to avoid social punishment, and be seen as part of the in-group, portraying oneself in the most positive way. For more on this check out Geiger & Swim (2016) study on Climate of silence: Pluralistic ignorance as a barrier to climate change discussion.

When it comes to fashion and climate change, let's not be the bystander who doesn't intervene, but the Good Samaritan who stops and helps!

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