The impact of sensorial stimuli on disclosure behavior

Posted: 8 Jan 2021 Last revised: 21 Apr 2021

See all articles by Alessandro Acquisti

Alessandro Acquisti

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Laura Brandimarte

University of Arizona - Eller College of Management

Jeff Hancock

Stanford University

Date Written: March 12, 2020

Abstract

Among the many factors that can elicit privacy concerns and affect privacy behavior, some are sensorial: detecting the presence of others through our senses. Human beings may be wired to react to sensorial cues and rely, in part, on them to assess the privacy ramifications of their actions. Individuals may react to sensorial cues indicating the presence of others even when those cues do not carry relevant information about likely consequences of privacy choices – and thus, from a normative perspective, may not be expected to influence privacy concerns and resulting behaviors. In four experiments (N = 829), we examine the effect on privacy-relevant behavior (the disclosure of sensitive personal information) of four sensorial cues signaling the presence of other humans: proximity, visual, auditory, and olfactory, each signaling the presence of another person. Proximity and visual cues (Experiments 1 and 2) produced an inhibitory effect on intimate self-disclosures in an online survey – including when that presence does not and cannot materially affect participants’ risks or benefits associated with disclosure (Experiment 2). Auditory and olfactory cues (Experiments 3 and 4), however, did not. The findings point to a possible influence of sensorial (specifically, visual) cues on privacy behavior. We discuss the implications of the findings in the context of privacy and security decision making in a digital age, where physical cues human beings may have adapted to use for detection of threats may be absent, or even strategically manipulated by antagonistic third parties.

Keywords: Privacy, Self-disclosure, Privacy Calculus, Privacy Paradox, Evolution

JEL Classification: D8

Suggested Citation

Acquisti, Alessandro and Brandimarte, Laura and Hancock, Jeff, The impact of sensorial stimuli on disclosure behavior (March 12, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3752063 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3752063

Alessandro Acquisti (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-9853 (Phone)
412-268-5339 (Fax)

Laura Brandimarte

University of Arizona - Eller College of Management ( email )

McClelland Hall
P.O. Box 210108
Tucson, AZ 85721-0108
United States

Jeff Hancock

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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