Confidentiality Shapes Shared Identity in Groups

Bingley, W. J. (University of Queensland), Greenaway, K. H. (University of Melbourne), Haslam, S. A. (University of Queensland)

Confidentiality is important for protecting information, but it may have unintended social side effects. However, psychological research has not previously investigated how confidentiality affects groups and group members. The present research addresses this gap in the literature by investigating the effect of confidentiality on group dynamics from a social identity perspective, proposing that as confidentiality separates people into ‘those who know’ and ‘those who don’t’, it may have the power to shape group boundaries and thus affect group dynamics. Providing support for this idea, two studies found that keeping information confidential from group members can reduce shared identity: sharing confidential information with just one other group member, instead of the whole group, reduced group identification via decreased trust and perceived group entitativity in observers (N = 405) and did not increase group identification in the recipient (N = 408). These findings suggest that in some circumstances confidentiality may have negative consequences for group dynamics, which is relevant for organisations attempting to balance information protection with productivity.

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Social Identity and Intergroup Processes