Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Emergency Situations: Moving From “Me” to “We”

Have you ever wondered how you would react in an emergency situation? Would you be the type of person to help others, or would you leave them to fend for themselves? Would you choose fight or flight? Perhaps, like me, you won’t know what you’d do until you actually find yourself in a crisis (which, of course, I hope you never do!).

For those who do land in an emergency, the compliance tactic of similarity is a good gauge of what actions you will take. Through the persuasive technique of similarity, our actions are often determined by what we believe others would do in a similar situation, especially if they resemble us in some way.  Specifically, we are much more likely to do things for others when we see them as being somehow similar to us. This persuasive tactic is supported by Aune and Basil (1994), who observed that donations to a charity more than doubled when the requester claimed to be similar to the buyer (“I am a student here too!”).

An experiment conducted by Drury et al. (2009) resulted in the same findings. The experiment studied both the amount of identification a crowd shared during a simulated mass evacuation, as well as the helping behaviours of those who showed a higher identification rate with others. Through the use of virtual-reality simulations, study participants were placed in a London tube station in which a fire had broken out. The participants were presented with two choices: to beat a hasty exit by pushing others out of the way, or to help others who had already falling victim to the fumes. Moreover, the study categorized some of the participants by common interests (such as being fans of the same football club) to evoke a higher identification rate among individuals.

The results of the study revealed that all participants showed enhanced identification based on the concept of common fate – a perceived relationship to an external force, or group within which members’ fortunes are seen as one (Drury et al., 2009).  This notion of common fate was clearly demonstrated in the results (Table 1), which showed that when participants were faced with a shared threat of death, they chose to work together (more helping, less pushing). Furthermore, as expected, the results indicated that participants who shared similar interests (such as being fans of the same football club) showed more cooperation among each other than those who did not.  

(Drury et al., 2009)


What this and other studies show is that people relate to others on many levels, and those connections often influence their actions and attitudes to the extent that someone who might otherwise flee an emergency, will choose to stay behind and help. 

Chloe Jadon

Aunel, R.K., & Basil, M. D. (1994) A Relational Obligations Approach to the Foot-In-The-Mouth Effect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24(6), 546–556.


Drury, J., Cocking, C., Reicher, S., Burton, A., Schofield, D., Hardwick, A., et al. (2009). Cooperation versus competition in a mass emergency evacuation: A new laboratory simulation and a new theoretical model. Behavior Research Methods, 41(3), 957-970.

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