Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills 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, March 20, 2014

Uniforms: A certificate of Legitimacy

We tend to obey authority figures automatically since we are trained from birth that obedience to authority is right. Often it is the symbols of authority that prove most important to trigger compliance. Apparel is a major and crucial symbol of authority. Past research indicates that apparel influences our behavior and our impressions of others. Official uniforms are thought to be the most influential type of apparel because they serve as a certificate of legitimacy (Joseph & Alex, 1972). Brad’s 1988 study of compliance shows just how persuasive a female confederate can be when she is wearing a uniform.
In Brad’s study, a female confederate who was dresses in a panhandler, a business executive or a uniform told subjects to give change to a person who was parked at an expired parking meter. The three kinds of clothing the confederate was wearing represented three levels of perceived authority: no authority, status authority and role authority. The dependent variable, compliance, was defined as the subject’s giving the experimenter change for the parking meter. The verbal reasons given for complying were divided into four categories: altruism, compliance, unquestioned obedience, or ambiguous.
The results indicated a significant difference in compliance rates as a function of apparel. A total of 72% of the subjects complied in the role- authority condition, 48% in the status-authority condition, and 52% in the no-authority condition. Further analyses revealed that subjects in the uniform condition complied significantly more than subjects in the nonuniform conditions.

As we can see from the table above (TABLE 1), responses of unquestioned obedience in the role-authority and status-authority conditions (72% and 62.5% respectively) were much higher than that in the no-authority condition (27%), which indicated that higher levels of perceived authority can trigger higher levels of unquestioned obedience.

This study proved past research’s (Bickman, 1974; Bushman, 1984) finding that compliance was higher when the authority figure was dressed in a uniform. This can be explained in terms of legitimate power (French & Raven, 1959; Raven & Frech, 1958). Because the uniform serves as a certificate of legitimacy (Joseph & Alex, 1972), it is possible that subjects were more influenced in the role-authority condition because they perceived the confederate to have legitimate power.

To sum up, uniforms paly an importance role in improving perceived level of authority and more compliance will be got when an authority figure wears a uniform.


Bickman, L. (1974). The Social Power of a Uniform1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 4(1), 47-61.

Bushman, B. J. (1984). Perceived Symbols of Authority and Their Influence on Compliance1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 14(6), 501-508.

Bushman, B. J. (1988). The Effects of Apparel on Compliance A Field Experiment with a Female Authority Figure. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14(3), 459-467.

French Jr, J. R., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power.

Joseph, N., & Alex, N. (1972). The uniform: A sociological perspective. American Journal of Sociology, 719-730.

Yinan Wang
(Blog 3)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.