Can I Pull It Off?
Definitely As Long As You've Got: Prestige, Power & Status
The example above is a scene taken from the movie "Mean Girls" which serves as an excellent example demonstrating the effect of social modeling. Social models are individuals who are typically high on prestige, power or status. Interestingly it appears to be in our nature to display the tendency to imitate and follow behaviors illustrated by such individuals as we look up to them and we hope that behaving in these certain ways may make us more like them.
One study which provides clear evidence for the effectiveness of using a social model in order to increase compliance or encourage behvior change was conducted by Racicot and Wogalter (1995). The aim of their study was to test the effectiveness of providing a static warning sign. The warning sign was providing information about the importance of wearing gloves and a mask before using the displayed materials. Participants were told that they were to participate in a chemistry lap experiment. They were divided up into three groups each corresponding to a different condition. In condition 1 participants were simply exposed to a video displaying a static warning sign. In condition 2 the same video including the static warning sign was shown, this time however the video also included a model who performed the target behavior (wearing protective equipment) thereby acting as a social role model. Finally in condition 3 the video comprised of the static warning sign, the videotaped social role model and a voice warning. Participants were then asked to complete the lab experiment and the experimenters recorded whether or not they actually ended up using the protective equipment which was advised to be used in the video.
The table above illustrates the results from this study. As we can see from the table, 50% of participants in the sign-only condition complied to wearing the protective equipment after watching the video. Simply adding a social role model who performs the suggested behavior increased compliance up to 92%! When a voice was added additionally compliance was observed across all of the participants. Compliance in condition 2 and 3 were both found to be significantly higher than in condition 1 demonstrating that the provision of a social role model is enough to induce nearly all participants to comply to a suggested behavior.
This links back nicely to the Mean Girls example at the top of this post. As with the study, Regina from Mean Girls acts as the social role model who is modeling a quite unusual behavior. Nevertheless simply modeling this unusual behavior is sufficient to persuade every girl in her high school to imitate and comply to her behavior.
Racicot, B. M., Wogalter, M. S. (1995). Effects of a video warning sign and social modeling on behavioral compliance. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 27(1). 57-64