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.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Four for you Glen Coco, You GO Glen Coco!

I think that nearly everyone has watched the film Mean Girls, or at least have had every single word quoted to them by die-hard fans. That’s why my hair’s so big, it’s full of quotes!

By the look on this girls face, I think it’s safe to say Cady Heron, (the main protagonist of Mean Girls), has had a big impact on this girl’s life. This image is especially salient as it cleverly depicts the power that the popular kids in school have over others. Cady Heron, is one of four members of the popular group ‘The Plastics.’ As a result of seeing Cady Heron wearing a certain outfit, no matter how questionable that purchase was (who even wears army pants with flip flops, that’s social suicide), this girl was persuaded to go shopping and buy the same outfit.

The reason this girl bought army pants and flip flips is due to the technique of High Status-Admirer Altercast. This is where we admire and seek to be like someone who holds a high-status in the hierarchy (Pratkanis, 2007). Cady is in a high-status positon in the schools social hierarchy, and if army pants are good enough for Cady, then it is good enough for the rest of the minions at North Shore High School.

Previous research by Lefkowitz, Blake & Mouton (1955) studied the effect of High Status-Admirer Altercast. They investigated the effects of status, on willingness to copy jaywalking behaviour, after seeing someone else do it first. 2,103 pedestrians who passed through three pedestrian traffic crossing locations served as subjects. Subjects waited at a pedestrian traffic crossing, unknowingly next to a confederate. This confederate was either of a high-, or low-status, as symbolized by the clothing they were wearing. High-status confederates wore a suit, shined shoes, white shirt, tie and straw-hat to symbolise someone of a high status. Low-status confederates had well-worn scuffed shoes, an unpressed blue denim shirt and soiled trousers. In this experiment, a confederate would violate the ‘wait’ traffic signal, and jaywalk across the road. Experimenters recorded how many of the pedestrians then followed the confederate and crossed the road. Subjects were only classed as ‘violators’ if they had reached the centre of the road whilst the ‘wait’ signal was still flashing. Results can be shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Numbers and percentages of pedestrians that either violated the traffic signal (by jaywalking), or conformed to the traffic signal (by waiting on the pavement), after seeing either a high-status or low-status person jaywalk across the pedestrian crossing first.

As Table 1 reveals, subjects were more likely to violate a traffic signal restriction, and jaywalk across the road, when they first saw a confederate of a high-status (suit and tie), than of a low-status (denim) jaywalk first. This suggests that people of a high-status have more influence on others behaviour and decisions, even when the behaviour is prohibited.

This can be applied to the Mean Girls example mentioned earlier. In this case, the image depicts that a high-status individual of a popular clique (Cady Heron) can influence others to copy their behaviour, such as purchasing the same clothing. Yet despite seeking the acceptance of ‘The Plastics’ by buying the same clothes as them, this girl is still going to be told that “You can’t sit with us!” It’s just going to be like the time that Gretchen tried to make fetch happen. “It’s not going to happen!”

Lefkowitz, M., Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1955). Status factors in pedestrian violation of traffic signals. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology51(3), 704-706.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The science of social influence: Advances and future progress. Hove: Psychology Press.

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