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 7, 2015

Just because you're in a uniform I have to do as you say?

1920’s America decided the way forward was to ban all alcohol sales, consumption, production and transportation. The above headline announced the US was now a ‘dry’ country and anyone caught breaking these laws would be at the hands of the law enforcement system. As it was a country wide ban enforced by the government, it is a prime example of the Authority Agent Altercasting technique.

A study by Bickman (1974) showed that the mere presence of a uniform was enough to enhance compliance from individuals. The experiment involved an individual stopping in the street and asking a stranger to either pick up a bag, give a stranger a dime or to move away from the bus stop. There were also three conditions, a guard condition in which the requester was dressed as a guard, a milkman condition in which they were dressed as a milkman and a civilian condition in which they were dressed as a normal member of the public.

As you can see below in table 1, those who were asked to complete a task by an individual dressed as a guard were more compliant. In particular those in the guard condition were more than twice as likely to comply on each task than those in the civilian condition.

From this it was concluded that just the mere presence of a uniform and the idea of the authority that is associated with a uniform is enough to enhance compliance.

In the case of 1920’s America, this technique should have worked as the government were the authoritative agent and so this should have enhanced compliance. The reason this in fact did not work was because it actually created a sense of scarceness about alcohol. The fact it was now going to be banned made it seem so valuable that individuals thought they must do anything they can to get their hands on it, thus the creation of undercover speak easies and moonshine.

Perhaps the USA government would have been better creating a campaign to reduce alcohol consumption, rather than banning it altogether. Images such as the one below aim to target alcohol consumption and promote alcohol in moderation rather than banning it altogether and from the comparable lack of speakeasies and moonshine compared to 1920's America, it’s probably fair to say this is a much more beneficial persuasive technique. 


Bickman, L. (1974). The social power of a uniform. Journal 

of Applied Social Psychology4(1), 47-61.

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