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, May 3, 2018

Humans in Uniform


Our project has been inspired by our own experiences working on Warwick University’s campus. We believe that uniforms create arbitrary in-group/out-group division which lead to biases that can act as an obstacle to genuine interaction; people see a cashier, a postman, a bus driver, rather than a person with their own name and personality. We believe this leads to impersonal and sometimes rude or dismissive treatment of people in uniform, which is both degrading for the employee and may interfere with their ability to perform their job in some cases. This Morning recently began a campaign (January, 2018) to highlight the heroic work of our emergency services, particularly paramedics, who are often physically and verbally abused by members of the public while trying to assist someone in need. In a less extreme example, Rootes grocery store recently implemented a policy where employees were asked to greet every customer at the self-service checkouts. This simple policy was largely unsuccessful due to it being so difficult to enact with many customers ignoring cashiers completely or being utterly bewildered by a simple “hello”!

Humans in Uniform is designed to inspire people to invest a small amount of effort into connecting with individuals outside their immediate in-group and, more generally, to raise the profile of workers in uniform. Celebrating individuality in an attempt to combat the anonymity of uniforms and promote social connectedness and community cohesion.

The Problem

Failing to acknowledge people in uniform as individuals. Treating them merely as a means (violating Kant’s Formula of Humanity) to the services they provide due to arbitrary in-group bias.
The in-group is the group we feel that we belong to, with whom we typically share beliefs, values and mutual trust. The out-group is composed of by people with which we do not associate and thus identify as ‘other,’ a potential threat. Our perception of belonging to a group (our in-group) leads people to favour, praise or prefer individuals from within their group over those in other groups (the out-group). This is referred to as an in-group bias which can occur even when the group is defined randomly (Brewer, 1979).

Social psychologists have demonstrated how arbitrarily in-group vs. out-group dynamics may be formed through minimal group studies, such as those conducted by Taifel (1970), where making an arbitrary difference salient, such as one’s preference for Klee over Kandinsky paintings, led to immediate in-group biases. Similarly, Sherif et al. (1988) demonstrates how group biases may be formed by differing colour clothing. Therefore, it is not surprising that people perceive those in uniforms as belonging to a distinct ‘out-group’ and therefore may be biased against prosocial interaction.

Other studies have demonstrated the social power of uniform (Bickman, 1974), suggesting that uniforms entail certain kinds of authority. Thus there appears a further dimension to the differences between employees in uniform and the general public; different clothing and different status of authority. Such factors lend weight to the idea that people in uniform are fundamentally different from the general public whom they serve and may make it difficult for people to pursue meaningful interaction with those in uniform.

Social Narrowing

Social narrowing is a consequence of biases, as it reduces the number of people we interact with. However, there is evidence that widening our circles of connection has many benefits for both mental health and general wellbeing. The only way to meet new people is to start a conversation and talk to strangers by “fight[ing] your filters” (Menon, 2017) to discover that they share with you more than you think. Social widening.

Target Behaviour and the Solution

To change perceptions of people in uniform and actively encourage the public to pursue more genuine future interactions. The ‘selfie challenge’ provided a particularly useful opportunity for measuring the real world impact of behaviour change.

Target Audience

Family members, friends, course mates and Facebook connections. Almost everyone interacts with some uniformed personal on a daily basis so our focus was to reach as many people as possible with our message. Our use of social media meant the message could be easily shared. We managed to reach people from across England and individuals in Italy and America as well.

What we did

We created a linked Instagram account and Facebook page entitled Humans in Uniform. You can find us on Instagram @humans_in_uniform or on Facebook at:
We publicised our social media pages by direct invitations sent via our personal social media accounts and posting links to the pages in the psychology year-group chat as well as emailing them to the philosophy cohort through the Philosophy Department. In addition we emailed ITV’s This Morning using the ‘just ask’ method advocated by Thomas Hills (2018), unfortunately we are yet to have a reply.

Instagram was mainly used to post photos of individual profiles of people in uniform (these were automatically uploaded to Facebook). We interviewed people in many different types of uniform, of different ages and backgrounds, to find out about their job, their feelings on their uniforms and their passions, hobbies and interests outside of work. We captioned each of their photos with interesting information about their individual ‘story,’ in a similar style to that employed by ‘Humans of New York’. This model has proved to be a very successful social media movement designed to highlight the common humanity of individuals from all backgrounds living in New York. It was hoped that by providing more context to the person in uniform, we would increase opportunities for people to see these individuals as ‘like-me’. For example the large majority of our social media followers were students and many of the people we interviewed were working part-time along studying for their own degrees. The similarity effect has proven to be a powerful tool of influence (Burger et al., 2001) where perceived similarities induced a greater propensity to like that person and therefore to comply with their requests.

In conjunction with our Humans in Uniforms profile posts, we used Facebook to share posts containing a variety of information: why we’re not inclined to talk to people in uniform, the benefits of communicating with strangers, how to start a conversation with anyone and how to have more meaningful communication. The posts were intended to guide the readers through a kind of narrative-argument explaining the problem of uniforms as a barrier to social interaction and the benefits and means to overcome this issue.

In terms of the elaboration-likelihood model (Petty & Cacioppo, 1986), we believe the persuasive communication used for our project exploits both a central and peripheral route to persuasion and, therefore, attitude change. Firstly the Facebook posts act as a central route to persuasion as they are comprised of reliable information selected from credible sources (TED Talks, Psychology Today and published books). As out target audience was assumed to be intelligent, interested and able to maintain focus for short periods of time we hoped that the narrative-argument would help convince readers to internalise our message as valuable and important. However, we felt our aims were most apt for a one-sided argument, because a two-sided approach would have been difficult to follow across different posts, particularly since not everyone would read every post. Additionally, the flood of images of people in uniform on people’s timeline and newsfeeds meant our project’s message was consistently repeated infiltrating the peripheral route. According to the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973) a message that is easy to retrieve because it is encountered frequently, will be perceived as important. In the same way, Agenda Setting Theory (Kiousis & McCombs, 2004) suggests that the news influence the perceived importance of events by repeating and emphasising them, the stream of photos from Humans in Uniform would have increased people’s motivation to think about the problem we were highlighting. Additionally the mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968) suggests that increased familiarity leads to more favourable perceptions.

Measuring Behaviour Change

In terms of measuring behaviour change our use of social media enabled us to track exactly how many people were interacting with our posts and following our accounts.

On Instagram we currently have 65 followers, with our highest preforming posts gaining around 25 likes.

On Facebook we currently have 122 page likes, and 433 engagements (reactions, comments and shares) with posts over the last week. With our most popular posts reaching 550 people. In total our posts have reached 1124 people.

Of course these statistics do not conclusively indicate behaviour change but it seems likely that, at least via the peripheral route to persuasion, our project will have some impact on challenging readers to think about their attitudes towards people in uniform. Hopefully this first thought will go some way to encouraging them to pursue more genuine and meaningful interactions in the future.

The Selfie Challenge

In order to have a more concrete example of real world impact, we set our followers the task of completing the ‘Selfie Challenge.’ This challenge required people to go out and interact with a person in uniform. We wanted to leave it fairly open as to how this interaction should take place but we did suggest specific examples of questions to ask to start a conversation including asking for the person’s name and how their day is going. In this way, we went some way to forming specific implementation intentions as we articulated exactly how one could go about achieving the goal of completing the challenge. It’s thought that implementation intentions increase the likelihood of goal attainment (Gollwitzer, 1999). Moreover, we suggested that they could point to this project as their motivations for wanting a picture and suggested that this would flatter the employee in uniform, again, inducing an attraction which would make it more likely that they would comply with the request, with the dual purpose of increasing awareness and support for the overall project. We reasoned that this was quite an unusual request and so would exploit the pique technique (Santos et al.,1994), thus we anticipated that most people who were asked for a selfie would willingly comply with the request.

Once they completed the challenge, they were asked to post it to social media and nominate a friend to do the same. We hoped this would provide a snowballing effect of behaviour change and further reinforce the individual who had completed the challenge. Firstly, the sporadic likes and comments from friends on social media for completing the challenge act as partial reinforcement with variable ratio. According to this type of reinforcement, the number of rewards (likes) occurs at random which means that the time and number of reward cannot be predicted. This type of reinforcement is proved to be one of the most resistant to extinction. But more importantly, because the photograph is a public statement, it demonstrates a clear commitment to the project and thus would provide a strong motivator to behave in consistent ways in the future (Cialdini, 2009). In line with Bem’s (1972) Self-perception theory of attitudes, the perception of our behaviour can lead us to form attitudes that are consistent with that behaviour in the future. Thus by completing the selfie-challenge people have taken actions which “shift their self-images to that of, let’s say public-spirited citizens, [and therefore] they are likely to be public-spirited in a variety of other circumstances… they will automatically begin to see things differently,” (Cialdini, 2009, p.83) and the project may have an enduring and wide-reaching positive impact.

Our Facebook page has currently received 26 selfie challenges (not including our own) which means that so far our project has resulted in at least 26 interesting conversations between the general public and people in uniform! Although it is hoped that given the nomination process the selfie challenge will continue to grow in numbers and indeed that those who have not completed the challenge but have been inspired by the project may treat those in uniforms better in the future.


All of the feedback from the challenge has been overwhelmingly positive from both the people who have completed the challenge and the employees who were photographed. The comments which accompany people’s selfie challenges are often amusing and some are quite heart-warming. With people claiming that the experience has “made their day” and that “it was lots of fun taking part in the challenge”.

Moreover we suspect that the interview process of those featured on our Instagram page led to an additional form of positive behaviour change. In our experience, people felt greatly valued by our approach to interview them, so much so that almost a third of our profiles are from people who got in contact with us to volunteer themselves or family and friends. Initially we did not tag people in the pictures we posted, but the majority of them actively asked to be tagged so it would appear on their personal social media feeds. We hope that making it salient how important their work is through our interviewing and our use of hashtags such as #notallheroswearcapes we instilled a sense of self-confidence and pride in the employees.

Overall it would seem that the project has really resonated with people and we are incredibly proud of the impact we have had.

Problems with the Selfie Challenge

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” – Imagine lyrics, John Lennon (1971)
We anticipated a greater reaction to the selfie challenge than we initially received as we believed the model was similar to the ALS Ice-bucket challenge which swept across social media in 2014 (Koohy and Koohy, 2014). Although everyone seemed to agree that the project’s aims were important, they were less willing to actually complete the challenge. We think this is due to the fact that it requires a certain level of self-confidence which we hadn’t actively tried to instil in our audience. We believe that posting about the benefits of ‘just asking’ and rejection therapy (which we have recently become clear to us thanks to Thomas Hills, 2018) would over-complicate our project’s aims.

In order to overcome this, we turned to our family (exploiting altruism driven by kin selection) as we knew that the more people we could get to complete the challenge the more likely it would be that others would join in. Additionally, taking Ghandi’s famous words to heart (“be the change you want to see in the world”), we completed the challenge ourselves with six people in uniform. This experience was the most personally rewarding outcome of the project so far, it made us feel fantastic and the feedback from those in uniform could not have been more supportive. Alan, one of the fishmongers we met from Tesco, went on to interact with the Facebook page himself and publically voice his appreciation of the project stating that the selfie challenge had been “a very nice and random way to finish [his] shift”.

We will continue to challenge ourselves to meet new people, and encourage those around us to do the same. We plan to carry on acting as admins for the Facebook and Instagram pages as we are still receiving messages from people in uniform who want to be involved. If you want to support our project please don’t hesitate to contact us via Facebook 
– Nicole and Amelia.


Bem, D.J., 1972. Self-perception theory1. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 6, pp. 1-62). Academic Press.

Bickman, L., 1974. The social power of a uniform. Journal of Applied Social Psychology4(1), pp.47-61.

Brewer, M. B. (1979). In-group bias in the minimal intergroup situation: A cognitive-motivational analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 86(2), 307-324.

Burger, J.M., Soroka, S., Gonzago, K., Murphy, E. and Somervell, E., 2001. The effect of fleeting attraction on compliance to requests. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin27(12), pp.1578-1586.

Cialdini, R.B., 2009. Influence: Science and practice (Vol. 4). Boston, MA: Pearson education.

Gollwitzer, P.M., 1999. Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American psychologist54(7), p.493.

Heilman, M. (2012). Gender stereotypes and workplace bias. Research in Organizational Behavior, 32, pp.113-135.

Kiousis, S. and McCombs, M., 2004. Agenda-setting effects and attitude strength: Political figures during the 1996 presidential election. Communication Research31(1), pp.36-57.

Koohy, H. and Koohy, B., 2014. A lesson from the ice bucket challenge: using social networks to publicize science. Frontiers in genetics5, p.430.

Menon, T. (2017). The Secret to Great Opportunities? The Person You Haven't Met Yet. Available at:

Petty, R.E. and Cacioppo, J.T., 1986. The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. In Communication and persuasion (pp. 1-24). Springer New York.

Santos, M.D., Leve, C. and Pratkanis, A.R., 1994. Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology24(9), pp.755-764.

Sherif, M., Harvey, O., White, B., Hood, W. and Sherif, C., 1988. Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers Cave Experiment, Norman: Institute of Group Relations, University of Oklahoma.

Tajfel, H., 1970. Experiments in intergroup discrimination. Scientific American223(5), pp.96-103.

Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D., 1973. Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive psychology5(2), pp.207-232.

Zajonc, R.B., 1968. Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology9(2p2), p.1.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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