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, February 20, 2014

Give him a dime!

A vast amount of research has shown people are more likely to comply with a request, when the requester appears to be in a position of authority. This is also described by Pratkanis (2007) as high status-admirer altercast, which suggests that those considered in a prestigious position in the status hierarchy are more influential than those who are not in achieving compliance.

For example, Bickman (1974) found that the clothing of the person making a request significantly influenced whether a person complied with the request. Bushman (1984) evaluated the effect of other factors in compliance, such as sex, age, and altruism, using a replication of Bickman’s dime and parking meter study.


Subjects were 150 adult pedestrians, who were approached by a confederate in the street. The confederate stops the subject and points to the experimenter standing beside a car, parked at an expired parking meter, searching his pockets for change. The subject is told that the experimenter is overparked at the meter and doesn’t have any change and requested to “Give him a dime!”

Confederates represented three levels of the independent variable ‘perceived authority’. In the no authority condition, the confederate was dressed as an unshaven bum in downtrodden clothes. In the authority condition, they were dressed smartly as a business executive. In the role authority condition, they were dressed in a fire fighters uniform including logo and badge.

If the subject did not immediately comply, the confederate states that he doesn’t have any change either.  If the subject did not comply after the explanation, the confederate left. If they did comply, the experimenter asked the subject “Why would you just come over here and give me a dime?” If the subject did not respond clearly, the experimenter attempted to clarify the response in order to understand their reasons for complying or not.


The clothing of the perceived authority not only affected the number of subjects who complied but also the type of compliance, the type of noncompliance, and the latency between request and compliance. Also, older subjects complied significantly more often than younger subjects in the role authority condition.

The results indicate that compliance significantly increased as perceived authority increased. As shown through the percentage rates in the figure below. From the subject’s verbal responses, it was also found that altruistic reasons given for complying were significantly less as perceived authority increased.  Moreover, 64% of the reasons given for compliance were classified as “unquestioned obedience” in the role authority condition, 48% in the status authority condition, and 23% in the no authority condition.

What does this all show? The power of appearance and perceived authority in compliance and the effectiveness of this technique in persuasion.  

Bickman, L. (1974). The social power of uniform. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 4, 47-61

Bushman, B. J. (1984). Perceived symbols of authority and their influence on compliance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 14, 501-508

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). The Science of Social Influence. New York & East Sussex: Psychology Press.

Sophie Preece (Blog 3)

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