AuthorityOpen Access

Authority

We have a strong tendency to comply with those in charge

Parent, boss or judge: we trust and accept the decisions of those with relative expertise. However, conformity differs across both culture and age.

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

The study

Setup

153 New York pedestrians were approached by someone dressed as either a civilian, a milkman or a police officer and were asked to help out a stranger by covering the cost of his / her parked car ticket.

Results

The more authoritarian the uniform, the higher the chance they’d give the money. The civilian succeeded only 33% of the time, whereas the police officer managed 89%.

Study graph

Key Takeaways

Determine an authority figure with relative expertise in relation to the group and behavior you’re looking to influence. Ensure that the individual is credible and trustworthy.

Takeaway image

Communicate their authority clearly. For instance, using authority indicators like “Doctor,” “Judge,” “Award-winning” etc. Complementing this with a suitably-dressed photo of said individual will make any request much more effective. Add a quotation too.

Takeaway image

Compliance varies depending on demographics. Older people are more compliant than younger people, for instance. For the young, use culturally-relevant aspirational models to mask authority whilst also nudging desired behavior. 

Takeaway image
Takeaway image
Authority

Authority

We have a strong tendency to comply with those in charge

Parent, boss or judge: we trust and accept the decisions of those with relative expertise. However, conformity differs across both culture and age.

The study

Setup

153 New York pedestrians were approached by someone dressed as either a civilian, a milkman or a police officer and were asked to help out a stranger by covering the cost of his / her parked car ticket.

Results

The more authoritarian the uniform, the higher the chance they’d give the money. The civilian succeeded only 33% of the time, whereas the police officer managed 89%.

study graph
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We don’t like uncertainty and generally stick to what we know

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