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Perceived Symbols of Authority and Their Influence
There are many variables that influence compliance. With regard to individuals
making requests of others, Bickman
found that the apparel of the person
making the request significantly influenced whether another person complied
with the request. This study evaluates other factors such as
age, and altruism
in compliance. Subjects were involved in a replication of Bickman’s dime and
parking meter study. Results showed that
dress of the perceived authority
not only affected the number
subjects who complied but
pliance, the type of noncompliance, and the latency between request and compli-
older subjects complied significantly more often than younger sub-
role authority condition.
Our initial perceptions of an individual’s authority may be largely determined
by apparel. This is especially true when an individual is wearing a uniform be-
cause uniforms make the wearer’s status much more visible (Joseph
1972). Uniforms have been found to influence honesty (Bickman, 1971), help-
ing behavior (Emswiller, Deaux,
Willits, 1971; Raymond
political behavior (Suedfeld, Bochner,
Zimbardo, 1971), aggres-
sion (Borden, 1975), and compliance (Bickman, 1974). Bickman (1974) con-
ducted several field studies on the influence
uniforms on compliance. Bick-
man’s studies involved individuals with three levels of perceived authority: a
civilian, a milkman, and a guard. Bickman found that when requests were made
from an individual who was perceived as an authority, compliance was indeed
Bickman’s (1974) study dealt with the variable of perceived symbols of au-
thority. In determining the reasons for compliance one may also wish to con-
sider other variables, besides perceived symbols of authority. In this study, age,
altruism, and how apparel affected compliance, noncompliance, and the latency
to comply were investigated.
‘The author would like to thank Merrill May for his helpful comments on earlier drafts
’Requests for reprints should be sent to Brad
of this article and for providing assistance with the statistical analysis of the data.
Subjects were 150 adult pedestrians on a major street in downtown Salt Lake
City, Utah. The study was done on a warm, clear Saturday in May to increase
the likelihood of
representative sample of the population being available. Sev-
eral pedestrians were present
the duration of the experiment. The subject
pool was limited to pedestrians between the ages of
Because of the
subjects at any given time, a quasi-random stratified sampling
procedure was used. Selection was based on the demographic characteristics
age, sex, race, and dress.
Between the selection of one subject and the next there was a delay, such
that the following subject could not have observed the interaction between the
confederate and the previous subject. Overall, 45%
the subjects were female
and 55% were male. Seventy-one percent were white,
black, and the race
could not be determined. Most subjects were judged, by
their apparel, as middle-class. Postexperiment analysis of subjects’ demographics
showed no significant differences between subjects within each of the three con-
ditions (no authority, status authority, and role authority).
This experiment was a field study, functional design with three levels
no authority, status authority, and role authority. In the
no authority condition the confederate was dressed as a bum, was unshaven, and
wore an old pair
greasy coveralls, an old baseball type hat, and old workshoes.
In the status authority condition, the confederate dressed as a business execu-
tive, was shaven, wore a conservative two-piece business suit, white shirt, a con-
servative tie, and dress shoes. In the role authority condition, the confederate
was dressed as a fire fighter, and wore a fire fighter’s uniform that included a
medium blue shirt, dark blue pants, and a black hat. The shirt had a patch on
the sleeve designating the fire department (Ogden City) and a silver fire fighter
the pocket. The hat also had
silver badge in the center.
The confederate was male,
years old, 5ft 11 in. tall
210 lb (95.45 kg). Bickman’s (1974) experiment used four different confeder-
similar physique. This experiment used the same confederate for all three
conditions to control for variables associated with the person making the request.
Bickman’s confederates were between the ages
In this experiment
an older confederate was used to increase ecological validity to be consistent
with the assumption that authority figures are rarely young.
The person in need of a dime was the experimenter, a 23-year-old college
male student, 5 ft 10 in. tall
m) and 135 lb (61.36 kg), who was dressed in
blue jeans and a casual shirt during the data collection.
The dependent variable, compliance, was defined as the subject giving the ex-
perimenter a dime
other change if the subject did not have a dime). The
type of compliance was determined by a posttest interview conducted by the
experimenter. The behavior of those who complied was divided into four cate-
gories: altruism, compliance, unquestioned obedience,
The subject complied because he or she wanted to help some-
one in need.
The subject complied because he or she hoped to achieve a
favorable reaction from the experimenter, the confederate, or both. The sub-
ject’s response could have been dual in nature; that is, the subject wanted to
comply to the confederate’s request and help someone at the same time.
The subject complied because “He [the confed-
erate] told me to.”
The experimenter could not determine why the subject com-
plied because his or her response was vague.
The reasons for noncompliance were divided, by the confederate, into four
categories: no change, questioned perceived authority, silent, and hostile.
The subject said he
she did not have any change.
Questioned perceived authority.
The subject asked the confederate such
The subject did no* rcply to the confederate’s request.
The subject responded to the confederate’s request in a hostile
manner (e.g., “Are you kidding? There’s no way I’m going to give him any
questions as, “Why don’t you give him a dime?”
The general procedure used was similar to Bickman’s
study. The con-
federate stopped the chosen subject and pointed to the experimenter who was
standing beside a car, parked at an expired parking meter, searching in his pock-
ets for change. After pointing at the experimenter, the confederate said, “This
fellow is overparked at the meter but doesn’t have any change. Give him a
dime!” If the subject did not immediately comply, the confederate added that
he had no change either.
the subject did not comply after the explanation,
the confederate left.
To ensure an accurate and reliable recording of the data, the confederate re-
corded specific information about each subject after he
she left the vicinity.
This was accomplished by using the checklist in Figure
If the subject did comply, the experimenter debriefed
her. The de-
briefing procedure went as follows: The experimenter asked the subject “Why
Color of Ss
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. The experi-
menter then returned the subject’s dime and briefly explained the nature of the
experiment. After the subject left, the experimenter completed the checklist in
After collecting the data for each condition, the experimenter and the con-
federate compared descriptions
the subjects in terms of estimated age, race,
indicated by apparel).
The results indicate that compliance significantly increased as perceived au-
thority increased, x2(2,
Forty-five percent of the
subjects obeyed the bum,
the business executive, and
the fire fighter.
judged by the subject’s verbal responses, altruistic reasons given for com-
plying were significantly less as perceived authority increased,
the reasons given for obeying were altruistic
authority condition, 16% were altruistic in the status authority condi-
were altruistic in the role authority condition. Furthermore, 64%
of the reasons given for compliance were classified as “unquestioned obedience”
in the role authority condition,
were classified as unquestioned obedience
in the status authority condition, and
were classified as unquestioned obedi-
ence in the
Noncomplying subjects offered significantly fewer hostile reasons for
compliance as perceived authority increased, ~’(4,
Twenty-nine percent of the subjects gave hostile responses in the
gave hostile responses in the role authority condition.
Thirty-two percent of the subjects said they would have given the experimenter
a dime if they had change
authority condition, whereas
50 25 50
Role authority 41
AUTHORITY AND COMPLIANCE
subjects said they would have given the experimenter
dime if they had change
in the role authority condition. In addition, not one subject questioned the con-
federate in the role authority condition.
The latency between request and compliance was significantly affected by the
apparel of the perceived authority, ~’(4,
In the no
authority and status authority conditions, 23%-24% of the subjects complied
whereas in the role authority condition,
of the sub-
jects complied quickly. Thirty-six percent complied moderately quickly
min) in the no authority condition, 64% in the status authority condition, and
in the role authority condition, Fortyane percent complied slowly (over 1
min) in the no authority condition, 12% complied slowly in the status authority
condition, and not one subject complied slowly in the role authority condition.
Older subjects (over
years) complied significantly more than younger sub-
jects (16-30 yrs) in the role authority condition. One hundred percent of older
the younger subjects complied in the role authority condi-
tion. Significant age differences were not found
either the status authority or
no authority conditions.
There was no significant gender difference with regard to female/male com-
pliance rates. In addition, no significant difference was found between the sub-
ject’s apparel and the subject’s willingness to comply.
974) experiment, this experiment showed a significant
relation between the apparel the confederate wore and the number of subjects
who complied to the confederate’s request. In addition, several other interesting
differences were noticed between the subjects’ responses and the confederate’s
request. For example, in the role authority condition, the confederate noted
that the subjects responded quite differently. The confederate would say, “Give
him a dime!” and the majority of subjects would look at his badge and say,
Altruism, as defined
the subjects’ verbal reason given for complying, was
also significantly affected by the presence of a perceived authority. It seems
that compliance, when requested by an authority, may be less charitable. Dur-
ing the experiment, only one person gave the experimenter a dime without the
confederate requesting them to do
The confederate was of the opinion that the nature of noncompliance was
also different in the role authority condition. While in the fire fighter’s uniform,
the confederate felt eight
the nine subjects who did not comply would have
complied if they would have had change. For example, one woman said, “I’m
really sorry that
only have one dime and
need to make an impor-
tant phone call.” The confederate stated that subjects’ responses in the role
authority condition sounded more sincere.
none of the subjects ques-
tioned the confederate in the role authority condition, even though fire fighters
have nothing to do with parking meter violations.
Perceived authority is apparently an important variable influencing compli-
ance. These findings suggest that those holding authoritative positions have a
great responsibility, especially when making requests of others.
(1971). The effects of social status on the honesty of others.
(1974). The social power
Borden, R.J. (1975). Witnessed aggression: Influence
an observer’s sex and
values on aggressive responding.
Personality and Social Psychol-
Emswiller, T., Deaux,
Willits, J.E. (1971). Similarity, sex, and requests
for small favors.
Applied Social Psychology,
(1972). The uniform:
Unger, R.K. (1971). Effect
deviant and conventional
attire on cooperation [Summary]
the 79th Annual Conven-
the American Psychological Association,
Suedfeld, P., Bochner,
(1971). Petitioner’s attire and petition
signing by peace demonstrators: A field experiment,
Freaks, hippies and voters: The effect
dress and appearance on political persuasion process.
at the meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, New York City.