Human Behavior Experiments Street Corner Crossing

About a human behavior experiment to determine the effects status plays on our decision making conducted at a street corner crossing.



Title of Experiment: Status Factors in Pedestrian Violation of Traffic Signals

Conducted by: Monroe Lefkowitz, Robert R. Blake, and Jane Srygley Mouton in Austin, Tex.

Reported in: Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 51, No. 3 (1955), 704-706

Object: To determine whether people are more likely to disobey a prohibition (in this case, a street signal) if they see a high-status person disobey it than if they see a low-status person disobey it. The experimenters also wanted to know if obedience by a high-status person increased other people's obedience.

The Experiment: The experiment was conducted at three street corners in downtown Austin on three successive afternoons. The 2,103 pedestrians who passed the corners during the tests served as subjects. The experiment included several different situations. In one, an experimenter's model, dressed as a "high-status" pedestrian (suit, white shirt, tie, shined shoes) obeyed the "wait" signal at the crosswalk for five trials. Then pedestrians were observed for five more trials with the model absent. Next the model returned as a "low-status" pedestrian, in scuffed shoes, soiled trousers, and an un-pressed denim shirt. This time, he crossed the street even though the signal said "wait." The next day, the order was inverted, so that the model would be violating the signal as a high-status pedestrian and conforming to it as a low-status pedestrian. The Traffic Dept. of the Austin Police Dept. had been informed of the experiment, and no police officers were around to inhibit the testing.

Conclusions: Only 1% of the pedestrians disobeyed the signal when the model was not present. Obedience was so high without the model that the experimenters could not tell whether the presence of an obedient model made any difference. A disobedient model, however, did change pedestrians' behavior. When the low-status model disobeyed the signal, 4% of the pedestrians followed his lead. But even more--14%--disobeyed the signal when the model in high-status dress did. In other words, class counts.

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