Bumper Stickers and Helping based on Impression Formation
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Abstract A well-established tenet of social psychology is that our first impressions matter, and those impressions are often formed using minimal information, such as attractiveness, complexion, and mannerism (Carlston & Schneid, 2015, 95). One area that has not been investigated to date, however, is bumper stickers. In this naturalistic field experiment, we explored the relationship between bumper stickers and helping behavior. Based on previous studies of impression formation, we predicted that the presence of offensive bumper stickers would reduce the amount of help offered to a stranger. Sixty adults entering a large shopping center in Northeast Tennessee were approached at random and asked for directions to a nearby nature center. Subjects were approached by a 20 year old white female standing in front of a parked car covered with 7 hostile bumper stickers (e.g., “Watch out for the idiot behind me”) or the same car covered with 7 neutral bumper stickers (e.g., “Blessed Be”). A total of 30 adults were approached for each condition (neutral vs. hostile stickers) over the course of 6 separate days. A female confederate posing as a seated passenger unobtrusively recorded the following for each encounter: (a) level of detail in the directions given, (b) disposition of the subject, and (c) approximate distance between experimenter and subject. This confederate was unaware of the type of stickers on the car during each encounter and was, thus, blind to the conditions. The stickers were periodically changed throughout the experiment. Statistically significant differences were found for all three dependent variables. As expected, those exposed to neutral bumper stickers were more likely to give detailed directions, be friendlier, and stand closer to the experimenter than those exposed to hostile bumper stickers. Results are discussed in terms of implications and suggestions for further research.