Several studies have demonstrated that we are more likely to help those who dress like us. In one study, done in the early 1970s when young people tended to dress either in “hippie” or “straight” fashion, experimenters donned hippie or straight attire and asked college students on campus for a dime to make a phone call. When the experimenter was dressed in the same way as the student, the request was granted in more than two thirds of the instances; but when the student and requester were dissimilarly dressed, the dime was provided less than half the time. Another experiment shows how automatic our positive response to similar others can be. Marchers in an antiwar demonstration were found to be not only more likely to sign the petition of a similarly dressed requester, but also to do so without bothering to read it first. Click, whirr.
One of the first experiments on the topic was run in the USA by Solomon Asch. He asked subjects to evaluate a person simply on the basis of a list of six adjectives describing him. They might be told that he was ‘intelligent, industrious, impulsive critic, stubborn and envious’. Other subjects were given exactly the same six words but in the opposite order, ‘envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent’. All subjects were then I asked to fill in a rating sheet in order to evaluate the person. For example, they had to indicate how happy they thought he was, how sociable he was, and so on. The subjects who heard the first list, which began with favourable adjectives evaluated the person considerably more highly than did those given the list beginning with the derogatory words. This effect – being more heavily influenced by early than by late item – is called the ‘primacy error’.
Excerpt from: Irrationality: The enemy within by Stuart Sutherland