The Stamford Experiment

I'm watching the TV and a politician has just referred to people who 'binge drink' as 'people who drink to get drunk', a phrase I first used on this blog a year ago. Maybe someone in government is reading this site?
I've written before about how I am a different person when I'm wearing a uniform, how I am more confident, more proactive and sometimes a bit more 'shouty'. The reverse is also true and I think that this is, in some way, due to the way that people treat me when I'm wearing the uniform.

People see me in uniform and permit me to direct them, advise them and do things physically to them. Without the uniform I can't do this.

It all became obvious on the way home from the centre of London one night. I was using the tube and, on coming up an escalator while changing between lines, came across a man who had collapsed.

There were two members of the public with him, a station officer and a station cleaner. As I approached I saw that he was pale and sweaty, he triggered that bit of my brain that says 'this person is properly ill'.

I tried to walk past, I really did. I think I got two steps beyond him before turning around and returning.

“Hi there, I work for London Ambulance, can I help?”

He'd apparently became dizzy and then had collapsed, a little chat with him revealed a significant history of internal bleeding in the past. Feeling for his pulse I couldn't find a pulse in his wrist, this meant that he had a very low blood pressure, this would explain his paleness and sweatiness.

I asked the Station officer if he'd called an ambulance, and he mumbled something in the affirmative. I tried to take control of the situation, but it all came out a bit vague and quiet. I put the cleaning bucket under his feet to try and raise his blood pressure a little and awaited the ambulance.

All the time this was going on I was feeling rather vulnerable, unlike when I am 'on the job', I could also tell that the people I was with weren't taking me as seriously as I would had I been wearing a uniform.

The ambulance crew arrived and I handed the patient over to them. They didn't seem impressed, again probably because I wasn't wearing my uniform.

As I walked away I felt rather bad, If I had turned up in a FRU car, then the job would have felt very different, but without my uniform I wasn't as confident.

It's funny what a green shirt can do for your confidence.

43 thoughts on “The Stamford Experiment”

  1. You could always wear the uniform under your other clothes … then you can rip your shirt open at the front (think superman) when you go into 'work mode'.That said … perhaps people would take you less seriously in tights ..;)

  2. You realise of course that people are probably more impressed by your level of confidence than the green shirt? If you act as you do when wearing the uniform, you'll probably get nearly the same level of co-operation.There's also a world of difference between saying “I work for London Ambulance” and “I'm a paramedic”. The former could simply mean you clean their loos but have had a first aid course into the bargain.

  3. I know exactly what you mean! First couple of days in Hospital as a medical student a liverpool and because Im there in a shirt and tie with a name badge people seem to tell you anything! The downside is some people seem to think that we've got a clue whats going on…………….

  4. I knew about the Milgram experiments because I'm old enough to remember the publicity surrounding them when the media latched on to the story; I also had an idea of the experiment to which which Tom was referring. However, I sat last night and re-acquainted myself – via the net – with both. Both are seriously scary, but the Stamford one seems the worse of the two because of the experimenters' footnotes on how quickly they themselves and complete outsiders (such as the priest) were sucked in by the role play.When I was in the RAF, I was drafted in to provide engineering advice in the Command HQ Bunker during a major “paper” exercise which lasted for several days, and which was quite intense. Each time I finished a stint and emerged into the sunlight, it took me about 15mins to readjust to the fact that all was normal, and that the landscape was not radioactive and burning.

    On a lighter note – the 1968 film “Charge of the Light Brigade” involved the employment of hundreds of extras to play the parts of the soldiers of the British and Russian Armies. Uniforms and ranks were handed out on no particular basis, and there was really no reason why somebody arriving for a day's shooting should actually join the same army as he had the day before.

    However, very quickly, the Russian Army was congregating and taking its meals some distance from the British Army, and the officers of both armies were sitting some way off from the other ranks.

    These stories all concern men. I wonder whether the same thing happens with women, or with mixed groups.

  5. I've run into the same problem in the past. It's also strange how the fire brigade in particular would listen to me when I used to wear an orange jumpsuit but not when I was wearing green a week later.DSO

  6. Journal of emergencey Medicine used to run a section on words which should be in the EMT Dictionary. This was one of them.Polyester Bravado: n. The artificial courage derived from wearing your uniform, allowing you to go places you would never go off-duty and say things you would never be brave enough to say while in your civilian clothes.

    I think it explains your feelings very well.

  7. I recall an incident with a youngster with abdo pain in the street. While waiting for an ambulance his parents arrived. His dad clearly didn't want him to go to hospital, announced he worked at the hospital and the kid was ok and they would be waiting ages for nothing to be done. Upon questioning he turned out to be an interpreter.

  8. I had the same thing…commuting out of london by train to my office at the same time as the “suits” were coming in. I'd cycle to the station at either end, so looked scruffy but didn't care as dress code in the office was mainly informal anyway. Given the minimal time they give to turn trains around, I would frequently be trying to walk “upstream” to get to the train that had just arrived. The “suits” would be extremely rude and try to barge me out of the way – laughable really as I am 6' 3″ and don't shift easily.

    Anyway, on the occasions I had to go to work “suited”, I'd take taxis either end, but had the same walk along the platform. On these occasions, the suits would get out of my way, and the “unsuited” tried to kill me.

    So uniforms (and business suits) really do seem to make a difference.

  9. LOL when I was reading this, I DID actually think “now I get why Superman needs the change of clothes to get into gear”!Clothes maketh the man – or woman, a miniskirt and boob tube will generate different levels of trustworthiness in a crisis than a suit and glasses.

  10. I agree. Uniforms do wonders for your self confidence but I also think that even if you are very meek & quiet in uniform people still see the unifrom & they respect it- which in turns make it easier to be more assertive. I know I've had similar situatons when I've been off duty- the same as my husband who is a police officer- trying to take control of a situation while off duty & people looking at him like 'who the hell do you think you are?'

  11. 2 things on this subject – firstly I have been there too, but as a St John First Aider – a man on the street with a lovely open fractured femur, I stabilized both his leg and neck with help from the public, and when the Paramedics arrived I found that the almost shooed the guy holding the leg away, and looked at me as if I was a weirdo. My training has always been RTA = stabilize the neck. simple. So why did the Paramedics look at me like this? They didnt even want to get any other info off, like when I tried to give them a hand over.The other thing is, perhaps the paramedics who came to you were jealous that you were off duty!??I think the whole thing is that some paramedics get jealous of someone else 'stealing the show' – which is a bit sad really. I am currently training as a paramedic and will be sure to always be grateful to any member of the public who offers their help – even if there is nothing they can do.

  12. Polyester bravado (great term!) may look like a small, funny thing, but really it's the nub of what discrimination is about. People don't generally recognize skills or knowledge. Anyone who knew anything would have realized from the way you went about the situation, that you knew what to do. But people often don't know much, and the shortcut is to check the “uniform,” whether it's made out of polyester, skin color, or genitalia. Sometimes this isn't totally stupid, as with an LAS uniform. But other times …. Magnify and repeat your discomfort with this situation to a lifetime of dealing with yahoos who are apparently deaf or blind or both–some of them being the people who decide whether to hire you or promote you. (Yes, I know. Everyone thinks bosses are blind. Magnify that by a factor of about ten.)

  13. Looking at it from the otherside – in the hospital where I am currently a student, there was quite a serious incident involving uniform….Some bright spark had qualified and decided to sell their student uniform on eBay, of course somene bought it and got a free pass entry to all the CD drugs in A&E for 3days… I don't know how they got caught out (the person had no experience of working in a hospital so that was probably it) but all of us students now have a bad name, as it the local press reported it.

  14. I think it's a similar thing when you are asked to treat friends or family, you start to doubt yourself because you're not wearing your sort of invisibilty cloak- be that a uniform or a place of employment

  15. But then that depends if you are a paramedic or an EMT. Few people actually know what it means when you say you're an EMT, despite the fact that it's not a world away from a paramedic. So it's easier to say you work for the ambulance service, then you don't feel that you're impersonating anyone. I've done the same thing at an RTA that I tried my best to avoid, cos you're right, it does make you feel extremely self conscious without your uniform, regardless of how competent you are!!My sister is an A&E Registrar, and came across a 4 car RTA. She (again!) thought about ignoring it, but didn't. She triaged, treated (with the help of the fire service and their oxygen), and handed over to the crew when they finally arrived. They treated her with no respect at all (something I'm probably ashamedly guilty of in the past) and didn't even say thank you. And that was to a Doctor with God knows how many years experience. It makes me think twice whenever I take a handover from anyone on scene.

  16. But then that depends if you are a paramedic or an EMT. Few people actually know what it means when you say you're an EMT, despite the fact that it's not a world away from a paramedic. So it's easier to say you work for the ambulance service, then you don't feel that you're impersonating anyone. I've done the same thing at an RTA that I tried my best to avoid, cos you're right, it does make you feel extremely self conscious without your uniform, regardless of how competent you are!!My sister is an A&E Registrar, and came across a 4 car RTA. She (again!) thought about ignoring it, but didn't. She triaged, treated (with the help of the fire service and their oxygen), and handed over to the crew when they finally arrived. They treated her with no respect at all (something I'm probably ashamedly guilty of in the past) and didn't even say thank you. And that was to a Doctor with God knows how many years experience. It makes me think twice whenever I take a handover from anyone on scene.

  17. Who would you feel most relaxed about, when treating you for a potentially life-threatening injury – Marilyn Monroe, Adolf Hitler, or Howard Shipman?Oh, and let's imagine for a moment you're a Jewish lady of 67. And that Marilyn had a clue about first aid (she probably did from WW2).

    Funny old thing, perception.

  18. In all honesty, it's not just EMTs who avoid saying “I'm an…”, Community Responders do it too. The public (mid-heart attack) look at you like you're a loony if you say you're a community responder: say “I'm from the ambulance service” and you can start jumping up and down without a second blink.My favourite is when I attend to incidents as a member of SJA: mothers often refer to me as “the paramedic” (which I always say I'm not), despite the words “FIRST AID” on my sleeve.

  19. It's always the way. A uniform instills confidence and respect because we believe the wearer has been through years of training and experience and so we can rely on them.Except Parking Attendants…

  20. In 1961, Stanley Milgram needed just a white lab coat in order to persuade otherwise sane people to administer increasingly painful electric shocks (at least, that is what they thought that they were doing) to subjects, as part of an experiment purporting to be an inquiry into the effect of punishment on learning. Despite severe misgivings, and fully understanding the consequences, a significant number of the “teachers” nevertheless continued to deliver “shocks” to the “pupils” at purported voltages as high as 450V – just as long as the “supervisor” kept requiring them to do so.If you have never seen this disturbing experiment before, you will find it at http//opposingdigits.comvlog?p=1045.

  21. Sometimes it's not just the uniform.I am a student doctor, I just wear a shirt and tie and bumble around a large London teaching hospital.

    It supprises me how you can get patients to (unthinkingly?) consent to practically anything and how rarely we actually have to explain what we're wanting to do.

    The power is, in a way, scary. I had never considered before that I as a 23 year old lad had the power to make a muslim woman undress infront of me. The fact that she will do so without thinking about whether it's really necessary for her to do so is, occasionally, disturbing.

    It's all about how you present yourself and how you say it; “I need…” is a large step up from “I would like…” or “It would benefit my education if…”.

  22. I recall that experiment, or a similar one, from my psych days in college. It was less about the influence of a uniform, and more about the volunteers reliquishing their own responsibility and inflicting (or thinking they were inflicting) pain on another human being. OK, so the lab coat gave the guy “authority,” but the real question was what people were willing to do if they were not going to be held personally responsible for it.

  23. Being Ex-army, i was found it was as much the uniform people took notice of, the gun always helped! You just dont get that kind of respect when you turn up with a laptop and proclaim 'im from IT'

  24. I have an interesting take on this because we don't wear uniform where I work; if you are community staff or ante/postnatal ward you wear mufti and for labour ward it is scrubs. So as an integrated midwife who works everywhere, the thing that gives me my 'authority' is just by me saying 'I'm the midwife' because I don't have a uniform to bolster me up like that. I found that way of working very confidence-building. Though I do have a slight element of needing a 'prop' to prove I'm knowledgeable as I feel much better when wearing my badge- so I carry it with me most of the time as you never know when you will need it!

  25. i find that when in sja greens i can asked people to move easier than in civvys. when at work (IT services at a college) i find that first aid not that bad, they know im a first aider. the only problem i have is going into womens loos, last time i had to do that i needed to go directly to check on a duty after work so had my hi vis in my coat. and i wore that into the womens loo to see the colaped. and was much more confidnet to enter.

  26. “First couple of days in Hospital as a medical student a liverpool and because Im there in a shirt and tie with a name badge people seem to tell you anything!”You know what, I was shocked by a similar experience for different reasons. Once people realised that I was caring for a paranoid schizophrenic I ended up with all sorts of people confiding in me about their experiences with depression and what tablets they were on and everything! It still happens sometimes if I meet someone new and it comes up in conversation.

  27. There's two that any textbook and any psych teacher will go on and on and ON about in this area… but with good reason.First, Milgram, who had people believe they were giving increasing levels of electric shock to someone for answering questions wrongly, up to and beyond the point of pain, “danger” and death. There were all sorts of variations (“supervisor” wearing lab coat, army uniform, etc; subject meeting the person they were going to be “shocking” beforehand for a few minutes; blah blah) but the gist was the same.

    Secondly, Zimbardo's “Stanford College Experiment” which I believe Tom is referring to in the title, where a bunch of participants signed up to spend a summer in the basement of the college doing a role-play experiment but without knowing which role they would be assigned. Only the healthiest and most mentally stable ones were chosen. The participants were split into two groups, “guards” and “prisoners”. The “guards” quickly fell into their role and abused their power in ways that would make those running Guantanamo Bay say “steady on!” and the “prisoners” became severely mentally disturbed, as they “internalised” their roles. The experiment was abandoned after just six days.

  28. Dear Clarabelle;We inflated the patient with entonox, prised her fingers off the headrail of the rather nice brass bedstead, and carry-chaired her down to the ambulance. It was a lovely summer's day, but the patient didn't seem to be enjoying it all that much. As I was shutting the back doors, a blue Volvo drew up behind us, and a woman wearing chintz curtains got out. (OK, I'm a bloke; it was the Hyacinth Bucket sort of outfit you see women of a certain age wearing to weddings on hot days – but without the huge hat). “Do you need any help?” she asked. “No thanks, love, we're managing.” said I, closing the second door and hopping into the cab. Blue lights on, and away we go.

    We were making steady progress when my mate stuck his head through the bulkhead window and said “Pull over at the big layby, will you?”

    No bother. Stopped. Strolled round and got into the back. Assisted with the delivery of a very noisy litle boy. Peace restored when mother began to feed son. Strolled back to the cab, and continued at a more sedate pace. Delivered mother and son to the care of the Maternity Unit. The sister midwife seemed puzzled to see us on our own, remarking that the team's duty community midwife had intended to travel with the ambulance.

    My mate and I were sitting on the back step of the ambulance drinking tea nicked from the expectant fathers' room, when the blue Volvo drew up again; out got the chintz curtains lady once more. “Was everything OK?” she asked. At that point, we saw the tiny little brass lapel badge with her name and “Community Midwife” thereon. Sound of pennies dropping all round, explanations, apologies, and – finally – laughter, because all's well that ends well.

    I liked best the bit where you said that you identify yourself with the words “I'm the midwife”!!

  29. Dylan, you are right, of course. I think that it sets in when you are new to the job and are so anxiously trying to take in the scene, and understand what has happened that you don't even realise that you're not listening. The same thing sometimes happens to us when we hand over at the hospital. It was a discussion about the “blanking” habitually practised by a particular night sister that made me realise that I was guilty of it myself.Since then, I have always tried hard to listen to what I am being told by bystanders/first aiders etc, and to make it clear that I am doing so, even though I may be looking at, and talking to, the patient at the same time. I also try hard to remember to thank people.

    On the other hand, I am terrified by those nurses and doctors who focus every fibre of their being on what I am telling them – giving me a severe listening to! I stumble over words, forget what I was in the middle of saying, and leave out important details. I suppose that you just can't win.

  30. When I did CPR at an RTC at the bottom of our road (I didnt have my out of date first aid certificate with me at the time, so I couldnt wave it about) It was one of the boys in blue who called round a few days later to say thanks, see if I ok and to ask if I had been feeling a bit weepy (he was spot on!) And to tell me that they could point me in direction of some help/counselling if I was disturbed by what had happened.But once my adrenaline levels returned to normal, all was well and I didnt need to take up the offer, but it was never the less a kind gesture.

    As was the box of chocs and the thanks for trying card that some one else left on my door step. (People are kind out in the country!)

    As for the young, solo technician that was first on scene he looked as scared as the rest of us.

    Uniform or not, if the job needs doing, just get on with it

  31. Now hospitals thats another story. When doing a hand over I have a tactic that works. If you dont seem tobe getting a response then I either start talking rubbish or stay silent. That mostly on wards though in A&E its normally no problem.

  32. See, my technique is to turn on my 'modern matron' nursing head and question everything that they should be doing but aren't. There's normally one or two things that could be done better. That or I ask them questions that I know the answer to, but which they invariably don't.A bit scary when it's 'Why are they on this drug?'

    It's the same thing I do in crap nursing homes – if I can, justifiably, leave a nurse in tears then it's been a good day.

    'So the reason why this patient is laying in their own urine, has terrible bed sores and there is a day old pile of vomit of the floor is?… OK nurse, can I have your name please, just for the referal to the Social Services you understand…'

  33. On the subject of handover and asking as an intelligent MoP – what do you need to know at an accident scene? I've had only minimal first aid training but have been first on the scene at a couple of RTA's and did my best to explain to the ambo crew what had happened and what state the patient was in (as I saw it) but always had the feeling there were things I was missing or wasting time over. What are the magic bits of info that will make a difference?

  34. Men versus women – Good question! Perhaps the violence thing is more predominant when there's more testosterone in the air? I know that women's periods become in-synch when they spend a lot of time near each other. It's the pheramones triggering it. (Although, that makes little sense in “cave-man” terms. Wouldn't it be more efficient, reproduction-wise, to have fertile women available round the clock, rather than being on the rag all at the same time?)

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