Wednesday, 22 May 2013

How to inspire a Manchester United fan to help a Liverpool fan

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A few years ago, scientists in Manchester ran an unusual experiment. Setting up near a group of Manchester United fans waiting for a game,  they  arranged for a volunteer wearing a Manchester United shirt to fall over whenever a fan was passing by.  They counted how many times the fan helped up the volunteer.  

Then they changed one thing. Rather than a Manchester United shirt, they put the volunteer in a Liverpool shirt – the hated rival of most Manchester United fans -and sent him off to fall over again. So how much difference would the costume change?

Quite a lot it turns out. Fans helped up 92% of the volunteers wearing Manchester United, but only 30% of the Liverpool-shirted ones. In other words, the majority of Liverpool volunteers were left on the floor while the vast majority of Manchester fans were helped up.

If this story shows one thing it’s that when we think of other people as different, we are much less likely to help them.  This should worry us. Our country is becoming much more diverse by age, income and ethnicity.  If people are less likely to help people who seem ‘different’, then a more diverse country will quickly become a less helpful one.

But here’s the good news. Whether you see people as different can be changed.  Back to our scientists.

For their last test, they spoke to the Manchester United fans before hand. They asked them to speak passionately about why he loved football so much and why football fans were great people. They then made the Liverpool fan fall over again.

But now – for the Manchester United fan – the volunteer in the Liverpool shirt had changed. He wasn’t primarily a fan of an opposite team; he was another lover of football, another football fan.  And – sure enough – 70% stopped to help up their fellow fan.

In an increasingly diverse country, whether we see each other as different will really matter. That’s why The Challenge Network runs programmes that bring people together and create new shared identities – even for Manchester United fans.

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