Prep Headmaster’s Blog: The power of influence

I began assembly this week by asking the children what they would do in the following scenario. They are walking down the street and have just eaten a snack. They are holding the leftover packaging, such as an apple core or a drink carton. What would they do with it?

Apparently, quite a few answers were discussed, but thankfully the vast majority said they would look to tidy things up (Covid safely of course).

Some researchers wanted to discover the answer to this question, too. In particular, they were interested in whether the actions of other people influenced the way people dispose of their own rubbish. A group of behavioural scientists tested how likely people were to drop litter. They found that in an environment  where there was already evidence of other people dropping litter or doing graffiti in the area, people were far more likely to drop litter themselves. In an environment where there was no graffiti or evidence of other people leaving litter, less than half as many people dropped litter themselves. So, despite what we might think, it seems that many of us are influenced by the example of others.

Babies learn very quickly by imitation, by copying the actions of others. Many of us will have realised that we can get babies or toddlers to copy our silly noises or faces. Let’s look at some examples of this happening.


It’s great fun to watch that! However, as the behavioural scientists’ study proved, it’s not just babies who copy the behaviour of others. We are all influenced by the behaviour of people around us. Of course, another way to look at this is to realise the potential we have to influence others. We can set an example and lead other people in a good way. Our actions can be a positive influence on other people. Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement against British rule, famously said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.'

If we want to see a fairer society, we have the power to achieve that through our own actions. Each one of us at FPS has the potential to be a leader, a role model and an example to others.

We then thought about the sorts of qualities and values we would like to influence others with. What sort of world and society do we want for ourselves, and for our loved ones?

The answer to that question can help us to choose how we want to act, and the values we choose to live by. These choices and values will, in turn, influence others.

Have a good week.

Simon James