Effects of Priming Social or Personal Identity on Cabin Crew Perception of Teamwork & Perception


A study by Ford, O'Hare and Henderson (2013) was conducted to investigate the effects of a social theory-based manipulation to promote positive perception of teamwork and inter-group communication in airline operations. The authors note that aircrew members are neither separate individuals, nor a single homogenous group - giving rise to 2 distinct subcultures being present on a commercial aircraft in operation.

Hackman (1993)[1] and Helmreich & Merritt (1998) [2] have conducted research on how hierarchical structures impact pilots in the areas of teamwork and communication but no studies have yet acknowledged that similar hierarchical structures amongst cabin crew may also affect their perceptions of teamwork and communication//.


Research Approach

  • This study was carried out to test the authors' research hypothesis that social identity attributes such as cooperation, coordination and communication would increase the willingness of flight attendants to engage in positive team behavior.
  • The authors also wanted to know if temporarily increasing the organizational identity influence would promote greater cooperation between different employee groups in the airline.


  • The sample size of this study was indicated to be n=484.
  • The study was conducted on foreign based crew (n=230) and domestic based crew (n=254) working for the same airline.
  • The overall response rate was 32%.


2 types of priming questionnaires were used:

  • A personal identity priming questionnaire (A) containing 7 items; with the pronoun 'I' used a total of 11 times.
  • An organizational identity priming questionnaire (B) with 6 items; with each question starting with, or containing the name of the airline within its structure.
  • The respondents from each group were given either of these specific questionnaires. The surveys were administered randomly and there was no opportunity for discussion of responses.
  • An inflight event (galley fire) was described to the respondents after the priming survey was completed.
  • Following this, the participants were given an 11-item Teamwork Questionnaire.


  • An equal number of questionnaires were distributed to the respondents - both at home and at overseas crew bases
  • The materials received by each respondent included an A4 envelope containing a cover letter introducing the researcher, information about the overall intent of the survey, instructions (completing Questionnaires A or B, and the Teamwork Questionnaire) and who the other respondents were.
  • Respondents were assured of the confidentiality of their identities and designations.
  • The specific aim of the study, however, was not included in the cover letter or instructions sheets.
  • The cover letter and instructions clearly indicate the order in which the questionnaires may be completed.

Data Analysis

Table 1. 11-item Teamwork Questionnaire results
Component Component Label Eigenvalue
1 Job Roles and Responsibilities 2.821
2 Intergroup Cooperation 1.338
3 Leadership 1.841
Extraction method - Principal Component Analysis
Rotation method - Varimax with Kaiser normalization
  • A principal components analysis with Varimax rotation was carried out on the 11-item Teamwork Questionnaire. The alpha of 0.605 indicated that the questionnaire had fulfilled internal consistency margins to test if priming had any effect on flight attendant perceptions of co-operation in an emergency situation.
  • An analysis of the scree plot showed that after 3 components with eigenvalues greater than 1 were observed, a sharp elbow indicated that all following factors were insignificant.
  • A 2 by 2 factor analysis of variance was run to determine the effect of priming. The results are summarized in Table 2.
Table 2. Effect of Priming & Operational Group
Component Label Source F(1,143) F(1,139) p-value Significance Level
Intergroup Cooperation Priming (Social / Personal) 7.92 - 0.006 high
Operational Group 11.99 - 0.001 high
Job Roles & Responsibilities Priming (Social / Personal) - - - low
Operational Group - 8.28 0.005 high
Leadership Priming (Social / Personal) - - - nil
Operational Group - - - nil
Dependent variable - scores on the Intergroup Cooperation, Job Roles & Responsibilities and Leadership scales
  • Another 2 by 2 factor analysis of variance was also carried out on the Teamwork Questionnaire, using the total score as the dependent variable.
  • The effects of both priming and operational group here were negligible, according to the authors' results summary.

Potential for generalization

  • From the study, it can be inferred that when an organizational identity is used to prime employees' perception of teamwork and cooperation, it is likely that they may be predisposed to engage in effective communication and team effort.
  • This is because the results are applicable to both types of flight attendants polled - home based and overseas based.
  • The present study may be refined by using more items (factors) to define the subscales used for analysis.
  • Testing the subscales against other criteria such as educational qualifications or length of service may show different results.

1. Hackman, J.R. (1993) Teams, Leaders and Organizations: New Directions for crew-oriented flight training. In E.L. Wiener, B.G. Kanki _ & R.L. Helmreich (Eds.), Cockpit resource management (pp.47-49), San Diego, CA: Academic Press
2. Helmreich, R.L. & Merritt, A.C. (1998) Culture at work in aviation and medicine Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate

Want to know more?

Ford, J., O'Hare, D. and Henderson, R. (2013) Putting the "We" into Teamwork: Effects of Priming Personal or Social Identity on Flight Attendants' Perceptions of Teamwork and Communication
Human Factors: The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Vol. 55, pp. 499 - 508

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