“For as long as I can recall, I’ve been an easy mark for the pitches of peddlers, fund-raisers, and operators of one sort or another.” The Social Psychologist Robert Cialdini, a self-described “patsy”, or a person easily manipulated or tricked, wanted to understand what makes one person comply with another person’s “request”. To find answers, Cialdini spent three years working as a trainee in various advertising, fundraising, and sales organizations. He wanted to understand how people were exploiting “the weapons of influence”.
Foot in the Door (FITD) Technique
To get people to do a big favor for you, one effective strategy is to have them do a small favor for you first. This is in reference to the Foot in the Door (FITD) phenomenon. The FITD is a compliance tactic that entails getting people to grant a large request by first having them agree to a modest request.
In the best-known experiment demonstrating this phenomenon (Freedman & Fraser, 1966), researchers posed as drive-safely advocates and asked Californians to allow them to install huge, unattractive “Drive Carefully” signs in their front yards. Only 17 percent agreed. They approached others with a smaller request, asking that they display three-inch “Be a safe driver” window signs. Almost everyone agreed to the small favor. They then approached the same people two weeks later, asking that they install the large and ugly “Drive Carefully” signs in their front yards. 76 percent agreed! “I was simply stunned at how easy it was to convince some people and how impossible to convince others” (Ornstein,1991), remarked a project helper who went from house to house unaware of who previously visited. The same results were replicated in over a hundred subsequent, related experiments.
The self-confessed “patsy” Cialdini devised his own experiments, as he tried to put the “weapons of influence” to the test. He explored the Low-Ball Technique, a variation of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon. This tactic was reportedly being used by a number of car dealers. They would offer a new car at a bargain price, attracting customers enough to convince them to sign sales forms. The salespersons would then remove the price advantage by adding fees for “options”, or they would check with a boss who would end up revoking the deal on the claim that they would be losing money. As results would have it, customers end up purchasing the cars at the higher price, a price that they would not have agreed to at the outset.
Cialdini and his collaborators, carrying out their own experiments, found that the low-ball technique does work. They invited Psychology students to take part in an experiment scheduled at 7:00 AM. Only 24 percent showed up. They then tried getting the students to first agree to participate without informing them of the early schedule, after which they told the students that it was to be held at 7:00 AM. 53% showed up.
Salespeople and marketing researchers have found that the tactic works even when people are aware of a profit motive, so much so that many states have enacted laws that provide customers with a few days to mull over their purchases, giving them the option to cancel.
Door in the Face (DITF) Technique
Cialdini explored yet another compliance tactic called the Door in the Face (DITF) technique. This weapon of influence entails making a large request that is likely to be turned down, then making a smaller request right after the first refusal.
In a classic experiment, Cialdini explored the effectiveness of the technique by asking participants to volunteer for two hours a week in a span of two years where they will be counseling juvenile delinquents (large request). After their refusal, the same participants were asked to join a one-day trip to the zoo where they will be serving as chaperones for juvenile delinquents (small request). 50% of the participants agreed to the small request. As for the participants in the control group, or those who got only the small request and not the large one, only 17% ended up agreeing to the request to chaperone the juvenile delinquents. Several more similar experiments were conducted, all showing positive results for the Door in the Face technique.
The DITF compliance tactic has proven to be effective in increasing Retail sales, getting children to complete their academic work, soliciting monetary donations, among others. The technique has also proven to be effective in online fundraising. Yes, it works in the virtual world too!
Don’t be a Patsy
An understanding of FITD and DITF compliance tactics is not only helpful for getting an upper hand in our dealings, but is also important in protecting ourselves from other people’s manipulations. More so because these tactics are not only used by unscrupulous salesmen, but by even more nefarious personalities. The FITD technique was reportedly used to get hundreds of American prisoners of war (POWS) to cooperate and side with their captors in the 1950s Korean War, and to indoctrinate ordinary Germans in the Nazi ideology (political socialization on a mass scale). The technique is being used to this day for the socialization of torturers and terrorists. Although DITF sometimes yields more immediate results than the FITD technique, the latter is still much more potent in the sense that its resultant compliant behaviors lead to a change of attitude in people. FITD causes people to act themselves into a way of thinking – the reverse of attitude-action relation (a topic for another lengthy discussion).
Be wary of the so-called ‘weapons of influence’, and learn to use them for good ends.
Author: Tahna de Veyra
Voracious eater. Coffee dependent. Book sniffer. Music addict. Profound thinker. Certified ambivert. Life-hungry maverick. Nonchalant realist. Hesitant blogger.