Door-in-the-face Technique


The door-in-the-face (DITF) technique is a persuasion method whereby a persuader attempts to convince someone to comply with a request by first making an extremely large request that the respondent will obviously turn down, with a metaphorical slamming of a door in the persuader’s face. The respondent is then more likely to accede to a second, more reasonable request than if this second request were made without the first, extreme request.

Psychology and marketing professor Robert Cialdini suggests this as a form of reciprocity, i.e. the (induced) sharp negative response to the first request creates a sense of debt or guilt that the second request offers to clear, and the reduced second request is interpreted by the receiver as a concession which is reciprocated by compliance with the request. Alternately, a reference point (or framing) construal may explain this phenomenon, as the initial bad offer sets a reference point from which the second offer looks like an improvement.

In a classic experiment to test the door-in-the-face technique, Cialdini asked students to volunteer to counsel juvenile delinquents for two hours a week for two years. After their refusal, they were asked to chaperone juvenile delinquents on a one-day trip to the zoo. Another group was asked only about the zoo. 50% of the first group agreed to the zoo trip, compared to 17% in the second group. Additionally, Cialdini created a control group where the experimenter described both the extreme and the smaller favor, and then the participant was requested to perform either one. Only 25% of the students agreed to the zoo request. This demonstrates that mere exposure to the more extreme task does not greatly affect compliance. The door-in-the-face technique will only affect compliance rates if the extreme request is rejected first.

It appears that the door-in-the-face effect is limited to situations in which the size of the initial request is extremely large. An experiment was conducted in which students were divided into three groups. The control group was given only the small request and asked to pick up at least 15 brochures for an organization and distribute them to their friends. The second group was asked to sit at an intersection for two hours and observe traffic violations and then was presented with the smaller request. The third group of students was asked to join an organization and volunteer 2 hours per week for 2 years and then was presented with the smaller request. Only 29.2% agreed in the control group, 15.5% of participants complied in the second group, and 43.1% complied in the third group. Because the first request was so extreme, more students complied in the third group. In sum, based on findings of both Cialdini (1975) and the experiment described, it may be concluded that the crucial conditions for the occurrence of the door-in-the-face effect are: the original request must be rejected by the target person, the original request should be large enough so that its rejection will be perceived by the target person as irrelevant for making self-attribution, the original request should not evoke in the target person resentment, anger, or hostility, and the second request must be unambiguously smaller than the first one.

By comparison, foot-in-the-door technique is a gradual-persuasion technique in which an initial, modest request precedes a larger request. In contrast, door-in-the-face technique involves a larger request that the recipient will refuse and then is provided a more realistic request. A study in 2004 measured the effectiveness of both techniques and performed an experiment testing which method increased compliance rates more. Students were (a) asked a small request (two short questions regarding racism) and then a moderate target request (FITD) or (b) a large initial request (to attend ten 1-hr seminars about racism) and then a moderate target request (DITF). The door-in-the-face technique produced significantly more compliance (75.8%) compared to the foot-in-the-door technique (48.5%).

There are two lines of evidence suggesting that door-in-the-face would be efficacious in producing compliance. The first sort of evidence comes from work investigating the concept of reciprocation. Sociologist Alvin Ward Gouldner maintains that a norm of reciprocity exists in all societies. Gouldner states the norm of reciprocity in its simple form as: ‘You should give benefits to those who give you benefits.’ Very often in social interaction participants begin with requirements and demands which are unacceptable to one another. In order for the interaction to continue and hence for common goals to be achieved, compromise must be struck. Evidence for the existence of a reciprocal concessions relationship in our society can be seen in numerous terms and phrases of the language: ‘give and take,’ ‘meeting the other fellow halfway,’ etc.

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