On Monday evening I somehow managed to convince my friend to come along and help me set up The Warwick Uni Food Coop the next morning, despite her not even needing to be on campus. I’d agreed to meet said friend at the bus stop at 11:15am before I quickly backtracked on the agreed plan and suggesting 10:15am instead - this being the time I’d always intended to leave. Surprisingly, my friend agreed to this time, despite it meaning a much shorter lie in and getting a much busier bus. A screenshot of the pivotal moment of our conversation is documented below.
Without realising it, I had employed a classic compliance technique, low-balling. This technique involves the target (my friend) making a commitment (helping me out) before the costliness of the commitment increases (waking up earlier and getting a busy bus) even though from the start the increased costliness was always intended by the agent (me). This works as the target has made a low cost commitment to a task and therefore when it increases in costliness, they would feel guilty backing out of it and are therefore more likely do the costly task as compared to when you simply ask them to do this task without making them first commit to an easier version of it.
Cialdini, Bassett, Cacioppo and Miller’s (1978) research supports the effectiveness of low-balling. In this experiment, undergraduate psychology students were called up and asked whether they would like to participate in an experiment. The control group was told that the experiment would start at 7am before being asked whether they would like to participate. In the lowball experimental condition, participants were asked whether they wanted to participate in the experiment and only if they expressed interest were they told it began at 7am. After they were informed of the start time, participants were asked again if they would like to participate in the experiment. The researchers were measuring how many people agreed to partake in the experiment in each condition, but also how many people actually turned up at 7am on the day.
As the results table above shows, participants in the control group were less likely to agree to do the experiment than those in the lowball experimental condition. Of those that did agree to do it in the control group, less than a quarter actually turned up. However, over half of the participants in the experimental low-ball condition that agreed to do the experiment turned up.
Cialdini, R. B., Cacioppo, J. T., Bassett, R., & Miller, J. A. (1978). Low-ball procedure for producing compliance: Commitment then cost. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 463-476.