Whilst I was in Birmingham, a young man came up to me and started telling me about a children’s charity and all the amazing work they do for disadvantaged youths. He then said to me ‘would you like to buy a wrist band for £40?’ and I said no, and then he said ‘only joking! They are £2 each!’ At that moment I realised he had used the door-in-the face strategy on me since there was no way I was going to pay £40 for a plastic wristband, yet £2 seemed comparably reasonable and therefore I was more inclined to give him my money.
This technique was explored by Cialdini et al. (1975), who asked people, on a university campus, to volunteer 2 hours a week for a minimum of 2 years at a young juveniles’ facility. Most people rejected this request, so then the experimenter asked them if they were willing to work just 2 hours with the juvenile delinquents. There was up to three times the compliance for the small request when the participant had received the large request first as opposed to just receiving the small request.
As you can see in table 1, 50% of participants agreed to the second, smaller request after initially recieving the larger request, compared with 16.7% who only received the small request and 25% who only received the large request. This means that if people first received the large request, and then the small request, they were more likely to volunteer up their time compared to the other conditions. Therefore, this demonstrates that when people are presented with a large request and then turn it down, they feel like they should accept the second, much smaller request because it appears more reasonable and they feel that they should not refuse.
So, in the case of the Birmingham charity man, he was hoping to first shock me with the £40 request, knowing that I would probably say no, and then, by considerably downsizing the price of the wristbands, he thought I would think it was such a reasonable price that I would not refuse. If only I hadn’t been in a rush to get to the train station, his door-in-the-face technique may have worked…
Cialdini, R., Vincent, J., Lewis, S., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: the door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 206-215.