Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Using persuasion techniques to get participants for your offline survey

Anyone who has ever done research using a survey on paper can relate to the awkwardness that is asking people you don’t know to participate in your study, especially if they want to say no. For my third year project, I needed people to fill in a three page survey. In order to avoid a biased sample, I decided to ask random students studying in the Oculus or in the library as opposed to asking friends or social media contacts. Once you’ve walked up to an unsuspecting student in the library and have gotten them to take their earphones off, you get to the next question: how do you convince them to say yes and give you their precious time and answers on your survey? I decided to apply some persuasion techniques I had seen in class.

The first one I had been using since I started gathering data. It so happens that on average, my survey takes 7 minutes to fill out. So, instead of asking people “do you have 5 minutes for a survey”, or “do you have 10 minutes for a survey”, I asked them “would you happen to have 7 minutes of spare time to do a survey right now?” This is called the pique technique (Santos, Leve & Pratkanis, 1994). According to Santos and colleagues’ research, making an unusual request increases the odds of compliance, because it disrupts mindless refusal (i.e. saying no without even considering). In their study, Santos et al. asked random passersby to give them money. They did this either by asking for 17 or 37 cents exactly, or by asking to spare them “a quarter” or “some change”. However, a limitation to this study was the amount of participants per condition. In a recent meta-analysis, Lee and Feeley found supporting evidence that the pique technique does in fact work (Lee & Feeley, 2017). When comparing compliance rate in pique technique conditions of 17 studies (found in 6 articles) to compliance rate in control conditions, pique technique conditions did produce higher compliance rates (Lee & Feeley, 2017). Indeed, when asking for seven minutes of their time, some people reacted to this specific number, making jokes about it (“what happens if it’s more than seven”) or asking “why seven?”. In general, I feel like it kept some people from saying yes, because it was an unfamiliar number, but pushed others to say yes out of curiosity and disrupted mindless refusal, and didn’t affect the most part of the participants.

The second technique, I only applied after I’d gathered most of my data. Because I didn’t have enough female science students nor male non-science students, I started asking people what they studied before asking them to participate in my study. To get better chances at a yes, I started by asking people “are you a student here?”, a question most people would have to answer yes to. Guéguen, Joule, Courbet, Halimi-Falkowicz and Marchand’s research (2013) implies that having said yes to someone once before encourages you to say yes to other requests from the same person afterward. This is called the four walls technique, and Guéguen et al. studied this by walking up to people and asking them to do a short survey for them. This survey consisted of either questions that were meant to elicit a positive response ('yes response' condition) or a negative response ('no response' condition). After participants answered a couple of yes-no questions out loud, they were asked to participate in an additional survey which they could fill in back home. In the control conditions, no yes-no questions were asked and participants were immediately asked if they wanted to participate in the take-home survey. The ‘yes response’ condition yielded a compliance rate of 83.3%, the ‘no response’ condition one of 60% and in the control condition only 30% of participants agreed to participate. All of these percentages significantly differed from each other. In other words: asking yes-no questions before making a request will significantly improve odds of compliance, even if the answer is no. 
In my own experience with asking students to participate in a survey, this didn’t make a noticeable difference. This could be because I asked fewer questions before making my request than Guéguen et al. did in their study.
The main factor I found that predicted whether people would say yes or not was whether they just heard the person I asked before them deny the request or not. It could be that seeing me respond politely to someone saying “no” made them realise I wouldn’t become aggressive if they denied the request themselves, and it could be that this reassured them enough that they felt comfortable saying no.


Guéguen, N., Joule, R., Courbet, D., Halimi-Falkowicz, S., & Marchand, M. (2013). Repeating “yes” in a first request and compliance with a later request: The four walls technique. Social Behaviour and Personality, 41, 199-202. DOI:10.2224/sbp.2013.41.2.199

Lee, S., & Feeley, T. H. (2017). A meta-analysis of the pique technique of compliance. Social Influence, 12, 15-28. DOI:10.1080/15534510.2017.1305986

Santos, M. D., Leve, C., & Pratkanis, A. R. (1994). Hey buddy, can you spare seventeen cents? Mindful persuasion and the pique technique. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 755-764. DOI:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1994.tb00610.x 

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