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.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Keeping the foot in the door and out of your mouth!

In the 1960s Freedman and Fraser (1966) investigated the best ways to get people to comply to large favours that they might otherwise reject. They achieved this by asking people first of all to do them a small favour; sowing a seed in the individuals mind that they are the sort of person who helps people! Then a few days later they returned to ask their real favour (the larger one). The context of this first experiment was asking housewives to answer a few questions about cleaning products (small favour) and then two days later asking if a team of five people could come into their house and do an inventory of all their cleaning products (large favour). In this study the responses of these housewives to the large favour was compared to that of a control group of housewives who were only asked the large favour (so were not initially asked the set of questions). Surprisingly Freedman and Fraser found 52.8% of those in the two favours group agreed to the large favour, while only 22.2% of those in the one favour control group did. 

Why is this? Why would already having done a favour for someone make you more likely to spend even more time helping them out again? Well, Bem (1972) suggests that by agreeing to a small request leads people to perceive themselves as a helpful person. This technique is known as the Foot-In-The-Door (FITD) technique, because that’s exactly what the first task does, puts a foot in the door  keeping it open for the larger favour.

It’s so simple, what a fantastic trick! The next time you need someone to do a big favour for you, just get them to do something small to help you beforehand and they’ll comply! Of course this seems too simple, surely there’s more to it than this? Well, in short, yes. A lot of further research has been done into FITD techniques and the conditions that it requires to work! One such study investigating the subtle conditions required for FITD to work, was run by Fointiat (2006) who looked at whether the way you label the help you’ve received for the initial favour holds any bearing on further help. In her study she went out into the streets and looked lost... very lost... tourist level lost! The experimenter then approached passers-by and asked them if they knew the way to a famous Cathedral (that the paper insists everyone would know the way to); upon receiving directions the experimenter either said ‘thank you’ (no-label condition) a standard response to such a favour, or ‘you’re very helpful’ (social label) putting a personal spin on the help, thus taping into what Bem (1972) was suggesting, or ‘that’s clear’ (functional label) putting the emphasis merely on the functional side of the help, not suggesting any personal help was gained. Having done this the unfortunate lost tourist then dropped – ‘accidentally’ - a scarf they were wearing, right in front of the passer-by and walked on. This was the second favour – return the lost article of clothing! There was also a control condition where the experimenter did not interact with the passer-by, they merely dropped the scarf in front of them and walked on. FITD would suggest that people who had helped previously would be more likely to aid the experimenter and return her scarf, but did they?

Well, as you can see from the graph, the control condition offered help significantly less often than any of the FITD conditions. This is a standard FITD outcome and isn’t particularly interesting; what is interesting is the significant difference between the functional ‘that’s clear’ and both the ‘you’re very helpful’ social response and ‘thank you’ neutral response conditions. This is nicely in line with Bem’s (1972) suggestion that FITD occurs as a result of individuals perceiving themselves as a helpful person, here the social response lead to more helping than the functional response. Slightly harder to explain though is why the neutral response, ‘thank you’, garnered as much help as the socially labelled, ‘you’re very helpful’! Why might this be? Well, the paper doesn’t speculate, but potentially since saying ‘thank you’ is standard social practice when someone has helped you then this too has  an - albeit undesired by the experimenter– social component as well. What do you think?

Fointiat (2006) seems to heavily suggest that it isn’t merely the request that puts your foot in the door, it also requires the helper to feel that they personally have helped you, thus sowing that seed in their mind. So, the next time you want to use this technique to get someone to do you a big favour, ensure they know they’re personally responsible for helping you out in the first favour, or you could be stuck without help to retract your foot from your mouth!


Bem, D. J. (1972). Self-perception theory. In Bekowitz, L. (Ed.) Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 6, New York: Academic Press, pp. 1-62.
Fointiat, V. (2006). “You’re helpful” versus “that’s clear”. Social versus functional label in the foot-in-the-door paradigm. Social Behavior and Personality, 34, 461-466.
Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202.

AJ King

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.