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.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

But I gotta help you cross something!

This scene from “Up” shows Russell trying to convince Carl Fredrickson to let him help him in some way so he can earn his “Assisting the Elderly” badge to become a Senior Wilderness Explorer.

Russell tries to use the Door-in-the-Face technique to try and convince Carl into letting him help, but unfortunately he’s not that successful. He first offers to help cross the street to which Carl impatiently refuses. Russell then lowers the offer, suggesting to help Carl cross his yard which Carl still declines, so finally Russell offers to help Carl cross his porch – an even smaller offering. Carl still doesn’t want any help, and Russell is on the receiving end of (literally, at this point) Carl’s front door in his face. In the end, Carl feels sorry for Russell and tells him he can help find a bird called a “snipe” that keeps eating his flowers. Of course, this is just to get Russell to go away, but it keeps Russell happy and illustrates how Russell didn’t really care what he helped with, but started big so he could negotiate Carl down if he needed to.

Cialdini, Vincent, Lewis & Catalan (1975) found that people were much more willing to volunteer with delinquents visiting a zoo for one day or to volunteer on their university campus, after first declining to volunteer with delinquents for two years, compared those who had not received the larger, initial request. In this way, Russell was hoping to get Carl to agree to any tiny request by starting big: if he’d gone in small he would have been less likely to convince Carl to let him help.

Interestingly, after shutting the door on Russell, Carl seems upset and a little bit guilty, so opens the door to hear Russell out again. O’Keefe and Figge (1999) found that people who refuse an initial request feel guilty, and one of the reasons we later agree to smaller requests is because we attempt to reduce these feelings of guilt. This anticipated reduction in guilt is what motivates Carl (well, partly that and partly to get rid of Russell) to give Russell a task he thinks is helpful.  

Little does Carl know, Russell ends up helping him with something extremely important (which I won’t ruin if you haven’t seen the film). So I guess you could say Russell was a pretty good negotiator, really.


Cialdini, R. B., Vincent, J. E., Lewis, S. K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D., & Darby, B. L. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 206–215.

O’Keefe, D. J., & Figge, M. (1999). Guilt and expected guilt in the door-in-the-face technique. Communication Monographs, 66, 312-324.

Katherine Stevens

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