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, February 11, 2015

Would You Like to Double Your Donation?

Last year, when I was out shopping with my friend, we were approached by a group of people trying to collect money for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). After a lengthy conversation, my friend agreed to donate £6.99 a month to this charity by direct debit by sponsoring an elephant. The individuals from the charity seemed extremely grateful, however, this was not the end of their persuasion attempts. Just a few weeks later, my friend received a phone call asking her if she would increase her donation to £13 a month, almost double what she was already giving.

This is a typical example of the foot-in-the-door technique, which induces compliance via a type of graduated commitment whereby after cooperating with a small and fairly reasonable request, individuals are much more likely to subsequently agree to a much larger request compared to if they had been asked for the large request outright.

Unfortunately for this charity, this particular attempt was unsuccessful as my friend felt that she was already donating enough and was not impressed at being asked to increase her donation so soon. 
Perhaps a better strategy would have been to use the reciprocity principle, a technique which works by bestowing an individual with a 'gift', which creates feelings of indebtedness to the gift-giver. This then compels the receiver of the gift to reciprocate, by giving something of their own in return, in this case money.

The effects of the reciprocity principle were studied in an experiment by Regan (1971). Here, 81 male students took part in a task which was supposedly about rating paintings alongside another 'participant', who was actually a confederate of the experimenter. During a break from the task, the confederate left the room and either returned with a small gift for the participant in the form of a soft drink (favour condition), or with no gift (control condition). Another manipulation concerned the participant's liking of the confederate, which was altered by having the confederate act in a pleasant or unpleasant manner prior to the favour being carried out. After the experiment, the confederate then asked the participant to perform a favour for him by purchasing some raffle tickets that he was selling. The mean number of raffle tickets bought by each group is shown below. 

Liking Condition
No Favour

These results show that having the confederate perform a simple favour for the participant before making his own request doubled the number of raffle tickets that were sold, compared to when no favour was performed. This was true even when participants were induced to dislike the confederate, suggesting that the reciprocity principle has a very powerful effect on behaviour. Moreover, the average participant in the favour condition spent over five times the cost of the soft drink on raffle tickets, demonstrating that small favours can yield reciprocal behaviours of a much larger magnitude.

Therefore, the WWF may have been more successful if they had sent my friend a gift before asking for an increased donation. As this research suggests, even a small gift such as a postcard might have been enough to encourage a further donation to the charity by making my friend feel as if she 'owed' them something in return. 


Regan, D.T. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 599-609. 

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