Compliance Techniques

Aronson et al. defined compliance as ‘a form of social influence involving direct requests from one person to another.’ Put differently, compliance techniques is an umbrella term which includes ways in which we persuade others to achieve a precedented goal. For example if you want to coax a co-worker into doing you a favor, you might present the request in a nicer manner so to say.

A compliance technique demonstrated by Freedman and Fraser (1966) is the foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique. This technique states that an initial smaller request should be placed preceding a larger request (the ultimate goal). The requests should also be placed where there is a delay in presenting the larger request as our desire for commitment will force us to comply to the latter request. This is supported of their study on whether or not householders in California would volunteer to put up an aesthetically unpleasing sign saying ‘Drive Carefully’ in their front yard. The participants were split into 2 groups where the first group were directly asked if they would volunteer to house that sign and the second group where the participants were initially asked to put up a smaller and nicer looking sign, and after two weeks were asked to put up the original ‘ugly’ ‘Driver Carefully’ sign. The researchers found that in the first (direct) condition, only 17% of the participants volunteered, however, when following the FITD technique in the second condition, 76% of the participants volunteered.

Another compliance technique is the lowballing technique. This is where after a person is presented and has agreed to a deal, the deal is then changed to be less attractive, i.e. to the target request. It sounds unfathomable that you would continue to agree to a deal after it has shown to be less attractive but the study of Burger and Cornelius (2003) clearly demonstrates the effects of this technique. This study involves students which were asked, through the phone by a female caller if they would donate $5 to an unprivileged students scholarship fund. The students were then split into 3 conditions: lowballing condition where the caller initially said that the participants would receive a coupon for a free smoothie and was later informed the students that she had run out of coupons, the interrupt condition where when the caller was making the request, before the participants had agreed, she interrupted and said they had run out of coupons, and finally the control condition where the participants were asked to donate and was not told about the coupons. The researchers found that in the lowball condition, 77% of the participants agreed despite the change in deal, and in the control condition, 42% of the participants agreed, however in the interrupt condition, only 16% of the participants agreed. This study supports the initial agreement factor in the lowballing technique as only after the participants had agreed to the more attractive deal, did they still settle for the less attractive alternative (shown in the difference in percentage of compliance).


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