Foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique is a compliance tactic that involves getting a person to agree to a large request by first setting them up by having that person agree to a modest request. The foot-in-the-door technique succeeds owing to a basic human reality that social scientists call "successive approximations". Essentially, the more a subject goes along with small requests or commitments, the more likely that subject is to continue in a desired direction of attitude or behavioral change and feel obligated to go along with larger requests. FITD works by first getting a small "yes" and then getting an even bigger "yes".
The principle involved is that a small agreement creates a bond between the requester and the requestee. Even though the requestee may only have agreed to a trivial request out of politeness, this forms a bond which – when the requestee attempts to justify the decision to themselves – may be mistaken for a genuine affinity with the requester, or an interest in the subject of the request. When a future request is made, the requestee will feel obliged to act consistently with the earlier one.
The reversed approach – making a deliberately outlandish opening demand so that a subsequent, milder request will be accepted – is known as the door-in-the-face technique.
In an early study, a team of psychologists telephoned housewives in California and asked if the women would answer a few questions about the household products they used. Three days later, the psychologists called again. This time, they asked if they could send five or six men into the house to go through cupboards and storage places as part of a 2-hour enumeration of household products. The investigators found these women were more than twice as likely to agree to the 2-hour request than a group of housewives asked only the larger request. More recently, people were asked to call for a taxi if they became alcohol-impaired. Half of the people had also been asked to sign a petition against drunk driving (which they all did) and half had not. Those who had signed the petition (complied with a small request) were significantly more likely to comply with the larger request of calling a taxi when impaired compared to those who had not been asked to sign the petition.
Numerous experiments have shown that foot-in-the-door tactics work well in persuading people to comply, especially if the request is a pro-social request. Research has shown that FITD techniques work over the computer via email, in addition to face-to-face requests.
Enhancing the technique
The foot-in-the-door technique is also used in many commercial settings and can be illustrated using the door-to-door salesperson who eventually builds up his requests to a final purchase request. In an experiment, subjects were initially asked to have signs in their windows to promote recycling along with varying amounts of incentives ($0, $1, $3) for doing so. This study found that the FITD technique was more effective than any of the incentive strategies in producing behavioural persistence. This is supported by the self-perception theory, which states that the FITD technique is effective only because internal thoughts are what drive peoples' behaviour. That is, external pressure (such as indebtedness) for compliance is not as effective in increasing compliance.
In another study, participants were given a request that included a "but you are free" state which reminded the participant that s/he could refuse the request to participate. This condition along with the FITD technique increased the compliance of the participants. These are two extensions to the foot-in-the-door technique that help increase compliance in participants. These techniques can be used in the political, commerce and public awareness environments. For example, a study showed that having a questionnaire about organ donation increased the willingness of participants to become organ donors. It was found that increasing the number of items in the questionnaire did not necessarily affect the compliance to becoming a donor, that is, having a questionnaire alone was enough to increase the compliance.
A study by Guéguen showed that the foot-in-the-door-technique is not only effective in person, but also online. In his study, he found that asking students for help saving a document as an RTF file via email increased their willingness to complete an online survey emailed to them by the initial requester. This information coupled with work by Swandon, Sherman, and Sherman, which found that students' compliance to an initial, neutral and small request not only increased their willingness to comply with a subsequent larger and anxiety-producing request, but also indicated that the anxiety-producing request was deemed less anxiety-producing than did the control group, has very large implication for possible online uses of the FITD technique. With the privacy and anonymity provided by the internet, the technique could be used online to gather information about anxiety producing incidents in a manner that would not produce as much anxiety as in person questioning would. Further research in this domain is needed.
When someone expresses support for an idea or concept, that person is more likely to then remain consistent with their prior expression of support by committing to it in a more concrete fashion. A common example undertaken in research studies uses this foot-in-the-door technique: two groups are asked to place a large, very unsightly sign in their front yard reading "Drive Carefully". The members of one group have previously been approached to put a small sign in their front window reading "Be a Safe Driver", and almost all agreed. In one study, in response to the "Drive Carefully" request 76 percent of those who were initially asked to display the small sign complied, in comparison with only 17 percent of those in the other group not exposed to the earlier, less onerous, request.
Having already shown 'community spirit' by taking part in the campaign to reduce the nation's road carnage – 'stepping forward' as a "good citizen" by giving prominence to the "Be a Safe Driver" sign, a statement to the world – there is social pressure to also agree to a grander, if more inconvenient, version of the same exercise and in order to appear consistent in one's beliefs and behaviour. There may well be other contributors, but it is likely that commitment and consistency play a significant role.
- "Can I go over to Suzy's house for an hour?" followed by "Can I stay the night?"
- "Can I borrow the car to go to the store?" followed by "Can I borrow the car for the weekend?"
- "May I turn in the paper a few hours late?" followed by "May I turn it in next week?"
In all three cases, it is actually easier to remain consistent with the first request by denying the second than by accepting it. For example, in the first request, the requestee has already agreed to a precise one-hour time period and if immediately asked, likely will not agree to a different time period. However, if there is a delay of days or weeks between the requests, they are more likely to be received favorably.
There are a number of studies concerning the foot-in-the door technique and charitable donations. For example, Schwarzwald, Bizman, and Raz (1983) investigated the effectiveness of the FITD technique for door-to-door fundraising. In their study, some of the participants were first asked to sign a petition before being asked to make a donation to the organization (foot-in-the-door condition). Others were not asked to sign a petition before making a donation (control condition). The request to sign a petition was made two weeks prior to the request to make a donation. They found that a greater percentage of people made a donation in the foot-in-the-door condition than in the control condition. Also, they found that making the small request to sign a petition resulted in more money being donated than not making this request.
The findings from scientific studies on the foot-in-the-door technique have been mixed. Although some studies have found that the FITD technique can increase donations, other studies found no statistically significant effect for the technique on donations.
Chan and colleagues (2011) conducted a study in order to assess the efficiency of foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique versus the door-in-the-face technique (DITF) among 2nd-grade students in an after school center in Hong Kong. Sixty 2nd-grade students were the participants of their study, who were asked to fill out arithmetic exercises. Experimenters asked students to fill out the arithmetic worksheets in either two conditions, the foot-in-the-door condition, or the door-in-the-face condition. The experimenters goal was to have to students complete a 20-item worksheet.
In the foot-in-the-door condition, 12 out of 20 students agreed to complete the 20-item worksheet. In the door-in-the-face condition, 18 out of 20 students agreed to complete the 20-item worksheet. After analysis of the data, the DITF technique appeared to be a more favorable motivator for completing the arithmetic task. These results suggest that while FITD and DITF techniques are successful means for task compliance, DITF may be better suitable for children in an academic setting. Door-in-the-face may be a more effective means of compliance for children not only in this particular setting but also potentially for children in general. While previous findings have shown that both FITD and DITF techniques may be successful in task compliance, these techniques might not be applicable in every compliance setting. This hypothesis can be seen as a limitation to FITD techniques.
In the foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique smaller requests are asked in order to gain compliance with larger requests, while door-in-the-face (DITF) works in the opposite direction, where larger requests are asked, with the expectation that it will be rejected, in order to gain compliance for smaller requests.
An alternative postulated by Dolinksi (2011) is the foot-in-the-face (FITF) technique: compliance is greater when a second request is made immediately after the first is rejected, but after a time lapse of two or three days if the first request is accepted. Researchers found between 63% and 68% compliance rates when using the FITF technique, while traditional techniques showed lower rates of around 50%.
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- Dillard, J. P. (1991). "The Current Status of Research on Sequential-Request Compliance Techniques". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 17 (3): 283–288. doi:10.1177/0146167291173008.
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- Guéguen, N. (2002). "Foot-in-the-door technique and computer-mediated communication". Computers in Human Behavior. 18 (1): 11–15. doi:10.1016/S0747-5632(01)00033-4.
- Scott, C. A. (1977). "Modifying Socially-Conscious Behavior: The Foot-in-the-Door Technique". Journal of Consumer Research. 4 (3): 156. doi:10.1086/208691.
- Guéguen, N.; Meineri, S.; Martin, A.; Grandjean, Isabelle (2010). "The Combined Effect of the Foot-in-the-Door Technique and the "But You Are Free" Technique: An Evaluation on the Selective Sorting of Household Wastes". Ecopsychology. 2 (4): 231–237. doi:10.1089/eco.2009.0051.
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- Further reading
- Brehm, S. S.; Kassin, S.; Fein, S. (2005). Social Psychology (6th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0618403370.
- Chan, A. C.; Au, T. K. (August 2011). "Getting children to do more academic work: Foot-in-the-Door versus Door-in-the-Face". Teaching and Teacher Education. 27 (6): 982–985. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2011.04.007.
- Dolinski, D. (2011). "A Rock or a Hard Place: The Foot-in-the-Face Technique for Inducing Compliance Without Pressure". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 41 (6): 1514–1537. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00758.x.