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Door-in-the-Face Technique

Why is the door-in-the-face technique such an effective trap? One possibility involves the principle of perceptual contrast: To the person exposed to a very large initial request, the second request “seems smaller.” Two dollars’ worth of candy bars is not bad compared with 10 dollars for circus tickets. Likewise, tak- ing a group of kids to the zoo seems trivial compared with two years of volun- teer work. As intuitively sensible as this explanation seems, Cialdini and others concluded that perceptual contrast is only partly responsible for the effect. When participants heard only the large request without actually having to reject it, their rate of compliance with the second request (25%) was only slightly larger than the 17% rate of compliance exhibited by those who heard only the small request.

A more compelling explanation involves the notion of reciprocal concessions. A close cousin of the reciprocity norm, this refers to the pressure to respond to changes in a bargaining position. When an individual backs down from a large request to a smaller one, we view that move as a concession that we should match by our own compliance. Thus, the door-in-the-face technique does not work if the second request is made by a different person. Nor does it work if the first request is so extreme that it comes across as an insin- cere “first offer”. On an emotional level, refusing to help on one request may also trigger feelings of guilt, which we can reduce by complying with the second, smaller request.

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