Famous 'door-in-the-face' persuasion strategy results in verbal, but not behavioral compliance, study finds

October 24, 2012

The well-known "door-in-the-face" (DITF) persuasion strategy predicts greater compliance with a target request if it is preceded by a larger and more objectionable request. It has been a popular tool of those in the persuasion trade since it was introduced nearly 40 years ago.

A new study by researchers at the University at Buffalo, however, has found that while DITF has a significant effect on verbal compliance, its effect on behavioral compliance is statistically insignificant. In other words, it may get people to agree to a donation, for instance, but it is not effective in getting them to follow through with their verbal commitment.

The study, "The Door-in-the Face Persuasive Message Strategy: A Meta-Analysis of its First 35 Years," appears in the September issue of Communication Monographs (Routledge, Vol. 79, N0. 3).

Its authors are Thomas Hugh Feeley, PhD, professor and chair of the UB Department of Communication; Ashley E. Anker, PhD, research assistant professor in the UB Department of Communication; and Ariel Aloe, PhD, assistant professor, UB Department of Counseling, School and .

They found that the strategy works in getting the receiver to agree to the target (or "real") request, but it is far less successful in provoking him or her to actually hand over the cash.

In practice, the first request (say, for a loan of $500) is rejected by the receiver. The requester, in a strategic move, permits a metaphorical door to be slammed in his or her face. Apparently unfazed by rejection, however, the requester immediately seeks compliance with a comparatively lesser and more realistic target request (a loan of $20) and, according to DITF theory, the receiver of the request is much more likely to agree to that than to the initial request.

"The DITF strategy was introduced in 1975 by University of Arizona psychologist Robert Cialdini, et al., in the ," Feeley says, "and since then, has become exceptionally popular among 'persuaders' in fields such as marketing, political campaigning, sales, media advertising and communication.

"This simple very effective strategy has been the subject of more than 80 research studies over four decades," says Feeley.

"Many of these studies validated the claim by Cialdini et al. that the strategy works well to achieve verbal compliance to a request," Feeley says, "but Cialdini also claimed a level of behavioral compliance as high as 26 percent."

Analysis of previous study results does not bear this out, according to Feeley and co-researchers. "In fact, in our study the correlational coefficient of DITF strategy on behavioral compliance was .126—demonstrating a small effect.

"Because the problem with behavioral compliance was not evident in prior studies, the strategy has been applied by thousands of communications specialists who assumed all claims for the strategy to be universally valid and reliable," Feeley says.

"The earlier studies used different conditions and contexts to assess the effectiveness of DITF, however, and when results were not consistent, they came up with at least six theories that offer to explain the results of prior research," he says.

In this study, which analyzed all previous studies including two prior meta-analyses, Feeley and his co-researchers found that the door-in-the face strategy does indeed work much better than a simple request for compliance in securing a verbal agreement to help, but that agreement to help doesn't often lead to actual helping behavior.

No psychological tool of persuasion works in every situation and cannot be relied upon to do so, Feeley notes. "In the end, we see through these transparent message strategies, so people working in sales should probably write their own material," he says.

"The strategy remains popular because marketers and campaigners seldom rely on proven evidence to guide their communication activities. Instead, they are lazy and use past practices that, when examined in the light of good data, are often found to be unsubstantiated."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Twitter can reveal our shared mood

December 11, 2017
In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns ...

Infant brain responses predict reading speed in secondary school

December 11, 2017
A study conducted at the Department of Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and Jyväskylä Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Research (CIBR) has found that the brain responses of infants with an inherited ...

Many different types of anxiety and depression exist, new study finds

December 8, 2017
Five new categories of mental illness that cut across the current more broad diagnoses of anxiety and depression have been identified by researchers in a Stanford-led study.

Study sheds light on the voices in our head

December 8, 2017
New research showing that talking to ourselves in our heads may be the same as speaking our thoughts out loud could help explain why people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia hear voices.

Study provides hope that schizophrenia isn't as deep-rooted in affected individuals as previously believed

December 8, 2017
A schizophrenia patient's own perceptions of their experiences—and confidence in their judgments—may be factors that can help them overcome challenges to get the life they wish, suggests a new paper published in Clinical ...

The evolutionary advantage of the teenage brain

December 7, 2017
The mood swings, the fiery emotions, the delusions of immortality, all the things that make a teenager a teenager might just seem like a phase we all have to put up with. However, research increasingly shows that the behaviors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.