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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.
The Foot in the Door Technique is also used in many commercial settings and can be illustrated using the door-to door sales person 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 Foot in the Door technique was more effective than any of the incentive strategies in producing behavioural persistence (Scott, 1977). This is supported by the self-perception theory, which states that the Foot in the Door 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 Foot in the Door 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.
The foot-in-the-door technique relates to environmental sustainability in a number of ways and is a way to help foster the world to “go green.” The foot-in-the-door techniques applications to fostering sustainable behavior believe that behaviors are changed to maintain consistency. When people seem to make public commitments they seem more likely to commit to the next big thing. A public commitment always outweighs a reward when changing sustainable behavior. Some behaviors that have been changed regarding sustainable behavior in some studies was in the Werner Study where people recycled more grass clippings if the researcher asked them to talk to neighbors about it (Werner 1995). Another behavior change was people asked to complete a survey about recycling also increased in recycling (Arbuthnot 1977).
The foot-in-the-door technique has also been used to conserve energy in a study conducted by Pallak, Cook, and Sullivan in 1980. Families were asked to volunteer in conservation studies and were randomly assigned to groups. One group was asked for their names to be published in a newspaper and the other group wasn’t asked. The group that agreed for their names to be published showed a 15% reduction in gas use and 20% reduction of electricity than the group not asked. This suggests that the foot-in-the-door technique works when it comes to making the world more sustainable.
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 used 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 had previously been approached to put a small sign in their front window reading "Be a Safe Driver", almost all agreed. 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.
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 foot-in-the-door 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 foot-in-the-door technique can increase donations, other studies found no statistically significant effect for the foot-in-the-door technique on donations.