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Chapter: Psychology: Social Psychology

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Social Influence: Compliance

When we conform or obey, we change our behaviors because of pressure from a group or commands from authority.

Compliance

 

When we conform or obey, we change our behaviors because of pressure from a group or commands from authority. But we also alter our actions for a more mundane reason: Someone asks us to do so. Compliance is a third type of social influence. It occurs when people change their behavior because someone merely asks them to.

 

According to Cialdini, we feel most compelled to comply with a request when the requester has done something for us in the past (Cialdini, 1993; Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004). This is because of the norm of reciprocity—the notion that accepting a favor leads to a sense of indebtedness. Thus we feel that we must repay a donor, even if we did not want his gift in the first place.

 

One example involves the Disabled American Veterans organization, which uses mail appeals for donations. For a regular appeal, the response rate is 18%. But when the appeal letter comes with a “gift” (address labels), the response rate doubles. Even peo-ple who have no use for the labels feel obligated to reciprocate and do so by donating. Another context in which the reciprocity rule operates is bargaining. The seller states her price. The potential buyer says no. Now the seller makes a concession by offering the item at a lower price. This exerts pressure on the buyer to increase his offer; since the seller offered a concession, he feels that he ought to give a little too.

 

This pattern can be demonstrated experimentally. In one study, an experimenter approached people walking on a university campus and first made a very large request—asking them to work as volunteer counselors in a juvenile detention center for 2 hours a week over a 2-year period. Not a single person agreed. The experimenter then made a much smaller request, that they accompany a group of boys or girls from the juvenile detention center on a single 2-hour trip to the zoo. When this smaller request came on the heels of the large request that had been refused, 50% of the people con-sented. In contrast, only 17% of the people acceded to the smaller request when it was not preceded by the larger demand. Apparently, the experimenter’s concession (aban-doning her large request and moving to the smaller one) made the people feel that they should make a concession of their own, saying yes even though they were initially inclined to say no (Cialdini et al., 1975).

A variant of this technique is the that’s-not-all technique. This method produces compliance by starting with a modest offer and then improving on it—with this improvement likely to be perceived as a concession, pulling for reciprocation. This technique is well known from late-night commercials promising, say, a dozen steak knives for $19.99—and that’s not all—this offer includes a free knife sharpener! One study demonstrated the power of this technique during a bake sale in which some customers were told that for 75 cents they could buy a cupcake and then—after a pause—were told that for this price the seller would also include a small bag of cook-ies. Compared to customers who were presented with the cupcake and cookies at the same time, those exposed to the that’s-not-all technique were nearly twice as likely to purchase cupcakes (Burger, 1986; see also Burger, Reed, DeCesare, Rauner, & Rozolis, 1999).


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