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Gift Giving Psychology (Part 2): The Door-In-The-Face Technique
By Heath Shive
In the last blog we talked about the norm of reciprocity – a societal rule that says: you have to give me something if I give you something.
This next mind trick is a variation of the norm of reciprocity.
This mind trick is called the door-in-the-face technique – or in other words, when you reject my ridiculous offer, you will be more likely to agree to my second offer.
Sound impossible? To the science!
In 1976, psychologists Robert Cialdini and Karen Ascani performed a study at the University of Arizona.
They asked people to donate blood as part of a blood drive, but they were asked in 2 different ways: (1) one group would be asked if they would donate blood sometime tomorrow, but…(2) a second group would be asked to donate once every 2 months for 3 years!
If people in the second group refused to donate blood every 2 months for 3 years, only then would the researchers ask them to donate just once sometime tomorrow.
The results showed that more people agreed to give blood (and actually gave blood) when they received the more extreme request first!
When people reject the first proposal (“shut the door in your face”), they are more likely to agree to the second (lesser) request.
How It Works
The door-in-the-face technique makes use of 2 basic psychological processes.
First, the large request sets up a contrast effect – for example, contrast the one time blood request to a blood donation over 3 years!
Second, the immediate concession by the requester invokes the norm of reciprocity. The requester implicitly says, “Hey! I’m giving a little; now you give a little.”
And many people do!
Car dealers often artificially inflate the asking price for a car. During negotiation, the seller “graciously” will concede a little on the car price. But now it is your “turn” to raise your buying price!
Have you ever had a sales agent say something like: “So can I write your name for a $100 donation?” or “…for a 2-year lease?” or “…for 20 boxes of units?”
They ask high to set an artificially high standard – so that you will settle (or reciprocate) at a higher number than normally.
As explained in the great persuasion manual, Age of Propaganda: “The norm of reciprocity is successful as a persuasion device because it directs our thoughts and carries its own motivation to act on those thoughts. We are directed to think “How can I repay my obligation?” as opposed to “Is this a good deal?”
So this Christmas, if your daughter asks for a pony…beware. She knows you will say no. It is the second gift on her list that she really wants.
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Cialdini, R. B., & Ascani, K. (1976). Test of a concession procedure for inducing verbal, behavioral, and further compliance with a request to give blood. Journal of Applied Psychology, 61, 295-300.
Pratkanis, Anthony, & Elliot Aronson. Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and abuse of Persuasion. W.H. Freeman and Company, 1991.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.