Door-in-the-Face Technique: Theory & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Door-in-the-Face
  • 0:42 Theory and Research
  • 2:03 Other Examples
  • 2:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Have you ever said no to a large demand, only to subsequently agree to a smaller demand? If so, you may have been victim of door-in-the-face technique. See some examples of door-in-the-face technique, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Door-in-the-Face

Jim is going door-to-door in your neighborhood asking for donations for a local charity. When you open your door, Jim first asks you to donate $100 to support the charity. Because you do not have $100 to spare, you say no, though you feel guilty about doing so. Jim looks slightly disappointed, but suggests that you make a $5 contribution instead. You agree to this amount, retrieve $5 from your wallet, and hand the money to Jim. Later when you volunteer for the same charity, you find out that the expected donation amount per person was only $5. Jim was able to persuade you to give the desired amount by using the door-in-the-face technique.

Theory and Research

The door-in-the-face technique was discovered and named by Robert Cialdini and colleagues in 1975. Cialdini and colleagues conducted an experiment in which they asked participants to volunteer as counselors to juvenile delinquents for 2 hours per week for a period of 2 years. This served as a large request. Once the participants denied the request, researchers then asked the participants to volunteer as chaperones for a one-day trip to the zoo. This served as a small request. Cialdini and colleagues found that 50% of the participants agreed to complete the smaller request when they were first presented with the large request. This is in contrast to 17% of participants who had agreed to the small request after only being presented with the small request. In other words, participants were more likely to agree with the small request when the large request was initially posed.

Cialdini and colleagues concluded that two things must happen in order for the door-in-the-face technique to work:

  • The initial request must be rejected by the target person
  • The target person must believe that the requester has made some concession.

Thus, the size of the second request must be smaller than the initial request. Going back to Jim, had he just asked you for the $5 in the beginning, you would have been less likely to donate the money.

Other Examples

The door-in-the-face technique can be practiced by anyone, and it doesn't always have to involve money. Here are a few more examples:

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