Saturday, November 15, 2014

Applying Social Psychology to Vegan Outreach: Door-in-the-Face

The following essay was originally published with The Examiner in 2012.  Because I am publishing a book on this topic in 2015, posts will be significantly edited due to potential copyright conflicts.

November is World Vegan Month. To contribute to this month's activities, each day I will be presenting a social psychological concept or theory applied to abolitionist Nonhuman Animal rights. I began this series with a discussion of persuasion. Explorations into persuasion can be divided into research on the messenger, message, channel, and audience. Thus far, I have discussed what makes for an effective messenger, what channels are most appropriate, and some ways to improve the message.  Another useful technique I will discuss today is the door-in-the-face method.

The door-in-the-face technique suggests that if one makes an initial over-the-top request (which will likely be denied), but then counters with a more reasonable request, people will be much more likely to agree.   Robert Cialdini and his colleagues were able to demonstrate the effectiveness of door-in-the-face by asking participants to agree to 2 years of volunteer work (which was refused) and then followed up asking for a lesser commitment (which was more successful).   Over 50% more people agreed to the smaller concession than the comparison groups.  It is thought that people will be more likely to concede to this smaller request in order to "relieve any felt pressure" and this results from social norms.  This reaction based in social norms means that the requester doesn't have to personally know the individuals they are asking in order for this technique to be effective.  The researchers also indicate that the second request need not be "small," but rather, they need only be smaller.

Regulationists might decide that asking people to go vegan (getting a rejection) and then asking them to reduce consumption might be a good application of this theory.  However, recall that it is not how small the request is that is important, only that it is smaller.  Therefore, abolitionists might ask interested parties to reject speciesism, go vegan, and become active for the animals (a potentially overwhelming lifestyle decision that might put off some), but then counter with a request that they simply go vegan...or ease into veganism over the course of a few weeks...or commit to signing up for a vegan newsletter.  Cialdini and his colleagues tested this effect in face-to-face interactions, so it's likely that the door-in-the-face method would apply well to those tabling, teaching, or lecturing.  The fact that familiarity did not reduce effectiveness is also promising for those advocating veganism to the public.  It's unclear, however, if this technique would work as well in online advocacy.

For the Vegan Toolkit

  • Start with a large request, then follow it up with a smaller request 


Cialadini, R. et al.  1975.  "Reciprocal Concessions Procedure for Inducing Compliance:  The Door-in-the-Face Technique."  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31:  206-215.