How to attract interest in your product or work - Door in the face technique

YES, yes - yes

The Door in the face technique was discovered by Cialdini in 19751, who reversed the dynamic of foot in the door technique. By first asking for something unrealistic, it increases the likelihood a person will respond to later smaller requests.

The technique

By asking someone for something big, and sometimes unrealistic, first, they are more likely to say yes to smaller requests later on.
The trick is to begin big, then go small.

The aim is to get the person to reject your first request, then to follow with a more realistic request, in effect making it appear as a compromise2.

Imagine the charity volunteer stops you on the street and asks you to donate £100. You are likely to say no. But when followed with an ask for £10 you are more likely to donate that if they asked for £10 at the beginning.

The Psychology

The door-in-the-face technique was discovered Robert Cialdini and colleagues in 1975. They carried out an experiment where they asked volunteers the same request but in the separate trials framed differently.
Firstly requesting a large commitment, in this case to council youths that had committed crimes for 2 hours a week, for 2 years.
Followed by a smaller ask to act as a supervisor on a one-day trip to the local zoo.
When the larger request was used first the volunteers were 50% more likely to commit to the day trip to the zoo, than only 17% when asked to supervise outright.

The study went on to conclude that this only works if the initial request is rejected, and the volunteers think that a second request is a form of compromise.

This technique works due to the principle of reciprocity3. The other person feels that they owe the person for saying no the first time.

A word of warning, Henderson4 found in a more recent study that sometimes an outright request is more effective than the door-in-the-face technique. It depends on whether the person has an abstract or concrete way of thinking. Those who are abstract thinkers are more likely to internalise the perception of the message. For example,

"I don't want to give £100, therefore, I must be selfish".

So disengage before you have had a chance to ask them for something small.

Examples of Door in the face


marketing for designers door in face
An example banner used in an email campaign. The first asks for an unrealistic donate.

door-in-face psychology Followed by a smaller donation request. By using the above banner first, followed by a CTA similar to this increases compliance due to the door in the face effect.





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This article is a part of the Advertiser's psychology toolkit - the psychology of selling and marketing in design.
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1 Cialdini, R. Vincent, J. Lewis, S. Catalan, J. Wheeler, D. Darby, B. Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. 1975
2 Reingen, P. On the social psychology of giving: door-in-the-face and when even a penny helps 1978
3 Cialdini, R. et al. 1975
4 Henderson, M. Burgoon, E.Why the Door-in-the-Face Technique Can Sometimes Backfire. A Construal-Level Account 2013

Form for thought - A blog about design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.