Would you agree to a request by a community worker to erect a large, ugly billboard on your front lawn with the words “Drive Carefully” in huge print? I wouldn't.
But this was the question two researchers, Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser, put to two groups of California residents. When asked, 83 percent of the first group refused to put the sign up, saying it was too large and ugly.
Yet the same researchers were able to persuade 76 percent of a second group to agree to the installation of the same “Drive Carefully” billboard in their front yards.
What did the researchers do? A few weeks earlier, another researcher had visited members of the second group of residents to ask them to display a tiny three-inch-square sign that read “Be a safe driver.” This seemed such an innocuous request that virtually everyone agreed, but the consequences of accepting were amazing. Because they had first agreed to a tiny request, they were later willing to comply with a similar but much larger one.1