Academic journal article Communication Studies

Explaining the Door-in-The Face: Is It Really Time to Abandon Reciprocal Concessions?

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Explaining the Door-in-The Face: Is It Really Time to Abandon Reciprocal Concessions?

Article excerpt

Some compliance gaining requests are sequential, i.e., they involve multiple messages in a planned order. One sequential request is the door-in-the-face (DITF, Cialdini et al., 1975). With the DITF two requests are made: an initial request that is so large no one is likely to comply with the request and, a second more moderate request that is the target request. In nearly all DITF research, rates of compliance resulting from a DITF message sequence are compared with rates of compliance resulting from exposure to the target request by itself.

As a result of two meta-analyses (Dillard, Hunter, & Burgoon, 1984; Fern, Monroe, & Avila, 1986) Dillard (1991) concluded the mean effect size (r) for the DITF, without considering the effects of any moderating variables, ranged from .15 to .25. Moreover, both meta-analyses identified moderator variables whose value either facilitated or inhibited DITF outcomes.

From the meta-analyses and several primary studies, we know the DITF influences compliance. The most widely accepted explanation for DITF effects is a "reciprocal concessions" explanation. In 1960, Alvin W. Gouldner explicated the "norm of reciprocity," a social norm which generally held that you should "give benefits to those who give you benefits." (P. 170). Gouldner argued the norm of reciprocity was the strongest force governing human behaviors and that it was universal. Cialdini et al. (1975) posited a reciprocal concessions corollary of the norm of reciprocity. The corollary held "you should make concessions to those who make concessions to you." (P. 206) The corollary is drawn from bargaining and negotiation principles, which encourage both negotiating parties to match the other's concession with one of their own (Putnam & Jones, 1982).

As it relates to the DITF, Cialdini et al. (1975) suggest that a concession by the source of an influence gaining attempt should be matched by a concession from the target of the appeal. When the target of a DITF sequence rejects the initial large request, the moderate request is perceived by the target of the request as a concession by the source. The concession by the source triggers the norm of reciprocity and prompts the target to make a reciprocal concession, or to comply with the more moderate request.

Recent articles, (Dillard, 1991; O'Keefe and Figge', 1997, 1999) have argued the reciprocal concessions explanation of the DITF is inconsistent with meta-analytic findings (Dillard, Hunter, & Burgoon, 1984; Fern, Monroe, & Avila, 1986). As a result, O'Keefe and Figge' presented a guilt-based explanation of the DITF as an alternative to reciprocal concessions. Put succinctly, the guilt-based explanation says that rejecting the initial request in a DITF sequence induces guilt in the target. To reduce the guilt, the target complies with the more moderate request. O'Keefe and Figge' argued the amount of guilt induced is influenced by moderator variables of the DITF, and the need to reduce feelings of guilt is what drives compliance to the target request.

Our position is that critics present an inaccurate account of the lack of support for reciprocal concessions. Reciprocal concessions is still a viable explanation for the DITF. Hence, this essay will do two things. First, it will briefly review the arguments waged by critics and will respond to those arguments. Second, a research agenda to address issues raised in the essay will be proposed.


Critics have argued that moderator variables influencing the impact of the DITF on compliance are inconsistent with the reciprocal concessions explanation. Specifically, they have posited that the moderating effects of prosocialness, single versus multiple requestors, and the magnitude of the concession made in a DITF sequence cannot be reconciled with reciprocal concessions (Dillard, 1991; Dillard, Hunter & Burgoon, 1984; O'Keefe & Figge', 1997). …

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