Three Reasons for Doubting the Adequacy of the Reciprocal-Concessions Explanation of Door-in-the-Face Effects

By O'keefe, Daniel J. | Communication Studies, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Three Reasons for Doubting the Adequacy of the Reciprocal-Concessions Explanation of Door-in-the-Face Effects


O'keefe, Daniel J., Communication Studies


The door-in-the-face (DITF) influence technique (Cialdini et al., 1975) involves making two successive requests of a person. The first is a relatively large request that the person declines; the second (target) request is a smaller one. Compared to a target-request-only control condition, the DITF technique has proved dependably capable of yielding enhanced compliance with the target request (for reviews, see Dillard, Hunter, & Burgoon, 1984; Fern, Monroe, & Avila, 1986; O'Keefe & Hale, 1998, in press).

The leading explanation of DITF effects has been the reciprocal-concessions explanation (henceforth, RCE) initially proposed by Cialdini et al. (1975). According to the RCE, the sequence of requests in the DITF technique amounts to the requester's making a concession. The making of a concession is said to activate a general norm of reciprocity which, applied to this circumstance, directs reciprocation of concessions. The general reciprocity rule "says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us" (Cialdini, 1993, p. 19); thus in the specific circumstance of negotiations, there is "an obligation to make a concession to someone who has made a concession to us" (p. 35; similarly, see Cialdini, Green, & Rusch, 1992, p. 30). In the case of the DITF technique, reciprocation of the concession takes the form of compliance with the second request.

As Mowen and Cialdini (1980, pp. 253-254) put it, the RCE proposes that the technique's effectiveness "results from the influence of a societal rule for reciprocation of concessions that states, `You should make concessions to those who make concessions to you.' The requester's movement from the initial, extreme favor to the second, more moderate one is seen by the target person as a concession. To reciprocate this concession, the target must move from his or her initial position of noncompliance with the large request to a position of compliance with the smaller request. By virtue of the requester's illusory retreat, then, normative pressures occur that tend to compel a target person, who has refused to perform an initial favor, to consent to perform a second one."

This article discusses three broad reasons for concern about the adequacy of the RCE: the RCE is not sufficiently well articulated to permit unambiguous identification of disconfirming evidence; at least three lines of empirical research yield results apparently inconsistent with the RCE; and there is no empirical evidence distinctly supportive of the RCE.

THE EXPLANATION IS NOT CAREFULLY ARTICULATED

The insufficient articulation of the RCE can be illustrated through consideration of research concerning two potential moderator variables, request prosocialness and concession size.

Request Prosocialness

Several reviews of DITF research have suggested that the prosocialness of the requests moderates DITF effects, such that DITF effects are larger with prosocial requests than with nonprosocial requests (Dillard et al., 1984; O'Keefe & Hale, 1998, in press). This finding has sometimes been taken to pose a puzzle for the RCE, because it is not clear how such an effect can be accommodated or explained by the RCE. Indeed O'Keefe and Hale (1998, p. 24) suggested that "given a general familiarity with the existence of bargaining in commercial enterprises (e.g., labor-management negotiation), the reciprocal-concessions account might expect that nonprosocial requests would more easily be perceived as fitting a bargaining/negotiation frame (compared with prosocial requests), and hence might predict larger DITF effects for nonprosocial requests than for prosocial requests."

In their defense of the RCE, Hale and Laliker (this issue) want to claim both that (a). the apparent prosocialness effect does not exist (i.e., there is no influence on DITF effects of the prosocialness of the requests) and (b) the RCE can explain the apparent prosocialness effect (because prosocialness and attitude are correlated, and attitude influences concession reciprocation). …

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