Compliance: An Introduction

Travis DixonSocial and Cultural Psychology

Learning about compliance techniques can help you see when others are trying to use them on you.

Compliance is the act of obeying a request. It’s different to conformity, which involves changing your behaviour to fit in with a group. Compliance occurs when one person makes a direct request on another and they comply with that request. There are a number of techniques people use to get compliance from others. Here are a few.

The five compliance techniques explained in this post are:

  • Foot in the door – ask for a small request first and once there is compliance, ask for a bigger request.
  • Door in the face – ask for a big request first and then when it is turned down, ask for something smaller
  • Hazing – this is a series of initiation demands in order to join a group (e.g. sororities and fraternities)
  • Reciprocity – be the first to give something unexpected and personalised and the other person will feel they owe you something in return and so will comply with your request
  • Lowballing  – is when an offer is changed to make it less appealing after a person has complied with the original offer

Cialdini has concluded that there are six factors that increase the likelihood that people will comply with a request. They are:

  1. Authority – people comply with positions of authority
  2. liking – simlar to Social Learning Theory, we comply with those we like
  3. commitment – this is what the FITD technique utilizes; once we make a commitment we tend to stick with it
  4. scarcity – we are more likely to desire something if it is made scarce
  5. social proof (consensus) – when we’re not sure how to behave, we look to others for approval (similar to bystander apathy and social influence)
  6. reciprocity – if we do something for someone else, they’ll return the favour.

These are all outlined in his book Influence: The Science of Persuasion” which I highly recommend. 


There are four factors that increase the likelihood that FITD will work:

  • there is a delay between the two requests
  • the initial request is not too large
  • the same person makes the same request
  • people with consistency show higher FITD effects

Foot in the door is particularly useful for getting donations of time, money and even body parts (being an organ donour). Check out the green text for studies that show this.


Hazing is useful for groups because it increases group loyalty. Check out the studies by Aronson and Mills on sex discussions with female college students; and Young’s study on tribal groups and initiation rites.

Here is a fictional example of hazing from ‘Dazed and Confused.’ WARNING: contains explicit language:
[youtube=] Both the blue and the green textbook contain a number of studies for you to know. Remember that this command term is level three, so it’s important that you are applying your critical thinking skills to the studies and the information.

This video outlines Cialdini’s six “powers of persuasion”.


You can read more about Cialdini’s research here.

Here is an interesting video that further expands on persuasion, which is an aspect of compliance (i.e. part of getting someone to comply is to somehow persuade them to)…

Here’s the video that the above video is referring to (Joshua Bell playing violin in a subway)

Compliance techniques can be seen all around us. Here is an article that shows us some of the ways how restaurants get us to spend more money.

This is a fascinating, and very scary (not in a horror sense but in a “how could that happen and could it happen to me” sense) film based on a true story of a criminal in the USA who used simple strategies to influence individuals into extreme acts of compliance). Check with your parent/s, caregiver/s or guardian/s before watching.