The Foot-in-the-Door Technique

The foot-in-the-door technique is one of the best-known social manipulation techniques. Someone has probably used it on you without you even realizing it. Read this article to discover what it’s all about!
The Foot-in-the-Door Technique
Francisco Javier Molas López

Written and verified by the psychologist Francisco Javier Molas López.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

Imagine that someone knocks on your door and asks you to make a donation for a non-profit dedicated to fighting a rare disease. Maybe you tell them that you don’t have any cash on hand and send them on their way. Now, imagine that the same organization comes to your house again to give you a free button. They ask you to wear the button for a week to help raise awareness about this rare disease. Two weeks later, they knock on your door again to ask for a donation. This time, it’s highly likely that you’ll give them money. This is an example of the foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique.

People use many psychosocial techniques to manipulate you without your knowledge. In fact, some people design these tactics for a living. The foot-in-the-door technique is one of the most well-known and well-researched social manipulation techniques in social psychology.

The foot-in-the-door technique

Social scientist Arthur L. Beaman and his research team defined FITD in 1983. They stated that the foot-in-the-door technique consists of asking for a small favor from someone we plan on asking for a more significant favor later on. According to Beaman, it starts with an insignificant request that you will almost certainly agree to. Sometime after that, the same person will request something bigger from you. The second request is the one they really wanted from you.

The underlying factors that explain your response to the second request are commitment and coherence. People who have agreed to do something voluntarily will later accept a more significant, related request.

For example, if you’ve taken a particular stand on something, you’re much more likely to engage in behavior that reinforces said belief. Your thoughts will be consistent with your actions and what the rest of the world sees. This technique is even more effective if the commitment is public, you choose it publicly, or the first commitment that you took on was costly.

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

-Mark Twain-

Two figures trying to communicate.

The Freedman and Fraser experiment

Freedman and Fraser (1966) asked a certain number of people to put a fairly large and ugly sign in their yards that said: “Drive Carefully”. Only 17% agreed to place the sign. Then, they asked a different group to sign a traffic safety petition. Since it was a request that didn’t imply much commitment, most people signed the petition. Shortly after that, they asked those same people to place the fairly large and ugly sign in their yards. What happened? This time, 55% agreed to do it.

The foot-in-the-door technique and cults

Is there any relationship between this technique and cults? Well, this is a persuasion technique, and the goal of a cult is to lure you in. Your first contact with a cult will probably be a small meeting. Then, they might ask you for a small donation. After that , you’ll be a lot more likely to commit to other requests.

You might agree to do things such as volunteer a certain number of hours and make bigger and bigger donations. In the most extreme cases, people are forced to commit sexual acts or participate in collective suicides under the guise of free will.

The foot-in-the-door technique.

Final thoughts

People use social manipulation techniques to get something from others. When someone calls you and asks if you have Internet, you’ll probably say yes. That’s how they get you to stay on the phone. The next question might be if you’d like to pay less money for your Internet service. You say yes again. They hooked you after just two questions.

Another important factor in the FITD technique is how much time you have to think. If you pay attention, you might notice that the offers are often only available for a limited amount of time. “You won’t be able to get this great price tomorrow. It’s now or never!” The pressure that they put on you makes you respond before you have time to process the information.

If you don’t want to get taken advantage of, learn how to say no and how to identify these manipulation techniques. A small, insignificant “yes” can turn into a headache later on. Thus, think twice the next time you’re going to say “yes”.

“The best way to manipulate a man is to make him think he is manipulating you.”

-John Smith-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.