What is the foot-in-the-door technique?

Charles McCarthy
What is the foot-in-the-door technique?

Have you ever made a purchase or hired a service that you previously did not want to hire and wondered how it could have happened? Perhaps you've succumbed to the foot-in-the-door technique, a widely used persuasion strategy to get people to take concrete actions more likely.


  • What is the foot-in-the-door technique?
  • A proven technique for decades
  • Why does this technique persuade?
    • Links of interest

What is the foot-in-the-door technique?

The foot-in-the-door technique is a persuasion strategy widely studied by social psychology, which implies that if a person agrees to perform a small action, they will subsequently be more likely to perform a larger action, an action that they had not previously performed..

That is, it is about getting a person to accept a small, inexpensive request, as a means of getting them to accept a much larger request later..

The name of this technique refers to that hypothetical situation in which a salesperson manages to “put a foot in the door” of the potential client as the first step to get the sale.

A proven technique for decades

This persuasion technique has been studied by social psychology through different investigations. The first study on the strategy was carried out by Stanford University in 1966 by researchers Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser. The research posed the question: How can a person be induced to do something that they would rather not do??

The first task of the experiment was to check whether strangers agreed to welcome individuals who were conducting a study on cleaning products into their home. These individuals would inspect the brands and use of the products in your home. Some of these people had previously been given a small telephone survey to obtain information on what types of cleaning products they used..

The researchers found that those people who had passed the previous telephone survey were 135% more likely to accept the request to receive professionals at home, than those who had not done it..

In the second part of the experiment, the scientists went further with their research and decided to check whether certain people would agree to put up a rather large and unaesthetic sign referring to road safety, in the garden of their house. Some of these people were previously asked to put a small sticker on their windows or doors that promoted environmental protection or safe driving. The scientists again verified that those who had previously placed these stickers were much more likely to agree to place the poster in their gardens. This has been proven time and again in different investigations over the subsequent decades, but what is the reason for this response?

Why does this technique persuade?

One of the explanations that are often used to explain the effect of this technique is related to the concepts of self-perception and consistency..

The theory of self-perception proposed by Daryl Bem, affirms that when people do not feel safe about their attitude about a fact or situation about which they do not have much previous experience, they tend to draw conclusions about their own attitude by observing the behaviors they have carried out about. That is, people infer their personality from their own behaviors performed.

According to this theory, in the case of the experiment on the advertising poster, those who had previously agreed to use stickers on road safety, had perceived themselves as more committed to this cause and accordingly had accepted the consequent demand to place a sign in your garden. In other words, the subjects carried out this action with more security, since it was consistent with the perception they now had of themselves..

This action provides consistency with one's own self-deduced “personality” and this consistency is what leads people to carry out intertwined actions in an increasingly radical way, although this is not the most rational thing to do..

In addition, the relationship that is created between the person who persuades and the persuaded, makes the second feel obliged not to miss a hypothetical commitment that has been formed through the acceptance of the first demands, that is, the person feels involved in the cause and finds it more difficult to refuse subsequent requests.

The subtlety of this technique, although it seems intrusive, makes it a very effective strategy that is often used widely in businesses such as sales or advertising. A way to persuade without, apparently, pressure, achieving very effective results. The next time a salesperson starts to approach you by asking something subtle like "which phone company do you use" or "would you like to pay less", you know what technique they are using. Now it is up to you to know if the door is still opening or closes wide.

Links of interest

  • Foot-in-the-Door as a Persuasive Technique. https://www.psychologistworld.com/behavior/compliance/strategies/foot-in-door-technique
  • Foot-In-The-Door Technique: How To Get People To Seamlessly Take Action. Neil Patel. 2014. https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilpatel/2014/10/13/foot-in-the-door-technique-how-to-get-people-to-take-seamlessly-take-action/ # 6cb1c4e17d9e.
  • An Explanation of the Foot-in-the-door Technique with Examples. Rujuta Borkar. https://psychologenie.com/explanation-of-foot-in-door-technique-with-examples

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