The Psychology of Compliance

What is compliance and the techniques used in compliance?

The Psychology of Compliance

Before talking about compliance, we will talk about social influence in brief. Social influence is a process, whereby our attitudes and behaviors are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people. Social influence is a very powerful force; it often changes the behavior of people and makes them do what they wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Social influence in itself is neither good nor bad. It can be used to manipulate others for selfish reasons or can produce positive social effects, such as in ‘don’t drink while driving’ campaigns.

There are three important social influence processes

  1. Conformity
  2. compliance
  3. obedience

In this article, we will talk about compliance,


Compliance simply refers to, behaving in response to a request from another person or group, even when there is no norm. In other words, compliance is saying ‘yes’ to a request.

For example, a salesperson comes to your home and shows you a product that you don’t need, but you still end up buying it.

The salesperson simply started the conversation, for few minutes and the conservation ended with you buying that product. So, why did you comply?

There are certain techniques that people use to make others comply. In this article, we will learn about all of those techniques in detail. 

Robert Cialdini (1994, 2008), a social psychologist worked with professionals who use compliance in their work, such as salespeople, advertisers, fund-raisers among others. He found six basic principles, which people use to gain compliance from others.

1. Friendship/ liking

According to the friendship/liking principle, people are more willing to accept requests from friends than from strangers. There are several techniques of compliance friendship or liking:

  • Flattery: Gordon, 1996 suggested that praising others in some manner is the best way to make them say yes to your request.
  • Self-promotion: another technique that seems to work is self-promotion. In this technique, a person informs others about their past achievements or personal characteristics. For example, I am punctual or I am easy to work with.
  • Incidental similarity: in this technique people focus on the similarity between them and the target person. For example same birthday, same initials in a name, etc.

2. Commitment/consistency:

When a person is committed to a particular job/situation/action, they are more ly to comply with requests related to that, than with requests inconsistent with that position. The techniques used in commitment/consistency are:

  • The Foot in the door technique: In this technique, a person makes a small request first, which the other person most ly will not deny. Once this request is made, the person will make a bigger or the actual request. The request isn’t usually denied because the person feels uncomfortable to deny after complying with one request already. For example, a salesperson will give us some small token/gift on behalf of their company. And then ask us to buy the product from the same company. 
  • Lowball procedure: In this technique, the client is given some good deal, and once he/she accepts it. The salesperson informs them, that due to some issues some changes have to be made in the deal, which makes it less desirable. A common-sense notion says that a person would leave the less desirable deal, but studies have shown the opposite. Situations where an initial commitment is made. It makes it difficult for a person to say ‘no’ even when the initial conditions are changed. This technique is often used by automobile salespeople.
  • The lure effect: This technique is related to the lowball procedure. In this technique, the target person is given some exciting activity, once they agree to do that. They are told that they don’t need to perform this activity but rather a different activity, which is usually boring. It has been seen that even though activity has completely been changed, yet a large proportion of people agree to perform the less exciting task. These people feel committed to performing the other task, even though that seems boring.

3. Reciprocity

We are more ly to comply with a request from someone, who has previously done us some favor or given a concession to us. We feel obliged to pay people back if they have done something for us.

  • The door in the face technique: in this technique a person makes a big request first, when that is denied, he/she makes a small request, which is usually accepted.
  • That’s not all technique: before a target person gets to say, ‘yes’ or ’no’ to a request, he/she is given, a small extra incentive that sweetens the deal. The person on the receiving end of the deal views, ‘extra’ as a concession and feels obliged to make a concession themselves. This results in complying with a request.

4. Scarcity

All of us are more ly to value or secure things that are scarce or limited in availability. Therefore, we are more ly to comply with requests that scare us. One of the techniques used in scarcity is the Deadline technique.

In this technique, the last date is mentioned, until which a particular product would be available. The aim is to make people hurry to buy the product.

For example, ‘going business sales’ or ‘end of seasons sales’, such sales indicate that the deadline for these things is close and will soon disappear. So people hurry and purchase before the opportunity ends.

5. Social validation

All of us want to be correct, so we tend to behave and think others. Therefore, people are more willing to comply with a request, when they think that people similar to them are doing the same thing. 

6. Authority

If a request is from a person, in authority then people are more willing to comply than to a request from a person with low authority.

Is it easy to gain compliance?

As mentioned above there are a lot of techniques for gaining compliance from others. Researchers have indicated that often these techniques are successful.

Research by Flynn and lake (2008) shows that people often underestimate the success of gaining compliance.

In one experiment researchers asked participants, that how ly people would agree to their requests such as borrowing a phone or making a charity.

They found that participants underestimated compliance by 50 percent. Flynn and lake found two interesting things for explaining the ‘underestimate of compliance’

  1. The people making requests focus on the cost of saying ‘yes’ to the request. They focus on the time and the cost if the target person says yes.
  2. The people on the receiving end focus on the ‘no’ of the request. They focus on how saying no may put them in the wrong light, such as making them feel selfish or rude.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that gaining compliance is easier than you may think. 

compliance, social influence, social psychology June 9, 2020 June 11, 2020 January 3, 2021 February 14, 2021 August 30, 2020



The Psychology of Compliance

In social psychology, «compliance» refers to an individual's acquiescence in response to a request from a peer. It is generally distinguished from obedience (behavior influenced by authority figures) and conformity (behavior intended to match that of a social majority).

Compliance is considered a social phenomenon, meaning that the words, actions, or mere presence of other people often plays a role in someone's decision whether or not to comply with a given request. The request may be explicit (directly stated) or implicit (subtly implied); the target may or may not recognize that he or she is being urged to act in a particular way. 

Compliance affects everyday behavior, especially in social interactions. Social psychologists view compliance as a means of social influence used to reach goals or attain social or personal gains.

In studying compliance, social psychologists aim to examine overt and subtle social influences and their relationship to compliance.

Individuals can be coaxed into compliance in a number of ways, which we will discuss next.

Factors that influence compliance include the following:

  • Group strength: The more important the group is to an individual, the more ly the individual is to comply with social influence. For instance, an individual is more ly to comply with the requests of her sorority than her biology classmates. 
  • Immediacy: The proximity of the group makes an individual more ly to comply with group pressures. Pressure to comply is strongest when the group is closer to the individual and made of up people the individual cares about. For example, compliance with parents' wishes is more ly if they live in the same city than it is if they live in another state or country. 
  • Number: Compliance increases as the number of people in a group increases. Importantly, the influence of adding people starts to decrease as the group gets larger. For example, adding one person to a large group (from 60 to 61) is less influential than adding one person to a small group (from three to four).
  • Similarity: Perceived shared characteristics cause an individual to be more ly to comply with a request, particularly when the shared feature is perceived as unplanned and rare (such as a shared birthday).

In addition to these factors, the following techniques have been proven to effectively induce compliance from another party.

Foot-in-the-Door Technique

In using the foot-in-the-door technique, the subject is asked to perform a small request, and after agreeing, a larger request is made.

Because the subject complied with the initial request or requests, he or she is more ly to feel obligated to fulfill additional favors.

For example, Timmy asks his mom for permission to go over to John's house for an hour. She says yes, and later he asks if he can stay the night. 

Door-in-the-Face Technique

This technique begins with an initial large request that the subject is not expected to comply with. The large request is then followed by a second, more reasonable, request. For instance, Jane asks her parents to pay for her vacation to Australia. They flat-out refuse, because it is extremely expensive.

She then says, «Well, if you won't pay for me to go to Australia, will you at least pay for me to go to New York?» Her parents are more ly to comply with the more reasonable request, after having rejected the initial, extreme request.

The same request made in isolation, however (just asking for a trip to New York), would not have been as effective. 

Low-Ball Technique

This technique is frequently employed by car salesmen. Low-balling gains compliance by offering the subject something at a low initial cost.

The cost may be monetary, time related, or anything else that requires something from the individual. After the subject agrees to the initial cost, the requester increases the cost at the last moment.

The subject is more ly to comply with this change in cost since he or she feels an agreement has already occurred.

Low-balling is a tactic frequently used by salesmen. They will initially quote a deceptively low offer and raise the price dramatically after an informal agreement has taken place but before a contract is signed.

Ingratiation Technique

This technique involves gaining someone's personal approval so they will be more ly to agree with a request. Ingratiation can include flattery, opinion conformity, and self-presentation (presenting one's own attributes in a manner that appeals to the target).

For example, before Anna goes to ask for time off from her manager, Anthony, she does a little research and discovers that he enjoys golfing. When she sees Anthony next time, she starts out talking about her golfing trip last weekend, and later in the conversation she requests time off.

Since Anna has now ingratiated herself with Anthony, he is more ly to comply with her request. 

Norm-of-Reciprocity Technique

This is the social norm that people will return a favor when one is granted to them. Compliance is more ly to occur when the requester has previously complied with one of the target's requests.


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