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procity is apparently a very powerful force in our social lives (Cialdini, 1988).
Implied in this original statement of the norm is the idea that we may feel compelled
to reciprocate when we perceive that another person is making a concession to us. This
norm helps explain the DITF effect. It goes something like this: When a solicitor ¬rst
makes a large request and then immediately backs off when we refuse and comes back
with a smaller request, we perceive that the solicitor is making a concession. We feel
pressure to reciprocate by also making a concession. Our concession is to agree to the
smaller request, because refusing the smaller request would threaten our sense of well-
being tied to the norm of reciprocity. In the DITF technique, then, our attention becomes
focused on the behavior of the solicitor, who appears to have made a concession (Williams
& Williams, 1989). If we donʼt reciprocate, we may later feel guilty or fear that we will
appear unreasonable and cheap in the light of the concession the solicitor made.
The power of the norm of reciprocity has been shown in empirical research. For
example, one study found that more participants agreed to buy raf¬‚e tickets from someone
who had previously done them a favor (bought the participant a soft drink) than from
someone who had not done them a favor (Regan, 1971). In this study, the norm of reci-
procity exerted a greater in¬‚uence than overall liking for the solicitor. Research has also
shown that the norm of reciprocity is central to the DITF effect (Cialdini, 1993; Cialdini
et al., 1975; Goldman & Creason, 1981). If a solicitor makes more than one concession
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 253

(when a solicitor reads a list of smaller and smaller requests), compliance is higher than
if the solicitor makes only one concession (Goldman & Creason, 1981). This is especially
true if the intermediate request is moderate (Goldman, Creason, & McCall, 1981).
Although there is support for the role of reciprocity in the DITF effect, some
researchers have questioned its validity and have suggested alternative explanations
for these situations. One such alternative is the perceptual contrast hypothesis. As dis-
cussed earlier, this hypothesis focuses on the contrast in size between the ¬rst and second
requests. Applied to the DITF effect, the perceptual contrast hypothesis suggests that
individuals agree to the second (small) request because it appears more reasonable in
the light of the ¬rst (large) request. The individual may perceive that the second request
is less costly than the ¬rst. Although there is some evidence against this view of initial
commitment to the salesperson, you are likely to follow through on it (Burger & Petty,
1981). There is evidence that commitment to a person (e.g., a salesperson) is more
important than commitment to the behavior (e.g., buying a car) in compliance (Burger
& Petty, 1981). So, you may not be so inclined to buy the car if you negotiate ¬rst with
the salesperson and then with the sales manager than if you had continued negotiating
with the original salesperson.
Commitment affects our behavior in two ways. First, we typically look for reasons
to justify a commitment after making it (Cialdini, 1993). This is consistent with cog-
nitive dissonance theory, as discussed in Chapter 6. Typically, we devise justi¬cations
that support our decision to buy the car. Second, we also have a desire to maintain
consistency between our thoughts and actions and among our actions (Cialdini, 1993;
Festinger, 1957). When the salesperson returns with a higher offer, we may be inclined
to accept the offer because refusal would be dissonant with all the cognitions and jus-
ti¬cations we developed during the stewing period.
Finally, the self-presentation explanation suggests that refusing the ¬rst request in
the DITF procedure may cause the person making the request to perceive the target as
an unhelpful person. In order to avoid this perception, the target agrees to the second
request to project a more positive image to the requestor (Pendleton & Batson, 1979).
There is some evidence for this explanation. Millar (2002) found that the DITF effect is
more powerful when a friend of the target makes the requests than if a stranger makes the
requests. Millar also reported that the target of the request was more concerned with self-
presentation if the request was made by a friend compared to a stranger. Unfortunately,
there is also evidence against the self-presentation explanation (Reeves, Baker, Boyd,
& Cialdini, 1993). So, self-presentation may be involved in the DITF effect, but it may
not be the best explanation for the effect.

Compliance Techniques: Summing Up
We described and analyzed two different compliance techniques. Are they all equally
effective, or are some more effective than others? Research indicates that the DITF
technique elicits more compliance than the FITD technique (Brownstein & Katzev,
1985; Cialdini & Ascani, 1976; Roda¬nos, Vucevic, & Sideridis, 2005). There is also
evidence that a combined FITD-DITF strategy elicits greater compliance than either of
the techniques alone (Goldman, 1986).
Another two-stage technique called low-balling may be more effective for gaining
compliance than either the FITD or the DITF techniques (Brownstein & Katzev, 1985).
In low-balling an initial request or offer is made that appears too good to be true. Once
you agree to this request, a higher request is made. In one experiment, participants were
stopped and asked to donate money to a museum fund drive. The request was made
Social Psychology

Table 7.1 Various Compliance Techniques

Technique Description

Foot-in-the-door Small request is followed by a larger request. More likely
to agree to the larger request after agreeing to the smaller
Door-in-the-face Large request (refused) is followed by a smaller request.
More likely to agree to smaller request after the larger one.
Low-balling An initial offer is made that is too good to be true (e.g.,
low price on a car). Later that offer is withdrawn and
replaced with a higher one. Person is likely to agree to the
higher offer.
That™s not all effect Extras are added to initial offers (e.g., “Buy now and we
will include another free product”), which appear to be
spontaneous offers of generosity. A person is more likely to
buy the original product than if no add-ons are included.
Even a penny will help After being asked for a donation, which is refused, a solicitor
may say, “even a penny would help.” If the target fails to
donate, he or she will feel cheap, so the target donates

under either FITD, DITF, low-ball, or a control condition. The average amount of money
donated was highest under the low-ball conditions, compared to the FITD, DITF, and
control conditions (which did not differ signi¬cantly from one another).
Although we have focused on two compliance techniques, you should be aware that
there are other techniques that are used to induce you into donating money or buying
products. Space does not allow a complete discussion of all of these techniques. We
have summarized the various compliance techniques in Table 7.1.
All of these compliance techniques have been and will be used to induce people to
buy products (some of which they may want and some of which they may not want).
The psychological mechanisms of reciprocity, commitment, consistency, and perceptual
contrast operate to varying degrees to produce compliance. Because we all share these
mechanisms, we all ¬nd ourselves on occasion doing something we donʼt really want to
do. Sellers of all types use compliance techniques to sell their products (Cialdini, 2000).
The best way to guard ourselves against these techniques is to recognize and understand
them when they are used.

In 2003 American soldiers in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq subjected inmates
to various forms of abuse and humiliation. When the actions of the soldiers came to
light in 2004, those directly involved were arrested and subjected to military justice.
One soldier, 21-year-old Lynndie England, was one of those arrested. In a now famous
photograph, England is shown holding a naked Iraqi prisoner on a dog leash. When
asked to explain her actions, England repeatedly said she was following the orders of
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 255

her superiors. In her words she was following the directions of “persons in my higher
chain of command,” and that “I was instructed by persons in higher rank to stand there
and hold this leash and look at the camera.”
When England invoked orders from her superiors to explain her behavior, she
was continuing a long tradition of those who have found themselves in similar posi-
tions. In fact, high-level Nazis routinely claimed that they were following orders when
they perpetrated heinous crimes against Jews, Gypsies, and Eastern Europeans during
World War II. The question we shall evaluate in this section is whether an ordinary
person can be induced into doing something extraordinary in response to a command
from someone in authority.

De¬ning Obedience
Obedience occurs when we modify our behavior in response to a direct order from
obedience A social in¬‚uence
someone in authority. Most of the obedience we observe daily is constructive obedi-
process involving modi¬cation
ence because it fosters the operation and well-being of society. Certainly no group, no
of behavior in response to a
society, could exist very long if it couldnʼt make its members obey laws, rules, and
command from an authority
customs. Generally, obedience is not a bad thing. Traf¬c ¬‚ows much easier when there ¬gure.
are motor vehicle laws, for example. But when the rules and norms people are made
to obey are negative, obedience is one of the blights of society. This kind of obedience
is called destructive obedience. Destructive obedience occurs when a person obeys an
authority ¬gure and behaves in ways that are counter to accepted standards of moral
behavior, ways that con¬‚ict with the demands of conscience. It is this latter form of
obedience that social psychologists have studied.
Unfortunately, destructive obedience”the form of obedience we are most concerned
with in this chapter”is a recurring theme in human history. Throughout human history,
there are many instances when individuals carried out orders that resulted in harm or
death to others. In addition to the case of Lynndie England just noted, at the Nuremberg
trials following World War II, many Nazi leaders responsible for murdering millions of
people fell back on the explanation that they were following orders. More recently, in the
ethnic violence between Serbs and Bosnians in the former Yugoslavia, Serbian soldiers
allegedly received orders to rape Muslim women in captured towns or villages. Islamic
tradition condemns women who have been raped or who become pregnant outside mar-
riage; these orders were intended to destroy the fabric of Muslim family life. The Serbian
soldiers had been ordered to engage in blatantly immoral and illegal behavior. More
recently, mass murders took place in Kosovo at the behest of the Serbian leadership.
Destructive obedience doesnʼt only crop up in such large-scale situations. Destructive
obedience can also manifest itself so that your everyday activities may be threatened.
For example, Tarnow (2000) cites evidence that excessive obedience to the captainʼs
orders may be responsible for up to 25% of all airplane crashes. One form of obedience
seems to be particularly problematic: when the non¬‚ying crew member (copilot) does
not correctly monitor and subsequently challenge an error made by the pilot. These
types of errors are made in 80% of airline accidents (Tarnow, 2000). Tarnow suggests
that the atmosphere in the cockpit is one of a captainʼs absolute authority. The captain
is given these powers by law. However, more power ¬‚ows from the captainʼs greater
¬‚ying experience than the copilot (to become a captain, you need at least 1,500 hours
of ¬‚ight time vs. 200 hours for a ¬rst of¬cer). The power stemming from the law and
greater experience makes it dif¬cult for junior of¬cers to challenge the captain, even in
cases where the captainʼs decision is clearly wrong (Tarnow, 2000). The consequences
of this obedience dynamic may be tragic.
Social Psychology

Destructive Obedience and the Social Psychology of Evil
There is a tendency to attribute acts of destructive obedience to some abnormal internal
characteristics of those who perpetrate such acts. Often we refer to individuals such as
Adolph Eichmann (the “architect” of the Holocaust) as “evil.” The term evil has been
widely used historically and in contemporary culture. For example, in his 2002 State of
the Union Address, President George Bush identi¬ed Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an
“Axis of Evil” because of their pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruc-
tion. In 1983, the late President Ronald Reagan referred to the former Soviet Union
as an “Evil Empire” and the focus of all evil in the world at the time. And, of course
Osama bin Laden is commonly tagged with the “evil” moniker.
What does the term evil actually entail? Traditionally, notions of evil have been left
to philosophers and theologians. Recently, however, social psychologists have given
consideration to the concept and have developed social psychological concepts of evil.
In contrast to the traditional notion of evil that imbues a person with aberrant internal
characteristics, social psychologists favor a situational de¬nition of evil focusing on
overt behavior. For example, Zimbardo (2004) de¬nes evil as “intentionally behaving, or
causing others to act, in ways that demean, dehumanize, harm, destroy or kill innocent
people” (p. 22). Under this de¬nition, a wide range of behaviors including terrorism,
genocide, and even corporate misdeeds could be considered evil (Zimbardo, 2004).
How does a social psychological de¬nition of evil relate to obedience? Obedience
to a command from an authority ¬gure can produce evil outcomes. For example, Adolph
Eichmann, carrying out orders of his Nazi superiors, was directly responsible for the
extermination of millions of innocent human beings. Obedience has the power to trans-
form ordinary people into those who are willing do things they would not ordinarily do
(Zimbardo, 2004). Zimbardo has identi¬ed 10 principles inherent in obedience that can
bring about this transformation. These are shown in Table 7.2.
What are roots that underlie evil? This question of course can be addressed from a
number of perspectives, including philosophical and religious. However, we will limit
ourselves to a social psychological answer to the question. Baumeister and Vohs (2004)
identify four roots of evil deeds. These are:

1. Instrumentality: Using violence to achieve a goal or solve a con¬‚ict.
2. Threatened egotism: Violence as a response to impugned honor or wounded
3. Idealism: Evil deeds performed to achieve some higher good.
4. Sadism: Enjoying harming others (more likely to be reported by victims than
According to Baumeister and Vohs, the four roots form a causal chain that moves one
toward perpetrating evil deeds. A ¬nal link between the four roots and the actual evil behav-
ior, however, is a loss of self-control (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). When one loses normal
constraints against carrying out evil deeds (e.g., mass violence), evil is more likely to be
the result. When mechanisms of self-control are maintained, evil deeds are less likely.
Staub (1989) suggests three other roots of evil. These are: dif¬cult life conditions,
cultural and personal preconditions, and the social-political organization. Staub points
out that evil deeds are often perpetrated under dif¬cult life conditions such as economic
depression and social disorganization. For example, the dismal economic conditions in
Germany after World War I certainly contributed to the rise of the Nazi Party and the
subsequent evil perpetrated on Jews and others. Cultural and personal factors are rooted
Chapter 7 Conformity, Compliance, and Obedience 257

Table 7.2 Ten Principles Inherent in Obedience That Can Bring About
Transformation of Obedience to Evil

1. Providing an acceptable reason for the objectionable action.
2. Arranging for a written or verbal contract to perform action.
3. Providing individuals with meaningful roles to play (e.g. prison guard).
4. Developing rules that must be followed, which are then used to justify action.
5. Altering language so that the individual believes he or she is not really hurting a
6. Providing opportunities for passing responsibility on to others (diffusion of
responsibility), absolving individual of direct personal responsibility for actions.
7. Beginning the process of obedience with small initial acts and then requiring larger
acts later.
8. Increasing the level of harm to the victims incrementally over time.
9. Gradually changing the nature of the authority from reasonable to unreasonable.
10. Making it dif¬cult to suspend obedience and making the costs for disobedience high.

Based on Zimbardo (2004, p. 28).

in individual self-concept and traditional in-group/out-group separations in a culture.
When oneʼs self-esteem is threatened, that individual will move toward regaining a sense
of control and power. This can be accomplished by establishing a sense of superiority
of oneʼs in-group over out-groups. This is precisely what happened in Nazi Germany.
Finally, certain social-political organization structures are more likely to give rise to
evil deeds than others. Totalitarian, authoritarian systems that institutionalize prejudice
and discrimination are most likely to lead to evil deeds. Again, this is precisely what
existed in Nazi Germany prior to the implementation of the “Final Solution” of the
Jewish problem resulting in the murder of millions.

The Banality of Evil: Eichmannʼs Fallacy


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