In numerous propaganda methods, based on my analysis, the only one that’s working the most efficiently with the current level of technology and media is a method called Overton Windows. Overton described a spectrum from “more free” to “less free” with regard to government intervention, oriented vertically on an axis to avoid comparison with the left/right political spectrum. As the spectrum moves or expands, an idea at a given location may become more or less politically acceptable. After Overton’s death, his Mackinac Center for Public Policy colleague Joseph Lehman further developed the idea and named it after Overton.
Political commentator Joshua Treviño has postulated that the six degrees of acceptance of public ideas are as follows:
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The Overton Window is an approach to identifying the ideas that define the spectrum of acceptability of governmental policies. Politicians can only act within the acceptable range. Shifting the Overton Window involves proponents of policies outside the window persuading the public to expand the window. Conversely, proponents of current policies, or similar ones within the window, seek to convince people that policies outside it should be deemed unacceptable. According to Lehman, who coined the term, “the most common misconception is that lawmakers themselves are in the business of shifting the Overton window. That is absolutely false. Lawmakers are actually in the business of detecting where the window is, and then moving to be in accordance with it.” Historically we’ve seen the Overton window shift on a range of social issues such as women’s suffrage, abolishing slavery, and the growing acceptance of assisted reproductive technologies.
According to Lehman, the concept is just a description of how ideas work, not advocacy of extreme policy proposals. In an interview with The New York Times, he said, “it just explains how ideas come in and out of fashion, the same way that gravity explains why something falls to the Earth. I can use gravity to drop an anvil on your head, but that would be wrong. I could also use gravity to throw you a life preserver; that would be good.” But since its incorporation in political discourse, others have used the concept of shifting the window to promote ideas outside it, intending to make fringe ideas more acceptable. The “door-in-the-face” technique of persuasion is similar.
In 1998, Noam Chomsky said that the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time, the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
It is possible to change one’s behavior and make the person agree to something without being in a position of power or authority over the individual. The person is then subject to compliance. To make people comply, we can use different persuasion techniques, as the foot-in-the-door and door-in-the-face. Let’s take a look.
The foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique is a persuasion tactic in which you get a person to agree to a large request by having them agree to a modest demand first. It works by asking for something small, so the agreeing person feels obligated to comply with a more significant request to stay consistent with the original decision to agree. This phenomenon was first examined by Johnathan Freedman and Scott Fraser from Stanford University in 1966, the door-to-door salesman’s peak period. They conducted different studies to prove how a person can be induced to do something he would rather not do. This technique is used in many ways and is a well-researched tactic for getting people to comply with requests. The saying refers to a door-to-door salesperson who keeps the door from shutting with his foot, giving the customer no choice but to listen to the sales pitch. FITD tactics work well in persuading people to comply, especially if the request is pro-social. It works for face-to-face requests and over the computer via e-mail. It can be used in political, commercial, and public awareness environments. Let’s look at some examples.
In a study, observers used this tactic in a bar to increase compliance with the bartender’s request to call a taxi for alcohol‐impaired clients. Half of the randomly selected participants were asked to sign a petition against drunk driving (which they all did); the other half had not. During six weeks, the bartender asked all participants to call a taxi when they became alcohol‐impaired. Those participants who had signed the petition and thus complied with a small request were significantly more likely to comply with the larger request of calling a taxi when impaired. It shows us when someone expresses support for an idea or concept, that person will more likely agree with the second request to stay consistent with their original decision.
Another study, published by Carducci and Deuser (1984), showed that completing a survey about donating organs increased participants’ willingness to become organ donors. Also, the number of questions in the survey did not necessarily affect the desire to become a donor. That is, having a questionnaire alone was enough to increase compliance.
Regarding charitable donations, Schwarzwald, Bizman, and Raz (1983) investigated the FITD technique’s effectiveness for door-to-door fundraising. In their study, observers asked some participants to sign a petition before asking them to donate to the organization; other participants were not asked to sign a petition before making a donation. The delay between both requests was two weeks. Consequently, a more significant percentage of people who signed the petition donated to the fundraising than those who didn’t. Also, they found that making the small request to sign a petition resulted in more money being donated.
Depending on the type of request, the timing is a variable that we should take into account. For example,
“Can I go over to Suzy’s house for an hour?” followed by “Can I stay the night?”
“Can I borrow the car to go to the store?” followed by “Can I borrow the car for the weekend?”
“May I turn in the paper a few hours late?” followed by “May I turn it in next week?”
“First six months “interest-free, or “No interest for two years.”
It is easier to remain consistent with the first request in all four cases by denying the second than by accepting it. For example, in the first request, the requester has already agreed to a specific one-hour time period and, if immediately asked, likely will not agree to a different time period. However, a given time delay between the requests will more likely favorably influence the answer.
There is a lot of research supporting that the FITD technique is a successful compliance technique, but why do people tend to follow this pattern? The technique works on the principle of consistency, meaning people prefer not to contradict themselves in both actions and beliefs. As long as the request is consistent with or similar to the original small request, the technique would work. The self-perception theory also plays a role in the compliance derived from this technique. Developed by Daryl Bem, a social psychologist and retired professor from Cornell University, the theory suggests people become aware of certain attitudes by analyzing their own behavior as an outside observer. This analysis enables them to understand why they are motivated to do what they do. It is mainly because the respondent comes to feel helpful for doing something to someone. So suppose the fact of agreeing to the small request results being their desire and nothing else influenced the answer. In that case, they will feel the need to stay consistent with their decision and agree to a more significant request, thus feeling more helpful.
On the other hand, the door-in-the-face (DITF) technique is a compliance method to get a person to agree to a small request by first making a large, unrealistic request that the respondent will most likely turn down. It is much like a metaphorical slamming of a door in the persuader’s face. The respondent is more likely to agree to a second, more reasonable request than if that same request is made in isolation. The DITF technique is the opposite of the previous one. Using the FITD, the persuader begins with a small request to get a person to agree to a large one. It has been found the door-in-the-face technique produces high levels of compliance only when the same person makes the request and the requests are similar.
The technique was first tested by Robert Cialdini, professor at Arizona State University, in a study conducted in 1975. Before this, he has led decades of persuasion research. Researchers asked a group of people a large initial request, whether they would agree to volunteer to counsel juvenile delinquents for two hours a week for two years. After their refusal, they asked the same group to escort juvenile delinquents on a one-day trip to the zoo (small request). Next, researchers asked another group only the small request. Because compliance for the small request was more significant for the first group than the second, the DITF technique was successful. Even though it also required time and effort, it was more reasonable than the initial two-year commitment request.
We can say most of us use this technique in everyday life when asking our kids to do chores, our boss to have a raise, or when in need of borrowing money from a friend. Suppose you ask a friend to borrow an unreasonable sum of money, to which he says no. Then you turn around and ask for a smaller sum that he agrees to give. The DITF technique is the most effective to get people to donate their money, time, or effort.
The DITF technique’s efficacy may be explained by the sense of guilt, the principle of reciprocity, and the contrast effect. When refusing the first request, the respondent may experience a sense of guilt. The second request seems like an opportunity to reduce guilt and thus motivates the person to comply. To the sense of guilt, we can add the principle of reciprocity or concession. If someone does something for us, we feel obligated to do something in return. While refusing the first request and the person making the second smaller one, we think the opposite side is making a concession, and we’ll make one in return by agreeing. The second request contrasts with the first, more significant one, so it doesn’t seem so demanding, and we are ready to oblige. Nevertheless, the first request has to appear genuine. Suppose the demand is exaggerated and evident as not being the initial goal. In that case, the respondent will know it is a manipulation.
About 22 studies compared the effectiveness of the DITF and FITD techniques. A meta-analysis of its findings indicated no significant differences in the two methods’ effectiveness. Overall, they both produced similar rates of compliance across the studies that employed similar target requests. In addition, researchers found evidence for the effectiveness of the “foot-in-the-face” (FITF) technique by combining both prior methods. Basically, it involves two equally demanding and moderately tricky requests.