Getting children to do more academic work: Foot-in-the-Door versus
Annie Cheuk-ying Chan
, Terry Kit-fong Au
Labour Department, The Hong Kong SAR Government, Hong Kong, China
Department of Psychology, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong, China
Received 4 May 2010
Received in revised form
21 April 2011
Accepted 21 April 2011
In this study we explored whether compliance-without-pressure techniques, known to encourage adults
to behave more altruistically, can be used to encourage children to do more academic work. Using three
different approaches e Foot-in-the-Door, Door-in-the-Face, and Single-Request e we asked 60 6- to
8-year-old Hong Kong Chinese children to complete a 20-item arithmetic worksheet. The Door-in-the-Face
technique was the most effective, eliciting the highest percentage of children who agreed to do the target
task, requiring the least adult input to sustain engagement in the task, and producing the greatest amount
of accurate work.
Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
How can adults get children to do what they want them to do?
Socialization of children depends heavily on getting them to pay
heed to adults’ suggestions and guidance (Feldman & Klein, 2003;
Schaffer & Crook, 1980), be it in daily routines such as doing
homework (Fishel & Ramirez, 2005), eating behavior (Hays, Power,
& Olvera, 2001), development of conscience (Kochanska, 1991), or
even behavior therapy (Strand, Wahler, & Herring, 2001).
At the same time, encouraging children to make their own
choices and decisions within clear limits seems to foster success at
school (Katz, Kaplan, & Gueta, 2010), while using overt pressure
often backﬁres and hurts school performance (Barber, 2002;
Grolnick, 2003). This pattern of ﬁndings holds for European-
American children (e.g., Steinberg, Elmen, & Mounts, 1989)as
well as African-American children (Taylor, Hinton, & Wilson, 1995)
and Chinese children in Taiwan (Pong, Johnston, & Chen, 2010). In
general, adults seem to be most effective when they de-emphasize
power and achieve compliance without overt pressure (Kochanska
& Aksan, 1995). When children feel that they choose to do the right
thing rather than being pressured into doing it, they are more likely
to follow through and sustain their efforts without external control
(Deci & Ryan, 1992; Skinner, Furrer, Marchand, & Kindermann,
Compliance-without-pressure techniques have been studied
extensively in social psychology research with adults, and we
hypothesized that some of them might also work with children. The
classic “Foot-in-the-Door” technique involves making a small
request ﬁrst, then upping the ante with a similar but larger request.
The idea is that most people agree to the ﬁrst request because it is
small, and then e with the requester’s foot now metaphorically
planted in the door e they are primed to agree to the second one as
well (Cialdini et al., 1975; Rodaﬁnos, Vucevic, & Sideridis, 2005).
Perhaps at that point they see themselves as kind, cooperative, and
helpful, and they want to maintain, even enhance, this positive self-
image. Empirically, Foot-in-the-Door has proved effective in getting
compliance (Burger, 1999).
The “Door-in-the-Face” technique is just the reverse. It involves
making a large request ﬁrst, then lowering the bar to something
more reasonable. The idea here is that most people turn down the
ﬁrst request because it is asking too much, but then they may relent
and agree to the second one. Perhaps they see that the requester
has made a concession in response to their initial refusal and feel
moved to reciprocate with a concession of their own, as long as it is
not too costly (O’
Keefe & Hale, 2001).
-in-the-Face also seems
to work. In fact, a meta-analysis found comparable beneﬁts in
compliance rates and effect sizes for these two multi-request
techniques, with single-request control as the baseline (Pascual &
Thus far, research on these two techniques has focused on
adults, primarily in the context of altruism, such as charity and
Corresponding author. Tel.: þ852 2859 2383; fax: þ852 2858 3518.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (A.-y. Chan), email@example.com
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Teaching and Teacher Education
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Teaching and Teacher Education 27 (2011) 982e985