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 Influencing Compliance
Factors that influence compliance include the following:
Group strength: The more important the group is to an individual, the more likely the individual is to comply with social influence. For instance, an individual is more likely to comply with the requests of her sorority than her biology classmates.
Immediacy: The proximity of the group makes an individual more likely 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 likely 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 likely to comply with a request, particularly when the shared feature is perceived as unplanned and rare (such as a shared birthday).
Techniques to Achieve Compliance
In addition to these factors, the following techniques have been proven to effectively induce compliance from another party.
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 likely 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.
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 likely 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.
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 likely to comply with this change in cost since he or she feels like an agreement has already occurred.
This technique involves gaining someone's personal approval so they will be more likely 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 likely to comply with her request.
This is based on the social norm that people will return a favor when one is granted to them. Compliance is more likely to occur when the requester has previously complied with one of the target's requests.