CURRENT RESEARCH IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Volume 5, Number 18
Submitted: July 5, 2000
Resubmitted: August 24, 2000
Accepted: September 11, 2000
Publication date: September 12, 2000
EVOCATION OF FREEDOM AND COMPLIANCE: THE "BUT YOU ARE
FREE OF..." TECHNIQUE
University of Bordeaux
Many investigations showed that the semantic characteristics of a request could lead to more
compliance. A feeling of freedom is also a factor favoring compliance to numerous types of
requests. An experiment was carried out, in which the evocation of freedom was formulated
verbally, following a demand for money made by confederates. Results show that the verbal
incentive used (demand for money + "but you are free to accept or to refuse") increased the
rate of subjects’ compliance as well as the average amount of granted gifts. The semantic
activation of the feeling of freedom is discussed within the framework of numerous paradigms
of research on compliance.
Research on helping behavior have traditionally emphasized the characteristics of the donor,
the beneficiary, and the context. Some research however concerned the linguistic aspect of the
requests for help. Thus Cialdini and Schroeder (1976) showed that the addition of the
sentence "even a penny will help" leads the solicited people to give more to an humanitarian
organization. This sentence also increased the rate of donors. Numerous replications of this
technique (Reeves, Macolini and Martin 1987; Reeves and Saucer 1993) give evidence of its
efficiency on compliance behavior. By manipulating the semantic contents of the request,
Enzle and Harvey (1982) showed that an indirect negation request (e.g. You will help me,
won’t you?) elicited greater helping than either a direct negation (e.g. Won’t you help me?) or
a control form (e.g. Will you help me?).
In the same way, Howard (1990) had demonstrated that asking someone how he feels
improves compliance with a helping request made immediately after the subject’s response.
Another procedure that improves compliance to a request is the "that’s-not-all technique"
(Burger 1986). When applying this technique, the requester presents a recipient with a first
request at a certain price but does not allow the subject the instant opportunity to decline or to
accept the offer. As the subject considers the price, the requester then improves the deal by
including an extra product or by lowering the price of the offer. In Burger’s first experiment,
people approaching a bake sale table were told that the price of a cupcake was $0.75. At this
moment, the seller was interrupted by a second seller who needs help. The first seller then
asked the subject to "wait a second." Then after a brief exchange between the two salesmen
(5-10 seconds), the first seller returned to the client and announced to him that the offer also
included two cookies. Results showed that 73.0 % of the subjects in this "that’s-not-all
condition" bought the cupcake with the two cookies package whereas 40.0 % bought this
package when the complete offer was made at the same price.
Another factor facilitating compliance to requests, but which does not proceed from the
semantic characteristics of the request, is the feeling of freedom of the subject. This feeling of
freedom would be one of the main factors predisposing to the compliance (Kiesler 1971).
Now, we cannot keep count of research on the compliance without pressure, which gives
evidence of the efficiency of techniques facilitating the activation of this feeling of freedom:
foot-in-the-door (Freedman and Fraser 1966), door-in-the-face (Cialdini, Vincent, Lewis,
Catalan, Wheeler and Lee Darby 1975), low-ball (Cialdini, Cacioppo, Bassett and Miller
1978) or also the technique of the lure (Joule, Gouilloux and Weber 1989). Surprisingly,
experimental research concerning this feeling of freedom have compared some situations
where the subject’s freedom was
reduced, comparatively to a situation of free choice (Beaman, Svanum, Manlove and
Hamtpton 1974; Chartrand, Pinckert and Burger 1999). According to the reactance theory of
Brehm (1966), this feeling of loss of freedom comes along with a drastic fall of compliance.
Few studies were made on conditions favoring a feeling of increased freedom in the decision
of the subject, notably by means of the semantic characteristics of the requests. With the
benefit of hindsight, we realize that the effect of sentences such as "it is up to you to see," "up
to you to choose," "but you are free of…" which are generally expressed to punctuate the end
of a request in the case of the techniques of compliance without pressure, were never the
object of a direct investigation. This is the objective fixed by the experiment presented below.
Accounting for the persuasive effects contained in the semantic properties of requests, shown
by the various research quoted above, we could expect that the direct semantic evocation of
the freedom of subject’s decision facilitates the request’s compliance.
Forty men and 40 women (age range 30-50 years old), alone, chosen at random in the street.
Forty people were random in the experimental group (20 men and 20 women) and 40 in the
control group (20 men and 20 women).
Four people, 2 men and 2 women (average age 20-22 years old), played the role of
confederates in this experiment. They were dressed neatly and in a traditional way for young
people of this age (jeans/sneakers/T-shirt). The experiment took place in a mall during
particularly sunny spring days. A confederate approached a subject taken at random after
counting the passage of a definite number of pedestrians in a defined zone. If the subject was a
child or a teenager or an old man or a group, the confederate took the person coming just after
so that she corresponds to the expected profile. In the control condition, the confederate
approached the subject by saying to him or her politely: "Sorry Madam/Sir, would you have
some coins to take the bus, please?" In experimental condition, the confederate formulated
with the same tone the following request: "Sorry Madam/Sir, would you have some coins to
take the bus, please? But you are free to accept or to refuse." The confederate then estimated if
the subject agreed or not to his request. In the case of a positive answer, the confederate
waited for the subject to give him the money. He estimated the amount and then gave back the
sum to the subject and proceeded to completely debrief the subject.
On all measures employed in this study, no differences were found between male and female
subjects. This is also true with the differences between the four confederates of this
experiment. So, data was aggregated. In the control condition, 10.0 % of solicited people
accepted the request of the confederate, whereas 47.5 % accepted in the experimental
condition. The comparison of these two rates gives evidence of a significant difference [X²(1,
80) = 13.73, p <.001]. The evocation of the freedom of subject’s decision leads to favor the
request compliance. When we consider the mean amount of the gifts granted by the people
having accepted the request in each of the groups, we observe that it is FF 3.25 (US $ 0.48) in
the control condition versus FF 7.05 (US $ 1.04) in the experimental condition. Here also, this
difference is significant [t(21) = 3.03, p <.01, two-tailed] and this is in spite of a weak
compliance rate in the control group (4 persons over 40). The evocation of freedom favored
the generosity of solicited people and the average amount of the granted gifts corresponds to
the price of a bus ticket at the time of the experiment (FF 6.80 or US $ 1.00).
We observe that the semantic evocation of freedom in the content of the request increases the
probability of compliance, but also favors the implication of the subject, as this one grants
twice more money to the requester. This experiment confirms that we can obtain more
compliance in a request directly by manipulating its verbal contents. This goes along the same
lines of numerous previous works as those concerning the technique of "even a penny will
help" (Cialdini and Schroeder 1976; Reeves, Macolini and Martin 1987; Reeves and Saucer
1993), that of the "foot-in-the-mouth" (Howard 1990) or that of "that’s not all" (Burger 1986;
Pollock, Smith, Knowles and Bruce 1998). The results of this experiment seem to show that
we can add to this set of techniques the one of "but you are free of..."
Why is there such efficiency with this technique? Naturally, it is not the additional verbal
contents which explains our results, but rather what the contents of it activates among the
subjects. In this stage of the evaluation, four explanations can be proposed. Firstly, it is
possible that the verbal evocation of the freedom contained in the request really activates the
feeling of freedom for the subject. Now, numerous researches show that the increase of this
feeling of freedom acts as a facilitator of commitment towards the expected behavior (Kiesler
1971; Cialdini 1993). Secondly, perhaps this evocation of freedom leads the subject to feel
socially more involved towards the demand for help formulated by the confederate. Now, this
norm of social responsibility, when activated, makes a powerful facilitator for spontaneous
help by others and of compliance to requests (Berkowitz and Daniels 1963; Harris 1972).
Furthermore, the activation of this norm improves compliance with the
request but also the degree of implication of subject (Guéguen and Fisher-Lokou 1999).
Thirdly, the evocation of the freedom in the contents of the request would limit the weight of
external causes to compliance, and favors the activation of internal causes. Now, in
compliance without pressure, notably within the framework of the paradigm of the Foot-in-
the-door, when requests strengthen the weight of external factors to compliance, less further
compliance is obtained (Zuckerman, Lazzaro and Waldgeir 1979). Conversely, more
compliance is noticed when the attribution of internal causes is favored (Gorassini and Olson
1995). Finally, it is also possible that the evoked freedom arises a guilty feeling from the
subject if he does not answer to the request. We know for a long time now that guilt favors
helping behavior (Konecni 1972) and certain classic paradigms of the compliance without
pressure, as the Door-in-the-Face, see their results interpreted in this way (O’Keffe and Gigge
Naturally, these interpretations appear for the moment premature and the effect of the "but you
are free of..." technique still remains to be confirmed and more factors explaining its
efficiency require further research. Nevertheless, because more compliance was obtained in
the experimental group, the research reported here demonstrates the effectiveness of this
technique based on the simple evocation of freedom.
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Nicolas Guéguen is currently Assistant Professor in Social Psychology at the South-Brittany
University in France. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alexandre Pascual is a student in doctoral dissertation at the University of Bordeaux 2 in
France. His e-mail address is alpascual@iFrance.com.