Consistency Technique #2: Lowballing

16.03.2017 |

Episode #8 of the course Persuasion science masterclass: part I by Andy Luttrell


For the last couple days, we’ve been talking about the principle of consistency. To review, consistency is all about people’s desire to be consistent. They want to make decisions that are consistent with one another. They want to act in ways that are consistent with their values. And they sure don’t want to look like hypocrites.

The lowball technique is another way to take advantage of the consistency principle. According to lowballing, if you know that there’s something unpleasant about what you’re asking the person to do, you should reveal that detail only after the person has agreed to the request. Of course, ethically, you don’t want to withhold the unpleasant detail, and this technique allows you to be very honest. It just means you should be thoughtful about when you reveal the scope of what you’re requesting.

To make this more concrete, let’s look at an experiment from persuasion science (Cialdini, Cacioppo, Bassett, & Miller, 1978). The researchers in this study had the goal to get people to volunteer to participate in a study that would take place at 7:00AM. That early start time would be a dealbreaker for a lot of people, so they wanted to see if lowballing could help.

Sometimes they simply went up to people and asked if they would participate in a study that takes place at 7:00AM. When this was their strategy, only 31% of people agreed to participate. That’s not too bad, but it’s lower than you might hope for.

Other times, though, the researchers used lowballing. They first asked if people would participate in a study at all. This is pretty innocuous, and plenty of people said they would be interested. Only then did the researchers reveal that the study would take place at 7:00AM the following morning. They said: “The room in which the experiment is being held is used during the day and evening by other people in the department; so we are running this experiment at 7:00 in the morning on Wednesdays and Fridays. Can I put you down for Wednesday or Friday morning at 7:00?”

So did lowballing work? It sure did. Using this technique, 56% of people ended up agreeing to come in for the early study.

But who actually shows up? It’s one thing for people to say they’re going to come at 7:00, but who actually does come? When the researchers used the lowball technique, all but one of the people who said they would come actually did show up. That means that 53% of the people they asked actually ended up coming in for the 7:00 study. But when they used the default technique, only 24% of everyone they asked ended up actually coming.

Why does lowballing work? According to the consistency principle, once people have committed to what you have asked, they stay true to their word even after learning about the negatives in order to be consistent.

I should quickly point out that some research has shown that it should be the same person making each request (Burger & Petty, 1981). If one person says, “Hey, would you participate in a study?” and then the second person says, “Actually, it’s at 7 a.m. Do you still want to participate?” people no longer feel the pressure to be consistent anymore because it’s a new person. When possible, which is probably most of the time anyway, make sure it’s the same person making each request.

The consistency principle in action!


Recommended book

“The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over” by Jack Schafer, Marvin Karlins


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