When people on a seashore observed a staged larceny of a radio from a nearby towel, only 20 percent reacted; but if whoever owns the towel first asked individuals to “please view my things,” 95 percent of them became near-vigilantes, chasing down the thief and powerfully grabbing back the radio. Their desire to be consistent in what they’d said trumped their concern for personal safety.
However, what orders consistency? The answer is simple: dedication. Research implies that once we commit to something with words or actions, we wish to not be inconsistent with it; and public dedication is the most powerful driver of all. A juror in a court of law, for example, is extremely unlikely to change her view once she has openly said it.
We even alter our very own self-image to be consistent with our earlier actions.
For example, Chinese interrogators got American prisoners to collaborate after the Korean War by asking them to make very small concessions such as signing and writing statements that were innocuous like “America isn’t perfect.” His compatriots frequently labeled the prisoner a “collaborator” when these statements were read across the prison camp.
The prisoner subsequently started to find himself as a collaborator too, thus becoming more helpful to the Chinese. He efficiently adjusted his self-image to not be inconsistent with what he’d done. In writing, having the commitment was also an important component in this process; there is something inescapably powerful in written words signed by oneself.
This broadly known foot in the door technique takes advantage of how even little obligations affect our self-image and is very favored by salesmen who frequently secure substantial purchases by getting customers to first make little obligations that change their self-image before a more substantial deal is offered.
We are near-obsessed with being and appearing consistent in our words and actions.