SRS Topic Summary: Theory and Rationale


Substantial research has been conducted concerning the effectiveness of two sequential request strategies, the foot-in-the-door strategy and the door-in-the-face strategy. Underpinning these two sequential request strategies is the SELF PERCEPTION THEORY. Originally proposed by Bem, self perception theory offers a view of the way people come to know their internal states. In Bem's terms, people come to know their internal states "partially by inferring them from observations of their own overt behavior and/or the circumstances in which this behavior occurs". In this view, people often do not know their attitudes by direct introspection, but rather examine their own behavior. A person who is crying may infer that he or she is sad. A person who attends a rally for a particular political candidate may infer that he or she has a positive attitude toward that candidate. Environmental circumstances also play a role. If the person who is crying knows that he was peeling an onion, he may deduce that his behavior is not relevant to a conclusion about his emotions. Similarly, a person who attends a political rally but knows that the professor in her Government class instructed all of the students to attend, may not conclude that her participation in the rally is evidence about her political attitudes.

Major Point 1

Bem, using the language promoted by behaviorists in their analysis of human speech, differentiated between manded and tacted behavior behavior. Manded behaviors are those that are under the control of environmental stimuli. They are thus not useful in inferring a person's internal state. Being commanded to attend a rally is one such behavior. Tacted behaviors, on the other hand, are those that are not environmentally caused and are useful in describing an individual's internal state. Curiously, the inference procedure is precisely what an observer would use in making a guess about an actor's behavior, determine whether the behavior was manded or tacted, and make an inference about internal states.

Major Point 2

Bem's second postulate makes this similarity specific: "To the extent that internal cues are weak, ambiguous or uninterpretable, the individual is functionally in the same state as an outside observer, an observer who must necessarily rely upon those same external cues to infer the individual's inner states. This postulate is perhaps self-perception theory's most fundamental and controversial contribution. Although it is often the case that we detect strong and unambiguous cues about our internal states, such as when we are furious or elated, it is also true that many times our internal cues are weak, ambiguous, and uncertain. At these times, we are forced to draw inferences about the true nature of these states based on self-observation. This claim is important because it has been used to reinterpret many experimental findings which theretofore had been explained in ways which assumed unerring self-knowledge on the part of the individual participant. The most notable of these, and the area that created the largest theoretical controversy was self-perception's alternative explanation of cognitive dissonance findings.

The End

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SRS Researcher: Graham Knowles, Department of Communication Studies, West Virginia University
© Graham Knowles, Steve Booth-Butterfield, and the SRS Team, 1996
Created February 21, 1996; Last updated February 21, 1996.