Some years back, I was walking down the streets near Blackfriars, London, a young black gentleman came to me and said he is 46 pence short of buying a bus ticket to Elephant and Castle and asked if I can chip in the amount. What an unusual amount to be asked, as I handed him 50 pence. Over the course of years, this became a familiar scenario as more and more throughout my life while living in London, or any other major cities in the world.
According to Alex Fradera, writing for The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, “this kind of request, which showcases a persuasion approach called the “pique technique”, whereby people are more likely to comply with requests for an unusually specific quantity because it piques their interest.”
In the early 90s three researchers- Michael Santos, Craig Leve and Anthony Pratkanis, conducted a series of experiments posing as panhandlers on Santa Cruz wharf and asking passers-by for either 17 cents or a quarter. They found the unusual sum led to more compliance from the passers-by, and so to more coinage in the cup.
So why do these unusual requests works?
“An unusual request can increase compliance in situations in which the typical response to the request is a refusal and it is said to be effective because the unusual request causes people to give mindful consideration to it”, points out Jerry M. Burger in his paper published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Over the years we have created preprogrammed responses in our brains to refuse generic requests, especially from strangers. By mentioning an unusual sum, such as 46 pence, our “refusal script” is being disrupted and instead generates curiosity that encourages the person to engage.
Alex Fradera points out that “many persuasion techniques are overtly exploitative, trying to win compliance by wearing away the target’s defences”. Piquing in some way fits this mould, by dodging underneath the normal means of parrying an unsolicited request.
So, if you are a student, next time when you want 1,000 Rs from your father, ask for 960 rupees instead which will prevent him from saying a straight no and will consider your request for a moment. Similarly, in scenarios like asking for a raise at work, or in a salary negotiation -where the chance of instant rejection is more probable, ask for an unusual number instead of usual sums.