Lepper, Mark, R., Dissonance, Self-perception, and Honesty in Children, JPSP, 1973, 25, 65-74

This study is a continuation of Freedman and Fraser's "foot in the door" technique where compliance of a subsequent demand is increased by compiance of a simpler demand earlier. The test was replicated with children.

In the initial experiment, the theory developed was that by acceding to the original request, people began to think of themselves as the "kind of people" who accede to requests for good causes. This change in self-perception will affect compliance on future requests.

Thus people will make attributions about their attitudes and values based on observation of their own overt behavior, just as they do it with others. If there is no basis for attribution to an environmental or situational variable it will be attributed to one's own internal attitudes.

Theoretically, this self-attribution should best occur when the initial pressure to secure compliance is weak, so that the person will attribute their good behavior to their own sense of "goodness". It the initial pressure is strong, they will attribute compliance to the external pressure, not their own values and attitudes.

With children, "the implication is that initial compliance under mild threat may produce changes in the child's self-perception that would lead to increased compliance later with adult demands in other, different resistance to temptation situations".

In this study children were told not to play with an attractive toy under mild or severe threat (or a neutral control situation). Later they were put in a situation where falsifying results would bring them a reward. It was theorized that children who complied with the initial request under weak threat would be more likely to resist temptation on the second trial. Also, those who resisted under severe threat would actually resist less then the control group.

Initially, they tempted the children with a "forbidden toy" under mild or severe threat. Later they had the children play a bowling game by themselves where the only way to win a prize would be to falsify their score.

In the first trial no children actually played with the forbidden toy. But those who received the mild threat actually felt less strongly about that forbidden toy than did the strong threat group after the first play session was over.

The mild threat did have a significant impact by reducing subsequent temptation to cheat on the second experiment. Those in the severe threat condition had less resistance than even the control group.

Also the people who complied under the weak threat self-described themselves as more "honest" in post self-description than the other two groups.

The results confirm the hypotheses. The study also supports the belief that a strategy of moral training using minimally sufficient pressure will in the long run prove more effective than using more powerful but unneccesary threats.