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I'm faced with a UX problem of looking for ways to position a website to increase attendance at future "real world" events, and I'm remembering a study once conducted along these lines (details a bit hazy):

University students were given a presentation on the benefit of receiving flu shots and instructed on where to go to get them. One session's group received no further materials, while the other's group were given a map and asked to pick a time to report. The attendance rate in the latter group was substantially higher than the former.

I can't seem to find mentions of it online anywhere, though, and if anyone could point me towards more information on this or any other related study it would be highly appreciated.

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The study you are looking for is

Leventhal, H., Singer, R., & Jones, S. (1965). Effects of fear and specificity of recommendation upon attitudes and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2(1), pp. 20-29. doi: 10.1037/h0022089

The study is mostly how you remember (though it was tetanus instead of the flu). Critically, the manipulation was intended to increase the the availability of receiving a tetanus shot by having rehearsed the steps needed to get one. Students were given a map of the campus with the health center circled, and were asked to review their schedule and find a time they might be able to go--however, they did not make an appointment. Thus, the commitment was only to themselves.

There are, of course, a wide variety of ways to increase consumer compliance, including the foot-in-the-door strategy, door-in-the-face strategy, and framing effects to name a few.

There is a wide body of literature in social psychology on the idea of influence. I highly recommend two books on the topic, both of which are leisure reads:

1) Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (which mentions the Leventhal study!)

2) Influence: Science and Practice by Robert Cialdini. There is a chapter specifically on Commitment (ch 3) which also talks about the classic foot-in-the-door paper (below), more in line with the commitment strategy you suggest.

Freedman, J.L., & Fraser, S.C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202.

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  • $\begingroup$ FYI I tried to fix your broken link. Please improve my edit if I didn't link to the proper place. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Josh Jun 6 '12 at 19:47
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I've found an article by O'Keefe and Jensen (2007) that seems somewhat relevant. It's a meta-analysis that finds, according to their abstract (p. 623):

"...in disease prevention messages, gain-framed appeals, which emphasize the advantages of compliance with the communicator’s recommendation, are statistically significantly more persuasive than loss-framed appeals, which emphasize the disadvantages of noncompliance."

The difference appears quite small, however; maybe not what you were looking for.

Reference:

O'Keefe, D. J., & Jensen, J. D. The relative persuasiveness of gain-framed loss-framed messages for encouraging disease prevention behaviors: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Health Communication, 12, 623-644.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately, I don't believe that's the one. That seems to be more on the topic of expounding on benefits of compliance vs. the negatives of non-compliance, whereas the one I have in mind has more to do with a correlation between early commitment and follow-through. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Hulick Feb 6 '12 at 22:43

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