British Journal of Social Psychology

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Volume 34 Issue 3 (September 1995), Pages 223-350

Mindless processing of requests? Don't ask twice (pages 335-350)

This study examines the mindlessness hypothesis and its associated compliance‐gaining paradigm from the perspective of politeness theory. The main prediction of politeness theory, which is not taken into account in the mindlessness literature, is that the perceived magnitude of an imposition is a function not only of the size of favour asked but also of the framing of the request itself. A confederate asked students studying in the library for either one or 10 sheets of paper using appropriate variations of Langer et al.'s three request types: no reason, placebic reason and real reason. Students then completed a questionnaire to determine: (a) how large the imposition on them had been; (b) their verbatim memories for the requests; and (c) self‐reported compliance with the requests. In order to examine the effect of reflective thought on subjects' judgements and recall, this questionnaire was completed either immediately following compliance/non‐compliance or three minutes later. The analyses established that the perceived imposition is influenced jointly by the actual imposition, the type of request and the time of judgement. Further, contrary to some previous research, the recall memory data provide support for a strong version of the mindlessness hypothesis, as well as new evidence for the reconstructive character of conversation memory. It is concluded that politeness theory describes a powerful heuristic that people use when processing requests.

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