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Saying “No” Is Harder Than We Think: Implications for Compliance and Consent

woman in black shirt smiling

Talks at Twelve

Saying “No” is hard. By refusing a request—e.g., a request for help, a romantic advance—one risks offending and embarrassing the requester. Consequently, people regularly agree to things—even things they would rather not do—to avoid the discomfort of saying “no.” Yet when we do not ourselves face the immediate prospect of saying “no,” we discount the power of these concerns. Bohns will demonstrate how this tendency to underestimate the ways in which discomfort drives compliance leads people to underestimate whether people will agree to their requests, and view compliance as more voluntary than targets experience it. These findings have important implications for determining whether someone has voluntarily consented to a request (e.g., a sexual proposition, or police search request) or merely complied.

Vanessa Bohns received her PhD in Social Psychology from Columbia University and her BA in Psychology from Brown University. Prior to joining Cornell, she taught at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo in Canada. Her research focuses broadly on social influence and the psychology of compliance and consent. In particular, she examines the extent to which people recognize the influence they have over others in various interpersonal interactions, including when asking for help, encouraging one’s peers to engage in questionable behaviors, and making romantic advances. Some of her additional research interests include prosocial behavior, perspective-taking, and self-conscious emotions. Her research has been published in top academic journals in psychology (Psychological Science, Current Directions in Psychological Science), social psychology (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology), management (Organization Science, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes), and law (Yale Law Journal) and has been covered by media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and NPR. She is an associate editor at the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, was previously editor of the social influence section of Social and Personality Psychology Compass, and sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and Social Cognition. Professor Bohns teaches Introduction to Organizational Behavior (ILROB 1220), Morality at Work (ILROB 4760), and Negotiations (ILROB 5790).


Vanessa Bohns → Department of Organizational Behavior, Cornell University


January 30, 2020 | 12:00 pm1:00 pm


ILR Conference Center, Room 423 140 Garden Ave.
Ithaca, NY 14853 United States