Reciprocity (social psychology)
Reciprocity in social psychology
Social psychology
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviors include all...

 refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. People categorize an action as kind by viewing its consequences and also by the person's fundamental intentions. Even if the consequences are the same, underlying intentions can cause an action to be reciprocated differently. Reciprocity is considered as a strong determining factor of human behavior. Positive reciprocal actions differ from altruistic actions as those only follow from other positive actions and they differ from social gift
A gift or a present is the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free. In many human societies, the act of mutually exchanging money, goods, etc. may contribute to...

 giving in that those are not actions taken with the hope or expectation of future positive responses. The focus of reciprocity is centered more on trading favors than making a negotiation or a contract with another person. With reciprocity, a small favor can produce a sense of obligation to a larger return favor. This feeling of obligation allows an action to be reciprocated with another action. Because there is a sense of future obligation with reciprocity it can help to develop and continue relationships with people. Reciprocity works because from a young age people are taught to return favors and to disregard this teaching will lead to the social stigma of being an ingrate.

Reciprocal actions are important to social psychology as they can help explain the maintenance of social norms. Reciprocity is so strong that a person will feel obligated to return a favor regardless of whether they like the person who originally gave the favor and even if they did not want the favor, as was demonstrated in an experiment by Dennis Regan in 1971. Regan had subjects believe they were in an “art appreciation” experiment with a partner, who was really Regan’s assistant. In the experiment the assistant would disappear for a two minute break and bring back a soft drink for the subject. After the art experiment was through, the assistant asked the subject to buy raffle tickets from him. In the control group the assistant behaved in the exact same manner, but did not buy the subject a drink. The subjects who had received the favor, a soft drink, bought more raffle tickets than those in the control group despite the fact that they hadn’t asked for the drink to begin with. Regan also had the subjects fill out surveys after they finished the experiment and found that whether they personally liked the assistant or not had no effect on how many tickets they bought. One problem of reciprocity, however, focuses on the unequal profit obtained from the concept of reciprocal concessions. The emotional burden to repay bothers some more than others, causing some to overcompensate with more than what was given originally. In the Regan study, subjects paid more money for the tickets than the cost of the (un-requested) soft drink.

In public good
Public good
In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rival and non-excludable. Non-rivalry means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and non-excludability means that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good...

 experiments, behavioral economists have demonstrated that the potential for reciprocal actions by players increases the rate of contribution to the public good, providing evidence for the importance of reciprocity in social situations.

Reciprocity as a form of social obligation calling for future acts kindness can be seen in the Japanese word for thank you, "sumimisan," which means "this will not end"

It may be a motivation for returning favors
Favor (activity)
As an activity, a favor or favour is a deed in which help is voluntarily provided.It may be defined as something done or granted out of goodwill, rather than from justice or payment. Yet, reciprocity may be a common motivation, but other motivations, e.g...

 from others. A form of reciprocity is "reciprocal concessions," in which the requester lowers his/her initial request, making the respondent more likely to agree to a second request. The respondent agrees because the requester has lowered his/her request, making a concession to the respondent. The respondent then experiences the social obligation to make a concession in kind back to the requester, and thus agrees to the second, lower request. . An example provided by Robert Cialdini in Influence: Science and Practice is a young boy asking Cialdini to purchase circus tickets (the initial request). When Cialdini declined, the boy lowered or "conceded" his request to merely buying some candy bars. Cialdini, seeing that the boy has made a concession, feels obligated to "return the favor" (reciprocate) and agrees to this second request.

See also

  • Reciprocity (cultural anthropology)
    Reciprocity (cultural anthropology)
    In cultural anthropology and sociology, reciprocity is a way of defining people's informal exchange of goods and labour; that is, people's informal economic systems. It is the basis of most non-market economies. Since virtually all humans live in some kind of society and have at least a few...

  • Reciprocity (social and political philosophy)
    Reciprocity (social and political philosophy)
    The social norm of reciprocity is the expectation that people will respond to each other in similar ways—responding to gifts and kindnesses from others with similar benevolence of their own, and responding to harmful, hurtful acts from others with either indifference or some form of retaliation...

  • Influence: Science and Practice
  • Reciprocation
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