What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?

reciprocate

In this blog post, we will talk about the concept of reciprocity. We will answer the following question: What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?  Keep reading to find why it is good to give if you want to receive. 

About reciprocity – why it’s good to give if you want to receive

To reciprocate means to share the same feelings and desires related to a certain situation or person. In psychology, the term reciprocity has been intensively studied. 

In psychology, reciprocity is considered a social norm according to which, in response to positive gestures, people tend to be more positive and cooperative; and in response to hostile gestures, people will react in a negative, sometimes even aggressive way.

What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?

In 1971, Dennis Regan, a professor at Cornell University, designed an experiment to observe and analyze the level of behavioural predictability when it comes to returning a favour. In other words, he sought to find out to what extent the saying “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back” is actually applicable.

Under the pretext of an experiment related to the evaluation of some paintings, the subjects were asked to establish an approximate value for the works of art, together with a partner, who was, in fact, an assistant involved in the research project. About the middle of the exercise, the assistant left the room and returned after a while.

In the case of some of the subjects, he returned with a juice, and in the case of the others, he returned with an empty hand. In the end, the assistant asked the subjects if they would be willing to buy lottery tickets from him.

According to the results, the subjects who received the bottle of juice as a gift during the exercise were much more willing to buy tickets, even if they were considerably more expensive than the juice received. This is the first psychological experiment to study the phenomenon of reciprocity.

What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?

Reciprocity has a long history…

The concept of reciprocity has a long history. It is mentioned for the first time in history in the Code of Hammurabi (circa 1792 – 1750 BC), which is a collection of 282 laws and norms, penalties for non-compliance, and guidance on social conduct. Here we find for the first time the principle of “eye for an eye“.

The idea of ​​positive reciprocity, which could be considered the opposite of revenge, is first mentioned in ancient Greece, in Homer’s Iliad. During this period in Greece there was no official system of government, nor trade, so people used the principle of reciprocity as a method of transaction.

Palaeontology Richard Leaky considers reciprocity to be a primary instinct, and its appearance during evolution is the very essence of human nature. Leaky assumes that mankind survived because our ancestors learned how to share goods and services. It seems that this personality trait, reciprocity, is deeply rooted in our genetic code. 

Which makes it a source of predictable behaviour, as evidenced by the experiment of Professor Dennis Regan. We can say, thus, that the phenomenon of reciprocity represents a resource (maybe even quantifiable).

What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?

The effects of reciprocity in marketing and advertising

In marketing, for example, reciprocity has been brought to the rank of art, so that other methods of obtaining something in return have been developed and theorized over time, not just by the usual beautiful gesture. 

One of the most subtle methods of initiating the reciprocity process is the reciprocal concession, whereby the applicant reduces his initial request, making the respondent more tempted to accept the second request.

This effect occurs because, according to the theory of reciprocity, we feel obliged to make a concession to someone who, in turn, has made a concession to us. 

Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology and marketing, author of the book “Psychology of Persuasion” illustrates the occurrence of this phenomenon through a story about a boy who asks him to buy him a circus ticket worth $ 5. 

Cialdini refuses, and then the boy asks him to buy a dollar-worth chocolate bar. Cialdini feels compelled to return the favour, given that the boy has made a concession, and agrees to buy the chocolate bar.

Another marketing strategy that is in the spectrum of reciprocity is the so-called “slamming the door in front” technique, which involves presenting a thought-provoking request, which has a very high chance of being rejected, and then a new request is made, which it is, in fact, the goal of interest from the very beginning. 

In this situation, the second request, which is a reduction of the first, seems in itself a concession, so that a favourable response can be obtained.

Among other things, the phenomenon of reciprocity is the basis of inbound marketing, a modern method of advertising (the term was coined in 2005 by Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot), so widespread today in the social media space.

In short, the idea sounds something like this: I offer you quality content, and you will feel compelled to return the favour in a certain way. In fact, it is difficult to delimit the idea of ​​reciprocity from all that marketing means, because, in the end, effective marketing is based on exchanges.

If you offer, you have all the chances to trigger some psychological processes in potential customers that will increase your probability of getting the desired result.

What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?

What does it mean to reciprocate in a couple?

How beautiful it is to dream, to love as in movies, to profitable relationships, to miraculous solutions, but let’s face it, life beats film, the reality is different and not even close to the fantasies that fly through our minds. This does not mean that it is less beautiful but just different, I would say more consistent and detailed. 

In real life, we do not always get what we want, we have expectations that our partner does not meet, and if we try to balance the always happy endings in movies and the various scenes of our reality, we will certainly feel the bitter taste of disappointments.

Reciprocity: a concept you haven’t thought of before. Or that you thought but did not express, fearing that you will be rejected or that you will be “judged” and accused of not thinking correctly about the need for reciprocity within your couple, or worse you will be criticized that you want more, that what you have at the moment would not be enough for you and you are not satisfied. 

To be more explicit, one of the partners offers today, offers tomorrow, offers in a year, offers love and unconditional feelings. A cycle has formed: one always gives, the other receives. How convenient, right?

 Walter Riso, a renowned psychologist, enlightens us on this current topic: “The idea that we must accept our partner as he is, and that it is wrong to ask him to do things that are not in his nature or that he does not want to do them; in other words, that there is a way for everyone to be compliant, out of respect for it. 

I agree, but with a few clarifications. I would say that we have to accept the way of being of the partner, but only if this does not imply a psychological sacrifice on our part. I accept you as you are, as long as I do not have to destroy myself to make you happy because if your happiness is inversely proportional to mine, it means that something between us does not work as it should.

In the face of a major incompatibility, will and good intentions tend not to be enough to solve the problem.

The bad news is that in the end everything is clear, and the partner who offers most of the time is put on the wall and counterattacks. Either one demands his right to reciprocity, or he seeks it elsewhere. There is in nature a tendency of things and phenomena to balance. 

So it is in a relationship. The law of the boomerang. Each calculates in his own way the contribution within the couple, and for sure to have an equal expected contribution of the partner. Even if the process is not conscious, we sometimes wake up accounting, who and how, and where the balance of the relationship was completed. And that’s right, we can’t deny that we do.

It’s natural to be like that. Maybe it’s a moment when you realize that only you invest, that only you care, maybe it’s a moment that makes you see that you throw time, energy and emotions in vain. It’s time to value yourself, not just someone who doesn’t meet your needs. 

A healthy couple is one in which even household chores are shared with each other, otherwise, frustration, anger and misunderstanding are born. And this is since the world.

What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?

Conclusions

In this blog post, we talked about the concept of reciprocity. We answered the following question: What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology, by talking about studies on reciprocity, what the concept means in marketing, advertising, and in our romantic relationships. 

Reciprocity is considered a social norm according to which, in response to positive gestures, people tend to be more positive and cooperative; and in response to hostile gestures, people will react in a negative, sometimes even aggressive way.

In our relationships, reciprocity is essential for a healthy relationship, otherwise, frustration, anger and misunderstanding are born. 

Please feel free to leave any questions, comments or recommendations in the comments section below!

FAQ about Reciprocate in psychology

What does reciprocity mean in psychology?

In psychology, reciprocity is considered a social norm according to which, in response to positive gestures, people tend to be more positive and cooperative; and in response to hostile gestures, people will react in a negative, sometimes even aggressive way.

Why do we reciprocate?

We reciprocate because, according to the theory of reciprocity, we feel obliged to make a concession to someone who, in turn, has made a concession to us. 

What is an example of reciprocity?

An example of reciprocity is sharing household chores, exchanging gifts on Christmas day, or buying coffee for a colleague who helped you on a project.  

Why is reciprocity so powerful?

Reciprocity is powerful because we always keep score. Even if the process is not conscious, we sometimes wake up accounting, who and how, and where the balance of the relationship was completed. And that’s right, we can’t deny that we do it. It’s natural to be like that. 

Does love need to be reciprocated?

Love doesn’t need to be reciprocated, however, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate your partner. Love is really about complete acceptance. 

What does reciprocity mean in a relationship?

In a relationship, reciprocity means acknowledging and accepting your partner. A healthy couple is one in which even household chores are shared with each other, otherwise, frustration, anger and misunderstanding are born. 

Further reading

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini 

Reciprocity, by Lawrence C. Becker 

The Reciprocity Advantage: A New Way to Partner for Innovation and Growth, by Bob Johansen 

Reciprocity and the Art of Behavioural Public Policy, by Adam Oliver 

References

Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favour and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(6), 627–639. 

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini 

Psychology.iresearchnet.com – Reciprocity Norm

What does it mean to reciprocate in psychology?

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.