One of Cialdini’s (2009) six weapons of influence is reciprocity. Regan (1971) argues that a normative pressure to reciprocate exists, such that when somebody does someone else a favour, the recipient of said favour feels obligated and is therefore more likely to comply with requests from the person doing the favour.
Boster, Rodríguez, Cruz and Marshall (1995) were interested in how this phenomenon of reciprocity might differ between strangers and friends, as strangers can be characterised as being in “exchange relationships” whereas friends from “communal relationships” (Mills & Clark, 1982).
To investigate, Boster et al.’s (1995) participants were either exposed to a pregiving strategy (a favour) or a direct request message from a friend or a stranger. In order to recruit participants for the “friend” condition, confederates were instructed to invite a close friend along with them. To hide the real purpose of the study, participants were given irrelevant tasks to complete. Meanwhile, in the “pregiving” condition, the confederate left the room and returned with a bottle of drink for themselves, and a bottle they had bought for the participant (either their friend, or a stranger). In the “direct request” condition, the confederate also left and returned to the room, only without any drinks. To measure compliance, the confederate then asked the participant to buy some raffle tickets off of them, where more raffle tickets meant greater compliance.
As the figure demonstrates, friends complied more (bought more raffle tickets) than strangers, regardless of whether a favour had been previously done for them. On the other hand, the pregiving strategy (favour) led to more compliance than did a direct request with strangers. Boster et al. (1995) interpreted these results to mean that among friends, the norm of reciprocity may be less active than among strangers, and though they stress that more studies are required for firmer conclusions to be drawn, their results could be an indication that the reciprocity principle might not be as widely applicable as was once thought.
Boster, F. J., Rodríguez, J. I., Cruz, M. G., & Marshall, L. (1995). The relative effectiveness of a direct request message and a pregiving message on friends and strangers. Communication Research, 22, 475-484.
Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Mills, J. R., & Clark, M. S. (1982). Communal and exchange relationships. Review of personality and social psychology, 3, 121-144.
Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favour and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 627-639.