I have recently got into a drama about a women’s prison called ‘Orange is the New Black’. It follows Piper (your everyday, straight-laced American/ex-lesbian drug smuggler) who is pulled from her fiancée, friends and blossoming business, to serve a year-long prison sentence. She discovers that much of prison life is making sure people have got your back. This is primarily done through negotiating and trading. However Piper starts off badly.
After accidently insulting the prison food to the chef herself (a scary Russian called Red) she gets starved. Servers (under Red’s command) refuse to dish her up any food and they prevent her from buying her own. So Piper tries to negotiate. The problem is, Red values her pride more than anything Piper can offer. There is no zone of possible agreement. Furthermore, Piper is incredibly upset that her perfect life has been turned upside down. This makes her negotiation skills worse because she is not thinking rationally. Research shows that when we are sad we are worse at negotiation and end up paying more (Lerner et al., 2004). Furthermore, anger can help negotiations but only if there is time pressure (Van Kleef et al., 2004). In prison, these ladies will have years to reach an agreement therefore Piper getting upset and angry will make no difference… and it doesn’t.
Eventually she tries a different tactic. Outside she runs a cosmetics business and Red has a bad back. Through the type of sheer good luck that can only happen on TV, Piper gets her hands on some chilli peppers. She spends a whole day chewing on the peppers and spitting them out to make a fine paste. She adds this to hand cream creating a heated back lotion which will soothe Red’s pain. Piper gives the lotion to Red who sees rapid improvements. Here Piper is using reciprocity. She hopes that by giving Red the lotion, she will feel indebted and feed Piper in return. The innate norm of reciprocity encourages us to give something back even when the cost for us is high (Wax, 2000). Therefore, although Red will be seen by other inmates to have backed down, she wants to make a concession for Piper.
Finally, Piper’s thoughtful act increases how much Red likes her. We are more likely to be persuaded by someone whom we like and Frenzen and Davis (1990) suggest that liking is even more important than how we value the outcome. Therefore, Red is persuaded that allowing Piper to eat once again, might not be such a bad idea.
By Robyn Wootton
Frenzen, J. K., & Davis, H. L. (1990). Purchasing behavior in embedded markets. Journal of Consumer Research, 17, 1-12.
Lerner, J. S., Small, D. A., & Loewenstein, G. (2004). Heart strings and purse strings carryover effects of emotions on economic decisions. Psychological Science, 15, 337-341.
Van Kleef, G. A., De Dreu, C. K., & Manstead, A. S. (2004). The interpersonal effects of emotions in negotiations: a motivated information processing approach. Journal of personality and social psychology, 87, 510.
Wax, A. L. (2000). Rethinking welfare rights: reciprocity norms, reactive attitudes, and the political economy of welfare reform. Law and Contemporary Problems, 257-297.