Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

“Aww, look what they gave me today!”


            So as usual I was spending far too much time scrolling up and down my Facebook news feed, constantly reminding myself of the countless other things that I should be doing. Just as I was about to sign off I came across the above post; I knew there was a reason why I was still on here! (I had discovered my next blog post).

            This is a perfect example of how reciprocity is used in everyday life. The above picture is a Facebook post from someone delighted with the flower that they had received during their morning commute from the Forget Me Not Children's Hospice. The recipient of the flower described it as a ‘free’ gift; little did she know that she had actually been given an un-requested obligation.  The charity had given out this ‘free’ flower in the hope that the recipient would be inclined to ‘return the favour’ and donate to the charity. This technique of reciprocity is a fundamental part of society and has been used for numerous years, in many different contexts in order to get people to, essentially, do what you want. Whether it be to keep an eye on a neighbour’s home when they are away, or to give that really nice waiter an extra big tip.

             Falk (2004) conducted a field experiment that investigated the relevance of gift-exchange for charitable giving.  In this study roughly 10,000 solicitation letters were sent to potential donors; one third of the letters contained no gift, one third contained a small gift and one third contained a large gift.  The sending of gifts significantly increased the frequency of donations.  When a small gift was given donations increased by 17% and rocketed by 75% in the group which had received a large gift. Table 1 illustrates the donation patterns for the 3 conditions.

            These results demonstrate that gift-exchange is important for charitable giving, and can be highly profitable for the organization. Reciprocity is a very effective persuasive technique and research would thus predict that the Forget Me Not Children's Hospice would be receiving considerably larger donations from those who they gave the ‘free’ flower to on their morning commute.

Falk, A. (2004). Charitable Giving as a gift exchange evidence from a field experiment.  IZA        Discussion Paper No. 1148; Available at SSRN:

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