Behaviour Change

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Cheers to that. The Reciprocity effect in action.


Last weekend Warwick Polo Club hosted our annual charity ball. We wanted to make as much money as we could from ticket sales and raffle to donate to the RDA (riding for the disabled). When guests arrived they received a “welcome drink” on us, which was a glass of champagne. We (the exec) then approached individuals asking them to purchase raffle tickets. This is known as the Reciprocity effect.  This refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, as when someone does something nice for you, individuals feel obliged to return this favour. 

Reciprocity has been reported to be so strong that a person will feel obligated to return a favour regardless of whether they like the person who originally gave the favour and even if they did not want the favour. This was demonstrated in Regan’s experiment on returning a favour.

Regan (1971) investigated the effects of favour and liking on compliance. Subjects were 81 males from Stanford University; liking was manipulated before the experiment. The participant was waiting to go into the experiment when a confederate joined them. A phone rang behind the secretary desk, the confederate either (in the pleasant condition) answered the phone and nicely explained the secretary was away from the desk at the moment and they should call back later, or (unpleasant condition) answered the phone, said the secretary was not at the desk, he didn’t know where she was and demanded they call back some other time in an hostile manner.  Both participant and confederate then entered a room where the experimenter was, were sat apart and asked to rate paintings. In the break the confederate left the room. In the favour condition he returned to the room with two bottles of coke claiming “I asked him (the experimenter) if I could go get myself a coke, he said it was ok so I brought one for you too”. In the no favour condition he returned with nothing. Because the researchers didn’t want the findings to be due to the improved mood or gratitude from just receiving the coke rather than feelings of obligation or liking, they included an irrelevant favour condition: where the experimenter came in and gave both participants a coke.

After this the confederate then gave the participant a piece of paper asking them to buy some raffle tickets to help build a new gym for his high school back home. When the experimenter returned he gave them both a questionnaire with a key question asking about the liking of other subject. 


Table 1 shows the results: we can see clearly from this table that the favour manipulation had a very strong effect on compliance. A mean of 1.73 tickets were purchased in the favour condition compared with the mean of 1.08 tickets in the irrelevant favour condition and mean of 0.92 tickets in the no favour condition. Significantly more tickets were brought in the favour condition than the other two control conditions. 

 These results suggest that individuals are more likely to comply with someone who has done them a favour than someone who has not. The fact that the favour condition had more compliance than the favour irrelevant condition means we can reject the idea that it is just the notion of receiving a soft drink which may enhance their mood that led to compliance. Although in all three favour conditions the compliance score was higher in the pleasant condition than the unpleasant, it did not reach an acceptable level of significance.

Overall we can see that the favour affects compliance because the recipient feels obligated to reciprocate the favour. Therefore, handing out champagne to guests as they arrived telling them it was a “welcome drink on us” had the desired effect of getting people to buy raffle tickets. In addition, the fact that the individuals attending the ball liked the individuals selling the raffle tickets probably had a small effect too increasing the likelihood of them buying more tickets.

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

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