The message above, although blunt, illustrates the use of the technique norm of reciprocity (Pratkanis, 2007) to force a friend into compliance. Conducting a favour for someone, which in this case was increasing the number of ‘likes’ on her instagram photos, helps trigger an automatic feeling of indebtedness and obligation in the subject. This feeling of social obligation is thus exploited, to force the subject into conducting the desired course of action in order for them to be able to resolve the unsatisfactory feeling of being in debt.
A study conducted by Regan (1971) helps demonstrate this technique. In this experiment, a confederate and a participant were asked to evaluate paintings. During a break from this tedious task, the confederate either bought a coke for himself and the participant (to invoke the social norm of reciprocity) or just bought a coke from himself (control). After the painting evaluation task had finished, the confederate asked the participant whether they would like to buy some raffle tickets he was selling; this was the dependent variable.
As the table below portrays, regardless of whether the confederate was pleasant and likeable or not, giving the subject a coke and invoking the norm of reciprocity encouraged participants’ to buy a significantly greater amount of raffle tickets than those who were not given a coke.
Figure 1. Results from Regan (1971), demonstrating the increase in compliance due to a favour.
In other words, doing someone a favour triggers the social norm for reciprocity which increases the likelihood of them complying with a later request. This is true even for favours that are possibly unwanted like a soft drink. If this is the case, it is not hard to see how my blunt invocation of the norm of reciprocity worked on my best friend.
Pratkanis, A. (E.d.) (2007). The Science of Social Influence: Advances and Future Progress. Psychology Press.
Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favour on liking and compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 627-639.