Two weeks ago my housemate Sarah asked me if I would go with her to get her car washed. Using this as an opportunity, I said ‘I will only come, if you come with me to get my nails done’. She agreed and at the end of the day we were both happy with a clean car and manicured nails. This is an example of the rule of ‘reciprocity’; if I do something for you, then you should do something for me in return.
To examine the reciprocity principle Regan (1971) asked 77 participants to rate the quality of paintings with a partner who was actually a confederate. During the exercise, the confederate left the room and returned back with a soft drink for some participants and empty-handed for the rest. At the end of the exercise the confederate asked the participants whether they would do him a favour by purchasing a raffle ticket. As seen in Table 1, the results revealed that those participants who had received a soft drink from the confederate were more likely to purchase tickets than those who did not receive a soft drink. Interestingly, the effect was present even though the tickets were more expensive than the price of the soft drink and there was no significant effect on compliance on whether the confederate was liked by the participant or not.
This study clearly reveals a simple rule many of us use in our daily lives. Consequently, in the situation between me and Sarah, she felt obligated to return a favour after I agreed to go get her car washed with her.
Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(6), 627-639.