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, February 3, 2016

"I'll do yours if you do mine". The norm of reciprocity.

The retailer for which I work part-time has a seasonal promotion whereby customers who sign up for a new online account can get a £10 discount off their first order. These are not exactly met with excitement among employees as they can be quite a hard sell and we have targets of how many we are expected to give away.

One Saturday I was asked to go out into the town centre of Leamington and stop as many people in the street as I could to ask them to sign up for this offer. As I was walking down the Parade, I was stopped by someone in a similar position to me, asking me to sign up to register my interest in a monthly charitable donation. I explained that I was working and was also trying to get people to sign up for an offer. He said he would sign up for my retailer’s offer and after doing so, asked if I would do the same for him. This demonstrates the “norm of reciprocity”, which demands people should help those who have helped them (Gouldner, 1960).

Regan (1971) demonstrated reciprocity in his experiment designed to investigate the effects of a favour and liking on compliance with a request from a confederate. 81 male freshman subjects were randomly assigned to one of six conditions, in a 3 x 2 factorial design.

Liking for the confederate was first manipulated to assess its effects on compliance. The confederate answered a phone behind the secretary desk where they were waiting for their ‘aesthetics’ experiment, in either:
  • a rude and nasty manner – the unpleasant condition.
  • a reasonable and polite manner – the pleasant condition.
The favour factor was then manipulated. The male subjects either:
  • received a soft drink from the confederate – the favour condition.
  • received a soft drink from the experimenter - the irrelevant favour condition.
  • received nothing from the experimenter or confederate – the no favour condition.
All the subjects were then asked by the confederate to purchase some raffle tickets, and compliance for this request was measured by the number of tickets bought. Liking for the confederate was also measured with one question on a questionnaire.

Table 1 demonstrates the finding that the favour manipulation had a very strong effect on compliance, such that significantly more tickets were brought in the favour condition than the other two control conditions. Therefore, individuals may be more likely to comply with someone who has done them a favour than someone who has not.

There was no difference in compliance between the no favour and irrelevant favour conditions, thus it was possible to reject the idea that it is just the notion of receiving a soft drink which may enhance their mood that led to compliance. Compliance scores for all three favour conditions were higher in the pleasant condition than the unpleasant, but this did not reach an acceptable level of significance.

The results also showed that the favour of receiving a drink increased liking for the confederate and compliance with his request. However, correlational data showed no significant relationship between liking and compliance in the confederate favour condition. In addition, ratings of the confederate showed subjects in the pleasant condition generally thought the confederate was a more worthy person yet were not reliably more likely to comply with his request. Therefore, it was concluded that the relationship between favours and compliance is mediated more by normative pressure to reciprocate due to a sense of indebtedness, than liking for the favour-doer.

In my situation, after the man had signed up to receive my offer, I felt obliged to return the favour and comply with his request. So, 10 minutes and one charity sign-up form later, I was told to expect a call to discuss whether or not I would be able to make a monthly donation. But at least I was one sign-up closer to my target of 20 for the day…

Gouldner, A. W. (1960). The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American sociological review, 25, 161-178.

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

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