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.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Simple Reciprocity for Political Power

There is evidence to suggest that favours from others generate feelings of obligation and the wish to reciprocate (Goranson & Berkowitz, 1966). This is known as the ‘Rule of reciprocity’ and was demonstrated by Regan (1971) who found that when a confederate gave a participant a coke, the participant was then more likely to buy a raffle ticket. With direct reciprocity someone receives help and gives something in return (Trivers, 1971). Reciprocity can also be indirect though, where support is given to people who have helped others (Alexander, 1987).

Milinkski, Semman and Krambeck (2002) conducted an experiment to test the effects of indirect reciprocity. 72 students took part in a computerised game with 16 rounds and were assigned to be a potential receiver once and a potential donor twice. They were randomly paired up with another player in each round. They were given a starting amount and then asked if they would donate a small amount of money to another player (e.g. £2) and if they said ‘yes’ the other player would receive a larger amount (e.g. £4). Their decisions were displayed on a large screen for everyone to see. They were also asked whether they would donate to a well-known charity (UNICEF). Everyone was provided with information about what other people had donated in previous rounds. There was one confederate in the study who was told to reply ‘yes’ to all of the UNICEF donations in half the rounds, and ‘no’ in all the other rounds. After all 16 rounds subjects were given a ballot and asked to elect a member of the group as a potential delegate in the student council. 

The results reflected that indirect reciprocity did occur. The more money people gave to others, the more they received themselves. These results are demonstrated in figure 1. Furthermore, although the amount of money given to others didn’t correlate significantly with the number of donations to charity, there was a trend towards those who donated to charity receiving more money themselves. The results the confederate yielded were significant, with the confederate receiving significantly more donations when they consistently donated to UNICEF, than when they said ‘no’. Those who donated to charity received significantly more votes for the student council than those who didn’t, however this result wasn’t significant for donations to other players. This indicates that charitable donations have a stronger influence on political reputations that do donations to fellow group members. These results therefore suggest that donations to a charity can pay off through indirect reciprocity and an improved reputation in another context.

So, ‘being a good person’ may benefit us in the long run. Those running for any position of power in the future may benefit from helping those in need first.


Alexander, R.D. (1987). The biology of moral systems. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Goranson, R.E., & Berkowitz, L. (1966). Reciprocity and responsibility reactions to prior help. Journal of personality and social psychology, 3, 223-232.

Milinski, M., Semmann, D., & Krambeck, H. (2002). Donors to charity gain in both indirect reciprocity and political reputation. Biological sciences, 269, 881-883.

Regan (1971). Effects of a favour and liking on compliance. Journal of experimental social psychology, 7, 627-639.

Trivers, R.L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Q. Rev. Biol, 46, 35-57
Laura Clarke: Blog 3

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.