Reciprocity: you scratch my back and I?ll scratch yours

Robert B. Cialdini, in his book Influence: The Psychologyof Persuasion, categorises small persuasive actions into 6 basic principles which cover the entire persuasion process:

  • Reciprocity: if someone does us a favour, we feel obliged to return it.
  • Consistency: when we commit to doing something, we will get round to it in the end in order to be consistent with ourselves.
  • Empathy: it’s easier to convince ourselves of something when we feel that the person speaking to us is a lot like us.
  • Authority: we tend to obey people that we view as an authority on the matter.
  • Social Test: ?If your friends jump out of the window, are you going to jump out, too?? That?s what our parents used to tell us when we were kids. And it?s partly true, because people tend to do what the rest of society is doing.
  • Scarcity: if there?s not much left of something, it becomes all the more desirable.

About reciprocity…

What exactly is it?

This principle is based on the idea that we will try to give back, as far as we possibly can, as much as someone has given to us previously.

How does it work?

To demonstrate this principle, Denis Regan, a professor at Cornell University performed the following test: He called two people to take a test. One of them was on Regan?s team. Halfway through the test, there was a short break. The person on Regan?s team would leave the room for a moment and, when he came back, he would bring two Coca-Colas with him. He would offer one to the other person. No-one ever refused the drink, because it could be interpreted as rudeness towards the person bringing it. At the end of the test, the team member would tell the other person that he had to sell some tickets for a prize draw. In most cases, the other person would buy a ticket. The same request was made in tests where there had been no prior Coca-Cola and the number of ticket sales fell.

How can we apply this?

A good example of the principle of Reciprocity is the differentiation between free registration and subscription on some websites offering services. For example, the contacts website Match.com.

To access all the site?s services and contact with the desired person, users need to pay a subscription fee.

But to do this, they ask for things in exchange for what they have to offer.

  1. Starting to browse the site to see what they have to offer is free.
  1. But if we start to feel curious and want people to see us, too, we need to create a profile (for this to happen, we will have to register and give a few personal details).
  1. And if we also want to contact someone we see and who seems particularly interesting, then we will have to subscribe (and that is going to cost us money). But, as they so wisely tell us, it?s a lot cheaper than going out for drinks one night.

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