Reciprocity definition

How to explain reciprocity? Reciprocity is a social norm that encourages individuals to repay good deeds with good deeds. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging items with others to obtain a mutual exchange – if someone does something for you, you feel compelled to repay the favor.

Reciprocity is a form of social influence we covered in a dedicated article.

Reciprocity can be achieved through an assortment of interactions, including positive actions like providing information, assistance, or favors; material goods such as food and money; or affection.

The rules of reciprocity govern all these forms of reciprocity. In addition, reciprocal behavior exists in a variety of conditions, ranging from reciprocating kindness to reciprocating aggression.

girls exchanging gifts

Why is reciprocity important?

The socialization process influences the need to reciprocate. Children learn to share, take turns, and engage in reciprocating activities through experience. Thus, reciprocity is an essential component in the building and continuing of relationships. It also has a significant impact on persuasion, particularly concerning adopting specific ideas or behaviors.

The rule of reciprocity is the most vital and most familiar principle governing social contacts. That is why it is often used as a lever to influence others.

This mechanism is the main reason for providing potential buyers with free samples of the product offered by sellers. For example, offering customers a free piece of cheese or cake at the entrance to a supermarket increases the chance of buying the product in the store – not only because the free sample convinced them of the product’s high quality.

Also, because receiving something for free arouses in most people the desire, most people want to reciprocate and repay the debt.

Reciprocation examples

There are several types of reciprocity. Here are some of them.

Positive reciprocity

This technique of influence has been perfected by American company Amway Corporation sells drugstore and household goods. The company’s agents are instructed to leave potential customers a set of 2-4 days sets of the offered products: a bottle of shampoo, furniture polish, bug spray, etc., insects, etc.

Since the kits are provided free of charge, few customers refuse to accept them. And since only a few use the contents of the same kit can be offered to the next customer after it has been The same kit can be offered to the next customer with a minor addition. customer. The costs for the company are therefore small.

However, the profits are significant – thankful clients who are grateful to this procedure gregariously buy other products offered by this company. This is one of the reasons why Amway Corporation has evolved to a huge company selling 1.5 billion selling $1.5 billion worth of products annually dollars annually.

From sellers’ point of view, then, free samples have the charm of being they are not so much free at all.

Negative reciprocity

Apart from positive reciprocity, there is also the rule of negative reciprocity: the need to repay evil with evil. It is based on the belief that bad deeds should be responded to with evil and that such behavior is morally correct because it is just.

Research shows that the extent to which people believe in the positive reciprocity principle is very weakly related to the area to which they believe in the negative reciprocity principle.

More importantly, only belief in the negative version of the reciprocity rule is associated with the idea that people are inherently evil, with a tendency to be frequently angry and, above all, to be vindictive and to mistreat those by whom one has been mistreated.

fighters boxing

Uses of reciprocity


The practice of using this standard is prevalent in many different fields, including marketing. Marketers utilize a variety of tactics to persuade customers to make purchases, and some are basic such as sales, coupons, and special discounts. Others are much more subtle and employ principles of human psychology that many people are unaware of.

More examples of reciprocity include:

  • A salesperson gives a complimentary item to a potential customer hoping that they will return the favor and buy something.
  • In exchange for loyalty, a leader may provide attention and mentorship to their followers.
  • Providing consumers with helpful information in return for signing up for future marketing offers.

There are several obvious advantages to reciprocity. One of the most apparent is that caring for others promotes the species’ survival.

We ensure that others receive assistance when they require it. Likewise, we receive help when we need it by reciprocating.

Reciprocity allows individuals to accomplish things that they couldn’t do independently because it makes them feel included. People can achieve more than they could achieve alone by cooperating or swapping services.


There are also several reciprocity-based persuasion strategies. These approaches are used by individuals attempting to persuade you to act or comply with an invitation, such as salespeople and politicians.

One of these is known as the “that’s-not-all” approach. For example, let’s assume you’re looking for a new phone. The salesperson brings your phone out and informs you of the pricing, but you’re not completely satisfied.

Suppose the salesperson offers to include a phone cover at no additional cost. In that case, you might believe they’re doing you a favor, causing you to feel obligated to purchase the phone.

We have a dedicated article on persuasion if you want to learn more.

giving a gift


The reciprocity principle is a behavioral phenomenon where people tend to give back what they get. It is the practice of reciprocating social exchanges in both positive and negative ways. For example, reciprocity behavior can persuade others to do something that supports your goals or that you want them to do.

See also:

The Anchoring Effect in Marketing – A guide & examples

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