As humans, we act based on how others have acted towards us before.
As humans, we like to return favors as well as retaliate if someone does something bad to us. This principle of reciprocity underlies social dynamics on both a small and large scale.
Reciprocity can be seen as a social norm that almost everyone adheres to in one way or another. It's a strong predictor of human behavior and underlies actions that are not in line with pure self-interest. Anthropologically, reciprocity is seen as a part of human nature that gave rise to human cooperation and of the building of strong relationships.
While first described in a legal context during Babylonian times in Hammurabi's code ("eye for an eye"), the principle of reciprocity us a core driver of modern marketing, law-making, international politics and global trade negotiations. Likewise, it governs how people interact in private and professional relationships.
From a waiter giving you free candy before handing you the check, to a country retaliating a minor political dispute with major economic sanctions (and a lot in between) — reciprocity sits at the core.
Understanding the fundamentals about this idea helps us navigate social interactions both privately and professionally as well as understand our own and others' urges to respond in certain ways in different situations.
"There's one word which amy serve as a rule of practice for all one's life — reciprocity."
“There is no such thing as something for nothing. We live in an ordered universe with checks and balances. The law is value earned is according to value provided.”
— Hendrith Smith
- Start with a general Wikipedia introduction to Reciprocity from the perspective of social psychology.
- Watch Robert Cialdini explain Reciprocity in a short 2-min. video.
- This 5-min. animated video dives deeper into how Reciprocity works in marketing contexts and how you can use it yourself.
- A 3-min. animated video explaining the science of giving (based on social reciprocity).
- Read this blog post on reciprocity and where it is usually found.
A few further resources you might like if you find above idea interesting:
- 📚 Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- 📚 Game Theory: A Graphic Guide
- 🎙 Hidden Brain Podcast