The Power of Reciprocity [Video]

the power of reciprocity image

As is usually the case, I greatly underestimated how long it would take to produce this video.  If you withdrew even one ounce of joy, education, hatred, or stimulation, I would very much appreciate it if you could click one of the fun social media “share” buttons located around the page.  I’ll reciprocate next time [winky face].

The Power of Reciprocity from zach davis on Vimeo.

For those who are interested in learning more on how to utilize psychology to get people to do things for you, I recommend you get Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persusaion.

Also, the song is Merry Man by Buddy Ross, a new personal favorite of mine.  Buy a bunch of his music and tell him how awesome he is on Twitter.

Full Transcript

Have you ever encountered a situation in where someone did you a favor, and you couldn’t help but question their intentions? Ladies, I know you know what I’m talking about. Let’s look at the oldest trick in the book. “Can I buy you a drink?”

When this scenario occurs, a red flag immediately goes up in the girls head. She has to make a spot judgment on whether she wants to dedicate the next ten minutes to giving this guy the impression that she’s at least remotely interested in ending her night with him.

The girl realizes this. The guy realizes this. The situation is perfectly transparent. Instead of a simple, “hello, my name is ____”, the male attempts to expedite the process at the expense of effectiveness. But, why?

The Power of Reciprocity (inspired by Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini)

To examine the power of reciprocity, let us look at an experiment done by Cornell University Professor, Dennis Regan.
In his study, two subjects were put into a room for a reason not relevant to what was being observed. As is the case with many experiments, the actual behavior under examination takes place during the subject’s “down time”. In their natural state.

In this example, one of the subjects (the confederate) left the room during a two minute break and returned with a pair of cola’s, one for himself, and one for the other subject. “I asked the experimenter if I could get myself a Coke, and he said it was okay, so I bought one for you too.”

During the control portion of the experiment, again the confederate leaves the room, b ut this time returns sans-cola.
Later on, after the “supposed experiment” was over, the confederate asked his fellow subject for a favor. He was selling raffle tickets, and if he sold the most, he would win a prize. “Any would help, the more the better”

The result?

The subjects who had received the cola, ended up buying 2 X as many raffle tickets as those who hadn’t received anything.
The sole act of the initial favor increased the subjects purchasing behavior by 100%.

(clear throat)

“Can I buy you a drink?”

The study was later duplicated, but this time the subjects had to fill out a survey after the experiment’s conclusion to indicate how much they liked the confederate. Regan was curious to the effect of how much the person was liked, and how this influenced the subjects raffle ticket purchasing behavior.

In the scenario where there was no Coke given as a favor, purchasing behavior directly correlated with how “likable” the confederate was.
No surprise there.

Get this though:
“For those who owed [the confederate] a favor, it made no difference whether they liked him or not; they felt a sense of obligation to repay him, and they did.”

“Can I buy you a drink?”

Another example of the power of reciprocity has been demonstrated by the Hare Krishna religious organization. Although far less prevalent today, this Hindu sect flourished in the 1970s by way of a new fund raising technique.

Previously, this group had a less than favorable image in the eye of society due to their eccentric fund-raising strategy which included wearing bright robes, while chanting and bobbing in unison, in busy city centers.

In need of a new strategy, the Krishnas would solicit unsuspecting citizens, and provide them with a gift, usually a flower, in which the recipient was not allowed to return. “No, it is our gift to you.”

Unsurprisingly, once the victim has begrudgingly accepted this “gift”, the solicitor quickly asks for a contribution.

Does this work?

More than you’d think. For nearly a decade, this was Krishna’s biggest source of income. It resulted in “funding the ownership of temples, businesses, houses, and property in 321 centers in the United States and overseas.”

Best of all, the “gift” often quickly became trash as witnessed by author Robert Cialdini himself.

“Purely by accident, I happened to witness a scene that demonstrates that the Krishnas know very well how frequently their gifts are unwanted by the people who receive them. [The Krishna member] went from trash can to trash can beyond the immediate area to retrieve all the flowers that had been discarded by Krishna targets. She then returned with the cache of recovered flowers (some that had been recycled who knows how many times) and distributed them to be profitably cycled through the reciprocation process once more.”

The inner sense of indebtedness caused by the power of reciprocity often causes the original recipient to repay the favor to an extent far greater than the value of its original gift.

So, the next time Rico Suave approaches you and asks “can I buy you a drink?”, know that you’re receiving more of a subconscious sense of repayment than you are an alcoholic beverage. Unless, of course, that person is me. That’s just the goodness of my heart

  • Roberta

    such a cooooooool video. I am going to ask my friends for a favor and spread it around. But before i do, I will do something really nice for them. :-) I get it.

  • Brian

    Great presenetation! I think you should make a second one and instead of “Can I buy you a drink?” do something with politicians claiming “That free [fill in the blank] didn’t impact my vote.” Brian

  • Anonymous

    Very good video. Definitely worth sharing. Besides, you worked so hard on it :-)

  • http://smilebigandpretty.com Jas

    I love all of the random pop culture cut-outs to illustrate your points. Spencer was my favorite.

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  • Daniel Rippstein

    Very interesting. Knowing “how people think” is definitely a big part of business if not life in general, and little bits of knowledge like this are what let designers put real thoughtfulness into their ad or website design.

  • http://www.henshawconsulting.com.au psychologist perth

    Good point, psychologist are everywhere and people seems to be needing it all the time.

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  • @Tamarali

    Yes, in the short term it works…but in the longer term, people become wary of relationships based on obligation. @tamarali