Reciprocity: Definition, Principle & Types

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  • 0:03 What Is the…
  • 0:42 Reciprocity in Society…
  • 2:14 Types of Reciprocity
  • 3:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Apikos

Lisa has over 20 years experience as an instructor and has an MBA with a specialization in Organizational Psychology.

In this lesson, you'll have the opportunity to learn the principle of reciprocity and explore examples of reciprocity and how it influences your behavior in your personal and professional relationships and consumer decisions.

What Is the Reciprocity Principle?

Have you ever received a letter with a request from a charity for a donation, which includes a gift of personalized return address labels or even a penny or nickel in the envelope? How do you feel when you decide to use those labels or pocket that change but don't send back the requested donation? Do you feel guilty or uncomfortable? How much more likely are you to send that charity a donation if a gift is provided in the request?

The charity in this example is using the basic principle of reciprocity. Something is being given to you in the hopes that you will feel compelled, or even obligated, to do something in return.

Reciprocity in Society and Business

The reciprocity principle of social psychology is based on the idea that one party will respond to a positive action or favor with another positive action or favor. This is, at the most basic level, the act of rewarding someone for being kind. Through the building of our society, people found that when they were friendly to others, the response they received back was one that was friendlier and more cooperative.

The principle of reciprocity supports the social unspoken expectation to repay debts of all kinds. We're compelled to repay an act of kindness with what is, in most cases, a strong and automatic reaction to do something kind in return. In business, this principle is used to compel people to buy goods and services, to build loyalty or business relationships, or to solicit support or favors from others.

For our charity example, the free return labels are used to compel you to give that charity the sought after donation. When a free sample is given to you, the company is hopeful that you will find the product to your liking, but they're also hoping the principle of reciprocity will come into play, causing you to feel obligated to thank them for their kindness of a free sample through purchasing their product. Reciprocity is seen at work in a number of situations in business, such as marketing, sales, and advertising. A powerful aspect of reciprocity in society and business is that both parties tend to benefit from the exchange.

Types of Reciprocity

There are three types of reciprocity that are recognized by social psychologists: generalized reciprocity, balanced reciprocity, and negative reciprocity. The type of reciprocity taking place can influence or even define the relationship between the two parties involved.

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