Reciprocity rule can be defined as: ”You should try to repay, in kind, what other person has provided to you.”
Reciprocity works because of the feeling of indebtedness
When you get a favor, present, invitation or some other action, you start feeling you are in debt for the person who did this for you. It is a natural reaction. You can´t help it. It won´t happen all the time. It is only more probable reaction. If you break this rule of giving back to your helper, it can backfire, when you have the biggest need for another one. In modern society, it is not always necessary. When the survivability depended on the other people, it was obligatory to return the favor. Because most of your brain functions are from that period of time, this reaction is hardwired into your brain. The feeling of indebtedness is less likely to be born, when the repayment is asked by the person who is producing the favor. The obligation to receive a favor is the main motivator in this rule. It reduces your ability to choose whether you want to be indebted or not. Or to choose to whom you want to be obligated to repay.
This act of giving a favor, present, or other thing doesn´t need to be wanted. You don´t really have to want anything to feel indebtedness. The pure act of someone doing something for you can be enough. The similarity of the favor given in return is the key. If you are not able to give anything similar in return, reciprocity rule doesn´t work properly. The obligation to return the favor diminishes. Sometimes it totally disappears. You can produce the need to repay a bigger favor by producing a small favor first. Free sample is a way to use this rule. A small and free sample is given to potential customers in the hope of getting a bigger response from them. A free piece of bread is used to sell the whole loaf of bread. This piece of bread is a gift and it can create a reciprocity effect. Commercial products have smaller effects than real favors. Some concession professionals like salesmen can also ask a big favor from you that they are sure you are going to decline. Then, they will ask a smaller favor. By requesting something big first, they create a possibility for themselves to reciprocate first. In reality, they are aiming for the smaller favor all the time.
Reciprocity rule is stronger, when external and internal pressure are combined
A group of people do not like to see person´s who are not willing to reciprocate. They are disliked by the group. Sometimes they are even discarded from the group. This doesn´t happen if group knows that person is unable to repay the favor for some reason like a special circumstance or capability. All the favors within the group should be repaid. If it is not possible to act completely in a similar way, another way that is close the initial favor should be applied. Attacking the person who does the favor is a worst thing you can do in a group. Combining this external pressure to produce a repayment with an internal pressure makes reciprocity effect more powerful. This rule creates concessions in two ways. First, it creates an internal pressure to respond in kind. Second, it is the obligation reciprocate a concession by applying external pressure from the group to comply with the request to reciprocate.
Preventing reciprocation rule for not happening
First I would like to say that this rule is good for the world. It is also good for you, most of the time. Sometimes it works against you and these occasions should be avoided. You cannot avoid all of them, but you can diminish their effects. The best way to avoid the bad effects of reciprocity rule is to prevent the activation of it. Best way to do it is avoid all the possibilities of this happening. Sometimes you know in advance that you are going to get an unwanted favor. For example, some selling situations work the same way all the time. These situations can have the same sequence of events. For example, notifying the requester in advance that you have no time for anything else than doing the thing you are interested in.
In theory, rejecting the initial response may be enough. However, in practice, it is harder to avoid this effect this way. You also have to probably add something to your response to prevent the chance for other questions. For example, ”I am not interested in giving 100$ dollars for charity or any money at all.” There are many situations in which you know in advance that they use favors for getting what they want. At least here in Finland, they offer you some coffee and something with them in order to make it easier to comply their requests while they are selling something. In my own life, I have mostly been in a situations where some investing brokerages or marketers have done this. You can make a decision in advance that you will be there only for the coffee. This makes it harder for the requester to make you comply to their request.
As with all the other biases, reciprocity effect works better when it is combined with others. One of them is a contrast misreaction tendency, which is a topic in the next week.