Regan’s Reciprocity Experiment

If you give a little, you will get a little…


Whenever someone does something for you, you feel obliged to do something back for them. This is something we experience on a daily basis, and this is the basis on how business works all over the world. In a Management class that I took last year, we learned about Guanxi. Guanxi is the Chinese way of making networks that you can utilize in the future. He says that you can get anything done if you have the right amount of Guanxi and this is interesting to see how there is actually a psychological reasoning and evidence of a test behind this.

In Regan’s Reciprocity Experiment, Regan from Cornell University investigated the power of reciprocity in an “art appreciation experiment”. The experiment went like this: subjects had to rate paintings with a partner, who was actually a research assistant. During the experiment, the research assistant would leave the room but return later with a soft drink. For other subjects, he would not return with a soft drink. The reason for this was to assess if the subjects would unknowingly “return the favor” by purchasing raffle tickets from the research assistant. As we expect with human nature, those subjects who received the soda were more likely to purchase the raffle tickets, despite the raffle tickets being far more expensive than the soda had been.

This experiment was of particular interest to me as I like to think of psychological experiments in terms of Marketing in the business world. It’s evident that when a business provides its customers something of value, they will be more likely to provide you with business in return.

For example, giving someone a $20 discount coupon would definitely help attract them to your store over another store, which didn’t give the same benefit. Similarly, we can see this concept play a role in building a relationship. For example, if I volunteered to share my notes with someone, I can rely on them returning the favour by sharing their notes with me in the future.

Reciprocity is quite relevant not only in effective marketing and relationship building, but in other day-to-day tasks. My father often tells me stories about how business runs on the basis of these reciprocal arrangements. The idea is simply to give a little, and you’ll get a little.

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