Book Notes: “Influence” Chapter 2: Reciprocation

Reciprocation: A summary of the second chapter of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini.

The Ethiopian Aid Puzzle

In 1985, “Ethiopia could justly lay claim to the greatest suffering and privation in the world. Its economy was in ruin. Its food supply had been ravaged by years of drought and internal war. Its inhabitants were dying by the thousands from disease and starvation.” It wouldn’t surprise us to learn that $5,000 in relief funds had been send to Ethiopia from Mexico. But the exact opposite happened. The Ethiopian Red Cross had sent $5,000 to Mexico, to support the victims of an earthquake in Mexico City.

The Reciprocation Principle

People are more likely to comply with a request if it is made by somebody who has already done something for them.

Example: Greetings Cards

When a college professor sent cards to complete strangers, many of them sent cards back to him.

Why Does the Rule Exist?

This rule exists because of the overall benefits to society.
We are conditioned by society to return a favour if one is done for us.

You scratch my back…

  • We have been conditioned to feel uncomfortable when beholden
  • There are often social sanctions for those who break the rules

Example: Coke and Raffle Tickets

Joe was one of two people were waiting to participate in an art evaluation experiment. Joe was secretly working for the experimenter. In the waiting room before the experiment, Joe sometimes bought the other participant a Coke. After the art experiment was over, Joe asked the other participant if they could help him out and buy some raffle tickets. When Joe had bought a Coke for the other participant, he sold more raffle tickets after he experiment.

The Power of The Reciprocity Principle

The rule possesses awesome strength, often producing a yes response to a request that, except for an existing feeling of indebtedness, would have surely been refused.Robert Cialdini

The effect of liking/disliking is overwhelmed by obligation:

  • For those who didn’t owe Joe a favor, there was a significant tendency for subjects to buy more raffle tickets from Joe the more they liked him.
  • For those who owed him a favor, it made no difference whether they liked him or not; they felt a sense of obligation to repay him, and they did.

Key Features of the Principle

Compliance professionals may exploit these features:

  • Person can trigger a feeling of indebtedness by doing us an uninvited favor (people didn’t ask Joe for Coke)
  • The reciprocity rule that allows it to be exploited for profit (raffle tickets were 25x more expensive than Coke)

Who Exploits this Principle

Businesses, charities and politicians exploit this rule to their advantage. In the hope of gaining something in return, they often offer:

  • Gifts
  • Free samples
  • Favours
  • Concessions

Example: Mints

This is the reason you’re given a mint with your bill in a restaurant: studies have shown that more mints lead to higher tips.

The Rejection-then-Retreat Technique

This is a common techinque used by compliance professionals to get us to do something we wouldn’t normally do.
Three steps:

  • Make a large request.
  • Make a concession.
  • Make a small request.

Why does this work? Two principles are at work here:

  • Reciprocation: The requester has made a concession. Now it is your turn.
  • Contrast: The small request seems small in comparison to the big one.

Example: Talking the Top of the Line

A sales practice used in retail is to “talk the top of the line.” The customer is shown the deluxe model first. If the customer buys, the store is happy. But if the customer doesn’t buy, the salesperson counteroffers with a more reasonably priced model.

The Surprise Factor

People who are surprised by a request will often comply because they are momentarily unsure of themselves and, consequently, influenced easily.

The Solution to the Ethiopian Aid Puzzle

In 1935, Mexico had sent aid to Ethiopia when it was invaded by Italy. The Ethiopians feld obligated to them.

Advice for Marketers

The implication is you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people and they will want to give you something in return.Robert Cialdini

Final Example

Plesase could you read all my articles and comment on them all?
No? Then please could you leave a comment for just this one, then?
By the way, you’re looking great today!


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