Influence Techniques: Reciprocity Principle
Humans tend to repay favors done to them. The act of accepting a favor makes us want to repay that “debt” in a suitable manner at the earliest possible time. This works across cultures, across geographies and across time too.
In his book on Influence, Cialdini mentions experiments carried out by Dr. Dennis Regan. Dr. Regan had volunteers working in pairs on a research project that purportedly was measuring art appreciation and reviewing paintings. One of the volunteer’s (Andy) was actually Dr. Regan’s assistant.
Taking a break during the art review process, Andy asked his partner if he could leave the room to get a soft drink for himself. Invariably his partner would say “Yes, of course”. In the control experiment, when Andy came back he had brought a coke only for himself. But in the other case, he would get a coke can for his partner too.
At the end of the art-review, Andy announced to his work partner that he was selling raffle tickets for a charity. What the results from this experiment showed is that Andy sold nearly twice as many tickets to the partners he gave a free Coke to compared to the partners he gave nothing to. Not only this, the amount they spent, was much larger in the cases Andy got them a coke can. This experiment clearly shows the urge people have in them to reciprocate any favor done to them.
This method was exploited quite a bit by ISKON to raise funds. Their method relied heavily on the principle of reciprocity. Typically, an ISKCON volunteer would approach a person coming out of an airport with a flower or a book such as the Bhagawat Gita saying it was a token gift from ISKCON. Most people would accept the gift with a Thank you. Just as they accepted the gift, the ISKCON person would whip out their donation books and make a request for a donation. The unwitting target would inevitably make a donation to reciprocate the favor of giving a “gift”.
This is the principle behind companies giving customer free samples. A free sample allows customer to test the product. But this free gift also helps builds reciprocity. Amway often provides prospective customers with free samples of their products. After having tried the free sample, the percentage of people buying the products increased dramatically.