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Influence Techniques: Reciprocity Principle September 25, 2005

Posted by dhar in Misc.

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.



1. Chanakya - September 25, 2005

Reciprocity works in our lives day in and day out. Many a time, people weigh and pay back exact same thing. For example, if you fake smile to your friend, it is likely that you will get the ‘pay back’ immediately.

Gyan from the b-school is that those you are able to look at longer pay back periods – even as high as several years – will benefit.

Though it makes ‘payback sense,’ we can build relationships if we genuinely help others without expecting much immediately.

2. Dhar - September 26, 2005

we can build relationships if we genuinely help others without expecting much immediately.

Very true! Further, it makes more sense if all these techniques are used ethically. Trying to use these for manipulative purposes will only harm you in the long run.


3. Phoenix - September 26, 2005

I’d say there’s nothing bad in this whole human tendency of repaying “debts”. Using that as a marekting tact is not too bad either.
It’s just one of the basic ways of establishing relationships.

4. Dhar - September 27, 2005


Certainly nothing bad in repaying debts. That is the way it should be. In fact society labels those who dont pay back their debts with names like welcher and looks down upon such people.


5. chandra - September 28, 2005


you sure are popular with Tina. She mentioned your name whilst refering to the book by cialdini.


6. Dhar - September 28, 2005

Hee.. hee… I had done a couple of presentations on Cialdini while at ISB. One of them being in Tina Dacin’s class, the other being for Rajeshwar Upadhyay. I thoroughly enjoyed making those presentations… 🙂

Tina is a real cool prof. Very helpful… very co-operative. Gem of a person.


7. Anonymous - September 29, 2005

Hey Dhar

Did you fix the HDD that you busted and promised to fix for TD?


8. Anonymous - September 29, 2005

Hey Dhar

Did you fix the HDD that you busted and promised to fix for TD?


9. nikhil dhar - October 6, 2005

Hey,when will you post the remaining principles. I m waiting.

10. Dhar - October 6, 2005

Hey Nikhil,

Will be posting over this weekend. Life has been a bit hectic over the past few days.


11. Rajesh Tand - December 24, 2005

Agreed Cialdini’s book is great – but am lost about your blog entry .. all you seem to have done is paraphrase Cialdini.

How about some examples from your own life – or some other causes of influence ?

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