What is the Reciprocity of Liking Rule of Interpersonal Attraction?

The Reciprocity-of-Liking Rule.

People categorize an action as kind by viewing its consequences and also by the person’s fundamental intentions. Even if the consequences are the same, underlying intentions can cause an action to be reciprocated differently. Reciprocity is considered as a strong determining factor of human behaviour.

Positive reciprocal actions differ from altruistic actions as the former only follow from other positive actions and they differ from social gift giving in that those are not actions taken with the hope or expectation of future positive responses. The focus of reciprocity is centered more on trading favors than making a negotiation or a contract with another person.

With reciprocity, a small favor can produce a sense of obligation to a larger return favor. This feeling of obligation allows an action to be reciprocated with another action. Because there is a sense of future obligation with reciprocity it can help to develop and continue relationships with people. Reciprocity works because from a young age people are taught to return favors and to disregard this teaching will lead to the social stigma of being an ingrate.

Reciprocal actions are important to social psychology as they can help explain the maintenance of social norms. Reciprocity is so strong that a person will feel obligated to return a favor regardless of whether they like the person who originally gave the favor and even if they did not want the favor, as was demonstrated in an experiment by Dennis Regan in 1971.

Regan had subjects believe they were in an “art appreciation” experiment with a partner, who was really Regan’s assistant. In the experiment the assistant would disappear for a two-minute break and bring back a soft drink for the subject. After the art experiment was through, the assistant asked the subject to buy raffle tickets from him.

In the control group the assistant behaved in exactly the same manner, but did not buy the subject a drink. The subjects who had received the favor, a soft drink, bought more raffle tickets than those in the control group despite the fact that they hadn’t asked for the drink to begin with. Regan also had the subjects fill out surveys after they finished the experiment and found that whether they personally liked the assistant or not had no effect on, how many tickets they bought. One problem of reciprocity, however, focuses on the unequal profit obtained from the concept of reciprocal concessions.

The emotional burden to repay bothers some more than others, causing some to overcompensate with more than what was given originally. In the Regan study, subjects paid more money for the tickets than the cost of the (UN-requested) soft drink.

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