Reciprocity (social psychology)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, and responding to a negative action with another negative one. Positive reciprocal actions differ from altruistic actions as those 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.

Reciprocal actions are important to social psychology as they can help explain the maintenance of social norms. If a sufficient proportion of the population interprets the breaking of a social norm by another as a hostile action and if these people are willing to take (potentially costly) action to punish the rule-breaker then this can maintain the norm in the absence of formal sanctions. The punishing action may range from negative words to complete social ostracism.

In public good experiments, behavioral economists have demonstrated that the potential for reciprocal actions by players increases the rate of contribution to the public good, providing evidence for the importance of reciprocity in social situations.

In the animal world reciprocity exists in the social behaviour of Baboons. Male Baboons will form alliances with one another in order that one baboon will distract the Alpha-male, who has monopolized reproductive females, and the other will copulate with a female. The roles will be reversed later for "payback".

It may be a motivation for returning favors from others. A form of reciprocity is "reciprocal concessions," in which the requester lowers his/her initial request, making the respondent more likely to agree to a second request. The respondent agrees because the requester has lowered his/her request, making a concession to the respondent. The respondent then experiences the social obligation to make a concession in kind back to the requester, and thus agrees to the second, lower request.

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