Reciprocity Norm

We repay in kind what another has done for us

The Norm of Reciprocity states that we repay in kind what another has done for us. 

A short thread on how it works and how it can make a difference in your life...


When people give something to us or help us in any way, we may feel obliged to return the favor. 

To test this, sociologists Phillip Kunz and Michael Woolcott (1976) sent out Christmas cards to 578 strangers in the Chicago city district. The experiment was designed to see how many people would reciprocate the receipt of holiday cards by mailing their own Christmas cards back.

In every case, two facts remained:

  1. People received a card with a clearly marked return address

  2. That return address had the names of two people that they had never met before in their entire lives.

The results were fascinating. 117 of the recipients -- a full 20% of the original sample -- sent their own responses back to Kunz and Woolcott. These responses ranged from simple generic holiday cards, to pictures of their children and pets, to several-page letters of details of their life events dating back several years!

Another Chicago family with the last name Kunz actually reported that they had to call the police and complain about the number of people who had contacted them throughout the month of December due to the Christmas cards!

The experiment actually generated enough local buzz that it eventually ended when a local radio station outed the ploy, thus contaminating the potential authenticity of any future responses.

This study by Kunz and Woolcott is an illustrative example of the Reciprocity Norm -- when people do something nice for you, you will feel a sense of obligation to return the favor.

The Reciprocity Norm is so powerful, it allows the initial giver to ask for something in return, rather than having to wait for a voluntary reciprocal act.

So remember that people, by nature, feel obliged to provide discounts or concessions to others if they’ve received favors from those same people.


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