Cooperation among humans doesn’t seem like it should be natural. In a world based on competition and survival of the fittest, it seems odd that humans have evolved to live cooperatively in groups with one another.
However, when humans live individually and solely for themselves, life becomes a zero sum game, where one person’s win is another person’s loss.
But life is full of many situations that can result in a win-win scenario as long as both sides are willing to cooperate with each other.
This has led humans to evolve into groups based on reciprocity, meaning if you help me then I will help you.
We’ve become hardwired to want to return the favor.
In the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” Robert Cialdini, a psychologist and marketing professor at ASU, uses many studies to show that people have a built in reciprocity reflex.
If an acquaintance gives you a Christmas card, then you feel obligated to go out and buy them a Christmas card.
If a friend buys you a present, it makes you want to go buy them a present in return.
By rule, if someone does us a favor, we feel obligated to return it.
This reciprocity reflex has led many salespeople, marketers and businesses to take advantage of other individuals by exploiting this basic instinct in them.
Supermarkets will give out free samples so that you buy more and increase their sales.
Waiters and waitresses will give you mints with the check so that you’ll tip them more.
And salespeople will give out gift cards to potential customers to increase their chances of making a sale.
When you’re out for dinner or shopping at a store, you may enjoy receiving a free sample or eating a free mint. It may feel nice to get something for doing nothing, but don’t be fooled, you’ll most likely be paying for that “favor” with money from your own wallet.
This is why people who want something from us will always try to give us something first. They do us a “favor” and in return they get rewarded.
People can definitely find success doing this because it works. Reciprocity is one of the strongest principles of influence.
The problem though is that eventually people start to realize that you’re only helping them to get something in return. Then they cover it up with words like “I just wanted to help,” or “I was just trying to be nice.”
If you want to help people, then help them, but it’s important to not do it with the expectation of getting something in return for it.