The Power of Reciprocation

CopyBlogger considers the book I mentioned in the post about Objectivity, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert B. Cialdini. He describes the six principles for getting to yes. I'll tackle each one here at Selling Compassion with practical ideas for activism:

"Reciprocation — There is an overwhelming urge to repay debts, to do something in return when something is done for us. This deep-seated urge is so strong, noted paleontologist Richard Leaky has said that it is the very essence of what it means to be human. Sociologist Alvin Gouldner points out that no society on Earth escapes the reciprocity principle."

"Application: Give people something for free."

For animal advocates promoting veganism this means:
What will we get in return?

Well, at the very least, people are less likely to trash the gift. Even if they don't find it useful for themselves, they seem more willing to pass it along simply because they view it as a gift. Thus, even if they don't reduce their meat consumption or go vegan, they might inspire someone else to by passing along the gift.

I've noticed a significant percentage of people thank me when I leaflet with substantial booklets. Leafletting with small brochures or postcards doesn't illicit the same response, they're not thankful because people don't seem to treat the smaller brochures as gifts. Hopefully, this thankful attitude will translate into a positive reception of the information and a willingness to change one's diet. But regardless, the thankfulness certainly makes leafletting easier. It's so much more rewarding to do activism where people thank you than activism where people are angry or mean.

For us, this idea of reciprocation is more difficult than for the average sales-person because:
  • animal advocates ask people to "pay back" someone else (the animals) rather than pay us back,
  • usually we're asking people to refrain from doing something (eat animals, wear animals, test on animals) rather than asking them to do something, which is always more difficult. (Convincing someone to say "yes" to you is easier than getting them to say "no" to someone else.)
But ultimately, evoking this thankful attitude in others can be a good idea because it makes them more receptive to animal rights and welfare concepts. When they come from a place of gratitude they're not coming from a place of anger or defensiveness.


  1. A great post. Thanks for sharing. I think acts of sharing, kindness are a great model, but also good for the do-er. Caring can be restorative.

  2. I agree with you Debra.

    Here's something about how altruism is selfish:


Please keep it civil. No anti-animal (including humans) discussion.