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PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE Research Article Reciprocity Is Not Give and Take Asymmetric Reciprocity to Positive and Negative Acts

By Boaz Keysar, Benjamin A. Converse, Jiunwen Wang and Nicholas Epley


ABSTRACT—Unlike economic exchange, social exchange has no well-defined ‘‘value.’ ’ It is based on the norm of reciprocity, in which giving and taking are to be repaid in equivalent measure. Although giving and taking are colloquially assumed to be equivalent actions, we demonstrate that they produce different patterns of reciprocity. In five experiments utilizing a dictator game, people reciprocated in like measure to apparently prosocial acts of giving, but reciprocated more selfishly to apparently antisocial acts of taking, even when the objective outcomes of the acts of giving and taking were identical. Additional results demonstrate that acts of giving in social exchanges are perceived as more generous than objectively identical acts of taking, that taking tends to escalate, and that the asymmetry in reciprocity is not due to gaining versus losing resources. Reciprocity appears to operate on an exchange rate that assigns value to the meaning of events, in a fashion that encourages prosocial exchanges. In economic exchange, trading is enabled by the shared understanding that a good or service will be provided in exchange for its market value. In social exchange, ‘‘trading’ ’ is enabled by the universal norm of reciprocity—the shared understanding that resources given or taken will be recouped (Gouldner, 1960; Leakey & Lewin, 1978). Benefit tends to be reciprocated positively, and harm provokes retribution (Heider, 1956; Vidmar, 2000). Reciprocity makes social exchange possible by allowing one person to initiate giving without fear of losing the initial ‘‘investment’ ’ (Axelrod & Hamilton, 1981; Cialdini

Year: 2013
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