Reciprocity Technique #1: Pre-Giving

16.03.2017 |

Episode #3 of the course Persuasion science masterclass: part I by Andy Luttrell


One way you can use the principle of reciprocity to secure influence is to implement “pre-giving.” The idea behind pre-giving is that by giving someone a physical gift, you increase the likelihood that they will agree to your later request. So, even if it’s just a small little thing you give to someone, you’re creating the expectation that it’s now the other person’s turn to give back to you.

Let’s look at one famous study that showed how powerful pre-giving can be (Regan, 1971). In this study, participants believed they were participating in a general psychology study with another person. In reality, that other person was an actor who was working with the researchers and only pretending to be another participant.

When there was an intermission in the middle of the experiment, the actor asked if he could leave the room, and once the experimenter agreed, he actually did leave for a couple minutes. Sometimes the actor came back and the experiment proceeded like normal. But sometimes the actor came back holding two bottles of Coca-Cola, and he says that he bought one of them for the other participant. In other words, the real participant in the study just received a gift!

At the end of the experiment, as the two participants were getting ready to leave, the actor says that he’s selling raffle tickets for his high school back home and that he would win a prize if he was able to sell the most raffle tickets. Ultimately, he asks the participant if he would buy any tickets. This is the key request, and the question is: does the participant say “yes”?

The results showed that under normal conditions, people are willing to buy a raffle ticket. But when the actor simply bought the participant a soda, people were likely to buy closer to two tickets, on average. In other words, when someone gives us a small gift, we become more likely to do what that person asks us to do later! It’s simple reciprocity in action.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that you don’t want to wait too long after you give the initial gift before making your request. One study found—like the previous study—that giving a small gift increased compliance rates from 65% to 90% (Burger, Horita, Kinoshita, Roberts, & Vera, 1997). But they also ran a version of the study where instead of asking for the favor right away, they made the request one week after participants had received the gift. The results showed that after a week, compliance rates were not different between people who had received a gift and those who hadn’t. In other words, if you wait too long, people no longer feel indebted to you.

There are a whole bunch of ways that you can apply pre-giving. One is to give a free gift, like we’ve been talking about—an actual, physical free gift. But you can also do things like release free content online. By giving this information away for free, people feel indebted to you. You can also do things like sending holiday cards to clients. All of these things are revolving around the same idea, and certainly you can think of your own ways of giving some gift—either a little gift or a more abstract one—and then following that up with some request that you’d hope someone will help you out with.


Recommended book

“Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions” by Guy Kawasaki


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