Reciprocity by Proxy: A Novel Influence Strategy for Stimulating Cooperation

Abstract

We explored a novel reciprocity-based influence strategy to stimulate cooperation called the reciprocity-by-proxy strategy. Unlike in traditional reciprocity, in which benefactors provide direct benefits to target individuals to elicit reciprocity, the reciprocity-by-proxy strategy elicits in the target a sense of indebtedness to benefactors by providing benefits to a valued third party on behalf of the target (e.g., first making a donation to a charity on behalf of one’s employees and then later asking employees to comply with a request). We hypothesize that this strategy should be more effective than the widely used incentiveby-proxy strategy, in which one makes a request of a target, promising to provide aid to a valued third party if the target first complies with the request (e.g., offering to make a donation to charity for every employee who complies with a request). We found that hotel guests were more likely to reuse their towels when the hotel’s environmental conservation program used a reciprocity-byproxy strategy than when it used an incentive-by-proxy or standard environmental strategy. Four additional experiments replicate this finding, rule out alternative explanations, and reveal that the reciprocity-by-proxy approach can backfire when the target audience does not support the beneficiary of the aid.

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