"Reciprocity provides the foundation for
moral behavior
in humans."
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You scratch my back...
"Reciprocal Altruism" is a key social driver and mind motivator.

Gosh, I hate to owe other people.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'll graciously accept help and am thankful for others' willingness to provide resources and good counsel, but then the niggling sensation starts in the back of my head. "What are you doing for them?", the voice chides. "Why haven't you done more? You definitely OWE that person, big time!" 

We all fall victim to that nagging internal voice, which is one of the most potent human-compliance triggers on the planet. Neuroscientists call it "reciprocal altruism", a fancy term for the burning desire to repay in kind for what another person has done or provided for us. 

From grooming primates ("You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours") to religious doctrine ("Do unto others as you would have others do unto you"), when we receive something from others, we feel naturally compelled to return the favor. In itself, the need to repay in kind is a gracious, socially acceptable act. But when marketers manipulate our reciprocity reflex, it's downright
insulting. The worst part is, we often can't resist. Reciprocal altruism is one of the primary reasons for the massive uptick in buying during the holiday gift-giving season and also why we respond in kind to free samples.

Not me! I never cave in to obvious tactics!
Really? Have you ever gone grocery shopping and tasted a free sample? Before you realized it, a package of the item magically appeared in your cart. You get home and think to yourself: "What was I thinking? I really don't need this." C'mon, be honest, it happens to all of us.
A small part of our subconscious loves getting freebies, then feels guilty about not paying for the sample of cheese, the free customized address labels, the tiny tube of whitening toothpaste with the $1 off coupon attached.

Robert Shoemaker of New York University reported that his empirical research suggests that "unlike other consumer promotions, such as coupons, free samples can produce measurable long-term positive effects on sales." To drive the point home, another NYU professor sent Christmas cards to a group of complete strangers. He received dozens of holiday cards in return, even though he had never known or met the people!

The need to repay runs deep. Rather than fighting it, recognize the tendency and then decide if you really want to reciprocate or are comfortable living with the "guilt", which only exists only in your mind. If you're marketing a product or service, you may consider offering valuable information (like e-newsletters, white papers, even tangible product samples) and see if you see a bump in online interest, requests for more info and ultimately, more sales. 
But if you do, please offer your goods with a genuine spirit of altruism and don't expect anything in return. You may or may not increase your sales, but you'll definitely sleep better at night. 

Mental Notes is Evolving
In the coming months, dear reader, you and I will
explore the psychology and neuroscience of branding, both personal and professional.
As a result, Mental Notes
will continue to evolve to complement my role as a national brand consultant, speaker and coach. I welcome your comments and questions along the way.