HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.


Increasing virtuous behaviors, such as initiating healthy habits, is an important goal for policymakers and social scientists. To promote compliance with requests to perform virtuous behaviors, we study “returnable reci-procity.” Whereas traditional reciprocity involves giving people unreturnable unsolicited gifts to encourage compliance, returnable reciprocity involves offering opportunities to return the unsolicited gifts if they choose not to comply. Four studies (and two additional supplemental studies) show that returnable reciprocity (compared to traditional reciprocity) leads to higher enrollment in a hypothetical workplace wellness program (Study 1), as well as greater compliance in an incentive-compatible large-scale ?eld experiment (Study 2) and conceptual lab replications (Studies 3 & S1). Returnable reciprocity may be more effective than traditional reciprocity because it induces increased feelings of guilt for non-compliance (Study 3). Though making an un-solicited gift returnable can be inexpensive, it appears to impose psychological costs that negatively affect the tactic’s overall impact on social welfare (Studies 4 & S2).


Zlatev, Julian J., and Todd Rogers. "Returnable Reciprocity: Returnable Gifts are More Effective than Unreturnable Gifts at Promoting Virtuous Behaviors." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 161, Supplement (November 2020): 74-84.