It’s better to like, give and heal a stranger’s soul



IF someone likes you, do you reciprocate by liking him as well? Of course, the answer is in the affirmative. It’s a simple and yet powerful principle in social psychology called – the “reciprocity of liking.” If you don’t return the favor, you’re considered an ingrate, and you will lose all future opportunities with these people. But what if the “like” comes from a stranger? Let’s leave that question hanging until the end of this article.

The “reciprocity of liking” is so powerful it creates a feeling of indebtedness that, at times, makes some people uncomfortable. To get out of that tight situation, one is forced to give back something. A common example of this would be, when you park your car in a shopping mall and you’re greeted by a uniformed mall parking attendant who would offer to find you a vacant slot. He leads you to a spot that’s barricaded with a traffic cone or two, making it look like it’s been there reserved just for you.

This car park attendant eventually turns out to be a mobile car wash boy, who offers to also clean your car – for a hefty sum, compared with what’s offered outside the mall. At times, you feel obligated, so you succumb to the offer in the end. And you’ll justify that the car needs to take a bath anyway, and it saves you time as he can do the washing while you’re shopping. But if you feel stingy, or perhaps think that’s impractical because it’s the rainy season, anyway, why bother?

Then you simply give the carwash boy P20 so he can disappear right away. Of course, you can get away from it all by simply giving the carwash boy a dismissive wave. The question is – is it the most decent thing to do to person who is trying to earn money through decent means?

In 1971, psychologist Dennis Regan conducted an experiment to explain the “reciprocity of liking” and went further to make a conclusion that it doesn’t really mean favoring the favor-giver, but “by normative pressure to reciprocate.” You may or may not like the person because it’s your first time to meet him, but since he offered you some help from nowhere, you’re forced to return the favor.

In that classic experiment, Regan organized an art appreciation class, where a stranger was paired with Regan’s assistant (named Joe) who appeared genuinely helpful. During the class, Joe routinely went out for a break, and when he came back, he brought a cola drink (considered a small gift) to the stranger, who accepted it gratefully.

At the end of the “class,” Joe offered to sell some raffle tickets to the stranger.

The experiment was repeated several times over with different subjects. And the result was – “the more the participants liked Joe, the more likely they were to buy raffle tickets from him. However, when Joe had given them a soda and thus, [made them feel as though]indebted to him, it made no difference whether the participants liked Joe or not, the rule of reciprocity overpowered liking.”

The hypothesis is clear. People are more likely to return the favor to someone (even to a stranger) who has done them a favor than by someone who has not lifted a finger. Now, can we do the same thing on social media? What does it mean if some strangers are continuously giving you an unreasonable amount of “likes” on your postings?

Does it mean you’re obligated to post an equal amount of “likes” on his or her wall?

I tried to validate this with my millennial students, who were required to analyze case studies almost every day. The trouble was that they only wanted to work with their friends, and sometimes for nasty reasons, such as, they’re freeloaders who expect to always benefit from heroes willing to make a sacrifice for the group. One thing that I noticed though, students who work with the same gender produce better results, such as all-female and all-male groups work better than mixed-gender groups.

I like mixed-gender groupings, with membership often decided by draw lots, except that the results are on average about 50 percent disastrous. There’s always that chance that when you have four groups, for instance – two groups will perform well and the other two will do the opposite, as if their lives have been predetermined to fail.

What could be the probable cause of this? Is it the inspiration, or the distraction, of being able to look deeply
into the soul of someone from the opposite sex? Why not? Many of them are single, except that they’re working students who must hurdle many challenges such as overcoming many distractions within a very short time – with each case study processed in 30 minutes.

Such experiment needs scientific validation. As of the moment, it appears that when you force the class to work with people they don’t like, they will give you mediocre results, compared with those who are given the chance to work with people whom they like to fly high with, and produce excellent results even with only 15 minutes of team play.

Really, I can’t understand why some students wouldn’t want to try to be associated with others they don’t know much about, or don’t like. The reasons are varied and wide that if we were to summarize them here – it would mean one foreseeable thing: they don’t want to be associated with people who might turn out to be too lazy, if not incapacitated by their lack of intellect or whatever is left of it.

Just the same, students must work with those who do not belong to their “league,” so that there may be a beneficial diversity of opinion, balance of intellect, and mutual coaching for everyone, in the hope that in the future, they will like each other perpetually…even on Facebook.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing on human resources and total quality management as fused interest. Feedback may be sent to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random thoughts on Elbonomics.


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