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Source: Cornell
Published: February 2002

Mental Models: Reciprocity

Circulated: October 29, 2020

People tend to return a favor. When you offer something first for free, people feel a sense of indebtedness towards you. That’s why when a friend invites you to their party; there’s an obligation for you to invite them to a future party you are hosting.

Example: the use of candy to increase restaurant tipping

Researchers found that most people will feel they owe a debt when given a mint for free and will repay it by leaving a higher tip.

When a waiter leaves one after-dinner mint when they drop off your check, you will tip 3% more than if no mint was given. But when the waiter leaves two mints, your tipping increases to 14% more than no mint! To receive a 23% greater tip than no mint, a waiter can drop off one mint, leave, and then come back to your table with a second mint.

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