Reciprocity: the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.
Synonyms: exchange · trade · trade-off · swap · switch · barter

In social psychology, reciprocity is a rule that says we should pay back to others, what another person has provided for us. If someone gives you a gift for your birthday then there is an expectation that you would do the same on their birthday. This future obligation helps us to build relationships and maintain social norms.

You can also feel this obligation to reciprocate on behalf of people you love. If your child is invited to a friend’s home for tea, there is an expectation that you will return the invitation at a later date. Both children benefit socially from this reciprocal arrangement and both sets of parents benefit from having some child-free time.

Check My Loved One’s OK enables this kind of reciprocity. If someone is prepared to spend an hour a week, visiting my Mum who lives miles away, I can return that kindness by volunteering to visit someone else’s Mum who lives near me. Both Mums benefit socially and their sons or daughters benefit from the knowledge that their Mums are less lonely or isolated than before.

CMLOOK would enable 2 geographically separate people, Simon and Bill, to come to a reciprocal arrangement which would help them both to look after their mothers.

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Simon lives in Bristol and his mother lives in London.  Meanwhile Bill lives in London and his mother lives in Bristol. Bill is a volunteer with CMLOOK. He has used CMLOOK’s verification service to upload his checks (Criminal Record, Social Media Check, Employment History Check, etc.).

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Simon’s mother needs help getting up in the morning, with shopping and getting to doctor’s appointments. When Simon visits his mother he completes a needs assessment online. The Council says she is eligible for professional help getting up but that she’ll have to manage the shopping and doctor’s visits herself.

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Whilst giving information about his mum, the Local Authority portal tells Simon about CMLOOK – a network for swapping and volunteering help and services. Simon says what he’s willing to do and how much time he can give. CMLOOK identifies Bill who lives in London and is willing to ‘swap’ help. Bill and Simon contact each other via CMLOOK and agree to meet. They get on well and agree to ‘swap’ help.

Anthropologists believe that reciprocal arrangements such as these may have had an evolutionary advantage. Crawford Hollingworth, a social psychologist and founder of Behavioural Architects  wrote:

“Reciprocity bias is our tendency to reciprocate the actions of others creating a wave of indebtedness. If somebody does something for us, or gives us something, we are more likely to return the favour or pass the favour on to others. We have the tendency to behave toward others as they behave toward us.

The impulse to reciprocate is a powerful one and cultural anthropologists have suggested it is likely to be universal. The desire to return favours, pay back debts and treat others well is beneficial for the whole group, and the fact that it engenders cooperation could have offered an evolutionary advantage”

Bias in the spotlight – Research Live

We’re interested in finding out if the reciprocity bias is applicable in the volunteer sector. Are you more likely to volunteer to help others if someone else’s volunteering has already helped you or someone you love. Can CMLOOK create a wave of indebtedness? This is one of the key assumptions we need to test for CMLOOK.

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