When The Context Backfires: Experimental Evidence On Reciprocity

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Journal Of Behavioral Economics For Policy


In a randomized field experiment in Ecuador, we tested whether triggering the norm of reciprocity increases participation in a business training program. The sample included 793 microentrepreneurs in the provinces of Pichincha and Guayas in Ecuador who were randomly assigned to either receive or not receive a premium chocolate with their invitation to participate. Bank officers personally delivered the invitations/chocolate gift. Surprisingly, we find a negative and significant effect of 8.3 percentage points of the chocolate gift on participation rates. We argue that an unexpected, temporary change in the context triggered a negative response from the entrepreneurs to the gift, which changed the direction of the expected result; thus, the intervention induced negative rather than positive reciprocity.


bbbehavioral economics, randomized experiment, field experiment, reciprocity