Reciprocating (More) Specifically to You: The Role of Benefactor's Identifiability on Direct and Upstream Reciprocity

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Research suggests that benefiting from someone's voluntary, intentional, costly effort encourages reciprocal prosocial behavior, as well as promoting upstream reciprocity, that is, increases reciprocal actions by the recipient for the benefit of an unrelated third party. The current study examines the role of the identifiability of the benefactor in determining the extent to which people engage in direct and upstream reciprocity. Results of three studies reveal that while an identified benefactor tends to engender greater direct reciprocal reactions than an unidentified one, this strong reaction toward the identified benefactor does not hold to the same extent when upstream reciprocity is considered (regardless of identification of the third party). On the other hand, when the benefactor is unidentified, levels of direct and upstream reciprocity remain similar. Moderated-mediation analysis suggests that ethical commitment associated with the universal norm of reciprocity explains the decrease in prosociality between reactions toward the benefactor himself or herself and toward a third party under the identified condition.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)473-483
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • dictator game
  • gratitude
  • identifiability effect
  • prosocial behavior
  • reciprocity

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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