ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (6): 1094-1108.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.01094

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The power of circulation: The impact of reciprocal relationship on consumer behavior

SUN Jin(), YANG Jingshu   

  1. International School of Business, University of International Business and Economics, Beijing 100029, China
  • Received:2022-06-06 Online:2023-06-15 Published:2023-03-07
  • Contact: SUN Jin


Reciprocity reflects the resource circulation between “giving” and “reciprocating”, which widely exists in the consumption field in various forms. Previous studies largely focus on reciprocity’s impact in scopes of anthropology, sociology, economics and organizational behavior. However, the relationship between reciprocity and consumer behavior has not been systematically reviewed. Therefore, the current research aims to build a consumers behavioral response model to reciprocal relationships. From perspectives of reciprocal exchange, equivalence principle and moral norm, the framework shows that reciprocal relationships can affect three dimensions of consumers’ response - subject, nature and level of behavior. Transitivity is reciprocity’s first feature. As a binary relationship, reciprocal relationships not only affect cooperators’ decision-making in existing relationships, but also predict the attitude and behavior of third parties outside the relationship. The double-edged sword is reciprocity’s second feature. As an equivalent exchange, the valence of reciprocity does not decide the positive and negative nature of consumers' responses. Positive reciprocity may lead to negative outcomes, and negative reciprocity may have positive effects. Asymmetry is reciprocity’s third feature. Even though the nature of consumers’ responses is congruent with reciprocity’s valence, reciprocal relationships may generate asymmetric responses in quantity and quality. The research further found that (un)conscious decision-making, result-/deontology-orientation, and social exchange respectively play the underlying mechanisms of transitivity, double-edged sword and asymmetry. These underlying mechanisms are based on theories of cultural learning, goal contagion, intertemporal decision-making, moral consistency/balance and equal exchange. Finally, the framework summarizes social and individual factors moderating the relationship between reciprocity and consumer behavior. Social factors include culture, communication context and other exchange forms, and individual factors include demographic variables, personality traits and cognitive state.
The conceptual framework offers several limitations, which may help future researchers to extend this line of research. Future research should explore the antecedents related to reciprocity and the change of their weights from two systems of internal and external dynamics. The subject, nature and level of consumers’ response should be integrated by longitudinal study design and large-scale individual-level data analysis. Moreover, future research should continue to explore boundary conditions of reciprocal relationships affecting consumer behavior, and focus on the differences in the internal mechanism of reciprocal relationships triggered by different cooperators.
Overall, by jumping out of the assumption that self-interest maximization is the only expectation of market members, the present research has three contributions. First, considering that reciprocity has multiple dimensions and forms, the framework comprehensively categorizes the antecedents of reciprocity that drive consumers’ behavior, shedding light upon the conceptual discrepancies and outlining future paths for discovery. Second, the framework summarizes and refines the consumers’ response in reciprocal relationships, which not only helps to systematically grasp the macroscopic law of consumer behavior in social exchange, but also promotes the sustainable evolution of consumption. Third, the framework further discusses the situations where reciprocity, together with social and individual factors, simultaneously affect individual behavior, which expands the traditional framework of interdependent decision-making.

Key words: circulation, reciprocal relationship, consumer behavior, equivalence principle, cultural learning theory

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