Homo Reciprocans


Homo reciprocans [ri-sip-ruh-kahns], or reciprocal human, is the concept in some economic theories of humans as cooperative actors who are motivated by improving their environment. This concept stands in contrast to the idea of ‘homo economicus,’ which states the opposite theory that human beings are exclusively motivated by self-interest.

Russian polymath Peter Kropotkin wrote about the concept of ‘mutual aid’ in the early part of the 20th century. The homo reciprocans concept states that human being players interact with a propensity to cooperate. They will compromise in order to achieve a balance between what is best for them and what is best for the environment they are a part of.

Homo reciprocans players, however, also are motivated by justification. If a second player is perceived as having done something wrong or insulting, the first player is willing to ‘take a hit,’ even with no foreseeable benefits, in order for the second player to suffer. A common example of this interaction is the haggler and shopkeeper. If the haggler wants a deal and the shopkeeper wants a sale, the haggler must carefully choose a price for the shopkeeper to consider. The shopkeeper will consider a lower price (or a price in between) based on the benefit of selling a product. If the haggler’s offer is a low-ball, which may be offensive to the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper may refuse simply on the grounds that he is offended, and will knowingly and purposely lose the sale.

Reciprocal players are willing to reward behavior that is just or fair, and to punish unjust or unfair behavior. Empirical evidence suggests that positive and negative reciprocity are fundamentally different behavioral dispositions in the sense that the values for positive and negative reciprocity in individuals are only weakly correlated and that these values correlate differently with factors such as gender or age. A possible explanation is that negative and positive reciprocity are different because they tap into different emotional responses.’

Positive reciprocity correlates with height, with increasing age, with female gender, with higher income as well as higher number of hours of work, with a higher number of friends and with higher overall life satisfaction. Evidence indicates that ‘married individuals are more positively reciprocal, but are not different from the unmarried in terms of negative reciprocity.’ Among employees, negative reciprocity appear to be correlated with a higher number of sick days. Positive reciprocity correlates with low unemployment, and negative reciprocity strongly correlates with unemployment. High levels of positive reciprocity correlate with higher income, but no correlation appears to exist between negative reciprocity and income.

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