Generalized (Positive) Reciprocity says that if A helps B, B will help C. Many studies have shown that this behavior exists in different settings (real life, field and lab experiments). Studies also show that the "task/dimension/domain" between A/B and B/C can be different. For example, A helps B with a computer problem and B gives more in a dictator game.

I'm more interested in Generalized Negative Reciprocity. If A is unkind to B, B will be unkind to C. Obviously the underlying mechanisms in the positive and negative versions are different. Studies have shown (e.g. Gray, et al. 2014 and Strang, et al. 2016) that if the "task/dimension/domain" is similar, people reciprocate negatively. A gives little in dictator game to B and B will do the same in a dictator game to C. But what if the dimensions are different. Like A gives B a bad task instead of a good one, will B also give little to C ina dictator game (compared to a B that received a good task).

Do you guys know any papers that deal with this research question? I spent weeks reading literature in this area but I cannot believe that nobody tried it out.

Update 1: I actually found something. Zitek et al. 2010 let participants think about unfair situations in their past and they observe less pro-social behavior in different experiments.

Nevertheless, I would appreciate additional resources. I'm going through papers citing Zitek.

Social modeling could explain past research showing a relationship between being the victim of selfish behavior and acting selfishly in the same domain (e.g., Austin & Walster, 1975; Moschetti & Kues, 1978; Zitek et al., 2007); perhaps people who have been the victims of uneven monetary distributions, for example, simply imitate such unfair behavior when it is their own turn to distribute money or believe that such behavior is more normative. We found, however, that when people pondered times when life was unfair to them—recalling slights in a wide variety of domains—they were subsequently less likely to help an experimenter with an additional task, even though none of them had recalled a time when they asked for help but did not receive it.


Gray, K., Ward, A. F., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Paying it forward: Generalized reciprocity and the limits of generosity. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 143(1), 247. doi: 10.1037/a0031047

Strang, S., Grote, X., Kuss, K., Park, S. Q., & Weber, B. (2016). Generalized negative reciprocity in the dictator game–how to interrupt the chain of unfairness. Scientific reports, 6, 22316. doi: 10.1038/srep22316

Zitek, E. M., Jordan, A. H., Monin, B., & Leach, F. R. (2010). Victim entitlement to behave selfishly. Journal of personality and social psychology, 98(2), 245. link

// edit: Thanks to Chris Rogers for adding the references!


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