hammurabi's Code: The Driving Mechanisms Behind Generalized Reciprocity

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 676 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

Words: 676|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

Reciprocity dates as far back to the time of Hammurabi (c. 1792–1750 BC). Hammurabi's code is a collection of 282 laws and standards, that demanded the individual act in terms of the public interest. Hobhouse referred to reciprocity as “the vital principle of society,” and Becker referred to our species as “homo reciprocus.” Generalized reciprocity (GR) is the act of giving to one person and receiving from another, but not from the same person. This is referred to as “paying it forward.” What are the driving forces behind this social exchange? Gratitude, reputation, and dissonance are those driving mechanisms.

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Rand says that prosocial behaviors are important in maintaining a prosocial society. Doing so increases the chance of receiving help from others. Recent studies have focused on prosocial emotions and the experience of gratitude is recognized as the driving force behind generalized reciprocity. I’ve been the recipient of GR in a Starbucks drive-through line and have also reciprocated. This exchange can be risky. The risk of potential exploitation is looming and questions about the giver's motivations can surface. However, many scholars have recognized risk is necessary for proving one’s own trustworthiness and informing effective bonds. As Adler and Kwon state, GR “…it transforms individuals from self-seeking and egocentric agents with little of no sense of obligation to others into members of a community with shared interests, a common identity, and a commitment to the common good.” Comparatively, work by Desento shows that gratitude has a stronger role and a more lasting effect than any other mechanism. Reputation must also be considered. How one sees oneself is influential in making a decision of GR. Most people like to maintain a prosocial reputation, as stated above. However, one may appear to be “paying it forward”, but the motivation behind it is quite different. 

A person may be more inclined to help another if they know people are watching. A great example of this is an employee who agrees to stay late to help a coworker meet a deadline when the boss is around. Simpson and Willer noted that the reputational consequences make the behavior of egoists and altruists virtually identical. Equally considered, a person who does not pay it forward to others, maybe viewed negatively. Lastly, cognitive dissonance theory is worth mentioning. This is when individuals seek consistency among their cognitions. Leon Festinger proposed that people strive for “internal psychological consistency to function mentally in the real world.” One may receive reciprocity and not pay it forward, until a relationship is formed, changing the perception of the person and creating dissonance in the relationship. Individuals who are in this state of cognitive dissonance will take steps to reduce their dissonance. Alexander concludes that generalized reciprocity is the basis of social solidarity. This important social exchange system is fueled by gratitude, foremost. In addition to, the need to maintain a prosocial reputation and resolve dissonance in a relationship.

Work Cited

  1. Hobhouse, L. T., and Morris Ginsberg. “Morals in Evolution. A Study of Comparative Ethics.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 48, no. 23, 1906, doi:10.2307/2021181.
  2. Becker, Howard. 1956. “Man in Recoprocity.” New York: Praegar.
  3. Baker, Wayne, and Jane E. Dutton. “Enabling Positive Social Capital in Organizations.” Exploring Positive Relationships at Work, 2017, pp. 325–346., doi:10.4324/9781315094199-22.
  4. Rand DG, Nowak MA. Human cooperation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 2013; 17: 413–425. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2013.06.003
  5. Kelley, Harold H. and John W. Thibaut. 1978. Inter personal Relations: A Theory of Interdependence. New York: Wile.
  6. Kollock, Peter. 1994. 'The Emergence of Exchange Structures: An Experimental Study of Uncertainty, Commitment, and Trust.' American Journal of Sociology 100:313-45.
  7. Molm, Linda D., David R. Schaefer, and Jessica L. Collett. 2007. 'The Value of Reciprocity.' Social Psychology Quarterly 70: 1992
  8. Yamagishi, Toshio and Midori Yamagishi. 1994. 'Trust and Commitment in the United States and Japan.' Motivation and Emotion 18:129-66.
  9. DeSteno, David, Bartlett, Monica Y., Baumann, Jolie, Williams, Lisa A., Dickens, Leah. 2010. “Gratitude as Moral Sentiment: Emotion-Guided Cooperation in Economic Exchange.” Emotion 10(2):289–93.
  10. Festinger, Leon. “A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.”(1957) Google Books, Stanford University Press,
  11. Alexander, Richard D. “Biology and The Background of Moral Systems.” The Biology of Moral Systems, Aug. 1987, pp. 1–76., doi:10.4324/9780203700976-1.   
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 Hammurabi’s Code: the Driving Mechanisms Behind Generalized Reciprocity. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
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