What Is Reciprocal Altruism in Social Psychology?


Jane Flores

Reciprocal altruism is a concept that has been widely discussed in the field of social psychology. It refers to the idea of individuals helping others, with the expectation of receiving help in return. The term was first coined by biologist Robert Trivers in 1971, and it has since become an important area of study for psychologists and sociologists alike.

At its core, reciprocal altruism is based on the idea that individuals are more likely to help others if they believe that their own actions will be reciprocated in the future. This can take many forms, from simple acts of kindness to more complex exchanges of resources or services.

One important aspect of reciprocal altruism is that it requires a certain amount of trust between individuals. If someone helps another person with the expectation of receiving help in return, there is always a risk that the other person will fail to fulfill their end of the bargain. However, if both parties are committed to the exchange and believe that it will ultimately benefit them both, they are more likely to follow through with their promises.

Another key feature of reciprocal altruism is that it often involves ongoing relationships between individuals. In order for this type of exchange to be effective, both parties must have a vested interest in maintaining the relationship over time. This can be particularly important in situations where resources are scarce or competition is high.

So why do people engage in reciprocal altruism? There are many potential benefits to this type of exchange.

For one thing, it can help individuals build strong social networks and establish valuable connections with others. It can also lead to increased cooperation and collaboration within groups or communities.

In addition, reciprocal altruism can provide a sense of security and support during difficult times. Knowing that there are people who are willing to help when needed can be incredibly comforting and reassuring.

Of course, not everyone engages in reciprocal altruism equally or consistently. Some individuals may be more likely to help others without expecting anything in return, while others may be more focused on what they can get out of a particular exchange.

Regardless of individual differences, however, the concept of reciprocal altruism remains an important area of study for social psychologists and other researchers. By better understanding the factors that influence these types of exchanges, we can gain valuable insights into human behavior and social dynamics.


Reciprocal altruism is a fascinating topic that has important implications for our understanding of human behavior and social relationships. Whether we are helping a friend in need or collaborating with colleagues on a project at work, this type of exchange is an integral part of our daily lives.

By recognizing the importance of trust, ongoing relationships, and mutual benefit in these types of exchanges, we can work to build stronger and more supportive communities. And by continuing to study the factors that drive reciprocal altruism, we can gain even deeper insights into the complex nature of human social behavior.