Reciprocity (social psychology) & Need to Know – [“It’s all about the long game.”]

It's Vader Time!!!

Reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, and responding to a negative action with another negative one. Positive reciprocal actions differ from altruistic actions as those only follow from other positive actions and they differ from social gift giving in that those are not actions taken with the hope or expectation of future positive responses.

Reciprocal actions are important to social psychology as they can help explain the maintenance of social norms. If a sufficient proportion of the population interprets the breaking of a social norm by another as a hostile action and if these people are willing to take (potentially costly) action to punish the rule-breaker then this can maintain the norm in the absence of formal sanctions. The punishing action may range from negative words to complete social ostracism.

In public good experiments, behavioral economists have demonstrated that the potential for reciprocal actions by players increases the rate of contribution to the public good, providing evidence for the importance of reciprocity in social situations.[1]

In mathematics, game theory describes reciprocity as a highly effective Tit for Tat strategy for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma.

In the animal world reciprocity exists in the social behaviour of Baboons. Male Baboons will form alliances with one another in order that one baboon will distract the Alpha-male, who has monopolized reproductive females, and the other will copulate with a female. The roles will be reversed later for “payback”.

It may be a motivation for returning favors from others.


The term “need to know”, when used by government and other organizations (particularly those related to the military or espionage), describes the restriction of data which is considered very sensitive. Under need-to-know restrictions, even if one has all the necessary official approvals (such as a security clearance) to access certain information, one would not be given access to such information, or read into a clandestine operation, unless one has a specific need to know; that is, access to the information must be necessary for the conduct of one’s official duties.

As with most security mechanisms, the aim is to make it difficult for unauthorized access to occur, without inconveniencing legitimate access. Need-to-know also aims to discourage “browsing” of sensitive material by limiting access to the smallest possible number of people.

The Battle of Normandy in 1944 is an example of a need-to-know restriction. Though thousands of military personnel were involved in planning the invasion, only a small number of them knew the entire scope of the operation; the rest were only informed of data needed to complete a small part of the plan.

Problems and criticism

Need-to-know (like other security measures) can be misused by some personnel who wish to refuse others access to information they hold in an attempt to increase their personal power, prevent unwelcome review of their work, prevent embarrassment resulting from actions or thoughts, or to cover up illegal actions.

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