Pissing Them Off with Kindness
November 10, 2021 3:07 PM   Subscribe

I vaguely remember there being a phenomenon in psychology where if you're kind enough to someone, and they decide they can't repay you, you only succeed at pissing them off or that your kindness was owed to them and your not offering them a hand (because it keeps getting bitten) as a betrayal. I'm sure this has a technical name but my google-fu is failing me.
posted by Sid and Marty Krofft's HR Sockpuppet to Human Relations (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm sure you're looking for a more specific term than this, but at a very general level, this sounds like an example of cognitive dissonance. (The opposite phenomenon -- liking someone more because you did a favor for them -- is a famous example of cognitive dissonance written about by Benjamin Franklin and cited in the Wikipedia entry.)
posted by phoenixy at 3:55 PM on November 10


In many cultures—perhaps most, historically—there is a notion of a gift economy, where each gift received incurs a corresponding debt. Anthropologist David Graeber persuasively (and exhaustively) argues in Debt: The First 5000 Years that this, rather than barter exchange, is the true origin of money.

My ex is from such a culture, and I can assure you that everyone keeps a detailed mental ledger of gifts and favors that will need to be repaid. It's just exhausting. If you are from one of these cultures, or otherwise inclined to feel this way, a gift or favor can seem more of a burden than a beneficence.
posted by sjswitzer at 4:25 PM on November 10 [6 favorites]


Something in here may be useful-- "Normal and Pathological Generosity" (paywalled, but you can get around it through the HUB of SCIence). Can't speak to the quality but one of the citations may be to what you're specifically thinking of.
The situation can be helped by making available clearly enunciated accounts of various constellations of pathological generosity. These include (1) unrelenting generosity, (2) begrudging generosity, (3) fluctuating generosity, (4) controlling generosity, and (5) beguiling generosity. The first three are abnormalities in the intensity, nature, and sustenance of generosity. The remaining two are “pseudo-generosities,” since the giving in these instances is hardly selfless.
posted by supercres at 4:42 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]


This is sort of the opposite of the old Ben Franklin trick. If you want someone to like you, don't give them a gift: instead ask them for a small favor. It also works based on cognitive dissonance.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:24 PM on November 10 [10 favorites]


Is the term you're looking for indebtedness?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:21 PM on November 10 [4 favorites]


Googling "norm of reciprocity" might get you what you're looking for. And in an org theory class I recall reading this chapter by Foa & Foa where they discussed how different types of resources in an exchange were valued differently (money vs love vs services, etc.). I don't think it's exactly what you're looking for but you might find it interesting.
posted by adorap0621 at 8:36 PM on November 10 [1 favorite]


I don't have the name for it, but it's a thing with confidence scam-artists to freely share cheap gifts in order to build a false sense of intimacy, before putting on the touch to demand something more expensive in return from their new friends. (edit: something like above)
posted by ovvl at 9:43 PM on November 10


I think it's reciprocity as noted above that you're looking for. This psychology today article describes the book/author it came from and gives some examples of when people abuse the principle or don't follow it.

"In his book, Cialdini makes reference to what he refers to as the “rule of reciprocation”, which has to do with the universal tendency in human beings to feel compelled to repay or reciprocate when given a gift whether it has come in the form of a material object, a kind deed, or an act of generosity."
posted by lafemma at 6:31 AM on November 11


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