Indirect reciprocity: The concept and psychological mechanisms

Małgorzata Szcześniak


The paper has an exploratory character and provides an overview of selected perspectives on both downstream (“as you scratch someone else’s back, I will scratch yours”) and upstream (“pay it forward”) versions of indirect reciprocity. Sociobiologists’ point of view is presented, as their work has contributed to the fact that the reciprocity of openness to a third party has become a subject of research in other scientific fields. Next, the concept of downstream and upstream indirect reciprocity is explained, according to the nomenclature used by selected mathematical biologists and economists. Finally, a psychological view of both forms of indirect reciprocity (positive and negative) is given through theoretical considerations, examples of empirical studies, as well as selected mechanisms and determinants that may underlie the phenomenon.


upstream indirect reciprocity; downstream indirect reciprocity; gratitude; reputation

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