"We investigated the psychological principle of reciprocity. When someone does something nice for us, we automatically feel obliged to return the favour. This principle is universal and important for the way we function as a society," said study co-author Andre Melzer from the University of Luxembourg.

"However, this internal pressure can also be exploited to achieve certain purposes, such as encouraging someone to divulge a password," Melzer noted.

The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. The team analysed 1,208 participants to investigate how people are manipulated into sharing their passwords with strangers in return for small gifts.

They asked randomly selected passers-by about their attitude towards computer security, but also asked them for their password. In first condition, participants were given chocolate before being asked for their password, while in the control group they were only given chocolate after the interview.

The research showed that this small gift greatly increased the likelihood of participants giving away their password. If the chocolate was given afterwards, 29.8 percent of participants revealed their passwords.

However, if the chocolate was received beforehand, a total of 43.5 percent of the respondents shared their password with the interviewer.  

The willingness to reveal passwords increased further if the chocolate was offered immediately before the participants were asked to disclose their password, the study showed.

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