Accepting help from other people can be hard. Like, really hard. It often involves sacrificing some pride and independence and often makes you feel incompetent and indebted to the person who helped you. For people like me, who like to be self sufficient, this can be extremely difficult. But never fear! Recent research published in the Journal of Social Psychology has found something that makes it easier to accept help.
Alvarez and Van Leeuwen gave students a series of dificult maths puzzles to complete with assistance in the form of help cards by another, more experienced, student. The cards either gave the answer or gave clues to help the student work out the answer themselves The card with the answer on it is known as ‘dependency-oriented’ help meaning the helper takes over. The cards with hints are ‘autonomy-oriented’ as they help you to solve the problem yourself.

  • Participants who received the answer card rated themselves as less competent and respected after the test ad were less happy about accepting the help than those who got hints later rated themselves as less competent and respected, and they felt less happy about seeking help.
  • Participants who got the hints felt that their helper was well-intentioned and more like them and were much happier about having been helped.

This supports that dependency-oriented help carries a higher risk of negative reactions. If someone takes over, the individual can feel stupid and incompetent but if they come to the answer theselves this is less likely the case. But here’s where the study becomes really interesting. They then showed that if the participants were then able to help someone else, they felt more confident and were happier about having accepted help from their own helper. Participants were given a second set of puzzles and were invited to write help cards for three they had answered correctly, to help future participants.

  • Now that they were helpers, not help-recievers, they felt more confident and capable and showed more affinity towards their previous helper.
  • This was particularly evident in those who received dependency-oriented help.
  • Despite not repaying the person who had helped them, helping anyone else instilled a sense of re-empowerment.
  • Knowing in advance that they would be helping others made participants more relaxed and more comfortable with receiving help in the first part of the study.

Everyone knows (and probably dislikes) that person who ‘helps’ them in a way that makes them feel like an idiot, it’s not fun feeling so useless. If you could help that person (or someone else) with something that they weren’t good at, it makes sense that you’d feel a lot more confident about yourself and your abilities. These sorts of findings could help prevent situations where those who really need support are reluctant to take it which has huge implications in a lot of mental health treatment where people may feel too proud to ask for help, or where help may make them feel demotivated. Read the full study: Alvarez, K., & van Leeuwen, E. (2015). Paying it forward: how helping others can reduce the psychological threat of receiving help Journal of Applied Social Psychology

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