Why Giving Help Makes Us More Comfortable With Receiving It


Back in 2013 Adam Grant brought niceness to wider attention with the publication of his book Give and Take.  His book chronicled how people who would give unreservedly would, in the long term, tend to do well in life.

A good example he gives is from a study into student behavior at school.  The study found that students with a disposition towards giving and helping others would often struggle in their first year. They would be spending time helping others, and so their own studies would suffer as a result.

This was only a short-term deficit, however, as by the second year the givers had edged slightly ahead of their peers, and by the third year they were striding clear of the pack in terms of their performance in class.

Giving and Receiving

So giving help to others is clearly effective, especially in the long-term.  A recent study sheds some light on just why that is.

The research saw participants tasked with completing a number of math based puzzles. If they were struggling at all, help was available via cards written by fellow students who were experienced at the task at hand.

Some of the cards provided a full solution to the challenge, others merely provided hints to help the student on their way.

This distinction is important. When a solution is given, it is known as ’dependency orientated’, so the helper takes control and does things for the recipient. People who receive this form of help tend to regard themselves as less able and even less respected, which tends to result in them asking for help less in the future.

The other form of help, however, known as ’autonomy orientated’, supports a distinct shift in mindset. In these kind of scenarios, the helper is perceived as being more like the recipient. What’s more, they’re also perceived as being better qualified and even more well intentioned.

The researchers conducted a second experiment where participants were again tasked with solving a puzzle, only this time they were also asked to provide their own help cards for the puzzles they had answered correctly. In other words, they were asked to give back and help future students.

This shift from receiver to helper triggered a surge in confidence amongst the participants, but also a greater affinity with the people that had tried to help them previously.

Interestingly, the benefits of helping others was particularly pronounced for those who had previously received dependency type help themselves. They received a particular boost in their confidence and even their feelings towards the person that had helped them previously.

All it seemed to take was for them to take their own place in the ’chain of help’ to instill a feeling of empowerment within them.

As an indication of the power of culture, it also emerged that participants were very relaxed about receiving help themselves when they knew in advance that they would be helping others later on.

It really does underline the value inherent in having a culture where employees feel able to give and support one another, and indeed have the time and freedom to do so.


Paying it forward: how helping others can reduce the psychological threat of receiving help