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Surprising Science

A Pay-It-Forward Attitude Makes It Easier to Ask for Help

Paying it forward — helping others in their time of need — may boost your confidence if you’ve had to ask for help in the past, and more likely you’ll ask for help when you need it in the future.

We’re sometimes reluctant to ask for help or assistance when faced with a problem. The feelings we’re left with are usually something close to incompetence. But there’s an easy way to bounce back. The Research Digest has summarized a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology that has found helping others can allow people to regain their confidence and sense of independence.

The study was comprised of 87 participants who were split into two groups to solve a series of difficult puzzles. One group received hints that pointed participants in the right direction when they got stumped on a problem, allowing them to retain some of their autonomy in figuring out the puzzle. The other group was given outright solutions to the puzzles — what the researchers called “dependency-oriented” hints.

By the end of the exercise, the latter group felt unhappy about having to seek help, rating themselves as less competent. Whereas the group given hints had greater feelings of self-worth, but still a little let down that they needed help to solve some of the problems.

In the next part of the study, researchers asked the participants to solve another round of puzzles and to help make hint cards for the ones they solve correctly. Both groups seemed to get a boost of confidence writing the hint cards. However, the group that initially received the “dependency-oriented” cards saw the greatest gains from this pay-it-forward exercise.

The researchers write:

“After paying help forward, participants felt more self-competent than before helping, and this effect was more pronounced among former recipients of dependency-oriented help. These results show that helping forward can negate the psychological threat associated with receiving help.”

It’s important to note that the participants were told that they would be helping others later on in the study. A factor that the researchers believe encouraged the participants to use the hint cards in the first place. Perhaps if people adopted a “pay-it-forward” attitude in life, they may be more apt to ask for help.

Read more at Research Digest.

Photo Credit: Reddy Aprianto/Flickr


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