“Helping Them Stay Where They Are: Status Effects on Dependency/Autonomy-Oriented Helping”

[Social]

Does an individual’s status affect the kind of help he or she will likely be offered? New research, published in the January issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests it does. In a series of four experiments, Arie Nadler and Lily Chernyak-Hai examined the relationship between a help-seeker’s status*, the type of help people chose to give, and the perceptions of those seeking help. The first three experiments revealed that participants were more likely to offer low status help-seekers the answer to the problem (dependency-oriented help), while they were more likely to offer high-status help-seekers the tools to solve the problem (autonomy-oriented help).

Why the difference in helping behavior? Nadler and Chernyak-Hai found that participants were more likely to attribute the need for help by low-status individuals to internal, more permanent causes, like low ability or low motivation. However, participants were more likely to attribute the need for help by high-status individuals to more temporary circumstances, like a lapse in concentration. Moreover, help seeking behavior was perceived as a sign of weakness in low-status individuals, but as a sign of strength in high-status individuals. The relationship between status and helping behavior is malleable however. The fourth experiment demonstrated that perceptions of individuals can change depending on whether a low or high status individual requests autonomy or dependency-oriented help.

Lastly, the authors found that an important factor in the type of help provided is the helper’s identification with the help-seeker**. Overall, these results reveal how status can affect helping behavior and the perception of those who seek help. This research has broad implications for social-welfare programs that often face support or opposition based on varying arguments of why individuals need help.

*Status was defined by: performance on a problem-solving task (Experiment 1), socioeconomic status (Exp. 2 and 4), and scholastic achievement (Exp. 3).

**The majority of participants in the study were identified as medium or medium-high SES individuals, and the authors point to the need for further research to better understand how different status combinations of helpers and help-seekers affects the type of help given and the attributions of why the help is needed.

 

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