We’re guys, we get it: asking for help sucks. It sucks hard. In an ideal world, we’d be experts in all things, capable of solving every problem—but that isn’t the real world. And even in fantasy worlds, the Lone Ranger had Tonto.
So, a study from the Journal of Applied Social Psychology has found that a pretty good way of getting over the sting of asking for help is to help other people. In the first stage of the experiment, researchers had participants solve a set of difficult math problems. If a problem was too difficult, participants could use a help card. Some participants were given cards that just had the solution, but other participants had cards that gave hints for solving the problems.
Now for some research terminology. The first type of help is called ‘dependency-oriented’, which just involves a helper taking over and fixing the problem. Participants helped like this then rated themselves as less respected and less competent and felt less happy when compared with the other participants, who received what is called ‘autonomy-oriented’ help.
In the second phase of the study, participants did another set of problems, but this time they were asked to help write three hep cards for three problems they answered correctly for the benefit of future participants. All participants reported an increase in confidence—especially those who had previously received dependency-oriented help. Their confidence grew more, and they reported more affinity with the person who previously helped them (even though that doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense.
In a repeat of the study, researchers found that participants who knew in advance that they’d be helping those after them would make said participants more relaxed in the first part of the study.
We’ll reiterate: asking for help sucks. However, it can suck less if you’re also helpful.