Need a ride to the airport? Or help hanging your curtain rod? These pesky tasks are often made easier by asking a friend for help, but many of us are reluctant to do so.
People consistently underestimate others’ willingness to lend them a hand, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Science.
Help-seekers also overestimate how inconvenienced the person they are asking for a favor will feel.
“It can be nerve-wracking to ask a stranger for help,” he says. Xuan Zhao, a social science research scholar at Stanford University who co-authored the study with Nicholas Epley, a social cognition professor at the University of Chicago.
“In our research we found people underestimate both strangers’ and friends’ [desire to help].”
‘We are a pro-social and collaborative society’
Throughout history, there has been a debate about whether we live in a selfish society or a collaborative society, Zhao says.
“Over the past few recent decades, there has been more and more evidence that we are a pro-social and collaborative society,” she says. “That’s part of our winning strategy of evolution.”
If you think about how you feel when you’ve helped out a friend, it might start to make sense.
“Helping other people makes you feel good because it creates a moment of social connection,” she says. “It makes you feel valued and needed by other people and if you are successful at helping them it makes you feel competent, and everyone likes feeling competent.”
Helping other people makes you feel good because it creates a moment of social connection.
‘People are taught to be self-sufficient’
Still, we underestimate how positive others feel about doing us a favor, Zhao’s research found.
“When we need help it can be stressful and you have a lot of worries,” she says. “You might be trapped in your own concerns. All of that makes it easy to overlook other people’s willingness to help.”
American culture might also exacerbate the situation.
“People are taught to be self-sufficient and there might be a stigma to the idea of seeking out help and you might be concerned about being perceived as weak or inferior to other people,” she says.
Those eager to help might be treated with suspicion, as research shows most people expect others to act mainly out of self-interest.
If a friend agrees to help you build a dresser, you might be wondering what favor they will ask you in return down the line.
Generally, though, people help because helping makes them feel good Zhao says: “It’s called warm-glow giving. The idea that helping other people makes us feel good that ties back to the idea that it is something written in our genes.”
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