Ask More of Business

Asking More Commentary: Perspectives from Mendoza College of Business

Commentary Post - Matt Bloom

Help a man, make him feel bad?

March 17, 2014


Researchers recently explored what happens when we offer to help someone, but in a way that runs counter to social norms. 

In this study, male researchers waited near the entrances to university buildings, watching for men and women approaching. When a man or woman approached the door, sometimes the researcher went through a door adjacent to the arriving person (so that the person had to open the door for themselves) and on other occasions the researcher held open the door for the approaching person, then stepped aside for them to enter first. Once inside, the targeted men and women were approached by a female researcher who asked questions about their self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Results: Men who had the door held open for them scored lower on self-esteem and self-efficacy than men who didn’t have the door held open for them. Women’s self-esteem and self-efficacy scores were no different regardless of whether a man held a door open for them or not.

The researchers concluded that “[t]his work demonstrates that simple but unexpected helping behaviours as fleeting and seemingly innocuous as door holding can have unforeseen negative consequence. Thus, this work contributes to a growing literature on the consequences of helping for the recipients of help, as well as the growing literature on the influence of seemingly inconsequential everyday social behaviours.”

It is good to be aware of helping in the right way, but this research also suggests that sometimes we can make it very hard for someone to help us.

Here’s hoping someone helps you, and you feel better because of it.

Citation: Megan McCarty and Janice R. Kelly (2014). When door holding harms: gender and the consequences of non-normative help. Social Influence DOI: 10.1080/15534510.2013.869252

Note: This commentary originally was published on Matt Bloom's research project website,  Well-Being at Work. This research was born out of the conviction that work should be a meaningful, life-enriching experience for everyone. The project is pursuing a rigorous program of scientific research that is designed to explore what makes work a positive, happy, enlivening experience, versus what makes work a negative, discouraging, life-depleting experience. Bloom's research team explores the conditions that foster or impede these positive work experiences, and we will offer insights into how our research might be put into practice. The hope is to build a community of people who are interested in learning more about well-being at work.