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Holding Hands Triggers Help-Seeking Tendencies

Have you ever driven around lost for hours before eventually stopping to ask somebody for directions? If you have, then you're probably quite an independent, self-reliant sort of person. But your personality may not be the only thing that determines whether you ask people for help. I recently reported research that suggests that our intentions to seek help from others may be influenced by some fairly subtle cues in our environment.

I asked 122 university students to look at photographs of two people walking down a corridor. Unbeknownst to the students, half of them viewed photos in which the two people were holding hands, and the other half viewed photos in which the people were not holding hands. (See the photos below.) The students then completed a questionnaire in which they indicated their intention to ask other people to help them with an upcoming university coursework assignment.


The results showed that the students in the hand-holding condition had significantly stronger intentions to seek help than the students in the no hand-holding condition. Hence, subtle cues of social affiliation (i.e., people holding hands) can increase people’s intentions to seek help.

This research builds on previous work that shows that affiliation cues can promote help-giving in children (Over & Carpenter, 2009), and it has implications for facilitating help-seeking in the areas of education, health, and, of course, lost drivers!

For further information, please see the following journal article:

Rubin, M. (2011). Social affiliation cues prime help-seeking intentions. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 43, 138-141. doi: 10.1037/a0022246

A self-archived version of this journal article is available here.