For the annual Psychology and Philosophy Ball last weekend, I bought a dress and handed it to a local fabric shop in Leamington to get it altered. Now on the afternoon of the ball on my way to pick it up I got caught in traffic on my back from campus and only had 10 minutes till the shop shut. As you can imagine, I had to come up with something. What did I do? I rang up the shop and asked if they could wait for me for 15 minutes. Believe it or not, they did and I got my dress just in time for the ball. Requesting for a favour is something that we do almost everyday however before seeking help, a common thought is "If I ask for help, what are the chances I’ll get it?”
To test whether people underestimate the likelihood that others will comply with their direct requests for help, Flynn & Lake (2008) got participants to ask strangers in person whether they could fill out a paper-and-pen questionnaire. Following the task, half of the participants were randomly chosen to provide estimates of compliance posed by the question “how many people do you think you will have to approach before you get five people to fill out a questionnaire?” The results can be seen below in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Predicted versus actual compliance
As you can see in Figure 1, participants greatly overestimated the number of people they thought they would have to approach. This was by approximately twice the number of people they actually needed to approach to complete the task. What one can take from this study is that people are more willing than we think to lend a helping hand, and just like I did for my dress, sometimes the best thing to do is just ask!
Flynn, F.J., & Lake, V.K.B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.