Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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Study Says People are Inclined to Help Others, or Does it?

Research class, it was probably a dreaded class for many social workers. You probably sat there making an elaborate doodle out of your bell curve, or playing around on your computer or phone. You asked yourself, why do we need research? What am I ever going to do with a correlation factor, or this darn bell curve that is now a ghost?… Well, for one, you need to know how to look at a study and determine how well it was done, thus allowing you to determine how it may influence your work now or in the future.

The study, which in the discussing article is titled Study Says People are Inclined to Help, is a perfect example of an interesting concept but a faulty study. The study was published in the journal Nature  and used an online game similar to the Prisoners Dilemma to look at the influence of time on participants willingness to give. Over 2,000 participants were split into groups of 4 who were asked to donate some or all of their ‘payment’ to a group project; all contributions would be doubled and split. At the end of the study, it was found that groups who were given 10 seconds or less to decide what to contribute contributed more to the group.

So what did the researchers deduce this meant? They posit that it suggests our immediate response is to be helpful, however if we are given time we are more inclined to become stingy and more focused on ourselves as opposed to the group. However, they also suggest that this is not an innate response but one based on ‘nurture’ over ‘nature’. Participants were likely influenced by their past experiences with the risks and benefits of helping others.

I don’t know if I buy this, it seems the opposite to me. In our busy days, where we often have little time, I see more people in a rush to do their own thing than to help others. I had a good example of this the other day in Pennsylvania Station when a man fell down about 10 stairs and I was the only one, literally, to do anything other than gasp and stare. Maybe we are only more inclined to financially help others when in a rush? But, I digress…

The flaws of the study? Put simply, it wasn’t culturally competent. For one, The study was made up of participants from different countries (including the USA, India and other countries) and did not take into consideration the influence that culture might have on the weight of the risks and benefits associated with helping others.  I will add that it also didn’t take into consideration the focus that cultures have on the individual vs. the group mentality. This leaves the results less promising than the authors suggest.

The findings in this study are indeed interesting, suggesting as the article says, “If its findings are accurate, the study could have wide-ranging implications for fundraising organizations, governments and corporations, Rand said.”. But, it has it’s unfortunate flaws. Cultural competence is often overlooked, in practice and as clear here in research. Future studies should look at this ‘hard wiring for help’, but with culture in mind. And as social workers moving in the direction of a field run by evidenced based practice, we better get used to using our research skills, along with our cultural competence!

Written By Georgianna Dolan-Reilly, LMSW
Staff Writer

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