Help-Seeking Orientations

March 14, 2022

Cavan Bonner

In our work, education, and daily lives, we frequently need to ask for help to complete complex and challenging tasks. However, you might have noticed that we don’t all go about this process in the same way. Psychological research suggests that there are at least two main ways in which people go about asking for help. Dependency-oriented help seekers are motivated to find help that will immediately address their problem, while autonomy-oriented help seekers are motivated to receive help that will improve their ability to autonomously address the issue and develop the skills necessary to solve the problem in the future.

In a recent study, self-reported autonomy and dependency-oriented help seeking were strongly correlated with supervisor ratings of their employees on these behaviors. Supervisor ratings of job performance were also positively associated with perceptions of autonomy-oriented help seeking, and negatively associated with perceptions of dependency-oriented help seeking. Therefore, your style of help seeking is observable to others and has concrete consequences for how your job performance is perceived. It appears that autonomy-oriented help seeking is preferable to dependency-oriented help seeking.

Victoria Scotney

While there is no existing research on how to change your help-seeking orientation, correlational evidence shows that different types of achievement goals are associated with different help-seeking orientations. For instance, autonomous help-seeking is associated with the mastery-approach goal orientation, or the motivation to proactively increase one’s skills and competence. On the other hand, dependent help seeking is associated with the performance-avoidance goal orientation. Individuals who endorse this goal orientation are seeking favorable judgements of their performance, and are motivated by avoiding risk and failure.

So, in thinking about how you can change your help-seeking orientation, it might help to first critically re-assess your fundamental motivations regarding your work in classes, internships, and volunteer activities. When your goal is to learn and improve your own skills, communicate that with those around you. Be clear that you want help that enables you to find the solution yourself, and that you are not looking for someone to solve the problem for you. And — you should not shy away from asking for help, particularly when seeking to master the material in front of you.

Cavan Bonner and Victoria Scotney

Cavan Bonner received his B.A. in Psychology from Kalamazoo College in 2021, and currently works as a research manager at the Well-Being and Measurement Lab with Dr. Louis Tay. Cavan is broadly interested in how personality — including traits, well-being, and attitudes — develops over the lifespan.

Victoria Scotney is a graduate student in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Purdue University, working with Dr. Louis Tay. She received the Medal in Arts for her B.A. in Psychology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan in 2019. Her current research interests include prosocial giving and receiving, well-being, and research methods.

Key Refrences

  • Elliot, A. J., & Murayama, K. (2008). On the measurement of achievement goals: Critique, illustration, and application. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(3), 613–628.
  • Komissarouk, S., Harpaz, G., & Nadler, A. (2017). Dispositional differences in seeking autonomy-or dependency-oriented help: Conceptual development and scale validation. Personality and Individual Differences, 108, 103-112.

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