Can giving advice to others be more motivating than receiving advice? Recent study suggests yes.

Eskreis-Winkler, L., Fishbach, A., & Duckworth, A. L. (2018). Dear Abby: Should I give advice or receive it? Psychological Science, 29(11), 1797-1806.

Summarized by Megyn Jasman

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although receiving advice may be beneficial in some scenarios, it does not always produce the desired outcome, and sometimes may actually be damaging.
  • This study explores if individuals can gain more from giving advice rather than receiving advice.
  • Four experiments were conducted to examine motivation for those giving and receiving advice:
    1. Experiment 1: directly compared outcomes for those who received versus gave advice for a group of middle school students
    2. Experiment 2: directly compared outcomes for adults who received versus gave advice for different domains (financial, interpersonal, health, and work)
    3. Experiment 3: tested if the order of advice-giving or receiving influenced motivation
    4. Experiment 4: tested the role of confidence in experiencing motivation from advice-giving
  • Despite common assumptions, results across the experiments suggest that individuals can experience more motivation when they give advice to others in comparison to when they receive it.
  • In some cases, this advice-giving had prolonged beneficial impacts a few weeks later.
  • Confidence played a role in why those who provide advice experience increased motivation, however, future research should study this relationship more closely.
  • “Indeed, our research provides empirical support for an age-old aphorism: It is in giving that we receive” (Eskreis-Winkler et al., 2018, p. 1805)

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Typically, individuals struggling with goal achievement seek advice. However, in the present investigation (N = 2,274), struggling individuals were more motivated by giving advice than receiving it. In a randomized, controlled, doubleblind field experiment, middle-school students who gave motivational advice to younger students spent more time on homework over the following month than students who received motivational advice from expert teachers (Experiment 1). This phenomenon was replicated across self-regulatory domains: Strugglers who gave advice, compared with those who received expert advice, were more motivated to save money, control their tempers, lose weight, and seek employment (Experiments 2 and 3). Nevertheless, across domains, people erroneously predicted the opposite, expecting themselves and others to be less motivated by giving advice than receiving it (Experiments 2 and 3). Why are people blind to the motivational power of giving? Giving advice motivated givers by raising their confidence—a reality that predictors fail to anticipate (Experiment 4).

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In the current investigation, we found support for the hypothesis that giving advice is more motivating than receiving it. Compared with receiving advice, giving advice motivated middle-school students to study up to 4 weeks later (Experiment 1). This phenomenon replicated across financial, interpersonal, health, and work domains. Yet to the extent that this first hypothesis is right, most people are wrong—which was our second hypothesis. People consistently predicted the opposite, expecting struggling individuals to benefit more from receiving advice than giving it (Experiments 2–4). Whereas advice givers experienced a boost in confidence, predictors failed to anticipate this effect, which mediated the misprediction (Experiment 4). Our results suggest that advice giving serves a motivational function of which most people are unaware.

In the learning literature, confidence can be prob- lematic: People tend to believe they know more than they actually do (Dunning, Heath, & Suls, 2004; Ehrlinger, Johnson, Banner, Dunning, & Kruger, 2008). Given this, one might worry about a dark side of advice giving: Perhaps giving advice causes confidence to out- strip actual ability, leading to overconfidence. Although this is a legitimate concern found in the learning literature, it is unlikely to be a concern with regard to motivated behavior. When it comes to motivation, confidence increases actual, not illusory, motivation. People do not have a true capability to stick to their diets the way they have a true capability to estimate the area of a parallelogram. Confidence and action increase in lockstep when it comes to motivated behavior

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