It's the Thought That Counts: On Perceiving How Helpers Decide to Lend a Hand

Daniel R. Ames, Francis J. Flynn, Elke U. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


How do people react to those who have helped them? The authors propose that a recipient's evaluation of a helper's intentions and the recipient's own attitudes about future interactions with the helper depend partly on the recipient's perceptions of how the helper decided to assist: on the basis of affect, of role, or of cost-benefit calculation. When a recipient perceives that the decision was based on affect (i.e., positive feelings about him or her), he or she will be more inclined toward future interaction and reciprocation than if he or she perceives the decision as based on role or cost-benefit calculation. It is proposed that these "decision modes" signal the helper's underlying attitudes about the recipient, which in turn, clarify their relationship. A boundary is also identified: The negative impact of apparent cost-benefit thinking is greatest when the amount of help provided is small. Predictions are confirmed in four studies of actual and experimentally manipulated helping episodes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)461-474
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology


  • Decision modes
  • Helping
  • Person perception
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Social exchange


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