Oscar Wilde once said, "The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on." Oscar Wilde once said, "The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on." Oscar Wilde once said, "The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on." (Photo: Iren Moroz / Shutterstock)

Is it better to give advice or receive it? Science has a surprising answer

The very act of giving the advice makes the giver feel powerful and confident, an effect the predictors of behavior didn’t account for.

When you're feeling down and out and looking for answers, you'd think some advice from friends or colleagues would be a welcome respite. But a new study says the opposite might be true.

According to the findings, giving advice actually helps raise your own confidence. Consider this: When you're asked to offer advice, you need to first sort through your own thoughts to come up with a piece of good advice to give. That requires you to search your memories for examples of behavior that have worked successfully for you in the past. That exercise, in an of itself, is likely to boost your confidence as well.

The researchers – Dr. Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago and Dr. Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Dr. Angela Duckworth, both from the University of Pennsylvania – point out that the very act of giving the advice makes the giver feel powerful and confident, an effect the predictors of behavior didn’t account for. Giving advice also restores some of the confidence lost when people fall short of goals they may have set for themselves. Confident people set higher goals for themselves and remain more committed to them over time, the researchers explained.

They discovered this to be consistent across a series of experiments – including losing weight, saving money and looking for jobs. “In the process of giving advice, advisors may form specific intentions and lay out concrete plans of action – both of which increase motivation and achievement,” the authors wrote.

Conversely, “when people lack motivation, receiving advice may actually be harmful. Receiving help can feel stigmatizing because it undermines feelings of competence,” the paper states.

Dr. Fishbach – a social psychologist who earned her undergraduate, graduate and doctorate degrees at Israel's Tel Aviv University – has published prolifically about the topic of motivations in the past few years. For example, she has studied why good people sometimes make unethical decisions and why we give to some charities and not to others.

Dr. Ayelet Fishbach from Israel focuses her research on the science of motivations. Dr. Ayelet Fishbach from Israel focuses her research on the science of motivations. (Photo: Courtesy University of Chicago)

The new findings about giving advice have implications for programs that promote weight loss, academic achievement or better job performance, because those programs typically rely on participants receiving rather than giving advice.

“We hope our findings, which illuminate the motivational power of giving, do just that: goad scientists and practitioners to consider the ways in which struggling individuals benefit from giving,” the authors wrote. “Indeed, our research provides empirical support for an age-old aphorism: it is in giving that we receive.”

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