Help-seeking helps
: : help-seeking as a strategy for managing group image

  • Juliet Wakefield

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The aim of this thesis is to investigate the proposition that group members use help-seeking as a strategic tool for managing and enhancing the ingroup’s image in the eyes of outgroups. The theoretical introduction outlines and assesses the history of helping-transaction research, beginning with the rich and multi-faceted work carried out by anthropologists and sociologists, before considering how social psychology has addressed this topic. The conclusion from this assessment is that the academic contribution of much of the social psychological helping-transaction research from the 1960s onwards was limited, due to its failure to address: i) the relevance of social groups, and ii) the idea that engagement in helping transactions can be motivated by desires to achieve underlying goals that relate to personal improvement or gain. Although more recent social psychological work investigated these issues, they remain under-studied. Attempting to address these neglected areas, this thesis adopts a social identity perspective, and conceptualises help-seeking as an image-management strategy. This concept is investigated in the context of a specific phenomenon with the potential to threaten the group’s image: a salient meta-stereotype. Meta-stereotypes are the stereotypes we believe to be held about our group by outgroups, and are context-dependent and often negative in valence. The prediction is thus made that group members will utilize the act of help-seeking strategically, to attempt to challenge salient negative meta-stereotypes. This is predicted to occur independently of levels of material need.This hypothesis is tested across seven experiments. Study 1 provides initial exploration of the concept, and suggests that the threat associated with help-seeking depends on how participants categorize themselves (and thus the help-giver). Studies 2 and 3 provide the first explicit manipulations of meta-stereotype salience in the thesis. Study 2 reveals that encouraging female participants to consider the idea that males perceive females as dependent leads to higher levels of perceived meta-stereotype unfairness than a purely interpersonal context, and that these perceptions of unfairness lead to reduced help-seeking from the outgroup. Study 3 strengthens this finding by shifting to an alternative identity (nationality: Scottish vs. English). It shows that, for participants who act strongly as Scots during the study, being encouraged to consider the idea that the English perceive the Scots as handout-dependent leads to less outgroup help-seeking than either an interpersonal context or an intergroup context without a salient meta-stereotype. This suggests salient meta-stereotypes have effects on help-seeking beyond those produced by a simple intergroup context. Study 4 shows these help-seeking-related effects can be obtained via a more naturalistic meta-stereotype manipulation, and also examines the relevance of the helpers’ group membership. Finally, Studies 5, 6 and 7 provide a more in-depth analysis of the key concept of strategy. Together, these last three studies show group members take heed of the contents of salient meta-stereotypes, and tailor their strategic stereotype-challenging behaviours depending on these specific contents. Moreover, these studies indicate that the nature of the meta-stereotype contents can sometimes increase participants’ help-seeking. The General Discussion summarises the thesis’ main findings and considers their contribution to the help-seeking literature and the real world.
    Date of Award2011
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorNick Hopkins (Supervisor)


    • Social identity
    • Help-seeking
    • Meta-stereotypes
    • Strategy
    • Group processes
    • Gender

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