It Hurts to Ask

59 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2022 Last revised: 20 Apr 2023

See all articles by Roland Bénabou

Roland Bénabou

Princeton University - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Ania Jaroszewicz

Harvard University - Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences; University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management

George Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: September 2022

Abstract

We analyze the offering, asking, and granting of help or other benefits as a three-stage game with bilateral private information between a person in need of help and a potential help-giver. Asking entails the risk of rejection, which can be painful: since unawareness of the need can no longer be an excuse, a refusal reveals that the person in need, or the relationship, is not valued very much. We show that a failure to ask can occur even when most helpers would help if told about the need, and that even though a greater need makes help both more valuable and more likely to be granted, it can reduce the propensity to ask. When potential helpers concerned about the recipient’s ask-shyness can make spontaneous offers, this can be a double-edged sword: offering reveals a more caring type and helps solve the failure-to-ask problem, but not offering reveals a not-so-caring one, and this itself deters asking. This discouragement effect can also generate a trap where those in need hope for an offer while willing helpers hope for an ask, resulting in significant inefficiencies.

Suggested Citation

Bénabou, Roland and Jaroszewicz, Ania and Loewenstein, George F., It Hurts to Ask (September 2022). NBER Working Paper No. w30486, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4229109

Roland Bénabou (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Ania Jaroszewicz

Harvard University - Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences ( email )

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University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management

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George F. Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

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