It Hurts to Ask

60 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2022

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

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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-socaring 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.

Keywords: helping, asking, rejection, respect, shyness, altruism, cooperation, prosocial, image, reputation, information aversion

JEL Classification: D03, D23, D64, D82, D83, D91

Suggested Citation

Bénabou, Roland and Jaroszewicz, Ania and Loewenstein, George F., It Hurts to Ask. IZA Discussion Paper No. 15576, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4232705 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4232705

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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