The costs of benefits: Help-refusals highlight key trade-offs of social life

Joshua M. Ackerman, Douglas Kenrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Social living provides opportunities for cooperative interdependence and concomitant opportunities to obtain help from others in times of need. Nevertheless, people frequently refuse help from others, even when it would be beneficial. Decisions to accept or reject aid offers may provide a window into the adaptive trade-offs recipients make between costs and benefits in different key domains of social life. Following from evolutionary and ecological perspectives, we consider how help-recipient decision making might reflect qualitatively different threats to goal attainment within six fundamental domains of social life (coalition formation, status, self-protection, mate acquisition, mate retention, and familial care). Accepting help from another person is likely to involve very different threats and opportunities depending on which domains are currently active. This approach can generate a variety of novel empirical predictions and suggest new implications for the delivery of aid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)118-140
Number of pages23
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Domain-specificity
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Helping
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Recipient reactions
  • Trade-offs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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