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APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY: AN INTERNATIONAL REVIEW, 2013, 62 (4), 571–596 doi: 10.1111/j.1464-0597.2012.00496.x

Antecedents of Instrumental Interpersonal Help-Seeking: An Integrative Review MeowLan Evelyn Chan* National University of Singapore, Singapore

Drawing from research across various fields of psychology—social, educational, organisational, counseling and clinical psychology—this paper provides an integrative review of the antecedents of interpersonal help-seeking behavior. Predicated on the Theory of Planned Behavior, the proposed model describes how person, task, and situation factors influence individuals’ decision to seek interpersonal help for goal-directed or instrumental purposes. This paper also contributes to help-seeking research by (i) adopting a constellation approach to examine how various salient beliefs mediate between these exogenous factors and people’s help-seeking decision and behavior, (ii) providing a multi-level perspective on help-seeking behavior, and by (iii) highlighting the moderating role of expectancy in people’s decision to seek interpersonal help.

INTRODUCTION Help-seeking research has been conducted in various fields of psychology— from basic research in social psychology (e.g. Williams & Williams, 1983), to the applied fields of educational psychology (e.g. Ames & Lau, 1982), counseling psychology, clinical psychology (e.g. Cramer, 1999; Vogel, Wester, Wei, & Boysen, 2005), and organisational psychology (Lee, 1997; Nadler, Ellis, & Bar, 2003). In educational psychology, studies on students who seek help when they encounter schoolwork/learning difficulties have been published in educational psychology journals, whereas studies on students who seek help in response to socio-emotional difficulties have been published in counseling psychology journals. According to research published in educational psychology journals, the events that trigger the need for help are usually achievement-related problems that students cannot solve on their own. Recently, educational psychologists have also extended their scope of research to investigate advice-seeking (Alexitch, 2006) as well as help-seeking among teachers (Butler, 2007). * Address for correspondence: MeowLan Evelyn Chan, NUS Business School, Department of Management & Organization, National University of Singapore, 1 Business Link, Singapore 117592. Email: meoweve@gmail.com or meow@nus.edu.sg © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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In counseling and clinical psychology, help-seeking is a coping mechanism when people are not able to meet the demands on their own (e.g. Cramer, 1999). In these fields, some events that trigger the need for help include mental illnesses and other medical problems, domestic violence, as well as socio-emotional problems (e.g. Hollenshead, Dai, Ragsdale, Massey, & Scott, 2006; Vogel, Wade, Wester, Larson, & Hackler, 2007). In organisational psychology, events that typically trigger the need for help are task difficulties that employees cannot solve on their own. Moreover, organisational psychology researchers have examined help-seeking in varied forms, namely help-, advice-, information-, and feedback-seeking (e.g. Ashford & Cummings, 1983; Lee, 1997; McDonald, Khanna, & Westphal, 2008; Morrison, 1993; Morrison, Chen, & Salgado, 2004). Because information and feedback can be instrumental resources that direct employees in the pursuit of their task goals (Ashford & Cummings, 1983; Morrison, 1993), information-, advice-, and feedback-seeking can sometimes be construed as forms of help-seeking. However, it is noted that at other times, employees may request information or feedback that does not pertain to their tasks at all (e.g. employees may seek non-task-related information in the form of gossip, employees may seek feedback from their supervisors merely to know how well their supervisors think of them or to draw their supervisors’ attention to their exemplary performance; Lee, 1997; Morrison, 2002; Morrison et al., 2004). Thus, it appears that help-seeking may be a subset of information- and feedback-seeking (Mueller & Kamdar, 2011). Yet at the same time, the help-seeking domain may encompass more than information- and feedback-seeking. For example, employees working in a transport company may seek other employees’ help to carry or shift some heavy items—this manual task thus poses a difficulty or demand that the focal employees cannot handle on their own—and in this case, while the focal employees are not seeking information or feedback, they are seeking physical help. Indeed, if help-seeking and information- or feedback-seeking are each represented by a circle in a Venn diagram, then it becomes apparent that these circles intersect (but the help-seeking circle is not completely a subset of the information- or feedback-seeking circles). In other words, only certain aspects of information- and feedback-seeking overlap with goal-instrumental help-seeking. Within the area of intersection, findings on information- and feedback-seeking are relevant to goal-instrumental help-seeking—and such findings will be included in my help-seeking review. In general, across the various fields of psychology, the need to seek help is triggered when task demands exceed people’s coping ability or resources (Cramer, 1999; Nelson-Le Gall, Gumerman, & Scott-Jones, 1983). In this paper, I focus only on the topic of instrumental help-seeking, whereby the need to seek help is triggered by difficulties or problems that obstruct individuals from successfully accomplishing the task goals on their own. Stated explicitly, © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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this paper does not cover convenient help-seeking (where in convenient helpseeking, people seek help not because they cannot perform the tasks or solve the problems without help, but because they do not want to perform the tasks on their own; in other words, convenient help-seeking refers more to people’s lack of motivation to perform the tasks, rather than to task-related difficulties per se; Gross & McMullen, 1983). Within the domain of instrumental help-seeking, researchers have observed that there are different kinds of help available—interpersonal help and impersonal help (e.g. “do-it-yourself” manuals; DePaulo & Fisher, 1980). Furthermore, within the subcategory of interpersonal help, there are multiple ways in which people may seek help (e.g. asking others for help directly, swapping experiences with others, observing how other people accomplish their task goals; DePaulo & Fisher, 1980). In this paper, I focus only on direct interpersonal help-seeking—where individuals directly ask other people for help. In sum, this paper examines individuals’ interpersonal help-seeking behavior for instrumental or goal-directed reasons. As noted, help-seeking research has been conducted in various fields of psychology. Studies also suggest that there are many similarities in helpseeking research across these psychology fields. In light of these similarities, there is much potential for synthesis. Hence, a goal of this paper is to review research findings on the antecedents of interpersonal help-seeking behavior from the various psychology fields, and propose a framework that integrates these findings. This integrative framework may then serve as a platform to facilitate discourse and cross-fertilisation of help-seeking research among the various fields of psychology. For example, educational psychology researchers who are now beginning to examine teachers’ help-seeking may benefit from extant help-seeking research in organisational psychology, just as organisational psychology researchers have benefitted from applying educational psychologists’ research on achievement-related constructs to examine information- and feedback-seeking. Such cross-fertilisation will in turn facilitate the accumulation and growth of scientific knowledge on help-seeking (Kuhn, 1962). In addition, this integrative framework may help us understand some inconsistent findings in help-seeking research and guide future help-seeking research. An example of this is in the conceptualisation of expectancy as a moderator in help-seeking research. As a preview, the following anecdote illustrates the importance of conceptualising expectancy as a moderator in the help-seeking process: Some researchers posit that the potential cost of damaging their self-esteem often inhibits individuals from seeking help when they encounter task difficulties. However, if the cost of reduced self-esteem inhibits individuals from seeking help to the detriment of their tasks, then when their tasks fail, will they still be able to uphold their self-esteem? Extant research has cast the argument only in terms of how the potential cost of © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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reduced self-esteem inhibits people from seeking help. Yet, won’t the very cost of reduced self-esteem that is associated with their failed tasks also drive these people to seek help? (Indeed, some researchers argue that seeking the needed help may enable people to succeed on their tasks, which will in turn reverse the decrement in their self-esteem; DePaulo, Brown & Greenberg, 1983.) Thus, if we propose that a reduction in their self-esteem inhibits people from seeking help, we must also consider their expectancy that this course of (in)action (i.e. not seeking help) will enable them to maintain their self-esteem even if they fail to accomplish their tasks. Only to the extent that they will still be able to maintain their self-esteem despite the failed tasks will the motive to protect their self-esteem effectively inhibit them from seeking help. Thus, help-seeking researchers need to consider not only how people’s concern with protecting their self-esteem inhibits them from seeking help, but also how their expectancy of protecting their self-esteem moderates the relationship between this focal concern/belief and their help-seeking attitude. In this way, the proposed framework may serve to guide future help-seeking research. Next, I provide a general overview of the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991)—the theory on which the proposed help-seeking model is predicated.

THEORY OF PLANNED BEHAVIOR According to Ajzen and Fishbein (2005), the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) (and its predecessor—the Theory of Reasoned Action) seeks to explain and predict the performance of a specific behavior. According to TPB, the proximal determinant of whether an individual will perform a specific behavior is his or her intention to perform the behavior. One’s intention to perform a behavior is in turn determined by three factors— one’s attitude toward the specific behavior, the subjective norm about the behavior, and one’s perceived behavioral control. These three factors are in turn determined by one’s salient beliefs about the behavior—specifically, one’s behavioral beliefs, normative beliefs, and control beliefs, respectively. Indeed, these beliefs serve as the cognitive basis of one’s decision to perform a specific behavior. In general, an expectancy-value mechanism underlies the relationships between one’s salient beliefs and one’s attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control (Ajzen, 1991). However, this expectancy-value formulation (Fishbein, 1963), which is incorporated within the TPB (Ajzen, 1991), has received extensive empirical testing (and support) primarily for the behavioral belief → attitude link; indeed, researchers have noted that this Expectancy-value theory (EVT; Fishbein, 1963) is still the most widely used framework to account for one’s attitude toward a specific behavior (Ajzen, 2001). Hence, I will focus only on the expectancy-value formulation for the behavioral belief → attitude link in this paper. © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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According to EVT and TPB, a behavior is associated with a set of attributes/beliefs (e.g. characteristics of the behavior, perceived consequences (or perceived benefits and costs) of performing the behavior; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). Although one may have multiple beliefs about a particular behavior, only a few beliefs are salient to oneself at any time, and it is these salient beliefs that will guide one’s intention to perform the behavior (Ajzen, 1991, 2001). Researchers further posit that in the formation of one’s attitude toward a behavior, it is typically the perceived consequences of the behavior (rather than other attributes) that are the salient behavioral beliefs; thus they are the major determinants of one’s overall attitude toward the behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). To elaborate, for each of the perceived consequences that are associated with a behavior, one perceives a subjective probability that the focal behavior is associated with the consequence (expectancy), as well as a subjective valuation of this consequence (value). In fact, for each perceived consequence, its corresponding value and expectancy operate in a multiplicative way to influence one’s attitude toward the focal behavior (Fishbein, 1963). Next, the expectancy-value products are summed across all the various consequences associated with the behavior, which then yields one’s overall attitude toward the behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). One’s attitude toward the behavior, defined as the extent to which one has a favorable or unfavorable evaluation of the behavior, will then directly influence one’s intention to perform the behavior. One’s intention to perform a specific behavior is also directly influenced by one’s subjective norm about the behavior (which refers to one’s perceived social pressure on whether to engage in a particular behavior). The subjective norm is in turn influenced by one’s perception of the likelihood that referent others deem it appropriate versus inappropriate to perform the behavior (i.e. one’s normative beliefs about the behavior). Indeed, the normative belief, coupled with one’s motivation to comply with referent others, will combine to yield one’s subjective norm about the behavior, such that one is more likely to perform a behavior that one’s important referent others approve of and less likely to perform a behavior that they disapprove of (Ajzen, 1991). This mechanism in the TPB framework demonstrates the role of social influence on one’s help-seeking decision and behavior. In general, one’s intention to perform a behavior is a direct antecedent to one’s performing the behavior—presuming that the enactment of the behavior is completely under one’s volitional control. Yet, Ajzen (1991) notes that one may at times lack volitional control in performing a particular behavior—for example, the lack of ability may prevent one from executing the behavior; certain factors in the environment may facilitate or prevent one from performing the behavior. Beliefs about the existence of factors that facilitate or hinder the performance of a behavior (i.e. control beliefs) will © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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then influence one’s perception of how easy or difficult it is to execute the behavior (i.e. one’s perceived behavioral control; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). Perceived behavioral control will then influence one’s actual behavior directly and/or indirectly via its effect on one’s intention to perform the behavior. In sum, the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) posits that one’s salient behavioral, normative, and control beliefs about a specific behavior will influence one’s attitude toward the behavior, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control, respectively, which will in turn influence one’s intention to perform the behavior. In general, the more favorable one’s attitude toward the behavior, the stronger the subjective norm and perceived behavioral control with regard to the behavior, the greater will be one’s intention to execute the behavior. One’s intention to perform the behavior will then directly influence one’s enactment of the focal behavior. Lastly, one’s perceived behavioral control, in addition to influencing one’s intention to perform a behavior, can also serve as a direct antecedent to one’s performing the focal behavior (Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). Applying TPB to goal-instrumental help-seeking behavior, I propose that task difficulties or problems are key trigger events that elicit various beliefs associated with help-seeking behavior. Furthermore, person, situation, and task factors influence people’s help-seeking behavior by activating and making salient their beliefs about help-seeking. Because only salient beliefs will influence people’s help-seeking intention and behavior (Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005), it will be instructive for us to refer to the existing help-seeking literature to find some help-seeking beliefs that have been extensively examined, as such extensive research suggests that these may be the beliefs that are frequently activated when people decide whether to seek help (e.g. Bagozzi, 1981). In what follows, I provide an overview of the perceived benefit- and cost-beliefs associated with help-seeking behavior that have been frequently examined in the various psychology fields (Ames, 1983).

PERCEIVED BENEFITS AND COSTS OF HELP-SEEKING (BEHAVIORAL BELIEFS) As mentioned, the primary reason that people seek instrumental help is to successfully accomplish their goals or tasks. In general, task difficulties or problems are trigger events that activate the concern with task accomplishment, as well as the concern with task-related learning. Despite these important benefits, research shows that people may not seek help even when they need it and help is available (Lee, 1997; Newman & Goldin, 1990). This may be due to a number of perceived costs associated with help-seeking. Research has unraveled the various costs associated with help-seeking. For example, some practical costs may be involved in help-seeking—these include © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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the time and financial costs of sourcing for suitable helpers (Fisher, Winer, & Abramowitz, 1983; Hofmann, Lei, & Grant, 2009). However, because this paper focuses only on the psychological factors associated with help-seeking, discussions pertaining to non-psychological factors (e.g. physical costs of help-seeking) are beyond the scope of this paper. The existing psychological research shows that seeking others’ help entails both private and public costs. Privately, the need to seek help may imply incompetence, which may in turn damage individuals’ self-esteem (Lee, 1997; Tessler & Schwartz, 1972). Because most people desire to have positive self-esteem, damage to their self-esteem is an aversive state which many try to avoid (Lee, 1997; Tessler & Schwartz, 1972). A second potential cost of help-seeking is the dent it may make in individuals’ public image. That is, by requesting help, individuals may perceive that their public image of being competent and self-reliant is compromised, as asking for help may be perceived by these individuals as a public admission that they lack the necessary abilities or resources to handle task-related demands (DePaulo & Fisher, 1980; Lee, 1997). Third, after receiving the needed help, individuals may feel indebted to the help-givers (Greenberg & Westcott, 1983; Greenberg & Shapiro, 1971); moreover, these individuals may perceive that the help has introduced an element of inequity between themselves and the help-givers (DePaulo et al., 1983). Indeed, as indebtedness and inequity may be aversive experiences, individuals may feel obligated to reciprocate the help in order to cancel the debt and restore equity between themselves and their help-givers (Greenberg & Westcott, 1983). Fourth, the act of seeking help acknowledges to the prospective helpers that the focal individuals are dependent on the helpers as these individuals cannot succeed in their tasks without the input of the helpers (Lee, 1997). This cost is especially salient in the organisational setting, as dependence is closely tied to the notion of power. Lee even noted that the act of seeking help may be perceived as losing power—for example, she observed that employees sought more help from equal-status peers than unequal-status individuals as the notion of power is more salient in unequal-status relationships. The preceding overview of the existing help-seeking research shows that task accomplishment and task-related learning are perceived benefits of helpseeking, while self-esteem damage, public image damage, indebtedness and dependence are perceived costs of help-seeking. These perceived benefit- and cost-beliefs are important considerations in individuals’ decision to seek help. However, not all the above-mentioned beliefs may be activated and salient to individuals when they decide whether to seek help in a given situation. Specifically, if a particular belief/concern is not activated, the corresponding benefit or cost will not be factored into the decision to seek help. On the other hand, it is also plausible that multiple beliefs that simultaneously direct © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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individuals either towards or away from help-seeking may be salient in a given situation. For example, in the organisational context, when employees encounter work problems, their self-presentational, learning, and task accomplishment beliefs may be simultaneously salient to themselves—in this case, while the first belief may inhibit the focal employees from seeking help, the latter two beliefs may direct them to seek help. Thus in help-seeking research, we need to consider the issues of whether a particular belief is elicited and salient to people, as well as their subjective valuation of this belief, before we can predict whether they decide to seek help. Furthermore, we need to consider the constellation of salient beliefs when we analyse people’s decision to seek help as all the perceived benefitand cost-beliefs will be summed up to yield their overall attitude toward help-seeking. People’s attitude toward help-seeking will in turn affect their intention to seek help in response to task-related problems. In the following sections, I further elaborate on how person, task, and situation factors affect each of the perceived benefit- and cost-beliefs of help-seeking. The proposed goal-instrumental interpersonal help-seeking model is shown in Figure 1.

Perceived Benefits of Help-Seeking: Task Accomplishment and Task-Related Learning In goal-instrumental help-seeking, task difficulties or problems are trigger events that elicit people’s concern with accomplishing their tasks. Task accomplishment is thus a perceived benefit of help-seeking that directs people towards help-seeking (Lee, 1997; Nelson-Le Gall et al., 1983). In this paper, the term “task” is used in a generic sense in order to facilitate common discourse among the various fields of psychology. For example, in educational psychology, a task may be to solve a math problem; in organisational psychology, a task may be to solve a work-related problem; in counseling psychology, a task goal may be to get healed and experience personal wellbeing. Task-related learning is another benefit that drives individuals towards help-seeking when they encounter task problems (Holman, Epitropaki, & Fernie, 2001; Lee, 1997; Nadler et al., 2003; Ryan & Pintrich, 1998), since learning equips them with the skills and ability to accomplish their tasks without encountering the problems again in future. For example, in achievement contexts, a task-related problem may be an opportunity for students or employees to learn so that they can master the task now and in future; in counseling contexts, individuals may also be motivated to learn so as to equip themselves with the skills to cope and be healed. Thus, task accomplishment and learning are perceived benefit-beliefs associated with help-seeking behavior. In this paper, ValueTask Accomplishment refers to individuals’ subjective valuation of the task accomplishment belief that is © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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Situation factors ~ Ego-involving vs. task-involving context ~ Gender ideology ~ Individualistic vs. collectivistic culture ~ Org. policies/politics

Group level

Individual level Salient beliefs Task factors

Control beliefs

Perceived behavioral control

Normative beliefs

Subjective norm

~ Task difficulty/problem trigger event ~ Task importance ~ Problem severity

Help-seeking intention

Help-seeking behavior

Person factors ~ Self-esteem ~ Learning vs. performance goal orientation ~ Need for power ~ Social competence ~ Dependent personality

Behavioral beliefs Value + Task accomplishment + Learning - Self-esteem protection - Public image protection - Avoid indebtedness & dependence

Attitude toward help-seeking

Expectancy ~ Task accomplishment ~ Learning ~ Self-esteem protection ~ Public image protection ~ Avoid indebtedness & dependence

FIGURE 1.

Instrumental interpersonal help-seeking.

associated with help-seeking, while ValueLearning refers to individuals’ subjective valuation of learning that is associated with help-seeking. Research shows that various person, situation, and task factors affect the magnitudes of ValueTask Accomplishment and ValueLearning. A dispositional factor that may affect ValueLearning and ValueTask Accomplishment is people’s goal orientation. According to Dweck and Leggett (1988), people have different goal orientations in achievement contexts (i.e. contexts such as schools and organisations where people’s performances are evaluated against a standard of excellence and are tied to valued rewards; Atkinson, 1964)— © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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learning/mastery goal orientation and performance goal orientation. People with learning/mastery goal orientation derive intrinsic value from learning new knowledge and skills, like to master new tasks, and are usually intrinsically involved in their tasks. By contrast, people with a performance goal orientation are more focused on demonstrating their ability (or hiding their incompetence) and showing that they are superior to comparison others. Thus, while individuals with performance goal orientation (specifically, performance-avoidance goal orientation in this paper; Elliot & Harackiewicz, 1996) tend to avoid help-seeking as doing so implies that they are incompetent and inferior to others, individuals with mastery/learning goal orientation tend to seek help so that they can master and learn their tasks (Butler, 2007; Nadler, 1983). For example, Newman (1998) found a positive relationship between learning goal orientation and help-seeking. Thus, learning goal orientation will be positively related to ValueTask Accomplishment and Learning. In the school or organisation settings, contextual factors may affect ValueTask Accomplishment and ValueLearning. Similar to the theory of dispositional goal orientation, Nicholls (1984) proposed that different situations may elicit and emphasise different achievement goals. Specifically, in a task-involving context, task- and mastery/learning-goals are activated; in an ego-involving context, individuals’ performances are evaluated in comparison with others, thus performance goals are salient. Thus, a task-involving context will elicit people’s task accomplishment and task-related learning beliefs, and may increase their ValueTask Accomplishment and ValueLearning. These will then lead to a more favorable help-seeking attitude, which will in turn lead to greater help-seeking intention and behavior. For example, researchers found that individuals sought more help in a task-involving environment (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991). In fact, research has shown that both dispositional and contextual goal orientations influence individuals’ help-seeking behavior (Newman, 1998). For example, Newman found that contextual achievement goals moderated the effect of dispositional achievement goal orientation on help-seeking, such that contextual learning climate mitigated the negative effect of dispositional performance goal orientation on help-seeking, whereas contextual performance climate accentuated the negative effect of dispositional performance goal orientation on help-seeking. In addition, task factors may affect ValueTask Accomplishment and ValueLearning. For example, the more important the focal tasks are to individuals’ careers, the greater the incentive to accomplish the tasks and learn the skills successfully, and thus the greater the ValueTask Accomplishment and ValueLearning. Also, the more severe the need for help, the greater the incentive of task accomplishment, and thus the greater the likelihood that individuals will seek help (Cramer, 1999; Nadler et al., 2003). Overall, the greater the ValueTask Accomplishment and Learning, the more favorable will individuals’ helpseeking attitude be. © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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Yet, even if people have a strong ValueTask Accomplishment, it is unlikely that they will ask for help if there is no available helper. Furthermore, people will consider if the help will be useful. Research has shown that people are more likely to seek help if they perceive the help to be useful; they are less likely to ask for help when they doubt the ability of the potential helper (Hofmann et al., 2009; Nadler et al., 2003). For example, Ames and Lau (1982) observed that students who received information that remedial lessons would be useful to help them perform better were more likely to attend the remedial lessons (however, this occurred only for students who made help-relevant attributions; Ames, 1983); Nadler et al. found that employees sought more help from their superiors than from their co-workers as they perceived their superiors to have greater expertise; Meltzer, Bebbington, Brugha, Farrell, Jenkins, and Lewis (2003) found that doubt about the effectiveness of treatment is a frequently cited reason why individuals with neurotic disorders are reluctant to seek professional help. Therefore, the expectancy that they will be able to accomplish the task if they seek help (i.e. ExpectancyTask Accomplishment—which refers to the subjective probability of task accomplishment that is associated with help-seeking) will be a factor for consideration in people’s help-seeking decision. In fact, ValueTask Accomplishment and ExpectancyTask Accomplishment will multiplicatively affect the magnitude of individuals’ attitude toward help-seeking (for example, even if individuals have a strong ValueTask Accomplishment, they may not seek help if their ExpectancyTask Accomplishment is low). A similar argument can be made for people’s task-related learning belief. That is, the effect of people’s ValueLearning on their attitude towards helpseeking is also affected by their expectation that they will be able to learn if they seek help (i.e. ExpectancyLearning—which refers to the subjective probability of learning that is associated with the help-seeking) (Newman & Goldin, 1990). Some factors that affect people’s ExpectancyLearning are the perceived utility of the help in facilitating learning (Newman & Goldin, 1990), as well as individuals having a high self-concept of their global ability despite encountering task problems (Ames & Lau, 1982; Ames, 1983). The latter scenario occurs when individuals have high levels of cognitive competence and self-efficacy for learning. In fact, Expectancy-value theory will predict that ValueLearning and ExpectancyLearning will multiplicatively affect individuals’ attitude toward help-seeking (for example, if individuals have a weak ValueLearning, there is a small likelihood that they will seek help in order to learn despite the strength of their ExpectancyLearning). Proposition 1: ExpectancyTask Accomplishment will moderate the positive relationship between ValueTask Accomplishment and attitude toward help-seeking, such that the relationship will be accentuated if ExpectancyTask Accomplishment is high, and attenuated if ExpectancyTask Accomplishment is low. Furthermore, individuals will have the greatest © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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likelihood of seeking help in the scenario where they have high ValueTask Accomplishment and strong ExpectancyTask Accomplishment; the other three expectancy-value configurations will entail less favorable help-seeking attitude and thus less help-seeking behavior. Proposition 2: ExpectancyLearning will moderate the positive relationship between ValueLearning and people’s attitude toward help-seeking, such that the relationship will be accentuated if ExpectancyLearning is high, and attenuated if ExpectancyLearning is low. Furthermore, the likelihood that individuals will seek help is greatest in the scenario where they have a high ValueLearning and strong ExpectancyLearning; the other three expectancy-value configurations will entail less favorable help-seeking attitude and thus less help-seeking behavior.

Perceived Cost of Help-Seeking: Self-Esteem Damage By contrast, damage to their self-esteem may be a perceived cost-belief that inhibits people from seeking help (Tessler & Schwartz, 1972; Wills & DePaulo, 1991). As mentioned, researchers have noted that people are generally motivated to protect their self-esteem, and the concern with self-esteem protection has been construed as an inhibitory tendency in the extant helpseeking literature. Indeed, individuals’ concern with damaging their selfesteem and their concern with protecting their self-esteem are two sides of the same coin. Thus, for ease of discussion, I will refer to the concern with self-esteem damage as the concern with self-esteem protection. As discussed in the existing help-seeking literature, this concern generally yields an unfavorable attitude toward help-seeking and inhibits people from seeking help. Given that self-esteem protection inhibits individuals from seeking help, the ValueSelf-esteem Protection refers to individuals’ subjective valuation of protecting their self-esteem that is associated with not seeking help. In the achievement setting, individuals’ self-esteem is closely tied to their self-concept of ability (Ames, 1983; Lee, 1997). Thus, if people perform poorly on a task, the plausible implication that they are incompetent may damage their self-esteem (Tessler & Schwartz, 1972). The act of seeking help makes it even more salient to them that they do not have the ability to perform the tasks on their own. Thus, some researchers posit that the concern with self-esteem protection inhibits people from seeking help (e.g. Tuckey, Brewer & Williamson, 2002). Some researchers further propose that when people with low self-esteem perform poorly on a task, they will be strongly motivated to protect whatever little ego they have from further damage, and thus they may not seek the needed help. This has come to be known as the Vulnerability hypothesis (Nadler, 1983). In contrast, the Consistency hypothesis predicts that people with high self-esteem may be inhibited from seeking help as seeking help is an admission of their incompetence, which is inconsistent with the concept © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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of themselves as having high levels of ability. In fact, both hypotheses have received empirical support (Nadler, 1983). For example, Tessler and Schwartz (1972) found that people with low self-esteem sought more help than those with high self-esteem when they were made to believe that their intelligence was implicated in the experimental task, thus providing support for the Consistency hypothesis. In contrast, Karabenick and Knapp (1991) found that more students with high self-esteem (as compared to those with low self-esteem) indicated that they intended to seek help if they did not perform as well as desired, thus providing support for the Vulnerability hypothesis. That both the Consistency and Vulnerability hypotheses have received empirical support is explained by the plausibility that the relationship between self-esteem and help-seeking is curvilinear, in the form of an inverted U-shape. For example, Butler and Neuman (1995) found that in an ego-involving context where self-esteem concerns are salient, there is a higher level of help-seeking at an intermediate level of skill competence than at either a low or high level of competence. According to Butler and Neuman, “help-seeking will be perceived as more threatening at both low and high levels of competence or self-esteem than at intermediate ones” (1995: 263)— this is plausibly due to the two underlying mechanisms described by the Consistency and Vulnerability hypotheses. Thus, there may be a U-shape relationship between the level of self-esteem and ValueSelf-esteem Protection. The magnitude of ValueSelf-esteem Protection is also influenced by the importance of the tasks or competencies to the focal individuals. For example, in achievement settings, researchers have proposed that people strive harder to maintain positive views of themselves on their core competencies than on their peripheral competencies, and thus people have a greater ValueSelf-esteem Protection on tasks or skills that are central to their self-concept. For example, Tessler and Schwartz (1972) found that subjects with high self-esteem sought more help on tasks that were peripheral rather than central to their self-concept. In achievement settings, another dispositional factor that affects the magnitude of ValueSelf-esteem Protection is people’s achievement goal orientation. Specifically, researchers propose that individuals with performance goal orientation tend to focus on the evaluative aspects of the task rather than the task per se, and tend to exhibit maladaptive responses in the face of task challenges (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). For example, they may respond to task problems by withdrawing early from the task so that they will not have to face the disquieting thought that they are incompetent. Researchers have also proposed that individuals with performance goal orientation may have a strong ValueSelf-esteem Protection, which inhibits them from seeking help even when they need to. For example, Newman (1998) provides evidence that individuals’ performance goal orientation is negatively related to helpseeking; VandeWalle and Cummings (1997) also found a negative relationship between performance-avoidance goal orientation and feedback-seeking. © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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Similarly, an ego-involving context is more likely to activate people’s concern with protecting their self-esteem than a task-involving context, as the ego-involving context focuses people’s attention on the evaluative aspect of help-seeking while a task-involving context focuses people’s attention on task-relevant information (Ames, 1983; Butler & Neuman, 1995; DePaulo et al., 1983). That is, people are more likely to construe their need for help as reflective of their incompetence in the ego-involving context, while they are more likely to construe their need for help as an instrumental action to accomplish the task and learn in the task-involving context (Ames, 1983; Butler & Neuman, 1995). In other words, the situation affects the subjective meaning that people attach to the act of seeking help. Indeed, an egoinvolving context may enhance people’s ValueSelf-esteem Protection, and thus they may be more inhibited from seeking help in an ego-involving achievement context than in a task-involving achievement context (Ames, 1983; Nadler, 1983). Hence, dispositional performance goal orientation and ego-involving context will be positively related to ValueSelf-esteem Protection. In the counseling context, a key factor affecting the magnitude of ValueSelf-esteem Protection is self-stigma. Self-stigma occurs when individuals internalise society’s devaluation of the stigmatised attribute. For example, research has shown that self-stigma reduces individuals’ self-esteem and inhibits them from seeking help in mental health contexts (Corrigan, 2004). Indeed, the bulk of extant research discusses the concern with self-esteem protection as inhibiting individuals from help-seeking. Yet, some researchers argue that if individuals cannot perform the tasks on their own and do not seek help, they may ultimately fail in their tasks—this reality may then force a further dent in their self-esteem. Thus, to postulate that self-esteem protection inhibits individuals from seeking help, we must also ask the question, “if individuals do not seek help and subsequently fail on their tasks, will they still be able to protect their self-esteem?” To the extent that the answer to this question is “no”, then the concern with self-esteem protection cannot effectively inhibit people from seeking help. In other words, we must consider not only the ValueSelf-esteem Protection, but also ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection (which refers to individuals’ subjective likelihood that they will be able to protect their self-esteem if they do not seek help), when predicting individuals’ attitude and intention to seek help. Only when both factors are strong can the self-esteem protection belief effectively inhibit help-seeking. To be clear, some researchers may ask whether ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection can possibly be positive if individuals fail on the task when they don’t seek help. Indeed, it is plausible that the focal individuals may prevent the failed tasks from damaging their ego by withdrawing early from the tasks. This “pre-emptive” move may be manifested by the focal individuals re-allocating their resources (e.g. time, energy, effort) to other tasks, so that they will perform better on the other tasks and thus increase their self-esteem (which © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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may counter the decrement in their self-esteem that results from failing in their focal tasks). Likewise, in the counseling context, individuals may also shift their attention from the mental illnesses or socio-emotional problems to expend more effort to excel in other areas of their lives in order to counter the reduction in self-esteem produced by the mental illnesses/socio-emotional problems. Such pre-emptive moves may allow individuals to prevent damage to their self-esteem if their focal tasks fail. Indeed, taking a holistic approach to consider the alternatives that the focal individuals have will enable us to make more precise predictions about their help-seeking attitude and intention. Thus, to the extent that individuals can employ these pre-emptive moves to prevent damage to their self-esteem even though their focal tasks ultimately fail, they will be able to protect their self-esteem. These pre-emptive moves and withdrawal avenues (i.e. re-allocation decisions) may be sources for their ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection. In other words, I propose that individuals may still have a positive ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection even if they anticipate failing in the focal tasks when they do not seek help. However, if individuals only have single tasks, then they may not be able to invoke the pre-emptive move of re-allocating their resources, and thus may not be able to prevent damage to their self-esteem if their tasks fail. In this case where individuals’ ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection is low, even if they have strong ValueSelf-esteem Protection, they will be less inhibited to seek help. Proposition 3: ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection will moderate the negative relationship between ValueSelf-esteem Protection and attitude toward help-seeking, such that this relationship will be accentuated when ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection is high, and attenuated when ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection is low.

Perceived Cost of Help-Seeking: Public Image Damage Another perceived cost-belief associated with help-seeking is the damage it may cause to individuals’ public image. In the counseling context, the concern with damaging their public image is discussed as how individuals’ fear of public stigma may inhibit them from seeking the needed help (Corrigan, Markowitz, Watson, Rowan, & Kubiak, 2003; Vogel et al., 2005). In achievement contexts, individuals generally desire to establish and uphold a public image of competence (e.g. Newman & Goldin, 1990). Seeking help in the presence of others not only draws attention to the focal individuals’ incompetence, but also conveys the message that the helpers are more competent than the focal individuals. Indeed, to prevent damage to their public image of competence, individuals may sometimes prefer to let their tasks fail than seek the needed help. For example, research suggests that the concern with damaging their public image inhibits people from seeking help (e.g. Tuckey et al., 2002). © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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Indeed (similar to the argument for the self-esteem concern), individuals’ concern with damaging their public image is at the same time a concern with protecting their public image. Thus, I will refer to the concern with public image damage as the concern with public image protection. As discussed in the existing help-seeking literature, the concern with protecting their public image generally inhibits individuals from seeking help—given this, the ValuePublic Image Protection refers to individuals’ subjective valuation of protecting their public image that is associated with not seeking help. The ValuePublic Image Protection may be influenced by people’s disposition. Individuals with performance goal orientation may have a strong ValuePublic Image Protection and thus may be inhibited from seeking help as doing so will demonstrate to themselves as well as to others that they are inadequate and inferior to the helpers. Situational factors may also affect the magnitude of ValuePublic Image Protection. Specifically, an ego-involving context highlights individuals’ performance in comparison with others’ (Nicholls, 1984). Thus, an ego-involving educational/organisational climate may activate individuals’ concern with protecting their public image, and may lead to strong ValuePublic Image Protection, which then inhibits help-seeking (Nadler, 1998). In addition, the magnitude of ValuePublic Image Protection may be influenced by the number of people present in a given context. Specifically, the incentive to uphold their public image will be greater the more people there are, and thus individuals will be less likely to seek help when a greater number of observers are present (Williams & Williams, 1983). Yet, some researchers argue that if individuals cannot perform the tasks on their own and don’t seek help, they may ultimately fail on their tasks and hence will also not be able to uphold their public image of competence. Thus, similar to the argument for self-esteem protection, I propose that in order to appropriately posit that the concern with protecting their public image inhibits individuals from seeking help, we must also address the concomitant question, “if individuals do not seek help and subsequently fail on their tasks, will they still be able to protect their public image?” To the extent that the answer to this question is “yes” (i.e. positive ExpectancyPublic Image Protection), then will the public image protection belief effectively inhibit help-seeking. Stated explicitly, ExpectancyPublic Image Protection refers to the likelihood that individuals will be able to protect their public image if they do not seek help. Similar to the argument for ExpectancySelf-esteem Protection, it is possible for individuals to maintain their public image even if they fail on the focal tasks when they do not seek help. For example, individuals may re-allocate their resources to other tasks so that they can do better on them in order to counter the dent in their public image due to the focal failed tasks. Thus, to the extent that individuals visibly have other tasks to fall back on, ExpectancyPublic Image Protection may be positive even though they fail on the focal tasks. However, if individuals only have single tasks, then the low © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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ExpectancyPublic Image Protection may weaken the negative effect of ValuePublic Image Protection on their help-seeking attitude. Thus, ValuePublic Image Protection and ExpectancyPublic Image Protection will multiplicatively affect people’s help-seeking attitude and intention. Proposition 4: ExpectancyPublic Image Protection will moderate the negative relationship between ValuePublic Image Protection and attitude toward help-seeking, such that this relationship will be accentuated when ExpectancyPublic Image Protection is high, and attenuated when ExpectancyPublic Image Protection is low.

Perceived Costs of Help-Seeking: Indebtedness and Dependence Being indebted to helpers is another perceived cost of help-seeking as indebtedness is experienced as an aversive psychological state which people usually try to avoid (Greenberg & Westcott, 1983). Moreover, seeking help from others creates the impression that the focal individuals are dependent on the helpers, and this may be deemed a loss of power (Nadler & Halabi, 2006). The desire to avoid incurring the potential costs of indebtedness and dependence on helpers may thus inhibit people from seeking help (Lee, 1997). Given this, ValueAvoid Indebtedness refers to individuals’ subjective valuation of avoiding indebtedness that is associated with not seeking help; and ValueAvoid Dependence refers to individuals’ subjective valuation of avoiding dependence that is associated with not seeking help. Research shows that dispositional factors affect the magnitude of and ValueAvoid For example, ValueAvoid Indebtedness Dependence. ValueAvoid Indebtedness and Dependence may be especially strong for individuals with high self-esteem (Nadler, Mayseless, Pen, & Chemennski, 1985), individuals with the goal of attaining social status (Ryan & Pintrich, 1998), as well as those with high a need for power (McClelland, 1985). However, not all individuals are motivated to avoid depending on others. Specifically, individuals with a dependent personality will have a low ValueAvoid Dependence— indeed, research shows that individuals who are high on interpersonal dependency are more likely to seek help as compared to their counterparts (Bornstein, 1992; Nadler, 1998). Consistent with the expectancy-value formulation, we may also consider people’s expectancies with regard to the concerns of avoiding indebtedness and dependence. Specifically, ExpectancyAvoid Indebtedness refers to the subjective likelihood of avoiding indebtedness that is associated with not seeking help; ExpectancyAvoid Dependence refers to the subjective likelihood of avoiding dependency on the helpers if individuals do not seek help for their task problems/ difficulties. In each of these cases, the expectancy will be equal to 1—that is, if individuals do not seek help, they will not incur indebtedness © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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and dependency on the potential help-givers. In other words, it seems that ValueAvoid Indebtedness and Dependence may have a main effect on people’s help-seeking attitude. However, existing research also shows that the “opportunity to reciprocate” help is a determinant of whether people seek help (Nadler, 1983). For example, Greenberg and Shapiro (1971) demonstrated that people who did not expect to be able to reciprocate a favor were less inclined to seek help (as compared to those who anticipated that they would have an opportunity to do so); these researchers explained that the lack of a chance to reciprocate implies that help-recipients had no opportunity to reduce the aversive state of indebtedness. Incidentally, reciprocation may also enable the help-seekers to cancel their dependence on the helpers (Nadler et al., 1985). Thus, the opportunity to reciprocate help may enable people to avoid indebtedness and/or dependence on the helpers even if they seek help. In other words, the opportunity to reciprocate help is a negative ExpectancyAvoid Indebtedness and Dependence. Overall then, ValueAvoid Indebtedness and Dependence and ExpectancyAvoid Indebtedness and Dependence will still multiplicatively influence people’s help-seeking attitude and intention.

ATTITUDE TOWARDS HELP-SEEKING: A RECAPITULATION To recapitulate, task accomplishment and task-related learning are perceived benefit beliefs that direct people towards help-seeking. In contrast, selfesteem protection, public image protection, and the desire to avoid indebtedness and dependence are beliefs that may inhibit people from seeking help. The sum of these perceived benefit- and cost-beliefs constitutes people’s overall attitude towards help-seeking. Specifically,

AttitudeHelp-seeking = Perceived BenefitHelp -seeking − Perceived CostHelp-seeking

(1)

Perceived BenefitHelp-seeking = (ValueTask Accomplishment × ExpectancyTask Accomplishment ) + (ValueLearning × ExpectancyLearning ) (2) Perceived CostHelp-seeking = (ValueSelf -esteem Protection × ExpectancySelf -esteem Protection ) + (ValuePublic Image Protection × ExpectancyPublic Image Protection ) + (ValueAvoid Indebtedness and Dependence × ExpectancyAvoid Indebtedness and Dependence ) (3) Thus, from their Expectancy-value analysis, individuals will seek help only when the perceived benefits exceed the perceived costs of help-seeking (Fisher et al., 1983)—that is, when they have an overall favorable attitude towards help-seeking. Attitude towards help-seeking then influences people’s inten© 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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tion to seek help, such that the more positive their attitude toward helpseeking is, the greater will their help-seeking intention be (Mo & Mak, 2009; Shaffer, Vogel, & Wei, 2006).

SOCIAL INFLUENCE In addition to their attitude toward help-seeking, the social context within which individuals are embedded will influence their intention to seek help (Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). For example, important referent others may influence whether individuals define the trigger event as a problem, as well as the normative belief of whether help-seeking is an appropriate response (Addis & Mahalik, 2003; Gross & McMullen, 1983; Ryan & Pintrich, 1998). This normative belief, coupled with their motivation to comply with referent others, will determine individuals’ subjective norm about help-seeking (Ajzen, 1991). This subjective norm will then directly influence their help-seeking intention. That is, individuals will have a stronger intention to seek help when they perceive that important others think that they should request help; individuals are less likely to seek help when doing so contradicts the norms of their referent group (Mo & Mak, 2009). Some evidence of the effect of normative beliefs on help-seeking may be found in gender studies. Research across various fields shows that men generally seek less help than women (Nadler, 1991). The reason for this finding is that men have been socialised to be assertive, achievement-oriented, and independent (Addis & Mahalik, 2003; Lee, 2002). Because help-seeking implies inferiority and dependence on others, which contradicts the norm for males, men are less likely to seek help. Women, on the other hand, have been socialised to be nurturing and cooperative (Lee, 2002; Nadler, 1983)—thus, dependence on others for help is deemed socially permissible, which in turn leads to a greater incidence of help-seeking among women. In addition, individualistic–collectivistic norms may affect people’s helpseeking intention and behavior (Nadler, 1983; Sandoval & Lee, 2006). Specifically, people from individualistic cultures are socialised to be independent and self-reliant, whereas people from collectivistic cultures emphasise interdependence. Thus, compared to collectivists, individualists may be less likely to seek help as seeking help implies that they are dependent on others, which contradicts the individualist norm of being independent (Sandoval & Lee, 2006). For example, Lee (1997) showed that individualistic–collectivistic organisational norms affect help-seeking such that male employees requested more help in collectivistic than in individualistic cultures. Lastly, as elaborated in the earlier sections, in achievement contexts, a task-involving/ learning climate will elicit more help-seeking intention and behavior than an ego-involving climate (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991). © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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As researched in the various psychology fields, the situation factors that influence help-seeking behavior are generally group-level variables. In essence, these situation factors influence people’s normative beliefs, behavioral beliefs, and control beliefs, which will in turn respectively influence their subjective norm, attitude, and perceived behavioral control (as explained in the next section), and then finally influence their help-seeking intention and behavior.

HELP-SEEKING BEHAVIOR The Theory of Planned Behavior posits that when individuals’ behaviors are within their volitional control, their intention to act is a direct antecedent to their performing the behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). Applied to helpseeking research, help-seeking intention will be positively related to help-seeking behavior. However, there are also scenarios where individuals’ help-seeking behavior is not completely under their volitional control. To address these scenarios, we need to consider individuals’ perceived behavioral control, which refers here to the perceived ease or difficulty of performing the help-seeking behavior (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). As the Theory of Planned Behavior will predict, this perceived behavioral control will influence helpseeking behavior both directly and indirectly (via help-seeking intention) (e.g. Mo & Mak, 2009). Research shows that person and situation factors can affect people’s perceived behavioral control. A person factor that influences individuals’ helpseeking perceived behavioral control is their social competence. Specifically, because help-seeking entails social interactions, help-seekers need social competence to obtain help from prospective helpers (Newman, 1998; Ryan & Pintrich, 1998). Indeed, research suggests that individuals who are socially competent are more willing to seek help (Ryan & Pintrich, 1998). An external situation factor that may influence individuals’ perceived behavioral control is whether the act of seeking help from particular targets is within or beyond their control. For example, employees may need help from colleagues in another department but may be prevented from doing so due to company policies or inter-departmental politics—in this case, the focal employees will perceive little controllability in seeking the needed help, and thus will be less likely to seek help. In general, the lower the help-seeking perceived behavioral control, the less likely individuals will seek help.

DISCUSSION Overall, when people encounter task difficulties or problems which hinder them from successfully accomplishing their task goals, the need for help is © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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triggered. This will then activate various beliefs associated with helpseeking. Moreover, person, task, and situation factors will influence people’s beliefs about help-seeking. Next, these salient behavioral, normative, and control beliefs will influence people’s help-seeking attitude, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control, respectively, which will in turn influence their help-seeking intention. Lastly, people’s help-seeking intention and perceived behavioral control serve as proximal antecedents to their help-seeking behavior. Another model in the psychology literature that addresses the topic of what happens when people encounter task problems—that is, when people’s demands exceed their resources—is Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) stress and coping model. According to Lazarus and Folkman, stress occurs when people appraise events as a threat, challenge, harm, or loss (i.e. primary appraisal). In the event of perceived stress, individuals then proceed to conduct a secondary appraisal—that is, what can be done about the stress. Specifically, Lazarus and Folkman posit that there are two major forms of coping—problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. In problemfocused coping, individuals deal directly with the problems that are producing the stress; in emotion-focused coping, individuals try to manage their distressing emotions that have arisen due to the stressors. Given that helpseeking is a means to solving individuals’ task problems, my conceptualisation of goal-instrumental help-seeking overlaps with Lazarus and Folkman’s conceptualisation of problem-focused coping. However, my proposed help-seeking model differs from Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) coping model in that my help-seeking model is predicated on the specific-behavior paradigm, whereas Lazarus and Folkman’s coping model has as its basis a multiple-behaviors paradigm (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). Indeed, researchers have noted that the specific-behavior paradigm and the multiple-behaviors paradigm are suited to different research enquiries (Ajzen & Fishbein, 2005). A corollary of using the specificbehavior paradigm is that my help-seeking model has a narrower focus than Lazarus and Folkman’s (1984) coping model. Yet, this narrower focus allows me to conduct a more in-depth examination of help-seeking behavior, thus enabling a more precise prediction and explanation of the phenomenon. This paper contributes to existing help-seeking research in a few ways. First, this paper proposes a framework that organises and integrates extant research on the antecedents of interpersonal help-seeking behavior. Second, predicated on the Expectancy-value Theory and the Theory of Planned Behavior, this paper contributes to help-seeking research by expounding on the importance of treating expectancy as a moderator, rather than as a main effect predictor (e.g. Tinsley, Brown, de St Aubin, & Lucek, 1984), in people’s cost–benefit analyses on whether to seek help. As explicated in the paper, © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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conceptualising expectancy as a moderator in the help-seeking process is especially important with regard to arguments about how individuals’ beliefs about self-esteem protection and public image protection may inhibit them from seeking the needed help. Indeed, conceptualising expectancy as a moderator in the help-seeking process will help us understand some inconsistent findings among studies that have regarded expectancy as a main effect predictor of help-seeking (Wills & DePaulo, 1991). This may in turn guide future help-seeking research. Indeed, some prior researchers have also used the Theory of Planned Behavior or the Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) to examine help-seeking behavior (e.g. Mo & Mak, 2009; Shaffer et al., 2006; Vogel et al., 2005); however, these researchers have not drawn on Fishbein’s Expectancy-value Theory (which is incorporated within the TPB and TRA frameworks). Yet, as shown in this paper, EVT equips us with a better understanding of individuals’ help-seeking decision and behavior. Thus, this paper contributes to research by providing an in-depth explication on the use of the EVT framework in help-seeking research. Third, this paper contributes to the literature by positing a constellation approach to examine the various beliefs/concerns that are involved in people’s decision to seek help. This constellation approach may be useful as it shows the interplay among various beliefs that are associated with helpseeking, and also helps us understand some of the contradictory findings in the literature. For example, Nadler et al. (2003) found that people seek more help from superiors than co-workers, whereas Lee (1997) found that employees seek more help from co-workers than superiors. While Nadler et al. explained their findings in terms of the perceived utility of the help (i.e. ExpectancyTask Accomplishment), Lee explained her findings in terms of power motivation (i.e. ValueAvoid Dependence). Using a constellation approach enables us to be cognisant that the relative strength or importance of various factors may have resulted in the contradictory findings across studies. Thus, it will be useful to consider the constellation of salient beliefs when predicting people’s help-seeking intention and behavior. Lastly, this paper contributes to helpseeking research by proposing a multi-level help-seeking framework, which describes how individual-level and group-level factors influence people’s help-seeking intention and behavior. A boundary condition of this review paper is that my proposed helpseeking model focuses on the cognitive aspects of help-seeking only; the model does not address the emotion aspects of help-seeking. One reason for this is that there is precious little empirical research to date on how emotions influence people’s help-seeking behavior. This may be a fruitful avenue for future research as the need to seek help may also trigger people’s emotions, which may in turn have implications for their help-seeking behavior. © 2012 The Author. Applied Psychology: An International Review © 2012 International Association of Applied Psychology.


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