Obtaining Help From Strangers: Effects of Eye Contact, Visible Struggling, and Direct Requests

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Some conditions under which help was given to two confederates in wheelchairs were explored. Each of five tasks (opening a door, ascending a ramp, reaching for high objects, using a pay telephone, and wheeling while hampered with packages) was attempted 10 times by each of two, female, wheelchair-bound confederates who sought help while playing four different roles: (a) making eye contact with a stranger and then asking for help; (b) approaching a bystander and requesting help without prior eye contact; (c) struggling to execute one of the tasks while looking around for prospective helpers; and (d) concentrating on struggling with a task without visually searching for help.

In both roles that employed a direct verbal request, help was given 100% of the time. In the two roles that did not include a direct request, whether help was offered appeared highly dependent on the task to be accomplished and visual searching behaviors by the person needing help.

The reactions of the confederates to playing the different roles and experiencing their outcomes were described and implications were drawn for teaching newly disabled people to cope with helping situations.

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