Giving advice is more motivating than receiving it

Alice G. Walton | Sep 04, 2018

If a person is trying to quit smoking, she might seek out advice from someone who has successfully quit. But research by University of Pennsylvania’s Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Angela Duckworth and Chicago Booth’s Ayelet Fishbach suggests a counterintuitive strategy: she should try giving advice to someone also struggling to quit.

“Our research provides empirical support for an age-old aphorism: it is in giving that we receive,” the researchers write. 

Conventional wisdom holds that receiving advice is an effective motivator, but research has been picking away at this idea, finding, for example, that receiving advice can make people feel less confident. Eskreis-Winkler, Fishbach, and Duckworth further studied the link between advice and motivation—and argue that it can be more motivating to give advice than to receive it.

In their first experiment, the researchers had some middle-school students give advice about vocabulary coursework and had others receive advice about it from their teachers. They then tracked how many minutes the middle schoolers spent studying vocabulary online each night, using minutes spent studying as a measure of motivation. It turns out that the students who gave advice studied almost 27 minutes on average while those receiving it put in closer to 23 minutes. 

Next, the team conducted a study with adults who were struggling to save money, lose weight, control their temper, or find employment. Participants wrote out the advice they’d give to others, and then received advice themselves. Afterward, they rated which felt more motivational, giving advice or receiving it. 

Almost three-quarters of the participants across all four categories reported that giving advice was more motivating than receiving it. This was true regardless of whether they received advice first and gave it second, or vice versa. 

People often underestimate—or completely miss—the role that confidence plays in motivation, according to the research. When participants rated their confidence in giving and receiving advice, they consistently reported that giving advice made them feel more confident and motivated.