Need help? Keep your compliments to yourself! By Steven Depolo via Flickr

Need help? Keep your compliments to yourself!

The idea is simple: the more compliments you give, the more you receive in return. My research shows that it might not be that simple. We showed that people who give compliments receive more liking, but less help.

The first of March each year is World Compliment Day. I really love receiving compliments, and I think we should give more compliments to each other, and more often, so I am very sympathetic to the idea.

It is in giving that we receive?

When I looked at the poster for World Compliment Day, I saw that the organizers urge you compliment people because “it’s very simple: The more you value and appreciate [people]…. the more you receive in return”. Being a researcher, I wondered whether it is true that giving compliments results in receiving more; and being a researcher, I decided to test this idea. And, sad but true, the initial evidence points in a different direction: after a compliment, people seem less likely to help you out.

The experiment

What did we do? We sat up the experiment in a room at the university. When participants entered, they were seated at a table and asked to do a Sudoku puzzle. Upon completing the Sudoku, the participants received a compliment about their appearance or about their performance. Participants in the control condition did not receive a compliment.

After the compliment, the researcher “accidentally” dropped some pens on the floor. He or she did not immediately start picking them up, but instead waited to see whether the participant would help, and if so, how many pens the participant would pick up. In line with the thinking behind the poster, we expected that participants who had received a compliment would be more likely to help pick up the pens than those who had not received a compliment at all.

The result: less help, more affection

The results were rather surprising, and contradicted the poster: people (both men and women) who had received a compliment about their performance picked up fewer pencils than those who had not received a compliment at all. Those who had been complimented on their appearance took an intermediate position. This suggests that compliments reduce, rather than increase, the amount of help you receive. On the other hand, the participants liked the experimenters more when they had received a compliment than when they had not.

So, do you receive more when you give somebody a compliment? According to these preliminary findings, you may receive some intangible rewards, in that people like you better after a compliment, but you will not receive extra (tangible) help. On the contrary, you may receive less help when you have given someone a compliment. However, as long as I do not drop my pens, I will just keep trying to increase your liking for me. So thank you for reading this blog; I think you did a great job! And by the way, your hair looks great today…