Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, Katherine Milkman, Angela Duckworth, and Dena Gromet have conducted some fascinating new research on the benefits of giving others advice. Of course, we all believe that we can learn and grow by seeking advice and feedback from others, perhaps with more experience and expertise than us. However, this study examines the benefits from giving advice to others. How does the giver benefit? According to the authors, giving others advice, even on an issue about which you are struggling or feeling challenged, can raise your self-confidence and motivation. In so doing, it can help us achieve our goals more effectively.
The scholars conducted an experiment with approximately 2,000 high school students. Eskreis-Winkler explains the research and their findings in this article for Knowledge@Wharton:
We recruited about 2,000 students and randomized them to one of two conditions. Either they’re in the treatment, which is that they give advice to younger students, or they’re in the control condition, which is practice as usual and they didn’t receive anything in particular. The program was online, so teachers took their students to the computer lab and students signed in. There was this very aesthetically pleasing, graphically designed program that students walked themselves through. They were asked to be coaches. We said, “Help us help other students.” Then the treatment — they went through a series of exercises that tried to elicit their advice.
There were some multiple-choice questions that asked them to advise on optimal study locations. There were some open-ended questions where they were writing notes of advice to younger students. The whole experience was short, but it was meant to make them feel like bona fide advisers. They had information to give, and we were getting it, and we were actually going to give it to younger students.
The hypothesis was that this act of stepping into the adviser role would raise the students’ confidence, increase their motivation. It was a pretty high bar, but we were hoping and expecting that it would, in turn, raise the students’ achievement levels. We collected the students’ grades over the academic quarter to see whether this intervention, which was delivered to students at the beginning of the third quarter, would increase their grades. And it did. We specifically pre-registered and predicted in advance that it would raise their grades in a target class. This is a class in which students self-report that they’re most motivated to improve. Math is a subject that’s notoriously difficult to change student achievement and a subject in which many students lack confidence. We thought this advice-giving intervention would be effective in math, and we did find that the students’ target grades and their math grades improved relative to students in the control condition.