The Effects of Sex, Status, and Ability on Helping Behavior1


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    This research was supported by a grant from the Colgate University Research Council.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Dr. John F. Dovidio, Department of Psychology, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY 13346.


Protests against affirmative action articulate the concern that qualified white males will be subordinated to less qualified women and minorities. To examine the possibility that the reversal of traditional status relationships rather than competence inequity underlies resistance to affiimative action, a study was conducted in which subjects interacted with a male or female who was introduced as their supervisor or subordinate and as either higher or lower in ability than themselves. The results indicate that status, not ability, influences the frequency of helping women, whereas ability, not status, primarily influences helping behavior toward men. Specifically. female subordinates were helped more than females supervisors, regardless of ability, while high-ability males elicited more help than low-ability males, independent of status. Subsequent ratings revealed that although subjects acknowledged the greater competence of high-ability males, they did not evaluate high-ability females as more competent than themselves.