Biting the Hand That Feeds: A Status-Based Model of When and Why Receiving Help Motivates Social Undermining

Kenneth Tai (Corresponding Author), Katrina Jia Lin (Corresponding Author), Catherine Lam, Wu Liu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Social exchange theory suggests that after receiving help, people reciprocate by helping the original help giver. However, we propose that help recipients may respond negatively and harm the help giver when they perceive helping as a status threat and experience envy. Integrating the helping as status relations framework and the social functional perspective of envy, we examine when and why receiving help may prompt help recipients to undermine help givers. Across four studies, we find progressive support for our results which show that when individuals receive task-related help from help givers who are perceived to be more, rather than less, competent than them, they experience greater status threat and envy. As help recipients experience envy toward help givers, they are likely to undermine help givers, and this positive relationship becomes stronger for help recipients who have higher status striving motivation. Our findings underscore the status dynamics implicated in helping interactions by highlighting that help recipients, especially those with higher status striving motivation, may paradoxically undermine help givers when they perceive status threat from and feel envious of help givers, as a result of receiving help from more competent help givers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-52
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2022
Event79th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management - Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Duration: 9 Aug 201913 Aug 2019


  • Envy
  • Receiving help
  • Relative competence
  • Social undermining
  • Status threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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