Who Are We Helping?


Humans help each other all the time. So what’s wrong with helping?


[Words appear onscreen accompanied by uplifting music]

Humans evolved to help each other.

[Still image of a toddler trying to help a rabbit statue that appears to be trying to climb onto a ledge]

Even the youngest of us do it.

[Two panels from an airline safety instruction booklet depicting (1) a woman putting on an oxygen mask and (2) the same woman helping a child in the next seat put on his mask]

Helping is so natural to us, airlines have to remind us to put on our own oxygen masks before helping others.

We help even when it hurts:

[Still image of a young boy sharing bread with another boy]

We give when we have little to spare

[Still image of a man standing next to a subway station, overlaid with a New York Times newspaper clipping titled “Man Is Rescued by Stranger on Subway Tracks”]

We risk our own lives when others are in danger

We can’t help but help!

So why worry about helping? We do it so well.

The problem is not whether we help.

It’s who we help .

We evolved to help people who are like us

[Still image of a group of friends sitting together on the lawn of a college quad]

Those who are close to us

[Still image appears of rows of identical men in business suits]

Those who are similar to us

[Still image appears of an office door with a sign that reads “My Son’s Office”]

… even when they may not be the most deserving.

But us helping isn’t even-handed helping  

It doesn’t support core values of

equal opportunity


merit-based reward

Think about how your well intentioned acts…

  • putting in a good word for a friend
  • finding your nephew an internship at your company
  • favoring a client who went to your college

…might tilt the playing field  in unintentional ways.

Use your power to keep it level.

Don’t stop helping! But distribute your helping evenly.

Rethink how you help

Rethink why you help

Rethink who you help

[Outsmarting Implicit Bias logo appears as the music ends]



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Greenwald, A. G., & Pettigrew, T. F. (2014). With malice toward none and charity for some: Ingroup favoritism enables discrimination. American Psychologist, 69(7), 699-684.

Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2006). Altruistic helping in human infants and young chimpanzees. Science, 311(5765), 1301-1303. Watch the videos here.

Levine, M., Prosser, A., Evans, D., & Reicher, S. (2005). Identity and emergency intervention: How social group membership and inclusiveness of group boundaries shape helping behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(4), 443-453.


Who Are We Helping? was created and developed by Mahzarin Banaji, Olivia Kang, and Evan Younger with funding from PwC and Harvard University.

Video Editing by Evan Younger

Music by Big Score Audio via Premium Beat

Images by New York Daily News, Thanasis Zovoilis, and DrGrounds via Getty Images; tzahiV and onueroner via iStock; and Daniel M. Ernst via Shutterstock

Artwork by Olivia Kang