Empowering the poor: A field study of the social psychological consequences of receiving autonomy or dependency aid in Panama

Katherina Alvarez*, Esther van Leeuwen, Esteban Montenegro-Montenegro, Mark van Vugt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This field study investigated the consequences of receiving poverty aid through conditional transfer programmes in the form of autonomy-oriented help (i.e., cash) or dependency-oriented help (i.e., vouchers) in impoverished rural communities in Panama. The empowering effects of autonomy- (vs. dependency-) help have so far only been studied in laboratory settings, or in settings where help could easily be refused. Little is known about the reactions of people who rely on help for extended periods of time. This study provides insights into how aid recipients are influenced by the type of aid they receive. Results showed that, as expected, recipients of cash reported more autonomy, empowerment, and life improvements than recipients of vouchers. Training, another type of autonomy-oriented help, was positively related to empowerment, personal, and family change beliefs. These findings illustrate the benefits of autonomy-oriented help programmes in empowering people from extremely poor communities around the world, who rely on aid for extended periods of time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)327-345
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number2
Early online date4 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018


We would like to thank the Ministry of Social Development in Panama for the support provided for this study. We would also like to thank Seul Serrano for his valuable feedback on the study design and help in the data collection. We are thankful to Polidoro Pinzon for sharing his extensive experience working with rural communities in Panama and providing key information that made possible the data collection. Finally, we thank all who helped in the process of conducting this study, in particular the interviewers and participants at the Ng€abe-Buglé communities. This project would not have been possible without the support from all of you. This research was supported by a grant from the Moza€ıek (Mosaic) from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) (Grant No. 017.008.067) and the SENACYT Institute (Grant No. FID 09-020).

FundersFunder number
Ministry of Social Development in Panama
SENACYT Institute
Mosaic Company
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek017.008.067
Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e InnovaciónFID 09-020


    • autonomy-oriented help
    • change beliefs
    • dependency-oriented help
    • empowerment
    • extreme poverty
    • Panama
    • receiving help


    Dive into the research topics of 'Empowering the poor: A field study of the social psychological consequences of receiving autonomy or dependency aid in Panama'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this