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



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

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