Article | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology | 2013

Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal

by Lara B. Aknin, Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh, Elizabeth W. Dunn, John F. Helliwell, Justine Burns, Robert Biswas-Diener, Imelda Kemeza, Paul Nyende, Claire Ashton-James and Michael I. Norton

Abstract

This research provides the first support for a possible psychological universal: Human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others (prosocial spending). In Study 1, survey data from 136 countries were examined and showed that prosocial spending is associated with greater happiness around the world, in poor and rich countries alike. To test for causality, in Studies 2a and 2b, we used experimental methodology, demonstrating that recalling a past instance of prosocial spending has a causal impact on happiness across countries that differ greatly in terms of wealth(Canada, Uganda, and India). Finally, in Study 3, participants in Canada and South Africa randomly assigned to buy items for charity reported higher levels of positive affect than participants assigned to buy the same items for themselves, even when this prosocial spending did not provide an opportunity to build or strengthen social ties. Our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.

Keywords: prosocial spending; happiness; psychological universal; prosocial behavior; well-being; Happiness; Spending; Giving and Philanthropy; Canada; Uganda; South Africa; India;

Citation:

Aknin, Lara B., Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh, Elizabeth W. Dunn, John F. Helliwell, Justine Burns, Robert Biswas-Diener, Imelda Kemeza, Paul Nyende, Claire Ashton-James, and Michael I. Norton. "Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 104, no. 4 (April 2013): 635–652.