Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2012). Happiness runs in a circular motion:Evidence for a positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(2), 347-355.
Methods: Undergraduate participants (N= 51) from the University of British Columbia were randomly assigned to one of four recall conditions in a 2 (spending amount: $20 vs. $100) X 2 (purchase target: self vs. someone else) design. Recall instructions were designed to elicit vivid reminiscence, modeling those used by Strack et al. (1985). After describing the memory, participants reported their happiness on the Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky and Lepper 1999).
Next, participants were asked to choose between two monetary windfall amounts ($5 vs. $20) and two different ways to spend the money. The money could be spent on 1) a bill, expense, or gift for themselves (personal spending) or 2) on a gift for someone else or a donation to charity (prosocial spending). This procedure was conducted anonymously to mitigate social desirability concerns by giving participants cards labeled A, B, C, D. Participants were reassured that research assistants were unaware of which letter corresponded to which experimental condition.
A 2 (purchase target: self vs. someone else) x2 (purchase amount: $20 vs. $100) factorial ANOVA was used to analyze happiness ratings. Subjects who were assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else were significantly happier than subjects who were asked to recall a purchase made for themselves (F(1, 47) = 4.66, p < .04, d = .61). The main effect of purchase amount and the interaction between purchase amount and purchase target were both non-significant (p > .05).
Discussion: Findings support the existence of a positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and happiness. Cumulatively, results show that 1) recollection of past prosocial spending leads to higher levels of happiness, 2) higher levels of happiness increase the likelihood of engaging in prosocial spending, and 3) recollection of a past experience of prosocial spending increased the likelihood of spending a new windfall on others, provided that happiness levels are elevated in the meantime. Although the feedback loop might seem intuitive, the present data adds to the understanding of when prosocial behavior is likely to be repeated. Repetition of behavior is linked to the happiness experienced after the initial kind deed. Finally, when considering whether the amount of money spent influence happiness returns, data suggest that how the money is spent may matter more than how much money is spent..
Becker, J. C., Tausch, N., & Wagner, U. (2011). Emotional Consequences of Collective Action Participation Differentiating Self-Directed and Outgroup-Directed Emotions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(12), 1587-1598.
Study 1 compared self-directed and outgroup-directed emotions and intentions for future collective action with no-action control conditions. In Study 2, the addition of four more control conditions increased the range of negative outgroup-directed emotions and action tendencies while addressing confounding variables. It was predicted that collective action participants experience more outgroup-directed behavior while increasing feelings of self-directed positive affect.
Method: In Study 1, student participants (N= 71, Mage= 21.30 years) engaged in a 2 (collective action participation: yes, no) X 2 (order of emotion measurements) between-participants design. Students were informed of a hiring freeze, which would increase tuition fees at their respective university. Students were randomly assigned to two initial conditions: direct interception of dependent measures or participation in collective action against the government. All participants were then administered the self-directed and outgroup-directed emotion measures of outgroup-directed anger, self-directed positive affect, and collective action intentions.
Study 2 intended to corroborate the findings of Study 1 while excluding potential alternative explanations of behavior. Researchers intentionally chose a type of collective action that offered participants the opportunity to get more involved as the experimental condition. Four control conditions were added. In the first condition, students read about past protests against the government. The second condition required students to engage in collective action directed at another target group. Students in the third conditional groups read about past protests against an alternative, non-government group. A fourth group consisted of an additional baseline control, where students answered the dependent measures directly. Participants at the University of Marburg (N= 101, M¬age= 22.94 years) were recruited by research assistants and asked to devote 10 minutes to a research project. Students who agreed to participate were subjected to four procedures. The first group was instructed to read a brief text addressing government wrongdoings into a recorder, following the recitation by blowing a whistle as loudly as possible. In the second group, participants read a short text to themselves about an alleged campaign against the government, and they indicated whether or not they were familiar with the campaign. The third condition was identical to the first (i.e. reading a text out-loud and blowing a whistle), but the text targeted a non-government group. The fourth condition mirrored the second, but students read text addressing past campaigns against pollution. In the fifth condition, participant completed the dependent measures only.
Participants’ outgroup-directed emotions were measured in the following categories: outgroup-directed anger, self-directed positive affect, identification with the protest movement, group efficacy. Outgroup directed contempt and collective action intentions were addressed as well.
Discussion: Findings showed that collective action participation increases self-directed positive affect and outgroup-directed negative affect. In regard to self-directed emotions, these results showed that collective action participation increased positive affect (e.g. joy and satisfaction). This relationship supports prior evidence that activism is positively correlated with well-being (Klar & Kasser, 2009). Interestingly, increased levels of outgroup-directed negative affect (i.e. anger towards a the outgroup when the ingroup is perceived to be treated unfairly) were predictive of future engagement in collective action, but there was no relationship between self-directed positive affect and future participation. Outgroup-directed emotions rather than individual enhancement drive long-term political protest.
Borgonovi, F. (2008). Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness. Social science & medicine, 66(11), 2321-2334.
Method: This paper analyzed the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey (SCCBS) dataset. The dataset was amalgamated by the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government in 2000, and data reflects volunteer work in a range of contexts as well as measures of self-reported health and happiness. The SCCBS contains a sample of the U.S. population and specific samples from 49 communities across 29 states, cumulating in nearly 29,200 observations.
Within the SCCBS, participants were asked if they had engaged in any volunteer work over the past 12 months for the following groups and organizations: cultural, artistic, health, neighborhood and civic, needy, religious, and youth-school. Measures of both frequency and type of volunteerism were recorded. Global measures of health and happiness were obtained with the single-item questions: “how would you describe your overall health these days?” and “taking all things together, how happy would you say you are at the present?.” Both questions asked subjects to respond using a 4-item scale, where 0 = poor health, 4 = excellent health for health and 0 = not at all happy, 4 = very happy for happiness ratings.
Ordered probit analyses were used to estimate the association between health and happiness, and a second stage least squares regression framework was used to assess reverse causation, self-selection, and omitted variable bias.
Discussion: Results indicate that formal volunteering is correlated to health and happiness, and systematic differences in correlations were not due to differences in socio-economic characteristics. Volunteering is significantly associated with happiness, and increased frequency of formal volunteering increases levels of self-reported happiness. The type of volunteer work (religious vs. secular) suggests a somewhat stronger link between religious volunteering and well-being versus that of secular volunteering and well-being. Although volunteering was associated with higher levels of health and well-being, other forms of altruistic behavior, such as monetary or blood donations, were not.
This paper makes an important contribution by suggesting that the positive association that exists between volunteering and health is not causal; rather, it is driven by reverse causality, self-selection, and omitted variable bias. Regarding socio-economic factors, results indicate that low economic status is associated with poor health among those who volunteer and those who do not. However, low status is associated with unhappy states only among individuals who do not volunteer, while individuals who volunteer are equally likely to be happy whether they are high or low status.
Cosley, B. J., McCoy, S. K., Saslow, L. R., & Epel, E. S. (2010). Is compassion for others stress buffering? Consequences of compassion and social support for physiological reactivity to stress. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(5), 816-823.
In this study, women were subjected to a modified Trier social stress test (TSST; Kirschbaum, Pirke, & Hallhammer, 1993). It was hypothesized that compassion would moderate the palliative effect of social support during an acute psychosocial stressor. Furthermore, researchers predicted that women high in compassion would benefit more from the supportive TSST condition when compared to their low-compassion counterparts. Finally, compassion was not expected to predict physiological well-being in the absence of social support.
Method: Participants (N = 59) were a community sample of San Francisco, CA residents who were instructed to complete and online battery of questionnaires, including demographic measures and the study’s measure of compassion.
Compassion was measured using the compassion subscale of the dispositional positive emotion scales (Shiota et al., 2006). During the laboratory session, participants were administered a social stress test. Physiological measures were taken by electrocardiogram (ECG), impedance cardiogram (ICG), and blood pressure sensors. Salivary cortisol was examined 60 min after arrival (baseline) and 20 min after the onset of stress (peak).
Following a 5 min baseline period, subjects were instructed to present a speech to two evaluators (one male and one female). Participants were told that they would have 5 min to prepare, and, after the prep period, participants performed the speech task, an interview task, and a mental math task (each task being 5 min in length). To manipulate social support, subjects were randomly assigned to perform the social stress task either to supportive or neutral evaluators. In the support condition, evaluators interrupted the participant at 30s intervals to provide verbal praise for the speech. Similarly, the neutral condition featured evaluator interruptions at 30s intervals; however, evaluators simply restated the task instructions while maintaining flat non-verbal feedback. Physiological measures of arterial blood pressure, cortisol levels, and high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HVR) were collected after and throughout the stress task.
Because the compassion variable was negatively skewed in both conditions, researchers reflected the variable and took the inverse. Hypotheses were tested using hierarchical regression analyses. For psychological variables, baseline values were compared to the main effect of compassion and social support. Results showed the interaction of compassion and social support to be a significant predictor of systolic blood pressure (∆R2 = .03; F(1, 43) = 5.27, p = .02; ß = -.43, p < .01) and cortisol reactivity (∆R2 = .08; F(1, 49) = 6.65, p = .01; ß = .17, p = .22). In both cases, increased compassion attenuated the acute stress response during stress but not the neutral condition. Only main effects of social support (ß = .28, p = .03) and compassion (ß = .36, p < .01) had a significant relationship with HF-HRV. Simple slope analyses revealed significant differences between HF-HRV between support differences at high levels of compassion (ß = .52, p < .01), meaning that individuals with social support who are also high in compassion will experience reduced HF-HRV.
Discussion: This study examined the interaction between individual differences in compassion for others and receival of support during a stressful event in order to predict reactivity to an acute stressor. Results supported hypotheses, demonstrating that, when provided social support, participants with higher compassion had lowered their systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as cortisol, and they had increased their HF-HRV during the speech task. These finding support the argument that more compassionate individuals may also be more benefited by support, particularly in times of stress. Effectively, compassion may be associated with health partly through it interaction with receiving support by its ability to reduce acute stress reactivity.
Lu, L., Gilmour, R., Kao, S. F., Weng, T. H., Hu, C. H., Chern, J. G., ... & Shih, J. B. (2001). Two ways to achieve happiness: When the East meets the West. Personality and Individual Differences, 30(7), 1161-1174.
Method: Self-reported data was collected from both Taiwanese (N = 550) and British (N = 196) community samples, where participants completed questionnaires measuring self-construals, control belief, harmony belief, social interaction, and happiness.
In Taiwan, various data collection methods were used to target different populations. One set of questionnaires (N = 78) was mailed to community adults who were enrolled in night classes offered by the government. Another set was given to students of one senior high school (N = 152), one vocational school (N = 98), and one university (N = 46). Finally, senior high school and vocational school student were asked to have each parent fill out questionnaires (N = 176). In the UK, all questionnaires were mailed to a broad cross-section of community adults.
Self-construals were measured with the 24-item “Independent and Interdependent Self-construals Scale” (Singelis, 1994), which required subjects to respond on a 7-item Likert scale. Control belief was assessed by the “Interpersonal Control” subscale of the “Sphere of Control Inventory” created by Paulhus & Christie (1981). Both the “Chinese Value Survey” and the “Traditional Values Scales” were used to rate harmony belief. The 16-item Social Interaction Inventory provided measures of social interaction while the Chinese Happiness Inventory assessed happiness levels.
Pearson correlation matrices for major research variables were constructed separately for Taiwan and the UK. There were significant positive correlations between interdependent self construal and harmony belief as well as independent self-construal and control belief in both samples. Importantly, the former relationship was stronger in Taiwan (R = .65 versus R = .20 in the UK) whereas the latter was stronger in the UK (R = 0.47 versus R = 0.29 in Taiwan). Both harmony belief and control beliefs correlated significantly with overall measures of social interaction. Positive and harmonious feelings were positively correlated with happiness for both groups.
Discussion: For both Taiwanese and British participants, interdependent self-construal was a strong determinant of harmony belief, and independent self-construal was a strong predictor of control belief. For both groups, beliefs regarding social interaction impacted daily interaction experiences, which directly contributed to happiness. Control belief also demonstrated a strong direct effect on happiness. Findings also discussed the effects of cultural differences on the psychological processes of happiness, ultimately supporting coexistence of East and West culture for maximized well-being.