Social influences on prosocial behaviors and their consequences
While self-interest and prosocial behavior are often pitted against each other, it is clear that much charitable giving and volunteering for good causes is motivated by non-altruistic concerns (Bekkers & Wiepking, 2011). Helping others by giving and volunteering feels good (Dunn, Aknin & Norton, 2008). What is the contribution of such helping behaviors on happiness?
The effect of helping behavior on happiness is easily overestimated using cross-sectional data (Aknin et al., 2013). Experiments provide the best way to eradicate selection bias in causal estimates. Monozygotic twins provide a nice natural experiment to investigate unique environmental influences on prosocial behavior and its consequences for happiness, health, and trust. Any differences within twin pairs cannot be due to additive genetic effects or shared environmental effects. Previous research has investigated environmental influences of the level of education and religion on giving and volunteering (Bekkers, Posthuma and Van Lange, 2017), but no study has investigated the effects of helping behavior on important outcomes such as trust, health, and happiness.
The Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) and the German Twinlife surveys provide rich datasets including measures of health, life satisfaction, and social integration, in addition to demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and measures of helping behavior through nonprofit organizations (giving and volunteering) and in informal social relationships (providing financial and practical assistance to friends and family).
In the absence of natural experiments, longitudinal panel data are required to ascertain the chronology in acts of giving and their correlates. The same holds for the alleged effects of volunteering on trust (Van Ingen & Bekkers, 2015) and health (De Wit, Bekkers, Karamat Ali, & Verkaik, 2015). Since the mid-1990s, a growing number of panel studies have collected data on volunteering and charitable giving and their alleged consequences, such as the German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP), the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) / Understanding Society, the Swiss Household Panel (SHP), the Household, Income, Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA), the General Social Survey (GSS) in the US, and in the Netherlands the Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social sciences (LISS) and the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Survey (GINPS).
Under my supervision, students can write a paper on social influences of education, religion and/or helping behavior in the form of volunteering, giving, and informal financial and social support on outcomes such as health, life satisfaction, and trust, using either longitudinal panel survey data or data on twins. Students who are interested in writing such a paper are invited to present their research questions and research design via e-mail to .
René Bekkers, Center for Philanthropic Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., … Norton, M. I. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 635–652.
De Wit, A., Bekkers, R., Karamat Ali, D., & Verkaik, D. (2015). Welfare impacts of participation. Deliverable 3.3 of the project: “Impact of the Third Sector as Social Innovation” (ITSSOIN), European Commission – 7th Framework Programme, Brussels: European Commission, DG Research.