When helping helps: autonomous motivation for prosocial behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010 Feb;98(2):222-44. doi: 10.1037/a0016984.


Self-determination theory posits that the degree to which a prosocial act is volitional or autonomous predicts its effect on well-being and that psychological need satisfaction mediates this relation. Four studies tested the impact of autonomous and controlled motivation for helping others on well-being and explored effects on other outcomes of helping for both helpers and recipients. Study 1 used a diary method to assess daily relations between prosocial behaviors and helper well-being and tested mediating effects of basic psychological need satisfaction. Study 2 examined the effect of choice on motivation and consequences of autonomous versus controlled helping using an experimental design. Study 3 examined the consequences of autonomous versus controlled helping for both helpers and recipients in a dyadic task. Finally, Study 4 manipulated motivation to predict helper and recipient outcomes. Findings support the idea that autonomous motivation for helping yields benefits for both helper and recipient through greater need satisfaction. Limitations and implications are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Altruism
  • Female
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Personal Autonomy
  • Psychological Theory
  • Quality of Life* / psychology
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult