Beneficiary or benefactor: are people more prosocial when they reflect on receiving or giving?

Psychol Sci. 2012 Sep 1;23(9):1033-9. doi: 10.1177/0956797612439424. Epub 2012 Aug 6.


Research shows that reflecting on benefits received can make people happier, but it is unclear whether or not such reflection makes them more helpful. Receiving benefits can promote prosocial behavior through reciprocity and positive affect, but these effects are often relationship-specific, short-lived, and complicated by ambivalent reactions. We propose that prosocial behavior is more likely when people reflect on being a benefactor to others, rather than a beneficiary. The experience of giving benefits may encourage prosocial behavior by increasing the salience and strength of one's identity as a capable, caring contributor. In field and laboratory experiments, we found that participants who reflected about giving benefits voluntarily contributed more time to their university, and were more likely to donate money to natural-disaster victims, than were participants who reflected about receiving benefits. When it comes to reflection, giving may be more powerful than receiving as a driver of prosocial behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Female
  • Gift Giving
  • Happiness
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Behavior*