Prosocial spending and well-being: cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013 Apr;104(4):635-52. doi: 10.1037/a0031578. Epub 2013 Feb 18.


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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Charities*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Data Collection
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Gift Giving*
  • Happiness
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Philosophy
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Reward
  • Social Behavior*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Young Adult