Using prosocial behavior to safeguard mental health and foster emotional well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic: A registered report protocol for a randomized trial

PLoS One. 2021 Jan 27;16(1):e0245865. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245865. eCollection 2021.


The COVID-19 pandemic, the accompanying lockdown measures, and their possible long-term effects have made mental health a pressing public health concern. Acts that focus on benefiting others-known as prosocial behaviors-offer one promising intervention that is both flexible and low cost. However, neither the range of emotional states prosocial acts impact nor the size of those effects is currently clear, both of which directly influence its attractiveness as a treatment option. Using a large online sample from Canada and the United States, we will examine the effect of a three-week prosocial intervention on two indicators of emotional well-being (happiness and the belief that one's life is valuable) and mental health (anxiety and depression). Respondents will be randomly assigned to perform prosocial, self-focused, or neutral behaviors each week. Two weeks after the intervention, a final survey will assess whether the intervention has a lasting effect on mental health and emotional well-being. Our results will illuminate whether prosocial interventions are a viable approach to addressing mental health needs during the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well for those who face emotional challenges during normal times.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altruism*
  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / prevention & control
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • SARS-CoV-2 / metabolism
  • SARS-CoV-2 / pathogenicity
  • United States / epidemiology

Grants and funding

This research was funded by a grant from the Toronto COVID-19 Action Fund, with Co-PIs AM and MA (no grant number assigned). The funders had and will not have a role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.