The benefits of giving: Effects of prosocial behavior on recovery from stress

Psychophysiology. 2022 Feb;59(2):e13954. doi: 10.1111/psyp.13954. Epub 2021 Oct 22.


Individuals regularly face stress, and the manner in which they cope with that stress is a crucial component in predicting stress recovery. While many engage in self-rewarding behaviors to feel better, these behaviors can come with a cost. The current study tested the effect of engaging in a different behavior after experiencing stress-prosocial behavior. Given the health benefits associated with giving to others, it is plausible that engaging in prosocial behavior is more successful in reducing the psychological and physiological responses to stress. To test this, participants underwent the Trier Social Stress Test and then either sent a gift card to a person of their choosing, received a gift card for themselves, or selected the more aesthetically pleasing gift card. Measures of self-reported mood, heart rate, blood pressure, salivary alpha-amylase, and cortisol were collected throughout the session. While the manipulation did not elicit differences in psychological or hormonal measures, the giving group showed a significantly greater downregulation of their heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, and mean arterial pressure while recovering from the stressor. Additionally, those in the giving group who evidenced greater prosocial sentiment showed a larger reduction in diastolic blood pressure and mean arterial pressure. A follow-up study suggested that these behaviors may be engaging different reward components, as those who gave a gift card reported greater "liking" while those who received a gift card reported greater "wanting". Overall, the findings show that engaging in prosocial behavior following a stressor can help to downregulate physiological stress responses.

Keywords: affect; cardiovascular; giving; prosocial; stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altruism*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Salivary alpha-Amylases / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Salivary alpha-Amylases