Does Helping Promote Well-being in At-risk Youth and Ex-offender Samples?

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Hanniball, K. B., Aknin, L. B., Douglas, K. S., & Viljoen, J. L. (2019). Does helping promote well-being in at-risk youth and ex-offender samples? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 82, 307–317.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2018.11.001
Prosocial behavior
Positive affect
Prosocial spending

Numerous theories attempt to explain humans' extraordinary prosociality, but predictions are rarely tested among antisocial individuals, whose dampened concern for others offers a particularly strong test of generalizability for prosocial action. To build upon past research demonstrating the emotional benefits of prosociality among non-offending populations and broaden our understanding of how far this relationship may extend, we examined whether the emotional benefits of prosocial spending are detectable in samples of delinquent youth and recent criminal offenders reporting elevated antisocial tendencies and psychopathic personality features. Findings reveal that, controlling for baseline happiness, ex-offenders (N = 501) report greater positive affect after recalling a time they spent money on others than after recalling a time they spent money on themselves. Similarly, delinquent youth (N = 64) and ex-offenders (N = 777) randomly assigned to purchase an item for a needy child reported greater positive affect than those who purchased an item for themselves. Finally, a large pre-registered replication (N = 1295) suggests the immediate emotional benefits of prosocial spending are detectable among ex-offenders when controlling for baseline happiness. Together, these findings demonstrate the emotional rewards of recalled and immediate acts of giving in a new and theoretically relevant population.

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