Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial that Altruism Moderates the Effect of Prosocial Acts on Adolescent Well-being

Abstract

Despite growing public and scientific interest in the positive benefits of prosociality, there has been little research on the causal effects of performing kind acts for others on psychological well-being during adolescence. Developmental changes during adolescence, such as greater perspective taking, can promote prosociality. It was hypothesized that performing kind acts for others would improve adolescent well-being (positive and negative affect, perceived stress) and increase prosocial giving. As part of a randomized controlled trial, 97 adolescents (Mage = 16.224, SD = 0.816, range 14–17; 53.608% female) were assigned to either perform kind acts for others (Kindness to Others, N = 33), perform kind acts for themselves (Kindness to Self, N = 34), or report on daily activities (Daily Report, N = 30) three times per week for four weeks. Well-being factors were measured weekly and giving was tested post-intervention. Overall, changes over time in well-being did not differ across conditions. However, altruism emerged as a significant moderator such that altruistic adolescents in the Kindness to Others condition showed increased positive affect, decreased negative affect, and decreased stress. Increased positive affect was also linked to greater prosocial giving for Kindness to Others adolescents. These findings identify individual differences that may shape the effects of doing kind acts for others on well-being during adolescence.

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Contributions

S.M.T. developed the study concept, designed the study, collected data, performed statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; D.R. developed the study concept, designed the study, collected data, provided input on statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; M.K. collected data, and provided input on statistical analysis and the manuscript; N.E. provided feedback on study design and input on the manuscript; A.G. provided feedback on study design and input on the manuscript; S.W.C. provided feedback on study design and input on the manuscript; A.J.F. developed the study concept, designed the study, and provided input on statistical analysis and the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

This work was supported by a grant from Hope Lab to A.J.F. Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship to S.M.T. (2016207607).

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The dataset analyzed during the current study are available in the Open Science Framework repository, https://osf.io/pg9rd.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Sarah M. Tashjian or Andrew J. Fuligni.

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All procedures in this study complied with ethical standards of the University of California, Los Angeles Institutional Review Board (IRB#17-001018).

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Informed consent was obtained from all adult participants and child participant parents, and assent was obtained from all child participants.

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Tashjian, S.M., Rahal, D., Karan, M. et al. Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial that Altruism Moderates the Effect of Prosocial Acts on Adolescent Well-being. J Youth Adolescence 50, 29–43 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-020-01362-3

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Keywords

  • Adolescents
  • Affect
  • Intervention
  • Prosocial