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Positive mood has been consistently found to promote prosocial behaviour. Prosocial behaviours are behaviours made voluntarily with the intention of helping others [1]. In other words, happy people are more willing to offer help to those in need [2]. This is known in social psychology as the feel-good, do-good phenomenon, the glow of good will [3] or the warm glow of success [4]. This phenomenon is a type of cognitive feedback loop in which you feel good so you do good and then you do good so that you can feel good. In experimental manipulations, this phenomenon has been shown by inducing positive mood in ways such as succeeding on an experimental task [5], unexpectedly finding money [6]., being labeled as a charitable individual [7], imagining enjoying a vacation in Hawaii or donating blood [8]. Those whose mood was made to be positive were more likely to engage in prosocial behaviours such as volunteering as a tutor, picking up another's dropped papers or loaning someone money [9]. It has also been shown that not only does feeling good make us do good but doing good makes us feel good [10]. One exception to this phenomenon should be noted: when happy moods are not self-relevant, such as experiencing happy moods empathetically, they are not consistently found to promote prosocial behaviour and can be seen to inhibit helping tendencies [11]. This has been seen in experiments when the happy mood is due to another's good fortune [12] or when the procedures of the experiment do not encourage self attending [13].

Prosocial Behaviour

Proposed Mechanism[edit]

The mechanism underlying the feel-good, do-good phenomenon is not concrete but several theories have been proposed [14]: (1) focus of attention; (2) objective self-awareness; (3) separate processes; (4) social outlook; (5) mood maintenance; (6) concomitance. These hypotheses are not mutually exclusive but overlapping and complicated in their relation [15]. The complex nature of the proposed mechanisms suggests that the correlation between a good mood and prosocial behaviour is influenced by many factors.

Focus of Attention [16][edit]

Positive mood states involve positive thoughts about self. The induction of a positive mood results in a shift in attention towards the self. This leads to three possible consequences: (1) increased appreciation for one's good fortune and a subsequent desire to help those less fortunate; (2) increased likelihood to concede to social and behavioural norms and avoid failing to act on an obvious obligation to help; (3) amplify the positive affective state and increase the intensity of the previous two consequences. These hypotheses have been supported empirically [17].

Objective Self-awareness [18][edit]

This theory makes it necessary that the positive event that initiates helpfulness be directed at oneself, not another as objective self-awareness is a state in which one focuses on themselves as the object of attention. Those who are experimentally made to be self-aware, such as being placed in front of a mirror during experimentation, are more likely to adhere to behaviour ideals than those who are not induced to be self-aware [19]. Thus, this theory holds that a positive mood engenders self-awareness and thus helpfulness by insisting that there be no discrepancy between the actions of the individual and their internal responsibility to help. It has also been suggested that self-awareness promotes helping by intensifying the positive cognitions associated with a self-relevant positive mood and this promotes prosocial behaviour.

Separate Processes [20][edit]

This theory posits that there are separate, and mutually inhibitory, motivation processes that are responsible for the different levels of increase in prosocial behaviour that results from positive and negative mood states. These different effects are capable of canceling each other when the positive and negative systems are activated at the same time.

Social Outlook [21][edit]

This is based on the assumption that positive events alter the favourableness of the way we perceive the social community [22]. Thus, if a positive event temporarily produces a positive perception of the social community an individual is more likely to act in a prosocial way.

Mood Maintenance [23].[edit]

This suggests that we are inclined to help others in order to maintain our positive mood state. This is done by choosing altruistic responses to situations that arise in our immediate environment [24]. It should be noted however that a prolonged and burdening responsibility to help that is unchanging, such as taking care of an ill family member, may produce negative mood states such as depression [25].

Concomitance [26][edit]

People in a good mood help more than others because good moods induce thoughts that are relevant to helping that promote helping independent of the mood itself. For example, those with happy moods and thus happy thoughts create more positive thoughts about the people around them, as compared to sad people, and are thus more inclined to help them [27]. Also, people who are in a good mood are more likely to think that their prosocial behaviour will result in appreciation and gratitude from others and are thus more likely to engage in helping behaviours [28].

Prosocial Behaviour and Extraversion [29][edit]

It is also possible that the increased likelihood of a happy person to provide help to another is due to their position on the introversion-extraversion scale. Happy people are more likely to be extraverted. Extraverted people are more likely to get better jobs and have more friends. In addition, extraversion, as well as agreeableness, are the two Big Five personality traits most strongly positively correlated with prosocial behaviour [30]. Although extraversion may cause happiness and thus cause prosocial behaviour, it is also possible that happiness causes extraversion which then causes prosocial behaviour. The causal links are not clear.

Prosocial Behaviour and Agreeableness [31][edit]

A characteristic that is central to those who score high on agreeableness is a positive association with helping behaviour. Individuals high on agreeableness are more likely to report an interest in helping others across situations. For example, it has been found that most people are willing to exert effort to help a family member or close friend and to help more often when their empathy is aroused. Agreeable people are inclined to help when the other individual is not a family member or friend and when their empathy is not aroused [32]. Thus, typical motivators for helping are not necessary for those high in agreeableness. This finding is supported by the fact that disagreeable people, such as those high in aggression and poor social adjustment, are more likely to cause harm to others [33].

Unpleasant Moods and Feel-Good, Do-Good[edit]

Prosocial behaviours not only benefit others but have potential emotional and social benefits for the individual performing the behaviour. Doing good makes us feel good and can also repair unpleasant moods. Positive behaviours, such as helping another, can help replace negative emotions with positive emotions [34]. Depression, guilt, anxiety and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self. Thus, a shift in focus from the self to others when providing some form of aid provides a shift from the self to the needs of others. This suggests that one of the best ways to relieve mild depression or anxiety is to help someone else. Guilt and sadness are the most empirically supported negative emotions correlated with prosocial behaviour [35].

Guilt[edit]

According to traditional psychoanalytic theory, guilt is the primary motivator of altruistic behaviours, such as helping [36]. According to Freud, guilt was relieved by redirecting psychic energy to helping others. Empirical evidence supports that prosocial behaviour aids in expiating guilt. For example, when people think that they have accidentally caused harm to another person or an animal they were even more likely to agree to opportunities to help someone [37].

Sadness[edit]

A sad mood has inconsistent effects on prosocial behaviour. It has been hypothesized that this relationship is mediated by attentional focus [38]. Sadness that is focused on the self, rather than on others, is much less likely to result in helping behaviours.

Priming[edit]

A concept related to the feel-good, do-good phenomenon is priming [39]. Memories are stored on the basis of their affect (positive, negative, etc.). It has been hypothesized that a good mood acts as a cue to increase the probability of positive cognitions as a response to subsequent stimuli. This is the influence of priming and results in a self-perpetuating loop of positive thoughts and prosocial behaviour [40]. A good mood causes people to perceive subsequent stimuli more positively [41] and to act in a prosocial manner, such as offering assistance [42]. Although this priming effect is supported for positive stimuli, unpleasant stimuli are hypothesized to be unaffected by the positive priming effect of a good mood [43].

Neuroimaging Evidence [44][edit]

A recent neuroimaging study sheds light on a possible biochemical explanation for the positive psychological effects of helping others. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, it was found that the brain's mesolimbic system was active in participants when they chose to donate money. The mesolimbic system also shows activation in response to monetary rewards and other positive stimuli. Thus, choosing to donate to charity results in an activation of a brain region that produces feel-good chemicals that promotes social bonding, increases happiness and promotes prosocial behaviour.

Genetics and Feel-Good, Do-Good [45][edit]

There is evidence that suggests that there is a limit to how much psychology can influence our happiness. This limit is mediated by individual genetic influence. This viewpoint suggests that social psychology is not sufficient in determining the potential for happiness in a person nor is genetic determinism sufficient. According to this hypothesis, an individual's potential happiness should be considered in terms of the genetic component while keeping in mind potential environmental influences. It is known that individual levels of happiness follow a normal distributive curve. This finding is supported across almost all classifications of socioeconomic status, age, race and education level, suggesting a strong genetic basis [46]. Thus a proportion of people have a consistently higher level of happiness than others and the difference between individuals situated on the high, average and low areas of the curve are purported to be largely influenced by genes. This viewpoint is supported by the high heritability estimates for happiness that lie between 50% and 80%, as determined by twin studies [47].

Feel-Good, Do-Good in Everyday Life[edit]

The strong relationship between a positive affect and prosocial behaviour has sparked a controversy surrounding the use of pharmacological agents. The empirical evidence that supports a symmetrical causal relationship between being happy and helping others has lead to a philosophical argument that medication should be used to create happier people and increase helping behaviour. The pharmacological agents act to mimic the positive effects that genetics have on happiness. On the other hand, positive psychology suggests that we can boost positive affect with practice instead of medication [48]. Thus, we can use the feel-good, do-good phenomenon to our advantage and increase our happiness by helping others consistently. Out of this hypothesis comes the suggestion that governments mandate volunteering or provide tax breaks for those who volunteer. Also related is the suggestion of a Do-Good, Feel-Good Campaign [49] in which individuals and organizations are encouraged to promote the phenomenon in hopes of increasing happiness within communities. Longitudinally, societies benefit from individuals who consistently display prosocial behaviour. It has also been found that, compared to people that are depressed, self-reported happy people are less self-focused, less hostile and abusive and more immune to illness [50]. Thus, implementing a Feel-Good, Do-Good Campaign is proposed to have a positive impact on many aspects of an individuals life and life as a community.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Clark, M.S. (Ed.) (1991). Altruism and prosocial behavior: Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 12, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  2. ^ Myers, D. G. (2000). Feeling Good About Fredrickson's Emotions. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
  3. ^ Berkowitz, L. & Connor, W. H. (1966). Success, Failure, and Social Responsibility. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 664-669.
  4. ^ Isen, A. M. (1970}. Success, failure, attention and reaction to others: The warm glow of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 15, 294-301
  5. ^ Isen, A. M. (1970}. Success, failure, attention and reaction to others: The warm glow of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 15, 294-301
  6. ^ Cunningham, M. R., Steinberg, J., & Grev, R. (1980). Wanting to and having to help: Separate motivations for positive mood and guilt-induced helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 442-443
  7. ^ Kraut, R. E. (1973). Effects of social labeling on giving to charity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 551-562.
  8. ^ Rosenhan, D. L., Salovey, P., & Hargis, K. (1981). The joys of helping: Focus of attention mediates the impact of positive affect on helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 899-905
  9. ^ Myers, D. G. (2000). Feeling Good About Fredrickson's Emotions. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
  10. ^ Alavi, H. R. (2007). Correlatives of Happiness in the University Students of Iran (A Religious Approach). Journal of Religion and Health, 46, 480-499.
  11. ^ Clark, M.S. (Ed.) (1991). Altruism and prosocial behavior. Review of personality and social psychology (Vol. 12). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  12. ^ Rosenhan, D. L., Salovey, P., & Hargis, K. (1981). The joys of helping: Focus of attention mediates the impact of positive affect on helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 899-905
  13. ^ Berkowitz, L. & Connor, W. H. (1966). Success, Failure, and Social Responsibility. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 664-669.
  14. ^ Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229.
  15. ^ Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229.
  16. ^ Myers, D. G. (2000). Feeling Good About Fredrickson's Emotions. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
  17. ^ Berkowitz, L. & Connor, W. H. (1966). Success, Failure, and Social Responsibility. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 664-669.
  18. ^ Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229.
  19. ^ Duval, S., & Wicklund, R. A. (1972). A theory of objective self-awareness. New York, NY: Academic Press.
  20. ^ Cunningham, M. R., Steinberg, J., & Grev, R. (1980). Wanting to and having to help: Separate motivations for positive mood and guilt-induced helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 442-443.
  21. ^ Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229.
  22. ^ Holloway, S., Tucker, L., & Hornstein, H. (1977). The effect of social and nonsocial information in interpersonal behavior of males: The news makes news. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 514,522.
  23. ^ Myers, D. G. (2000). Feeling Good About Fredrickson's Emotions. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
  24. ^ Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Toward understanding the relationship between feeling states and social behavior. In A. H. Hastrof & A. M. Isen (Eds.). Cognitive social psychology (pp. 73-108). New York, NY: Elsevier.
  25. ^ Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: the cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  26. ^ Cialdini, R. B., Kenrick, D. T., & Baumann, D. J. (1982). Effects of mood on prosocial behavior in children and adults. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.). The development of prosocial behavior. New York, NY: Academic Press.
  27. ^ Forgas, J. P., & Bowler, G. H. (1987). Mood effects on person-perception judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 53-60.
  28. ^ Clark, M. S., & Waddell, B. A. (1983). Effects of moods on thoughts about helping, attraction, and information acquisition. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46, 31-35.
  29. ^ Myers, D. G. & Diener, E. (1999). Scientific American, 54-56.
  30. ^ Premuzic-Chamorro, T. (2007). Personality and Individual Difference. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, MA.
  31. ^ Premuzic-Chamorro, T. (2007). Personality and Individual Difference. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, MA.
  32. ^ Graziano, W. G., Habashi, M. M., Sheese, B.E., & Tobin, R. M. (2007). Agreeableness, empathy, and helping: A person X situation perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  33. ^ Gleason, K.A., Jensen-Campbell, L.A., & Richardson, D. (2004). Agreeableness and aggression in adolescence. Aggressive Behavior, 30, 43-61.
  34. ^ Myers, D. G. (2000). Feeling Good About Fredrickson's Emotions. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
  35. ^ Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Toward understanding the relationship between feeling states and social behavior. In A. H. Hastrof & A. M. Isen (Eds.). Cognitive social psychology (pp. 73-108). New York, NY: Elsevier.
  36. ^ Freud, S. (1937). The ego and the mechanisms of defense. London: Hogarth
  37. ^ Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Toward understanding the relationship between feeling states and social behavior. In A. H. Hastrof & A. M. Isen (Eds.). Cognitive social psychology (pp. 73-108). New York, NY: Elsevier.
  38. ^ Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229
  39. ^ Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229
  40. ^ Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229
  41. ^ Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36, 129-148
  42. ^ Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Toward understanding the relationship between feeling states and social behavior. In A. H. Hastrof & A. M. Isen (Eds.). Cognitive social psychology (pp. 73-108). New York, NY: Elsevier.
  43. ^ Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Toward understanding the relationship between feeling states and social behavior. In A. H. Hastrof & A. M. Isen (Eds.). Cognitive social psychology (pp. 73-108). New York, NY: Elsevier.
  44. ^ Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006). Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decision about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 15623-15628.
  45. ^ Walker, M. (2007). Happy-people-pills and prosocial behaviour. Philosophica, 79, 93-111
  46. ^ Myers, D. G. & Diener, E. (1999). Scientific American, 54-56.
  47. ^ Lykken, D. & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a Stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7, 186-189.
  48. ^ Walker, M. (2007). Happy-people-pills and prosocial behaviour. Philosophica, 79, 93-111
  49. ^ Walker, M. (2007). Happy-people-pills and prosocial behaviour. Philosophica, 79, 93-111
  50. ^ Myers, D. G. (2000). Feeling Good About Fredrickson's Emotions. Prevention and Treatment, 3.


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  • Bagaric, M., & McConvill, J. A. (2005). Positive Psychology and the Demise of Defamation. Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 12, 218-233.
  • Berkowitz, L. & Connor, W. H. (1966). Success, Failure, and Social Responsibility. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 664-669.
  • Carlson, M., Charlin, V., & Miller, N. (1988). Positive mood and helping behavior: A test of six hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 211-229.
  • Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36, 129-148
  • Cialdini, R. B., Kenrick, D. T., & Baumann, D. J. (1982). Effects of mood on prosocial behavior in children and adults. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.). The development of prosocial behavior. New York, NY: Academic Press.
  • Clark, M.S. (Ed.) (1991). Altruism and prosocial behavior. Review of personality and social psychology (Vol. 12). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
  • Clark, M. S., & Isen, A. M. (1982). Toward understanding the relationship between feeling states and social behavior. In A. H. Hastrof & A. M. Isen (Eds.). Cognitive social psychology (pp. 73-108). New York, NY: Elsevier.
  • Clark, M. S., & Waddell, B. A. (1983). Effects of moods on thoughts about helping, attraction, and information acquisition. Social Psychology Quarterly, 46, 31-35.
  • Cunningham, M. R., Steinberg, J., & Grev, R. (1980). Wanting to and having to help: Separate motivations for positive mood and guilt-induced helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 442-443.
  • Duval, S., & Wicklund, R. A. (1972). A theory of objective self-awareness. New York, NY: Academic Press.
  • Holloway, S., Tucker, L., & Hornstein, H. (1977). The effect of social and nonsocial information in interpersonal behavior of males: The news makes news. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 514,522.
  • Forgas, J. P., & Bowler, G. H. (1987). Mood effects on person-perception judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 53-60.
  • Freud, S. (1937). The ego and the mechanisms of defense. London: Hogarth
  • Gleason, K.A., Jensen-Campbell, L.A., & Richardson, D. (2004). Agreeableness and aggression in adolescence. Aggressive Behavior, 30, 43-61.
  • Graziano, W. G., Habashi, M. M., Sheese, B.E., & Tobin, R. M. (2007). Agreeableness, empathy, and helping: A person X situation perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
  • Isen, A. M. (1970}. Success, failure, attention and reaction to others: The warm glow of success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 15, 294-301.
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  • Moll, J., Krueger, F., Zahn, R., Pardini, M., de Oliveira-Souza, R., & Grafman, J. (2006). Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decision about charitable donation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103, 15623-15628.
  • Myers, D. G. (2000). Feeling Good About Fredrickson's Emotions. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
  • Myers, D. G. & Diener, E. (1999). Scientific American, 54-56.
  • Premuzic-Chamorro, T. (2007). Personality and Individual Difference. Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, MA.
  • Roffey, S. (2012). Positive Relationships: Evidence Based Practice across the World. London, UK: Springer.
  • Rosenhan, D. L., Salovey, P., & Hargis, K. (1981). The joys of helping: Focus of attention mediates the impact of positive affect on helping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 899-905.
  • Walker, M. (2007). Happy-People-Pills and Prosocial Behaviour. Philisophica, 79, 93-111.