Shopping for Poverty: Does Helping Others Increase Psychological Well-Being?

Harwood, Christopher [Browse]
Senior thesis
62 pages


Haushofer, Johannes [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Psychology [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
Does helping others make people happier? People often engage in charitable behavior at a cost to themselves, but it is unclear whether helping others increases their subjective well-being. Additionally, those in poverty experience different stressors, like limited cognitive bandwidth and higher risks for mental health problems, than those living in more affluent conditions, and they behave differently in prosocial settings. In this study, I ask participants in an urban food pantry to engage in giving behavior. I measure outcomes through an exit survey assessing subjective well-being across affective and evaluative variables, the participants’ relationship with the food pantry, and self-reported helping behavior. Using ordinary least squares and two stage least squares regressions, the results show no change in well-being for both the intent to treat and the treatment on the treated, but there is an indication of a willingness to perform further acts of benefit. Heterogeneous effects suggest that older participants react positively to the treatment while younger participants react negatively. Alternative explanations, limitations, and directions for future research are discussed.

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