Does Helping Increase Well-Being? Experimental Evidence for the Role of Virtuous Behavior in Meaning in Life

Student Author(s)

Evan Johnson
Megan Edwards

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren

Document Type


Event Date



Recent research suggests that many social motives are oriented to the overarching goal of creating and maintaining a sense of meaning in life (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006). The present study uses empirical methods to establish a link between the social motive of helping and a sense of meaning in life. In this study, we hope to discover whether virtuous behavior increases self-reported meaning in life by randomly assigning participants to either a prosocial action or a neutral action condition. In the prosocial condition, after participants gave informed consent, the researcher appears stressed and asks for help moving boxes in the laboratory. In the neutral condition, participants are told that the study is about obedience and they were instructed to move the boxes. In both situations, participants moved boxes for the experimenter; however, the perceived rationale for the behavior (helping vs. obedience) was experimentally manipulated. Following this interaction, participants in both groups filled out a questionnaire that measured their perceived meaning in life and other indices of well-being. Participants were then debriefed. Results revealed that the effect of the prosocial behavior prime on well-being was moderated by the participant’s religiousness. In general, this research helps provide insights for positive ways for people to find meaning in their lives.


This research was supported by a Towsley Research Scholars Fellowship.

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