Prosocial Spending and Happiness: Literature Review
Prosocial spending can be defined as the act of spending ones money and/or time on other people. The positive effect that prosocial spending has on wellbeing has been a widely researched phenomenon, and it seems as though many agree on their conclusions. The following essay will compare four scientific journals and their approach to this topic. Each having their own methods, can help further explain if prosocial spending increases happiness. Writing a literature review is an important step for readers to be able to research about a topic which compares and evaluates information presented in empirical papers, and allows for further, easier, and more applicable analysis to the phenomenon. This essay will explore the differences and similarities of the articles arguments, methods, and their results about the research question of whether or not prosocial spending leads to increase in happiness.
Although each article tackles the same topic, there are some alterations in what direction and specificity they undergo. Our first article could be seen as more of an overview. It covers the general question of spending money and promoting happiness, and concludes that “encouraging people to invest income in others rather than themselves may be worthwhile in the service of translating increased national wealth into increased national happiness” (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008). To reach this conclusion, the researchers used 4 different studies to support their argument. Each of their studies was able to reach significant results and hence were used to reach their conclusion that prosocial spending leads to increased happiness. However, it is important to always show a little skepticism or criticism before being completely convinced of the researchers findings. For example, it has come to our attention that in one of the studies the researchers conducted, the participants were called through the phone in order to report their happiness. This is not an ideal method of conducting data, however given the fact that it included a very large and representative sample, not much can be said.
The second articles is similar to the first, however it explores the additional fact that happiness will be greater if prosocial spending is done so on stronger bonds rather than acquaintances. The researchers took a sample of eighty individuals which they approached on the grounds of the University of Columbia. Participants were divided into two groups, and were asked to recall the last time they spent $20 on somebody they have a strong social or weak social tie to. As they expected, when participants thought about the strong social bonds they experienced greater happiness (Aknin, Sandstrom, Dunn, & Norton, 2011). The data this article collects contributes to the growing body of research on this topic and suggests that spending money on people we share a level of intimacy with leads to greater happiness. However, we should be aware of the study’s drawbacks. Their sample was made on University grounds, which means that most if not all of their participants were students. Conducting a convenience sample is not uncommon nor is it frowned upon, however it does suggest bias. In addition this study is the first to look specifically at the role that the intensity of the social bonds play on prosocial spending and happiness. This means it is important that more researchers test this hypothesis and reach the same conclusion in order to strengthen the conclusions this paper has come to.
The third article also examines an additional aim which studies whether personality traits such as Extraversion and Neuroticism have an impact on the association between prosocial spending and happiness. The researchers took a convenience sample of 322 Dutch persons which were assessed on their Neuroticism and Extraversion. These participants then underwent multilevel autoregressive models which studied the correlation between prosocial behavior and positive affect (PA), and the probable modification due to different levels of Neuroticism and Extraversion a person may possess. The researchers were able to reach the conclusion that people who were high on Neuroticism described to have obtained more PA after engaging in prosocial behavior, while Extraversion did not modify the correlation (Snippe, et al.,2017). While this article addresses the topic of prosocial spending from a very interesting and different perspective, the study lacks external validity towards the Dutch public. The majority of the participants were women in a romantic relationship with a background in high education.
Our last article explores the same topic of prosocial spending and well-being, however it is the first research which provides cross-cultural evidence for the phenomenon. The researchers used four studies, each using several methods to test whether or not prosocial spending has a universally positive effect. The first study was a correlational study which examined the association between prosocial spending and happiness based on data collected from 136 different countries. The second study was an experimental study in Canada and Uganda which included 820 participants. Partakers were asked to recall a recent purchase they spent on themselves or on somebody else and were then measured by the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS). The third study was an experimental online study in India, in which 101 individuals similarly were asked to recall a recent purchase and then report the degree to which the situation was envisioned to strengthen a relationship on a simple 10-point scale. The last study randomly assigned people from Canada and South Africa to buy a goody bag filled with treats either for a ill child or for themselves and assessed the participants happiness before and after their decision. Each study revealed a positive relationship between social spending and well-being in a slightly different way (Aknin, et al., 2013). This paper combines different methods of conducting and collecting data in order to reach a sound and valid conclusion with large sample sizes. It can be observed that the second and third study combined provide evidence that prosocial spending increases happiness in both, rich and poor countries, and the fourth study allowed the researchers to conclude that prosocial spending increases well-being even when it could not be used to create or strengthen social ties. This research article however only used a representative sample in their first study, and in addition, the advantages of prosocial spending were not controlled by the participants age, income, or education. The study, being the first to conduct cross-cultural evidence for prosocial spending and happiness, should be seen as just a beginning. More research of this kind should be done to come to a more valid and widely accepted conclusion.
Based on the above four articles, the integration and analysis of the data from the articles allows us to conclude that there is a strong agreement between studies and researchers that prosocial spending leads to greater happiness and well-being. This is shown through multiple experiments and methods and has even been tested on a cross-cultural level. As discussed, a few confounds can be found here and there, however the data adds to the ongoing body of research and is shown to be highly significant.
- Aknin, L., Barrington-Leigh, C., Dunn, E., Helliwell, J., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., . . . Norton, M. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 635-652.
- Aknin, L. B., Sandstrom, G. M., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2011). It’s the recipient that counts: Spending money on strong social ties leads to greater happiness than spending on weak social ties. Plos One, 6 (2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0017018
- Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319, 1687-1688. doi:10.1126/science.1150952
- Snippe, E., Jeronimus, B. F., aan het Rot, M., Bos, E. H., de Jonge, P., & Wichers, M. (2017). The reciprocity of prosocial behavior and positive affect in daily life. Journal of Personality, 86, 139-146. doi:10.1111/jopy.12299