Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality

Michael J. Poulin is with the Department of Psychology, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY. Stephanie L. Brown and Dylan M. Smith are with the Department of Preventive Medicine, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY. Amanda J. Dillard is with the Department of Psychology, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI.
American Journal of Public Health (Impact Factor: 4.55). 01/2013; 103(9). DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2012.300876
Source: PubMed


We sought to test the hypothesis that providing help to others predicts a reduced association between stress and mortality.

We examined data from participants (n = 846) in a study in the Detroit, Michigan, area. Participants completed baseline interviews that assessed past-year stressful events and whether the participant had provided tangible assistance to friends or family members. Participant mortality and time to death was monitored for 5 years by way of newspaper obituaries and monthly state death-record tapes.

When we adjusted for age, baseline health and functioning, and key psychosocial variables, Cox proportional hazard models for mortality revealed a significant interaction between helping behavior and stressful events (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.58; P < .05; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.35, 0.98). Specifically, stress did not predict mortality risk among individuals who provided help to others in the past year (HR = 0.96; 95% CI = 0.79, 1.18), but stress did predict mortality among those who did not provide help to others (HR = 1.30; P < .05; 95% CI = 1.05, 1.62).

Helping others predicted reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.

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    • "Interventions often aim to provide something to individuals in distress; however, providing opportunities for giving help to others may be an innovative and mutually beneficial approach to improving health for the giver of help through better social engagement. Help given to others is a better predictor of health and well-being than are measures of social engagement or received social support (Poulin et al., 2013). The ability to contribute to one' s social network provides unique psychosocial benefits. "

    Olshansky, E. (2014). Women's Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan., Edited by Ellen Olshansky, 12/2014: chapter 16: pages 285-308; Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.., ISBN: 9781451192001
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    • "Participation in schooling can also be considered a contribution when the education and training prepares individuals to contribute through other social roles and activities (Hammond, 2004). Part of the mechanism of action may be the positive impact of altruism, not only on the recipient but the provider as well (Brown, Nesse, Vinokur, & Smith, 2003; Poulin, Brown, Dillard, & Smith, 2012). The community recipient of this contribution could be at a local level (e.g., family, neighbourhood) or a broader provincial, national, or international level. "
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