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The power of charity: Does giving away money improve the wellbeing of the donor?

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Although money is central to people's lives, the impact of people's attitudes to money on their well-being has rarely been studied. The present study explored the effect of giving away money on an individual's life satisfaction, self-esteem and money-related attitudes (anxiety, distrust, power-prestige and retention time). An innovative intervention was designed in which participants were invited to either give away money (the experimental condition) or spend money on themselves as usual (the control condition) for three days. The impact of the intervention was assessed using a mixed methods design, comprising pre- and post- quantitative self-report scales (life satisfaction, self-esteem and money-related attitudes) together with qualitative diary reports (analysed using grounded theory). As hypothesized, participation in the intervention led to significant increases in wellbeing in the experimental group, including improvements in life satisfaction and self-esteem. In addition, while the control group experienced higher post-test levels of money-related anxiety, the experimental group suffered no such increases. The results provide corroboration for the powerful idea that charity does not only benefit the recipient, butpositively impacts upon the donor too.
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The power of charity:
Does giving away money improve the wellbeing of the donor?
First Author-
Pradnya K.Surana
Email address- suranapradnya@gmail.com
Dr. Tim Lomas
Email address- t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
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ABSTRACT
Although money is central to people’s lives, the impact of people’s attitudes to money on their
well-being has rarely been studied. The present study explored the effect of giving away money
on an individual’s life satisfaction, self-esteem and money-related attitudes (anxiety, distrust,
power-prestige and retention time). An innovative intervention was designed in which
participants were invited to either give away money (the experimental condition) or spend
money on themselves as usual (the control condition) for three days. The impact of the
intervention was assessed using a mixed methods design, comprising pre- and post- quantitative
self-report scales (life satisfaction, self-esteem and money-related attitudes) together with
qualitative diary reports (analysed using grounded theory). As hypothesized, participation in the
intervention led to significant increases in wellbeing in the experimental group, including
improvements in life satisfaction and self-esteem. In addition, while the control group
experienced higher post-test levels of money-related anxiety, the experimental group suffered no
such increases. The results provide corroboration for the powerful idea that charity does not only
benefit the recipient, but positively impacts upon the donor too.
KEY WORDS -Giving away money, spending money, life satisfaction, self-esteem, attitude
towards money, mixed method, grounded theory
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INTRODUCTION:
The emergent field of positive psychology is focussed around promoting the optimal functioning
of the individual and organizations (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). However, although a
wide variety of positive psychology interventions (PPIs) have been designed and implemented to
enhance well-being in all aspects of life, very few interventions have been designed relating to
finance or money. Money has been a neglected topic within psychology generally (Furnham &
Argyle, 1998), despite the fact that money is deeply connected to the overall well-being of
people (Diener & Seligman, 2004). The indispensable importance of money in human life is
well-known, as is the value of charitable giving, which is has been an integral part of human
culture over the centuries (Mauss, 1954). Charitable giving has a long history stretching back to
Roman, Greek and Egypt civilizations (Clydesdale, 1990; Myer, 1993), and has been widely
practiced in most religions, including Christianity (Carson, 1991; Nightangle, 1973), Judaism
(Carson, 1991; Nightangle, 1973), Hinduism (Bhaskarananda, 2002), Islam (Hilali, 1998) and
Jainism (Shryasha, 1998), where tithing to poor people has been associated with good morale
and the sanctity of an individual’s character (Furnham, 1995; Furnham, 1996). Although charity
continues to be valued today, the history of charitable giving shows us constant changes in the
context behind donating to others. In older eras, charity was strongly connected to religious
teachings, for example, being seen as a way of asking God for forgiveness of sins (Shryasha,
1998). This context continued till the end of the Middle Ages, but took a drastic change in the
seventeenth century, when other motives became more dominant, such as the desire to avoid
trouble and civil unrest from poorer sections of society (Furnham & Argyle, 1998). By the start
of the twentieth century, individual charity began to be superseded by state-sponsored acts of
charity, for instance in the form of the welfare state at home and international aid abroad. In this
modern context, corporate giving’ also became prominent as organizations and firms started
giving donations as a means of tax-relief (Furnham & Argyle, 1998) .
The phenomenon of charity has been studied across different disciplines, from
psychology and sociology to economics, where one can find a range of different perspectives on
giving money. Economists generally view charitable giving as being motivated by self-interest
(Lea, Webley, & Walker, 1995; Lea, 1987). Conversely, sociologists generally try to interpret
giving in terms of functional outcomes such as building social relations (Collard, 1978; Douty,
1972); it is suggest that motivations behind acts of giving include altruism, empathy and social
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obligation, in addition to charity increasing positive affect and reducing guilt (Collard, 1978;
Isen, Horn, & Rosenhan, 1973; Isen & Nooberg, 1979; Sabini, 1995). In psychology, research
has focused on the psychological benefits of charity and how it improves the overall well-being
of an individual (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2002). Finally, organisational scholarship has focused
primarily on the mechanics of charitable giving. At an organisational level, there are two main
ways in which charity is donated (Charities Aid Foundation, 2000): the first, deemed ‘tax
efficient,’ includes payroll deduction and gift aid; the second, deemed ‘non-tax efficient,’
includes philanthropies, church collection, shop collection, door to door collection, sponsorship
and purchases (e.g., raffle tickets, or charity shop purchasing). Charitable donations are received
for noble causes, like research in fields like health, or directed at people in need, and social
causes like the environment, arts, animals and specific pressing issues (Charities Aid Foundation,
2000; Furnham & Argyle, 1998).
Beyond these broad-brush definitions of charitable giving, more detailed analyses of the
factors that affect the act of donating money have been conducted. Various factors have been
considered, falling into two main categories: demographic and psychological. Taking the
demographic factors first, one factor of particular interest has been income: it had commonly
been assumed that this would be a key factor in giving; however, research shows that the
correlation between donation and income is very weak (around r = .13) (Jencks, 1987). Of
greater impact is age: studies indicate that older people give away more than younger people
(Furnham & Argyle, 1998; Jencks, 1987). Gender has a negligible impact on charity, although
women are slightly more charitable on the whole (Pearce, 1993). A more surprising factor is
family status: contrary to expectation, individuals with families donate more than singles with
same income level, with this difference being greater than 20-40 %; however, the reasons behind
this behaviour is still unknown and need further research (Jencks, 1987; Pearce, 1993). Religion
is also a major factor empowering charitable giving; as mentioned above, most religions promote
charity, and 35 % of charitable donations annually occur through religious organisations (Batson,
1991; Clydesdale, 1990; Myer, 1993; Myers, 1992). Other factors that play a significant role in
charitable giving include the physical attractiveness of the person who is requesting donations
(Cialdini, 1984), and eye contact and touch between asker and donor (Bull & Steven, 1981;
Cialdini, 1984). The engagement of the donor in giving is also affected by the amount initially
requested. If the initial amount requested is small then the receiver has a better chance of
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receiving a donation of the same value or greater next time a request is made (the so-called ‘foot-
indoor’ principle) (Cialdini & Schroeder, 1976; Cialdini, 1984).
Moving on to the psychological factors, charitable giving is strongly associated with
personality traits and qualities such as altruism, empathy and generosity (Bauman, Cialdini, &
Kenrick, 1981; Collard, 1978). In social psychology, donation is described as helping
behaviour,’ and is explained by a two-stage model, featuring a pre-requisite emotional state
(stage 1), followed by the helping act itself (stage 2) (Batson, 1991; Baker & Jimerson, 1992;
Charities Aid Foundation, 2000; Furnham & Argyle, 1998). This model suggests that helping
behaviours are necessary preceded by prosocial emotions such as empathy (sharing and
understanding the emotions and feelings of other human being) or pity (feelings of sorrow and
compassion in response to others misfortune). For instance, the arousal of pity (e.g., after
looking at pictures of a poor child asking for donations) impacts on charitable behaviour and
motivates the donor to give as much money as possible (Furnham & Argyle, 1998; Hagen,
1982). The current mood of an individual also influences contribution: intriguingly, both good
mood and bad mood are conducive to charitable behaviour, albeit in different ways. Research
indicates that when people are in a good mood then they are more inclined to help others and
offer more charity (Cunningham, Steinberg, & Grev, 1980; Cunningham, 1979). Given that good
moods are associated with a desire to attain pleasure and satisfaction (Isen et al., 1973; Sabini,
1995), such findings would appear to suggest that generosity and pleasure are closely connected
(Batson, 1991; Isen et al., 1973; Sabini, 1995). Paradoxically, bad moods can also be conducive
to charity, if the donor associates giving with an uplift in mood (Cialdini & Schroeder, 1976):
studies indicate that there is an increase in the generosity of an individual if one is informed that
helping others will make them feel happy or less distressed (Bauman et al., 1981). Giving
monetary aid to others can also increase the donor’s self-esteem and self-confidence, as it may
make them feel more competent (relative to the recipient) (Zhang, 2009). Helping a needy or
under-privileged person may also reduce one’s guilt of having extra privilege, thus enhancing
ones self-image (Cunningham et al., 1980; Zhang & Baumeister, 2008; Zhang, 2009). These
factors give a detailed understanding of the factors driving charitable behaviour, but do not
completely explain the effect of giving away money on the overall well-being of an individual
and on their internal beliefs about money. The present study is an innovative attempt to further
understand the phenomenon of charitable giving through the creation of a positive psychology
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intervention (PPI) centred on donating money. In particular, it is hypothesised that charitable
giving will positively affect the wellbeing of the donor. Moreover, the present study explores
three possible ways in which this effect might be mediated: (1) a sense of subjective wellbeing
arising from prosocial acts; (2) increased self-esteem related to charitable behaviour; and (3)
altered money-related attitudes. These three elements will be briefly considered turn.
Subjective wellbeing relating to prosocial acts
To unfold the mystery of what constitutes a ‘good life,’ researchers within PP have suggested
that a key ingredient is subjective well-being (SWB) (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). SWB
can be understood as an assessment of one’s life at a cognitive and emotional level. It is a broad
concept that includes evaluative judgements about one’s life and emotional reactions to
occurring events (Diener, Richard, & Oishi, 2010; Diener et al., 1999). The amount of money
one possesses or spends is associated with SWB (Baumeister Smart, & Boden, 1996), and with
well-being factors such as personal competence and positive beliefs about the self (Diener et al.,
1999; Dunn, Gilbert, & Wilson, 2011). Wealth also directly influences SWB via the fulfilment of
basic needs (Diener, Horwitz, & Emmons, 1985). Money may also influence wellbeing via
prosocial acts, i.e., giving it away to needy others. Human beings are social animals, and create
complex social networks that often extend to biologically unrelated individuals (Dunbar &
Shultz, 2007). This ‘hyper-sociality results in deep and profound social bonds being formed, and
at the same time makes positive relationships essential for the SWB of an individual. As such,
efforts to improve social connections can enhance SWB (Dunn et al., 2011). Charitable giving
impacts positively on social relations as most donations are made to specific causes,
organisations or individuals who have a direct connection with the donor (Schervish & Szanto,
2006). Pro-social spending (donating to charity, gifting others) is an activity linked with positive
emotions like happiness and satisfaction (Akin, Barrington- Leigh, & Dunn, 2009; Dunn et al.,
2011). Neurological corroboration of the value of pro-social behaviour to a donor has been
provided by MRI brain scans, which show that the activation of neural pathways in donors is
similar to the activation of brain areas that are typically linked to receiving rewards (Harbaugh,
Myar, & Burghart, 2007).
Self-esteem arising from charitable giving
Not only may charitable giving enhance the SWB of the donor, it may also serve to increase their
self-esteem. From a social psychological perspective, the relation between money and self-
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esteem can be understood through exchange theory. This theory holds that it is the need to
defend self-esteem that explains individuals giving money to charity people give away money
and in exchange acquire a positive self-image (Baumeister et al., 1996). The desire for a positive
self-image is arguably a human universal (Zhang, 2009). People experience a cognitive bias to
create and maintain a positive self-image, both to themselves and to others (Baumeister et al.,
1996). Thus people engage in activities which enhance this image, such as earning and
accumulating money, and helping the needy with money (potentially to prove superiority and
competence of self) (Thoits & Hewitt, 2001; Zhang & Baumeister, 2008; Zhang, 2009).
Competence is another key aspect of self-esteem and also needs to be constantly proved. Earning
more money than others is considered to be an indicator of higher competence (Zhang, 2009);
thus, giving to the needy or people who are earning less money acts as an ego booster (Steele,
1988). Moreover, praise earned through such acts also serves to enhance self-esteem; it may also
motivate donors to do similar or better acts in future to get more praise and further boost self-
esteem (Bentham, 1907; Steele, 1988).
Money Attitudes
The third hypothesis explored in the current study concerns money-related attitudes, and the
extent to which these are influenced by charitable giving. Every individual attributes particular
meaning and significance to money, influenced through socialisation, cultural learning, and
personal experiences (Wernimont & Fitzpatrick, 1972). These attitudes to money are created at
an early age, and are regarded as remaining relatively unchanged throughout life (Baumeister,
Dale, & Sommer, 1998; Mazin, 2011; Freud, 1959). According to Yamauchi and Templer
(1982), there are four main money-related attitudes: 1) power prestige, which pertains to the
desire for external recognition and the need to impress others with amount of money one
possesses; 2) time retention, which reflects the need to budget money carefully for the future; 3)
distrust, which concerns suspicious and doubtful beliefs around money; and, 4) anxiety, which
refers to worrisome and anxious thoughts about money. Such attitudes themselves have an
impact on wellbeing; for example, anxiety around money is negatively related to wellbeing. It is
hypothesised here that actions encouraged in the PPI will have an impact on money-related
attitudes. However, there have so far been few PPIs relating to money to allow such hypotheses
to be tested. One previous study did explore the impact on charitable behaviour on wellbeing
(Dunn et al., 2011): as with the present study, participants were instructed to either give money
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to another person or spend it on themselves; however, the present study differs in that it involves
participants spending their own money (rather than money provided to them by the researchers).
Moreover, the Dunn et al. study did not analyse the effect of charitable giving on money-related
attitudes, nor did it explore participants’ experiences of engaging in the intervention through
qualitative methodologies, as the present study does. As such, the present study offers a unique
opportunity to explore the various ways in which charitable giving might impact upon the
wellbeing of the donor.
Methods
Overview and predictions
This study used a pretest-posttest design, featuring two groups (experimental and control). The
study centred around a novel intervention, in which participants received instructions to either
give away an amount of money (the experimental group) or spend money on themselves as they
usually would (the control group) over the course of three days. The quantitative component of
the study involved pre- and post-test self-report questionnaires assessing: SWB; self-esteem; and
money-related attitudes (power-prestige, anxiety, distrust, and retention time). The qualitative
component involved a daily diary entry in which participants were encouraged to write 100
words concerning their experiences of donating or spending money. It was hypothesised that,
relative to the controls, the experimental group would experience increased life satisfaction and
self-esteem as a result of donating money, and would also experience positive changes in money-
related attitudes (e.g., a reduction in money-related anxiety).
Participants-
Participants were recruited online through advertisements in personal development groups on
online networks such as Facebook.. All participants took part in the study voluntarily and no
incentives were offered. The data-gathering all took place online: participants completed all
measures online and wrote about their experience of the intervention in a space provided online.
Email reminders were sent out to all participants for day two and day three of the intervention to
ensure their continued participation. The sample consisted of 27 participants (17 women and 10
men) ranging in age from 24 to 59 years (M = 34.13 years; SD = 9.23 years). The sample size
for the experimental group was 17 participants, and the control group included 10 participants.
Prior to that, 10 registered participants had to be excluded from the analysis as they did not
complete the intervention or post-test measurements. The final sample included participants from
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ten countries (India, Austria, USA, Poland, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, Turkey, Poland and
United Kingdom); all participants were university educated, 80 % to postgraduate level or above
and 20% to undergraduate level.
Procedure
Along with an invitation letter, all participants were provided with a URL which led them to the
intervention. The link first gave participants details about the researcher and the experiment, and
then asked for their fully-informed consent. All participants were then asked to provide some
general information about themselves, including age, gender, and nationality. Following this, the
participants undertook the pre-test assessment which consisted of the satisfaction with life scale
(SWLS), the self-esteem scale (SES) and money attitudes scale (MAS). All participants were
then given complete details of the two groups (experimental and control), and were given the
choice of which group to join. The descriptions provided were as follows:
Group A is about giving away an amount of money for three days (minimum £1 per day), and
reflecting on your experience of giving away money by writing in the space provided online.
You can write a maximum of 100 words.
If you have chosen to be part of Group B, then please spend an amount of money on yourself as
you would usually do for three days (minimum £1 per day), and reflect on your experience of
spending money by writing in the space provided online. You can write a maximum of 100
words.
Similar instructions were repeated on day two and day three. Daily email reminders were sent to
participants, containing a URL link which led to a space where participants were invited to write
about their experience of the intervention. On day three, all participants were asked to complete
the post-test questionnaires (again SWLS, SES, and MAS).
Measures
The present study featured pre- and post-test measures of the following self-report scales:
Satisfaction with Life Scale
The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS; Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Griffin, 1985) was used to
measure the subjective well-being of participants. The SWLS is measured using a likert-scale
from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). The scale contains five items which measure
current life satisfaction through questions like ‘In most ways my life is close to my ideal’. The
scale has been validated repeatedly with high reliability (r = .82).
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Self-Esteem Scale (SES)
The second measure used was the Self-Esteem Scale (SES; Rosenberg, 1965). It consists of a 10-
item likert scale with items answered on a four-point scale from strongly agree (score -3) to
strongly disagree (score 0). This scale has five reversed score items, including ‘I certainly feel
useless at times. Scores are calculated by adding all the items, with higher scores indicative of
higher self-esteem in participants. The scale has been repeatedly validated with high reliability (r
= .73).
Money Attitude scale (MAS)
The Money Attitude Scale (Yamauchi &Templer, 1982) was the third scale used here. The MAS
comprises 29 items, answered using a likert scale with item responses from 1 (Never) to 7
(Always). The scale consists of four factors, each of which reflects on of the four main money-
related attitudes: (1) power-prestige (9 items; e.g., ‘Although I should judge the success of
people by their deeds, I am more influenced by the amount of money they have’); retention time
(7 items; e.g., ‘I put money aside on a regular basis for the future’); distrust (7 items; e.g., ‘After
buying something, I wonder if I could have gotten the same for less elsewhere’); and anxiety (6
items; e.g., ‘I show worrisome behavior when it comes to money’. The scale has been validated
repeatedly with high reliability (r = .71).
Results
Quantitative analysis
Pre- and post-test scores (mean and standard deviation) for both groups (experimental and
control) on all four dependent variables (SWLS, SES and MAS) are shown below in table 1.
Table 1: Mean and standard deviation for both groups on all dependent variables.
Pre-test (M)
Pre-test (SD)
Post-test (M)
Post-test (SD)
SWLS (experimental group)
4.87
1.84
5.29
1.31
SWLS (control group)
5.10
1.12
4.94
1.43
SES (experimental group)
19.76
6.09
21.76
5.10
SES (control group)
20.40
4.42
20.40
5.01
MAS power-prestige (experimental
group)
19.23
7.52
20.47
8.50
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Mixed Analyses of Variance
To measure the differences in means between the experimental and control groups at two
measurement points (pre and post intervention), six separate ANOVAs were conducted, one for
each of the dependent variables (satisfaction with life, self-esteem, and the four types of money-
related attitudes), as set out below
Satisfaction with life
A mixed ANOVA was conducted with life satisfaction as the dependent variable), a between-
subjects factor of group (experimental, control), and a within-subjects factor of time (pre, post).
There was no main effect for condition, F(1, 25) = .012, p = .915, and no main effect for time,
F(1, 25) = .782, p = .385. However, there was a significant interaction, F(1, 25) = 3.83, p =
0.031, one-tailed. To explore the significant ANOVA interaction further, paired-samples T-tests
(split by the between-subjects factor of group), were performed, comparing the satisfaction of the
two groups (experimental, control) between T1 and T2. The experimental group had a significant
increase in life satisfaction over time, t(25) = -2.42, p = .028, whereas the control group had a
non-significant decrease in life satisfaction over time, (25) = .638, p = .539, as shown in figure 1
below. This result supports the first hypothesis, namely that donating money (the experimental
condition of the PPI) significantly enhanced the life satisfaction of participants.
MAS power-prestige (control group)
22.70
13.03
23.20
12.14
MAS time retention (experimental
group)
27.17
8.37
26.76
8.08
MAS time retention (control group)
25.70
7.24
26.20
7.06
MAS - distrust (experimental group)
22.23
6.75
21.29
7.10
MAS - distrust (control group)
21.60
8.60
21.60
11.70
MAS anxiety (experimental group)
21.94
5.28
21.70
5.38
MAS anxiety (control group)
20.90
7.37
23.60
6.88
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Figure 1- Line graph showing the change in mean life satisfaction (pre-test to post-test) for the
two groups (experimental and control), including error bars indicating standard deviation.
Self - esteem
A mixed ANOVA was conducted with self-esteem as the dependant variable, a between-subjects
factor of group (experimental, control), and a within-subjects factor of time (pre, post). There
was main effect for time, F(1, 25) = 4.6 p = .040, no main effect for condition, F (1, 25) = .031, p
= .862, and a significant interaction F(1, 25) = 4.6, p= 0.04.To explore this interaction further,
paired-samples T-tests (split by the between-subjects factor of group), were performed,
comparing the self-esteem of the two groups (experimental, control) between T1 and T2. The
experimental group had a significant increase in self-esteem over time, t(25) = -1.713, p = .045,
whereas the control group had a non-significant decrease in self-esteem over time, t (25) = .567,
p = .459, as depicted in Figure 2, this difference shows a medium effect size. This result supports
the second hypothesis, namely that donating money (the experimental condition of the PPI)
significantly enhanced the self-esteem of participants.
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Figure 2- Line graph showing the change in mean self-esteem (pre-test to post-test) for the two
groups (experimental and control), including error bars indicating standard deviation.
Money-related attitudes (MAS)
Money attitudes were analyzed using four mixed ANOVAs, one for each of the money-attitude
subscales (power-prestige, retention time, distrust and anxiety). For each ANOVA there was a
between-subjects factor of group (experimental, control) and a within-subjects factor of time
(pre, post).
With retention time as the dependent variable, no statistically significant results were obtained:
there was no main effect for time, F(1, 25) = .011 p = .919, no main effect for condition, F(1, 25)
= .108, p = .745, and no significant interaction, F(1, 25) = 1.122; p =.300. As shown in figure 3
below, there were negligible changes over time for both groups.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
Pre-test Post-test
Self-
esteem Experimental group
Control group
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Figure 3 Line graph showing the change in mean time retention (pre-test to post-test) for the
two groups (experimental and control), including error bars indicating standard deviation.
As with retention time, power-prestige showed no statistically significant results: there was no
main effect for time, F(1, 25) = .723 p = .403, no main effect for condition, F(1, 25) = .625, p =
.425, and no significant interaction, F(1, 25) = .130; p =.722. As shown in figure 4 below, there
were negligible changes over time for both groups.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
Pre-test Post-test
Money
attitude:
Time
retention
Experimental group
Control group
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
Pre-test Post-test
Money
attitudes:
Power-
prestige
Experimental group
Control group
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Figure 4- Line graph showing the change in mean power-prestige (pre-test to post-test) for the
two groups (experimental and control), including error bars indicating standard deviation.
Similar to the earlier two money attitudes, the dependent variable distrust showed no significant
changes over time: there was no main effect for time, F(1, 25) = .001, p = .980, no main effect
for condition, F(1, 25) = .008, p = .930, and no significant interaction, F(1,25) = 1.259, p = .273.
As shown in figure 5 below, there were negligible changes over time for both groups.
Figure 5 Line graph showing the change in mean distrust (pre-test to post-test) for the two
groups (experimental and control), including error bars indicating standard deviation.
Finally, for anxiety, there was no main effect for condition, F(1, 25) = .035, p = .854 and no
main effect for time F(1, 25) = 2.692, p = .113. However, there was a significant interaction, F(1,
25) = 3.819, p = 0.031, one-tailed. To explore this interaction further, paired-samples T-tests
(split by the between-subjects factor of group), were performed, comparing the anxiety of the
two groups (experimental, control) between T1 and T2. The experimental group had a non-
significant decrease in anxiety over time, t(25) =.391; p = .701, whereas the control group had a
significant increase in anxiety over time, t(25) = -1,115, p = .027.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
Pre-test Post-test
Money
attitudes:
Distrust
Experimental group
Control group
16
Figure 6 Line graph showing the change in mean anxiety (pre-test to post-test) for the two
groups (experimental and control), including error bars indicating standard deviation.
Qualitative analysis
In addition to quantitative analysis, this study also took a qualitative approach in order to gain a
deeper understanding of impact of charitable giving on wellbeing. As noted above, participants
were encouraged to write a diary entry each day reflecting on their experiences of either donating
or spending money. Data from five participants from each group were examined, using grounded
theory analysis (Charmaz, 2007), to identify emergent themes relating to charitable giving.
Categories were identified through a process of constant comparison; this process continued until
‘saturation’ was reached (i.e., no new themes were emerging from the analysis. The analysis
resulted in the discovery of one core theme: money is an emotionally meaningful object. Under
the core theme, there are two themes: positive emotions and negative emotions. These themes
and subthemes are described in the following table. Each theme will then be discussed with
exemplary quotes from participants.
Table 3: Main qualitative themes and sub-themes
Theme
Sub-themes
Positive emotions
Happiness (12)1
1
The indication of number after every sub theme is representation of the number of times the theme was
mentioned in the transcripts analysed.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
Pre-test Post-test
Money
attitudes:
Anxiety
Experimental group
Control group
17
Satisfaction (5)
Making a difference (5)
Negative emotions
Guilt (4)
Unsure/confused (2)
Skepticism (3)
Pressured (2)
Worried (2)
Careful(7)
Fearful (2)
The analysis revealed that both groups experienced positive and negative emotions in relation to
money and in the context of engaging with the PPI. Taking the positive emotions first, these
included happiness, satisfaction, and making a difference.
Happiness
Happiness was the most prevailing theme in both conditions. Participants in both groups felt
happy in the context of the intervention (e.g., whether giving away money or spending it on
themselves). In conducting this planned action, the act of giving away was generally more
important for the participant than how much was given away. After giving away money, one
participant wrote: “Even though it was only £1, I have to say that I felt quite good giving it away.
I simply put it in one of the charity boxes at my local shop but because I had planned to do so, it
felt good. I read the charity details and thought about the people in need.
Participants in the control group also reported a sense of happiness connected to their actions.
For one participant, this was a result of spending money wisely on essential goods –“I am happy
spending as it worth spending on”. Thus, spending money on required goods with an appropriate
price reinforces the participant’s belief in their ability to make good decisions.
Satisfaction
Closely related to happiness, satisfaction was another theme that occurred in both groups. For
participants in the control group, this satisfaction often related to need satisfaction, as expressed
by one participant: I bought some new clothes. It was more for as a need but it felt good to have
new stuff. It did not make me feel exactly happy but satisfied”. Conversely, in the experimental
18
group, the act of helping another person, of doing the ‘right’ thing, led to a feeling of satisfaction
Giving away money satisfied me. I felt I did something wonderful.
Making a difference
Unlike the two subthemes above, the experience of ‘making a differencewas only reported by
those in the experimental group. Here participants experienced emotions like happiness and joy
as a result of engaging in meaningful prosocial actions directed towards others. Such actions can
also serve to uplift one’s self-image, as expressed by one participant: I felt I did something
wonderful. I felt I reached out to somebody in need and that's a beautiful experience. We can
actually make someone smile and be happy. For some participants in the experimental group,
this sense of making a difference was imbued with a deeper sense of meaning; one person
described their prosocial actions as helping them feel closer to God: When I give money I feel
satisfied I'm contributing to the world and it’s what God wants us to do.
Guilt
However, participants did not only report positive emotions in relation to the intervention; both
groups experienced a range of negative emotions too. Principle among these was guilt, which,
contrary to expectations, occurred in both groups. In the control group, this related to spending
money on unnecessary goods. In some cases, the guilt related to the amount of money spend, as
reflected in the following excerpt: I bought a really nice jewellery locker. Was quite a lot of
money and now I'm thinking if it was too much....”. For others, the guilt was connected to the
sense that the money could be better spend on more deserving causes: I felt bad for spending
money and wish that I had put it to better use, for instance, to help someone. Conversely, in the
experimental group, guilt arose from a sense of not donating enough; this appeared to leave
participants with a negative self-image as a result: I gave £2 to a beggar. I spoke to him briefly,
and it felt good to connect with him, although I also felt a bit guilty that I didn't do more when I
could have
Unsure/confused
Participants in both groups reported a sense of being unsure about their money-related decisions.
There was confusion both in relation to how to spend/donate the money, and around the amount
of money spent/donated. The following excerpt from an experimental participant reveals this
sense of confusion, as well as a feeling of annoyance at oneself for not being able to make a
decision that they could later be happy with: Donation after fast-food meal. I only realized later
19
that they had boxes for different causes, so it was annoying to find I could have given money for
something that reflects my values better.
Skepticism
Skepticism about the wisdom or value of their money-related choices occurred in both groups,
but was more prominent in control group. Here, a control-group participant describes the careful
deliberations they went through to make sure they got value for money, visiting different shops
to survey the best prices: I was careful enough to purchase only those items I thought were
priced right. In fact I surveyed two different super-shops to get an idea of right costs.
Conversely, participants in the experimental group experienced skepticism about the utility of
donating money, i.e., expressing concerns over whether the money will actually fulfil the
purpose intended by the act (i.e., helping another person): Left £1 next to a homeless person
who was sleeping. Felt quite good, even though I wasn't sure he was going to see it when he
woke up.
Pressured
The experience of pressure in making the right choice while spending money and making a
social contribution occurred as a theme in both groups. In the following excerpt, a participant
reports feeling obligated to give charitably due to their commitment to the research: It felt like
an obligation/commitment to this project and as there was no Big Issue seller in sight, I put the
money in a pot in a shop.
Worry
Worrying about money was the least frequent theme, occurring only twice in the control group
(and not at all in the experimental group). Here one control participant expresses a fear of not
having enough money in future. This worry was present in their mind as they engaged in
spending money: It gives pleasure to spend and get what I want at that point in time however it
also gives a feeling that my pocket in getting empty and I may not have enough if I need more
tomorrow. I feel confident to spend money when I have good balance in my account but afraid if
I don't.
Discussion
The results reported here are a powerful demonstration of the central hypothesis of the present
study, namely that charitable spending has a potent impact on the wellbeing of the donor. Using
an innovative intervention, quantitative analyses revealed that giving away money to others (the
20
experimental group) significantly enhanced life satisfaction and self-esteem of participants. This
effect can be partly explained by the natural tendency of every human being to be socially
connected, and to make efforts to make and improve positive relations with others (Dunn et al.,
2011). As results here demonstrate, pro-social spending like charitable giving can create a potent
bond between donor and receiver (Schervish & Szanto, 2006), leading to enhanced SWB in the
donor (Dunn et al., 2011). It was found that charitable giving also impacted positively on
participants’ self-esteem. This finding corroborates the insights of exchange theory, which holds
that, in return for giving away money, the donor might in turn experience a positive self-image,
and hence improved self-esteem (Baumeister et al., 1996). Finally, the impact of the intervention
on money-related attitudes was intriguing. While three of the money-related attitudes were not
affected by the intervention, between-group differences were observed in relation to anxiety.
While levels of anxiety in the experimental group remained essentially unchanged, the control
group experienced a slight increase in money-related anxiety after taking part. This finding is in
line with the other quantitative findings reported above (e.g., increases in life satisfaction for the
experimental group), since experiencing positive emotions (as the experimental group did) can
help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub, 1989). However, the
picture is not necessarily that simple, and here is where the value of a mixed-methods approach
asserts itself: although experimental participants did on the whole experience an increase in
SWB, the qualitative analysis revealed a range of ambivalent feelings relating to taking part.
Although participants (in both groups) reported positive emotions in the context of participating
(e.g., happiness, satisfaction, and the feeling of ‘making a difference’), participants also
discussed various concerns relating to their experiences, including guilt and pressure.
Nevertheless, on the whole the results show that charitable giving, and indeed interventions to
encourage such giving, may significantly improve wellbeing in the donor.
While these findings are intriguing, further work will be required to further explore their
significance. Moreover, limitations with the design of the present study limit the conclusions that
can be drawn here. The self-report nature of the quantitative scales raises issues with regard to
objectivity, as there is a risk of socially-desirable responding. The use of baseline pre-test
measures can also be problematic, as it may prime participants to respond to the intervention in
ways encouraged by the scales themselves (Layous, Katherine Nelson, & Lyubomirsky, 2012).
Another issue was the participant sample, particularly in terms of size and homogeneity. There
21
were only twenty-seven participants, all of whom were predominately well-educated students
based in the United Kingdom. An increase in sample size, and a more diverse population, would
improve the robustness and credibility of the findings. Finally, the PPI only lasted three days,
and the pre- and post-test measures were only a few days apart. An examination of the longer-
term impact of the intervention would contribute to a deeper understanding of the sustainability
of this intervention. Finally, although this study did use a mixed-method approach to good effect,
the qualitative data was collected online and participants were limited to one hundred words
when writing about their experience. Semi-structured interviews with participants would have
generated richer data as it would have given the participants more scope to elaborate on their
experience.
All of these limitations point the way to future research possibilities. The present research
has uncovered some interesting possibilities, regarding the impact of charitable giving on
wellbeing, which should be further explored, ideally using mixed methods approaches. Research
based on money has mostly been conducted using self-reporting scales, and it is still unclear
whether these scales accurately reflect individual and cultural differences. The use of qualitative
methods can give deep insights into individual differences in attitudes and personal experiences
relating to money. Future research may also consider exploring cognitive and biological changes
that occur during the intervention. In conclusion, despite the limitations outlined above, through
a unique and innovative experimental PPI, the present study does appear to suggest that
charitable giving can have a positive impact upon the wellbeing of the donor. Whilst lot of work
needs to be done, this research presents a strong case for including money-based PPIs within
positive psychology, thus supporting and expanding the vision and scope of the field
22
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... A few experimental studies have investigated the impact of prosocial behavior on SWB (Aknin et al. 2012(Aknin et al. , 2013Dunn et al. 2008;Surana and Lomas 2014). Psychologists have found a significant positive correlation between prosocial behavior and happiness. ...
... Aknin (2013) found in two other experiments that prosocial spending can enhance a person's well-being, although it does not help to build or strengthen social relationships. Surana and Lomas (2014) found that giving significantly enhanced donors' life satisfaction and self-esteem. However, these experimental designs could only estimate the very short-term impact of donating on SWB. ...
... Affective well-being refers to the intensity and frequency of emotions experienced (e.g., more positive emotion and less negative emotion), and cognitive well-being refers to satisfaction in a specific area (e.g., marital satisfaction) or a comprehensive assessment of life (e.g., life satisfaction) (Luhmann et al. 2012). In most experimental studies (Aknin et al. 2012;Bjälkebring et al. 2016;Dunn et al. 2008;Surana and Lomas 2014), subjects were asked about their SWB shortly after they made a donation decision or after they recalled the experience of prosocial spending. Researchers can only draw conclusions on whether giving has a direct and immediate effect on affective well-being or emotional well-being. ...
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... As will be outlined further below, PPIs are often modelled on the type of clinical interventions discussed above, but instead of aiming at deficit reduction (e.g., reducing anxiety), they are explicitly focused on promoting some positive quality or outcome (e.g., increasing compassion). And indeed, there is an emergent body of PPIs which aim to engender the types of qualities encouraged by 18 Buddhism, including interventions based around metta (e.g., loving-kindness meditation; Fredrickson et al., 2008), karuṇā (e.g., mindful self-compassion; Neff & Germer, 2013), and dāna (e.g., charitable giving; Surana & Lomas, 2014). ...
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