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Health Psychol. 2014 Feb;33(2):120-9. doi: 10.1037/a0031620. Epub 2013 Apr 8.

Volunteering predicts health among those who value others: two national studies.

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University at Buffalo.



The purpose of these studies was to examine the role of positive views of other people in predicting stress-buffering effects of volunteering on mortality and psychological distress.


In Study 1, stressful life events, volunteering, and hostile cynicism assessed in a baseline Detroit-area survey (N = 846) predicted survival over a 5-year period, adjusting for relevant covariates. In Study 2, stressful life events, volunteering, and world benevolence beliefs assessed in a baseline national survey (N = 1,157) predicted psychological distress over a 1-year period, adjusting for distress at baseline.


In Study 1, a Cox proportional hazard model indicated that for individuals low in cynicism, stress predicted mortality at low levels of volunteering but not at high levels of volunteering. This effect was not present among those high in cynicism. In Study 2, multiple regression analysis revealed that among individuals high in world benevolence beliefs, stress predicted elevated distress at low levels of volunteering but not at high levels of volunteering. This effect was absent for those lower in world benevolence beliefs.


Consistent with prior research on helping behavior, these studies indicate that helping behavior can buffer the effects of stress on health. However, the results of these studies indicate that stress-buffering effects of volunteering are limited to individuals with positive views of other people. Not all individuals may benefit from volunteering, and health-promotion efforts seeking to draw on health benefits of helping behavior may need to target their approach accordingly.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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