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Academic Minute

Dr. Michael Poulin, University at Buffalo – Psychological Benefits of Giving

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Michael Poulin of the University at Buffalo reveals that while offering a helping hand to others, you may also be helping yourself.

Michael Poulin is an assistant professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo. His research seeks to understand why people engage in prosocial behavior as well as what factors influence a person’s response to stress and adversity. His work has been published in a number of peer-reviewed journals and he holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine.

About Dr. Poulin

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Dr. Michael Poulin – Psychological Benefits of Giving

Is giving to others good for you? Volunteering, helping friends and neighbors, supporting loved ones—all of that stuff we do to benefit others—is it good for you?  I mean sure, we know it’s morally good, but that doesn’t mean that giving to others makes us happier or healthier.  Or does it?

You may have heard that stress is bad for health.  Well, it turns out that giving to others may undo the negative effects of stress.  In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that there was no link between stress and health among people who reported helping their friends and neighbors in the past year.  But among people who didn’t engage in such helping, stressful life events predicted decreased odds of survival over the next five years.

Before you run out to the nearest soup kitchen to get your daily dose of helping, though, I should point out that there’s a catch: helping appears to only be good for you if you really care about those you’re helping.  In two separate studies, I found that volunteering on behalf of strangers also weakens the link between stress and health—but only for volunteers who have generally positive views of other people.  In other words, helping may be good for you specifically to the extent you’re likely to experience compassion for those you help.

Together, these studies suggest a potentially surprising way in which our connections to others affect our health.  But I also think the link between helping and health, by being written in our biology, sheds new light on what it means that humans are, as Aristotle said, the social animal: we’re not just drawn to others because of what they can do for us; we’re also drawn to others because of what we can do for them.


Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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