Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Giving and emotion

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Giving and emotion:
What is the emotional effect of giving?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Why do we enjoy giving to others, even when there is personal loss and little to no personal gain? Is there such thing as true altruism or do we partake in giving behaviours in order to gain a sense of self-satisfaction and to produce our own pleasurable emotions? This chapter will strive to answer these questions by looking at the emotional effects of giving.

What is emotion?[edit | edit source]

Emotion can be a difficult topic to define, and there are many theories and definitions that strive to explain exactly what an emotion is. According to Rolls (2000), an emotion is a state produced by the body in response to some form of reward or punishment. Rolls’ (2000) definition of what rewards and punishments are, in relation to emotion, differs to what the typical definition of what rewards and punishments include. While yes, basic rewards, such as a lolly, can cause people to experience emotion, Rolls (2000) also discusses how bigger rewards, such as a loving relationship with someone, can also produce emotion. While many people would not define having a loving relationship with someone as a reward, Rolls (2000) sees it as one, since it produces emotion in a person for the duration of the relationship. In a loving relationship, a person would tend to feel pleasurable emotions, such as happiness, but then may feel unpleasant emotions, such as sadness, if their loved one were to die (Rolls, 2000). According to Rolls (2000), this death of the loved one would then be defined as a punishment, as it is the removal of the reward that produced a pleasurable emotion. It is interesting to note that Rolls (2000) defines receiving a reward as something that would produce a pleasurable emotion, such as happiness, when giving produces the same emotion (Aknin, Hamlin, & Dunn, 2013b; Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008), but can be seen as the opposite of receiving a reward.

What is giving?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Volunteering is a good example of giving behaviour. These volunteers are giving their time to help clean up the beach.

In order to discuss the relationship between giving and emotions later in this chapter, it is important to define what giving means in this context. Giving comes in many forms, and includes things such as donating blood, donating to charity (Aknin et al., 2013b) and volunteering (Wilson & Musick, 1999). Generally, giving is defined as sacrificing your time and/or money to better the lives of other people (Aknin, Dunn, Whillans, Grant, & Norton, 2013a; Wilson & Musick, 1999). A lot of the current research on giving focuses around monetary giving, such as donations to charity, but there is also some research that discusses giving in the form of volunteering. Wilson and Musick (1999) define a volunteer as a person who, not only gives their time to better the lives of other people, but does so without the expectation that they will receive any payment, whether monetary or in the form of material goods, in return for the work they do.

This absence of expectation that they will receive some form of payment in return is an important aspect in this definition of giving. This will be based on the idea that the givers will not receive any form of payment in return for their giving behaviour.

Theories of emotion and other psychological theories[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. Diagram of the appraisal theory of emotion

Appraisal theory[edit | edit source]

According to the appraisal theory of emotion, emotions that are felt by an individual, and the level to which that emotion is felt can vary, depending on how they view the situation that led to the emotion (Roseman, Spindel, & Jose, 1990). This is evident in the fact that people tend to have different emotional reactions, or the same emotion with different levels of intensity, even when the situation they have experienced is the same (Roseman et al., 1990). This is due to the fact that one person appraises the situation one way, resulting in one emotion or intensity, whilst the other person appraises the situation another way, resulting in a different emotion or intensity (Roseman et al., 1990). The appraisal theory has been broken into five specific forms of appraisal that can influence one’s emotions (Roseman et al., 1990). These are:

  1. Situational state: Whether or not the motivational state of the individual is inline with the situation (Roseman et al., 1990).
  2. Probability: Whether the individual knows with certainty, or uncertainty, that there will be a particular outcome in the situation (Roseman et al., 1990).
  3. Agency: Whether or not the outcome of the situation is due to internal factors, such as the individual’s efforts, or external factors, such as the environment or another person (Roseman et al., 1990).
  4. Motivational state: Whether the individual is trying to receive a reward (appetitive) or avoid a punishment (aversive) in the situation (Roseman et al., 1990).
  5. Power: Whether or not the individual believes that they deserve the outcome of the situation, be it a positive or a negative outcome (Roseman et al., 1990).

It is important to note that these five appraisals are not the only five, as others have formed their own ideas as to what they believe the five appraisals should be (Roseman et al., 1990). However, Roseman et al. (1990) cited these appraisals as the more favourable ones, as they have been modelled around the appraisals that have preceded them[explain?]. Also, they were found to support the findings of their study more effectively than the past appraisal [missing something?] (Roseman et al., 1990). These five appraisals can be useful in determining patterns in individual’s emotions, as different combinations of appraisals can help to determine the emotion felt (Roseman et al., 1990). For example, if an individual’s motivation is in line with the situation (situational state), the motivational state is appetitive and the individual is certain of the outcome (probability), the likely emotion that will be felt can be determined to be joy (Roseman et al., 1990).

Hedonism[edit | edit source]

The definition of hedonism varies, depending on the context it is mentioned in (Veenhoven, 2003). In the psychological context, hedonism is the theory that humans behave in a way that maximises their pleasure (Veenhoven, 2003). Hedonism is viewed in both positive and negative lights, as some people believe that those who live the hedonistic lifestyle are simply taking advantage of life’s pleasures and living well, whereas others believe that hedonism leads to a life of addiction and irresponsibility (Veenhoven, 2003).

While it appears that leading a hedonistic lifestyle would lead to increased levels of happiness, due to the pleasurable nature of the lifestyle, it has been found that hedonism can actually lead to a decrease in happiness (Veenhoven, 2003). This is because the levels of pleasure felt by the individual may fade over time, leaving the individual with a lessened sense of satisfaction, meaning that they need to participate in more pleasure seeking activities in order to maintain their hedonistic lifestyle (Veenhoven, 2003). Hedonism may also lead to decreased levels of happiness due to the fact that theories of happiness state that one must see meaning in their life in order to achieve true happiness, but there is little meaning that can be found from just attaining pleasure (Veenhoven, 2003). A study by (Meier & Stutzer, 2008) also discusses how people living a hedonistic lifestyle tend to strive for materialistic goals, rather than intrinsic goals, which could result in their decreased levels of happiness. This follows the belief that helping others provides prosocial benefits that are important in helping one attain high levels of happiness, and those who follow the hedonistic lifestyle do not bother to help others, as they are attempting to achieve their materialistic goals (Meier & Stutzer, 2008).

Arguments for the benefits of hedonism are not as common for arguments against hedonism, as the benefits are seen to be obvious (Veenhoven, 2003). However, the arguments for hedonism believe that it stems from an evolutionary push that encourages us to go after the things we need to live a good life, which is why those living a hedonistic lifestyle will go after the choices that make life more pleasurable (Veenhoven, 2003). This could obviously then lead to increased happiness in the individual, as happiness is achieved when the pleasurable experiences outweigh any unpleasant experiences (Veenhoven, 2003).

Psychological egoism[edit | edit source]

Psychological egoism is the belief that humans are naturally selfish and are motivated to partake in behaviours that benefit themselves, but not other people (Gantt & Burton, 2013). However, this does not mean that humans never offer each other assistance, but it puts into debate whether or not people do so for egoistic reasons (Gantt & Burton, 2013). For example, an individual may help another person, but they do so to gain the reward of a pleasurable feeling or to avoid punishment, such as being negatively judged for not helping (Gantt & Burton, 2013). This fits in with the idea of psychological egoism, because even though the other person benefits from the help, the person helping most likely only chose to help as the personal benefits of helping outweighed the personal cost (Gantt & Burton, 2013).

Although humans are described as being naturally selfish, it is important to note that Gantt and Burton (2013) do not mean selfish in the typical sense. This is because being selfish, in the sense that they do not care who they hurt in the process of reaching their goal, would not serve an individual’s best interests, as they would be viewed negatively by their peers (Gantt & Burton, 2013). This means that, although the definition of psychological egoism indicates that we view others as being there purely to assist us in reaching our goals, we still treat them with respect in order to ensure that we are furthering our best interests (Gantt & Burton, 2013).

Psychological egoism, and the theories mentioned before, will later be discussed in relation to the emotional effect of giving.

Emotional consequences of giving behaviour[edit | edit source]

Think back to the last time you gave something to someone else, with no intention of getting something back in return. This could be anything, from donating blood to giving someone money, a birthday present, a helping hand or even your time and support. Now, think back to how you felt after your act of giving. Do you recall feeling a sense of happiness or satisfaction after the experience. Why? This section aims to explain why it is we feel happiness, and other emotions, when we partake in giving behaviour, and whether or not true altruism exists.

Happiness[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Happiness is an emotion that is commonly felt after partaking in giving behaviour[factual?]

Happiness is an emotion that has long been associated with acts of giving (Aknin et al., 2013b; Dunn et al., 2008.) Happiness is defined by Lyubomirsky, Sheldon and Schkade (2005) as an individual having a feeling of high satisfaction with their life, with frequent positive affects and infrequent negative affects. According to Aknin et al. (2013b), this feeling of happiness is partly a result of the positive prosocial impact that giving can have. Aknin et al. (2013b) discuss how adults around the world reported higher levels of happiness when they spent their money on other people, rather than themselves[explain?][Provide more detail]. The reason for this increased level of happiness from giving may stem from evolutionary factors (Aknin et al., 2013b). Humans tend to partake in behaviours that produce positive feelings and emotions, as it makes for a more pleasurable experience (Veenhoven, 2003). Since giving would have been found to produce positive emotions, as one would be more likely to be looked on favourable by their peers (Gantt & Burton, 2013), individuals would have continued to give in order to increase the occurrence of the positive emotions, thus creating a self-rewarding behaviour (Aknin et al., 2013b). Once the act of giving had been established as a self-rewarding behaviour, gaining the reward would elicit happiness in the individual, which is in line with the definition of emotion by Rolls (2000). By allowing giving to become a self-rewarding behaviour and increasing the likelihood of it occurring, it has become something that is taught to our children and learnt from role models, which is why giving is a big part of our society today (Aknin et al., 2013b).

Giving money is not the only giving behaviour that can result in increased levels of happiness, as was shown in a study by Lyubomirsky in 2004 (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Participants were required to perform five acts of kindness a week over the space of six weeks (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). The acts of kindness for this study were behaviours that benefited or made others happy at some personal cost to the participant (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Examples of these acts of kindness included donating blood, visiting an elderly relative, helping a friend or writing somebody a thank you note (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Over the space of the six weeks, participants who were required to perform acts of kindness reported a higher level of happiness than the participants who were not required to perform acts of kindness (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). However, only the participants who performed the five acts of kindness in one day reported higher levels of happiness, which may be due to the fact that the acts of kindness were only small acts, meaning that having them spread out across the week did not have a big enough impact on the participant for them to report higher levels of happiness (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).

While it is true that giving prominently results in increases in happiness, there are factors that influence whether or not an act of giving is likely to result in an increase of happiness. For example, having a sense of control over your decision to give to someone else can influence your emotional reaction after you perform the act (Aknin et al., 2013a). If someone is told that they “should” help, they are less likely to experience an increase in happiness after giving, compared to someone who helped without being told that they should (Aknin et al., 2013a). It can also depend on our awareness of the prosocial impact that our act has (Aknin et al., 2013a). The study by Aknin et al. (2013a) found that participants who donated to a charity that had a breakdown of how the money they donated was going to help experienced higher levels of happiness than when donating to a charity who did not have that breakdown. Participants also recalled experiencing higher levels of happiness when they thought back to a time when they knew that their donation made a positive impact, as opposed to a time when they were unsure whether or not their spending made a positive impact (Aknin et al., 2013a). This increased level of happiness from knowing with certainty that their donation had a positive impact may have something to do with the appraisal theory of emotion (Roseman et al., 1990). The differences in the emotional response may be due to the fact that the participant appraised the situation in different ways, as the situations were slightly different. More specifically, the probability appraisal in the two situations would have been different. When the participants knew exactly where the money they donated was going, they had the certainty that their donation was going to better the lives of someone else, meaning that this certainty allowed them to feel an increased sense of happiness. On the other hand, when the participants had uncertainty about whether or not their donation was going to make a difference, they felt a lower sense of happiness, as the appraisal was different to the appraisal in the first instance.

Altruism[edit | edit source]

Since giving has been found to have positive effects on our own emotions, it brings into light the question of whether people give purely for the sake of others, or if we do it for our own personal benefit. Altruism is the idea that people can be motivated to better the lives of others in a completely selfless way (Barasch, Levine, Berman, & Small, 2014). Even though someone may not receive any monetary or social rewards from an act of giving, the fact that givers still feel a sense of satisfaction after partaking in the giving behaviour puts doubt into whether or not true altruism is something that can really exist (Barasch et al., 2014). A study by Cialdini et al. (1987) wanted to find an answer to whether or not altruism truly exists. Cialdini et al. (1987) wanted to determine if true altruism would exist in instances where an individual would feel empathy for a person who was in need. However, the findings of the study indicated that the desire to help the person in need came from the participant wanting to lower the level of sadness they felt at seeing the person in need, rather than being motivated by their empathetic feelings for the person in need (Cialdini et al., 1987). These findings do not support the idea that true altruism can exist, as the participants were influenced more strongly by the motivation to minimise their own discomfort, rather than the discomfort of the other person (Cialdini et al., 1987).

According to Gantt and Burton (2013), psychological egoism is stronger than altruism. Since psychological egoism is the idea that individuals are motivated by their own needs and desires, and not the needs of others (Gantt & Burton, 2013), it would indicate that true altruism could not exist whilst psychological egoism is the stronger motivator. However, more research into this area would be necessary in order to determine whether or not psychological egoism is stronger than altruism, or if there are people out there who put altruism before their own needs.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Why do we enjoy giving to others, even when there is personal loss and little to no personal gain? Is there such thing as true altruism, or do we partake in giving behaviours in order to gain a sense of self-satisfaction and to produce our own pleasurable emotions?

These were the questions that were asked at the beginning of this chapter, and now that the emotional effects of giving have been discussed, we can now strive to answer them.

It is clear from the current research that giving behaviours result in generally positive emotions, like happiness. Because giving produces positive emotions, rather than negative ones, it is easy to see why people continue to give, even if there is no obvious benefit to them. For example, people may give for hedonistic reasons, in the sense that giving would result in a pleasurable feeling, so we would continue to partake in behaviours that would produce this feeling in order to live a hedonistic lifestyle. People also give to fulfill their psychological egoism, as long as it serves their best interests, as a lot of the time giving can benefit the giver as well as the receiver (Gantt & Burton, 2013).

In terms of whether or not true altruism exists, more research needs to be conducted in order to accurately answer this question. However, based on the information provided in this chapter, it would appear that humans are generally motivated by selfish factors, rather than selfless ones. While yes, we do partake in giving that benefits other people; it is usually done in order to benefit ourselves as well, which means that our motives are not purely altruistic.

Test yourself[edit | edit source]

This is a quick quiz that will test how much you have learnt from this chapter.

Select the most suitable answer for each question.

1 According to Rolls (2000), emotions are a response to:

Punishment, with influence from our genetics
Environmental factors and rewards
Rewards and punishment
None of the above

2 Which of the following is NOT an example of giving, as defined in this chapter:

Lending your friend money
Donating to charity
Donating blood

3 The appraisal theory states that:

We evaluate all the emotions that we are feeling to determine which emotion is most fitting for the current situation
Our personal evaluation of a situation will influence the emotion(s) that we feel as a result of the experience
Identification of our physiological responses to a situation allows us to identify the emotion we are feeling
None of the above

4 The situational state in the appraisal theory of emotion is:

Whether the individual knows with certainty, or uncertainty, that there will be a particular outcome in the situation
Whether the individual is trying to receive a reward (appetitive) or avoid a punishment (aversive) in the situation
Whether or not the individual believes that they deserve the outcome of the situation, be it a positive or a negative outcome
Whether or not the motivational state of the individual is inline with the situation

5 Which of the following is NOT true about hedonism:

Hedonism has been found to lead to an increase and/or decrease in happiness
Hedonism is the idea that human behaviour is influenced by pleasure seeking
Hedonism has been found to only increase happiness
None of the above

6 Psychological egoism is the belief that humans will put the needs of others before their own needs:


7 Which of the following is least likely to result in an increase in happiness:

Donating blood
Helping your friend with her homework
Donating to charity after your friend told you that you should
Both b and c

8 Altruism is the idea that people can be motivated to better the lives of others in a completely selfless way:


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., Whillans, A. V., Grant, A. M., & Norton, M. I. (2013a). Making a difference matters: Impact unlocks the emotional benefits of prosocial spending. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 88, 90-95. doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2013.01.008

Aknin, L. B., Hamlin, J. K., & Dunn, E. W. (2013b). Giving leads to happiness in young children. PLoS One, 7(6), e39211

Barasch, A., Levine, E. E., Berman, J. Z., & Small, D. A. (2014). Selfish or selfless? On the signal value of emotion in altruistic behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3, 393-413. doi: 10.1037/a0037207

Cialdini, R. B., Schaller, M., Houlihan, D., Arps, K., Fultz, J., & Beaman, A. L. (1987). Empathy-based helping: Is it selflessly or selfishly motivated? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(4), 749-758. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.52.4.749

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

Gantt, E. E., & Burton, J. (2013). Egoism, altruism, and the ethical foundations of personhood. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 53(4), 438-460. doi: 10.1177/0022167812464685

Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of general psychology, 9(2), 111-131. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.111

Meier, S., & Stutzer, A. (2008). Is volunteering rewarding in itself? Economica, 75, 39-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0335.2007.00597.x

Rolls, E. T. (2000). Précis of the brain and emotion. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 177-234. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X00002429

Roseman, I. J., Spindel, M. S., Jose, P. E. (1990). Appraisals of emotion-eliciting events: Testing a theory of discrete emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 899-915. doi: 0022-3514/90/$00.75

Veenhoven, R. (2003). Hedonism and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 4, 437-457. doi: 10.1023/B:JOHS.0000005719.56211.fd

Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1999). The effects of volunteering on the volunteer. Law and Contemporary Problems, 62(4), 141-168. Retrieved from