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Prosocial behaviour helps to ease physical pain: Longitudinal evidence from Britain

Macchia, L. ORCID: 0000-0001-9558-4747, Farmer, J. & Kubzansky, L. D. (2023). Prosocial behaviour helps to ease physical pain: Longitudinal evidence from Britain. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 169, article number 111325. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2023.111325


Prior studies suggest that prosocial behaviour can lead to better mental and physical health. Yet little is known about whether engaging in prosocial behaviour contributes to reducing physical pain. The objective of this study is to investigate longitudinal associations of two prosocial behaviours, donating money to charity and/or volunteering time to an organisation, with pain.

Data are from the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Survey (UKHLS, approximate N = 48,000 individuals). Both prosocial behaviours were assessed in 2011 and pain was assessed annually through 2020, according to the extent to which it interfered with respondents' ability to do work. Using a prospective longitudinal study design, linear mixed models examined associations of each prosocial behaviour separately and both combined on pain interference across 10 years of follow-up adjusting for a broad range of covariates including demographics, initial health status, and depression.

People who did versus did not donate or volunteer reported lower pain interference over 10 years of follow-up (donating b = −0.059, p < 0.001; volunteering b = −0.086, p < 0.001). Individuals who donated more versus less money reported lower pain interference although volunteering more hours was not associated with lower pain interference. Finally, findings suggested that engaging in both donating and volunteering versus neither was associated with lower pain interference over follow-up.

There is a longitudinal association between donating money to charity and/or volunteering time to an organisation with pain interference with work. Understanding factors that help to reduce pain is relevant for the design of public health policies.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: Physical pain, Prosocial behaviour, Health, Donating, Volunteering
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
SWORD Depositor:
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