The Need for Meaning Motivates Costly Prosociality

Dakin, Brodie D. (University of Melbourne), Bastian. B. (University of Melbourne), Laham, S. M. (University of Melbourne)

Meaning in life has predominantly been studied in terms of how it determines personal wellbeing or feeling well. Less work has examined how meaning in life relates to behaviours directed toward maximising the wellbeing of others or doing well.  While searching for meaning is often viewed as implying a deficit, we find that this need for meaning significantly predicts engagement in costly prosocial or altruistic behaviours. This relationship likely arises due to the nature of prosociality and altruism as a ‘source’ of meaning in life. Across Studies 1-4 (N = 784), we show that the need for meaning correlates with greater willingness to engage in a range of costly prosocial behaviours, including volunteering, blood and organ donation, and sacrificing oneself to save others. The need for meaning is further shown to be distinct from the pursuit of happiness (Study 2 & Study 3), and to share a stronger association with costly prosociality than non-costly prosociality (Study 3 & Study 4). Finally, Study 5 (N = 370) extends these findings by showing that the need for meaning correlates with actual costly prosocial behaviour as well. Overall, findings illuminate the need for meaning as a unique ‘driver’ of prosocial or altruistic activity.


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Moral Psychology Symposium