'It's Up to You': Experimentally Manipulated Autonomy Support for Prosocial Behavior Improves Well-Being in Two Cultures Over Six Weeks Articles uri icon


  • Jacobs Bao, Katherine
  • Della Porta, Matthew
  • Nelson, Katherine
  • Choi, Incheol
  • Lyubomirsky, Sonja

publication date

  • January 2015

start page

  • 463

end page

  • 476


  • 5


  • 10

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1743-9760


  • Previous research has demonstrated a strong link between prosocial behavior &- particularly autonomous prosocial behavior &- and well-being. Little is known, however, about whether and how autonomy might be boosted in the context of everyday kindnesses. We tested the effect of supporting students' autonomy on well-being gains from practicing acts of kindness in a six-week randomized experimental study in the United States and South Korea. As predicted, performing kind acts while receiving autonomy support led to greater improvements in well-being than performing kind acts without autonomy support or engaging in comparison activities (i.e. focusing on one's academic work, with or without autonomy support). Notably, these well-being improvements were mediated by feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The current study is one of the first to demonstrate the causal effect of autonomous prosocial behavior on well-being, as well as the psychological mechanism (i.e. need satisfaction) explaining this effect.


  • autonomy; prosocial behavior; kindness; well-being; happiness; psychological need satisfaction