Are Certain Personality Traits Linked to Prosocial Behaviors?

Prosocial and altruistic behaviors are those that are directed toward the benefit of others. In other words, to behave prosocially is to help other people, empathize with them and generally, act in a way that’s not directly or consciously concerned with our gain.

Social sciences have long tried to understand why people engage in prosocial behaviors and what the motivation behind it is. In some extreme cases, people even risk their lives to help strangers. Well, psychologists suggest there are several possible explanations. But could our personality traits be one of them?

Agreeableness and Altruism 

Agreeableness is one of the traits in the five-factor personality model, which relates to being friendly, polite, kind, and cooperative. It is also the one that is directly linked to prosocial behaviors because it entails emotional empathy, among other desirable sub traits. 

Thus, it is suggested that agreeableness is a principal moderator of predictors of prosocial behaviors. Namely, if a person is high in agreeableness, they will likely be keener on helping others. However, psychologists imply there is also a downside to this. 

Agreeableness has a specific cost that comes along with it. An individual that ranks high in agreeableness is also more likely to be exploited by others. Moreover, it is possible to predict a milder impulse toward the maximization of personal gain in highly agreeable people.

Gratitude and Reciprocal Altruism

Another trait relevant to understanding prosocial behaviors is gratitude. It is especially useful in examining the way it correlates to social wellbeing, a sense of belonging, and reciprocal altruism – an idea that if a person behaves prosocially, others will behave likewise in return.

When examined in the context of altruism, it’s proposed that gratitude guides and shapes reciprocal helping, and that way favors altruistic behavior and interpersonal relationships. Even more so, if the benefits swapped among two people are high-priced.

Warm-glow Giving Theory

The warm-glow giving is an economic theory that refers to the feel-good emotional reward of engaging in altruistic behavior. Within this theory, prosocial actions are both benevolent and egoistic at the same time because their motive is not entirely pure.

It is suggested that altruistic personality traits are deeply related to warm-glow theory, in that the warm-glow is a proximal mechanism, which facilitates costly altruism. This has been examined on the example of donating blood and the motivation behind it.

Research has shown that most people donate blood for the emotional reward that will follow, not because of social benefits. However, the higher an individual is in altruistic traits (selflessness, concern for others, sympathy, etc.), the more likely they will engage in prosocial behavior, seeking warm-glow satisfaction.

Therefore, personality traits and prosocial behaviors are connected, in that agreeableness and gratitude affect individual engagement in prosocial behaviors. However, this link depends on the context of exhibited behaviors and the perception of such a context.

[1] “Personality and the Prosocial Context.” The Psychologist [online] Available at: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-26/edition-1/personality-and-prosocial-context [Accessed on: 28 Mar. 2020]