The Benefits of Benevolence: Basic Psychological Needs, Beneficence, and the Enhancement of Well-Being

Frank Martela, Richard M. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Scopus citations


Pro-social behaviors have been associated with enhanced well-being, but what psychological mechanisms explain this connection? Some theories suggest that beneficence—the sense of being able to give—inherently improves well-being, whereas evidence from self-determination theory (Weinstein & Ryan, 2010) shows that increases in well-being are mediated by satisfaction of innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Here we simultaneously assess these two explanations. Study 1 (N = 335) used a cross-sectional survey with an Internet sample to develop a measure to assess beneficence satisfaction. The next two cross-sectional Internet-sample studies tested mediators between pro-social behavior and general well-being (Study 2, N = 332) and situational peak moment well-being (Study 3, N = 180). A fourth study (N = 85) used a diary method with university students to assess daily fluctuations in well-being associated with needs and beneficence. It was shown across all studies that both the three psychological needs and beneficence satisfaction mediate the relations between pro-social actions and well-being, with all four factors emerging as independent predictors. Together, these studies underscore the role of autonomy, competence, and relatedness in explaining the well-being benefits of benevolence, and they also point to the independent role of beneficence as a source of human wellness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)750-764
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Personality
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2016

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© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


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