Study Finds that Helping Others Helps You Too

When life gets tough, it’s natural – and beneficial – to seek out others for help and emotional support. However, research finds that it may be better to give help than to receive, in the domain of emotion regulation.

A study by Bruce Dore, Robert Morris, Daisy Burr, Rosalind Picard, and Kevin Ochsener, published in the May 2017 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, explores why.

The study was conducted over a 3-week period, with participants aged 18-35 recruited online and randomly assigned to one of two conditions: comparison condition and social regulation condition.

In the comparison condition, participants were asked to do some expressive writing about their problems. Prior research showed that expressive writing lowers rumination (focused and repetitive attention to a thought or problem without completion) and depressive symptoms.

In the social regulation condition, participants took place in a social networking application in which they could post their problems, view problems posted by other people, and send messages of encouragement to other posters. The application was also designed to get people to send messages of reappraisal, which entails providing someone with a different way of thinking about a distressing event.

The comparison condition did not include any socially interactive components, as opposed to the social regulation condition.

At the start and end of the study, participants self-reported their degree of negative feelings and depressive symptoms and answered questions to assess how often they used reappraisal to deal with their problems.

The results showed that expressive writing itself did not affect the participants’ depression or negative mood, regardless of the frequency of their posts.

However, participants who engaged more on the social networking application by helping other people (versus sharing and receiving support for their own problems) gained the most benefits – more helping behavior predicted greater decreases in depressive symptoms, mediated by increased use of reappraisal in daily life.

Interestingly, the more people responded to other people with messages encouraging them to reappraise, the more they themselves experienced reduced depressive symptoms and elevated mood. In other words, focusing on how to help others re-evaluate their problems also influenced people to reappraise their own problems.

So to sum it up – it’s more psychologically beneficial to give help than to receive help, especially when helping others reappraise their problems. By helping others regulate their emotions and inhabit their perspectives, we can develop our own emotion regulatory skills and improve our mental well-being.

Read the full study here.