Personality and prosocial behavior: A theoretical framework and meta-analysis

Isabel Thielmann*, Giuliana Spadaro, Daniel Balliet

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Decades of research document individual differences in prosocial behavior using controlled experiments that model social interactions in situations of interdependence. However, theoretical and empirical integration of the vast literature on the predictive validity of personality traits to account for these individual differences is missing. Here, we present a theoretical framework that identifies 4 broad situational affordances across interdependent situations (i.e., exploitation, reciprocity, temporal conflict, and dependence under uncertainty) and more specific subaffordances within certain types of interdependent situations (e.g., possibility to increase equality in outcomes) that can determine when, which, and how personality traits should be expressed in prosocial behavior. To test this framework, we meta-analyzed 770 studies reporting on 3,523 effects of 8 broad and 43 narrow personality traits on prosocial behavior in interdependent situations modeled in 6 commonly studied economic games (Dictator Game, Ultimatum Game, Trust Game, Prisoner's Dilemma, Public Goods Game, and Commons Dilemma). Overall, meta-analytic correlations ranged between -.18 ≤ p ≤ .26, and most traits yielding a significant relation to prosocial behavior had conceptual links to the affordances provided in interdependent situations, most prominently the possibility for exploitation. Moreover, for several traits, correlations within games followed the predicted pattern derived from a theoretical analysis of affordances. On the level of traits, we found that narrow and broad traits alike can account for prosocial behavior, informing the bandwidth-fidelity problem. In sum, the meta-analysis provides a theoretical foundation that can guide future research on prosocial behavior and advance our understanding of individual differences in human prosociality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)30-90
Number of pages61
JournalPsychological Bulletin
Volume146
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Cooperation
  • Games
  • Individual differences
  • Interdependence
  • Personality
  • Prosocial behavior

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Personality and prosocial behavior: A theoretical framework and meta-analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this