Skip to main content

Who Is Most Likely to Be Prosocial?

·490 words·3 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

While it’s easy some days to get swallowed up in negativity bias, an innate quality human beings have that make us overly sensitive to the negative (and look past the positive), I’ve always been an unapologetic fan of prosocial deeds.

So much so that one year, I actually made it my New Year’s Resolution to perform one random act of kindness per week — a different act of kindness to a different target each time.

There are a few different reasons for this. The high-minded one goes a little something like this: It’s good to be good. Gonna spend a certain amount of time on this earth, might as well spend it trying to make the world a better place.

But high-minded reasoning aside, there’s a selfish reason to be prosocial: Research has shown that being kind to other people actually makes you happier than treating yourself does.

Yeah huh. For real.

Anyway, I ran into another interesting study lately on prosocial behavior. This one asks what kinds of personality traits predispose a person to be prosocial. Here’s what they found.

What Personality Traits Make Someone More Likely to Act Prosocially Towards Others

A meta-analysis of the available research on prosocial behaviors and personality traits found the following:

  • Honesty-Humility from the HEXACO model of personality was strongly linked with prosocial behavior. In layman’s terms, this is a trait that basically means that a person is humble, fair, and sincere (as opposed to being braggadocious, greedy, and dishonest).
  • There was also a relationship found between Social Value Orientation and prosocial behavior. Social Value Orientation is an interesting trait. It’s essentially how much someone else believes their own welfare and the welfare of others are both important. Unsurprisingly, believing that other people’s welfare is important (and thinking of it more) would predispose people to try to improve the welfare of others. Still, it’s pretty cool.
  • There was also a link between how prone someone was to guilt and how likely they were to do nice things for others. Well, well, well. I guess I’m not surprised, but I found that interesting that this was borne out in numerical terms. (And yes, personality theorists can and do measure the degree that people feel bad when they do wrong, how likely people are to feel guilty about their own behavior, etc. Neat, huh?)


To summarize, the stereotypical prosocial actor is humble and honest. They are concerned with fairness and consider the welfare of others as being related to their own welfare. And they feel guilty when they do bad things or behave unfairly towards others.

Yup. Sounds about right. It’s nice when the science and math bears it out, too, though.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


What Does It Mean to Be Humble?
·407 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend
Being Kind to Others Makes People Happier than Treating Themselves
·444 words·3 mins
Psyched for the Weekend
Is It Really Interrupting… Or Is It Cooperative Overlap?
·1120 words·6 mins
Communication Psyched for the Weekend