Helping others can act like Prozac – Polish researchers say

July 10, 2019

People who, over a few days, think about how they helped someone today (or may help tomorrow), observe positive changes in their approach to life, psychologist Prof. Mariola Łaguna summarises her research. “Helping sometimes works like Prozac” – she comments.

Acting for the benefit of others can have different forms. It is not just helping an old woman cross the street or donating to a charity. It is also helping kids with homework, talking to a neighbour, sharing your dinner with friends from work, visiting a lonely elderly person, talking to someone, with whom you have not talked for a long time, not being indifferent to a person asking for help or an unconscious drunk, consoling someone who seems sad… There are plenty of ideas for helping, just look around.

In her research project, Prof. Mariola Łaguna from the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin encouraged participants to reflect on everyday activities for the benefit of others. In one of the experiments, the surveyed students were asked to record every day for one week whether they helped someone on that day, and in another experiment – to plan what they could do next day to help someone. The idea was to check how different psychological variables affected pro-social behaviour and what was the dynamics of these dependencies and, as a result of research, propose actions that will encourage people to take pro-social activities. The results are still being analysed, but Prof. Łaguna summarises the most important conclusions in an interview with PAP.

The researchers hoped that such daily exercises would increase the number of pro-social behaviours in the subjects. In addition to the increase in the tendency to act for the benefit of others, another interesting phenomenon was observed. People with a positive attitude towards life on a given day, with a lower level of negative affect (anxiety, anger or depression) and a higher level of positive affect (joy, enthusiasm) help others more often than people with a less positive attitude. Interestingly, however, it turned out that people with negative affect, when performing tasks related to helping over the course of a few days, often reported an increase in life satisfaction, a decrease in negative affect and increase in positive affect. A similar phenomenon was not observed in the control group, which was asked to record childhood memories for a week.

“Helping others is also helping yourself” – the psychologist says. She compares that ProSocialACtions (PROSAC) work a bit like the antidepressant Prozac. “Take PROSAC instead of Prozac” – the researcher jokes. She notes that, of course, the idea is not to stop taking prescribed antidepressants. But, in her opinion, encouraging pro-social actions may be an element of psychotherapy for people with depression, a depressed mood, or work with young people with low self-esteem. “This may be one of the methods of working with such people – encouraging them to open up to others and act for their benefit” – the psychologist says.

“Many people are looking for an idea how to be happy. It turns out that there is a simple and well-known idea – helping others” – the researcher concludes.

Prof. Mariola Łaguna notes that if you have an intention to start helping more, it is a good idea to plan and specify it. For example, think what you can do tomorrow to help someone. “In psychology, this is called the implementation intention” – the researcher comments. Plan specific ways and situations in which you can help others in your daily life. And realise that there are many opportunities.

The project “Prosocial actions and personal resources: Longitudinal research” is carried out as part of the National Science Centre OPUS grant.

Source: PAP – Science in Poland, Ludwika Tomala/NB

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