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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Physiological benefits of volunteering among young adults and adolescents Schreier, Hannah Milena Caroline


Helping others has been linked to improved well-being in previous research. However, most studies have been observational, have focused only on psychosocial outcomes, and have investigated these relationships primarily among the elderly. The present studies built on previous research by extending the focus on helping others to adolescents and young adults, by investigating physiological outcomes, and most importantly, by using an experimental design, randomly assigning participants to engage in formal or informal volunteering. All outcome variables were assessed prior to intervention and again post-intervention. Specifically, the first study examined the effect of a four week intervention in which primarily low socioeconomic status university students were randomly assigned to engage in either regular family helping behaviors (informal volunteering) or neutral activities. Following the intervention, participants in the intervention condition showed marginally steeper daily cortisol slopes (F(1, 34) = 3.057, p = .09), but no psychosocial variables explained the relationship between informal volunteering and cortisol slope among those assigned to the intervention condition. The second study investigated the impact of formal volunteering in a public school context, randomly assigning grade 10 students predominantly from low socioeconomic groups to either two months of volunteering in after school programs with elementary school children or to a wait-list control group. Following the intervention, students in the intervention condition had significantly lower body mass index (F(1, 87) = 5.844, p = .02), lower cholesterol (F(1, 83) = 3.824, p = .05), and marginally lower levels of C-reactive protein (F(1, 82) = 2.809, p = .10) and Interleukin-6 (F(1, 82) = 3.352, p = .07). With the exception of body mass index, various intra-individual and interpersonal variables connecting formal volunteering to improved physiological outcomes were identified. Implications of these findings, together with suggestions for applying the study findings and directions for future research, are discussed.

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