Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

The primary goals of this research study were to examine the relation between volunteerism and health in older adults, to expand upon the outcomes of volunteerism in previous research to include cognitive functioning, and to determine the mechanisms and moderators behind such relations. Forty-nine participants (aged 74 and older) from the Pittsburgh area were interviewed in-person for their recent volunteer history and health in the Spring of 2014 and then again about 5 months later in the Fall. The independent variables were the various aspects of recent volunteer history (i.e., volunteer hours in the past year or since the last session, total number of volunteer activities, and the percent of activities that were social), and the dependent health variables were mental health, physical health, and cognitive functioning. The effect of moderator variables, such as volunteer motives, on the relation between volunteering and health were also examined. Contrary to hypotheses, good health predicted a decline in volunteering rather than volunteering predicting improved health. That is, those with better mental health and cognitive functioning at baseline volunteered less over time. Additionally, the volunteer motives of esteem enhancement and distraction from personal problems were most impactful in that those who volunteered more exhibited generally worse mental health and cognitive functioning if they reported high levels of these two motives. Taken collectively, results suggest that volunteer work may be a coping mechanism rather than an activity that benefits health.


Advisor: Vicki Helgeson

Department of Psychology

Embargo Date