Jordyn Gerwig

Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Senior Honors Thesis

Department or School


First Advisor

Rusty McIntyre, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Natalie Dove, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ann R. Eisenberg, Ph.D.


Prior research and theory suggests that happiness is often associated with charitable expenses and associated with feelings of autonomy. The present research examined how autonomy influences the happiness experiences participants have when spending money either charitably or on themselves. Participants completed the research online in an hour setting. Participants were asked to imagine situations where they have the ability to spend money freely, or where they first must seek advice or consult before making spending decisions. For half of each of these participants, they were directed to consider spending money on themselves, whereas the other participants were directed to consider spending money on others or on charities. Then all participants completed a series of scales that measured outcomes consistent with happiness, autonomy, and feelings of financial restraint. It was hypothesized that spending money on others freely will result in higher happiness and autonomy ratings, as compared to people asked to spend money on themselves, as well as people asked to spend money on others when they first need to consult with others (e.g., non-autonomous). It was also hypothesized that feelings of financial restraint may moderate these effects, such that less happiness is experienced when individuals sense they do not have autonomy to spend freely. Although the results of the study did not support these hypotheses, it was found that the method used tended to increase happiness for college students who spent on themselves freely compared to spending money on themselves after consulting how to spend. The results also demonstrated that the methods used seemed to make students feel more guilty about how they spend their money, particularly after thinking about spending money charitably. These results are interpreted in light of justification theories rather than studies that have induced happiness via charitable behaviors.

Included in

Psychology Commons